"It dumbfounds me," said Linda, "to have Eileen do this for me."
She had put on the shoes and stockings, a plain georgette blouse of a soft, brownish wood-gray, with a bit of heavy brown silk embroidery decorating the front, and the jacket. The dress was of silky changeable tricolette, the skirt plain. Where a fold lifted and was strongly lighted, it was an exquisite silver-gray; where a shadow fell deeply it was gray-brown. The coat reached half way to the knees. It had a rippling skirt with a row of brown embroidery around it, a deep belt with double buttoning at the waistline, and collar and sleeves in a more elaborate pattern of the same embroidery as the skirt. Linda perched the hat on her head, pulled it down securely, and faced Katy.
"Now then!" she challenged.
"And it's a perfect dress!" said Katy proudly, "and you're just the colleen to wear it. My, but I wisht your father could be seeing ye the now."
With almost reverent hands Linda removed the clothing and laid it away. Then she read a letter from Marian that was waiting for her, telling Katy scraps of it in running comment as she scanned the sheets.
"She likes her boarding place. There are nice people in it. She has got a wonderful view from the windows of her room. She is making friends. She thinks one of the men at Nicholson and Snow's is just fine; he is helping her all he can, on the course she is taking. And she wants us to look carefully everywhere for any scrap of paper along the hedge or around the shrubbery on the north side of the house. One of her three sheets of plans is missing. I don't see where in the world it could have gone, Katy."
Katy spread out her hands in despair.
"There was not a scrap of a sheet of paper in the room when I cleaned it," she said, "not a scrap. And if I had seen a sheet flying around the yard I would have picked it up. She just must be mistaken about having lost it here. She must have opened her case on the train and lost it there."
Linda shook her head.
"I put that stuff in the case myself," she said, "and the clothes on top of it, and she wouldn't have any reason for taking those things out on the train. I can't understand, but she did have three rough sketches. She had her heart set on winning that prize and it would be a great help to her, and certainly it was the most comprehensive and convenient plan for a house of that class that I ever have seen. If I ever have a house, she is going to plan it, even if she doesn't get to plan John Gilman's as he always used to say that she should. And by the way, Katy, isn't it kind of funny for Eileen to go away over Sunday when it's his only holiday?"
"Oh, she'll telephone him," said Katy, "and very like, he'll go down, or maybe he is with her. Ye needn't waste any sympathy on him. Eileen will take care that she has him so long as she thinks she wants him."
Later it developed that Eileen had secured the invitation because she was able to produce three most eligible men. Not only was John Gilman with the party, but Peter Morrison and Henry Anderson were there as well. It was in the nature of a hastily arranged celebration, because the deal for three acres of land that Peter Morrison most coveted on the small plateau, mountain walled, in Lilac Valley, was in escrow. He had made a payment on it. Anderson was working on his plans. Contractors had been engaged, and on Monday work would begin. The house was to be built as soon as possible, and Peter Morrison had arranged that the garage was to be built first. This he meant to occupy as a residence so that he could be on hand to superintend the construction of the new home and to protect, as far as possible, the natural beauty and the natural growth of the location.
Early Sunday morning Linda and Katy, with a full lunch box and a full gasoline tank, slid from the driveway and rolled down the main street of Lilac Valley toward the desert.
"We'll switch over and strike San Fernando Road," said Linda, "and I'll scout around Sunland a bit and see if I can find anything that will furnish material for another new dish."
That day was wonderful for Katy. She trotted after Linda over sandy desert reaches, along the seashore, up mountain trails, and through canyons connected by long stretches of motoring that was more like flying than riding. She was tired but happy when she went to bed. Monday morning she was an interested spectator as Linda dressed for school.
"Sure, and hasn't the old chrysalis opened up and let out the nicest little lady-bird moth, Katy?" inquired Linda as she smoothed her gray-gold skirts. "I think myself that this dress is a trifle too good for school. When I get my allowance next week I think I'll buy me a cloth skirt and a couple of wash waists and save this for better; but it really was good of Eileen to take so much pains and send it to me, when she was busy planning a trip."
Katy watched Linda go, and she noted the new light in her eyes, the new lift of her head, and the proud sureness of her step, and she wondered if a new dress could do all that for a girl, she scarcely believed that it could. And, too, she had very serious doubts about the dress. She kept thinking of it during the day, and when Eileen came, in the middle of the afternoon, at the first words on her lips: "Has my dress come?" Katy felt a wave of illness surge through her. She looked at Eileen so helplessly that that astute reader of human nature immediately Suspected something.
"I sent it special," she said, "because I didn't know at the time that I was going to Riverside and I wanted to work on it. Isn't it here yet?"
Then Katy prepared to do battle for the child of her heart.
"Was the dress ye ordered sent the one Miss Linda was telling ye about?" she asked tersely.
"Yes, it was," said Eileen. "Linda has got mighty good taste. Any dress she admired was sure to be right. She said there was a beautiful dress at 'The Mode'. I went and looked, and sure enough there was, a perfect beauty."
"But she wanted the dress for herself," said Katy.
"It was not a suitable dress for school," said Eileen.
"Well, it strikes me," said Katy, "that it was just the spittin' image of fifty dresses I've seen ye wear to school.
"What do you know about it?" demanded Eileen.
"I know just this," said Katy with determination. "Ye've had one new dress in the last few days and you're not needin' another. The blessed Virgin only knows when Miss Linda's had a dress. She thought ye'd done yourself proud and sent it for her, and she put it on, and a becoming and a proper thing it was too! I advanced her the money myself and sent her to get some shoes to match it since she had her car fixed and could go in a hurry. A beautiful dress it is, and on her back this minute it is!"
Eileen was speechless with anger. Her face was a sickly white and the rouge spots on her cheeks stood a glaring admission.
"Do you mean to tell me—" she gasped.
"Not again," said the daughter of Erin firmly, "because I have already told ye wance. Linda's gone like a rag bag since the Lord knows when. She had a right to the dress, and she thought it was hers, and she took it. And if ye ever want any more respect or obedience or love from the kiddie, ye better never let her know that ye didn't intend it for her, for nothing was ever quite so fair and right as that she should have it; and while you're about it you'd better go straight to the store and get her what she is needin' to go with it, or better still, ye had better give her a fair share of the money of which there used to be such a plenty, and let her get her things herself, for she's that tasty nobody can beat her when she's got anything to do with."
Eileen turned on Katy in a gust of fury.
"Katherine O'Donovan," she said shrilly, "pack your trunk and see how quick you can get out of this house. I have stood your insolence for years, and I won't endure it a minute longer!"
Katy folded her red arms and lifted her red chin, and a steel-blue light flashed from her steel-gray eyes.
"Humph!" she said, "I'll do nothing of the sort. I ain't working for ye and I never have been no more than I ever worked for your mother. Every lick I ever done in this house I done for Linda and Doctor Strong and for nobody else. Half of this house and everything in it belongs to Linda, and it's a mortal short time till she's of age to claim it. Whichever is her half, that half I'll be staying in, and if ye manage so as she's got nothing to pay me, I'll take care of her without pay till the day comes when she can take care of me. Go to wid ye, ye triflin', lazy, self-possessed creature. Ten years I have itched to tell ye what I thought of ye, and now ye know it."
As Katy's rage increased, Eileen became intimidated. Like every extremely selfish person she was a coward in her soul.
"If you refuse to go on my orders," she said, "I'll have John Gilman issue his."
Then Katy set her left hand on her left hip, her lower jaw shot past the upper, her doubled right fist shook precious near the tip of Eileen's exquisite little nose.
"I'm darin' ye," she shouted. "I'm just darin' ye to send John Gilman in the sound of my voice. If ye do, I'll tell him every mean and selfish thing ye've done to me poor lambie since the day of the Black Shadow. Send him to me? Holy Mither, I wish ye would! If ever I get my chance at him, don't ye think I won't be tellin' him what he has lost, and what he has got? And as for taking orders from him, I am taking my orders from the person I am working for, and as I told ye before, that's Miss Linda. Be off wid ye, and primp up while I get my supper, and mind ye this, if ye tell Miss Linda ye didn't mean that gown for her and spoil the happy day she has had, I won't wait for ye to send John Gilman to me; I'll march straight to him. Put that in your cigarette and smoke it! Think I've lost me nose as well as me sense?"
Then Katy started a triumphal march to the kitchen and cooled down by the well-known process of slamming pots and pans for half an hour. Soon her Irish sense of humor came to her rescue.
"Now, don't I hear myself telling Miss Linda a few days ago to kape her temper, and to kape cool, and to go aisy. Look at the aise of me when I got started. By gracious, wasn't I just itching to wallop her?"
Then every art that Katy possessed was bent to the consummation of preparing a particularly delicious dinner for the night.
Linda came in softly humming something to herself about the kind of shoes that you might wear if you chose. She had entered the high school that morning with an unusually brilliant color. Two or three girls, who never had noticed her before, had nodded to her that morning, and one or two had said: "What a pretty dress you have!" She had caught the flash of approval in the eyes of Donald Whiting, and she had noted the flourish with which he raised his hat when he saw her at a distance, and she knew what he meant when he held up a book, past the covers of which she could see protruding a thick fold of white paper. He had foresworn whatever pleasure he might have thought of for Sunday. He had prepared notes on some subject that he thought would further him. The lift of his head, the flourish of his hat, and the book all told Linda that he had struggled and that he felt the struggle had brought an exhilarating degree of success. That had made the day particularly bright for Linda. She had gone home with a feeling of uplift and exultation in her heart. As she closed the front door she cried up the stairway: "Eileen, are you there?"
"Yes," answered a rather sulky voice from above.
Linda ascended, two steps at a bound.
"Thank you over and over, old thing!" she cried as she raced down the hallway. "Behold me! I never did have a more becoming dress, and Katy loaned me money, till my income begins, to get shoes and a little scuff hat to go with it. Aren't I spiffy?"
She pirouetted in the doorway. Eileen gripped the brush she was wielding, tight.
"You have good taste," she said. "It's a pretty dress, but You're always howling about things being suitable. Do you call that suitable for school?"
"It certainly is an innovation for me," said Linda, "but there are dozens of dresses of the same material, only different cut and colors in the high school today. As soon as I get my money I'll buy a skirt and some blouses so I won't have to wear this all the time; but I surely do thank you very much, and I surely have had a lovely day. Did you have a nice time at Riverside?"
Eileen slammed down the brush and turned almost a distorted face to Linda. She had temper to vent. In the hour's reflection previous to Linda's coming, she realized that she had reached the limit with Katy. If she antagonized her by word or look, she would go to John Gilman, and Eileen dared not risk what she would say.
"No, I did not have a lovely time," she said. "I furnished the men for the party and I expected to have a grand time, but the first thing we did was to run into that inflated egotist calling herself Mary Louise Whiting, and like a fool, Janie Brunson introduced her to Peter Morrison. I had paired him with Janie on purpose to keep my eye on him."
Linda tried hard but she could not suppress a chuckle: "Of course you would!" she murmured softly.
Eileen turned her back. That had been her first confidence to Linda. She was so aggrieved at that moment that she could have told unanswering walls her tribulations. It would have been better if she had done so. She might have been able to construe silence as sympathy. Linda's laughter she knew exactly how to interpret. "Served you right," was what it meant.
"I hadn't the least notion you would take an interest in anything concerning me," she said. "People can talk all they please about Mary Louise Whiting being a perfect lady but she is a perfect beast. I have met her repeatedly and she has always ignored me, and yesterday she singled out for her special attention the most desirable man in my party—"
"'Most desirable,'" breathed Linda. "Poor John! I see his second fiasco. Lavender crystals, please!"
Eileen caught her lip in mortification. She had not intended to say what she thought.
"Well, you can't claim," she hurried on to cover her confusion, "that it was not an ill-bred, common trick for her to take possession of a man of my party, and utterly ignore me. She has everything on earth that I want; she treats me like a dog, and she could give me a glorious time by merely nodding her head."
"I am quite sure you are mistaken," said Linda. "From what I've heard of her, she wouldn't mistreat anyone. Very probably what she does is merely to feel that she is not acquainted with you. You have an unfortunate way, Eileen, of defeating your own ends. If you wanted to attract Mary Louise Whiting, you missed the best chance you ever could have had, at three o'clock Saturday afternoon, when you maliciously treated her only brother as you would a mechanic, ordered him to our garage, and shut our door in his face."
Eileen turned to Linda. Her mouth fell open. A ghastly greenish white flooded her face.
"What do you mean?" she gasped.
"I mean," said Linda, "that Donald Whiting was calling on me, and you purposely sent him to the garage."
Crash down among the vanities of Eileen's dressing table went her lovely head, and she broke into deep and violent sobs. Linda stood looking at her a second, slowly shaking her head. Then she turned and went to her room.
Later in the evening she remembered the Roman scarf and told Eileen of what she had done, and she was unprepared for Eileen's reply: "That scarf always was too brilliant for me. You're welcome to it if you want it."
"Thank you," said Linda gravely, "I want it very much indeed."
CHAPTER XI. Assisting Providence
Linda went to the library to see to what state of emptiness it had been reduced by the removal of several pieces of furniture she had ordered taken away that day. As she stood on the threshold looking over the room as usual, a throb of loving appreciation of Katy swept through her heart. Katy had been there before her. The room had been freshly swept and dusted, the rugs had been relaid, the furniture rearranged skilfully, and the table stood at the best angle to be lighted either by day or night. On the table and the mantel stood big bowls of lovely fresh flowers. Linda was quite certain that anyone entering the room for the first time would have felt it completely furnished, and she doubted if even Marian would notice the missing pieces. Cheered in her heart, she ran up to the billiard room, and there again Katy had preceded her. The windows were shining. The walls and floor had been cleaned. Everything was in readiness for the new furniture. Her heart full of gratitude, Linda went to her room, prepared her lessons for the next day, and then drew out her writing materials to answer Marian's letter. She wrote:
I have an acute attack of enlargement of the heart. So many things have happened since your leaving. But first I must tell you about your sketch. We just know you did not leave it here. Katy says there was not a scrap in our bedroom when she cleaned it; and as she knows you make plans and how precious they are to you, I guarantee she would have saved it if she had found anything looking like a parallelogram on a piece of paper. And I have very nearly combed the lawn, not only the north side, but the west, south, and east; and then I broke the laws and went over to your house and crawled through a basement window and worked my way up, and I have hunted every room in it, but there is nothing there. You must have lost that sketch after you reached San Francisco. I hope to all that's peaceful you did not lay it down in the offices of Nicholson and Snow, or where you take your lessons. I know nothing about architecture, but I do know something about comfort in a home, and I thought that was the most comfortable and convenient-looking house I ever had seen.
Now I'll go on and tell you all the news, and I don't know which is the bigger piece to burst on you first. Would you be more interested in knowing that Peter Morrison has bought three acres on the other side of the valley from us and up quite a way, or in the astonishing fact that I have a new dress, a perfect love of a dress, really too good for school? You know there was blood in my eye when you left, and I didn't wait long to start action. I have managed to put the fear of God into Eileen's heart so that she has agreed to a reasonable allowance for me from the first of next month; but she must have felt at least one small wave of contrition when I told her about a peculiarly enticing dress I had seen at The Mode. She sent it up right away, and Katy, blessed be her loving footprints, loaned me money to buy a blouse and some shoes to match, so I went to school today looking very like the Great General Average, minus rouge, lipstick, hairdress, and French heels.
I do hope you will approve of two things I have done.
Then Linda recounted the emptying of the billiard room, the inroads in the library, the listing of the technical books, and what she proposed to do with the money. And then, her face slightly pale and her fingers slightly trembling, she wrote:
And, Marian dear, I hope you won't be angry with me when I tell you that I have put the Bear Cat into commission and driven it three times already. It is running like the feline it is, and I am being as careful as I can. I know exactly how you will feel. It is the same feeling that has held me all these months, when I wouldn't even let myself think of it. But something happened at school one day, Marian. You know the Whitings? Mary Louise Whiting's brother is in the senior class. He is a six-footer, and while he is not handsome he is going to be a real man when he is fully developed, and steadied down to work. One day last week he made it his business to stop me in the hall and twit me about my shoes, and incidentally to ask me why I didn't dress like the other girls; and some way it came rougher than if it had been one of the girls. The more I thought about it the more wronged I felt, so I ended in a young revolution that is to bring me an income, a suitable place to work in and has brought me such a pretty dress. I think it has brought Eileen to a sense of at least partial justice about money, and it brought me back the Bear Cat. You know the proudest moment of my life was when Father would let me drive the little beast, and it all came back as natural as breathing. Please don't worry, Marian. Nothing shall happen, I promise you.
It won't be necessary to tell you that Katy is her darling old self, loyal and steadfast as the sun, and quite as necessary and as comforting to me. And I have a couple of other interests in life that are going to—I won't say make up for your absence, because nothing could do that—but they are going to give me something interesting to think about, something agreeable to work at, while you are gone. But, oh, Marian, do hurry. Work all day and part of the night. Be Saturday's child yourself if you must, just so you get home quick, and where your white head makes a beacon light for the truest, lovingest pal you will ever have,
Linda laid down the pen, slid down in her chair, and looked from the window across the valley, and she wondered if in her view lay the location that had been purchased by Peter Morrison. She glanced back at her letter and sat looking at the closing lines and the signature.
"Much good that will do her," she commented. "When a woman loves a man and loves him with all her heart, as Marian loved John, and when she loses him, not because she has done a single unworthy thing herself, but because he is so rubber spined that he will let another woman successfully intrigue him, a lot of comfort she is going to get from the love of a schoolgirl!"
Linda's eyes strayed to the window again, and traveled down to the city and up the coast, all the way to San Francisco, and out of the thousands of homes there they pictured a small, neat room, full of Marian's belongings, and Marian herself bending over a worktable, absorbed in the final draft of her precious plans. Linda could see Marian as plainly as she ever had seen her, but she let her imagination run, and she fancied that when Marian was among strangers and where no one knew of John Gilman's defection, that hers might be a very heavy heart, that hers might be a very sad face. Then she went to planning. She had been desolate, heart hungry, and isolated herself. First she had endured, then she had fought; the dawn of a new life was breaking over her hill. She had found work she was eager to do. She could put the best of her brain, the skill of her fingers, the creative impulse of her heart, into it.
She was almost sure that she had found a friend. She had a feeling that when the coming Saturday had been lived Donald Whiting would be her friend. He would want her advice and her help in his work. She would want his companionship and the stimulus of his mind, in hers. What Linda had craved was a dear friend among the girls, but no girl had offered her friendship. This boy had, so she would accept what the gods of time and circumstance provided. It was a very wonderful thing that had happened to her. Now why could not something equally wonderful happen to Marian? Linda wrinkled her brows and thought deeply.
"It's the worst thing in all this world to work and work with nobody to know about it and nobody to care," thought Linda. "Marian could break a record if she thought John Gilman cared now as he used to. It's almost a necessary element to her success. If he doesn't care, she ought to be made to feel that somebody cares. This thing of standing alone, since I have found a friend, appeals to me as almost insupportable. Let me think."
It was not long until she had worked out a scheme for putting an interest in Marian's life and giving her something for which to work, until a more vital reality supplanted it. The result was that she took some paper, went down to the library, and opening the typewriter, wrote a letter. She read it over, making many changes and corrections, and then she copied it carefully. When she came to addressing it she was uncertain, but at last she hit upon a scheme of sending it in the care of Nicholson and Snow because Marian had told her that she meant to enter their contest immediately she reached San Francisco, and she would have left them her address. On the last reading of the letter she had written, she decided that it was a manly, straightforward production, which should interest and attract any girl. But how was she to sign it? After thinking deeply for a long time, she wrote "Philip Sanders, General Delivery," and below she added a postscript:
To save you the trouble of inquiring among your friends as to who Philip Sanders is, I might as well tell you in the beginning that he isn't. He is merely an assumption under which I shall hide my personality until you let me know whether it is possible that you could become even slightly interested in me, as a small return for the very deep and wholesome interest abiding in my heart for you.
"Abiding," said Linda aloud. "It seems to me that there is nothing in all the world quite so fine as a word. Isn't 'abiding' a good word? Doesn't it mean a lot? Where could you find one other word that means being with you and also means comforting you and loving you and sympathizing with you and surrounding you with firm walls and a cushioned floor and a starry roof? I love that word. I hope it impresses Marian with all its wonderful meaning."
She went back to her room, put both letters into her Geometry, and in the morning mailed them. She stood a long time hesitating with the typewritten letter in her hand, but finally dropped it in the letter box also.
"It will just be something," she said, "to make her think that some man appreciates her lovely face and doesn't care if her hair is white, and sees how steadfast and fine she is."
And then she slowly repeated, "'steadfast,' that is another fine word. It has pearls and rubies all over it."
After school that evening she visited James Brothers' and was paid the full amount of the appraisement of her furniture. Then she went to an art store and laid in a full supply of the materials she needed for the work she was trying to do. Her fingers were trembling as she handled the boxes of water colors and selected the brushes and pencils for her work, and sheets of drawing paper upon which she could do herself justice. When the transaction was finished, she had a few dollars remaining. As she put them in her pocket she said softly:
"That's gasoline. Poor Katy! I'm glad she doesn't need her money, because she is going to have to wait for the allowance or the sale of the books or on Jane Meredith. But it's only a few days now, so that'll be all right."
CHAPTER XII. The Lay of the Land
Linda entered the street car for her daily ride to Lilac Valley. She noticed Peter Morrison and Henry Anderson sitting beside each other, deeply engrossed in a drawing. She had been accustomed to ride in the open section of the car as she liked the fresh air. She had a fleeting thought of entering the body of the car and sitting where they would see her; and then a perverse spirit in Linda's heart said to her:
"That is precisely what Eileen would do. You sit where you belong."
Whereupon Linda dropped into the first vacant seat she could reach, but it was only a few moments before Peter Morrison, looking up from the plans he was studying, saw her, and lifting his hat, beckoned her to come and sit with him. They made room for her between them and spreading the paper across her lap, all three of them began to discuss the plans for the foundation for Peter's house. Anderson had roughly outlined the grounds, sketching in the trees that were to be saved, the spring, and the most available route for reaching the road. The discussion was as to where the road should logically enter the grounds, and where the garage should stand.
"Which reminds me," said Linda—"haven't you your car with you? Or was that a hired one you were touring in?"
"Mine," said Peter Morrison, "but we toured so far, it's in the shop for a general overhauling today."
"That being the case," said Linda, "walk home with me and I'll take you to your place in mine and bring you back to the cars, if you only want to stay an hour or two."
"Why, that would be fine," said Peter. "You didn't mention, the other evening, that you had a car."
"No," said Linda, "I had been trying to keep cars out of my thought for a long time, but I could endure it no longer the other day, so I got mine out and tuned it up. If you don't mind stacking up a bit, three can ride in it very comfortably."
That was the way it happened that Linda walked home after school that afternoon between Peter Morrison and his architect, brought out the Bear Cat, and drove them to Peter's location.
All that day, workmen had been busy under the management of a well-instructed foreman, removing trees and bushes and stones and clearing the spot that had been selected for the garage and approximately for the house.
The soft brownish gray of Linda's dress was exactly the color to intensify the darker brown of her eyes. There was a fluctuating red in her olive cheeks, a brilliant red framing her even white teeth. Once dressed so that she was satisfied with the results, Linda immediately forgot her clothes, and plunged into Morrison's plans.
"Peter," she said gravely, with Peter perfectly cognizant of the twinkle in her dark eyes, "Peter, you may save money in a straight-line road, but you're going to sin against your soul if you build it. You'll have to economize in some other way, and run your road around the base of those boulders, then come in straight to the line here, and then you should swing again and run out on this point, where guests can have one bewildering glimpse of the length of our blue valley, and then whip them around this clump of perfumy lilac and elders, run them to your side entrance, and then scoot the car back to the garage. I think you should place the front of your house about here." Linda indicated where. "So long as you're buying a place like this you don't want to miss one single thing; and you do want to make the very most possible out of every beauty you have. And you mustn't fail to open up and widen the runway from that energetic, enthusiastic spring. Carry it across your road, sure. It will cost you another little something for a safe bridge, but there's nothing so artistic as a bridge with a cold stream running under it. And think what a joyful time I'll have, gathering specimens for you of every pretty water plant that grows in my particular canyon. Any time when you're busy in your library and you hear my car puffing up the incline and around the corner and rattling across the bridge, you'll know that I am down here giving you a start of watercress and miners' lettuce and every lovely thing you could mention that likes to be nibbled or loved-up, while it dabbles its toes in the water."
Peter Morrison looked at Linda reflectively. He looked for such a long moment that Henry Anderson reached a nebulous conclusion. "Fine!" he cried. "Every one of those suggestions is valuable to an inexperienced man. Morrison, shan't I make a note of them?"
"Yes, Henry, you shall," said Peter. "I am going to push this thing as fast as possible, so far as building the garage is concerned and getting settled in it. After that I don't care if I live on this spot until we know each other by the inch, before I begin building my home. At the present minute it appeals to me that 'home' is about the best word in the language of any nation. I have a feeling that what I build here is going to be my home, very possibly the only one I shall ever have. We must find the spot on which the Lord intended that a house should grow on this hillside, and then we must build that house so that it has a room suitable for a workshop in which I may strive, under the best conditions possible, to get my share of the joy of life and to earn the money that I shall require to support me and entertain my friends; and that sounds about as selfish as anything possibly could. It seems to be mostly 'me' and 'mine,' and it's not the real truth concerning this house. I don't believe there is a healthy, normal man living who has not his dream. I have no hesitation whatever in admitting that I have mine. This house must be two things. It has got to be a concrete workshop for me, and it has got to be an abstract abiding place for a dream. It's rather difficult to build a dream house for a dream lady, so I don't know what kind of a fist I am going to make of it."
Linda sat down on a boulder and contemplated her shoes for a minute. Then she raised her ever-shifting, eager, young eyes to Peter, and it seemed to him as he looked into them that there were little gold lights flickering at the bottom of their darkness.
"Why, that's just as easy," she said. "A home is merely a home. It includes a front porch and a back porch and a fireplace and a bathtub and an ice chest and a view and a garden around it; all the rest is incidental. If you have more money, you have more incidentals. If you don't have so much, you use your imagination and think you have just as much on less."
"Now, I wonder," said Peter, "when I find my dream lady, if she will have an elastic imagination."
"Haven't you found her yet?" asked Linda casually.
"No," said Peter, "I haven't found her, and unfortunately she hasn't found me. I have had a strenuous time getting my start in life. It's mostly a rush from one point of interest to another, dropping at any wayside station for refreshment and the use of a writing table. Occasionally I have seen a vision that I have wanted to follow, but I never have had time. So far, the lady of this house is even more of a dream than the house."
"Oh, well, don't worry," said Linda comfortingly. "The world is full of the nicest girls. When you get ready for a gracious lady I'll find you one that will have an India-rubber imagination and a great big loving heart and Indian-hemp apron strings so that half a dozen babies can swing from them."
Morrison turned to Henry Anderson.
"You hear, Henry?" he said. "I'm destined to have a large family. You must curtail your plans for the workroom and make that big room back of it into a nursery."
"Well, what I am going to do," said Henry Anderson, "is to build a place suitable for your needs. If any dream woman comes to it, she will have to fit herself to her environment."
"Now, that isn't a bit nice of you," she said, "and I don't believe Peter will pay the slightest attention to you. He'll let me make you build a lovely room for the love of his heart, and a great big bright nursery on the sunny side for his small people."
"I never believed," said Henry Anderson, "in counting your chickens before they are hatched. There are a couple of acres around Peter's house, and he can build an addition as his needs increase."
"Messy idea," said Linda promptly. "Thing to do, when you build a house, is to build it the way you want it for the remainder of your life, so you don't have to tear up the scenery every few years, dragging in lumber for expansion. And I'll tell you another thing. If the homemakers of this country don't get the idea into their heads pretty soon that they are not going to be able to hold their own with the rest of the world, with no children, or one child in the family, there's a sad day of reckoning coming. With the records at the patent office open to the world, you can't claim that the brain of the white man is not constructive. You can look at our records and compare them with those of countries ages and ages older than we are, which never discovered the beauties of a Dover egg-beater or a washing machine or a churn or a railroad or a steamboat or a bridge. We are head and shoulders above other nations in invention, and just as fast as possible, we are falling behind in the birth rate. The red man and the yellow man and the brown man and the black man can look at our egg-beaters and washing machines and bridges and big guns, and go home and copy them; and use them while rearing even bigger families than they have now. If every home in Lilac Valley had at least six sturdy boys and girls growing up in it with the proper love of country and the proper realization of the white man's right to supremacy, and if all the world now occupied by white men could make an equal record, where would be the talk of the yellow peril? There wouldn't be any yellow peril. You see what I mean?"
Linda lifted her frank eyes to Peter Morrison.
"Yes, young woman," said Peter gravely, "I see what you mean, but this is the first time I ever heard a high-school kid propound such ideas. Where did you get them?"
"Got them in Multiflores Canyon from my father to start with," said Linda, "but recently I have been thinking, because there is a boy in high school who is making a great fight for a better scholarship record than a Jap in his class. I brood over it every spare minute, day or night, and when I say my prayers I implore high Heaven to send him an idea or to send me one that I can pass on to him, that will help him to beat that Jap."
"I see," said Peter Morrison. "We'll have to take time to talk this over. It's barely possible I might be able to suggest something."
"You let that kid fight his own battles," said Henry Anderson roughly. "He's no proper bug-catcher. I feel it in my bones."
For the first time, Linda's joy laugh rang over Peter Morrison's possession.
"I don't know about that," she said gaily. "He's a wide-awake specimen; he has led his class for four years when the Jap didn't get ahead of him. But, all foolishness aside, take my word for it, Peter, you'll be sorry if you don't build this house big enough for your dream lady and for all the little dreams that may spring from her heart."
"Nightmares, you mean," said Henry Anderson. "I can't imagine a bunch of kids muddying up this spring and breaking the bushes and using slingshots on the birds."
"Yes," said Linda with scathing sarcasm, "and wouldn't our government be tickled to death to have a clear spring and a perfect bush and a singing bird, if it needed six men to go over the top to handle a regiment of Japanese!"
Then Peter Morrison laughed.
"Well, your estimate is too low, Linda," he said in his nicest drawling tone of voice. "Believe me, one U. S. kid will never march in a whole regiment of Japanese. They won't lay down their guns and walk to surrender as bunches of Germans did. Nobody need ever think that. They are as good fighters as they are imitators. There's nothing for you to do, Henry, but to take to heart what Miss Linda has said. Plan the house with a suite for a dream lady, and a dining room, a sleeping porch and a nursery big enough for the six children allotted to me."
"You're not really in earnest?" asked Henry Anderson in doubting astonishment.
"I am in the deepest kind of earnest," said Peter Morrison. "What Miss Linda says is true. As a nation, our people are pampering themselves and living for their own pleasures. They won't take the trouble or endure the pain required to bear and to rear children; and the day is rolling toward us, with every turn of the planet one day closer, when we are going to be outnumbered by a combination of peoples who can take our own tricks and beat us with them. We must pass along the good word that the one thing America needs above every other thing on earth is HOMES AND HEARTS BIG ENOUGH FOR CHILDREN, as were the homes of our grandfathers, when no joy in life equaled the joy of a new child in the family, and if you didn't have a dozen you weren't doing your manifest duty."
"Well, if that is the way you see the light, we must enlarge this house. As designed, it included every feminine convenience anyway. But when I build my house I am going to build it for myself."
"Then don't talk any more about being my bug-catcher," said Linda promptly, "because when I build my house it's going to be a nest that will hold six at the very least. My heart is perfectly set on a brood of six."
Linda was quite unaware that the two men were studying her closely, but if she had known what was going on in their minds she would have had nothing to regret, because both of them found her very attractive, and both of them were wondering how anything so superficial as Eileen could be of the same blood as Linda.
"Are we keeping you too late?" inquired Peter.
"No," said Linda, "I am as interested as I can be. Finish everything you want to do before we go. I hope you're going to let me come over often and watch you with your building. Maybe I can get an idea for some things I want to do. Eileen and I have our house divided by a Mason and Dixon line. On her side is Mother's suite, the dining room, the living room and the front door. On mine there's the garage and the kitchen and Katy's bedroom and mine and the library and the billiard room. At the present minute I am interested in adapting the library to my requirements instead of Father's, and I am emptying the billiard room and furnishing it to make a workroom. I have a small talent with a brush and pencil, and I need some bare walls to tack my prints on to dry, and I need numerous places for all the things I am always dragging in from the desert and the canyons; and since I have the Bear Cat running, what I have been doing in that line with a knapsack won't be worthy of mention."
"How did it come," inquired Henry Anderson, "that you had that car jacked up so long?"
"Why, hasn't anybody told you," asked Linda, "about our day of the Black Shadow?"
"John Gilman wrote me when it happened," said Peter softly, "but I don't believe it has been mentioned before Henry. You tell him."
Linda turned to Henry Anderson, and with trembling lips and paling cheeks, in a few brief sentences she gave him the details. Then she said to Peter Morrison in a low voice: "And that is the why of Marian Thorne's white head. Anybody tell you that?"
"That white head puzzled me beyond anything I ever saw," he said. "I meant to ask John about it. He used to talk to me and write to me often about her, and lately he hasn't; when I came I saw the reason, and so you see I felt reticent on the subject."
"Well, there's nothing the matter with my tongue," said Linda. "It's loose at both ends. Marian was an expert driver. She drove with the same calm judgment and precision and graceful skill that she does everything else, but the curve was steep and something in the brakes was defective. It broke with a snap and there was not a thing she could do. Enough was left of the remains of the car to prove that. Ten days afterward her head was almost as white as snow. Before that it was as dark as mine. But her body is just as young and her heart is just as young and her face is even more beautiful. I do think that a white crown makes her lovelier than she was before. I have known Marian ever since I can remember, and I don't know one thing about her that I could not look you straight in the eye and tell you all about. There is not a subterfuge or an evasion or a small mean deceit in her soul. She is the brainiest woman and the biggest woman I know."
"I haven't a doubt of it," said Peter Morrison. "And while you are talking about nice women, we met a mighty fine one at Riverside on Sunday. Her name is Mary Louise Whiting. Do you know her?"
"Not personally," said Linda. "I don't recall that I ever saw her. I know her brother, Donald. He is the high-school boy who is having the wrestle with the Jap."
"I liked her too," said Henry Anderson. "And by the way, Miss Linda, haven't bug-catchers any reputation at all as nest builders? Is it true that among feathered creatures the hen builds the home?"
"No, it's not," said Linda promptly. "Male birds make a splendid record carrying nest material. What is true is that in the majority of cases the female does the building."
"Well, what I am getting at," said Henry Anderson, "is this. Is there anything I can do to help you with that billiard room that you're going to convert to a workroom? What do you lack in it that you would like to have? Do you need more light or air, or a fireplace, or what? When you take us to the station, suppose you drive us past your house and give me a look at that room and let me think over it a day or two. I might be able to make some suggestion that would help you."
"Now that is positively sweet of you," said Linda. "I never thought of such a thing as either comfort or convenience. I thought I had to take that room as it stands and do the best I could with it, but since you mention it, it's barely possible that more air might be agreeable and also more light, and if there could be a small fireplace built in front of the chimney where it goes up from the library fireplace, it certainly would be a comfort, and it would add something to the room that nothing else could.
"No workroom really has a soul if you can't smell smoke and see red when you go to it at night."
"You little outdoor heathen," laughed Peter Morrison. "One would think you were an Indian."
"I am a fairly good Indian," said Linda. "I have been scouting around with my father a good many years. How about it, Peter? Does the road go crooked?"
"Yes," said Peter, "the road goes crooked."
"Does the bed of the spring curve and sweep across the lawn and drop off to the original stream below the tree-tobacco clump there?"
"If you say so, it does," said Peter.
"Including the bridge?" inquired Linda.
"Including the bridge," said Peter. "I'll have to burn some midnight oil, but I can visualize the bridge."
"And is this house where you 'set up your rest,' as you so beautifully said the other night at dinner, going to lay its corner stone and grow to its roof a selfish house, or is it going to be generous enough for a gracious lady and a flight of little footsteps?"
Peter Morrison took off his hat. He turned his face toward the length of Lilac Valley and stood, very tall and straight, looking far away before him. Presently he looked down at Linda.
"Even so," he said softly. "My shoulders are broad enough; I have a brain; and I am not afraid to work. If my heart is not quite big enough yet, I see very clearly how it can be made to expand."
"I have been told," said Linda in a low voice, "that Mary Louise Whiting is a perfect darling."
Peter looked at her from the top of her black head to the tips of her brown shoes. He could have counted the freckles bridging her nose. The sunburn on her cheeks was very visible; there was something arresting in the depth of her eyes, the curve of her lips, the lithe slenderness of her young body; she gave the effect of something smoldering inside that would leap at a breath.
"I was not thinking of Miss Whiting," he said soberly.
Henry Anderson was watching. Now he turned his back and commenced talking about plans, but in his heart he said: "So that's the lay of the land. You've got to hustle yourself, Henry, or you won't have the ghost of a show."
Later, when they motored down the valley and stopped at the Strong residence, Peter refused to be monopolized by Eileen. He climbed the two flights of stairs with Henry Anderson and Linda and exhausted his fund of suggestions as to what could be done to that empty billiard room to make an attractive study of it. Linda listened quietly to all their suggestions, and then she said:
"It would be fine to have another window, and a small skylight would be a dream, and as for the fireplace you mention, I can't even conceive how great it would be to have that; but my purse is much more limited than Peter's, and while I have my school work to do every day, my earning capacity is nearly negligible. I can only pick up a bit here and there with my brush and pencil—place cards and Easter cards and valentines, and once or twice magazine covers, and little things like that. I don't see my way clear to lumber and glass and bricks and chimney pieces."
Peter looked at Henry, and Henry looked at Peter, and a male high sign, ancient as day, passed between them.
"Easiest thing in the world," said Peter. "It's as sure as shooting that when my three or four fireplaces, which Henry's present plans call for, are built, there is going to be all the material left that can be used in a light tiny fireplace such as could be built on a third floor, and when the figuring for the house is done it could very easily include the cutting of a skylight and an extra window or two here, and getting the material in with my stuff, it would cost you almost nothing."
Linda's eyes opened wide and dewy with surprise and pleasure.
"Why, you two perfectly nice men!" she said. "I haven't felt as I do this minute since I lost Daddy. It's wonderful to be taken care of. It's better than cream puffs with almond flavoring."
Henry Anderson looked at Linda keenly.
"You're the darndest kid!" he said. "One minute you're smacking your lips over cream puffs, and the next you're going to the bottom of the yellow peril. I never before saw your combination in one girl. What's the explanation?" For the second time that evening Linda's specialty in rapture floated free.
"Bunch all the component parts into the one paramount fact that I am Saturday's child," she said, "so I am constantly on the job of working for a living, and then add to that the fact that I was reared by a nerve specialist."
Then they went downstairs, and the men refused both Eileen's and Linda's invitation to remain for dinner. When they had gone Eileen turned to Linda with a discontented and aggrieved face.
"In the name of all that's holy, what are you doing or planning to do?" she demanded.
"Not anything that will cost you a penny beyond my natural rights," said Linda quietly.
"That is not answering my question," said Eileen. "You're not of age and you're still under the authority of a guardian. If you can't answer me, possibly you can him. Shall I send John Gilman to ask what I want to know of you?"
"When did I ever ask you any questions about what you chose to do?" asked Linda. "I am merely following the example that you have previously set me. John Gilman and I used to be great friends. It might help both of us to have a family reunion. Send him by all means."
"You used to take pride," suggested Eileen, "in leading your class."
"And has anyone told you that I am not leading my class at the present minute?" asked Linda.
"No," said Eileen, "but what I want to point out to you is that the minute you start running with the boys you will quit leading your class."
"Don't you believe it," said Linda quietly. "I'm not built that way. I shan't concentrate on any boy to the exclusion of chemistry and geometry, never fear it."
Then she thoughtfully ascended the stairs and went to work.
Eileen went to her room and sat down to think; and the more she thought, the deeper grew her anger and chagrin; and to the indifference that always had existed in her heart concerning Linda was added in that moment a new element. She was jealous of her. How did it come that a lanky, gangling kid in her tees had been paid a visit by the son of possibly the most cultured and influential family of the city, people of prestige, comfortable wealth, and unlimited popularity? For four years she had struggled to gain an entrance in some way into Louise Whiting's intimate circle of friends, and she had ended by shutting the door on the only son of the family. And why had she ever allowed Linda to keep the runabout? It was not proper that a young girl should own a high powered car like that. It was not proper that she should drive it and go racing around the country, heaven knew where, and with heaven knew whom. Eileen bit her lip until it almost bled. Her eyes were hateful and her hands were nervous as she reviewed the past week. She might think any mean thing that a mean brain could conjure up, but when she calmed down to facts she had to admit that there was not a reason in the world why Linda should not drive the car she had driven for her father, or why she should not take with her Donald Whiting or Peter Morrison or Henry Anderson. The thing that rankled was that the car belonged to Linda. The touring car which she might have owned and driven, had she so desired, lay in an extremely slender string of pearls around her neck at that instant. She reflected that if she had kept her car and made herself sufficiently hardy to drive it, she might have been the one to have taken Peter Morrison to his home location and to have had many opportunities for being with him.
"I've been a fool," said Eileen, tugging at the pearls viciously. "They are nothing but a little bit of a string that looks as if I were trying to do something and couldn't, at best. What I've got to do is to think more of myself. I've got to plan some way to prevent Linda from being too popular until I really get my mind made up as to what I want to do."
CHAPTER XIII. Leavening the Bread of Life
"'A house that is divided against itself cannot stand,'" quoted Linda. "I must keep in mind what Eileen said, not that there is the slightest danger, but to fall behind in my grades is a thing that simply must not happen. If it be true that Peter and Henry can so easily and so cheaply add a few improvements in my workroom in connection with Peter's building, I can see no reason why they shouldn't do it, so long as I pay for it. I haven't a doubt but that there will be something I can do for Peter, before he finishes his building, that he would greatly appreciate, while, since I'm handy with my pencil, I MIGHT be able to make a few head and tail pieces for some of his articles that would make them more attractive. I don't want to use any friend of mine: I don't want to feel that I am not giving quite as much as I get, but I think I see my way clear, between me and the Bear Cat, to pay for all the favors I would receive in altering my study.
"First thing I do I must go through Father's books and get the money for them, so I'll know my limitation when I come to select furniture. And I don't know that I am going to be so terribly modest when it comes to naming the sum with which I'll be satisfied for my allowance. Possibly I shall exercise my age-old prerogative and change my mind; I may just say 'half' right out loud and stick to it. And there's another thing. Since the editor of Everybody's Home has started my department and promised that if it goes well he will give it to me permanently, I can certainly depend on something from that. He has used my Introduction and two instalments now. I should think it might be fair to talk payments pretty soon. He should give me fifty dollars for a recipe with its perfectly good natural history and embellished with my own vegetable and floral decorations.
"In the meantime I think I might buy my worktable and possibly an easel, so I can have real room to spread out my new material and see how it would feel to do one drawing completely unhampered. I'll order the table tonight, and then I'll begin on the books, because I must have Saturday free; and I must be thinking about the most attractive and interesting place I can take Donald to. I just have to keep him interested until he gets going of his own accord, because he shall beat Oka Sayye. I wouldn't let Donald say it but I don't mind saying myself to myself with no one present except myself that in all my life I have never seen anything so masklike as the stolid little square head on that Jap. I have never seen anything I dislike more than the oily, stiff, black hair standing up on it like menacing bristles. I have never had but one straight look deep into his eyes, but in that look I saw the only thing that ever frightened me in looking into a man's eyes in my whole life. And there is one thing that I have to remember to caution Donald about. He must carry on this contest in a perfectly open, fair, and aboveboard way, and he simply must not antagonize Oka Sayye. There are so many of the Japs. They all look so much alike, and there's a blood brotherhood between them that will make them protect each other to the death against any white man. It wouldn't be safe for Donald to make Oka Sayye hate him. He had far better try to make him his friend and put a spirit of honest rivalry into his heart; but come to think of it, there wasn't anything like that in my one look into Oka Sayye's eyes. I don't know what it was, but whatever it was it was something repulsive."
With this thought in her mind Linda walked slowly as she approached the high school the next time. Far down the street, over the walks and across the grounds, her eyes were searching eagerly for the tall slender figure of Donald Whiting. She did not see him in the morning, but at noon she encountered him in the hall.
"Looking for you," he cried gaily when he saw her. "I've got my pry in on Trig. The professor's interested. Dad fished out an old Trig that he used when he was a boy and I have some new angles that will keep my esteemed rival stirring up his gray matter for some little time."
"Good for you! Joyous congratulations! You've got the idea!" cried Linda. "Go to it! Start something all along the line, but make it something founded on brains and reason and common sense. But, Donald, I was watching for you. I wanted to say a word."
Donald Whiting bent toward her. The faintest suspicion of a tinge of color crept into his cheeks.
"That's fine," he said. "What was it you wanted?"
"Only this," she said in almost a breathless whisper. "There is nothing in California I am afraid of except a Jap, and I am afraid of them, not potentially, not on account of what all of us know they are planning in the backs of their heads for the future, but right here and now, personally and physically. Don't antagonize Oka Sayye. Don't be too precipitate about what you're trying to do. Try to make it appear that you're developing ideas for the interest and edification of the whole class. Don't incur his personal enmity. Use tact."
"You think I am afraid of that little jiu-jitsu?" he scoffed. "I can lick him with one hand."
"I haven't a doubt of it," said Linda, measuring his height and apparent strength and fitness. "I haven't a doubt of it. But let me ask you this confidentially: Have you got a friend who would slip in and stab him in the back in case you were in an encounter and he was getting the better of you?"
Donald Whiting's eyes widened. He looked at Linda amazed.
"Wouldn't that be going rather far?" he asked. "I think I have some fairly good friends among the fellows, but I don't know just whom I would want to ask to do me that small favor."
"That is precisely the point," cried Linda. "You haven't a friend you would ask; and you haven't a friend who would do it, if you did. But don't believe for one second that Oka Sayye hasn't half a dozen who would make away with you at an unexpected time and in a secluded place, and vanish, if it would in any way further Oka Sayye's ambition, or help establish the supremacy of the Japanese in California."
"Um-hm," said Donald Whiting.
He was looking far past Linda and now his eyes were narrowed in thought. "I believe you're RIGHT about it."
"I've thought of you so often since I tried to spur you to beat Oka Sayye," said Linda. "I feel a sort of responsibility for you. It's to the honor and glory of all California, and the United States, and the white race everywhere for you to beat him, but if any harm should come to you I would always feel that I shouldn't have urged it."
"Now that's foolishness," said Donald earnestly. "If I am such a dub that I didn't have the ambition to think up some way to beat a Jap myself, no matter what happens you shouldn't regret having been the one to point out to me my manifest duty. Dad is a Harvard man, you know, and that is where he's going to send me, and in talking about it the other night I told him about you, and what you had said to me. He's the greatest old scout, and was mightily interested. He went at once and opened a box of books in the garret and dug out some stuff that will be a big help to me. He's going to keep posted and see what he can do; he said even worse things to me than you did; so you needn't feel that you have any responsibility; besides that, it's not proved yet that I can beat Oka Sayye."
"Yes, it is!" said Linda, sending a straight level gaze deep into his eyes. "Yes, it is! Whenever a white man makes up his mind what he's going to do, and puts his brain to work, he beats any man, of any other color. Sure you're going to beat him."
"Fat chance I have not to," said Donald, laughing ruefully. "If I don't beat him I am disgraced at home, and with you; before I try very long in this highly specialized effort I am making, every professor in the high school and every member of my class is bound to become aware of what is going on. You're mighty right about it. I have got to beat him or disgrace myself right at the beginning of my nice young career."
"Of course you'll beat him," said Linda.
"At what hour did you say I should come, Saturday?"
"Oh, come with the lark for all I care," said Linda. "Early morning in the desert is a mystery and a miracle, and the larks have been there just long enough to get their voices properly tuned for their purest notes."
Then she turned and hurried away. Her first leisure minute after reaching home she went to the library wearing one of Katy's big aprons, and carrying a brush and duster. Beginning at one end of each shelf, she took down the volumes she intended to sell, carefully dusted them, wiped their covers, and the place on which they had stood, and then opened and leafed through them so that no scrap of paper containing any notes or memoranda of possible value should be overlooked. It was while handling these volumes that Linda shifted several of the books written by her father, to separate them from those with which she meant to part. She had grown so accustomed to opening each book she handled and looking through it, that she mechanically opened the first one she picked up and from among its leaves there fell a scrap of loose paper. She picked it up and found it was a letter from the publishers of the book. Linda's eyes widened suddenly as she read:
MY DEAR STRONG:
Sending you a line of congratulations. You have gone to the head of the list of "best sellers" among medical works, and the cheque I draw you for the past six months' royalties will be considerably larger than that which goes to your most esteemed contemporary on your chosen subject.
Very truly yours,
The signature was that of Frederic Dickman, the editor of one of the biggest publishing houses of the country.
"Hm," she said to herself softly. "Now that is a queer thing. That letter was written nearly five years ago. I don't know why I never thought of royalties since Daddy went. I frequently heard him mention them before. I suppose they're being paid to John Gilman as administrator, or to the Consolidated Bank, and cared for with Father's other business. There's no reason why these books should not keep on selling. There are probably the same number of young men, if not a greater number, studying medicine every year. I wonder now, about these royalties. I must do some thinking."
Then Linda began to examine books more carefully than before. The letter she carried with her when she went to her room; but she made a point of being on the lawn that evening when John Gilman came, and after talking to him a few minutes, she said very casually: "John, as Father's administrator, does a royalty from his medical books come to you?"
"No," said Gilman. "It is paid to his bank."
"I don't suppose," said Linda casually, "it would amount to enough to keep one in shoes these inflated days."
"Oh, I don't know about that," said John testily. "I have seen a few of those cheques in your Father's time. You should be able to keep fairly well supplied with shoes."
"So I should," said Linda drily. "So I should."
Then she led him to the back of the house and talked the incident out of his mind as cleverly as possible by giving him an intensive botanical study of Cotyledon. But she could not interest him quite so deeply as she had hoped, for presently he said: "Eileen tells me that you're parting with some of the books."
"Only technical ones for which I could have no possible use," said Linda. "I need clothes, and have found that had I a proper place to work in and proper tools to work with, I could earn quite a bit with my brush and pencil, and so I am trying to get enough money together to fit up the billiard room for a workroom, since nobody uses it for anything else."
"I see," said John Gilman. "I suppose running a house is extremely expensive these days, but even so the income from your estate should be sufficient to dress a schoolgirl and provide for anything you would want in the way of furnishing a workroom."
"That's what I have always thought myself," said Linda; "but Eileen doesn't agree with me, and she handles the money. When the first of the month comes, we are planning to go over things together, and she is going to make me a proper allowance."
"That is exactly as it should be," said Gilman. "I never realized till the other night at dinner that you have grown such a great girl, Linda. That's fine! Fix your workroom the way you would like to have it, and if there's anything I can do to help you in any way, you have only to command me. I haven't seen you often lately."
"No," said Linda, "but I don't feel that it is exactly my fault. Marian and I were always pals. When I saw that you preferred Eileen, I kept with Marian to comfort her all I could. I don't suppose she cared, particularly. She couldn't have, or she would at least have made some effort to prevent Eileen from monopolizing you. She probably was mighty glad to be rid of you; but since you had been together so much, I thought she might miss you, so I tried to cover your defection."
John Gilman's face flushed. He stood very still, while he seemed deeply thoughtful.
"Of course you were free to follow your inclinations, or Eileen's machinations, whichever you did follow," Linda said lightly, "but 'them as knows' could tell you, John, as Katy so well puts it, that you have made the mistake of your young life."
Then she turned and went to the garage, leaving John to his visit with Eileen.
The Eileen who took possession of John was an Eileen with whom he was not acquainted. He had known, the night of the dinner party, that Eileen was pouting, but there had been no chance to learn from her what her grievance was, and by the next time they met she was a bundle of flashing allurement, so he ignored the occurrence. This evening, for the first time, it seemed to him that Eileen was not so beautiful a woman as he had thought her. Something had roiled the blood in her delicate veins until it had muddied the clear freshness of her smooth satiny skin. There was discontent in her eyes, which were her most convincing attraction. They were big eyes, wide open and candid. She had so trained them through a lifetime of practice that she could meet other eyes directly while manipulating her most dextrous evasion. Whenever Eileen was most deceptively subtle, she was looking straight at her victim with the innocent appeal of a baby in her gaze.
John Gilman had had his struggle. He had succeeded. He had watched, and waited, and worked incessantly, and when his opportunity came he was ready. Success had come to such a degree that in a short time he had assured himself of comfort for any woman he loved. He knew that his appearance was quite as pleasing as that of his friend. He knew that in manner and education they were equals. He was now handling large business affairs. He had made friends in high places. Whenever Eileen was ready, he would build and furnish a home he felt sure would be equal, if not superior, to what Morrison was planning. Why had Eileen felt that she would envy any woman who shared life with Peter Morrison?
All that day she had annoyed him, because there must have been in the very deeps of his soul "a still, small voice" whispering to him that he had not lived up to the best traditions of a gentleman in his course with Marian. While no definite plans had been made, there had been endless assumption. Many times they had talked of the home they would make together. When he reached the point where he decided that he never had loved Marian as a man should love the woman he marries, he felt justified in turning to Eileen, but in his heart he knew that if he had been the man he was pleased to consider himself, he would have gone to Marian Thorne and explained, thereby keeping her friendship, while he now knew that he must have earned her contempt.
The day at Riverside had been an enigma he could not solve. Eileen was gay to a degree that was almost boisterous. She had attracted attention and comment which no well-bred woman would have done.
The growing discontent in John's soul had increased under Linda's direct attack. He had known Linda since she was four years old and had been responsible for some of her education. He had been a large influence in teaching Linda from childhood to be a good sport, to be sure she was right and then go ahead, and if she hurt herself in the going, to rub the bruise, but to keep her path.
A thing patent to the eye of every man who turned an appraising look upon Linda always had been one of steadfast loyalty. You could depend upon her. She was the counterpart of her father; and Doctor Strong had been loved by other men. Wherever he had gone he had been surrounded. His figure had been one that attracted attention. When he had spoken, his voice and what he had to say had commanded respect. And then there had emanated from him that peculiar physical charm which gives such pleasing and distinguished personality to a very few people in this world. This gift too had descended to Linda. She could sit and look straight at you with her narrow, interested eyes, smile faintly, and make you realize what she thought and felt without opening her lips. John did not feel very well acquainted with the girl who had dominated the recent dinner party, but he did see that she was attractive, that both Peter Morrison and Henry Anderson had been greatly amused and very much entertained by her. He had found her so interesting himself that he had paid slight attention to Eileen's pouting.
Tonight he was forced to study Eileen, for the sake of his own comfort to try to conciliate her. He was uncomfortable because he was unable to conduct himself as Eileen wished him to, without a small sickening disgust creeping into his soul. Before the evening was over he became exasperated, and ended by asking flatly: "Eileen, what in the dickens is the matter with you?"
It was a new tone and a new question on nerves tensely strung.
"If you weren't blind you'd know without asking," retorted Eileen hotly.
"Then I am 'blind,' for I haven't the slightest notion. What have I done?"
"Isn't it just barely possible," asked Eileen, "that there might be other people who would annoy and exasperate me? I have not hinted that you have done anything, although I don't know that it's customary for a man calling on his betrothed to stop first for a visit with her sister."
"For the love of Mike!" said John Gilman. "Am I to be found fault with for crossing the lawn a minute to see how Linda's wild garden is coming on? I have dug and helped set enough of those plants to justify some interest in them as they grow."
"And the garden was your sole subject of conversation?" inquired Eileen, implied doubt conveyed nicely.
"No, it was not," answered Gilman, all the bulldog in his nature coming to the surface.
"As I knew perfectly," said Eileen. "I admit that I'm not feeling myself. Things began going wrong recently, and everything has gone wrong since. I think it all began with Marian Thorne's crazy idea of selling her home and going to the city to try to ape a man."
"Marian never tried to ape a man in her life," said John, instantly yielding to a sense of justice. "She is as strictly feminine as any woman I ever knew."
"Do you mean to say that you think studying architecture is a woman's work?" sneered Eileen.
"Yes, I do," said Gilman emphatically. "Women live in houses. They're in them nine tenths of the time to a man's one tenth. Next to rocking a cradle I don't know of any occupation in this world more distinctly feminine than the planning of comfortable homes for homekeeping people."
Eileen changed the subject swiftly. "What was Linda saying to you?" she asked.
"She was showing me a plant, a rare Echeveria of the Cotyledon family, that she tobogganed down one side of Multiflores Canyon and delivered safely on the roadway without its losing an appreciable amount of 'bloom' from its exquisitely painted leaves."
Eileen broke in rudely. "Linda has missed Marian. There's not a possible thing to make life uncomfortable for me that she is not doing. You needn't tell me you didn't see and understand her rude forwardness the other night!"
"No, I didn't see it," said John, "because the fact is I thought the kid was positively charming, and so did Peter and Henry because both of them said so. There's one thing you must take into consideration, Eileen. The time has come when she should have clothes and liberty and opportunity to shape her life according to her inclinations. Let me tell you she will attract attention in georgette and laces."
"And where are the georgette and laces to come from?" inquired Eileen sarcastically. "All outgo and no income for four years is leaving the Strong finances in mighty precarious shape, I can tell you."
"All right," said Gilman, "I'm financially comfortable now. I'm ready. Say the word. We'll select our location and build our home, and let Linda have what there is of the Strong income till she is settled in life. You have pretty well had all of it for the past four years."
"Yes," said Eileen furiously, "I have 'pretty well' had it, in a few little dresses that I have altered myself and very frequently made entirely. I have done the best I could, shifting and skimping, and it's not accomplished anything that I have really wanted. According to men, the gas and the telephone and the electric light and the taxes and food and cook pay for themselves. All a woman ever spends money on is clothes!"
"Eileen," chuckled John Gilman, "this sounds exactly as if we were married, and we're not, yet."
"No," said Eileen, "thank heaven we're not. If it's come to the place where you're siding with everybody else against me, and where you're more interested in what my kid sister has to say to you than you are in me, I don't think we ever shall be."
Then, from stress of nerve tension and long practice, some big tears gushed up and threatened to overflow Eileen's lovely eyes. That never should happen, for tears are salt water and they cut little rivers through even the most carefully and skillfully constructed complexion, while Eileen's was looking its worst that evening. She hastily applied her handkerchief, and John Gilman took her into his arms; so the remainder of the evening it was as if they were not married. But when John returned to the subject of a home and begged Eileen to announce their engagement and let him begin work, she evaded him, and put him off, and had to have time to think, and she was not ready, and there were many excuses, for none of which Gilman could see any sufficient reason. When he left Eileen that night, it was with a heavy heart.
CHAPTER XIV. Saturday's Child
Throughout the week Linda had worked as never during her life previously, in order to save Saturday for Donald Whiting. She ran the Bear Cat down to the garage and had it looked over once more to be sure that everything was all right. Friday evening, on her way from school, she stopped at a grocery where she knew Eileen kept an account, and for the first time ordered a few groceries. These she carried home with her, and explained to Katy what she wanted.
Katy fully realized that Linda was still her child, with no thought in her mind save standing at the head of her classes, carrying on the work she had begun with her father, keeping up her nature study, and getting the best time she could out of life in the open as she had been taught to do from her cradle.
Katy had not the slightest intention of opening her lips to say one word that might put any idea into the head of her beloved child, but she saw no reason why she herself should not harbor all the ideas she pleased.
Whereupon, actuated by a combination of family pride, love, ambition in her chosen profession, Katy made ready to see that on the morrow the son of Frederick Whiting should be properly nourished on his outing with Linda.
At six o'clock Saturday morning Linda ran the Bear Cat to the back door, where she and Katy packed it. Before they had finished, Donald Whiting came down the sidewalk, his cheeks flushed with the exercise of walking, his eyes bright with anticipation, his cause forever won—in case he had a cause—with Katy, because she liked the wholesome, hearty manner in which he greeted Linda, and she was dumbfounded when he held out his hand to her and said laughingly: "Blessed among women, did you put in a fine large consignment of orange punch?"
"No," said Katy, "I'll just tell ye flat-footed there ain't going to be any punch, but, young sir, you're eshcortin' a very capable young lady, and don't ye bewail the punch, because ye might be complimenting your face with something ye would like a hape better."
"Can't be done, Katy," cried Donald.
"Ye must have a poor opinion of us," laughed Katy, "if ye are thinking ye can get to the end of our limitations in one lunch. Fourteen years me and Miss Linda's been on this lunch-box stunt. Don't ye be thinkin' ye can exhaust us in any wan trip, or in any wan dozen."
So they said good-bye to Katy and rolled past Eileen's room on the way to the desert. Eileen stood at the window watching them, and never had her heart been so full of discontent and her soul the abiding place of such envy or her mind so busy. Just when she had thought life was going to yield her what she craved, she could not understand how or why things should begin to go wrong.
As the Bear Cat traversed Lilac Valley, Linda was pointing out Peter Morrison's location. She was telling Donald Whiting where to find Peter's articles, and what a fine man he was, and that he had promised to think how he could help with their plan to make of Donald a better scholar than was Oka Sayye.
"Well, I call that mighty decent of a stranger," said Donald.
"But he is scarcely more of a stranger than I am," answered Linda. "He is a writer. He is interested in humanity. It's the business of every man in this world to reach out and help every boy with whom he comes in contact into the biggest, finest manhood possible. He only knows that you're a boy tackling a big job that means much to every white boy to have you succeed with, and for that reason he's just as interested as I am. Maybe, when we come in this evening, I'll run up to his place, and you can talk it over with him. If your father helped you at one angle, it's altogether probable that Peter Morrison could help you at another."
Donald Whiting rubbed his knee reflectively. He was sitting half turned in the wide seat so that he might watch Linda's hands and her face while she drove.
"Well, that's all right," he said heartily. "You can write me down as willing and anxious to take all the help I can get, for it's going to be no microscopic job, that I can tell you. One week has waked up the Jap to the fact that there's something doing, and he's digging in and has begun, the last day or two, to speak up in class and suggest things himself. Since I've been studying him and watching him, I have come to the conclusion that he is much older than I am. Something he said in class yesterday made me think he had probably had the best schooling Japan could give him before he came here. The next time you meet him look for a suspicion of gray hairs around his ears. He's too blamed comprehensive for the average boy of my age. You said the Japs were the best imitators in the world and I have an idea in the back of my head that before I get through with him, Oka Sayye is going to prove your proposition."
Linda nodded as she shot the Bear Cat across the streetcar tracks and headed toward the desert. The engine was purring softly as it warmed up. The car was running smoothly. The sun of early morning was shining on them through bracing, salt, cool air, and even in the valley the larks were busy, and the mockingbirds, and from every wayside bush the rosy finches were singing. All the world was coming to the exquisite bloom of a half-tropical country. Up from earth swept the heavy odors of blooming citrus orchards, millions of roses, and the overpowering sweetness of gardens and cultivated flowers; while down from the mountains rolled the delicate breath of the misty blue lilac, the pungent odor of California sage, and the spicy sweet of the lemonade bush. They were two young things, free for the day, flying down a perfect road, adventuring with Providence. They had only gone a few miles when Donald Whiting took off his hat, stuffed it down beside him, and threw back his head, shaking his hair to the wind in a gesture so soon to become familiar to Linda. She glanced across at him and found him looking at her. A smile broke over her lips. One of her most spontaneous laughs bubbled up in her throat.
"Topping, isn't it!" she cried gaily.
"It's the best thing that ever happened to me," answered Donald Whiting instantly. "Our car is a mighty good one and Dad isn't mean about letting me drive it. I can take it frequently and can have plenty of gas and take my crowd; but lordy, I don't believe there's a boy or girl living that doesn't just positively groan when they see one of these little gray Bear Cats go loping past. And I never even had a ride in one before. I can't get over the fact that it's yours. It wouldn't seem so funny if it belonged to one of the fellows."
With steady hand and gradually increasing speed, Linda put the Bear Cat over the roads of early morning. Sometimes she stopped in the shade of pepper, eucalyptus, or palm, where the larks were specializing in their age-old offertory. And then again they went racing until they reached the real desert. Linda ran the car under the shade of a tall clump of bloom-whitened alders. She took off her hat, loosened the hair at her temples, and looked out across the long morning stretch of desert.
"It's just beginning to be good," she said. She began pointing with her slender hand. "That gleam you see over there is the gold of a small clump of early poppies. The purple beyond it is lupin. All these exquisite colors on the floor are birds'-eyes and baby blue eyes, and the misty white here and there is forget-me-not. It won't be long til thousands and thousands of yucca plants will light their torches all over the desert and all the alders show their lacy mist. Of course you know how exquisitely the Spaniards named the yucca 'Our Lord's Candles.' Isn't that the prettiest name for a flower, and isn't it the prettiest thought?"
"It certainly is," answered Donald.
"Had any experience with the desert?" Linda asked lightly.
"Hunted sage hens some," answered Donald.
"Oh, well, that'll be all right," said Linda. "I wondered if you'd go murdering yourself like a tenderfoot."
"What's the use of all this artillery?" inquired Donald as he stepped from the car.
"Better put on your hat. You're taller than most of the bushes; you'll find slight shade," cautioned Linda. "The use is purely a matter of self-protection. The desert has got such a devil of a fight for existence, without shade and practically without water, that it can't afford to take any other chance of extermination, and so it protects itself with needles here and spears there and sabers at other places and roots that strike down to China everywhere. First thing we are going to get is some soap."
"Great hat!" exclaimed Donald. "If you wanted soap why didn't you bring some?"
"For all you know," laughed Linda, "I may be going to education you up a little. Dare you to tell me how many kinds of soap I can find today that the Indians used, and where I can find it."
"Couldn't tell you one to save my life," said Donald.
"And born and reared within a few miles of the desert!" scoffed Linda. "Nice Indian you'd make. We take our choice today between finding deer-brush and digging for amole, because the mock oranges aren't ripe enough to be nice and soapy yet. I've got the deer-brush spotted, and we'll pass an amole before we go very far. Look for a wavy blue-green leaf like a wide blade of grass and coming up like a lily."
So together they went to the deer-brush and gathered a bunch of flowers that Linda bound together with some wiry desert grass and fastened to her belt. It was not long before Donald spied an amole, and having found one, discovered many others growing near. Then Linda led the way past thorns and brush, past impenetrable beds of cholla, until they reached a huge barrel cactus that she had located with the glasses. Beside this bristling monstrous growth Linda paused, and reached for the axe, which Donald handed to her. She drew it lightly across the armor protecting the plant.
"Short of Victrola needles?" she inquired. "Because if you are, these make excellent ones. A lot more singing quality to them than the steel needles, not nearly so metallic."
"Well, I am surely going to try that," said Donald. "Never heard of such a thing."
Linda chopped off a section of plant. Then she picked one of the knives from the bucket and handed it to him.
"All right, you get what you want," she said, "while I operate on the barrel."
She set her feet firmly in the sand, swung the axe, and with a couple of deft strokes sliced off the top of the huge plant, and from the heart of it lifted up half a bucketful of the juicy interior, with her dipper.
"If we didn't have drink, here is where we would get it, and mighty good it is," she said, pushing down with the dipper until she formed a small pool in the heart of the plant which rapidly filled. "Have a taste."
"Jove, that is good!" said Donald. "What are you going to do with it?"
"Show you later," laughed Linda. "Think I'll take a sip myself."
Then by a roundabout route they started on their return to the car. Once Linda stopped and gathered a small bunch of an extremely curious little plant spreading over the ground, a tiny reddish vine with quaint round leaves that looked as if a drop of white paint rimmed with maroon had fallen on each of them.
"I never saw that before," said Donald. "What are you going to do with it?"
"Use it on whichever of us gets the first snake bite," said Linda. "That is rattlesnake weed and if a poisonous snake bites you, score each side of the wound with the cleanest, sharpest knife you have and then bruise the plant and bind it on with your handkerchief, and forget it."
"Is that what you do?" inquired Donald.
"Why sure," said Linda, "that is what I would do if a snake were so ungallant as to bite me, but there doesn't seem to be much of the antagonistic element in my nature. I don't go through the desert exhaling the odor of fright, and so snakes lie quiescent or slip away so silently that I never see them."
"Now what on earth do you mean by that?" inquired Donald.
"Why that is the very first lesson Daddy ever taught me when he took me to the mountains and the desert. If you are afraid, your system throws off formic acid, and the animals need only the suspicion of a scent of it to make them ready to fight. Any animal you encounter or even a bee, recognizes it. One of the first things that I remember about Daddy was seeing him sit on the running board of the runabout buckling up his desert boots while he sang to me,
'Let not your heart be troubled Neither let it be afraid,'
as he got ready to take me on his back and go into the desert for our first lesson; he told me that a man was perfectly safe in going to the forest or the desert or anywhere he chose among any kind of animals if he had sufficient self-control that no odor of fear emanated from him. He said that a man was safe to make his way anywhere he wanted to go, if he started his journey by recognizing a blood brotherhood with anything living he would meet on the way; and I have heard Enos Mills say that when he was snow inspector of Colorado he traveled the crest of the Rockies from one end of the state to the other without a gun or any means of self-defense."
"Now, that is something new to think about," said Donald.
"And it's something that is very true," said Linda. "I have seen it work times without number. Father and I went quietly up the mountains, through the canyons, across the desert, and we would never see a snake of any kind, but repeatedly we would see men with guns and dogs out to kill, to trespass on the rights of the wild, and they would be hunting for sticks and clubs and firing their guns where we had passed never thinking of lurking danger. If you start out in accord, at one with Nature, you're quite as safe as you are at home, sometimes more so. But if you start out to stir up a fight, the occasion is very rare on which you can't succeed."