"Now I'll take this home," she said. "I can't do well on color with pencils. You hold that article till I have time to put this on water-color paper and touch it up a bit here and there, and I believe it will be worthy of starting and closing your article."
She pushed the sketches toward him.
"You little wonder!" said Peter softly.
"Yes, 'little' is good," scoffed Linda, rising to very nearly his height and reaching for the lunch basket. "'Little' is good, Peter. If I could do what I like to myself I would get in some kind of a press and squash down about seven inches."
"Oh, Lord!" said Peter. "Forget it. What's the difference what the inches of your body are so long as your brain has a stature worthy of mention?"
"Good-bye!" said Linda. "On the strength of that I'll jazz that sketch all up, bluey and red-purple and jade-green. I'll make it as glorious as a Catalina sunset."
As she swung the car around the sharp curve at the boulders she looked back and laughingly waved her hand at Peter, and Peter experienced a wild desire to shriek lest she lose control of the car and plunge down the steep incline. A second later, when he saw her securely on the road below, he smiled to himself.
"Proves one thing," he said conclusively. "She is over the horrors. She is driving unconsciously. Thank God she knew that curve so well she could look the other way and drive it mentally."
CHAPTER XIX. The Official Bug-Catcher
Not a mile below the exit from Peter's grounds, Linda perceived a heavily laden person toiling down the roadway before her and when she ran her car abreast and stopped it, Henry Anderson looked up at her with joyful face.
"Sorry I can't uncover, fair lady," he said, "but you see I am very much otherwise engaged."
What Linda saw was a tired, disheveled man standing in the roadway beside her car, under each arm a boulder the size of her head, one almost jet-black, shot through with lines of white and flying figures of white crossing between these bands that almost reminded one of winged dancers. The other was a combination stone made up of matrix thickly imbedded with pebbles of brown, green, pink, and dull blue.
"For pity's sake!" said Linda. "Where are you going and why are you personally demonstrating a new method of transporting rock?"
"I am on my way down Lilac Valley to the residence of a friend of mine," said Henry Anderson. "I heard her say the other day that she saved every peculiarly marked boulder she could find to preserve coolness and moisture in her fern bed."
Linda leaned over and opened the car door.
"All well and good," she said; "but why in the cause of reason didn't you leave them at Peter's and bring them down in his car?"
Henry Anderson laid the stones in the bottom of the car, stepped in and closed the door behind him. He drew a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his perspiring face and soiled hands.
"I had two sufficient personal reasons," he said. "One was that the car at our place is Peter Morrison's car, not mine; and the other was that it's none of anybody's business but my own if I choose to 'say it' with stones."
Linda started the car, being liberal with gas—so liberal that it was only a few minutes till Henry Anderson protested.
"This isn't the speedway," he said. "What's your hurry?"
"Two reasons seem to be all that are allowed for things at the present minute," answered Linda. "One of mine is that you can't drive this beast slow, and the other is that my workroom is piled high with things I should be doing. I have two sketches I must complete while I am in the mood, and I have had a great big letter from my friend, Marian Thorne, today that I want to answer before I go to bed tonight."
"In other words," said Henry Anderson bluntly, "you want me to understand that when I have reached your place and dumped these stones I can beat it; you have no further use for me."
"You said that," retorted Linda.
"And who ever heard of such a thing," said Henry, "as a young woman sending away a person of my numerous charms and attractions in order to work, or to write a letter to another woman?"
"But you're not taking into consideration," said Linda, "that I must work, and I scarcely know you, while I have known Marian ever since I was four years old and she is my best friend."
"Well, she has no advantage over me," said Henry instantly, "because I have known you quite as long as Peter Morrison has at least, and I'm your official bug-catcher."
"I had almost forgotten about the bugs," said Linda.
"Well, don't for a minute think I am going to give you an opportunity to forget," said Henry Anderson.
He reached across and laid his hand over Linda's on the steering gear. Linda said nothing, neither did she move. She merely added more gas and put the Bear Cat forward at a dizzy whirl. Henry laughed.
"That's all right, my beauty," he said. "Don't you think for a minute that I can't ride as fast as you can drive."
A dull red mottled Linda's cheeks. As quickly as it could be done she brought the Bear Cat to a full stop. Then she turned and looked at Henry Anderson. The expression in her eyes was disconcerting even to that cheeky young individual—he had not borne her gaze a second until he removed his hand.
"Thanks," said Linda in a dry drawl. "And you will add to my obligation if in the future you will remember not to deal in assumptions. I am not your 'beauty,' and I'm not anyone's beauty; while the only thing in this world that I am interested in at present is to get the best education I can and at the same time carry on work that I love to do. I have a year to finish my course in the high school and when I finish I will only have a good beginning for whatever I decide to study next."
"That's nothing," said the irrepressible Henry. "It will take me two years to catch a sufficient number of gold bugs to be really serious, but there wouldn't be any harm in having a mutual understanding and something definite to work for, and then we might be able, you know, to cut out some of that year of high-school grinding. If the plans I have submitted in the Nicholson and Snow contest should just happen to be the prize winners, that would put matters in such a shape for young Henry that he could devote himself to crickets and tumble-bugs at once."
"Don't you think," said Linda quietly, "that you would better forget that silly jesting and concentrate the best of your brains on improving your plans for Peter Morrison's house?"
"Why, surely I will if that's what you command me to do," said Henry, purposely misunderstanding her.
"You haven't mentioned before," said Linda, "that you had submitted plans in that San Francisco contest."
"All done and gone," said Henry Anderson lightly. "I had an inspiration one day and I saw a way to improve a house with comforts and conveniences I never had thought of before. I was enthusiastic over the production when I got it on paper and figured it. It's exactly the house that I am going to build for Peter, and when I've cut my eye teeth on it I am going to correct everything possible and build it in perfection for you."
"Look here," said Linda soberly, "I'm not accustomed to this sort of talk. I don't care for it. If you want to preserve even the semblance of friendship with me you must stop it, and get to impersonal matters and stay there."
"All right," he agreed instantly, "but if you don't like my line of talk, you're the first girl I ever met that didn't."
"You have my sympathy," said Linda gravely. "You have been extremely unfortunate."
Then she started the Bear Cat, and again running at undue speed she reached her wild-flower garden. Henry Anderson placed the stones as she directed and waited for an invitation to come in, but the invitation was not given. Linda thanked him for the stones. She told him that in combination with a few remaining from the mantel they would make all she would require, and excusing herself she drove to the garage. When she came in she found the irrepressible Henry sitting on the back steps explaining to Katy the strenuous time he had had finding and carrying down the stones they had brought. Katy had a plate of refreshments ready to hand him when Linda laughingly passed them and went to her room.
When she had finished her letter to Marian she took a sheet of drawing paper, and in her most attractive lettering sketched in the heading, "A Palate Teaser," which was a direct quotation from Katy. Below she wrote:
You will find Tunas in the cacti thickets of any desert, but if you are so fortunate as to be able to reach specimens which were brought from Mexico and set as hedges around the gardens of the old missions, you will find there the material for this salad in its most luscious form. Naturally it can be made from either Opuntia Fiscus-Indica or Opuntia Tuna, but a combination of these two gives the salad an exquisite appearance and a tiny touch more delicious flavor, because Tuna, which is red, has to my taste a trifle richer and fuller flavor than Indica, which is yellow. Both fruits taste more like the best well-ripened watermelon than any other I recall.
Bring down the Tunas with a fishing rod or a long pole with a nail in the end. With anything save your fingers roll them in the sand or in tufts of grass to remove the spines. Slice off either end, score the skin down one side, press lightly, and a lush globule of pale gold or rosy red fruit larger than a hen's egg lies before you. With a sharp knife, beginning with a layer of red and ending with one of yellow, slice the fruits thinly, stopping to shake out the seeds as you work. In case you live in San Diego County or farther south, where it is possible to secure the scarlet berries of the Strawberry Cactus—it is the Mammillaria Goodridgei species that you should use—a beautiful decoration for finishing your salad can be made from the red strawberries of these. If you live too far north to find these, you may send your salad to the table beautifully decorated by cutting fancy figures from the red Tuna, or by slicing it lengthwise into oblong pieces and weaving them into a decoration over the yellow background.
For your dressing use the juice of a lemon mixed with that of an orange, sweetened to taste, into which you work, a drop at a time, four tablespoons of the best Palermo olive oil. If the salad is large more oil and more juice should be used.
To get the full deliciousness of this salad, the fruit must have been on ice, and the dressing made in a bowl imbedded in cracked ice, so that when ready to blend both are ice-cold, and must be served immediately.
Gigantic specimens of fruit-bearing Cacti can be found all over the Sunland Desert near to the city, but they are not possessed of the full flavor of the cultivated old mission growths, so that it is well worth your while to make a trip to the nearest of these for the fruit with which to prepare this salad. And if, as you gather it, you should see a vision of a white head, a thin, ascetic, old face, a lean figure trailing a brown robe, slender white hands clasping a heavy cross; if you should hear the music of worship ascending from the throats of Benedictine fathers leading a clamoring choir of the blended voices of Spaniard, Mexican, and Indian, combining with the music of the bells and the songs of the mocking birds, nest making among the Tunas, it will be good for your soul in the line of purging it from selfishness, since in this day we are not asked to give all of life to the service of others, only a reasonable part of it.
Linda read this over, working in changes here and there, then she picked up her pencil and across the top of her sheet indicated an open sky with scarcely a hint of cloud. Across the bottom she outlined a bit of Sunland Desert she well remembered, in the foreground a bed of flat-leaved nopal, flowering red and yellow, the dark red prickly pears, edible, being a near relative of the fruits she had used in her salad. After giving the prickly pear the place of honor to the left, in higher growth she worked in the slender, cylindrical, jointed stems of the Cholla, shading the flowers a paler, greenish yellow. On the right, balancing the Cholla, she drew the oval, cylindrical columns of the hedgehog cactus, and the color touch of the big magenta flowers blended exquisitely with the color she already had used. At the left, the length of her page, she drew a gigantic specimen of Opuntia Tuna, covered with flowers, and well-developed specimens of the pears whose coloring ran into the shades of the hedgehog cactus.
She was putting away her working materials when she heard steps and voices on the stairs, so she knew that Eileen and John Gilman were coming. She did not in the least want them, yet she could think of no excuse for refusing them admission that would not seem ungracious. She hurried to the wall, snatched down the paintings for Peter Morrison, and looked around to see how she could dispose of them. She ended by laying one of them in a large drawer which she pushed shut and locked. The other she placed inside a case in the wall which formerly had been used for billiard cues. At their second tap she opened the door. Eileen was not at her best. There was a worried look across her eyes, a restlessness visible in her movements, but Gilman was radiant.
"What do you think, Linda?" he cried. "Eileen has just named the day!"
"I did no such thing," broke in Eileen.
"Your pardon, fair lady, you did not," said Gilman. "That was merely a figure of speech. I meant named the month. She has definitely promised in October, and I may begin to hunt a location and plan a home for us. I want the congratulations of my dear friend and my dearer sister."
Linda held out her hand and smiled as bravely as she could.
"I am very glad you are so pleased, John," she said quietly, "and I hope that you will be as happy as you deserve to be."
"Now exactly what do you mean by that?" he asked.
"Oh, Linda prides herself on being deep and subtle and conveying hidden meanings," said Eileen. "She means what a thousand people will tell you in the coming months: merely that they hope you will be happy."
"Of course," Linda hastened to corroborate, wishing if possible to avoid any unpleasantness.
"You certainly have an attractive workroom here," said John, "much as I hate to see it spoiled for billiards."
"It's too bad," said Linda, "that I have spoiled it for you for billiards. I have also spoiled the outside appearance of the house for Eileen."
"Oh, I don't know," said John. "I looked at it carefully the other day as I came up, and I thought your changes enhanced the value of the property."
"I am surely glad to hear that," said Linda. "Take a look through my skylight and my new window. Imagine you see the rugs I am going to have and a few more pieces of furniture when I can afford them; and let me particularly point out the fireplace that Henry Anderson and your friend Peter designed and had built for me. Doesn't it add a soul and a heart to my study?"
John Gilman walked over and looked at the fireplace critically. He read the lines aloud, then he turned to Eileen.
"Why, that is perfectly beautiful," he said. "Let's duplicate it in our home."
"You bungler!" scoffed Eileen.
"I think you're right," said Gilman reflectively, "exactly right. Of course I would have no business copying Linda's special fireplace where the same people would see it frequently; and if I had stopped to think a second, I might have known that you would prefer tiling to field stone."
"Linda seems very busy tonight," said Eileen. "Perhaps we are bothering her."
"Yes," said John, "we'll go at once. I had to run up to tell our good news; and I wanted to tell you too, Linda dear, that I think both of us misjudged Eileen the other day. You know, Linda, you have always dressed according to your father's ideas, which were so much simpler and plainer than the manner in which your mother dressed Eileen, that she merely thought that you wished to continue in his way. She had no objection to your having any kind of clothes you chose, if only you had confided in her, and explained to her what you wanted."
Linda stood beside her table, one lean hand holding down the letter she had been writing. She stood very still, but she was powerless to raise her eyes to the face of either John or Eileen. Above everything she did not wish to go any further in revealing Eileen to John Gilman. If he knew what he knew and if he felt satisfied, after what he had seen, with any explanation that Eileen could trump up to offer, Linda had no desire to carry the matter further. She had been ashamed of what she already had done. She had felt angry and dissatisfied with herself, so she stood before them downcast and silent.
"And it certainly was a great joke on both of us," said John jovially, "what we thought about that box of cigarettes, you know. They were a prize given by a bridge club at an 'Ambassador' benefit for the Good Samaritan Hospital. Eileen, the little card shark she is, won it, and she was keeping it hidden away there to use as a gift for my birthday. Since we disclosed her plans prematurely, she gave it to me at once, and I'm having a great time treating all my friends."
At that instant Linda experienced a revulsion. Previously she had not been able to raise her eyes. Now it would have been quite impossible to avoid looking straight into Eileen's face. But Eileen had no intention of meeting anyone's gaze at that minute. She was fidgeting with a sheet of drawing paper.
"Careful you don't bend that," cautioned Linda. Then she looked at John Gilman. He BELIEVED what he was saying; he was happy again. Linda evolved the best smile she could.
"How stupid of us not to have guessed!" she said.
Closing the door behind them, Linda leaned against it and looked up through the skylight at the creep blue of the night, the low-hung stars. How long she stood there she did not know. Presently she went to her chair, picked up her pencil, and slowly began to draw. At first she scarcely realized what she was doing, then she became absorbed in her work. Then she reached for her color box and brushes, and shortly afterward tacked against the wall an extremely clever drawing of a greatly enlarged wasp. Skillfully she had sketched a face that was recognizable round the big insect eyes. She had surmounted the face by a fluff of bejewelled yellow curls, encased the hind legs upon which the creature stood upright in pink velvet Turkish trousers and put tiny gold shoes on the feet. She greatly exaggerated the wings into long trails and made them of green gauze with ruffled edges. All the remainder of the legs she had transformed into so many braceleted arms, each holding a tiny fan, or a necklace, a jewel box, or a handkerchief of lace. She stood before this sketch, studying it for a few minutes, then she walked over to the table and came back with a big black pencil. Steadying her hand with a mahl stick rested against the wall, with one short sharp stroke she drew a needle-pointed stinger, so screened by the delicate wings that it could not be seen unless you scrutinized the picture minutely. After that, with careful, interested hands she brought out Peter Morrison's drawings and replaced them on the wall to dry.
CHAPTER XX. The Cap Sheaf
Toward the last of the week Linda began to clear the mental decks of her ship of life in order that she might have Saturday free for her promised day with Donald. She had decided that they would devote that day to wave-beaten Laguna. It was a long drive but delightful. It ran over the old King's Highway between miles of orange and lemon orchards in full flower, bordered by other miles of roses in their prime.
Every minute when her mind was not actively occupied with her lessons or her recipes Linda was dreaming of the King's Highway. Almost unconsciously she began to chant:
"All in the golden weather, forth let us ride today, You and I together on the King's Highway, The blue skies above us, and below the shining sea; There's many a road to travel, but it's this road for me."
You must have ridden this road with an understanding heart and the arm of God around you to know the exact degree of disappointment that swelled in Linda's heart when she answered the telephone early Saturday morning and heard Donald Whiting's strained voice speaking into it. He was talking breathlessly in eager, boyish fashion.
"Linda, I am in a garage halfway downtown," he was saying, "and it looks to me as if to save my soul I couldn't reach you before noon. I have had the darnedest luck. Our Jap got sick last week and he sent a new man to take his place. There wasn't a thing the matter with our car when I drove it in Friday night. This morning Father wanted to use it on important business, and it wouldn't run. He ordered me to tinker it up enough to get it to the shop. I went at it and when it would go, I started You can imagine the clip I was going, and the thing went to pieces. I don't know yet how it comes that I saved my skin. I'm pretty badly knocked out, but I'll get there by noon if it's a possible thing."
"Oh, that's all right," said Linda, fervently hoping that the ache in her throat would not tincture her voice.
It was half-past eleven when Donald came. Linda could not bring herself to give up the sea that day. She found it impossible to drive the King's Highway. It seemed equally impossible not to look on the face of the ocean, so she compromised by skirting Santa Monica Bay, and taking the foothill road she ran it to the north end of the beach drive. When they had spread their blankets on the sand, finished their lunch and were resting, Linda began to question Donald about what had happened. She wanted to know how long Whitings' gardener had been in their employ; if they knew where he lived and about his family; if they knew who his friends were, or anything concerning him. She inquired about the man who had taken his place, and wanted most particularly to know what the garage men had found the trouble with a car that ran perfectly on Friday night and broke down in half a dozen different places on Saturday morning. Finally Donald looked at her, laughingly quizzical.
"Linda," he said, "you're no nerve specialist and no naturalist. You're the cross examiner for the plaintiff. What are you trying to get at? Make out a case against Yogo Sani?"
"Of course it's all right," said Linda, watching a distant pelican turn head down and catapult into the sea. "It has to be all right, but you must admit that it looks peculiar. How have you been getting along this week?"
Donald waved his hand in the direction of a formation of stone the size of a small house.
"Been rolling that to the top of the mountain," he said lightly. Linda's eyes narrowed, her face grew speculative. She looked at Donald intently.
"Is it as difficult as that?" she asked in a lowered voice as if the surf and the sea chickens might hear.
"It is just as difficult as that," said Donald. "While you're talking about peculiar things, I'll tell you one. In class I came right up against Oka Sayye on the solution of a theorem in trigonometry. We both had the answer, the correct answer, but we had arrived at it by widely different routes, and it was up to me to prove that my line of reasoning was more lucid, more natural, the inevitable one by which the solution should be reached. We got so in earnest that I am afraid both of us were rather tense. I stepped over to his demonstration to point out where I thought his reasoning was wrong. I got closer to the Jap than I had ever been before; and by gracious, Linda! scattered, but nevertheless still there, and visible, I saw a sprinkling of gray hairs just in front of and over his ears. It caught me unawares, and before I knew what I was doing, before the professor and the assembled classroom I blurted it out: 'Say, Oka Sayye, how old are you?' If the Jap had had any way of killing me, I believe he would have done it. There was a look in his eyes that was what I would call deadly. It was only a flash and then, very courteously, putting me in the wrong, of course, he remarked that he was 'almost ninekleen'; and it struck me from his look and the way he said it that it was a lie. If he truly was the average age of the rest of the class there was nothing for him to be angry about. Then I did take a deliberate survey. From the settled solidity of his frame and the shape of his hands and the skin of his face and the set of his eyes in his head, I couldn't see that much youth. I'll bet he's thirty if he's a day, and I shouldn't be a bit surprised if he has graduated at the most worthwhile university in Japan, before he ever came to this country to get his English for nothing."
Linda was watching a sea swallow now, and slowly her lean fingers were gathering handfuls of sand and sifting them into a little pyramid she was heaping beside her. Again almost under her breath she spoke.
"Donald, do you really believe that?" she asked. "Is it possible that mature Jap men are coming here and entering our schools and availing themselves of the benefits that the taxpayers of California provide for their children?"
"Didn't you know it?" asked Donald. "I hadn't thought of it in connection with Oka Sayye, but I do know cases where mature Japs have been in grade schools with children under ten."
"Oh, Donald!" exclaimed Linda. "If California is permitting that or ever has permitted it, we're too easy. We deserve to become their prey if we are so careless."
"Why, I know it's true," said Donald. "I have been in the same classes with men more than old enough to be my father."
"I never was," said Linda, industriously sifting sand. "I have been in classes with Japs ever since I have been at school, but it was with girls and boys of our gardeners and fruit dealers and curio-shop people, and they were always of my age and entitled to be in school, since our system includes the education of anybody who happens to be in California and wants to go to school."
"Did my being late spoil any particular plan you had made, Linda?"
"Yes," said Linda, "it did."
"Oh, I am so sorry!" cried Donald. "I certainly shall try to see that it doesn't occur again. Could we do it next Saturday?"
"I am hoping so," said Linda.
"I told Dad," said Donald, "where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do, and he was awfully sorry but he said it was business and it would take only a few minutes and he thought I could do it and be on time. If he had known I would be detained I don't believe he would have asked it of me. He's a grand old peter, Linda."
"Yes, I know," said Linda. "There's not much you can tell me about peters of the grand sort, the real, true flesh-and-blood, bighearted, human-being fathers, who will take you to the fields and the woods and take the time to teach you what God made and how He made it and why He made it and what we can do with it, and of the fellowship and brotherhood we can get from Nature by being real kin. The one thing that I have had that was the biggest thing in all this world was one of these real fathers."
Donald watched as she raised the pyramid higher and higher.
"Did you tell your father whom you were to go with?" she asked.
"Sure I did," said Donald. "Told the whole family at dinner last night. Told 'em about all the things I was learning, from where to get soap off the bushes to the best spot for material for wooden legs or instantaneous relief for snake bite."
"What did they say?" Linda inquired laughingly.
"Unanimously in favour of continuing the course," he said. "I had already told Father about you when I asked him for books and any help that he could give me with Oka Sayye. Since I had mentioned you last night he told Mother and Louise about that, and they told me to bring you to the house some time. All of them are crazy to know you. Mother says she is just wild to know whether a girl who wears boots and breeches and who knows canyons and the desert and the mountains as you do can be a feminine and lovable person."
"If I told her how many friends I have, she could have speedily decided whether I am lovable or not," said Linda; "but I would make an effort to convince her that I am strictly feminine."
"You would convince her of that without making the slightest effort. You're infinitely more feminine than any other girl I have ever known."
"How do you figure that?" asked Linda.
"Well," said Donald, "it's a queer thing about you, Linda. I take any liberty I pretty nearly please with most of the girls I have been associated with. I tie their shoes and pull their hair—down if I want to—and hand them round 'most any way the notion takes me, and they just laugh and take the same liberties with me, which proves that I am pretty much a girl with them or they are pretty much boys with me. But it wouldn't occur to me to touch your hair or your shoe lace or the tips of your fingers; which proves that you're more feminine than any other girl I know, because if you were not I would be treating you more like another boy. I thought, the first day we were together, that you were like a boy, and I said so, and I thought it because you did not tease me and flirt with me, but since I have come to know you better, you're less like a boy than any other girl I ever have known."
"Don't get psychological, Donald," said Linda. "Go on with the Jap. I haven't got an answer yet to what I really want to know. Have you made the least progress this week? Can you beat him?"
Donald hesitated, studying over the answer.
"Beat him at that trig proposition the other day," he said. "Got an open commendation before the class. There's not a professor in any of my classes who isn't 'hep' to what I'm after by this time, and if I would cajole them a little they would naturally be on my side, especially if their attention were called to that incident of yesterday; but you said I have to beat him with my brains, by doing better work than he does; so about the biggest thing I can honestly tell you is that I have held my own. I have only been ahead of him once this week, but I haven't failed in anything that he has accomplished. I have been able to put some additional touches to some work that he has done for which he used to be marked A which means your One Hundred. Double A which means your plus I made in one instance. And you needn't think that Oka Sayye does not realize what I am up to as well as any of the rest of the class, and you needn't think that he is not going to give me a run for my brain. All I've got will be needed before we finish this term."
"I see," said Linda, slowly nodding her head.
"I wish," said Donald, "that we had started this thing two years ago, or better still, four. But of course you were not in the high school four years ago and there wasn't a girl in my class or among my friends who cared whether I beat the Jap or not. They greatly preferred that I take them motoring or to a dance or a picture show or a beach party. You're the only one except Mother and Louise who ever inspired me to get down to business."
Linda laid her palm on the top of the sand heap and pressed it flat. She looked at Donald with laughing eyes.
"Symbolical," she announced. "That sand was the Jap." She stretched her hand toward him. "That was you. Did you see yourself squash him?"
Donald's laugh was grim.
"Yes, I saw," he said. "I wish it were as easy as that."
"That was not easy," said Linda; "make a mental computation of all the seconds that it took me to erect that pyramid and all the millions of grains of sand I had to gather."
Donald was deeply thoughtful, yet a half smile was playing round his lips.
"Of all the queer girls I ever knew, you're the cap sheaf, Linda," he said.
Linda rose slowly, shook the sand from her breeches and stretched out her hand.
"Let's hotfoot it down to the African village and see what the movies are doing that is interesting today," she proposed.
CHAPTER XXI. Shifting the Responsibility
On her pillow that night before dropping to almost instantaneous sleep Linda reflected that if you could not ride the King's Highway, racing the sands of Santa Monica was a very excellent substitute. It had been a wonderful day after all. When she had left Donald at the Lilac Valley end of the car line he had held her hand tight an instant and looked into her face with the most engaging of clear, boyish smiles.
"Linda, isn't our friendship the nicest thing that ever happened to us?" he demanded.
"Yes," answered Linda promptly, "quite the nicest. Make your plans for all day long next Saturday."
"I'll be here before the birds are awake," promised Donald.
At the close of Monday's sessions, going down the broad walk from the high school, Donald overtook Linda and in a breathless whisper he said: "What do you think? I came near Oka Sayye again this morning in trig, and his hair was as black as jet, dyed to a midnight, charcoal finish, and I am not right sure that he had not borrowed some girl's lipstick and rouge pot for the benefit of his lips and cheeks. Positively he's hectically youthful today. What do you know about that?"
Then he hurried on to overtake the crowd of boys he had left, Linda's heart was racing in her breast.
Turning, she re-entered the school building, and taking a telephone directory she hunted an address, and then, instead of going to the car line that took her to Lilac Valley she went to the address she had looked up. With a pencil she wrote a few lines on a bit of scratch paper in one of her books. That note opened a door and admitted her to the presence of a tall, lean, gray-haired man with quick, blue-gray eyes and lips that seemed capable of being either grave or gay on short notice. With that perfect ease which Linda had acquired through the young days of her life in meeting friends of her father, she went to the table beside which this man was standing and stretched out her hand.
"Judge Whiting?" she asked.
"Yes," said the Judge.
"I am Linda Strong, the younger daughter of Alexander Strong. I think you knew my father."
"Yes," said the Judge, "I knew him very well indeed, and I have some small acquaintance with his daughter through very interesting reports that my son brings home."
"Yes, it is about Donald that I came to see you," said Linda.
If she had been watching as her father would have watched, Linda would have seen the slight uplift of the Judge's figure, the tensing of his muscles, the narrowing of his eyes in the swift, speculative look he passed over her from the crown of her bare, roughened black head down the gold-brown of her dress to her slender, well-shod feet. The last part of that glance Linda caught. She slightly lifted one of the feet under inspection, thrust it forward and looked at the Judge with a gay challenge in her dark eyes.
"Are you interested in them too?" she asked.
The Judge was embarrassed. A flush crept into his cheeks. He was supposed to be master of any emergency that might arise, but one had arisen in connection with a slip of a schoolgirl that left him wordless.
"It is very probable," said Linda, "that if my shoes had been like most other girls' shoes I wouldn't be here today. I was in the same schoolroom with your son for three years, and he never saw me or spoke to me until one day he stopped me to inquire why I wore the kind of shoes I did. He said he had a battle to wage with me because I tried to be a law to myself, and he wanted to know why I wasn't like other girls. And I told him I had a crow to pick with HIM because he had the kind of brain that would be content to let a Jap beat him in his own school, in his own language and in his own country; so we made an engagement to fight to a finish, and it ended by his becoming the only boy friend I have and the nicest boy friend a girl ever had, I am very sure. That's why I'm here."
Linda lifted her eyes and Judge Whiting looked into them till he saw the same gold lights in their depths that Peter Morrison had seen. He came around the table and placed a big leather chair for Linda. Then he went back and resumed his own.
"Of course," said the Judge in his most engaging manner. "I gather from what Donald has told me that you have a reason for being here, and I want you to understand that I am intensely interested in anything you have to say to me. Now tell me why you came."
"I came," said Linda, "because I started something and am afraid of the possible result. I think very likely if, in retaliation for what Donald said to me about my hair and my shoes, I had not twitted him about the use he was making of his brain and done everything in my power to drive him into competition with Oka Sayye in the hope that a white man would graduate with the highest honors, he would not have gone into this competition, which I am now certain has antagonized Oka Sayye."
Linda folded her slim hands on the table and leaned forward.
"Judge Whiting," she said earnestly, "I know very little about men. The most I know was what I learned about my father and the men with whom he occasionally hunted and fished. They were all such fine men that I must have grown up thinking that every man was very like them, but one day I came in direct contact with the Jap that Donald is trying to beat, and the thing I saw in his face put fear into my heart and it has been there ever since. I have almost an unreasoning fear of that Jap, not because he has said anything or done anything. It's just instinctive. I may be wholly wrong in having come to you and in taking up your time, but there are two things I wanted to tell you. I could have told Donald, but if I did and his mind went off at a tangent thinking of these things he wouldn't be nearly so likely to be in condition to give his best thought to his studies. If I really made him see what I think I have seen, and fear what I know I fear, he might fail where I would give almost anything to see him succeed; so I thought I would come to you and tell you about it and ask you please to think it over, and to take extra care of him, because I really believe that he may be in danger; and if he is I never shall be able to rid myself of a sense of responsibility."
"I see," said Judge Whiting. "Now tell me, just as explicitly as you have told me this, exactly what it is that you fear."
"Last Saturday," said Linda, "Donald told me that while standing at the board beside Oka Sayye, demonstrating a theorem, he noticed that there were gray hairs above the Jap's ears, and he bluntly asked him, before the professor and the class, how old he was. In telling me, he said he had the feeling that if the Jap could have done so in that instant, he would have killed him. He said he was nineteen, but Donald says from the matured lines of his body, from his hands and his face and his hair, he is certain that he is thirty or more, and he thinks it very probable that he may have graduated at home before he came here to get his English for nothing from our public schools. I never before had the fact called to my attention that this was being done, but Donald told me that he had been in classes with matured men when he was less than ten years of age. That is not fair, Judge Whiting; it is not right. There should be an age specified above which people may not be allowed to attend public school."
"I quite agree with you," said the Judge. "That has been done in the grades, but there is nothing fair in bringing a boy under twenty in competition with a man graduated from the institutions of another country, even in the high schools. If this be the case—"
"You can be certain that it is," said Linda, "because Donald whispered to me as he passed me half an hour ago, coming from the school building, that TODAY Oka Sayye's hair is a uniform, shining black, and he also thought that he had used a lipstick and rouge in an effort at rejuvenation. Do you think, from your knowledge of Donald, that he would imagine that?"
"No," said Judge Whiting, "I don't think such a thing would occur to him unless he saw it."
"Neither do I," said Linda. "From the short acquaintance I have with him I should not call him at all imaginative, but he is extremely quick and wonderfully retentive. You have to show him but once from which cactus he can get Victrola needles and fishing hooks, or where to find material for wooden legs."
The Judge laughed. "Doesn't prove much," he said. "You wouldn't have to show me that more than once either. If anyone were giving me an intensive course on such interesting subjects, I would guarantee to remember, even at my age."
Linda nodded in acquiescence. "Then you can regard it as quite certain," she said, "that Oka Sayye is making up in an effort to appear younger than he is which means that he doesn't want his right questioned to be in our schools, to absorb the things that we are taught, to learn our language, our government, our institutions, our ideals, our approximate strength and our only-too-apparent weakness."
The Judge leaned forward and waited attentively.
"The other matter," said Linda, "was relative to Saturday. There may not be a thing in it, but sometimes a woman's intuition proves truer than what a man thinks he sees and knows. I haven't SEEN a thing, and I don't KNOW a thing, but I don't believe your gardener was sick last week. I believe he had a dirty job he wanted done and preferred to save his position and avoid risks by getting some other Jap who had no family and no interests here, to do it for him. I don't BELIEVE that your car, having run all right Friday night, was shot to pieces Saturday morning so that Donald went smash with it in a manner that might very easily have killed him, or sent him to the hospital for months, while Oka Sayye carried off the honors without competition I want to ask you to find out whether your regular gardener truly was ill, whether he has a family and interests to protect here, or whether he is a man who could disappear in a night as Japs who have leased land and have families cannot. I want to know about the man who took your gardener's place, and I want the man who is repairing your car interviewed very carefully as to what he found the trouble with it."
Linda paused. Judge Whiting sat in deep thought, then he looked at Linda.
"I see," he said at last. "Thank you very much for coming to me. All these things and anything that develops from them shall be handled carefully. Of course you know that Donald is my only son and you can realize what he is to me and to his mother and sister."
"It is because I do realize that," said Linda, "that I am here. I appreciate his friendship, but it is not for my own interests that I am asking to have him taken care of while he wages his mental war with this Jap. I want Donald to have the victory, but I want it to be a victory that will be an inspiration to any boy of white blood among any of our allies or among peoples who should be our allies. There's a showdown coming between the white race and a mighty aggregation of colored peoples one of these days, and if the white man doesn't realize pretty soon that his supremacy is not only going to be contested but may be lost, it just simply will be lost; that is all there is to it."
The Judge was studying deeply now. Finally he said: "Young lady, I greatly appreciate your coming to me. There may be NOTHING in what you fear. It MIGHT be a matter of national importance. In any event, it shows that your heart is in the right place. May Mrs. Whiting and I pay you a visit some day soon in your home?"
"Of course," said Linda simply. "I told Donald to bring his mother the first time he came, but he said he did not need to be chaperoned when he came to see me, because my father's name was a guarantee to his mother that my home would be a proper place for him to visit."
"I wonder how many of his other girl friends invited him to bring his mother to see them," said the Judge.
"Oh, he probably grew up with the other girls and was acquainted with them from tiny things," said Linda.
"Very likely," conceded the Judge. "I think, after all, I would rather have an invitation to make one of those trips with you to the desert or the mountains. Is there anything else as interesting as fish hooks and Victrola needles and wooden legs to be learned?"
"Oh, yes," said Linda, leaning farther forward, a lovely color sweeping up into her cheeks, her eyes a-shine. She had missed the fact that the Judge was jesting. She had thought him in sober, scientific earnest.
"It's an awfully nice thing if you dig a plant or soil your hands in hunting, or anything like that, to know that there are four or five different kinds of vegetable soap where you can easily reach them, if you know them. If you lose your way or have a long tramp, it's good to know which plants will give you drink and where they are. And if you're short of implements, you might at any time need a mescal stick, or an arrow shaft or an arrow, even. If Donald were lost now, he could keep alive for days, because he would know what wood would make him a bow and how he could take amole fiber and braid a bow string and where he could make arrows and arrow points so that he could shoot game for food. I've taught him to make a number of snares, and he knows where to find and how to cook his greens and potatoes and onions and where to find his pickles and how to make lemonade and tea, and what to use for snake bite. It's been such fun, Judge Whiting, and he has been so interested."
"Yes, I should think he would be," said the Judge. "I am interested myself. If you would take an old boy like me on a few of those trips, I would be immensely pleased."
"You'd like brigand beefsteak," suggested Linda, "and you'd like cress salad, and I am sure you'd like creamed yucca."
"Hm," said the Judge. "Sounds to me like Jane Meredith."
Linda suddenly sat straight. A dazed expression crossed her face. Presently she recovered.
"Will you kindly tell me," she said, "what a great criminal judge knows about Jane Meredith?"
"Why, I hear my wife and daughter talking about her," said the Judge.
"I wonder," said Linda, "if a judge hears so many secrets that he forgets what a secret is and couldn't possibly keep one to save his life."
"On the other hand," said Judge Whiting, "a judge hears so many secrets that he learns to be a very secretive person himself, and if a young lady just your size and so like you in every way as to be you, told me anything and told me that it was a secret, I would guarantee to carry it with me to my grave, if I said I would."
One of Linda's special laughs floated out of the windows. Her right hand slipped across the table toward the Judge.
"Cross your heart and body?" she challenged.
The Judge took the hand she offered in both of his own.
"On my soul," he said, "I swear it."
"All right," bubbled Linda. "Judge Whiting, allow me to present to you Jane Meredith, the author and originator of the Aboriginal Cookery articles now running in Everybody's Home."
Linda stood up as she made the presentation and the Judge arose with her. When she bowed her dark head before him the Judge bowed equally as low, then he took the hand he held and pressed it against his lips.
"I am not surprised," he said. "I am honored, deeply honored, and I am delighted. For a high school girl that is a splendid achievement."
"But you realize, of course," said Linda, "that it is vicarious. I really haven't done anything. I am just passing on to the world what Alexander Strong found it interesting to teach his daughter, because he hadn't a son."
"I certainly am fortunate that my son is getting the benefit of this," said Judge Whiting earnestly. "There are girls who make my old-fashioned soul shudder, but I shall rest in great comfort whenever I know that my boy is with you."
"Sure!" laughed Linda. "I'm not vamping him. I don't know the first principles. We're not doing a thing worse than sucking 'hunters' rock leek' or roasting Indian potatoes or fishing for trout with cactus spines. I have had such a lovely time I don't believe that I'll apologize for coming. But you won't waste a minute in making sure about Oka Sayye?"
"I won't waste a minute," said the Judge.
CHAPTER XXII. The End of Marian's Contest
Coming from school a few days later on an evening when she had been detained, Linda found a radiant Katy awaiting her.
"What's up, old dear?" cried Linda. "You seem positively illumined."
"So be," said Katy. "It's a good time I'm havin'. In the first place the previous boss of this place ain't nowise so bossy as sue used to be, an' livin' with her is a dale aisier. An' then, when Miss Eileen is around these days, she is beginning to see things, and she is just black with jealousy of ye. Something funny happened here the afternoon, an' she was home for once an' got the full benefit of it. I was swapin' the aist walk, but I know she was inside the window an' I know she heard. First, comes a great big loaded automobile drivin' up, and stopped in front with a flourish an' out hops as nice an' nate a lookin' lad as ever you clapped your eyes on, an' up he comes to me an' off goes his hat with a swape, an' he hands me that bundle an' he says: 'Here's something Miss Linda is wantin' bad for her wild garden.'"
Katy handed Linda a bundle of newspaper, inside which, wrapped in a man's handkerchief, she found several plants, carefully lifted, the roots properly balled, the heads erect, crisp, although in full flower.
"Oh, Katy!" cried Linda. "Look, it's Gallito, 'little rooster'!" "Now ain't them jist yellow violets?" asked Katy dubiously.
"No," said Linda, "they are not. They are quite a bit rarer. They are really a wild pansy. Bring water, Katy, and help me."
"But I've something else for ye," said Katy.
"I don't care what you have," answered Linda. "I am just compelled to park these little roosters at once."
"What makes ye call them that ungodly name?" asked Katy.
"Nothing ungodly about it," answered Linda. "It's funny. Gallito is the Spanish name for these violets, and it means 'little rooster.'"
Linda set the violets as carefully as they had been lifted and rinsed her hands at the hydrant.
"Now bring on the remainder of the exhibit," she ordered.
"It's there on the top of the rock pile, which you notice has incrased since ye last saw it."
"So it has!" said Linda. "So it has! And beautifully colored specimens those are too. My fern bed will lift up its voice and rejoice in them. And rocks mean Henry Anderson. The box I do not understand."
Linda picked it up, untied the string, and slipped off the wrapping. Katy stared in wide-mouthed amazement.
"I was just tickled over that because Miss Eileen saw a good-looking and capable young man leave a second package, right on the heels of young Whiting," she said. "Whatever have ye got, lambie? What does that mean?"
Linda held up a beautiful box of glass, inside of which could be seen swarming specimens of every bug, beetle, insect, and worm that Henry Anderson had been able to collect in Heaven only knew what hours of search. Linda opened the box. The winged creatures flew, the bettles tumbled, the worms went over the top. She set it on the ground and laughed to exhaustion. Her eyes were wet as she looked up at Katy.
"That first night Henry Anderson and Peter Morrison were here to dinner, Katy," she said, "Anderson made a joke about being my bug-catcher when I built my home nest, and several times since he has tried to be silly about it, but the last time I told him it was foolishness to which I would listen no more, so instead of talking, he has taken this way of telling me that he is fairly expert as a bug-catcher. Really, it is awfully funny, Katy."
Katy was sober. She showed no appreciation of the fun.
"Ye know, lambie," she said, her hands on her hips, her elbows wide-spread, her jaws argumentative, "I've done some blarneying with that lad, an' I've fed him some, because he was doin' things that would help an' please ye, but now I'm tellin' ye, just like I'll be tellin' ye till I die, I ain't STRONG for him. If ever the day comes when ye ask me to take on that Whiting kid for me boss, I'll bow my head an' I'll fly at his bidding, because he is real, he's goin' to come out a man lots like your pa, or hisn. An' if ever the day comes when ye will be telling me ye want me to serve Pater Morrison, I'll well nigh get on my knees to him. I think he'd be the closest we'd ever come to gettin' the master back. But I couldn't say I'd ever take to Anderson. They's something about him, I can't just say what, but he puts me back up amazin'."
"Don't worry, ancient custodian of the family," said Linda. "That same something in Henry Anderson that antagonizes you, affects me in even stronger degree. You must not get the foolish notion that any man has a speculative eye on me, because it is not true. Donald Whiting is only a boy friend, treating me as a brother would, and Peter Morrison is much too sophisticated and mature to pay any serious attention to a girl with a year more high school before her. I want to be decent to Henry Anderson, because he is Peter's architect, and I'm deeply interested in Peter's house and the lady who will live in it. Sometimes I hope it will be Donald's sister, Mary Louise. Anyway, I am going to get acquainted with her and make it my business to see that she and Peter get their chance to know each other well. My job for Peter is to help run his brook at the proper angle, build his bridge, engineer his road, and plant his grounds; so don't be dreaming any foolish dreams, Katy."
Katy folded her arms, tilted her chin at an unusually aspiring angle, and deliberately sniffed.
"Don't ye be lettin' yourself belave your own foolishness," she said. "I ain't done with me exhibit yet. On the hall table ye will find a package from the Pater Morrison man that Miss Eileen had the joy of takin' in and layin' aside for ye, an atop of it rists a big letter that I'm thinkin' might mean Miss Marian."
"Oh," cried Linda. "Why are you wasting all this time? If there is a letter from Marian it may mean that the competition is decided; but if it is, she loses, because she was to telegraph if she won."
Linda rushed into the house and carried her belongings to her workroom. She dropped them on the table and looked at them.
"I'll get you off my mind first," she said to the Morrison package, which enclosed a new article entitled "How to Grow Good Citizens." With it was a scrawled line, "I'm leaving the head and heels of the future to you."
"How fine!" exulted Linda. "He must have liked the head and tail pieces I drew for his other article, so he wants the same for this, and if he is well paid for his article, maybe in time, after I've settled for my hearth motto, he will pay me something for my work. Gal-lum-shus!"
As she opened the letter from Marian she slowly shook her head.
"Drat the luck," she muttered, "no good news here."
Slowly and absorbedly she read:
No telegram to send. I grazed the first prize and missed the second because Henry Anderson wins with plans so like mine that they are practically duplicates. I have not seen the winning plans. Mr. Snow told me as gently as he could that the judges had ruled me out entirely. The winning plans are practically a reversal of mine, more professionally drawn, and no doubt the specifications are far ahead of mine, as these are my weak spot, although I have worked all day and far into the night on the mathematics of house building. Mr. Snow was very kind, and terribly cut up about it. I made what I hope was a brave fight, I did so believe in those plans that I am afraid to say just how greatly disappointed I am. All I can do is to go to work again and try to find out how to better my best, which I surely put into the plans I submitted. I can't see how Henry Anderson came to hit upon some of my personal designs for comforts and conveniences. I had hoped that no man would think of my especial kitchen plans. I rather fancied myself as a benefactor to my sex, an emancipator from drudgery, as it were. I had a concealed feeling that it required a woman who had expended her strength combating the construction of a devilish kitchen, to devise some of my built-in conveniences, and I worked as carefully on my kitchen table, as on any part of the house. If I find later that the winning plans include these things I shall believe that Henry Anderson is a mind reader, or that lost plans naturally gravitate to him. But there is no use to grouch further. I seem to be born a loser. Anyway, I haven't lost you and I still have Dana Meade.
I have nothing else to tell you except that Mr. Snow has waited for me two evenings out of the week ever since I wrote you, and he has taken me in his car and simply forced me to drive him for an hour over what appeals to me to be the most difficult roads he could select. So far I have not balked at anything but he has had the consideration not to direct me to the mountains. He is extremely attractive, Linda, and I do enjoy being with him, but I dread it too, because his grief is so deep and so apparent that it constantly keeps before me the loss of my own dear ones, and those things to which the hymn books refer as "aching voids" in my own life.
But there is something you will be glad to hear. That unknown correspondent of mine is still sending letters, and I am crazy about them. I don't answer one now until I have mulled over it two or three days and I try to give him as good as he sends.
I judge from your letters that you are keeping at least even with Eileen, and that life is much happier for you. You seem to be broadening. I am so glad for the friendship you have formed with Donald Whiting. My mother and Mrs. Whiting were friends. She is a charming woman and it has seemed to me that in her daughter Louise she has managed a happy compound of old-fashioned straightforwardness and unswerving principle, festooned with happy trimmings of all that is best in the present days. I hope that you do become acquainted with her. She is older than you, but she is the kind of girl I know you would like.
Don't worry because I have lost again, Linda dear. Today is my blue day. Tomorrow I shall roll up my sleeves and go at it again with all my might, and by and by it is written in the books that things will come right for me. They cannot go wrong for ever. With dearest love,
Linda looked grim as she finished the letter.
"Confound such luck," she said emphatically. "I do not understand it. How can a man like Henry Anderson know more about comforts and conveniences in a home than a woman with Marian's experience and comprehension? And she has been gaining experience for the past ten years. That partner of his must be a six-cylinder miracle."
Linda went to the kitchen, because she was in pressing need of someone to whom to tell her troubles, and there was no one except Katy. What Katy said was energetic and emphatic, but it comforted Linda, because she agreed with it and what she was seeking at the minute was someone who agreed with her. As she went back upstairs, she met Eileen on her way to the front door. Eileen paused and deliberately studied Linda's face, and Linda stopped and waited quietly until she chose to speak.
"I presume," said Eileen at last, "that you and Katy would call the process through which you are going right now, 'taking the bit in your teeth,' or some poetic thing like that, but I can't see that you are getting much out of it. I don't hear the old laugh or the clatter of gay feet as I did before all this war of dissatisfaction broke out. This minute if you haven't either cried, or wanted to, I miss my guess."
"You win," said Linda. "I have not cried, because I make it a rule never to resort to tears when I can help it; so what you see now is unshed tears in my heart. They in no way relate to what you so aptly term my 'war of dissatisfaction'; they are for Marian. She has lost again, this time the Nicholson and Snow prize in architecture."
"Serves her right," said Eileen, laughing contemptuously. "The ridiculous idea of her trying to compete in a man's age-old occupation! As if she ever could learn enough about joists and beams and girders and installing water and gas and electricity to build a house. She should have had the sense to know she couldn't do it."
"But," said Linda quietly, "Marian wasn't proposing to be a contractor, she only wants to be an architect. And the man who beat her is Peter Morrison's architect, Henry Anderson, and he won by such a narrow margin that her plans were thrown out of second and third place, because they were so very similar to his. Doesn't that strike you as curious?"
"That is more than curious," said Eileen slowly. "That is a very strange coincidence. They couldn't have had anything from each other, because they only met at dinner, before all of us, and Marian went away the next morning; it does seem queer." Then she added with a flash of generosity and justice, "It looks pretty good for Marian, at that. If she came so near winning that she lost second and third because she was too near first to make any practical difference, I must be wrong and she must be right."
"You are wrong," said Linda tersely, "if you think Marian cannot make wonderful plans for houses. But going back to what my 'war of dissatisfaction' is doing to me, it's a pale affair compared with what it is doing to you, Eileen. You look a debilitated silhouette of the near recent past. Do you feel that badly about giving up a little money and authority?"
"I never professed to have the slightest authority over you," said Eileen very primly, as she drew back in the shadows. "You have come and gone exactly as you pleased. All I ever tried to do was to keep up a decent appearance before the neighbors and make financial ends meet."
"That never seemed to wear on you as something seems to do now," said Linda. "I am thankful that this week ends it. I was looking for you because I wanted to tell you to be sure not to make any date that will keep you from meeting me at the office of the president of the Consolidated Bank Thursday afternoon. I am going to arrange with John to be there and it shouldn't take fifteen minutes to run through matters and divide the income in a fair way between us. I am willing for you to go on paying the bills and ordering for the house as you have been."
"Certainly you are," sneered Eileen. "You are quite willing for all the work and use the greater part of my time to make you comfortable."
Linda suddenly drew back. Her body seemed to recoil, but her head thrust forward as if to bring her eyes in better range to read Eileen's face.
"That is utterly unjust, Eileen," she cried.
Then two at a time she rushed the stairs in a race for her room.
CHAPTER XXIII. The Day of Jubilee
Linda started to school half an hour earlier Wednesday morning because that was the day for her weekly trip to the Post Office for any mail which might have come to her under the name of Jane Meredith. She had hard work to keep down her color when she recognized the heavy gray envelope used by the editor of Everybody's Home. As she turned from the window with it in her fingers she was trembling slightly and wondering whether she could have a minute's seclusion to face the answer which her last letter might have brought. There was a small alcove beside a public desk at one side of the room. Linda stepped into this, tore open the envelope and slipped out the sheet it contained. Dazedly she stared at the slip that fell from it. Slowly the color left her cheeks and then came rushing back from her surcharged heart until her very ears were red, because that slip was very manifestly a cheque for five hundred dollars. Mentally and physically Linda shook herself, then she straightened to full height, tensing her muscles and holding the sheet before her with a hand on each side to keep it from shaking, while she read:
MY DEAR MADAM:
I sincerely apologize for having waited so long before writing you of the very exceptional reception which your articles have had. I think one half their attraction has been the exquisite and appealing pictures you have sent for their illustration. At the present minute they are forming what I consider the most unique feature in the magazine. I am enclosing you a cheque for five hundred dollars as an initial payment on the series. Just what the completed series should be worth I am unable to say until you inform me how many months you can keep it up at the same grade of culinary and literary interest and attractive illustration; but I should say at a rough estimate that you would be safe in counting upon a repetition of this cheque for every three articles you send in. This of course includes payment for the pictures also, which are to me if anything more attractive than the recipes, since the local color and environment they add to the recipe and the word sketch are valuable in the extreme.
If you feel that you can continue this to the extent of even a small volume, I shall be delighted to send you a book contract. In considering this proposition, let me say that if you could not produce enough recipes to fill a book, you could piece it out to the necessary length most charmingly and attractively by lengthening the descriptions of the environment in which the particular fruits and vegetables you deal with are to be found; and in book form you might allow yourself much greater latitude in the instructions concerning the handling of the fruits and the preparation of the recipes. I think myself that a wonderfully attractive book could be made from this material, and hope that you will agree with me. Trusting that this will be satisfactory to you and that you will seriously consider the book proposition before you decline it, I remain, my dear madam, Very truly yours,
Editor, Everybody's Home.
Gripping the cheque and the letter, Linda lurched forward against the window casement and shut her eyes tight, because she could feel big, nervous gulps of exultation and rejoicing swelling up in her throat. She shifted the papers to one hand and surreptitiously slipped the other to her pocket. She tried to keep the papers before her and looked straight from the window to avoid attracting attention. The tumult of exultation in her heart was so wild that she did not surely know whether she wanted to sink to the floor, lay her face against the glass, and indulge in what for generations women have referred to as "a good cry," or whether she wanted to leap from the window and sport on the wind like a driven leaf.
Then she returned the letter and cheque to the envelope, and slipped it inside her blouse, and started on her way to school. She might as well have gone to Multiflores Canyon and pitted her strength against climbing its walls for the day, for all the good she did in her school work. She heard no word of any recitation by her schoolmates. She had no word ready when called on for a recitation herself. She heard nothing that was said by any of the professors. On winged feet she was flying back and forth from the desert to the mountains, from the canyons to the sea. She was raiding beds of amass and devising ways to roast the bulbs and make a new dish. She was compounding drinks from mescal and bisnaga. She was hunting desert pickles and trying to remember whether Indian rhubarb ever grew so far south. She was glad when the dismissal hour came that afternoon. With eager feet she went straight to the Consolidated Bank and there she asked again to be admitted to the office of the president. Mr. Worthington rose as she came in.
"Am I wrong in my dates?" he inquired. "I was not expecting you until tomorrow."
"No, you're quite right," said Linda. "At this hour tomorrow. But, Mr. Worthington, I am in trouble again."
Linda looked so distressed that the banker pushed a chair to the table's side for her, and when she had seated herself, he said quietly: "Tell me all about it, Linda. We must get life straightened out as best we can."
"I think I must tell you all about it," said Linda, "because I know just enough about banking to know that I have a proposition that I don't know how to handle. Are bankers like father confessors and doctors and lawyers?"
"I think they are even more so," laughed Mr. Worthington. "Perhaps the father confessor takes precedence, otherwise I believe people are quite as much interested in their financial secrets as in anything else in all this world. Have you a financial secret?"
"Yes," said Linda, "I have what is to me a big secret, and I don't in the least know how to handle it, so right away I thought about you and that you would be the one to tell me what I could do."
"Go ahead," said Mr. Worthington kindly. "I'll give you my word of honor to keep any secret you confide to me."
Linda produced her letter. She opened it and without any preliminaries handed it and the cheque to the banker. He looked at the cheque speculatively, and then laid it aside and read the letter. He gave every evidence of having read parts of it two or three times, then he examined the cheque again, and glanced at Linda.
"And just how did you come into possession of this, young lady?" he inquired. "And what is it that you want of me?"
"Why, don't you see?" said Linda. "It's my letter and my cheque; I'm 'Jane Meredith.' Now how am I going to get my money."
For one dazed moment Mr. Worthington studied Linda; then he threw back his head and laughed unrestrainedly. He came around the table and took both Linda's hands.
"Bully for you!" he cried exultantly. "How I wish your father could see the seed he has sown bearing its fruit. Isn't that fine? And do you want to go on with this anonymously?"
"I think I must," said Linda. "I have said in my heart that no Jap, male or female, young or old, shall take first honors in a class from which I graduate; and you can see that if people generally knew this, it would make it awfully hard for me to go on with my studies, and I don't know that the editor who is accepting this work would take it if he knew it were sent him by a high-school Junior. You see the dignified way in which he addresses me as 'madam'?"
"I see," said Mr. Worthington reflectively.
"I'm sure," said Linda with demure lips, though the eyes above them were blazing and dancing at high tension, "I'm sure that the editor is attaching a husband, and a house having a well-ordered kitchen, and rather wide culinary experience to that 'dear madam.'"
"And what about this book proposition?" asked the banker gravely. "That would be a big thing for a girl of your age. Can you do it, and continue your school work?"
"With the background I have, with the unused material I have, and with vacation coming before long, I can do it easily," said Linda. "My school work is not difficult for me. It only requires concentration for about two hours in the preparation that each day brings. The remainder of the time I could give to amplifying and producing new recipes."
"I see," said the banker. "So you have resolved, Linda, that you don't want your editor to know your real name."
"Could scarcely be done," said Linda.
"But have you stopped to think," said the banker, "that you will be asked for personal history and about your residence, and no doubt a photograph of yourself. If you continue this work anonymously you're going to have trouble with more matters than cashing a cheque."
"But I am not going to have any trouble cashing a cheque," she said, "because I have come straight to the man whose business is cheques."
"True enough," he said; "I SHALL have to arrange the cheque; there's not a doubt about that; and as for your other bugbears."
"I refuse to be frightened by them," interposed Linda.
"Have you ever done any business at the bank?"
"No," said Linda.
"None of the clerks know you?"
"Not that I remember," said Linda. "I might possibly be acquainted with some of them. I have merely passed through the bank on my way to your room twice."
"Then," said the banker, "we'll have to risk it. After this estate business is settled you will want to open an account in your name."
"Quite true," said Linda.
"Then I would advise you," said Mr. Worthington, "to open this account in your own name. Endorse this cheque 'Jane Meredith' and make it payable to me personally. Whenever one of these comes, bring it to me and I'll take care of it for you. One minute."
He left Linda sitting quietly reading and rereading her letter, and presently returned and laid a sheaf of paper money before her.
"Take it to the paying teller. Tell him that you wish to deposit it, and ask him to give you a bank book and a cheque book," he said. "Thank you very much for coming to me and for confiding in me."
Linda gathered up the money, and said good-bye to the banker. Just as she started forward she recognized Eileen at the window of the paying teller. It was an Eileen she never before had seen. Her face was strained to a ghastly gray. Her hat was not straight and her hands were shaking. Without realizing that she was doing it, Linda stepped behind one of the huge marble pillars supporting the ceiling and stood there breathlessly, watching Eileen. She could gather that she was discussing the bank ledger which lay before the teller and that he was refusing something that Eileen was imploring him to do. Linda thought she understood what it was. Then very clearly Eileen's voice, sharp and strained, reached her ears.
"You mean that you are refusing to pay me my deposits on my private account?" she cried; and Linda could also hear the response.
"I am very sorry if it annoys or inconveniences you, Miss Strong, but since the settlement of the estate takes place tomorrow, our orders are to pay out no funds in any way connected with the estate until after that settlement has been arranged."
"But this is my money, my own private affair," begged Eileen. "The estate has nothing to do with it."
"I am sorry," repeated the teller. "If that is the case, you will have no difficulty in establishing the fact in a few minutes' time."
Eileen turned and left the bank, and it seemed that she was almost swaying. Linda stood a second with narrowed eyes, in deep thought.
"I think," she said at last, deep down in her heart, "that it looks precious much as if there had been a bit of transgression in this affair. It looks, too, as if 'the way of the transgressor' were a darned hard way. Straight ahead open and aboveboard for you, my girl!"
Then she went quietly to the desk and transacted her own business; but her beautiful day was clouded. Her heart was no longer leaping exultantly. She was sickened and sorrowful over the evident nerve strain and discomfort which Eileen seemed to have brought upon herself. She dreaded meeting her at dinner that night, and she wondered all the way home where Eileen had gone from the bank and what she had been doing. What she felt was a pale affair compared with what she would have felt if she could have seen Eileen leave the bank and enter a near-by store, go to a telephone booth and put in a long-distance call for San Francisco. Her eyes were brilliant, her cheeks by nature redder than the rouge she had used upon them. She squared her shoulders, lifted her head, as if she irrevocably had made a decision and would not be thwarted in acting upon it. While she waited she straightened her hat, and tucked up her pretty hair, once more evincing concern about her appearance. After a nervous wait she secured her party.
"Am I speaking with Mr. James Heitman?" she asked.
"Yes," came the answer.
"Well, Uncle Jim, this is Eileen."
"Why, hello, girlie," was the quick response. "Delighted that you're calling your ancient uncle. Haven't changed the decision in the last letter I had from you, have you?"
"Yes," said Eileen, "I have changed it. Do you and Aunt Caroline still want me, Uncle Jim?"
"YOU BET WE WANT YOU!" roared the voice over the 'phone. "Here we are, with plenty of money and not a relation on earth but you to leave it to. You belong to us by rights. We'd be tickled to death to have you, and for you to have what's left of the money when we get through with it. May I come after you? Say the word, and I'll start this minute."
"Oh, Uncle Jim, could you? Would you?" cried Eileen.
"Well, I'd say I could. We'd be tickled to death, I tell you!"
"How long would it take you to get here?" said Eileen.
"Well, I could reach you by noon tomorrow. Eleven something is the shortest time it's been made in; that would give me thirteen—more than enough. Are you in that much of a hurry?"
"Yes," gasped Eileen, "yes, I am in the biggest kind of a hurry there is, Uncle Jim. This troublesome little estate has to be settled tomorrow afternoon. There's going to be complaint about everything that I have seen fit to do. I've been hounded and harassed till I am disgusted with it. Then I've promised to marry John Gilman as I wrote you, and I don't believe you would think that was my best chance with the opportunities you could give me. It seems foolish to stay here, abused as I have been lately, and as I will be tomorrow. You have the house number. If you come and get me out of it by noon tomorrow, I'll go with you. You may take out those adoption papers you have always entreated me to agree to and I'll be a daughter that you can be proud of. It will be a relief to have some real money and some real position, and to breathe freely and be myself once more."
"All right for you, girlie!" bellowed the great voice over the line. "Pick up any little personal bits you can put in a suitcase, and by twelve o'clock tomorrow I'll whisk you right out of that damn mess."
Eileen walked from the telephone booth with her head high, triumph written all over her face and figure. They were going to humiliate her. She would show them!
She went home immediately. Entering her room, she closed the door and stood looking at her possessions. How could she get her trunk from the garret? How could she get it to the station? Would it be possible for Uncle James to take it in his car? As she pondered these things Eileen had a dim memory of a day in her childhood when her mother had gone on business to San Francisco and had taken her along. She remembered a huge house, all turrets and towers and gables, all turns and twists and angles, closed to the light of day and glowing inside with shining artificial lights. She remembered stumbling over deep rugs. One vivid impression was of walls covered with huge canvases, some of them having frames more than a foot wide. She remembered knights in armor, and big fireplaces, and huge urns and vases. It seemed to her like the most wonderful bazaar she ever had been in. She remembered, too, that she had been glad when her mother had taken her out into the sunshine again and from the presence of two ponderous people who had objected strongly to everything her mother had discussed with them. She paused one instant, contemplating this picture. The look of triumph on her face toned down considerably. Then she comforted herself aloud.
"I've heard Mother say," she said softly, "that everybody overdid things and did not know how to be graceful with immense fortunes got from silver and gold mines, and lumber. It will be different now. Probably they don't live in the same house, even. There is a small army of servants, and there is nothing I can think of that Uncle Jim won't gladly get me. I've been too big a fool for words to live this way as long as I have. Crush me, will they? I'll show them! I won't even touch these things I have strained so to get."
Eileen jerked from her throat the strand of pearls that she had worn continuously for four years and threw it contemptuously on her dressing table.
"I'll make Uncle Jim get me a rope with two or three strands in it that will reach to my waist. 'A suitcase!' I don't know what I would fill a suitcase with from here. The trunk may stay in the garret, and while I am leaving all this rubbish, I'll just leave John Gilman with it. Uncle Jim will give me an income that will buy all the cigarettes I want without having to deceive anyone; and I can have money if I want to stake something at bridge without being scared into paralysis for fear somebody may find it out or the accounts won't balance. I'll put on the most suitable thing I have to travel in, and just walk out and leave everything else."
That was what Eileen did. At noon the next day her eyes were bright with nervousness. Her cheeks alternately paled with fear and flooded red with anxiety. She had dressed herself carefully, laid out her hat and gloves and a heavy coat in case the night should be chilly. Once she stood looking at the dainty, brightly colored dresses hanging in her wardrobe A flash of regret passed over her face.
"Tawdry little cheap things and makeshifts," she said. "If Linda feels that she has been so terribly defrauded, she can help herself now!"
By twelve o'clock she found herself standing at the window, straining her eyes down Lilac Valley. She was not looking at its helpful hills, at its appealing curves, at its brilliant colors. She was watching the roadway. When Katy rang to call her to lunch, she told her to put the things away; she was expecting people who would take her out to lunch presently. In the past years she had occasionally written to her uncle. Several times when he had had business in Los Angeles she had met him at his hotel and dined with him. She reasoned that he would come straight to the house and get her, and then they would go to one of the big hotels for lunch before they started.
"I shan't feel like myself," said Eileen, "until we are well on the way to San Francisco."
At one o'clock she was walking the floor. At two she was almost frantic. At half past she almost wished that she had had the good sense to have some lunch, since she was very hungry and under tense nerve strain. Once she paused before the glass, but what she saw frightened her. Just when she felt that she could not endure the strain another minute, grinding brakes, the blast of a huge Klaxon, and the sound of a great voice arose from the street. Eileen rushed to the window. She took one look, caught up the suitcase and raced down the stairs. At the door she met a bluff, big man, gross from head to foot. It seemed to Eileen strange that she could see in him even a trace of her mother, and yet she could. Red veins crossed his cheeks and glowed on his nose. His tired eyes were watery; his thick lips had an inclination to sag; but there was heartiness in his voice and earnestness in the manner in which he picked her up.
"What have they been doing to you down here?" he demanded. "Never should have left you this long. Ought to have come down and taken you and showed you what you wanted, and then you would have known whether you wanted it or not."
At this juncture a huge woman, gross in a feminine way as her husband was in his, paddled up the walk.
"I'm comin' in and rest a few minutes," she said. "I'm tired to death and I'm pounded to pieces."
Her husband turned toward her. He opened his lips to introduce Eileen. His wife forestalled him.
"So this is the Eileen you have been ravin' about for years," she said. "I thought you said she was a pretty girl."
Eileen's soul knew one sick instant of recoil. She looked from James Heitman to Caroline, his wife, and remembered that he had a habit of calling her "Callie." All that paint and powder and lipstick and brilliantine could do to make the ponderous, big woman more ghastly had been done, but in the rush of the long ride through which her husband had forced her, the colors had mixed and slipped, the false waves were displaced. She was not in any condition to criticize the appearance of another woman. For one second Eileen hesitated, then she lifted her shaking hands to her hat.
"I have been hounded out of my senses," she said apologetically, "and have been so terribly anxious for fear you wouldn't get here on time. Please, Aunt Caroline, let us go to a hotel, some place where we can straighten up comfortably."
"Well, what's your hurry?" said Aunt Caroline coolly. "You're not a fugitive from justice, are you? Can't a body rest a few minutes and have a drink, even? Besides, I am going to see what kind of a place you've been living in, and then I'll know how thankful you'll be for what we got to offer."
Eileen turned and threw open the door. The big woman walked in. She looked down the hall, up the stairway, and went on to the living room. She gave it one contemptuous glance, and turning, came back to the door.
"All right, Jim," she said brusquely. "I have seen enough. If you know the best hotel in the town, take me there. And then, if Eileen's in such a hurry, after we have had a bite we'll start for home."
"Thank you, Aunt Caroline, oh, thank you!" cried Eileen.
"You needn't take the trouble to 'aunt' me every time you speak to me," said the lady. "I know you're my niece, but I ain't goin' to remind you of it every time I speak to you. It's agein', this 'auntie' business. I don't stand for it, and as for a name, I am free to confess I always like the way Jim calls me 'Callie.' That sounds younger and more companionable than 'Caroline.'"
James Heitman looked at Eileen and winked.
"You just bet, old girl!" he said. "They ain't any of them can beat you, not even Eileen at her best. Let's get her out of here. Does this represent your luggage, girlie?"
"You said not to bother with anything else," said Eileen.
"So I did," said Uncle Jim, "and I meant just what I said if it's all right with you. I suppose I did have, in the back of my head, an idea that there might be a trunk or a box—some things that belonged to your mother, mebby, and your 'keepsakes.'"
"Oh, never mind," interrupted Eileen. "Do let's go. It's nearly four o'clock. Any minute they may send for me from the bank, and I'd be more than glad to be out of the way."
"Well, I'm not accustomed to being the porter, but if time's that precious, here we go," said Uncle Jim.
He picked up the suitcase with one hand and took his wife's arm with the other.
"Scoot down there and climb into that boat," he said proudly to Eileen. "We'll have a good dinner in a private room when we get to the hotel. I won't even register. And then we'll get out of here when we have rested a little."
"Can't we stay all night and go in the morning?" panted his wife.
"No, ma'am, we can't," said James Heitman authoritatively. "We'll eat a bite because we need to be fed up, and I sincerely hope they's some decent grub to be had in this burg. The first place we come to outside of here, that looks like they had a decent bed, we'll stop and make up for last night. But we ain't a-goin' to stay here if Eileen wants us to start right away, eh, Eileen?"