Mrs. Hill and Rose arrived at the home of Deborah Hutchison just after three o’clock. The maid who answered the door escorted them right into Deborah’s parlor, where Deborah was sitting in her wheelchair in front of a desk, writing.
Deborah barely glanced at them at first. "I’ll be finished in just a second, Mother," she said. "Just let me finish this paragraph." Then she did a double take.
Rose had been standing behind Mrs. Hill, but when she stepped out Deborah saw her and stared in disbelief for a moment. Forgetting her papers, she set them on the desk and turned towards them, unable to believe her eyes.
"Rosie?" she asked in surprise.
"Debbie!" Rose hurried toward her, then stopped, uncertain of what to do.
Deborah wheeled her chair in Rose’s direction. "I haven’t seen you in years! What brings you to San Francisco?"
"You never wrote after 1906."
Deborah looked a little sheepish. "I guess I didn’t. Has it really been that long?"
"It’s 1913 now, you know."
"I know. Heavens, seven years. I didn’t even think about how much time had passed."
They both stopped, a little embarrassed. Deborah’s maid broke the tension, bringing in a tray of tea and sandwiches. Deborah gestured to her to set it on the table and wheeled herself over.
"Mother, Rosie, sit down and have some tea."
They sat around the small table, helping themselves to sandwiches and tea. Rose held her cup gingerly, looking from Deborah to Mrs. Hill.
"What are you doing in San Francisco, Rosie?" Deborah asked again, pouring some tea.
"Ah...actually, I’m here with a traveling theater troupe, doing Shakespeare. We’re performing at the Moore Theater, doing Hamlet, As You Like It, and King Lear. Your mother says you’ll be accompanying her and your father to the theater on Saturday."
"Your mother let you go on stage?" Deborah asked in disbelief. Even her mother, who was known for being very liberal and forward thinking, would have been appalled at the thought of daughter as a professional actress. Actresses were often considered little better than prostitutes.
"No," Rose replied. "She doesn’t know about it." At least, she didn’t think Ruth knew about it.
"Is she here, in San Francisco?"
Rose shook her head. "She’s still in Philadelphia."
"And she let you go off on your own like this? Did your father talk her into it?" Rose’s father had always been more permissive than her mother.
"No, Father died about three years ago. Mother was set on me getting married, but I didn’t like her choice."
"Who was it?"
"Caledon Hockley?" Deborah thought for a moment. "Wasn’t he that young man who wanted to control everyone around him?"
Rose nodded affirmatively. "One and the same."
"Did he ever outgrow that?"
Deborah nodded knowingly. "I wouldn’t have wanted to marry him, either."
"I heard you were married recently."
"That’s right. September 2, 1913, to William Hutchison. He’s young, but he’s already a partner in Father’s business. He bought this house, and had elevators installed for me so I could get around easier. We spent our honeymoon in New York City, and only got back two weeks ago."
"You’re happy, then?"
"Oh, yes. Will—I call him Will—is wonderful. He came courting even though I was in this wheelchair, and took me all sorts of places. I thought that he would be like most of the other young men who came to call—he’d get uncomfortable with a girl in a wheelchair, and drop her for someone else, but not Will. He even tried out my wheelchair a few times, to see what it was like." She laughed. "He kept steering himself into walls and furniture. I never laughed so hard in my life. He proposed back in May, and of course Mother and Father approved—they were afraid I’d end up an old maid."
"An old maid!" Rose exclaimed. "You’re only eighteen."
"And I was seventeen then, but they still worried."
"And rightly so," Mrs. Hill interjected. "What would have happened to you after we’re gone?"
"Oh, Mother, I would have been fine. I’m your only heir, and, besides that, I’m going to be a famous writer someday. I’ve already had my poetry published in several newspapers and magazines."
"You have?" Rose asked in surprise. She had never read any of it.
"I write under a pen name," Deborah explained. "Father thought that publishing under my own name would bring too much notoriety, so I write under the name of Judith Stark."
Rose suddenly remembered a piece of poetry that she had read in a magazine while on the train to San Francisco. It had been memorable to her because it was about escaping from a trap and finding happiness, much as she had done when she left Cal. The author’s name had been Judith Stark.
Rose mentioned this to Deborah. Deborah nodded.
"Yes, I wrote that," she told Rose. "I came up with it after Will and I got married, because I felt like I had escaped from this trap...this trap of being crippled...and was finally completely alive again. I realized that being in a wheelchair was not the end of my life, and that I could do all the things that I wanted to do, in spite of it. It was my third poem, and, I think, my best. Even though wretched things happen sometimes, you can still go on with life, if you only realize how."
Rose nodded, smiling. "You’re absolutely right."
"Well, you know all about that. Even though your father died, and your mother wanted you to marry that bully, you still managed to go out and become an actress. What part do you play, by the way?"
"I’m the leading lady for the company."
Deborah’s eyes widened. "The leading lady? You have been successful."
Rose smiled modestly. "It took hard work, chance, and a lot of luck."
"Still...you’ve done really well. Do you have a beau?"
Rose shook her head. "Not at the moment."
"Well, you’ll find someone one of these days, and then you’ll be as happy as Will and I are."
I was that happy, Rose thought, until an iceberg collided with the Ship of Dreams, and the man that I loved wound up as cold and still as that piece of ice. But to Deborah, she said, "Someday, I hope so." Changing the subject, she said, "I saw in the papers that you’ve only been in San Francisco these last six months. Where were you before that?"
Mrs. Hill answered her. "We left San Francisco after the earthquake and moved down to San Jose. We spent several years traveling, as well, seeking a cure for Deborah."
"Which you didn’t find, and you nearly drove me mad seeking," Deborah interjected.
"At least we tried. Parents will do what they think is right for their children, even if it does annoy them sometimes."
"I know, Mother. You did the best you could. But some of those doctors were nothing but charlatans, and those treatments recommended by them were worse than being in a wheelchair."
Rose listened to them bicker affectionately, thinking about how different the relationship between Deborah and her mother was than that of Rose and Ruth. To be sure, Ruth could be loving and caring at times, but she was often more concerned with how things were viewed by others, and this affected the way she treated Rose. Still, Rose sincerely hoped that her mother was all right, that no harm had come to her, and that she was happy.
"Have you ever been to Los Angeles?" Deborah suddenly asked Rose.
Rose shook her head, but her interest was piqued. "No. Why?"
"We lived there for about two years before returning to San Francisco. Father established a branch of his business down there, and that was when William joined the business and transferred to San Francisco when we did."
Rose remembered Jack talking about Los Angeles—and about Santa Monica. "What was it like there?"
"It’s incredible. It’s warm year round...well, maybe not warm, but definitely not as cold as Philadelphia, and there’s more sun than in San Francisco. We had flowers all year round, because it hardly ever got below freezing—maybe a few really cold days in winter, and that was all—and we were so close to the ocean that it didn’t get too hot, although there were a few days in every summer that got unpleasant. I visited the beach a lot—we had a car, and I’d have our chauffeur drive me down there. The beaches are beautiful, although I couldn’t really go in the water because I can’t move my legs, and the waves were a little rough. But the times that I got close to the water—sometimes someone would carry me out—it was warm, at least in summer. I got very strong arms wheeling myself through the sand, which is harder than on a smooth surface."
Rose couldn’t resist asking if they’d ever been to Santa Monica.
"We went there just before I turned sixteen. Father had some business there, so we all went. There’s a lot of interesting things there—even a roller coaster, although I wasn’t allowed to ride on it. I got to do other things, though—I even had my portrait done by this artist who was hanging around the pier. He only charged ten cents, although he drew so well that he could have charged more and people still would have paid to have their pictures drawn."
Rose felt a sudden catch in her throat. Jack! she thought, remembering the portrait he had done of her. Quickly, she sipped some tea, trying to suppress the sudden surge of emotion.
"What made you think of Santa Monica?" Deborah asked, nibbling on a sandwich.
"Oh, I just heard about it, and it sounded interesting," Rose replied. "Do you still have the drawing?"
"Yes. It’s somewhere around here..." Deborah pushed her chair away from the table, wheeling herself over to the desk and rummaging through the drawers.
"Here it is," she announced, removing the portrait from a drawer. It was inside a folder, and Deborah opened it, revealing a carefully rendered drawing of herself sitting in her wheelchair on the pier, her hat tilted at an odd angle on her head. In the corner of the drawing were the initials JD.
Rose swallowed hard around the lump in her throat. It was obviously Jack’s work. She would have recognized it even without the initials.
"It’s...a perfect likeness," she told Deborah. "It captures your spirit."
"It does, doesn’t it?" Mrs. Hill interjected, viewing the picture. "I didn’t realize you still had that."
"I’m not going to throw away something like this. It’s a fine work of art." She looked at the drawing for a moment longer, then tucked it back in the drawer and wheeled herself back to the table.
"How would you like to stay for dinner?" she asked Rose suddenly. "We can catch up on old times—that is, if you don’t have to perform tonight."
"Sure. I’d love to stay," Rose told her. "Monday is my night off."
"Great. I’ll have Lucille tell Mrs. Bloomfield to make dinner for three tonight. You’ll get to meet Will." She reached over and tugged on a cord, ringing a bell. A moment later, the maid who had brought them their tea appeared in the doorway.
"Yes, Ma’am?" she asked.
"Tell Mrs. Bloomfield that there will be a guest for dinner tonight," Deborah told her.
"Thank you, Lucille."
Rose was impressed with the way Deborah treated her servants. Many wealthy people would never consider thanking a servant for doing as they ordered.
"I would have asked you, Mother, but I know that you have an important business associate coming to dinner tonight, so I thought you’d want to be at home."
"It’s all right. You and Rose need to catch up on things anyway." She glanced at the clock. "I must be going. Rose, will you be able to find your way back into the city all right?"
"Oh, don’t worry about her, Mother. Mitchell will drive her back when dinner is over."
"Ah...thank you," Rose said, realizing that her evening was being planned for her.
"Oh, I’m sorry, Rose. But I don’t think you should be walking the streets of San Francisco alone at night. There’s some people out there you’re better off not meeting."
Rose was well aware of this, and, admittedly, she wasn’t looking forward to an after-dark jaunt through the city. But she wasn’t used to being driven around anymore. She rarely rode in a car at all; usually, she got around by train, on foot, or by streetcar. Still, she nodded graciously.
"Thank you," she said again. "I’d rather not be out on the streets alone at night anyway."
Mrs. Hill left soon after, and Deborah and Rose spent the afternoon reminiscing about their childhoods in Philadelphia. Rose told Deborah about what had happened after she left, leaving out the parts about the Titanic and Jack. She also left out most of her experience with Cal, although she did tell her about leaving him at the altar, much to Deborah’s amusement. She described life in New York, and her career as an actress.
Deborah told her about her life in San Francisco, about the earthquake, and her subsequent paralysis. She had been angry and frustrated for a long time afterward, and this was the main reason why she hadn’t contacted Rose. Even after she was feeling better, it didn’t really occur to her to write to her old friends, and so the years had slipped by without contact.
Deborah’s story made Rose realize just how long it had been since she had contacted her mother. It had been nearly a year and a half since she had left home, and she had not written to her mother, nor telephoned her, nor even sent her a telegram. She had no idea what her mother was doing now, or how she was doing. And yet she was still afraid to contact her, afraid that somehow Cal would find her. She also feared that something had happened to Ruth, with Cal so insistent that all redheads were evil, and his words about needing to protect his father from Ruth. She almost felt that it was better not to know.
Deborah told Rose about the years they had lived in San Jose, and about the various treatments that had been tried for her injured back. None had worked, and, although she had been optimistic in the beginning, after a while she had realized the futility of the treatments and had opted instead to learn to live with herself as she was. She had done an admirable job of it, too.
After the Hills had moved to Los Angeles early in 1911, she had begun to convince herself that, despite her injury, she was still alive, still had a life to live, and could do most of the things she had done before. She had spent countless hours on the beach, watching the waves roll in and out, and had slowly healed from the trauma—not physically; the crippling injury would never be fully healed—but emotionally. She had begun writing, and had met and fallen in love with William Hutchison. By the time she and Will were married in 1913, she had regained her old liveliness, and was a stronger person than before because of what she had endured.
Will arrived home shortly before dinner and called for his wife. Deborah and Rose took the elevator down to the first floor, where Deborah introduced Rose and Will. Rose watched them with a twinge of envy, noting the deep affection between the two, and remembering how it had been in those few brief days she had spent with Jack. Watching them, she suddenly wished that she had someone who would come home to her each day, asking how her day had been and worrying over her welfare. Maybe someday, she thought, I’ll find a husband who will love me as much as Will loves Deborah.
Dinner was pleasant, and Rose enjoyed being in the company of the young newlyweds. They talked for hours afterward, and Rose and Deborah promised to write this time. Afterward, Mitchell, the chauffeur, drove Rose back to her hotel as she contemplated the strange directions that life took people—and how, sometimes, things worked out in spite of themselves.