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Her Father's Daughter
by Gene Stratton-Porter
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"And that reminds me," said Donald, with a laugh, "that a week ago I came to start a fight with you. What has become of that fight we were going to have, anyway?"

"You can search me," laughed Linda, throwing out her hands in a graceful gesture. "There's not a scrap of fight in my system concerning you, but if Oka Sayye were having a fight with you and I were anywhere around, you'd have one friend who would help you to handle the Jap."

Donald looked at Linda thoughtfully.

"By the great hocus-pocus," he said, "you know, I believe you. If two fellows were having a pitched battle most of the girls I know would quietly faint or run, but I do believe that you would stand by and help a fellow if he needed it."

"That I surely would," said Linda; "but don't you say 'most of the girls I know' and then make a statement like that concerning girls, because you prove that you don't know them at all. A few years ago, I very distinctly recall how angry many women were at this line in one of Kipling's poems:

The female of the species is more deadly than the male,

and there was nothing to it save that a great poet was trying to pay womanhood everywhere the finest compliment he knew how. He always has been fundamental in his process of thought. He gets right back to the heart of primal things. When he wrote that line he was not really thinking that there was a nasty poison in the heart of a woman or death in her hands. What he was thinking was that in the jungle the female lion or tiger or jaguar must go and find a particularly secluded cave and bear her young and raise them to be quite active kittens before she leads them out, because there is danger of the bloodthirsty father eating them when they are tiny and helpless. And if perchance a male finds the cave of his mate and her tiny young and enters it to do mischief, then there is no recorded instance I know of in which the female, fighting in defense of her young, has not been 'more deadly than the male.' And that is the origin of the much-discussed line concerning the female of the species, and it holds good fairly well down the line of the wild. It's even true among such tiny things as guinea pigs and canary birds. There is a mother element in the heart of every girl. Daddy used to say that half the women in the world married the men they did because they wanted to mother them. You can't tell what is in a woman's heart by looking at her. You must bring her face to face with an emergency before you can say what she'll do, but I would be perfectly willing to stake my life on this: There is scarcely a girl you know who would see you getting the worst of a fight, say with Oka Sayye, or someone who meant to kill you or injure you, who would not pick up the first weapon she could lay her hands on, whether it was an axe or a stick or a stone, and go to your defense, and if she had nothing else to fight with, I have heard of women who put up rather a tidy battle with their claws. Sounds primitive, doesn't it?"

"It sounds true," said Donald reflectively. "I see, young lady, where one is going to have to measure his words and think before he talks to you."

"Pretty thought!" said Linda lightly. "We'll have a great time if you must stop to consider every word before you say it."

"Well, anyway," said Donald, "when are we going to have that fight which was the purpose of our coming together?"

"Why, we're not ever going to have it," answered Linda. "I have got nothing in this world to fight with you about since you're doing your level best to beat Oka Sayye. I have watched your head above the remainder of your class for three years and wanted to fight with you on that point."

"Now that's a queer thing," said Donald, "because I have watched you for three years and wanted to fight with you about your drygoods, and now since I've known you only such a short while, I don't care two whoops what you wear. It's a matter of perfect indifference to me. You can wear French heels or baby pumps, or go barefoot. You would still be you."

"Is it a truce?" asked Linda. I

"No, ma'am," said Donald, "it's not a truce. That implies war and we haven't fought. It's not armed neutrality; it's not even watchful waiting. It's my friend, Linda Strong. Me for her and her for me, if you say so."

He reached out his hand. Linda laid hers in it, and looking into his eyes, she said: "That is a compact. We'll test this friendship business and see what there is to it. Now come on; let's run for the canyon."

It was only a short time until the Bear Cat followed its trail of the previous Saturday, and, rushing across the stream, stopped at its former resting place, while Linda and Donald sat looking at the sheer-walled little room before them.

"I can see," said Linda, "a stronger tinge in the green. There are more flowers in the carpet. There is more melody in the birds' song. We are going to have a better time than we had last Saturday. First let's fix up our old furnace, because we must have a fire today."

So they left the car, and under Linda's direction they reconstructed the old fireplace at which the girl and her father had cooked when botanizing in Multiflores. In a corner secluded from wind, using the wall of the canyon for a back wall, big boulders the right distance apart on each side, and small stones for chinking, Linda superintended the rebuilding of the fireplace.

She unpacked the lunch box, set the table, and when she had everything in readiness she covered the table, and taking a package, she carried it on a couple of aluminium pie pans to where her fire was burning crisply. With a small field axe she chopped a couple of small green branches, pointed them to her liking, and peeled them. Then she made a poker from one of the saplings they had used to move the rocks, and beat down her fire until she had a bright bed of deep coals. When these were arranged exactly to her satisfaction, she pulled some sprays of deer weed bloom from her bundle and, going down to the creek, made a lather and carefully washed her hands, tucking the towel she used in drying them through her belt. Then she came back to the fire and, sitting down beside it, opened the package and began her operations. On the long, slender sticks she strung a piece of tenderloin beef, about three inches in circumference and one fourth of an inch in thickness, then half a slice of bacon, and then a slice of onion. This she repeated until her skewer would bear no more weight. Then she laid it across the rocks walling her fire, occasionally turning it while she filled the second skewer. Then she brought from the car the bucket of pulp she had taken from the barrel cactus, transferred it to a piece of cheesecloth and deftly extracted the juice. To this she added the contents of a thermos bottle containing a pint of sugar that had been brought to the boiling point with a pint of water and poured over some chopped spearmint to which had been added the juice of half a dozen lemons and three or four oranges. From a small, metal-lined compartment, Linda took a chunk of ice and dropped it into this mixture.

She was sitting on the ground, one foot doubled under her, the other extended. She had taken off her hat; the wind and the bushes had roughened her hair. Exercise had brought deep red to her cheeks and her lips. Happiness had brought a mellow glow to her dark eyes. She had turned back her sleeves, and her slender hands were fascinatingly graceful in their deft handling of everything she touched. They were a second edition of the hands with which Alexander Strong had felt out defective nerve systems and made delicate muscular adjustments. She was wholly absorbed in what she was doing. Sitting on the blanket across from her Donald Whiting was wholly absorbed in her and he was thinking. He was planning how he could please her, how he could earn her friendship. He was admitting to himself that he had very little, if anything, to show for hours of time that he had spent in dancing, at card games, beach picnics, and races. All these things had been amusing. But he had nothing to show for the time he had spent or the money he had wasted. Nothing had happened that in any way equipped him for his battle with Oka Sayye. Conversely, this girl, whom he had resented, whom he had criticized, who had claimed his notice only by her radical difference from the other girls, had managed, during the few minutes he had first talked with her in the hall, to wound his pride, to spur his ambition, to start him on a course that must end in lasting and material benefit to him even if he failed in making a higher record of scholarship than Oka Sayye. It was very certain that the exercise he was giving his brain must be beneficial. He had learned many things that were intensely interesting to him and he had not even touched the surface of what he could see that she had been taught by her father or had learned through experience and personal investigation. She had been coming to the mountains and the canyons alone, for four years doing by herself what she would have done under her father's supervision had he lived. That argued for steadfastness and strength of character. She would not utter one word of flattery. She would say nothing she did not mean. Watching her intently, Donald Whiting thought of all these things. He thought of what she had said about fighting for him, and he wondered if it really was true that any girl he knew would fight for him. He hardly believed it when he remembered some of his friends, so entirely devoted to personal adornment and personal gratification. But Linda had said that all women were alike in their hearts. She knew about other things. She must know about this. Maybe all women would fight for their young or for their men, but he knew of no other girl who could drive a Bear Cat with the precision and skill with which Linda drove. He knew no other girl who was master of the secrets of the desert and the canyons and the mountains. Certainly he knew no other girl who would tug at great boulders and build a fireplace and risk burning her fingers and scorching her face to prepare a meal for him. So he watched Linda and so he thought.

At first he thought she was the finest pal a boy ever had, and then he thought how he meant to work to earn and keep her friendship; and then, as the fire reddened Linda's cheeks and she made running comments while she deftly turned her skewers of brigand beefsteak, food that half the Boy Scouts in the country had been eating for four years, there came an idea with which he dallied until it grew into a luring vision.

"Linda," he asked suddenly, "do you know that one of these days you're going to be a beautiful woman?"

Linda turned her skewers with intense absorption. At first he almost thought she had not heard him, but at last she said quietly: "Do you really think that is possible, Donald?"

"You're lovely right now!" answered the boy promptly.

"For goodness' sake, have an eye single to your record for truth and veracity," said Linda. "Doesn't this begin to smell zippy?"

"It certainly does," said Donald. "It's making me ravenous. But honest, Linda, you are a pretty girl."

"Honest, your foot!" said Linda scornfully. "I am not a pretty girl. I am lean and bony and I've got a beak where I should have a nose. Speaking of pretty girls, my sister, Eileen, is a pretty girl. She is a downright beautiful girl."

"Yes," said Donald, "she is, but she can't hold a candle to you. How did she look when she was your age?"

"I can't remember Eileen," said Linda, "when she was not exquisitely dressed and thinking more about taking care of her shoes than anything else in the world. I can't remember her when she was not curled, and even when she was a tiny thing Mother put a dust of powder on her nose. She said her skin was so delicate that it could not bear the sun. She never could run or play or motor much or do anything, because she has always had to be saved for the sole purpose of being exquisitely beautiful. Talk about lilies of the field, that's what Eileen is! She is an improvement on the original lily of the field—she's a lily of the drawing room. Me, now, I'm more of a Joshua tree."

Donald Whiting laughed, as Linda intended that he should.

A minute afterward she slid the savory food from a skewer upon one of the pie pans, tossed back the cover from the little table, stacked some bread-and-butter sandwiches beside the meat and handed the pan to Donald.

"Fall to," she said, "and prove that you're a man with an appreciative tummy. Father used to be positively ravenous for this stuff. I like it myself."

She slid the food from the second skewer to a pan for herself, settled the fire to her satisfaction and they began their meal. Presently she filled a cup from the bucket beside her and handed it to Donald. At the same time she lifted another for herself.

"Here's to the barrel cactus," she said. "May the desert grow enough of them so that we'll never lack one when we want to have a Saturday picnic."

Laughingly they drank this toast; and the skewers were filled a second time. When they could eat no more they packed away the lunch things, buried the fire, took the axe and the field glasses, and started on a trip of exploration down the canyon. Together they admired delicate and exquisite ferns growing around great gray boulders. Donald tasted hunters' rock leek, and learned that any he found while on a hunting expedition would furnish a splendid substitute for water. Linda told him of rare flowers she lacked and what they were like and how he would be able to identify what she wanted in case he should ever find any when he was out hunting or with his other friends. They peeped into the nesting places of canyon wrens and doves and finches, and listened to the exquisite courting songs of the birds whose hearts were almost bursting with the exuberance of spring and the joy of home making. When they were tired out they went back to the dining room and after resting a time, they made a supper from the remnants of their dinner. When they were seated in the car and Linda's hand was on the steering wheel, Donald reached across and covered it with his own.

"Wait a bit," he said. "Before we leave here I want to ask you a question and I want you to make me a promise."

"All right," said Linda. "What's your question?"

"What is there," said Donald, "that I can do that would give you such pleasure as you have given me?"

Linda could jest on occasions, but by nature she was a serious person. She looked at Donald reflectively.

"Why, I think," she said at last, "that having a friend, having someone who understands and who cares for the things I do, and who likes to go to the same places and to do the same things, is the biggest thing that has happened to me since I lost my father. I don't see that you are in any way in my debt, Donald."

"All right then," said the boy, "that brings me to the promise I want you to make me. May we always have our Saturdays together like this?"

"Sure!" said Linda, "I would be mightily pleased. I'll have to work later at night and scheme, maybe. By good rights Saturday belongs to me anyway because I am born Saturday's child."

"Well, hurrah for Saturday! It always was a grand old day," said Donald, "and since I see what it can do in turning out a girl like you, I've got a better opinion of it than ever. We'll call that settled. I'll always ask you on Friday at what hour to come, and hereafter Saturday is ours."

"Ours it is," said Linda.

Then she put the Bear Cat through the creek and on the road and, driving swiftly as she dared, ran to Lilac Valley and up to Peter Morrison's location.

She was amazed at the amount of work that had been accomplished. The garage was finished. Peter's temporary work desk and his cot were in it. A number of his personal belongings were there. The site for his house had been selected and the cellar was being excavated.

Linda descended from the Bear Cat and led Donald before Peter.

"Since you're both my friends," she said, "I want you to know each other. This is Donald Whiting, the Senior I told you about, Mr. Morrison. You know you said you would help him if you could."

"Certainly," said Peter. "I am very glad to know any friend of yours, Miss Linda. Come over to my workroom and let's hear about this."

"Oh, go and talk it over between yourselves," said Linda. "I am going up here to have a private conversation with the spring. I want it to tell me confidentially exactly the course it would enjoy running so that when your house is finished and I come to lay out your grounds I will know exactly how it feels about making a change."

"Fine!" said Peter. "Take your time and become extremely confidential, because the more I look at the location and the more I hear the gay chuckling song that that water sings, the more I am in love with your plan to run it across the lawn and bring it around the boulder."

"It would be a downright sin not to have that water in a convenient place for your children to play in, Peter," said Linda.

"Then that's all settled," said Peter. "Now, Whiting, come this way and we'll see whether I can suggest anything that will help you with your problem."

"Whistle when you are ready, Donald," called Linda as she turned away.

Peter Morrison glanced after her a second, and then he led Donald Whiting to a nail keg in the garage and impaled that youngster on the mental point of a mental pin and studied him as carefully as any scientist ever studied a rare specimen. When finally he let him go, his mental comment was: "He's a mighty fine kid. Linda is perfectly safe with him."



CHAPTER XV. Linda's Hearthstone

Early the following week Linda came from school one evening to find a load of sand and a heap of curiously marked stones beside the back door.

"Can it possibly be, Katy," she asked, "that those men are planning to begin work on my room so soon? I am scared out of almost seven of my five senses. I had no idea they would be ready to begin work until after I had my settlement with Eileen or was paid for the books."

"Don't ye be worried," said Katy. "There's more in me stocking than me leg, and you're as welcome to it as the desert is welcome to rain, an' nadin' it 'most as bad."

"Anyway," said Linda, "it will surely take them long enough so that I can pay by the time they finish."

But Linda was not figuring that back of the projected improvements stood two men, each of whom had an extremely personal reason for greatly desiring to please her. Peter Morrison had secured a slab of sandstone. He had located a marble cutter to whom he meant to carry it, and was spending much thought that he might have been using on an article in trying to hit upon exactly the right line or phrase to build in above Linda's fire—something that would convey to her in a few words a sense of friendship and beauty.

While Peter gazed at the unresponsive gray sandstone and wrote line after line which he immediately destroyed, Henry Anderson explored the mountain and came in, red faced and perspiring, from miles of climbing with a bright stone in each hand, or took the car to bring in small heaps too heavy to carry that he had collected near the roads. They were two men striving for the favor of the same girl. How Linda would have been amused had she understood the situation, or how Eileen would have been provoked, neither of the men knew nor did they care.

The workmen came after Linda left and went before her return. Having been cautioned to silence, Katy had not told her when work actually began; and so it happened that, going to her room one evening, she unlocked the door and stepped inside to face the completed fireplace. The firebox was not very large but ample. The hearthstone was a big sheet of smooth gray sandstone. The sides and top were Henry's collection of brilliant boulders, carefully and artistically laid in blue mortar, and over the firebox was set Peter's slab of gray sandstone. On it were four deeply carved lines. The quaint Old English lettering was filled even to the surface with a red mortar, while the capitals were done in dull blue. The girl slowly read:

Voiceless stones, with Flame-tongues Preach Sermons struck from Nature's Lyre; Notes of Love and Trust and Hope Hourly sing in Linda's Fire.

In the firebox stood a squat pair of black andirons, showing age and usage. A rough eucalyptus log waited across them while the shavings from the placing of the mantel and the cutting of the windows were tucked beneath it. Linda stood absorbed a minute. She looked at the skylight, flooding the room with the light she so needed coming from the right angle. She went over to the new window that gave her a view of the length of the valley she loved and a most essential draft. When she turned back to the fireplace her hands were trembling.

"Now isn't that too lovely of them?" she said softly. "Isn't that altogether wonderful? How I wish Daddy were here to sit beside my fire and share with me the work I hope to do here."

In order to come as close to him as possible she did the next best thing. She sat down at her table and wrote a long letter to Marian, telling her everything she could think of that would interest her. Then she re-read with extreme care the letter she had found at the Post Office that day in reply to the one she had written Marian purporting to come from an admirer. Writing slowly and thinking deeply, she answered it. She tried to imagine that she was Peter Morrison and she tried to say the things in that letter that she thought Peter would say in the circumstances, because she felt sure that Marian would be entertained by such things as Peter would say. When she finished, she read it over carefully, and then copied it with equal care on the typewriter, which she had removed to her workroom.

When she heard Katy's footstep outside her door, she opened it and drew her in, slipping the bolt behind her. She led her to the fireplace and recited the lines.

"Now ain't they jist the finest gentlemen?" said Katy. "Cut right off of a piece of the same cloth as your father. Now some way we must get together enough money to get ye a good-sized rug for under your worktable, and then ye've got to have two bits of small ones, one for your hearthstone and one for your aisel; and then ye're ready, colleen, to show what ye can do. I'm so proud of ye when I think of the grand secret it's keepin' for ye I am; and less and less are gettin' me chances for the salvation of me soul, for every night I'm a-sittin' starin' at the magazines ye gave me when I ought to be tellin' me beads and makin' me devotions. Ain't it about time the third was comin' in?"

"Any day now," said Linda in a whisper. "And, Katy, you'll be careful? That editor must think that 'Jane Meredith' is full of years and ripe experience. I probably wouldn't get ten cents, no not even a for-nothing chance, if he knew those articles were written by a Junior."

"Junior nothing!" scoffed Katy. "There was not a day of his life that your pa did not spend hours drillin' ye in things the rest of the girls in your school never heard of. 'Tain't no high-school girl that's written them articles. It's Alexander Strong speakin' through the medium of his own flesh and blood."

"Why, so it is, Katy!" cried Linda delightedly. "You know, I never thought of that. I have been so egoistical I thought I was doing them myself."

"Paid ye anything yet?" queried Katy.

"No," said Linda, "they haven't. It seems that the amount of interest the articles evoke is going to decide what I am to be paid for them, but they certainly couldn't take the recipe and the comments and the sketch for less than twenty-five or thirty dollars, unless recipes are like poetry. Peter said the other day that if a poet did not have some other profession to support him, he would starve to death on all he was paid for writing the most beautiful things that ever are written in all this world. Peter says even an effort to write a poem is a beautiful thing."

"Well, maybe that used to be the truth," said Katy as she started toward the door, "but I have been reading some things labeled 'poetry' in the magazines of late, and if the holy father knows what they mean, he's even bigger than ever I took him to be."

"Katy," said Linda, "we are dreadful back numbers. We are letting this world progress and roll right on past us without a struggle. We haven't either one been to a psychoanalyst to find out the color of our auras."

"Now God forbid," said Katy. "I ain't going to have one of them things around me. The colors I'm wearin' satisfy me entoirely."

"And mine are going to satisfy me very shortly, now," laughed Linda, "because tomorrow is my big day with Eileen. Next time we have a minute together, old dear, I'll have started my bank account."

"Right ye are," said Katy, "jist exactly right. You're getting such a great girl it's the proper thing ye should be suitably dressed, and don't ye be too modest."

"The unfortunate thing about that, Katy, is that l intimated the other day that I would be content with less than half, since she is older and she should have her chance first."

"Now ain't that jist like ye?" said Katy. "I might have known ye would be doing that very thing."

"After I have gone over the accounts," said Linda, "I'll know better what to demand. Now fly to your cooking, Katy, and let me sit down at this table and see if I can dig out a few dollars of honest coin; but I'm going to have hard work to keep my eyes on the paper with that fireplace before me. Isn't that red and blue lettering the prettiest thing, Katy, and do you notice that tiny 'P. M.' cut down in the lower left-hand corner nearly out of sight? That, Katy, stands for 'Peter Morrison,' and one of these days Peter is going to be a large figure on the landscape. The next Post he has an article in I'll buy for you."

"It never does," said Katy, "to be makin' up your mind in this world so hard and fast that ye can't change it. In the days before John Gilman got bewitched out of his senses I did think, barrin' your father, that he was the finest man the Lord ever made; but I ain't thought so much of him of late as I did before."

"Same holds good for me," said Linda.

"I've studied this Peter," continued Katy, "like your pa used to study things under his microscope. He's the most come-at-able man. He's got such a kind of a questionin' look on his face, and there's a bit of a stoop to his shoulders like they had been whittled out for carryin' a load, and there's a kind of a whimsy quiverin' around his lips that makes me heart stand still every time he speaks to me, because I can't be certain whether he is going to make me laugh or going to make me cry, and when what he's sayin' does come with that little slow drawl, I can't be just sure whether he's meanin' it or whether he's jist pokin' fun at me. He said the quarest thing to me the other day when he was here fiddlin' over the makin' of this fireplace. He was standin' out beside your desert garden and I come aven with him and I says to him: 'Them's the rare plants Miss Linda and her pa have been goin' to the deserts and the canyons, as long as he lived, to fetch in; and then Miss Linda went alone, and now the son of Judge Whiting, the biggest lawyer in Los Angeles, has begun goin' with her. Ain't it the brightest, prettiest place?' I says to him. And he stood there lookin', and he says to me: 'No, Katy, that is a graveyard.' Now what in the name of raison was the man meanin' by that?"

Linda stared at the hearth motto reflectively.

"A graveyard!" she repeated. "Well, if anything could come farther from a graveyard than that spot, I don't know how it would do it. I haven't the remotest notion what he meant. Why didn't you ask him?"

"Well, the truth is," said Katy, "that I proide myself on being able to kape me mouth shut when I should."

"I'll leave to think over it," said Linda. "At present I have no more idea than you in what respect my desert garden could resemble a graveyard. Oh! yes, there's one thing I wanted to ask you, Katy. Has Eileen been around while this room was being altered?"

"She came in yesterday," answered Katy, "when the hammerin' and sawin' was goin' full blast."

"What I wanted to find out'" said Linda, "was whether she had been here and seen this room or not, because if she hasn't and she wants to see it, now is her time. After I get things going here and these walls are covered with drying sketches this room is going to be strictly private. You see that you keep your key where nobody gets hold of it."

"It's on a string round me neck this blessed minute," said Katy. "I didn't see her come up here, but ye could be safe in bettin' anything ye've got that she came."

"Yes, I imagine she did," said Linda. "She would be sufficiently curious that she would come to learn how much I have spent if she had no other interest in me."

She looked at the fireplace reflectively.

"I wonder," she said, "what Eileen thought of that and I wonder if she noticed that little 'P. M.' tucked away down there in the corner."

"Sure she did," said Katy. "She has got eyes like a cat. She can see more things in a shorter time than anybody I ever knew." So that evening at dinner Linda told Eileen that the improvements she had made for her convenience in the billiard room were finished, and asked her if she would like to see them.

"I can't imagine what you want to stick yourself off up there alone for," said Eileen. "I don't believe I am sufficiently interested in garret skylights and windows to climb up to look at them. What everybody in the neighborhood can see is that you have absolutely ruined the looks of the back part of the house."

"Good gracious!" said Linda. "Have I? You know I never thought of that."

"Of course! But all you've got to do is go on the cast lawn and take a look at that side and the back end of the house to see what you have done," said Eileen. "Undoubtedly you've cut the selling price of the house one thousand, at least. But it's exactly like you not to have thought of what chopping up the roof and the end of the house as you have done, would make it look like. You have got one of those single-track minds, Linda, that can think of only one thing at a time, and you never do think, when you start anything, of what the end is going to be."

"Very likely there's a large amount of truth in that," said Linda soberly. "Perhaps I do get an idea and pursue it to the exclusion of everything else. It's an inheritance from Daddy, this concentrating with all my might on one thing at a time. But I am very sorry if I have disfigured the house."

"What I want to know," said Eileen, "is how in this world, at present wages and cost of material, you're expecting to pay men for the work you have had done."

"I can talk more understandingly about that," said Linda quietly, "day after tomorrow. I'll get home from school tomorrow as early as I can, and then we'll figure out our financial situation exactly."

Eileen made no reply.



CHAPTER XVI. Producing the Evidence

When Linda hurried home the next evening, her first word to Katy was to ask if Eileen were there.

"No, she isn't here," said Katy, "and she's not going to be."

"Not going to be!" cried Linda, her face paling perceptibly.

"She went downtown this morning and she telephoned me about three sayin' she had an invoitation to go with a motor party to Pasadena this afternoon, an' she wasn't knowin' whether she could get home the night or not."

"I don't like it," said Linda. "I don't like it at all."

She liked it still less when Eileen came home for a change of clothing the following day, and again went to spend the night with a friend, without leaving any word whatever.

"I don't understand this," said Linda, white lipped and tense. "She does not want to see me. She does not intend to talk business with me if she can possibly help it. She is treating me as if I were a four-year-old instead of a woman with as much brain as she has. If she appears while I am gone tomorrow and starts away again, you tell her Come to think of it, you needn't tell her anything; I'll give you a note for her."

So Linda sat down and wrote:

DEAR EILEEN:

It won't be necessary to remind you of our agreement night before last to settle on an allowance from Father's estate for me. Of course I realize that you are purposely avoiding seeing me, for what reason I can't imagine; but I give you warning, that if you have been in this house and have read this note, and are not here with your figures ready to meet me when I get home tomorrow night, I'll take matters into my own hands, and do exactly what I think best without the slightest reference to what you think about it. If you don't want something done that you will dislike, even more than you dislike seeing me, you had better heed this warning.

LINDA.

She read it over slowly: "My, that sounds melodramatic!" she commented. "It's even got a threat in it, and it's a funny thing to threaten my own sister. I don't think that it's a situation that occurs very frequently, but for that matter I sincerely hope that Eileen isn't the kind of sister that occurs frequently."

Linda went up to her room and tried to settle herself to work, but found that it was impossible to fix her attention on what she was doing. Her mind jumped from one thing to another in a way that totally prohibited effective work of any kind. A sudden resolve came into her heart. She would not wait any longer. She would know for herself just how she was situated financially. She wrote a note to the editor of Everybody's Home, asking him if it would be convenient to let her know what reception her work was having with his subscribers, whether he desired her to continue the department in his magazines, and if so, what was the best offer he could make her for the recipes, the natural history comments accompanying them, and the sketches. Then she went down to the telephone book and looked up the location of the Consolidated Bank. She decided that she would stop there on her way from school the next day and ask to be shown the Strong accounts.

While she was meditating these heroic measures the bell rang and Katy admitted John Gilman. Strangely enough, he was asking for Linda, not for Eileen. At the first glimpse of him Linda knew that something was wrong; so without any prelude she said abruptly: "What's the matter, John? Don't you know where I Eileen is either?"

"Approximately," he answered. "She has 'phoned me two or three times, but I haven't seen her for three days. Do you know where she is or exactly why she is keeping away from home as she is?"

"Yes," said Linda, "I do. I told you the other day the time had come when I was going to demand a settlement of Father's estate and a fixed income. That time came three days ago and I have not seen Eileen since."

They entered the living room. As Linda passed the table, propped against a candlestick on it, she noticed a note addressed to herself.

"Oh, here will be an explanation," she said. "Here is a note for me. Sit down a minute till I read it."

She seated herself on the arm of a chair, tore open the note, and instantly began reading aloud.

"Dear little sister—"

"Pathetic," interpolated Linda, "in consideration of the fact that I am about twice as big as she is. However, we'll let that go, and focus on the enclosure." She waved a slender slip of paper at Gilman. "I never was possessed of an article like this before in all my tender young life, but it seems to me that it's a cheque, and I can't tell you quite how deeply it amuses me. But to return to business, at the present instant I am:

DEAR LITTLE SISTER:

It seems that all the friends I have are particularly insistent on seeing me all at once and all in a rush. I don't think I ever had quite so many invitations at one time in my life before, and the next two or three days seem to be going to be equally as full. But I took time to run into the bank and go over things carefully. I find that after the payment of taxes and insurance and all the household expenses, that by wearing old clothes I have and making them over I can afford to turn over at least seventy-five dollars a month to you for your clothing and personal expenses. As I don't know exactly when I can get home, I am enclosing a cheque which is considerably larger than I had supposed I could make it, and I can only do this by skimping myself; but of course you are getting such a big girl and beginning to attract attention, so it is only right that you should have the very best that I can afford to do for you. I am not taking the bill from The Mode into consideration. I paid that with last month's expenses.

With love,

EILEEN.

Linda held the letter in one hand, the cheque in the other, and stared questioningly at John Gilman.

"What do you think of that?" she inquired tersely.

"It seems to me," said Gilman, "that a more pertinent question would be, what do you think of it?"

"Rot!" said Linda tersely. "If I were a stenographer in your office I would think that I was making a fairly good start; but I happen to be the daughter of Alexander Strong living in my own home with my only sister, who can afford to flit like the flittingest of social butterflies from one party to another as well dressed as, and better dressed than, the Great General Average. You have known us, John, ever since Eileen sat in the sun to dry her handmade curls, while I was leaving a piece of my dress on every busk in Multiflores Canyon. Right here and now I am going to show you something!"

Linda started upstairs, so John Gilman followed her. She went to the door of Eileen's suite and opened it.

"Now then," she said, "take a look at what Eileen feels she can afford for herself. You will observe she has complete and exquisite furnishings and all sorts of feminine accessories on her dressing table. You will observe that she has fine rugs in her dressing room and bathroom. Let me call your attention to the fact that all these drawers are filled with expensive comforts and conveniences."

Angrily Linda began to open drawers filled with fancy feminine apparel, daintily and neatly folded, everything in perfect order: gloves, hose, handkerchiefs, ribbons, laces, all in separate compartments She pointed to the high chiffonier, the top decorated with candlesticks and silver-framed pictures. Here the drawers revealed heaps of embroidered underclothing and silken garments. Then she walked to the closet and threw the door wide.

She pushed hangers on their rods, sliding before the perplexed and bewildered man dress after dress of lace and georgette, walking suits of cloth, street dresses of silk, and pretty afternoon gowns, heavy coats, light coats, a beautiful evening coat. Linda took this down and held it in front of John Gilman.

"I see things marked in store windows," she said. "Eileen paid not a penny less than three hundred for this one coat. Look at the rows of shoes, and pumps, and slippers, and what that box is or I don't know."

Linda slid to the light a box screened by the hanging dresses, and with the toe of her shoe lifted the lid, disclosing a complete smoking outfit—case after case of cigarettes. Linda dropped the lid and shoved the box back. She stood silent a second, then she looked at John Gilman.

"That is the way things go in this world," she said quietly. "Whenever you lose your temper, you always do something you didn't intend to do when you started. I didn't know that, and I wouldn't have shown it to you purposely if I had known it; but it doesn't alter the fact that you should know it. If you did know it no harm's done but if you didn't know it, you shouldn't be allowed to marry Eileen without knowing as much about her as you did about Marian, and there was nothing about Marian that you didn't know. I am sorry for that, but since I have started this I am going through with it. Now give me just one minute more."

Then she went down the hall, threw open the door to her room, and walking in said: "You have seen Eileen's surroundings; now take a look at mine. There's my bed; there's my dresser and toilet articles; and this is my wardrobe."

She opened the closet door and exhibited a pair of overalls in which she watered her desert garden. Next ranged her khaki breeches and felt hat. Then hung the old serge school dress, beside it the extra skirt and orange blouse. The stack of underclothing on the shelves was pitifully small, visibly dilapidated. Two or three outgrown gingham dresses hung forlornly on the opposite wall. Linda stood tall and straight before John Gilman.

"What I have on and one other waist constitute my wardrobe," she said, "and I told Eileen where to get this dress and suggested it before I got it."

Gilman looked at her in a dazed fashion.

"I don't understand," he said slowly. "If that isn't the dress I saw Eileen send up for herself, I'm badly mistaken. It was the Saturday we went to Riverside. It surely is the very dress."

Linda laughed bleakly.

"That may be," she said. "The one time she ever has any respect for me is in a question of taste. She will agree that I know when colors are right and a thing is artistic. Now then, John, you are the administrator of my father's estate; you have seen what you have seen. What are you going to do about it?"

"Linda," he said quietly, "what my heart might prompt me to do in consideration of the fact that I am engaged to marry Eileen, and what my legal sense tells me I must do as executor of your father's wishes, are different propositions. I am going to do exactly what you tell me to. What you have shown me, and what I'd have realized, if I had stopped to think, is neither right nor just."

Then Linda took her tun at deep thought.

"John," she said at last, "I am feeling depressed over what I have just done. I am not sure that in losing my temper and bringing you up here I have played the game fairly. You don't need to do anything. I'll manage my affairs with Eileen myself. But I'll tell you before you go, that you needn't practice any subterfuges. When she reaches the point where she is ready to come home, I'll tell her that you were here, and what you have seen. That is the best I can do toward squaring myself with my own conscience."

Slowly they walked down the hall together. At the head of the stairs Linda took the cheque that she carried and tore it into bits. Stepping across the hall, she let the little heap slowly flutter to the rug in front of Eileen's door. Then she went back to her room and left John Gilman to his own reflections.



CHAPTER XVII. A Rock and a Flame

The first time Linda entered the kitchen after her interview with Gilman, Katy asked in deep concern, "Now what ye been doing, lambie?"

"Doing the baby act, Katy," confessed Linda. "Disgracing myself. Losing my temper. I wish I could bring myself to the place where I would think half a dozen times before I do a thing once."

"Now look here," said Katy, beginning to bristle, "ain't it the truth that ye have thought for four years before ye did this thing once?"

"Quite so," said Linda. "But since I am the daughter of the finest gentleman I ever knew, I should not do hasty, regrettable things. On the living-room table I found a note sweeter than honey, and it contained a cheque for me that wouldn't pay Eileen's bills for lunches, candy, and theaters for a month; so in undue heat I reduced it to bits and decorated the rug before her door. But before that, Katy, I led my guardian into the room, and showed him everything. I meant to tell him that, since he had neglected me for four years, he could see that I had justice now, but when I'd personally conducted him from Eileen's room to mine, and when I took a good look at him there was something on his face, Katy, that I couldn't endure. So I told him to leave it to me; that I would tell Eileen myself what I had done, and so I will. But I am sorry I did it, Katy; I am awfully sorry. You always told me to keep my temper and I lost it completely. From now on I certainly will try to behave myself more like a woman than a spoiled child. Now give me a dust cloth and brushes. I am almost through with my job in the library and I want to finish, because I shall be forced to use the money from the books to pay for my skylight and fireplace."

Linda went to the library and began work, efficiently, carefully, yet with a precise rapidity habitual to her. Down the long line of heavy technical books, she came to the end of the shelf. Three books from the end she noticed a difference in the wall behind the shelf. Hastily removing the other two volumes, she disclosed a small locked door having a scrap of paper protruding from the edge which she pulled out and upon which she read:

In the event of my passing, should anyone move these books and find this door, these lines are to inform him that it is to remain untouched. The key to it is in my safety-deposit vault at the Consolidated Bank. The Bank will open the door and attend to the contents of the box at the proper time.

Linda fixed the paper back exactly as she had found it. She stood looking at the door a long time, then she carefully wiped it, the wall around it, and the shelf. Going to another shelf, she picked out the books that had been written by her father and, beginning at the end of the shelf, she ranged them in a row until they completely covered the opening. Then she finished filling the shelf with other books that she meant to keep, but her brain was working, milling over and over the question of what that little compartment contained and when it was to be opened and whether John Gilman knew about it, and whether the Consolidated Bank would remember the day specified, and whether it would mean anything important to her.

She carried the dusters back to Katy, and going to her room, concentrated resolutely upon her work; but she Was unable to do anything constructive. Her routine lessons she could prepare, but she could not even sketch a wild rose accurately. Finally she laid down her pencil, washed her brushes, put away her material, and locking her door, slipped the key into her pocket. Going down to the garage she climbed into the Bear Cat and headed straight for Peter Morrison. She drove into his location and blew the horn. Peter stepped from the garage, and seeing her, started in her direction. Linda sprang down and hurried toward him. He looked at her intently as she approached and formed his own conclusions.

"Sort of restless," said Linda. "Couldn't evolve a single new idea with which to enliven the gay annals of English literature and Greek history. A personal history seems infinitely more insistent and unusual. I ran away from my lessons, and my work, and came to you, Peter, because I had a feeling that there was something you could give me, and I thought you would."

Peter smiled a slow curious smile.

"I like your line of thought, Linda," he said quietly. "It greatly appeals to me. Any time an ancient and patriarchal literary man named Peter Morrison can serve as a rock upon which a young thing can rest, why he'll be glad to be that rock."

"What were you doing?" asked Linda abruptly.

"Come and see," said Peter.

He led the way to the garage. His worktable and the cement floor around it were littered with sheets of closely typed paper.

"I'll have to assemble them first," said Peter, getting down on his knees and beginning to pick them up.

Linda sat on a packing case and watched him. Already she felt comforted. Of course Peter was a rock, of course anyone could trust him, and of course if the tempest of life beat upon her too strongly she could always fly to Peter.

"May I?" she inquired, stretching her hand in the direction of a sheet.

"Sure," said Peter.

"What is it?" inquired Linda lightly. "The bridge or the road or the playroom?"

"Gad!" he said slowly. "Don't talk about me being a rock! Rocks are stolid, stodgy unresponsive things. I thought I was struggling with one of the biggest political problems of the day from an economic and psychological standpoint. If I'd had sense enough to realize that it was a bridge I was building, I might have done the thing with some imagination and subtlety. If you want a rock and you say I am a rock, a rock I'll be, Linda. But I know what you are, and what you will be to me when we really become the kind of friends we are destined to be."

"I wonder now," said Linda, "if you are going to say that I could be any such lovely thing on the landscape as a bridge."

"No," said Peter slowly, "nothing so prosaic. Bridges are common in this world. You are going to be something uncommon. History records the experiences of but one man who has seen a flame in the open. I am a second Moses and you are going to be my burning bush. I intended to read this article to you."

Peter massed the sheets, straightened them on the desk, and deliberately ripped them across several times. Linda sprang to her feet and stretched out her hands.

"Why, Peter!" she cried in a shocked voice. "That is perfectly inexcusable. There are hours and hours of work on that, and I have not a doubt but that it was good work."

"Simple case of mechanism," said Peter, reducing the bits to smaller size and dropping them into the empty nail keg that served as his wastebasket. "A lifeless thing without a soul, mere clockwork. I have got the idea now. I am to build a bridge and make a road. Every way I look I can see a golden-flame tongue of inspiration burning. I'll rewrite that thing and animate it. Take me for a ride, Linda."

Linda rose and walked to the Bear Cat. Peter climbed in and sat beside her. Linda laid her hands on the steering wheel and started the car. She ran it down to the highway and chose a level road leading straight down the valley through cultivated country. In all the world there was nothing to equal the panorama that she spread before Peter that evening. She drove the Bear Cat past orchards, hundreds of acres of orchards of waxen green leaves and waxen white bloom of orange, grapefruit, and lemon. She took him where seas of pink outlined peach orchards, and other seas the more delicate tint of the apricots. She glided down avenues lined with palm and eucalyptus, pepper and olive, and through unbroken rows, extending for miles, of roses, long stretches of white, again a stretch of pink, then salmon, yellow, and red. Nowhere in all the world are there to be found so many acres of orchard bloom and so many miles of tree-lined, rose-decorated roadway as in southern California. She sent the little car through the evening until she felt that it was time to go home, and when at last she stopped where they had started, she realized that neither she nor Peter had spoken one word. As he stepped from the car she leaned toward him and reached out her hand.

"Thank you for the fireplace, Peter," she said.

Peter took the hand she extended and held it one minute in both his own. Then very gently he straightened it out in the palm of one of his hands and with the other hand turned back the fingers and laid his lips to the heart of it.

"Thank you, Linda, for the flame," he said, and turning abruptly, he went toward his workroom.

Stopping for a bite to eat in the kitchen, Linda went back to her room. She sat down at the table and picking up her pencil, began to work, and found that she could work. Every stroke came true and strong. Every idea seemed original and unusual. Quite as late as a light ever had shone in her window, it shone that night, the last thing she did being to write another anonymous letter to Marian, and when she reread it Linda realized that it was an appealing letter. She thought it certainly would comfort Marian and surely would make her feel that someone worth while was interested in her and in her work. She loved some of the whimsical little touches she had put into it, and she wondered if she had made it so much like Peter Morrison that it would be suggestive of him to Marian. She knew that she had no right to do that and had no such intention. She merely wanted a model to copy from and Peter seemed the most appealing model at hand.

After school the next day Linda reported that she had finished going through the books and was ready to have them taken. Then, after a few minutes of deep thought, she made her way to the Consolidated Bank. At the window of the paying teller she explained that she wished to see the person connected with the bank who had charge of the safety-deposit boxes and who looked after the accounts pertaining to the estate of Alexander Strong. The teller recognized the name. He immediately became deferential.

"I'll take you to the office of the president," he said. "He and Doctor Strong were very warm friends. You can explain to him what it is you want to know."

Before she realized what was happening, Linda found herself in an office that was all mahogany and marble. At a huge desk stacked with papers sat a man, considerably older than her father. Linda remembered to have seen him frequently in their home, in her father's car, and she recalled one fishing expedition to the Tulare Lake region where he had been a member of her father's party.

"Of course you have forgotten me, Mr. Worthington," she said as she approached his desk. "I have grown such a tall person during the past four years."

The white-haired financier rose and stretched out his hand.

"You exact replica of Alexander Strong," he said laughingly, "I couldn't forget you any more than I could forget your father. That fine fishing trip where you proved such a grand little scout is bright in my memory as one of my happiest vacations. Sit down and tell me what I can do for you."

Linda sat down and told him that she was dissatisfied with the manner in which her father's estate was being administered.

He listened very carefully to all she had to say, then he pressed a button and gave a few words of instruction to the clerk who answered it. When several ledgers and account books were laid before him, with practiced hand he turned to what he wanted. The records were not complicated. They covered a period of four years. They showed exactly what monies had been paid into the bank for the estate. They showed what royalties had been paid on the books. Linda sat beside him and watched his pencil running up and down columns, setting down a list of items, and making everything plain. Paid cheques for household expenses I and drygoods bills were all recorded and deducted. With narrow, alert eyes, Linda was watching, and her brain was keenly alive. As she realized the discrepancy between the annual revenue from the estate and the totaling of the expenses, she had an inspiration. Something she never before had thought of occurred to her. She looked the banker in the eye and said very quietly: "And now, since she is my sister and I am going to be of age very shortly and these things must all be gone into and opened up, would it be out of place for me to ask you this afternoon to let me have a glimpse at the private account of Miss Eileen Strong?"

The banker drew a deep breath and looked at Linda keenly.

"That would not be customary," he said slowly.

"No?" said Linda. "But since Father and Mother went out at the same time and there was no will and the property would be legally divided equally between us upon my coming of age, would my sister be entitled to a private account?"

"Had she any sources of obtaining money outside the estate?"

"No," said Linda. "At least none that I know of. Mother had I some relatives in San Francisco who were very wealthy people, but they never came to see us and we never went there. I know nothing about them. I never had any money from them and I am quite sure Eileen never had."

Linda sat very quietly a minute and then she looked at the banker.

"Mr. Worthington," she said, "the situation is slightly peculiar. My guardian, John Gilman, is engaged to marry my sister Eileen. She is a beautiful girl, as you no doubt recall, and he is very much in love with her. Undoubtedly she has been able, at least recently, to manage affairs very much in her own way. She is more than four years my senior, and has always had charge of the household accounts and the handling of the bank accounts. Since there is such a wide discrepancy between the returns from the property and the expenses that these books show, I am forced to the conclusion that there must be upon your books, or the books of some other bank in the city, a private account in Eileen's name or in the name of the Strong estate."

"That I can very easily ascertain," said Mr. Worthington, reaching again toward the button on his desk. A few minutes later the report came that there was a private account in the name of Miss Eileen Strong. Again Linda was deeply thoughtful.

"Is there anything I can do," she inquired, "to prevent that account from being changed or drawn out previous to my coming of age?"

Then Mr. Worthington grew thoughtful.

"Yes," he said at last. "If you are dissatisfied, if you feel that you have reason to believe that money rightfully belonging to you is being diverted to other channels, you have the right to issue an injunction against the bank, ordering it not to pay out any further money on any account nor to honor any cheques drawn by Miss Strong until the settlement of the estate. Ask your guardian to execute and deliver such an injunction, or merely ask him, as your guardian and the administrator of the estate, to give the bank a written order to that effect."

"But because he is engaged to Eileen, I told him I would not bring him into this matter," said Linda. "I told him that I would do what I wanted done, myself."

"Well, how long is it until this coming birthday of yours?" inquired Mr. Worthington.

"Less than two weeks," answered Linda.

For a time the financier sat in deep thought, then he looked at Linda. It was a keen, searching look. It went to the depths of her eyes; it included her face and hair; it included the folds of her dress, the cut of her shoe, and rested attentively on the slender hands lying quietly in her lap.

"I see the circumstances very clearly," he said. "I sympathize with your position. Having known your father and being well acquainted with your guardian, would you be satisfied if I should take the responsibility of issuing to the clerks an order not to allow anything to be drawn from the private account until the settlement of the estate?"

"Perfectly satisfied," said Linda.

"It might be," said Mr. Worthington, "managing matters i that way, that no one outside of ourselves need ever know of il Should your sister not draw on the private account in the mean time, she would be free to draw household cheques on the monthly income and if in the settlement of the estate she turns in this private account or accounts, she need never know of the restriction concerning this fund."

"Thank you very much," said Linda. "That will fix everything finely."

On her way to the street car, Linda's brain whirled.

"It's not conceivable," she said, "that Eileen should be enriching herself at my expense. I can't imagine her being dishonest in money affairs, and yet I can recall scarcely a circumstance in life in which Eileen has ever hesitated to be dishonest when a lie served her purpose better than the truth. Anyway, matters are safe now."

The next day the books were taken and a cheque for their value was waiting for Linda when she reached home. She cashed this cheque and went straight to Peter Morrison for his estimate of the expenses for the skylight and fireplace. When she asked for the bill Peter hesitated.

"You wouldn't accept this little addition to your study as a gift from Henry and me?" he asked lightly. "It would be a great pleasure to us if you would."

"I could accept stones that Henry Anderson had gathered from the mountains and canyons, and I could accept a verse carved on stone, and be delighted with the gift; but I couldn't accept hours of day labor at the present price of labor, so you will have to give me the bill, Peter."

Peter did not have the bill, but he had memoranda, and when Linda paid him she reflected that the current talk concerning the inflated price of labor was greatly exaggerated.

For two evenings as Linda returned from school and went to her room she glanced down the hall and smiled at the decoration remaining on Eileen's rug. The third evening it was gone, so that she knew Eileen was either in her room or had been there. She did not meet her sister until dinnertime. She was prepared to watch Eileen, to study her closely. She was not prepared to admire her, but in her heart she almost did that very thing. Eileen had practiced subterfuges so long, she was so accomplished, that it would have taken an expert to distinguish reality from subterfuge. She entered the dining room humming a gay tune. She was carefully dressed and appealingly beautiful. She blew a kiss to Linda and waved gaily to Katy.

"I was rather afraid," she said lightly, "that I might find you two in mourning when I got back. I never stayed so long before, did I? Seemed as if every friend I had made special demand on my time all at once. Hope you haven't been dull without me."

"Oh, no," said Linda quietly. "Being away at school all day, of course I wouldn't know whether you were at home or not, and I have grown so accustomed to spending my evenings alone that I don't rely on you for entertainment at any time."

"In other words," said Eileen, "it doesn't make any difference to you where I am."

"Not so far as enjoying your company is concerned," said Linda. "Otherwise, of course it makes a difference. I hope you had a happy time."

"Oh, I always have a happy time," answered Eileen lightly. "I certainly have the best friends."

"That's your good fortune," answered Linda.

At the close of the meal Linda sat waiting. Eileen gave Katy instructions to have things ready for a midnight lunch for her and John Gilman and then, humming her tune again, she left the dining room and went upstairs. Linda stood looking after her.

"Now or never," she said at last. "I have no business to let her meet John until I have recovered my self-respect. But the Lord help me to do the thing decently!"

So she followed Eileen up the stairway. She tapped at the door, and without waiting to hear whether she was invited or not, opened it and stepped inside. Eileen was sitting before the window, a big box of candy beside her, a magazine in her fingers.

Evidently she intended to keep her temper in case the coming interview threatened to become painful.

"I was half expecting you," she said, "you silly hothead. I found the cheque I wrote you when I got home this afternoon. That was a foolish thing to do. Why did you tear it up? If it were too large or if it were not enough why didn't you use it and ask for another? Because I had to be away that was merely to leave you something to go on until I got back."

Then Linda did the most disconcerting thing possible. In her effort at self-control she went too far. She merely folded her hands in her lap and sat looking straight at Eileen without saying one word. It did not show much on the surface, but Eileen really had a conscience, she really had a soul; Linda's eyes, resting rather speculatively on her, were honest eyes, and Eileen knew what she knew. She flushed and fidgeted, and at last she broke out impatiently: "Oh, for goodness' sake, Linda, don't play 'Patience-on-a-monument.' Speak up and say what it is that you want. If that cheque was not big enough, what will satisfy you?"

"Come to think of it," said Linda quietly, "I can get along with what I have for the short time until the legal settlement of our interests is due. You needn't bother any more about a cheque."

Eileen was surprised and her face showed it; and she was also relieved. That too her face showed.

"I always knew," she said lightly, "that I had a little sister with a remarkably level head and good common sense. I am glad that you recognize the awful inflation of prices during the war period, and how I have had to skimp and scheme and save in order to make ends meet and to keep us going on Papa's meager income."

All Linda's good resolutions vanished. She was under strong nervous tension. It irritated her to have Eileen constantly referring to their monetary affairs as if they were practically paupers, as if their father's life had been a financial failure, as if he had not been able to realize from achievements recognized around the world a comfortable living for two women.

"Oh, good Lord!" she said shortly. "Bluff the rest of the world like a professional, Eileen, but why try it with me? You're right about my having common sense. I'll admit that I am using it now. I will be of age in a few days, and then we'll take John Gilman and go to the Consolidated Bank, and if it suits your convenience to be absent for four or five days at that period, I'll take John Gilman and we'll go together."

Eileen was amazed. The receding color in her cheeks left the rouge on them a ghastly, garish thing.

"Well, I won't do anything of the sort," she said hotly, "and neither will John Gilman."

"Unfortunately for you," answered Linda, "John Gilman is my guardian, not yours. He'll be forced to do what the law says he must, and what common decency tells him he must, no matter what his personal feelings are; and I might as well tell you that your absence has done you no good. You'd far better have come home, as you agreed to, and gone over the books and made me a decent allowance, because in your absence John came here to ask me where you were, and I know that he was anxious."

"He came here!" cried Eileen.

"Why, yes," said Linda. "Was it anything unusual? Hasn't he been coming here ever since I can remember? Evidently you didn't keep him as well posted this time as you usually do. He came here and asked for me."

"And I suppose," said Eileen, an ugly red beginning to rush into her white cheeks, "that you took pains to make things uncomfortable for me."

"I am very much afraid," said Linda, "that you are right. You have made things uncomfortable for me ever since I can remember, for I can't remember the time when you were not finding fault with me, putting me in the wrong and getting me criticized and punished if you possibly could. It was a fair understanding that you should be here, and you were not, and I was seeing red about it; and just as John came in I found your note in the living room and read it aloud.'

"Oh, well, there was nothing in that," said Eileen in a relieved tone.

"Nothing in the wording of it, no," said Linda, "but there was everything in the intention back of it. Because you did not live up to your tacit agreement, and because I had been on high tension for two or three days, I lost my temper completely. I brought John Gilman up here and showed him the suite of rooms in which you have done for yourself, for four years. I gave him rather a thorough inventory of your dressing table and drawers, and then I opened the closet door and called his attention to the number and the quality of the garments hanging there. The box underneath them I thought was a shoe box, but it didn't prove to be exactly that; and for that I want to tell you, as I have already told John, I am sorry. I wouldn't have done that if I had known what I was doing."

"Is that all?" inquired Eileen, making a desperate effort at self-control.

"Not quite," said Linda. "When I finished with your room, I took him back and showed him mine in even greater detail than I showed him yours. I thought the contrast would be more enlightening than anything either one of us could say."

"And I suppose you realize," said Eileen bitterly, "that you lost me John Gilman when you did it."

"I?" said Linda. "I lost you John Gilman when I did it? But I didn't do it. You did it. You have been busy for four years doing it. If you hadn't done it, it wouldn't have been there for me to show him. I can't see that this is profitable. Certainly it's the most distressing thing that ever has occurred for me. But I didn't feel that I could let you meet John Gilman tonight without telling you what he knows. If you have any way to square your conscience and cleanse your soul before you meet him, you had better do it, for he's a mighty fine man and if you lose him you will have lost the best chance that is likely ever to come to you."

Linda sat studying Eileen. She saw the gallant effort she was making to keep her self-possession, to think with her accustomed rapidity, to strike upon some scheme whereby she could square herself. She rose and started toward the door.

"What you'll say to John I haven't the faintest notion," she said. "I told him very little. I just showed him."

Then she went out and closed the door after her. At the foot of the stairs she met Katy admitting Gilman. Without any preliminaries she said: "I repeat, John, that I'm sorry for what happened the other day. I have just come from Eileen. She will be down as soon as Katy tells her you're here, no doubt. I have done what I told you I would. She knows what I showed you so you needn't employ any subterfuges. You can be frank and honest with each other."

"I wish to God we could," said John Gilman.

Linda went to her work. She decided that she would gauge what happened by the length of time John stayed. If he remained only a few minutes it would indicate that there had been a rupture. If he stayed as long as he usually did, the chances were that Eileen's wit had triumphed as usual.

At twelve o'clock Linda laid her pencils in the box, washed the brushes, and went down the back stairs to the ice chest for a glass of milk. The living room was still lighted and Linda thought Eileen's laugh quite as gay as she ever had heard it. Linda closed her lips very tight and slowly climbed the stairs. When she entered her room she walked up to the mirror and stared at herself in the glass for a long time, and then of herself she asked this question:

"Well, how do you suppose she did it?"



CHAPTER XVIII. Spanish Iris

Just as Linda was most deeply absorbed with her own concerns there came a letter from Marian which Linda read and reread several times; for Marian wrote:

MY DEAREST PAL:

Life is so busy up San Francisco way that it makes Lilac Valley look in retrospection like a peaceful sunset preliminary to bed time.

But I want you to have the consolation and the comfort of knowing that I have found at least two friends that I hope will endure. One is a woman who has a room across the hall from mine in my apartment house. She is a newspaper woman and life is very full for her, but it is filled with such intensely interesting things that I almost regret having made my life work anything so prosaic as inanimate houses; but then it's my dream to enliven each house I plan with at least the spirit of home. This woman—her name is Dana Meade—enlivens every hour of her working day with something concerning the welfare of humanity. She is a beautiful woman in her soul, so extremely beautiful that I can't at this minute write you a detailed description of her hair and her eyes and her complexion, because this nice, big, friendly light that radiates from her so lights her up and transfigures her that everyone says how beautiful she is, and yet I have a vague recollection that her nose is what you would call a "beak," and I am afraid her cheek bones are too high for good proportion, and I know that her hair is not always so carefully dressed as it should be, but what is the difference when the hair is crowned with a halo? I can't swear to any of these things; they're sketchy impressions. The only thing I am absolutely sure about is the inner light that shines to an unbelievable degree. I wish she had more time and I wish I had more time and that she and I might become such friends as you and I are. I can't tell you, dear, how much I think of you. It seems to me that you're running a sort of undercurrent in my thoughts all day long.

You will hardly credit it, Linda, but a few days ago I drove a car through the thickest traffic, up a steep hill, and round a curve. I did it, but practically collapsed when it was over. The why of it was this: I think I told you before that in the offices of Nicholson and Snow there is a man who is an understanding person. He is the junior partner and his name is Eugene Snow. I happened to arrive at his desk the day I came for my instructions and to make my plans for entering their contest. He was very kind to me and went out of his way to smooth out the rough places. Ever since, he makes a point of coming to me and talking a few minutes when I am at the office or when he passes me on my way to the drafting rooms where I take my lessons. The day I mention I had worked late and hard the night before. I had done the last possible thing to the plans for my dream house. At the last minute, getting it all on paper, working at the specifications, at which you know I am wobbly, was nervous business; and when I came from the desk after having turned in my plans, perhaps I showed fatigue. Anyway, he said to me that his car was below. He said also that he was a lonely person, having lost his wife two years ago, and not being able very frequently to see his little daughter who is in the care of her grandmother, there were times when he was hungry for the companionship he had lost. He asked me if I would go with him for a drive and I told him that I would. I am rather stunned yet over what happened. The runabout he led me to was greatly like yours, and, Linda, he stopped at a florist's and came out with an armload of bloom—exquisite lavender and pale pink and faint yellow and waxen white—the most enticing armload of spring. For one minute I truly experienced a thrill. I thought he was going to give that mass of flowers to me, but he did not. He merely laid it across my lap and said: "Edith adored the flowers from bulbs. I never see such bloom that my heart does not ache with a keen, angry ache to think that she should be taken from the world, and the beauty that she so loved, so early and so ruthlessly. We'll take her these as I would take them to her were she living."

So, Linda dear, I sat there and looked at color and drank in fragrance, and we whirled through the city and away to a cemetery on a beautiful hill, and filled a vase inside the gates of a mausoleum with these appealing flowers. Then we sat down, and a man with a hurt heart told me about his hurt, and what an effort he was making to get through the world as the woman he loved would have had him; and before I knew what I was doing, Linda, I told him the tellable part of my own hurts. I even lifted my turban and bowed my white head before him. This hurt—it was one of the inexorable things that come to people in this world—I could talk about. That deeper hurt, which has put a scar that never will be effaced on my soul, of course I could not tell him about. But when we went back to the car he said to me that he would help me to get back into the sunlight. He said the first thing I must do to regain self-confidence was to begin driving again. I told him I could not, but he said I must, and made me take the driver's seat of a car I had never seen and take the steering wheel of a make of machine I had never driven, and tackle two or three serious problems for a driver. I did it all right, Linda, because I couldn't allow myself to fail the kind of a man Mr. Snow is, when he was truly trying to help me, but in the depths of my heart I am afraid I am a coward forever, for there is a ghastly illness takes possession of me as I write these details to you. But anyway, put a red mark on your calendar beside the date on which you get this letter, and joyfully say to yourself that Marian has found two real, sympathetic friends.

In a week or ten days I shall know about the contest. If I win, as I really have a sneaking hope that I shall, since I have condensed the best of two dozen houses into one and exhausted my imagination on my dream home, I will surely telegraph, and you can make it a day of jubilee. If I fail, I will try to find out where my dream was not true and what can be done to make it materialize properly; but between us, Linda girl, I am going to be dreadfully disappointed. I could use the material value that prize represents. I could start my life work which I hope to do in Lilac Valley on the prestige and the background that it would give me. I don't know, Linda, whether you ever learned to pray or not, but I have, and it's a thing that helps when the black shadow comes, when you reach the land of "benefits forgot and friends remembered not."

And this reminds me that I should not write to my very dearest friend who has her own problems and make her heart sad with mine; so to the joyful news of my two friends add a third, Linda, for I am going to tell you a secret because it will make you happy. Since I have been in San Francisco some man, who for a reason of his own does not tell me his name, has been writing me extremely attractive letters. I have had several of them and I can't tell you, Linda, what they mean to me or how they help me. There is a touch of whimsy about them. I can't as yet connect them with anybody I ever met, but to me they are taking the place of a little lunch on the bread of life. They are such real, such vivid, such alive letters from such a real person that I have been doing the very foolish and romantic thing of answering them as my heart dictates and signing my own name to them, which on the surface looks unwise when the man in the case keeps his identity in the background; but since he knows me and knows my name it seems useless to do anything else: and answer these letters I shall and must; because every one of them is to me a strong light thrown on John Gilman. Every time one of these letters comes to me I have the feeling that I would like to reach out through space and pick up the man who is writing them and dangle him before Eileen and say to her: "Take HIM. I dare you to take HIM." And my confidence, Linda, is positively supreme that she could not do it.

You know, between us, Linda, we regarded Eileen as a rare creature, a kind of exotic thing, made to be kept in a glass house with tempered air and warmed water; but as I go about the city and at times amuse myself at concerts and theaters, I am rather dazed to tell you, honey, that the world is chock full of Eileens. On the streets, in the stores, everywhere I go, sometimes half a dozen times in a day I say to myself: "There goes Eileen." I haven't a doubt that Eileen has a heart, if it has not become so calloused that nobody could ever reach it, and I suspect she has a soul, but the more I see of her kind the more I feel that John Gilman may have to breast rather black water before he finds them.

With dearest love, be sure to remember me to Katherine O'Donovan. Hug her tight and give her my unqualified love. Don't let her forget me.

As ever,

MARIAN.

This was the letter that Linda read once, then she read it again and then she read it a third time, and after that she lost count and reread it whenever she was not busy doing something else, for it was a letter that was the next thing to laying hands upon Marian. The part of the letter concerning the unknown man who was writing Marian, Linda pondered over deeply.

"That is the best thing I ever did in my life," she said in self-commendation. "It's doing more than I hoped it would. It's giving Marian something to think about. It's giving her an interest in life. It's distracting her attention. Without saying a word about John Gilman it is making her see for herself the weak spots in him through the very subtle method of calling her attention to the strength that may lie in another man. For once in your life, Linda, you have done something strictly worth while. The thing for you to do is to keep it up, and in order to keep it up, to make each letter fresh and original, you will have to do a good deal of sticking around Peter Morrison's location and absorbing rather thoroughly the things he says. Peter doesn't know he is writing those letters but he is in them till it's a wonder Marian does not hear him drawl and see the imps twisting his lips as she reads them. Before I write another single one I'll go see Peter. Maybe he will have that article written. I'll take a pencil, and as he reads I'll jot down the salient points and then I'll come home and work out a head and tail piece for him to send in with it, and in that way I'll ease my soul about the skylight and the fireplace."

So Linda took pad and pencils, raided Katy for everything she could find that was temptingly edible, climbed into the Bear Cat, and went to see Peter as frankly as she would have crossed the lawn to visit Marian. He was not in the garage when she stopped her car before it, but the workmen told her that he had strolled up the mountain and that probably he would return soon. Learning that he had been gone but a short time Linda set the Bear Cat squalling at the top of its voice. Then she took possession of the garage, and clearing Peter's worktable spread upon it the food she had brought, and then started out to find some flowers for decorations. When Peter came upon the scene he found Linda, flushed and brilliant eyed, holding before him a big bouquet of alder bloom, the last of the lilacs she had found in a cool, shaded place, pink filaree, blue lupin, and white mahogany panicles. "Peter," she cried. "you can't guess what I have been doing!"

Peter glanced at the flowers.

"Isn't it obvious?" he inquired.

"No, it isn't," said Linda, "because I am capable of two processes at once. The work of my hands is visible; with it I am going to decorate your table. You won't have to go down to the restaurant for your supper tonight because I have brought my supper up to share with you, and after we finish, you're going to read me your article as you have rewritten it. I am going to decorate it and we are going to make a hit with it that will be at least a start on the road to greater fame. What you see is material. You can pick it up, smell it, admire it and eat it. But what I have truly been doing is setting Spanish iris for yards down one side of the bed of your stream. When I left it was a foot and a half high Peter, and every blue that the sky ever knew in its loveliest moments, and a yellow that is the concentrated essence of the best gold from the heart of California. Oh, Peter, there is enchantment in the way I set it. There are irregular deep beds, and there are straggly places where there are only one or two in a ragged streak, and then it runs along the edge in a fringy rim, and then it stretches out in a marshy place that is going to have some other wild things, arrowheads, and orchids, and maybe a bunch of paint brush on a high, dry spot near by. I wish you could see it!"

Peter looked at Linda reflectively and then he told her that he could see it. He fold her that he adored it, that he was crazy about her straggly continuity and her fringy border, but there was not one word of truth in what he said, because what he saw was a slender thing, willowy, graceful; roughened wavy black hair hanging half her length in heavy braids, dark eyes and bright cheeks, a vivid red line of mouth, and a bright brown line of freckles bridging a prominent and aristocratic nose. What he was seeing was a soul, a young thing, a thing he coveted with every nerve and fiber of his being. And while he glibly humored her in her vision of decorating his brook, in his own consciousness he was saying to himself: "Is there any reason why I should not try for her?"

And then he answered himself. "There is no reason in your life. There is nothing ugly that could offend her or hurt her. The reason, the real reason, probably lies in the fact that if she were thinking of caring for anyone it would be for that attractive young schoolmate she brought up here for me to exercise my wits upon. It is very likely that she regards me in the light of a grandfatherly person to whom she can come with her joys or her problems, as frankly as she has now."

So Peter asked if the irises crossed the brook and ran down both sides. Linda sat on a packing case and concentrated on the iris, and finally she announced that they did. She informed him that his place was going to be natural, that Nature evolved things in her own way. She did not grow irises down one side of a brook and arrowheads down the other. They waded across and flew across and visited back and forth, riding the water or the wind or the down of a bee or the tail of a cow. As she served the supper she had brought she very gravely informed him that there would be iris on both sides of his brook, and cress and miners' lettuce under the bridge; and she knew exactly where the wild clematis grew that would whiten his embankment after his workmen had extracted the last root of poison oak.

"It may not scorch you, Peter," she said gravely, "but you must look out for the Missus and the little things. I haven't definitely decided on her yet, but she looks a good deal like Mary Louise Whiting to mc. I saw her the other day. She came to school after Donald. I liked her looks so well that I said to myself: 'Everybody talks about how fine she is. I shouldn't wonder if I had better save her for Peter'; but if I decide to, you should act that poison stuff out, because it's sure as shooting to attack any one with the soft, delicate skin that goes with a golden head."

"Oh, let's leave it in," said Peter, "and dispense with the golden head. By the time you get that stream planted as you're planning, I'll have become so accustomed to a dark head bobbing up and down beside it that I won't take kindly to a sorrel top." "That is positively sacrilegious," said Linda, lifting her hands to her rough black hair. "Never in my life saw anything lovelier than the rich gold on Louise Whiting's bare head as she bent to release her brakes and start her car. A black head looks like a cinder bed beside it; and only think what a sunburst it will be when Mary Louise kneels down beside the iris."

When they had finished their supper Linda gathered up the remnants and put them in the car, then she laid a notebook and pencil on the table.

"Now I want to hear that article," she said. "I knew you would do it over the minute I was gone, and I knew you would keep it to read to me before you sent it."

"Hm," said Peter. "Is it second sight or psychoanalysis or telepathy, or what?"

"Mostly 'what'," laughed Linda. "I merely knew. The workmen are gone and everything is quiet now, Peter. Begin. I am crazy to get the particular angle from which you 'make the world safe for democracy.' John used to call our attention to your articles during the war. He said we had not sent another man to France who could write as humanely and as interestingly as you did. I wish I had kept those articles; because I didn't get anything from them to compare with what I can get since I have a slight acquaintance with the procession that marches around your mouth. Peter, you will have to watch that mouth of yours. It's an awfully betraying feature. So long as it's occupied with politics and the fads and the foibles and the sins and the foolishness and the extravagances of humanity, it's all very well. But if you ever get in trouble or if ever your heart hurts, or you get mad enough to kill somebody, that mouth of yours is going to be a most awfully revealing feature, Peter. You will have hard work to settle it down into hard-and-fast noncommittal lines."

Peter looked at the girl steadily.

"Have you specialized on my mouth?" he asked.

"Huh-umph!" said Linda, shaking her head vigorously. "When I specialize I use a pin and a microscope and go right to the root of matters as I was taught. This is superficial. I am extemporizing now."

"Well, if this is extemporizing," said Peter, "God help my soul if you ever go at me with a pin and a microscope."

"Oh, but I won't!" cried Linda. "It wouldn't be kind to pin your friends on a setting board and use a microscope on them. You might see things that were strictly private. You might see things they wouldn't want you to see. They might not be your friends any more if you did that. When I make a friend I just take him on trust like I did Donald. You're my friend, aren't you, Peter?"

"Yes, Linda," said Peter soberly. "Put me to any test you can think of if you want proof."

"But I don't believe in PROVING friends, either," said Linda. "I believe in nurturing them. I would set a friend in my garden and water his feet and turn the sunshine on him and tell him to stay there and grow. I might fertilize him, I might prune him, and I might use insecticide on him. I might spray him with rather stringent solutions, but I give you my word I would not test him. If he flourished under my care I would know it, and if he did not I would know it, and that would be all I would want to know. I have watched Daddy search for the seat of nervous disorders, and sometimes he had to probe very deep to find what developed nerves unduly but he didn't ever do any picking and raveling and fringing at the soul of a human being merely for the sake of finding out what it was made of; and everyone says I am like him."

"I wish I might have known him," said Peter.

"Don't I wish it!" said Linda. "Now then, Peter, go ahead. Read your article."

Peter opened a packing case, picked out a sheaf of papers, and sitting opposite Linda, began to read. He was dumbfounded to find that he, a man who had read and talked extemporaneously before great bodies of learned men, should have cold feet and shaking hands and a hammering heart because he was trying to read an article on America for Americans before a high-school Junior. But presently, as the theme engrossed him, he forgot the vision of Linda interesting herself in his homemaking, and saw instead a vision of his country threatened on one side by the red menace of the Bolshevik, on the other by the yellow menace of the Jap, and yet on another by the treachery of the Mexican and the slowly uprising might of the black man, and presently he was thundering his best-considered arguments at Linda until she imperceptibly drew back from him on the packing case, and with parted lips and wide eyes she listened in utter absorption. She gazed at a transformed Peter with aroused eyes and a white light of patriotism on his forehead, and a conception even keener than anything that the war had brought her young soul was burning in her heart of what a man means when he tries to express his feeling concerning the land of his birth. Presently, without realizing what she was doing, she reached for her pad and pencils and rapidly began sketching a stretch of peaceful countryside over which a coming storm of gigantic proportions was gathering. Fired by Peter's article, the touch of genius in Linda's soul became creative and she fashioned huge storm clouds wind driven, that floated in such a manner as to bring the merest suggestion of menacing faces, black faces, yellow faces, brown faces, and under the flash of lightning, just at the obscuring of the sun, a huge, evil, leering red face. She swept a stroke across her sheet and below this she began again, sketching the same stretch of country she had pictured above, strolling in cultivated fields, dotting it with white cities, connecting it with smooth roadways, sweeping the sky with giant planes. At one side, winging in from the glow of morning, she drew in the strong-winged flight of a flock of sea swallows, peacefully homing toward the far-distant ocean. She was utterly unaware when Peter stopped reading. Absorbed, she bent over her work. When she had finished she looked up.

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