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In these days, the Studdifords were househunting in all of Jim's free hours; confining their efforts almost entirely to the city, although a trip to San Mateo or Ross Valley made a welcome change now and then. It was not until late in October that the right house was found, on Pacific Avenue, almost at the end of the cable-car line. It was a new house, large and square, built of dignified dark-red brick, and with a roomy and beautiful garden about it. There was a street entrance, barred by an iron gate elaborately grilled, and giving upon three shallow brick steps that led to the heavily carved door. On the side street was an entrance for the motor car and tradespeople, the slope of the hill giving room for a basement kitchen, with its accompanying storerooms and laundries.
Upstairs, the proportions of the rooms, and their exquisite finish, made the house prominent among the city's beautiful homes. Even Jim could find nothing to change. The splendid dark simplicity of the drawing-room was in absolute harmony with the great main hall, and in charming contrast to the cheerful library and the sun-flooded morning-room. The dining-room had its own big fireplace, with leather-cushioned ingle seats, and quaint, twinkling, bottle-paned windows above. On the next floor the four big bedrooms, with their three baths and three dressing-rooms and countless closets, were all bright and sunny, with shining cream- coloured panelling, cretonne papers in gay designs of flowers and birds, and crystal door knobs. Upstairs again were maids' rooms, storerooms lined in cedar, and more baths.
"Perfect!" said Jim radiantly, on the afternoon when, the Studdifords first inspected the house. "It's just exactly right, and I'm strong for it!" He came over to Julia, who was thoughtfully staring out of a drawing-room window. Her exquisite beauty was to-day set off by a long loose sealskin coat, for the winter was early, and a picturesque little motor bonnet, also of seal, with a velvet rose against her soft hair. "Little bit sad to-day, sweetheart?" Jim asked, kissing the tip of her ear.
"No--o. I was just thinking what a lovely, sheltered backyard!" Julia said sensibly, raising her blue eyes. But she had brightened perceptibly at his tenderness. "I love you, Jim," she said, very simply.
"And I adore you!" Jim answered, his arms about her. "I've been thinking all day how rotten that sounded this morning!" he added in a lower tone. "I'm so sorry!"
"As if it was your fault!" Julia protested generously. And a moment later she charmed him by declaring herself to be entirely satisfied with this enchanting house, and by entering vigorously upon the question of furnishings.
The little episode to which Doctor Studdiford had made a somewhat embarrassed allusion had taken place in their rooms at the hotel that morning, while they were breakfasting. Plans for a little dinner party were progressing pleasantly, over the omelette and toast, when Jim chanced to suggest that a certain Mrs. Pope be included among the guests.
"Oh, Jim--not Mrs. Jerry Pope?" Julia questioned, wide eyed.
"Yes, but she calls herself Mrs. Elsie Carroll Pope now. Why not?"
"Oh, Jim--but she's divorced!"
"Well, so are lots of other people!"
"Yes, I know. But it was such a horrid divorce, Jim!"
"Oh, some other man, and letters in the papers, and Mr. Pope kept both the children! It was awful!"
"Oh, come, Ju--she's a nice little thing, awfully witty and clever. Why go out of your way to knock her!"
"I'm not going out of my way," Julia answered with dignity. "But she was a great friend of Mary Chetwynde, who used to teach at The Alexander, and she came out there two or three times, and she's a noisy, yelling sort of woman--and her hair is dyed--yes, it is, Jim!"
"Lord, you women do love to rip each other up the back!" Jim smiled lazily, as he wheeled his chair about, and lighted a cigarette.
"I'm not ripping her up the back at all," Julia protested with spirit. "But she's not a lady, and I hate the particular set she goes with--"
"Not a lady--ha!" Jim ejaculated. "She was a Cowdry."
Julia leaned back in her chair, and opened a fat letter from Sally Borroughs in Europe, that had come in her morning's mail.
"Ask her by all means to dinner," she said calmly. "Only don't expect me to admire her and approve of her, Jim, for I won't do it; I know too much about her!"
"It's just possible Mrs. Pope isn't waiting for your admiration and approval, my dear," Jim said, nettled "But I doubt, whatever she knew of you, if she would speak so unkindly about you!"
Julia turned as scarlet as if a whip had fallen across her face. She stared at him for a moment with fixed, horrified eyes, then crushed her letter together with a spasmodic gesture of the hands, and let it fall as she went blindly toward the bedroom door. Jim sat staring after her, puzzled at first, then with the red blood surging into his face. He dropped his cigarette and his newspaper, and for perhaps three minutes there was no sound in the apartment but the coffee bubbling in the percolator, and the occasional clank of the radiator.
Then Jim jumped up suddenly and flung open the door of the bedroom. Julia was sitting at her dressing-table, one elbow resting upon it, and her head dropped on her hand. She raised heavy eyes and looked at him.
"Don't be a fool, Ju," Jim said, solicitous and impatient. "You know I didn't mean anything by that. I wouldn't be such a cad. You know I wouldn't say a thing like that--I couldn't. Come on back and finish your coffee."
But he did not kiss her; he did not put his arm about her; and Julia felt curiously weary and cold as she came slowly back to her place. Jim immediately lighted a fresh cigarette, and began to rattle away somewhat nervously of his plans for the day. He was going over to the Oakland Hospital to look at his man with the spine--better not try to meet for lunch. But how about that Pacific Avenue house? If Julia took the motor and stopped at the agent's for the key, he would meet her there at four--how about it?
Agreed. Gosh! It was nearly ten o'clock, and Jim had to get out to the Children's Hospital before he went to Oakland. Julia had a quick kiss, and was advised to take good care of herself. Then Jim was gone, and she could fling her arm across the table and sob as if her heart would break.
Julia cried for a long time. Then she stopped resolutely, and spent a long half hour in serious thought, her fingers absently tracing the threads of the tablecloth with a fork, her thoughts flying.
Presently she roused herself, telephoned Jim's chauffeur and the agent of the Pacific Avenue house, bathed her reddened eyes, and inspected her new furs, just home from the shop. Now and then her breast rose with a long sigh, but she did not cry again.
"I'll wear my new furs," she decided soberly. "Jim loves me to look pretty. And I must cheer up; he hates me to be blue! Who can I lunch with, to cheer up? Aunt Sanna! I'll get a cold chicken and some cake, and go out to The Alexander!"
So the outward signs of the storm were obliterated, and no one knew of the scar that Julia carried from that day in her heart. Only a tiny, tiny scar, but enough to remind her now and then with cold terror that even into her Paradise the serpent could thrust his head, enough to prove to her bitter satisfaction that there was already something that Jim's money could not buy.
The furnishing of the Pacific Avenue house proceeded apace--it was an eminently gratifying house to furnish, and Jim and Julia almost wished their labours not so light. All rugs looked well on those beautiful floors; all pictures were at their best against the dull rich tones of the walls. Did Mrs. Studdiford like the soft blue curtains in the library, or the dull gold, or the coffee-coloured tapestry? Mrs. Studdiford, an exquisite little figure of indecision, in a great Elizabethan chair of carved black oak, didn't really know; they were all so beautiful! She wondered why the blue wouldn't be lovely in the breakfast room, if they used the gold here? Then she wouldn't use the English cretonne in the breakfast room? Oh, yes, of course, she had forgotten the English cretonne!
At last it was all done, from the two stained little Roman marble benches outside the front door, to the monogrammed sheets in the attic cedar closet. The drawing-room had its grand piano, its great mahogany davenport facing the fire, its rich dark rugs, its subdued gleam of copper and crystal, dull blue china and bright enamel. The little reception room was gay with yellow-gold silk and teakwood; Jim's library was severely handsome with its dark leather chairs and rows of dark leather bindings. A dozen guests could sit about the long oak table in the dining-room; the great sideboard with its black oak cupids and satyrs, and its enormous claw feet, struck perhaps the only pretentious note in the house. A wide-lipped bowl, in clear yellow glass, held rosy pippins or sprawling purple grapes on the table in the window, the sideboard carried old jugs and flagons in blackened silver or dull pottery.
Upstairs the sunny perfection of the bedrooms was not marred by the need of so much as a cake of violet soap. Julia revelled in details here: flowers in the bedrooms must match the hangings; there must be so many fringed towels and so many plain, in each bathroom. She amused as well as edified Jim with her sedate assurance in the matter of engaging maids; her cheeks would grow very pink when interviews were afoot, but she never lost her air of calm.
"We are as good as they are," said Julia, "but how hard it is to remember it when you are talking to them!"
Presently Foo Ting was established supreme in the kitchen, Lizzie secured as waitress, and Ellie, Lizzie's sister, engaged to do upstairs work. Chadwick, Jim's chauffeur, was accustomed occasionally to enact also the part of valet, so that it was with a real luxury of service that the young Studdifords settled down for the winter.
Julia had anticipated this settling as preceding a time of quiet, when she and Jim should loiter over their snug little dinners, should come to know the comforts of their own chairs, at each side of the library fire, and laugh and cry over some old book, or talk and dream while they stared into the coals. The months were racing about to her first wedding anniversary, yet she felt that she really knew Jim only in a certain superficial, holiday sense--she knew what cocktail he liked best, of course, and what seats in the theatre; she was quite sure of the effect of her own beauty upon him. But she longed for the real Jim, the soul that was hidden somewhere under his gay mask, under the trim, cleanshaven, smiling face. When there was less confusion, less laughing and interrupting and going about, then she would find her husband, Julia thought, and they would have long silent hours together in which to build the foundation of their life.
Her beautiful earnest face came to have a somewhat strained and wistful look, as the weeks fled past without bringing the quiet, empty time for which she longed. All about her now stretched the glittering spokes of the city's great social wheel, every mail brought her a flood of notes, every quarter hour summoned her to the telephone, every fraction of the day had its appointed pleasure. Julia must swiftly eliminate from her life much of the rich feminine tradition of housewifery; it was not for her to darn her husband's hose, to set exquisite patches in thinning table linen, to gather flowers for jars and vases. Julia never saw Jim's clothing except when he was wearing it, the table linen was Ellie's affair, and Lizzie had the entire lower floor bright and fragrant with fresh flowers before Jim and Julia came down to breakfast. Young Mrs. Studdiford found herself readily assuming the society woman's dry, brief mannerisms. Jim used to grin sometimes when he heard her at the telephone:
"Oh, that would be charming, Mrs. Babcock," Julia would say, "if you'll let me run away at three, for I must positively keep an appointment with Carroll at three, if I'm to have my gown for dear Mrs. Morton's bal masque Friday night. And if I'm just a tiny bit late you won't be cross? For we all do German at twelve now, you know, and it will run over the hour! Oh, you're very sweet! Oh, no, Mrs. Talcott spoke to me about it, but we can't--we're both so sorry, but this week seems to be just full--no, she said that, but I told her that next week was just as bad, so she's to let me know about the week after. Oh, I know she is. And I did want to give her a little tea, but there doesn't seem to be a moment! I think perhaps I'll ask Mrs. Castle to let us dine with her some other time, and give Betty a little dinner Monday--"
And so on and on, in the quick harassed voice of one who must meet obligations.
"You're a great social success, Ju," Jim said, smiling, one morning.
Julia made a little grimace over her letters.
"Oh, come off, now!" her husband railed good-naturedly. "You know you love it. You know you like to dress up and trot about with me and be admired!"
"I like to trot about with you," Julia conceded, sighing in spite of her smile. "But I get very tired of dinners. Some other woman gets you, and some other woman's husband gets me, and we say such flat things, about motor cars, or the theatre--nothing friendly or intimate or interesting!"
"Wait until you know them all better, Ju. Besides, you couldn't get intimate at a dinner, very well. Besides"--Jim defended the institutions of his class--"you didn't look very gay when young Jo Coutts seemed inclined to get very friendly at dinner the other night!"
"Jo Coutts was drunk," Julia asserted briefly. "As they very often are," she added severely. "Not raging drunk, but just silly, or sentimental and important, you know."
"I know," Jim laughed.
"And it makes me furious!" Julia said. "As for knowing them better, they aren't one bit more interesting when they're old friends. They're more familiar, I admit that, but all this cheeky yelling back and forth isn't interesting--it's just tiresome! 'I'm holding your husband's hand, Alice!' 'All right, then I'm going to kiss your husband!'" Her voice rose in mimicry. "And then Kenneth Roberts tells some little shady story, and every one screams, and every one goes on telling it over and over! Why, that little silly four-line verse Conrad Kent had last night--every one in the room had to learn it by heart and say it six hundred times before we were done with it!"
"You're a cynic, woman," Jim said, kissing his wife, who by this time had come around to his chair. "It's all too easy for you, that's the trouble! They've accepted you with open arms; you're the rage! You ought to have been kept for a while on the anxious seat, like the poor Groves, and Mrs. McCann; then you'd appreciate High Sassiety!"
"Well, I wouldn't make myself ridiculous and pathetic like the Groves, trying to burst into society, and giving people a chance to snub me!" Julia said thoughtfully. "Never mind," she added, "next month Lent begins, and then there must be some let-up!"
However, Lent had only begun when the Studdifords made a flying trip to Honolulu, where Jim had a patient. The great liner was fascinating to Julia, and, as usual, her beauty and charm, and the famous young surgeon's unostentatious bigness, made them friends on all sides, so that the life of cocktail mixing and card playing and gossip went on as merrily as it had in San Francisco. Julia could not spend the empty days staring dreamily out at the rolling green Pacific; every man on board was anxious to improve her acquaintance, from the Captain to the seventeen-year-old little English lad who was going out to his father in India, and to not one of them did it ever occur that lovely little Mrs. Studdiford might prefer to be left alone.
But the sea air shook Julia into splendid health and energy, and she was her sweetest self in Honolulu; she and Jim both seemed to recapture here some of the exquisite tenderness of their honeymoon a year ago. Neither would admit that there had been any drifting apart, they had never been less than lovers, yet now they experienced the delights of a reconciliation. Julia, in her delicate linens and thin embroidered pongees, with a filmy parasol shading her bright hair, seemed more wonderful than ever before, and lovely Hawaii was a setting for one of their happiest times together.
On the boat, coming home, however, there occurred a little incident that darkened Julia's sky for a long time to come. On the very day of starting she and Jim, with some other returning San Franciscans, were standing, a laughing group on the deck, when a dark, handsome young woman came forward from a nearby cabin doorway, and held out her hand.
"Do you remember me, Julia?" said she, smiling.
Julia, whose white frock was draped with a dozen ropes of brilliant flowers, and who looked like a little May Queen in her radiant bloom, looked at the newcomer for a few moments, and then said, with a clearing face:
"Hannah! Of course I know you. Mrs. Palmer, may I present Doctor Studdiford?"
Jim smilingly shook hands, and as the rest of the group melted away, Mrs. Palmer explained that her husband's business was in Manila, but she was bringing up her two little children to visit her parents in Oakland.
"She's extremely pretty," Jim said, when he and Julia were alone in their luxurious stateroom. "Who is she?"
"I don't know why I supposed you knew that she is one of Mark's sisters," Julia said, colouring. "I saw something of them all, after--afterward, you know."
"Oh!" Jim's face, which he chanced to be washing, also grew red; he scowled as he plunged it again into the towel. Julia proceeded with her own lunch toilet in silence, humming a little now and then, but the brightness was gone from the day for her; the swift- flying green water outside the window had turned to lead, the immaculate little apartment was bleak and bare. Jim did not speak as they went down to lunch, nor was he himself when they met again, after a game of auction, at dinner. In fact, this marked Julia's first acquaintance with a new side of his character.
For Jim's sunny nature was balanced by an occasional mood so dark as to make him a different man while it lasted. Barbara had once lightly hinted this to Julia--"Jim was glooming terribly, and did nothing but snarl"--and Miss Toland had confirmed the hint when she asked him, at Christmas dinner, when he and Julia had been eight months man and wife: "Well, Jim, never a blue devil once, eh?"
"Never a one. Aunt Sanna!" Jim had responded gayly.
"What should he have blue devils about?" Julia had demanded on this occasion, presenting herself indignantly to them, and looking in her black velvet and white lace like a round-eyed child.
She thought of that happy moment this afternoon, with a little chill at her heart. For there was no doubt that Jim had blue devils now. When she came back to her stateroom at six o'clock, he was already there, flung across the bed, his arms locked under his head, his sombre eyes on the ceiling, where green water-lights were playing.
"Jim, don't you feel well, dear?"
"Perfectly well, thank you!" Jim said coldly.
Slightly angered by his tone, Julia fell silent, busied herself with her brushes, hooked on a gown of demure cherry colour and gray, caught up a great silky scarf.
"Anything I can do for you, Jim?" she said then, politely.
"Just--let me alone!" Jim answered, without stirring.
Hurt to the quick, and with sudden colour in her face, Julia left the room. She held her head high, but she felt almost a little sick with the shock. Five minutes later she was the centre of a chattering group on the deck. A milky twilight held the sea, the skyline was no longer to be discerned in the opal spaces all about them, the ship moved over a vast plain of pearl-coloured smooth waters. Where staterooms were lighted, long fingers of rosy brightness fell across the deck; here and there in the shelter of a bit of wall were dark blots that were passengers, wrapped and reclining, and unrecognizable in the gloom.
Julia and a young man named Manners began to pace the deck. Mr. Manners was a poet, and absorbed in the fascinating study of his own personality, but he served Julia's need just now, and never noticed her abstraction and indifference. He described to Julia the birth of his own soul, when he was what the world considered only a clumsy, unthinking lad of seventeen, and Julia listened as a pain-racked fever patient might listen with vague distress to the noise of distant hammers.
Presently they were all at dinner; soup, but no Jim; fish, but no Jim. Here was Jim at last, pale, freshly shaven, slipping into his place with a muttered apology and averted eyes. With a sense of impending calamity upon her, Julia struggled through her dinner; after a while she found herself holding cards, under a bright light; after a while again, she reached her stateroom.
Julia turned up the light. The room was close and empty, littered with the evidences of Jim's hasty toilet. She opened a window, and the sweet salt air filtered in, infinitely soothing and refreshing. She began to go about the room, picking up Jim's clothes, and putting the place in order. Once or twice her face twitched with pain, and once she stopped and pressed Jim's coat to her heart with both hands, as if to stop a wound, but she did not cry, and presently began her usual preparations for bed in her usual careful fashion. The cherry-coloured gown had been put away, and Julia, in an embroidered white kimono almost stiff enough to stand alone, was putting her rings into their little cases when Jim came in. She looked at him over her shoulder.
"Where have you been, Jim?" she asked quietly, noticing his white face, his tumbled hair, and a certain disorder in his appearance. Jim did not answer, and after a puzzled moment Julia repeated her question.
"Up on deck," Jim said, a bitter burst of words breaking through his ugly silence. He dropped into a chair, and put his head in his hands.
Julia watched him for a few moments in silence, while she went on with her preparations. She wound her little watch and put it under her pillow; she folded the counterpanes neatly back from both beds, and got out her slippers. Then she sat down to put trees into the little satin slippers she had been wearing, and carried them to the closet.
Suddenly Jim sat up, dropped his hands, and stared at her haggardly.
"Julia," said he hoarsely, "I've been up there thinking--I'm going mad, I guess--"
He stopped, and there was silence. Julia stood still, looking at him.
"Tell me," Jim said, "was it Mark?"
The hideous suddenness of it struck Julia like a bodily blow; she stood as if she had been turned to ice. A great weight seemed to seize her limbs, a sickening vertigo attacked her. She had a suffocating sense that time was passing, that ages were going by in that bright, glaring room, with the sea air coming in a shuttered window, and the two beds, with their smooth white pillows, so neatly turned down--Still, she could not speak--not yet.
"Yes, it was Mark," she said tonelessly and gently, after a long silence. "I thought you knew."
"Oh, my God!" Jim said, choking. He flung his hands madly in the air and got on his feet. Then, as if ashamed, through all the boiling surge of his emotions, at this loss of control, he rammed his hands into the pockets of his light overcoat, and began to pace the room. "You--you--you!" he said, in a sort of wail, and in another moment, muttering some incoherency about air, he had snatched up his cap and was gone again.
Julia slowly crossed the room, and sat down on her bed. She felt as a person who had swallowed a dose of poison might feel: agonies were soon to begin that would drive the life from her body, but she could not feel them yet. Instead she felt tired, tired beyond all bearing, and the lights hurt her eyes. She slipped her kimono from her, stepped out of her slippers, and plunged the room into utter darkness. Like a tired child she crept into bed, and with a great sigh dropped her head on the pillow.
The ship plowed on, its great lights cutting a steady course over the black water, its whole bulk quivering to the heartbeat of the mighty engines; whispered good-nights and laughing good-nights were said in the narrow, hot hallways. Lights went out in cabin after cabin. The decks were dark and deserted. Below stairs the world that never slept hummed like a beehive; squads of men were washing floors, laying tables; the kitchen was as hot and busy as at midday; the engine rooms were filled with silhouetted forms briskly coming and going. Up on one of the dark decks, with the soft mist blowing in his face, Jim spent the long night, his folded arms resting on the rail, his sombre eyes following the silent rush of waters, and in her cabin Julia lay wide awake and battling with despair.
She had thought the old dim horror over and done with. Now she knew it never would be that; now she knew there was no escape. The happy little castle she had builded for herself fell about her like a house of cards; she was dishonoured, she was abased, she was powerless. In telling Jim her whole history, on that terrible night at the settlement house, she had flung down her arms; there was no new extenuating fact to add to the story; it was all stale and unchangeable; it must stand before their eyes forever, a hideous fact. And it seemed to Julia, tossing restlessly in the dark, that a thousand sleeping menaces rose now to terrify her. Perhaps Hannah Palmer knew! Julia's breath stopped, her whole body shook with terror. And if Hannah, why not others? A letter of Mark's to some one--to any one--might be in existence now, waiting its hour to appear, and to disgrace her, and Jim, and all who loved them!
And was it for this, she asked herself bitterly, that she had so risen from the past, so studied and struggled and aspired? Had she been mad all these years to forget the danger in which she stood, to imagine that she had buried her tragedy too deep for discovery? Had she been mad to marry Jim, her dear, sweet, protecting old Jim, who was always so good to her?
But at the thought of him, and of her bitter need of him in this desolate hour, Julia fell to violent crying, and after her tears she drifted into a deep sleep, her lashes wet, and her breast occasionally rising with a sharp sigh as a child's might.
When she awakened, dawn was breaking, the level waste of the sea was pearl colour and rose under a slowly rising mist. Julia bathed and dressed, and went out to the deck, where, with a great plaid wrapped about her, she might watch the miracle of the birth of day. And as the warming rays of the sun enveloped her, and the newly washed decks dried under its touch, and as signs of life began to be heard all about, slamming doors and gay greetings, laughter and the crisp echoes of feet, hope and self-confidence crept again into her heart. She was young, after all, and pretty, and Jim's very agony of jealousy only proved that he loved her. She had never deceived him, he could not accuse her of one second's weakness there. He had only had a sudden, terrible revelation of the truth he had known so long; it could not affect him permanently.
"Going down?" said a voice gayly.
Julia turned to smile upon a group of cheerful acquaintances.
"Thinking about it," she smiled.
"Where's Himself?" somebody asked.
"Still asleep--the lazy bones!" Julia answered calmly. They all went downstairs together, and Julia was perhaps a little ashamed to find the odours of coffee and bacon delightful, and to enjoy her breakfast.
Afterward she went straight to her room, not at all surprised to find Jim there, flung, dressed as he was, across his bed, and breathing heavily. Julia studied him for a moment in silence. Then she set about the somewhat difficult task of rousing him, quite her capable wifely little self when there was something she could do for him.
"Jim! You'll have to get these damp things off, dear! Come, Jim, you can't sleep this way. Wake up, Jim!"
Drowsily, heavily, he consented to be partially undressed, and covered with a warm rug. Julia grew quite breathless over her exertions, tucked him in carefully.
"I'm going to tell the chambermaid not to come in until I ring, Jim. But shall I send you in a cup of coffee?"
"Ha!" Jim said, already asleep.
"Do you want some coffee, Jim?"
Julia tiptoed about the room a moment more, took her little sewing basket and a new magazine, and giving a departing look at her husband, found his eyes wide open and watching her. Instantly a rush of tears pressed behind her eyelids, and she felt herself grow weak and confused.
"Thank you for fixing me up so nicely, darling," Jim said meekly.
"Oh, you're welcome!" Julia answered, with a desperate effort to appear calm.
"Will you kiss me, Julie?" Jim pursued, and a second later she was on her knees beside him, their arms were locked together, and their lips met as if they had never kissed each other before.
"You little angel," Jim said, "what a beast I am! As if life hadn't been hard enough for you without my adding to it! Oh, but what a night I've had! And you'll forgive me, won't you, sweetheart, for I love you so?"
Julia put her face down and cried stormily, her wet face pressed against his, his arms holding her close. After a while, when the sobs lessened, they began to talk together, and then laugh together in the exquisite relief of being reconciled. Then Jim went to sleep, and Julia sat beside him, his hand in hers, her eyes idly following the play of broken bright lights that quivered on the wall.
She leaned back in her big chair, feeling weary and spent, broken, but utterly at peace. From that hour life was changed to her, and she dimly felt the change, accepted it as stoically as an Indian might the loss of a limb, and adjusted herself to all it implied. If Jim was a little less her god, he was still hers, hers in some new relationship that appealed to what was protective and maternal in her. And if the burden of her secret had grown inconceivably heavy for her to bear, she knew by some instinct that this burst of jealous frenzy had somehow lightened its weight for Jim; she, not he, would henceforth pay the price.
"And life isn't easy and gay, say what you will," thought Julia philosophically. "There is no use grumbling and groaning, and saying to yourself, 'Oh, if only it wasn't just this or that thing worrying me!' for there is always this or that. Kennedy and Bab think I am the most fortunate girl in the world, and yet, to be able to go back ten years, and live a few weeks over again, I'd give up everything I have, even Jim. Just to start square! Just to feel that wretched thing wasn't there like a layer of mud under everything I do, making it a farce for me to talk of uplifting girls by settlement work, as people are eternally making me talk! Or if only every one knew it, it would be easier, for then I would feel at least that I stood on my own feet! But now, of course, that's impossible, on Jim's account. What a horrible scandal it would be, what a horrible thing it is, that any girl can cloud her own life in this way!
"As for boys, I suppose mighty few of them are pure by the time they're through college, by the time they're through High School, perhaps! It's all queer, for that involves girls and women, too, thousands of them! And how absurd it would be to bring such a charge as this against a man, ten years after it happened, when he was married and a respectable citizen!
"Well, society is very queer; civilization hasn't got very far; sometimes I think virtue is a good deal of an accident, and that people take themselves pretty seriously!" And so musing, Julia dozed, and wakened, and dozed again. But in her heart had been sowed the seed that was never to be uprooted, the little seed of doubt: doubt of the social structure, doubt of its grave authorities, its awe-inspired interpreters. What were the mummers all so busy about and how little their mummery mattered! This shall be permitted, this shall not be permitted; what is in your heart and brain concerns us not at all; where your soul spends its solitudes is not our affair; so that you keep a certain surface smoothness, so that you dress and talk and spend as we bid you, you--for such time as we please--shall be one of us!
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
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