The kitchen in the old Cox house formed a sort of one-story annex behind the building, and had windows on three sides, so that on a certain exquisite morning in March, four years later, sunlight flooded the two eastern windows and fell in clear squares of brightness on the checkered blue-and-white linoleum on the floor. There were thin muslin sash curtains at these windows, and white shades had been drawn down to meet them. Some trailing English ivy made a delicate tracery in dark green beside one window, and two or three potted begonias on the sill lifted transparent trembling blooms to the sun. The rest of the large room was in keeping with this cheerful bit of detail. There was a shining gas stove beside the shining coal range, and a picturesque bit of colour in the blue kettles and copper casseroles that stood in a row on the shelves above the range. A pine cupboard had been painted white, and held orderly rows of blue plates and cups; there were several white-painted chairs, and two tables. One of these was pushed against the west wall, and was of pine wood white from scrubbing; the other stood on a blue rag rug by the eastern windows, and was covered by a fringed tablecloth in white and blue. Near the outer door, with a window above it, was a white-enamelled sink in a bright frame of hanging small utensils.
The sunlight twinkled here and there on a polished surface, and flung a trembling bright reflection on the ceiling from the brass faucets of the sink. A clock on the wall struck seven.
As the last stroke sounded, Julia Studdiford quietly opened the hall door and stepped into the kitchen. She softly closed the door behind her, and went to another door, at which she paused for a few seconds with her head bent as if listening. Evidently satisfied that no one stirred in the bedroom beyond the door, she set briskly if noiselessly about her preparations for breakfast.
These involved the tying on of a crisp checked apron, and various negotiations with a large enamelled coffee pot, an egg, and the dark grounds that sent a heartening odour of coffee through the room. Bread was sliced and trimmed for toast with delightful evenness and swiftness, a double boiler of oatmeal was lifted from the fireless cooker, and the ice box made to furnish more eggs and a jar of damp, firm butter.
It was while making a little journey to the back porch for milk and cream that the housekeeper first wavered in her swift routine. Below the back steps lay a little city garden, so lovely in the strengthening March sunlight that she must set her bottles down on the step, and run down for a whiff of the fragrance of climbing roses, just beginning to bloom, of bridal-wreath and white lilac. Cobwebs, caught from bush to wet bush, sparkled with jewels; a band of brown sparrows flew away from a dripping faucet, and a black cat, crouching on the crosspieces of the low fence, rose, yawned, and vanished silently. The wall was almost entirely hidden by vines, principally rose vines, which flung long arms in the air. Presently a woman in the next yard parted these vines, to look over and say pleasantly:
"Good-mornin', Mis' Studdiford! I's just looking over an' dee-spairin' of ever gettin' my backyard to look like yours! It does smell like one big bo'quet mornin's like this!"
"Oh, well, there are so many of us to fuss with it," said the young woman addressed, cheerfully. "My aunt and my cousins are nearly as crazy about flowers as I am, and the other day—that warm day, you know, when we had my mother out here—she was just as absorbed as the rest of us!" She put a friendly head over the wall. "But I don't see what you've got to complain of, Mrs. Calhoun," said she, "especially as you're just beginning! I see your geraniums all took hold!"
"Every one but the white Lady Washington," the woman said. "How is your mother?" she added.
"Pretty comfortable, thank you!" said the other. "I imagine she may have had a restless night, for both she and my aunt seem to be asleep, so I'm getting breakfast for my cousins and uncle myself! And I'm not supposed to be out here at all!" she added, with a farewell laugh and nod, as she turned back to the steps. "But I just couldn't resist the garden!"
She picked up the milk bottles and reentered the kitchen just as a trimly dressed young woman came into it from the hall. The newcomer was tall, and if not quite pretty was at least a fresh-looking, pleasant-faced girl. She wore a tailor-made skirt and white shirt waist, and a round hat covered with flowers, and laid her jacket over the back of a chair.
"Julie, where's Ma?" said she, in surprise. "Have you been doing everything?"
"Not everything!" Julia smiled. "But Aunt May must have overslept herself; there hasn't been a sound from their room this morning. Your suit looks lovely," she added admiringly.
"Oh, do you think so?" asked the younger woman eagerly. She interrupted her task of putting plates and cups on the table, to come close and turn toward Julia the back of her head for inspection. "Like it?" asked she.
Julia seriously inspected the rhinestone comb that glittered there.
"Why, I don't utterly dislike it," she said, in her pleasant voice.
"But you don't think it's in good taste, Julie?"
"Well no, not exactly. Not for the office, anyway."
"All right, then—that settles it!" the young woman assured her. "I'll run upstairs after breakfast and change. We had a glorious time last night!" she went on, putting her head on one side to give the table a critical glance. "I'll tell you about it. This has boiled up, hasn't it—it can be settled?"
"Yes, settle it." said Julia, buttering toast, "and tell me!"
But at this moment the hall door opened again, and a little girl of four and a half appeared in the doorway. She was so lovely a vision, with her trailing wrapper and white nightgown bunched up to be out of her way, curls tumbled about her face, and eyes big with reproach, that both women laughed with pleasure at the sight of her.
"Mother," said she, with that lingering on the last consonant that marks the hurt pride of a child, "why diddunt you wake me?"
"Because you were sleeping so nicely, Pussy!" Julia laughed, on her knees by this time, with both arms about the little figure. "Give me a thousand kisses and say 'I love my mother!'"
"I love my mother!" said Anna, her eyes roving the room over her mother's shoulder. "I guess you don't know how hard you're squeezing me, Mother!" she added. "Can I come out here in my wrapper, and have breakfast with Regina?"
"Yes, let her, Julia!" Regina urged. "Come on, darling! Bring your bowl up here to my end. Do sit down and eat something yourself, Julia."
"This is the way to enjoy breakfast; not twenty feet from the stove!" Julia said, pouring the cream into her coffee. "Was Geraldine stirring when you got up, Regina?"
"Not a stir!" Regina said cheerfully. "She and Morgan were talking last night until two—I looked at the clock when she came upstairs! What they have to talk about gets me!"
"Oh, my dear, engaged people could talk forever," Julia said leniently. "They were househunting yesterday, there's always so much to talk about!"
"It seems to me that the people who don't marry have the most fun," Regina said. "Look at Muriel and Evvy, the money they make! Evvy going East for the firm every year, and Muriel getting her little twenty-five a week. And then look at Rita, with four children to slave for—"
"Ah, well, Rita's husband doesn't work steadily, and she hates housework—she admits it!" Julia protested swiftly. "Rita could do a good deal, if she would."
"Rita gives me a great big pain," said her younger sister absently.
"A boy named Willis had a sword, and he hit a little boy with it, and Mrs. Calhoun said it was a wonder he wasn't killed!" contributed Anna suddenly, her eyes luminous from some thrilling recollection.
"Fancy!" Julia said. "Eat your oatmeal, Baby, and run upstairs and get some clothes on!" she added briskly. "You'll catch cold!"
But there was no severity in the glance she turned upon her daughter. Indeed, it would have been a stern heart that little Anna Studdiford's first friendly glance did not melt. She had been exquisite from her babyhood, she was so lovely now, as she emerged from irresponsible infancy to thoughtful little girlhood, that Julia sometimes wondered how she could preserve so much charm and beauty unspoiled. Anna had her mother's ash-gold hair, but where Julia's rose firm and winglike from her forehead, and was held in place by its own smooth, thick braids, the little girl's fell in rich, shining waves, sprayed in fine mist across her eyes, glittered, a golden mop in the sunlight, and even in the shade threw out an occasional gleam of gold. Anna's eyes were blue, with curled thick lashes like her mother's, but in the firm little mouth and the poise of her head, in the quick smile and quicker frown, Julia saw her father a hundred times a day. Her skin had the transparent porcelain beauty of babyhood, there was a suggestion of violet shadow about her eyes, and on her cheeks there glowed the warm colour of a ripe apricot. Even the gingham aprons and sturdy little shoes which she customarily wore did not disguise Anna's beauty. Julia trusted more to the child's wise little head than to the faint hope that her own precautions could ward off flattery and adulation. The two had been constant companions for more than four years: Anna's little bed close to her mother's at night, Anna's bright head never out of Julia's sight by day. If Anna showed any interest in what her mother was reading, Julia gave her a grave review of the story; if Julia went to market, Anna trotted beside her, deeply concerned as to cuts of meat and choices among vegetables; and when baking was afoot, Anna had a tiny moulding board on a chair, and cut cookies or scalloped tarts with the deep enjoyment of the born cook.
Once or twice the child had asked for her father, accepting quietly enough the explanation that he was in Germany, and very busy.
"Aren't we going to see him some time, Mother?"
"Not while Grandma needs Mother so much, dear!" Julia would answer easily.
Easily, because the busy months with their pain and joy, their problems and their successes, had seemed to seal away in a deep crypt her memories of her husband. Julia had been afraid to think of him at first; she could not make herself think of him now; his image drifted vaguely away from her, as unreal as a dream. He was as much a name as if she had never seen him, never loved him, never suffered those exquisite agonies of grief and shame with which the first year of their separation was full. Jim's child had taken his place; the purity and sweetness of the child's love filled Julia's heart; she wanted only Anna, and Anna was her interpreter for all the relationships of life. Anna first made her draw close to her own mother; Anna was at once her spur and her reward during the first hard years at Shotwell Street.
Anna had gone upstairs, and Regina was finishing her breakfast when Chester came downstairs, followed by the still sleepy yet shining-eyed Geraldine. Geraldine was to be married in a few weeks now, and had given up her position in an office, to devote all her time to house-furnishing and sewing.
"I'm awfully sorry to be so late," smiled Geraldine, "but we talked until I don't know when last night!" She poured herself a cup of coffee; the meal went cheerfully on. Presently the bedroom door opened, and a stout, handsome, middle-aged woman came into the kitchen.
Julia was used, by now, to the transformation that had come to house and garden, that had affected every member of her mother's family in the past four years. But to the change in her aunt, Mrs. Torney, she never became quite accustomed. It had been slow in coming; it had come all at once. There had been weeks when Julia felt that nothing would ever silence the whining voice, or make useful the idle hands. There had been a wretched time when the young woman had warned the older that matters could not continue as they were. There had been agitated decisions on Mrs. Torney's part to go away, with Regina, to starve and struggle again; there had been a scene when Regina coolly refused to leave the new comforts of Julia's rule.
And then, suddenly, there was a new woman in the family, in Aunt May's place. Julia always dated the change from a certain Thanksgiving Day, when Mrs. Torney, who was an excellent cook, had prepared a really fine dinner. Julia and the girls put the dining-room in order, a wood fire roared in the air-tight stove, another in the sitting-room grate. Julia dressed prettily; she put a late rose in her mother's hair, draped the invalid's prettiest shawl about the thin shoulders, arrayed the toddling baby in her daintiest finery. She coaxed her aunt to go upstairs to make herself fresh and neat just before dinner, and during the whole evening Mrs. Torney's sons and daughters, Julia and Evelyn, Chester and Mrs. Page and little old Mrs. Cox united to praise the dinner and the cook.
It was as if poor Aunt May had come into her own, had been given at last the role to which she had always been suited. Handsome in her fresh shirt waist and black skirt, with her gray hair coiled above a shining face, she beamed over turkey dressing and cranberry sauce; she laughed until she cried, when Elmer, who had come from Oakland for the feast, solemnly prefaced a request for more mince pie with a reckless: "Come on, Lloyd, let's die together; it's worth it!"
From that day hers was the happy part of the bustling housewife. No New England matron ever took more pride in cup cakes or apple pies, no kitchen in the world gave forth more savoury odours of roast meats and new-baked bread. Mrs. Torney's heavy tread on the kitchen floor was usually the first thing Julia heard in the morning, and late at night the infatuated housekeeper would slip out to the warm, clean, fragrant place for a last peep at rising dough or simmering soup. Aunt May read the magazines now only to seek out new combinations of meats and vegetables. Julia would smile, to glance across the dining-room to her aunt's chair beneath the lamp, and see the big, kindly face pucker over some startling discovery.
"Em!" Mrs. Torney would remove her glasses, she would address her sister in shocked tones. "Here they've got a sour-cream salad dressing. Did you ever hear of such a thing!"
"For heaven's sake!" Mrs. Page would look up from her absorbed watching of Chester's solitaire, drop her emaciated little head back against the waiting pillow.
"Try it some time, Aunt May, you could make anything taste good!" Julia might suggest. But Mrs. Torney would shake a doubtful head and, with a muttered "Sour cream!" resume her glasses and her magazine.
Now she was tying a crisp apron over her blue cotton dress, and ready with a smiling explanation for Julia.
"I declare, Ju, I don't know what's got into my alarm. I never woke up at all until quarter to eight o'clock! Don't start those dishes, lovey, there's no hurry!"
"I was afraid that Mama'd had a bad night," Julia said, smiling a good-morning from the sink. "Sit. down, Aunt May, I'll bring you your coffee!"
"No, Emeline had a real good night. She was reading a while, about three, but she's sound asleep now."
"I lighted a fire in the dining-room," said Chester, "just to take the chill off, if Em wants to go in there!"
"Then I'll bring my sewing down, after the beds are made," Geraldine said. "You go to market if you want to, Julie; I'll do your room."
"Well," Julia agreed, "perhaps I can get back before Mama wakes. I'll go up and see what Anna is doing."
Regina and Chester presently went off to their work, Mrs. Torney and Geraldine fell upon the breakfast dishes, and Julia went upstairs. She found the little Anna dreaming by a sunny window, one stocking on, one leg still bare, and her little petticoat hanging unbuttoned.
"Come, Infant, this won't do!" Julia's practised hands made quick work of the small girl's dressing. A stiff blue gingham garment went on over Anna's head, the tumbled curls were subjugated by a blue ribbon. When it was left to Anna merely to lace her shoes, Julia began to go about the room, humming as she busied herself with bureau and bed. She presently paused at the mirror to pin on a wide hat, and her eye fell upon the oval-framed picture of Jim that she had carried away with her from the Pacific Avenue house. It had been taken by some clever amateur; had always been a favourite with her. She studied it dispassionately for a moment.
Jim had been taken in tennis clothes; his racket was still in his hand, his thin shirt opened to show the splendid line of throat and chin. His thick hair was rumpled, the sunlight struck across his smiling face. Julia's memory could supply the twinkle in his eye; she could hear him call to Alan Gregory: "For the Lord's sake, cut this short, Greg! It's roasting out here!"
Beside this picture hung another, smaller, and also a snapshot. This was of a man, too, a tall, thin, ungainly man, sitting on a roadside rock, with a battered old hat in his hand. Behind him rose a sharp spur of rough mountainside, and so sharply did the ground fall away at his feet that far below him was a glimpse of the level surface of the Pacific. Julia smiled at this picture, and the picture smiled back.
"Come, Mouse!" said she, rousing herself from a reverie a moment later. "Get on your hat! You and I have to go to market!"
The morning wore on; it was like a thousand other happy mornings. Julia and Anna loitered in the cool odorous fish stalls at the market, welcomed asparagus back to its place in the pleasant cycle of the year's events, inspected glowing oranges and damp crisp heads of lettuce; stopped at the hardware store for Aunt May's new meat chopper, stopped at the stationer's for Anna's St. Nicholas, stopped at the florist's to breathe deep breaths of the damp fragrant air, and to get some buttercups for Grandma.
Julia's mother was in the kitchen when she and Anna got home, her dark hair still damp from brushing, her thin wrists no whiter than her snowy ruffles. Presently they all moved into the dining-room, where Geraldine's sewing machine was temporarily established, and where Anna's blocks had a corner to themselves. The invalid, between intervals of knitting, watched them all with her luminous and sympathetic smile.
"A letter for you, Julie, and four for me," said the bride-elect, coming back from the door after the postman's ring.
"Four for you—Gerry! You lucky thing!"
"Well—two are from Morgan," admitted Geraldine, smiling, and there was a laugh as Julia opened her own letter.
"It's from Dr. Richard Toland," she announced a moment later. "He says Mill Valley is too beautiful for words just now. How'd you like to go over and see Uncle Richie to-morrow, Anna?"
"I'd love it," said Anna unhesitatingly.
"We've not been for weeks," Julia said, "I'd love it, too, if my Marmer doesn't mind?" She turned her bright smile to her mother. "Regina says she has an engagement with the O'Briens for Sunday," said she, "and if Gerry goes off with Morgan, will that leave things too quiet?"
"Indeed it won't!" said Mrs. Torney, looking up from the tissue-paper pattern over which she had hung in profound bewilderment for almost half an hour. "Rita may bring some of the children in, or Lloyd and Elmer may come over. Go along with you!"
Richie, much stronger in these days, and without his crutch, though still limping a little, met Julia and the dancing Anna on the following afternoon, and the three crossed the ferry together. It was a day bursting with summer's promise, the air was pure and warm, and the sky cloudless. Getting out of the train at Mill Valley, Julia drew an ecstatic breath.
"Oh, Richie, what heavenly freshness! Doesn't it just smooth your forehead down like a cool hand!"
There was a poignant sweetness to the mountain air, washed clear by the late rains, and warmed and invigorated by the sunshine of the lengthening March day. The country roads were dark and muddy and churned by wheel tracks, but fringed with emerald grass. Even at four o'clock the little valley was plunged in early shadow, but sunshine lay still upon the hills that framed it, and long lines of light threw the grim heights of Tamalpais into bold relief. The watching tiers of the redwoods looked refreshed, their spreading dark fans were tipped with the jade-green sprays of the year's new growth. The first pale smoke of wild lilac bloom lay over the hills.
"It makes you think of delicious words," said Julia, as Richie's rusty white mare plodded up and up the mountain road. "Ozone—and aromatic—and exhilarating! In town it was a little oppressive to-day—Anna and I were quite wilted!"
"You don't look wilted!" Richie smiled at his goddaughter, who was in her mother's arms. "Look, Ju—there's columbine! Loads of it up near my place!" "And the wild currant, with that delicious pungent smell!" sighed Julia blissfully. "What's new with you, Richie?" she asked presently.
"Oh, nothing much! Cable from Bab yesterday, but you must have had one, too?"
"Yes, I did. A third boy!" Julia laughed. "Poor Bab—when she wanted a girl so badly!"
"I suppose she did," grinned Richard.
"Oh, of course she did! Who wouldn't?" Julia hugged her own girl. "And isn't it glorious about Keith?" she added, with sudden enthusiasm.
"Is it? I suppose it is," Richie said. "But then those old guys in Germany called him a genius long before New York did, and you girls didn't make so much fuss!"
"Oh, but Richie, there's so much money in this American tour; three concerts in New York alone, think of it!" Julia protested eagerly. "And Sally's letter sounded so gay; they were having a perfectly glorious time. I hope they come to San Francisco!"
"Well, she deserves it," Richie observed, flicking the rusty mare with a whip she superbly ignored. "Sally's had a pretty rotten time of it for seven or eight years—paying his lesson bills when she didn't have enough to eat or shoes to wear—and losing the baby——"
"I don't believe all that meant as much to Sally as you think," Julia said sagely. "Her entire heart was set upon Keith's success, and that has come along pretty steadily. Her letter to me about the baby wasn't the sort I should have written; indeed, I couldn't have written at all! And then that was four years ago, Richie, and four years is a long time!"
"It is!" Richie agreed. "Keith's about all the baby she'll ever want; those fellows take an awful lot of spoiling. But I get more pleasure from Mother's and Dad's pleasure than for Sally herself," he added. "Mother saves up newspaper accounts, and has this translated from the German and that from the French—it's sort of pathetic to see! Dad and Janey are in New York now; something was said last night about their going over to see Bab."
"Ted and your mother are alone, then? How's Ted?"
"Oh, driving Mother crazy, as usual. She'd flirt with the Portuguese milkman if she had a chance. She can't seem to understand that because she wants to be free she isn't free! Talks about 'if I marry again,' and so on. Of course Carleton's marrying again has made her wild."
"But, good heavens, Richie, Ted ought to have some sense!"
"Well, she hasn't. She stretched a point to marry him, d'you see? Carleton had been baptized as a child, and his first wife hadn't, and they were married by a Justice of the Peace, or something of that sort. So Ted claimed that in the eyes of the Church he hadn't been married at all, and she married him. Then——"
"But if she loved him, Richie—and Ted was so young!"
"All true, of course, only if you're going to push things to the point of taking advantage of a quibble like that, your chance of happiness is more or less slim! So three years ago Carleton proved that he hadn't cared a whoop about the legal or religious aspects of the case, and left Ted. And now Ted can't see herself, at twenty-seven, tied to another woman's husband!"
"She has her boy," Julia said severely.
"Yep, but that doesn't seem to count."
"Well, it's funny, Richie, take us all in all, what a mess we've made of marrying!" Julia mused. "Ned gives me the impression, every time I see him, of being a sulky martyr in his own home; Sally's managed to drag happiness out of a most hopeless situation; Ted, of course, will never be happy again, like Jim and me; and Connie, although she made an exemplary marriage, either has to leave her husband or bring her baby up in Manila, which she says positively isn't safe! Bab is the only shining success among us all!"
"Oh, I don't know," Richie said, stopping the horse, and flinging the reins to the Portuguese who came out of a small barn to meet them. "Here we are, Ju—take your time! I've always considered you rather successful," he resumed.
"Oh, me!" Julia laughed as she jumped down like a girl. She followed Anna across a little hollow filled with buttercups and long grasses, and they mounted the little rise to Richie's tiny cabin. The little house had Mount Tamalpais for a background, and its wide unroofed porch faced across the valley, and commanded a view of the wooded ridges, and the marshes, and the distant bay, and of San Francisco twelve miles away. Scrub oaks and bay trees grew in a tangle all about it, even a few young redwoods and an occasional bronze and white madrona tree. Wild roses and field flowers crowded against its very walls, and under the trees there were iris and brown lilies, and a dense undergrowth of manzanita and hazelnut bushes, wild currant and wild lilac trees.
The big room that Julia entered first was dim with pleasant twilight, and full of the sweet odours of a dying wood fire. It had nothing of distinction in it: a few shabby chairs, an old square piano, an unpainted floor crossed here and there by rugs, books in cases and out of them, candlesticks along the brick mantel, a green-shaded student's lamp on a long table, and several wide windows, dim and opaque now in the fast-gathering darkness, but usually framing each a picture of matchless mountain scenery.
A door at one side of the fireplace led into a tiny kitchen whose windows looked out into oak branches; and another door, on the other side, gave access to a little cement-floored bathroom with a shower, and two small bedrooms, each with two beds built in tiers like bunks. This was Richie's whole domain, and whether it was really saturated with the care-free atmosphere of childhood, and fragrant with the good breath of the countryside all about it, or whether Julia only imagined it to be so, she found it perfect, and was never so happy in these days as when she and Anna were there. She was always busy, and satisfied in her work, but there were needs of heart and mind that her own people could not meet, and when these rose strong within her she found no company as bracing and as welcome as Richard's.
"No Aunt Sanna?" said she cheerfully, when she had taken off her hat and the small girl's, and was in her favourite chair by the fire.
"No, darn it!" said Richie, struggling with a refractory lamp wick.
"Oh, don't be so blue, Rich! She'll be here on the seven."
"No, she won't—she said the four—I expected to find her here," Richie said, settling the glass chimney into place, as the light crept round the wick. A little odour of hot kerosene floated on the air, and was lost in other odours from the kitchen, where a Chinese boy was padding about in the poor light of one lamp. He began to come and go, setting the table, the ecstatic Anna at his heels. Whenever the outer door was opened, a cool rush of sweet country air came in. Richie began to stamp back and forth with great logs for the fireplace.
"Wonderful what millions of miles away from every one we seem, Rich!" Julia said contentedly. "Was there ever anything like the quiet of this mountain?"
"I'm terribly sorry about Aunt Sanna," Richie said. "I feel like an ass—getting you way up here!"
"Why, my dear boy, it's not your fault!" Julia said, round eyed.
"She said she would positively be here," Richie pursued. "I suppose there's no earthly reason—" he added uncomfortably.
"Why you and I shouldn't stay here alone? I should hope not!" Julia reassured him roundly. "And she may come on the seven, anyway!"
"These are the times I wish I had a telephone," said Richie.
"Aw leddy," contributed the Chinese boy. They took their places at the table, and dinner was eaten by the light of the lamp. But after dinner, when Julia had tucked Anna into bed, she came back and put out the lamp. She lighted two candles on the mantelpiece that sent a brave flicker over the dull walls and up to the ceiling.
"There!" said she, with an energetic stirring of the fire, as she took her chair again, "that's the way I like this room to look!"
Richard disposed of his awkward length in an opposite chair, his big bony hands interlocked. In the fire and candlelight Julia looked very young, her loosened hair glimmering against the back of her chair, her thin white skirts spreading in a soft circle above her slipper buckles. The man noticed the serene rise and fall of her breast under her thin blouse, the content in her half-shut blue eyes. He let his thoughts play for a moment with the perilous dream that she belonged here at his hearth, that her sweetness, her demure happiness, her earnest interest in everything that concerned him, were all his by right.
"I don't quite know what to do about this!" he said gruffly.
"What—our being here?" Julia looked surprised. "Why, Richie, what can we do? Do you think it matters, one night? After all, we're brother and sister-in-law!"
"Almost," said Richie, with a laugh.
"Why, Rich, I would never give it one moment's thought; not if I stayed here a month!" Julia assured him. "And neither would any one else. Don't be so silly!"
"It's not me; but it isn't fair to you!" Richard said.
Julia had grown a little red. Now she stared into the fire.
"This sort of fuss isn't like you, Rich," she said presently, with an uncomfortable laugh. "You—you don't usually talk about such things!"
"No, I know I don't," Richard admitted, untouched by her reproach. "I could go up to Porter's and try to get Aunt Sanna by telephone!" he muttered.
Julia was displeased, and made no answer, and presently he got up and went out. She sat there listening to the rattle of dishes in the kitchen, until a splash announced the dishpan emptied under the oak trees, and the Chinese through with his work for the night. After a while she went to the doorway, and stared out at the starry sky and the dark on darkness that marked masses of trees and long spurs of the mountain. The air was sweet and chilly, frogs were peeping, from somewhere near came the steady rush of a swollen creek.
While Julia stood on the porch a livery hack from the village creaked up, and stopped ten feet away. The horses were blowing on the steep grade, and a strong odour from the animals and their sweated harness smote the pure night air. The carriage lanterns sent a wavering brightness across the muddy road, the grass looked artificial in the yellow light. Miss Toland, vociferating apology and explanation, emerged from the carriage.
When Richard came back from his fruitless errand he found both women enjoying the fire, Miss Toland's skirt folded over her knees, her veil pushed up on her forehead. In his enormous relief, Richie felt that he could have danced and sung. He busied himself brewing a hot drink for the older woman.
"Richie," said Julia, with a pleasant childish note of triumphant reproach in her voice, "was worried to death because I was here alone with Anna! Don't you think he's crazy, Aunt Sanna?"
"Why, you two have been here alone?" Miss Toland asked, stirring her chocolate.
"No, we haven't!" Julia answered cheerfully. "I never thought of it before; but this dear old maid either has you here, or Janey, or Doctor Brice's Mary from the village—isn't he queer?"
"It isn't as if you weren't practically brother and sister, Richie," Miss Toland said moderately. "Not too much butter, dear!" she interpolated, in reference to the toast her nephew was making, adding a moment later, "Still, I don't know—a pretty woman in your position can't be too careful, Julia!"
"Oh, Lord, you're an appreciative pair!" Richard said disgustedly, going out to the kitchen for more bread.
Presently Miss Toland complained of fatigue, and left them to the fire. And sitting there, almost silent, Julia thought that she had never found her host so charming before. His rambling discourse amused her, touched her; she loved his occasional shy introduction of a line of poetry, his eager snatching of a book now and then to illuminate some point with half a page of prose.
"Pleasant, isn't this, Rich?" she asked lazily, in a quiet interval.
"Oh, pleasant!" He cleared his throat. "Yes—it's very pleasant!"
"And why couldn't you and I have done this just as well without Aunt Sanna?" Julia asked triumphantly.
Richard gave her a look full of all-dignified endurance, a look that wondered a little that she could like to give him pain.
"No reason at all," said he. And a sudden suspicion flamed in Julia's heart with all the surety of an inspiration.
The revelation came in absolute completeness; she had never even suspected Richie's little tragedy before. For a few moments Julia sat stunned, then she said seriously:
"I always feel myself so much Jim's wife, Rich; I suppose it's a sort of protection to me. It never occurs to me that any one could think me less bound than I think myself."
"Sure you do!" Richard said, struggling with the back log. "But other people might not! And it would be rotten to have him come back and hear anything."
"I suppose he'll come back," Julia said, dreamily, almost in a whisper. "I don't think of it much, now! I used to think of it a good deal at first; I used to cry all night long sometimes, and write him long letters that I never sent. It seemed as if the longing for him was burning me up, like a fire!"
"Damn him!" Richard muttered.
"Oh, no, Richie, don't say that!" Julia protested. Richard, still on one knee, with the poker in his hand, turned to her almost roughly.
"For God's sake, Julie, don't defend him! I'll hold my tongue about him, I suppose, as I always have done, but don't pretend he has any excuse for treating you this way! You—the best and sweetest and bravest woman that ever lived, bringing happiness and decency wherever you go—"
"Richie, Richie, stop!" Julia protested, between laughter and tears. "Don't talk so! I will defend Jim," she added gravely, "and he did have an excuse. It seems unfair to me that he should have all the blame." She held her hand out, fingers spread to the reviving flame, rosy and transparent in the glow.
"Rich, no one knows this but Jim and me; not Aunt Sanna, not my own mother," she presently resumed. "But it makes what he did a little clearer, and I'm going to tell you."
"Don't tell me anything," said Richard gruffly, eyes on the fire.
"Yes, I want to," Julia answered. But she was silent for a while, a look of infinite sadness on her musing face. "I made a serious mistake when I was a girl, Rich," she went on, after an interval. "I had no reason for it—not great love, or great need. I had no excuse. Or, yes, I did have this excuse: I had been spoiled; I had been told that I was unusual, independent, responsible to nobody. I knew that this thing existed all about me, and if I thought of it at all, I suppose I thought that there could be nothing so very dreadful about what men did as a matter of course! Perhaps that's the best explanation; my mind was like a young boy's. I didn't particularly seek out this thing, or want this thing; but I was curious, and it came my way—
"Don't misunderstand me, Richie. I wasn't 'betrayed.' I'd had, I suppose, as little good instruction, as little example, and watching and guarding as any girl in the world. But I knew better! Just as every boy knows better, and is taken, sooner or later, unawares. Of course, if I'd been a boy—all this would be only a memory now, hardly shameful or regrettable even, dim and far away! Especially as it lasted only a few weeks, before I was sixteen!
"And, of course, people would say that I haven't paid the full penalty, being a girl instead of a boy! Look at poor Tess, and Trilby, and Hetty in 'Adam Bede!' I never let any one know it; even your aunt never would have overlooked that, whatever she might say now. No; even Jim protected me—and yet," Julia put her head back, shut her eyes, "and yet I've paid a thousand times!" said she.
There was a long silence, and then Richard said:
"I've thought sometimes this might be it, Ju. Being alone so much, and reading and thinking—I've worked it out in my own mind. Aunt Sanna saw Jim in Berlin two years ago, you know, and gave him a horrible raking over the coals, and just from what she quoted, it seemed as if there was some secret about it, and that it lay with you. Then, of course," Richie eased his lame leg by stretching it at full length before him, sinking down in his chair, finger tips meeting, "of course I knew Jim," he resumed. "Jim's pride is his weak point. He's like a boy in that: he wants everything or nothing. He's like all my mother's children," said Richie, comfortably analytical, "undisciplined. Chill penury never repressed our noble rages; we never knew the sweet uses of adversity. I did, of course, but here I am, a childless getting on in years, not apt to leave a deep impression on the coming generation. It's a funny world, Julie! It's a strange sort of civilization to pose under the name of Christ. Christ had no double standard of morals; Christ forgave. Law is all very well, society has its uses, I have no doubt, but there are higher standards than either!" "Well, that has come to me forcibly during the past few years," Julia said thoughtfully. "I wasn't a praying small girl; how could I be? But after I went to The Alexander, being physically clean and respectable made me long to be clean all over, I suppose, and I began to go to church, and after a while I went to confession, Rich, and I felt made over, as if all the stain of it had slipped away! And then Jim came, and I told him all about it—"
"Before you were married?"
"Oh, Richie, of course!"
"Well, then, what—if he knew—"
"Oh, Richie, that's the terrible part. For I thought it was all dead and gone, and it was all dead and gone as far as I was concerned! But we couldn't forget it—it suddenly seemed a live issue all over again; it just rose and stood between us, and I felt so helpless, and poor Jim, I think he was helpless, too!"
Richard made no comment, and there was a silence.
"You know Jim wasn't a—wasn't exactly a saint, Ju," Richard said awkwardly after a while.
"I know," she answered with a quick nod.
"I believe he was an exceptionally decent fellow, as fellows go," pursued Richie. "But, of course, it is the accepted thing. On Jim's first vacation, after he entered college, he told me he didn't care much for that sort of thing—we had a long talk about it. But a year or two later there was a young woman—he used to call her 'the little girl'—I don't know exactly—Anyway, Dad went East, there was some sort of a fuss, and I know Jim treated her awfully well—there never was any question of that—she never felt anything but gratitude to him, whatever grievances she had about any one else—"
His voice dropped.
"But it's not the same thing," Julia said with a sigh.
"No, I suppose not," Richard agreed.
"Life has been too violent and too swift with me," Julia resumed, after a while. "If I had the past fifteen years to live over again, I would live them very differently. I made an idol of Jim; he could do no wrong. He wanted more bracing treatment than that; he should have been boldly faced down. If I had been wiser, I would have treated all my marriage differently. If I had been very wise, I should not have married at all, should have kept my own secret. Perhaps, marrying, I should not have told him the truth; I don't know. Anyway, I have mixed things up hopelessly, given other people and myself an enormous amount of pain, and wrecked my life and Jim's. And now, when I am thirty, I feel as if I could begin to see light, begin to live—as if now, when nothing on earth seems really important, I knew how to meet life!"
"Well, that's been my attitude for some years," Richie said, shifting his lame leg again. "Of course I started in handicapped, which is a great advantage—"
"Advantage? Oh, Richie!" Julia protested.
"Yes, it is, from one point of view," he insisted whimsically. "'Who loses his life,' you know. Most boys and girls start off into life like kites in a high wind without tails. There's a glorious dipping and plunging and sailing for a little while, and then down they come in a tangle of string and paper and broken wood. I had a tail to start with, some humiliating deficiency to keep me balanced. No football and tennis for me, no flirting and dancing and private theatricals. When Bab and Ned were in one whirl of good times, I was working out chess problems to make myself forget my hip, and reading Carlyle and Thoreau and Emerson. Nobody is born content, Ju, and nobody has it thrust upon him; just a few achieve it. I worked over the secret of happiness as if it was the multiplication table. Happiness is the best thing in the world. It's only a habit, and I've got it."
"Is happiness the best thing in the world, Rich?" Julia asked wistfully.
"I think it is; real happiness, which doesn't necessarily mean a box at the Metropolitan and a touring car," Richie said, smiling. "It seems to me, to have a little house up here on the mountain, and to have people here like me, and let me take care of them—"
"For nothing?" interposed Julia.
"Don't you believe it! I didn't write a cheque last month! Anyway, it suits me. I have books, and letters, and a fire, and now and then a friend or two—and now and then Julia and Anna to amuse me!"
"I'm happy, too," Julia said thoughtfully. "I realized it some time ago—oh, a year ago! I feel just as you might feel, Rich, if you had left some critical operation unfinished, or done in a wrong way, and then gone back to do it over. I feel as if, in going back to first principles, and doing what I could for my own people, I had 'trued' a part of my life, if you can understand that! I had gone climbing and blundering on, and reached a point where I couldn't help myself, but they were just where they started, and I could help them!"
"It was probably the best thing you could have done for yourself, at the same time," Richard interpolated, with a swift glance.
"Oh, absolutely!" Julia laughed a little sadly. "I was like an animal that goes out and eats a weed: I had a wild instinct that if I rushed into my grandmother's house, and bullied everybody there, and simply shrieked and stamped on the dirt and laziness and complaining, on the whole wretched system that I grew up under, in short, that it would be a heavenly relief! My dear Richie," and Julia laughed again, and more naturally, "I wonder they didn't tar and feather me, and throw me out of the house! I scoured and burned and scolded and bossed them all like a madwoman. I told them that we had enough money to keep the house decently, and always had had, but, my dear! I never dreamed the whole crowd would fall in line so soon!"
"But, my Lord, Julie, what else could they do? You were paying all the expenses, I suppose?"
"No, indeed I wasn't! Chester has a pretty fair salary now, and my aunt's boys are awfully good about helping out. And then Muriel has a position, and Evelyn is in a fair way to be a rich woman. Besides, the mere question of where money is coming from never worried my people! They managed as well with almost nothing at all, as with a really adequate amount—which is to say that they don't know in the least what the word manage means! Jim left me an immense sum, Rich, but I've never touched anything but the interest. When we shingled or carpeted or gardened out there, we paid for it by degrees, and it cost, I must admit, only about one third of what it would have been on the other side of town. I look back now at those first months, more than four years ago," went on Julia, smiling as she leaned forward in her low chair, her hands locked about her knees, her thoughtful eyes on the flickering logs, "and I wonder we didn't all rise up in the night and kill each other. I was like a person with a death wound, struggling madly through the little time left me, absolutely indifferent to what any one thought. I simply wanted to die fighting, to register one furious protest against all the things I'd hated, and suffered, too! I remember reporters coming, at first, wild with curiosity to know what took Doctor Studdiford abroad, and why Mrs. Studdiford was living in a labourer's house in the Mission. What impression they got I haven't the faintest idea. Once or twice women called, just curious of course, Mrs. Hunter and Miss Saunders—but that soon stopped. I was better hidden on Shotwell Street than I would have been in the heart of India! Miss Saunders came in, and met Mama and Grandma; we were having the kitchen calcimined, the place was pretty well upset, I remember. Dear me, how little what they thought or did or said seemed to count, when my whole life was one blazing, agonizing cry for Jim!"
"That got better?" Richard asked huskily, after a pause.
"Rich, I think the past two, well, three years, have been the happiest in my life," Julia said soberly. "My feet have been on solid ground. I not only seem to understand my life better as it is, but all the past seems clearer, too. I thought Jim was like myself, Richie, but he wasn't; his whole viewpoint was different; perhaps that's why we loved each other so!"
"And suppose he comes back?" Richard asked.
Julia frowned thoughtfully.
"Oh, Richie, how do I know! It's all so mixed up. Everybody, even Aunt Sanna, thinks that he will! Everybody thinks I am a patient, much-enduring wife, waiting for the end of an inexplicable situation. Aunt Sanna thinks it's temporary aberration. Your father thinks there's another woman in it. Your mother confided to Aunt Sanna that it is her opinion that Bab refused Jim, and Jim married from pique."
"That sounds like Mother!" Richie said with a dry laugh.
"Doesn't it?" Julia smiled. "But the truth is," she added, "Jim has no preconcerted plan. He's made a very close man friend or two in Germany, belongs to a doctors' club. I know him so well! He lets the days, and the weeks, and the years go by, forgetting me and everything that concerns me as much as he can, and getting into a slow, dull rage whenever he remembers that fate hit him, of all men in the world, such a blow!"
"And the baby?" said Richie. "Don't you suppose she counts? Oh, Lord, to have a kid of one's own," he added slowly, with the half-smiling sigh Julia knew so well.
"I imagine she would count if he had seen her lately," Julia suggested. "But she was such a tiny scrap! And Jim, as men go, isn't a lover of children."
"You wouldn't divorce him, Julie?" Richard asked, after a silence.
"Oh, never!" she answered quickly. "No, I won't do that." She smiled. "Yet, Rich," she added presently, "it's a strange thing to me that really my one dread is that he will come back. I think he means nothing to me, yet, if I saw him—I don't know! Sometimes I worry for fear that he might want Anna, and of course I wouldn't give her up if it meant a dozen divorces."
Richard sat staring into the fire for a few moments; then he roused himself to ask smilingly:
"How'd we get started on this little heart to heart, anyway?"
"Well, I don't know," Julia said, smiling, too. "I couldn't talk of it for a long while. I can't now, to any one but you. But it all means less to me than it did. Jim never could hurt me now as he did then." She straightened up in her chair. "It's been a wonderful talk!" she said, with shining eyes. "And you're a friend in a million, Richie, dear! And now," very practically, "where are you going to sleep, my dear? Aunt Sanna has your room."
"This couch out here is made up!" Richard said, with a backward jerk of his head toward the room behind him.
"Ah, then you're all right!" Julia rose, and stopped behind his chair for a moment, to lay a light kiss on his hair. "Good-night, Little Brother!" she said affectionately.
Instantly one of the bony hands shot out, and Julia felt her wrist caught as in a vise. Richard swiftly twisted about and got on his own feet, and for a minute their eyes glittered not many inches apart. Julia tried to laugh, but she was breathing fast.
"Richard!" she said in a sharp whisper. "What is it?"
"Julia!" he choked, breathing hard.
For a long moment they remained motionless, staring at each other. Then Richard's grip on her wrists relaxed, and he sank into his deep chair, dropped his elbows on his knees, and put his hands over his face. Julia stood watching him for a second.
"Good-night, Richie!" she said then, almost inaudibly.
"Good-night!" he whispered through his shut fingers. Julia slipped softly away, closing the door of her bedroom noiselessly behind her.
Anna was asleep in the upper bed, lying flat on her back, with her lovely hair falling loosely about her flushed little face. The little cabin bedroom was as sweet as the surrounding woodland, wide-open windows admitted the fragrant coolness of the spring night. There was no moon, but the sky that arched high above the little valley was thickly spattered with stars. Richie's cat, a shadow among paler shadows, leaped swiftly over the new grass. Julia got the milky odour of buttercups, the breath of the little Persian lilac that flanked one end of the porch.
Her heart was beating thickly and excitedly, she did not want to think why. Through her brain swept a confusion of thoughts, thoughts disconnected and chaotic. She tried to remember just what words on her part—on Richard's—had led to that strange mad moment of revelation, but the memory of the moment itself overleaped all those preceding it. Julia knelt, her elbows on the window sill, and felt merely that she never wanted to move again. She wanted just to kneel here, hugging to her heart the thrilling emotion of the moment, realizing afresh that life was not dead in her; youth and love were not dead in her; she could still tremble and laugh and cry in the exquisite joy of being beloved.
And it was Richie, so weak in body, so powerful in spirit; so humble in little things, so bold and sure in the things that are great; not rich in money, but rich in wisdom and goodness; Richie, who knew all her pitiful history now, and had long suspected it, who loved her! Julia knew even now that it was an ill-fated love; she knew that deep under this first strangely thrilling current of pride and joy ran the cold waters of renunciation. But cool reason had little to do with this mood; she was as mad as any girl whose senses are suddenly, blindly, set free by a lover's first kiss.
After a while she began mechanically to undress, brushed her hair, moved about softly in the uncertain candlelight. And as she did so she became more and more unable to resist the temptation to say "Good-night" to Richie again. Neither brain nor heart was deeply involved in this desire, but some influence, stronger than either, urged her irresistibly toward its fulfilment.
She would not do it, of course! Not that there was harm in it; what possible harm could there be in her putting her head into the sitting-room and simply saying "Good-night?" Still, she would not do it.
A glance at herself in the dimly lighted mirror set her pulses to leaping again. Surely candlelight had never fallen on a more exquisite face, framed in so shining and soft an aureole of bright hair. The long loose braid fell over her shoulder, a fine ruffle of thin linen lay at the round firm base of her throat. She was still young—still beautiful—
Anna stirred, sighed in her sleep. And instantly Julia had extinguished the candle, and was bending tenderly over the child.
"It's only Mother, Sweet! Are you warm enough, dear? You feel beautifully warm! Let Mother turn you over—so!"
"Is it morning, Mother?" murmured Anna.
"No, my heart! Mother's just going to bed." And ten minutes later Julia was asleep, her face as serene as the child's own.
The morning brought her only a shamed memory of the night before and its moods, and as Richie was quite his natural self, Julia determined to dismiss the matter as a passing moment of misinterpreted sentiment on both their parts. To-day was a Sunday, so perfect that they had breakfast on the porch, and in the afternoon took a long climb on the mountainside, across patches of blossoming manzanita, and through meadows sweet with the liquid note of rising larks. They came back in the twilight: Anna limp and drowsy on Richard's shoulders, Miss Toland admitting to fatigue, but all three ready to agree with Julia's estimate that it had been a wonderful Sunday.
But night brought to two of them that new and strange self-consciousness that each had been secretly dreading all day. Julia fought it as she might have fought the oncoming of a physical ill, yet inexorably it arrived. Supper was an ordeal, she found speech difficult, she could hardly raise her eyes.
"Julie, you're as rosy as a little gipsy," said Miss Toland approvingly. "Doesn't colour become her, Rich?"
"She looks fine," Richard muttered, almost inarticulately. Julia looked up only long enough to give Miss Toland a pained and fluttering smile. She was glad of an excuse to disappear with Anna, when the little girl's bedtime arrived, and lingered so long in the bedroom that Miss Toland came and rapped on the door.
"Julia! What are you doing?" called the older woman impatiently. Julia came to the door.
"Why, I'm so tired, Aunt Sanna," she began smilingly.
"Tired, nonsense!" Miss Toland said roundly. "Come sit on the porch with Richie and me. It's like summer out of doors, and there'll be a moon!"
So Julia went to take her place on the porch steps, with a great curved branch of the white rose arching over her head, and the fragrant stretch of the grassy hilltop sloping away, at her feet, to the valley far below. Miss Toland dozed, and the younger people talked a little, and were silent for long spaces between the little casual sentences that to-night seemed so full of meaning.
The next day Julia went home, to Miss Toland's disgust and to little Anna's sorrow. Richie drove Julia and the little girl to the train; there was no explanation needed between them; at parting they looked straight into each other's eyes.
"Ask us to come again some day," Julia said. "Not too soon, but as soon as you can. And don't let us ever feel that we've done anything that will hurt or distress you, Richie."
"You and Anna are both angels," Richard answered. "Only tell me that you forgive me, Julie; that things after this will be just as they were before?"
Julia smiled, and bit a thoughtful under lip.
"This is March," she said. "We'll come and see you, let me see—in July, and everything shall be just as it was before! Perhaps I am really getting old," she said to herself, half laughing and half sad, when she was in her own kitchen an hour or two later. "But, while home is not exciting, somehow I'd rather be here than philandering on the mountain in the moonlight with Richie!"
"What you smiling about, Julie?" her mother asked, from the peaceful east side of the kitchen where her chair frequently stood while Julia and Mrs. Torney were busy in that cheerful apartment.
"Just thinking it was nice to be home again, Mama!"
"I don't hold much with visiting, myself," said Mrs. Torney, who was becoming something of a philosopher as she went into old age. "But you can't get that through a young one's skull!" she added, trimming the dangling pastry from a pie with masterly strokes of her knife. "Either you have such a good time that your own home is spoiled for you, for dear knows how long, or else you set around wondering why on earth you ever come. And then you've got to have the folks back to visit you, and wear yourself all out talking like all possessed while you cook for 'em and make their beds. I don't never feel clean when I've washed my face away from home anyway, and I like my own bed under me. You couldn't get me to visit anywheres now, if it was the Queen of Spain ast me!"
Julia laughed out merrily, and agreed with her aunt, glad to have left the episode with Richie behind her. But it haunted her for many days, nevertheless, rising like a disturbing mist between her and her calm self-confidence, and shaking her contented conviction that the renunciations necessary to her peace of mind had all been made. She found fresh reason to gird herself in circumspection and silence, and brooded, a little in discouragement, upon the incessantly recurring problems of her life.
She went to visit the cabin on Tamalpais earlier even than she had promised, however, for in June Barbara came home for a visit, bringing two splendid little boys, with whom Anna fell instantly in love, and a tiny baby in the care of a nurse. Julia spent a good deal of her time in Sausalito during the visit, and more than once she and Barbara took the four children to Mill Valley, and spent a few days with Richie, quite as happy as the boys and Anna were in the free country life.
Five years of marriage had somewhat changed Barbara; she was thinner, and freckled rather than rosy, and she wore her thick dark hair in a fashion Julia did not very much admire. Also she seemed to care less for dress than she once had done, even though what she wore was always the handsomest of its kind. But she was an eagerly admiring and most devoted wife, calmly assuming that the bronzed and silent "Francis" could do no wrong, and Julia thought she had never seen a more charming and conscientious mother. Barbara, whose husband's uncle was a lord, who had been presented at the English court, and whose mail was peppered with coats-of-arms, nursed her infant proudly and publicly, and was heard to mention to old friends—not always women either—social events that had occurred "just before Geordie came" or "when I was expecting Arthur." Her rather thin face would brighten to its old beauty when Geordie and Arthur, stamping in, bare kneed and glowing, recounted to her the joys of Sausalito, and in evening dress she was quite magnificent, and somehow seemed more at ease than American women ever do. Her efficiency left even the capable Julia gasping and outdistanced. Barbara was equal to every claim husband, children, family, and friends could make. She came down to an eight o'clock breakfast, a chattering little son on each side of her, announcing briskly that the tiny Malcolm had already had his bath. She started the little people on the day's orderly round of work and play while opening letters and chatting with her father; earned the housemaid's eternal affection by personally dusting the big drawing-room and replacing the flowers; answered the telephone in her pleasantly modulated voice; faced her husband during his ten o'clock breakfast, and discussed the foreign news with him in a manner Julia thought extraordinarily clever; and at eleven came with the baby into her mother's sunny morning-room for a little feminine gossip over Malcolm's second breakfast. Barbara never left a note unanswered, no old friend was neglected; tea hour always found the shady side porch full of callers, children strayed from the candy on the centre table to the cakes near the teapot, the doctor's collie lay panting in the doorway. Barbara's rich soft laugh, the new tones that her voice had gained in the past years, somehow dominated everything. Julia felt a vague new restlessness and discontent assail her at this contact with Barbara's full and happy life. Perhaps Barbara suspected it, for her generous inclusion of Julia, when plans of any sort were afoot, knew no limit. She won Anna's little heart with a thousand affectionate advances; loved to have the glowing beauty of the little girl as a foil for her own dark-haired boys.
"You're so busy—and necessary—and unself-conscious, Barbara," Julia said, "you make other women seem such fools!"
It was a heavenly July afternoon, and the two were following Richie and the children down one of the mountain roads above Mill Valley. Barbara, who had acquired an Englishwoman's love of nursery picnics, had lured her husband to join them to-day, and Julia had been pleasantly surprised to see how fatherly the Captain was with his small boys, how willing to go for water and tie dragging little shoe laces. But presently the soldier grew restless, stared about him for a few moments, and finally decided to leave the ladies and children to Richie's escort, and walk to the summit of the mountain and back, as a means of working off some excess of energy and gaining an appetite for dinner. He apparently did not hear Barbara's warning not to be late, and her entreaty to be careful, merely giving her a stolid glance in answer to these eager suggestions, and remarking to the boys, who begged to accompany him a little way: "Naow, naow, I tell you you carn't, so don't make little arsses of yourselves blabbering abaout it!"
This, however, was taken in good part by his family; there was much waving of hands and many shouted good wishes as he walked rapidly out of hearing.
"Poor Francis, I hope he's going to enjoy his walk," Barbara said, as they started homeward. "He gets so bored out here in California!"
"I wonder why?" Julia said, hiding a Californian's resentment.
"Oh, well, it is different, Ju—you can't deny it! One wants to be loyal, and all that," Barbara said, "but in England there's a purpose—there's a recognized order to life! They're not eternally experimenting; they don't want to be idle and ignorant like our women—they've got better things to do. There's a finish and a pleasantness about life in London; men have more leisure to take an interest in women's work; why, you've no idea how many interesting, clever, charming men I know in London! How many does one know here? And as for the women—"
It was then Julia said:
"Ah, well, you're different from other women. You're so busy—and necessary—and unself-conscious, Barbara. You make other women seem such fools!"
"Not necessarily," said Barbara, smiling. "And don't think I'm horribly conceited, Julia, talking this way. It's only to you!" They walked a little way without speaking, and then Barbara sat down on a low bank, some quarter of a mile above Richie's cabin, and added: "Do sit down, Ju. You and I are never alone, and I want to talk to you. Julie, don't be angry—it's about Jim."
Julia's eyes immediately widened, her lips met firmly, she grew a little pale.
"Go ahead," she said steadily. "Have you seen him?"
Barbara answered the question with another.
"You knew he was in London?"
"No," said Julia, "I didn't know it."
She had remained standing, and now Barbara urged her again to sit down. But Julia would not, pleading that she would rather walk, and in the end Barbara got up, and they began slowly to walk down the road together.
"Tell me," Julia commanded then.
"Now, dearest girl," Barbara pleaded, "Please don't get excited over nothing. Jim's been in London nearly a year; in fact, he's settled there. He's associated with one of the biggest consulting surgeons we have, old Sir Peveril McCann. They met in Berlin. I didn't know it until this spring—March it was. We'd just come up from the country to meet Francis, home on a year's leave; it was just before Malcolm arrived. Somebody spoke of this Doctor Studdiford, and I said at once that it must be my foster brother. I explained as well as I could that since Francis and I had been travelling so much, Jim and I had fallen out of touch, and so on."
"Who told you about him?" Julia asked.
"A Mrs. Chancellor. She's quite a character," Barbara said. "Some people like her; some don't. I don't—much. She's rich, and a widow; she studies art, and she loves to get hold of interesting people."
Julia winced at the vision of a plump, forty-year-old siren sending coquettish side glances at an admiring Jim. Anger stirred dully within her.
"Pretty?" she asked, in as nonchalant a voice as she could command.
"Ivy Chancellor? No—she's really plain," Barbara said, "a sandy, excitable little chatterbox, that's what she is! She's Lady Violet Dray's daughter; Lady Violet's quite lovely. How much Jim admires Ivy I can't say; she took him about with her everywhere; he was always at the house."
This was too much. Julia felt the friendly earth sway under her, a dry salty taste was in her mouth, a very hurricane of resentment shook her heart.
"Oh, Barbara, do you see how he can?" she asked, in a stricken voice.
"No, I don't!" Barbara answered, with a concerned glance at Julia's white face. "Well, as I know him, I can't believe it's the same Jim!"
"I wish you had seen him," Julia said, after an interval of thought. Barbara said nothing for a few moments, then she confessed suddenly:
"I did see him, Julie."
"You did? Oh, Bab, and you never told me all this time!"
"Well, Mother and Aunt Sanna begged me not to, Ju, and Francis was most emphatic about it," Barbara pleaded.
"Aunt Sanna—and Francis! But—" Julia's keen eyes read Barbara's face like an open page. "Then there was more to it!" she declared. "For they couldn't have minded my knowing just this!"
"I wish I had never mentioned Jim," Barbara said heartily. "It's none of my business, anyway, only—only—it makes me so unhappy I just can't bear it! I simply can't bear it!" And to Julia's astonishment, Barbara, who rarely showed emotion, fumbled for her handkerchief and began to cry. "I love Jim," pursued Barbara, with that refreshed vehemence that follows a brief interval of tears. "And you're just as dear to me as my own sisters—dearer! And I can't bear to have you and that darling baby here alone, and Jim off in trailing around after a little fool like Ivy Chancellor! I can't bear it," said Barbara, drying her eyes, which threatened to overflow again. "It's monstrous! You're—you're wonderful, of course, Julie, but you can't make me think you're happy! And Jim is wretched. I've known him since I was a baby, and he can't fool me! He can bluff about his work and his club and all that as long as he pleases! But he can't fool me; I know he's utterly miserable."
"And you saw him?" Julia asked.
They were in a little strip of woods just above Richard's cabin now, and Julia seated herself on the low-hanging branch of an oak. Her face, as she turned to Barbara, was full of resolute command.
"Sit down, Bab," she said, indicating a thick fallen log a few feet away. "Tell me all about it."
"Francis would strangle me," Barbara murmured, seating herself nevertheless. "And there isn't very much to it, anyway," she added, with a bright air of candour. "I wrote Jim a line, and he came to our house in Ludbroke Road, and we had a little talk. He's fatter. He was awfully interested in some knee-cap operation—"
"Babbie!" Julia reproached her.
"And we talked about everything," Barbara hastened to say.
"Me?" Julia asked flatly.
"A little," Barbara admitted. "I had nurse bring the boys in—"
"Oh, Barbara, for God's sake tell me!" Julia said, in an agonized burst.
"Oh, Julie—if only I'm doing the right thing!" Barbara answered in distress.
"This is the right thing," Julia assured her. "This is my affair."
"Francis and Mother—" Barbara began again, hesitatingly. But immediately she dismissed the doubts with a shake of her head, and suddenly assuming a confident air, she began: "I'll tell you exactly what happened, Ju. Jim came one afternoon; I was all alone, and we had tea. He's very much changed, Ju. He's harder, in some way, and—well, changed. Jim never used to be able to conceal his feelings, you know, but now—why, one feels that he's dissembling all the time! He was so friendly, and cheerful, and interested—and yet—There was something all wrong. He didn't exactly evade the subject of you and Anna, but he just said 'Yes?' or 'No?' when I talked of you—"
"I know exactly how," Julia said, wincing at some memory.
"I touched him on the quick finally," Barbara pursued; "something I said about you made him colour up, that brick-red colour of his—"
"I know!" Julia said quickly again.
"But, Julia," Barbara added earnestly, "you've no idea how hard it was! I told him how grieved and troubled we all were by this silence between you, and I went and got that snapshot Rich took of Anna, you know, the one with the collies. Well, way in the back of that picture you were snapped, too, the tiniest little figure, for you were way down by the road, and Anna close to the porch. But, my dear, he hardly glanced at Anna; he said in a quick, hushed sort of voice, 'What's she in black for?' Then I saw your picture for the first time, and said, 'Why, that must be Julia!' 'Certainly, it's Julia,' he said. I told him your grandmother had died, and he said, 'But she's still needed there, is she?' That was the first sign of anything like naturalness. And, oh, Ju, if only it had happened that Francis didn't come in then! But he did, starving for his tea, and wondering who on earth the man that I was sitting in the dark with was—it was so unfortunate! You know Francis thinks we've all spoiled Jim, always, and he looked right over him. I said, 'Francis, you remember my brother?' and Francis said, with a really insulting accent, 'Perfectly!' Jim said something about liking London and hoping to settle there, and Francis said, 'Studdiford, I'm glad you've come to see my wife, and I hope the affection you two have felt for years won't be hurt by what I say. But I admire your own wife very deeply, and you've put her in a most equivocal and humiliating position. I can't pretend that I hope you'll settle here; you've caused the people who love you sufficient distress as it is. I don't see that your staying here is going to make anything any easier, while things are as they are in California!' My dear," said Barbara with a sigh, "Francis gets that way sometimes; English people do—there seems to be a sort of moral obligation upon them to say what's true, no matter how outrageously rude it sounds!"
"I had no idea Captain Fox felt that way," Julia said, touched.
"Oh, my dear! He's one of your warmest admirers. Well," Barbara went on, "of course Jim ruffled up like a turkey cock. I didn't dare say anything, and Francis, having done his worst, was really pretty fair. Luckily, some other people came in, and later I went with Jim to the nursery. Then he said to me, 'Do you think Julia's position is equivocal, Bab?' And I said, 'Jim, I never knew any one to care so little for public opinion as Julia. But all the rumour and gossip, the unexplained mystery of it, are very, very hard for her.' I said, 'Jim, aren't you going back?' and he said, 'Never.' Then he said, 'I think Francis is right. This way is neither one thing nor the other. It ought to be settled. Not,' he said, 'that I want to marry again!' I said, 'Jim, you couldn't marry again, don't talk that way!' He said something about my clinging to old ideas, and I said, 'Jim, don't tell me you have given up your faith?' He said, very airily, 'I'm not telling you anything, my dear girl, but if the law will set me free, perhaps that's the best way of silencing Francis's remarks about Julia's equivocal position!'"
Julia was silent for a while, staring beyond Barbara, her eyes like those of a sick person, her face ashen. Barbara began to feel frightened.
"So that's it," Julia said finally, in a tired, cold voice.
"Ju—it's too dreadful to hurt you this way!" Barbara said. "But that's not all. The only reason I told you all this was because Jim may be coming home; he may come on in October, and want to see you. Francis thinks—But it seems too cruel to let him come on and take you by surprise!"
"Oh, my God!" said Julia, in a low, tense tone, "what utter wreck I have made of my life! Why is it," she said, springing up and beginning to walk again, "why is it that I am so helpless, why must I sit still and let the soul be torn out of my body! My child must grow up fatherless—under a cloud—"
"Julie! Julie!" Barbara begged, wild with anxiety, as she kept pace beside Julia on the dry brown grass. "Dearest, don't, or you'll make me feel terribly for having told you!"
"Oh, no—no," Julia said, suddenly calm and weary. "You had to tell me!" The two walked slowly on for a moment, in silence, then Julia added passionately: "Oh, what a wretched, miserable business! Oh, Bab, why do I simply have to go from one agony to another? I'm so tired of being unhappy; I'm so wretched!" Her voice fell, the fire went out of her tone. "I'm tired," she said, in a voice that seemed to Barbara curiously in keeping with the flat, toneless summer twilight, the dull brown hills, the darkening sky, the dry slippery grass over which a cool swift breeze was beginning to wander. "If Anna and I could only run away from it all!" said Julia sombrely.
"Julie, just one thing." Barbara hesitated. "Shall you see Jim?"
Julia paused, and their eyes met in the gloom. Barbara thought she had never seen anything more marked than the tragic intensity of the other woman's face. Julia might have been a young priestess, the problems of the world on her shoulders.
"That I can't say, Bab," she answered thoughtfully. And a moment later they reached the cabin, and were welcomed by Richie and the children.