HER FATHER'S DAUGHTER
By Gene Stratton-Porter
I. "What Kind of Shoes Are the Shoes You Wear?" II. Cotyledon of Multiflores Canyon III. The House of Dreams IV. Linda Starts a Revolution V. The Smoke of Battle VI. Jane Meredith VII. Trying Yucca VIII. The Bear Cat IX. One Hundred Per Cent Plus X. Katy to the Rescue XI. Assisting Providence XII. The Lay of the Land XIII. Leavening the Bread of Life XIV. Saturday's Child XV. Linda's Hearthstone XVI. Producing the Evidence XVII. A Rock and a Flame XVIII. Spanish Iris XIX. The Official Bug-Catcher XX. The Cap Sheaf XXI. Shifting the Responsibility XXII. The End of Marian's Contest XXIII. The Day of Jubilee XXIV. Linda's First Party XXV. Buena Moza XXVI. A Mouse Nest XXVII. The Straight and Narrow XXVIII. Putting It Up to Peter XXIX. Katy Unburdens Her Mind XXX. Peter's Release XXXI. The End of Donald's Contest XXXII. How the Wasp Built Her Nest XXXIII. The Lady of the Iris
List of Characters
LINDA STRONG, Her Father's Daughter DR. ALEXANDER STRONG, a Great Nerve Specialist MRS. STRONG, His Wife EILEEN STRONG, Having Social Aspirations MR. AND MRS. THORNE, Neighbors of the Strongs MARIAN THORNE, a Dreamer of Houses JOHN GILMAN, a Man of Law PETER MORRISON, an Author HENRY ANDERSON, an Architect DONALD WHITING, a High School Senior MARY LOUISE WHITING, His Sister JUDGE AND MRS. WHITING, a Man of Law and a Woman of Culture KATHERINE O' DONOVAN, the Strong Cook OKA SAYYE, a High School Senior JAMES HEITMAN, Accidentally Rich MRS. CAROLINE HEITMAN, His Wife
CHAPTER I. "What Kind of Shoes Are the Shoes You Wear?"
"What makes you wear such funny shoes?"
Linda Strong thrust forward a foot and critically examined the narrow vamp, the projecting sole, the broad, low heel of her well-worn brown calfskin shoe. Then her glance lifted to the face of Donald Whiting, one of the most brilliant and popular seniors of the high school. Her eyes narrowed in a manner habitual to her when thinking intently.
"Never you mind my shoes," she said deliberately. "Kindly fix your attention on my head piece. When you see me allowing any Jap in my class to make higher grades than I do, then I give you leave to say anything you please concerning my head."
An angry red rushed to the boy's face. It was an irritating fact that in the senior class of that particular Los Angeles high school a Japanese boy stood at the head. This was embarrassing to every senior.
"I say," said Donald Whiting, "I call that a mean thrust."
"I have a particular reason," said Linda.
"And I have 'a particular reason'," said Donald, "for being interested in your shoes."
Linda laughed suddenly. When Linda laughed, which was very seldom, those within hearing turned to look at her. Hers was not a laugh that can be achieved. There were a few high places on the peak of Linda's soul, and on one of them homed a small flock of notes of rapture; notes as sweet as the voice of the white-banded mockingbird of Argentina.
"How surprising!" exclaimed Linda. "We have been attending the same school for three years; now, you stop me suddenly to tell me that you are interested in the shape of my shoes."
"I have been watching them all the time," said Donald. "Can't understand why any girl wants to be so different. Why don't you dress your hair the same as the other girls and wear the same kind of clothes and shoes?"
"Now look here," interposed Linda "You are flying the track.I am willing to justify my shoes, if I can, but here you go including my dress and a big psychological problem, as well; but I think perhaps the why of the shoes will explain the remainder. Does the name 'Alexander Strong' mean anything to you?"
"The great nerve specialist?" asked Donald.
"Yes," said Linda. "The man who was the author of half-dozen books that have been translated into many foreign tongue' and are used as authorities all over the world. He happened to be my father There are two children in our family. I have a sister four years older than I am who is exactly like Mother, and she and Mother were inseparable. I am exactly like Father; because we understood each other, and because both of us always new, although we never mentioned it; that Mother preferred my sister Eileen to me, Father tried to make it up to me, so from the time I can remember I was at his heels. It never bothered him to have me playing around in the library while he was writing his most complicated treatise. I have waited in his car half a day at a time, playing or reading, while he watched a patient or delivered a lecture at some medical college. His mental relaxation was to hike or to motor to the sea, to the mountains, to the canyons or the desert, and he very seldom went without me even on long trips when he was fishing or hunting with other men. There was not much to know concerning a woman's frame or he psychology that Father did not know, so there were two reason why he selected my footwear as he did. One was because he be believed high heels and pointed toes an outrage against the nervous province, and the other was that I could not possibly have kept pace with him except in shoes like these. No doubt, they are the same kind I shall wear all my life, for walking. You probably don't know it, but my home lies near the middle of Lilac Valley and I walk over a mile each morning and evening to and from the cars. Does this sufficiently explain my shoes?"
"I should think you'd feel queer," said Donald.
"I suspect I would if I had time to brood over it," Linda replied, "but I haven't. I must hustle to get to school on time in the morning. It's nearly or quite dark before I reach home in the evening. My father believed in having a good time. He had superb health, so he spent most of what he made as it came to him. He counted on a long life. It never occurred to him that a little piece of machinery going wrong would plunge him into Eternity in a second."
"Oh, I remember!" cried the boy.
Linda's face paled slightly.
"Yes," she said, "it happened four years ago and I haven't gotten away from the horror of it yet, enough ever to step inside of a motor car; but I am going to get over that one of these days. Brakes are not all defective, and one must take one's risks."
"You just bet I would," said Donald. "Motoring is one of the greatest pleasures of modern life. I'll wager it makes some of the gay old boys, like Marcus Aurelius for example, want to turn over in their graves when they see us flying along the roads of California the way we do."
"What I was getting at," said Linda, "was a word of reply to the remainder of your indictment against me. Dad's income stopped with him, and household expenses went on, and war came, so there isn't enough money to dress two of us as most of the high school girls are dressed. Eileen is so much older that it's her turn first, and I must say she is not at all backward about exercising her rights. I think that will have to suffice for the question of dress but you may be sure that I am capable of wearing the loveliest dress imaginable, that would be for a school girl, if I had it to wear."
"Ah, there's the little 'fly in your ointment'—'dress that would be suitable.' I bet in your heart you think the dresses that half the girls in high school are wearing are NOT SUITABLE!"
"Commendable perspicacity, O learned senior," said Linda, "and amazingly true. In the few short years I had with Daddy I acquired a fixed idea as to what kind of dress is suitable and sufficiently durable to wear while walking my daily two miles. I can't seem to become reconciled to the custom of dressing the same for school as for a party. You get my idea?"
"I get it all right enough," said Donald, "but I must think awhile before I decide whether I agree with you. Why should you be right, and hundreds of other girls be wrong?"
"I'll wager your mother would agree with me," suggested Linda.
"Did yours?" asked Donald.
"Halfway," answered Linda. "She agreed with me for me, but not for Eileen."
"And not for my sister," said Donald. "She wears the very foxiest clothes that Father can afford to pay for, and when she was going to school she wore them without the least regard as to whether she was going to school or to a tea party or a matinee. For that matter she frequently went to all three the same day.
"And that brings us straight to the point concerning you," said Linda.
"Sure enough!" said Donald. "There is me to be considered! What is it you have against me?"
Linda looked at him meditatively.
"You SEEM exceptionally strong," she said. "No doubt are good in athletics. Your head looks all right; it indicates brains. What I want to know is why in the world you don't us them."
"What are you getting at, anyway?" asked Donald, with more than a hint of asperity in his voice.
"I am getting at the fact," said Linda, "that a boy as big as you and as strong as you and with as good brain and your opportunity has allowed a little brown Jap to cross the Pacific Ocean and a totally strange country to learn a language foreign to him, and, and, with the same books and the same chances, to beat you at your own game. You and every other boy in your classes ought to thoroughly ashamed of yourselves. Before I would let a Jap, either boy or girl, lead in my class, I would give up going to school and go out and see if I could beat him growing lettuce and spinach."
"It's all very well to talk," said Donald hotly.
"And it's better to make good what you say," broke in Linda, with equal heat. "There are half a dozen Japs in my classes but no one of them is leading, you will notice, if I do wear peculiar shoes."
"Well, you would be going some if you beat the leading Jap in the senior class," said Donald.
"Then I would go some," said Linda. "I'd beat him, or I'd go straight up trying. You could do it if you'd make up your mind to. The trouble with you is that you're wasting your brain on speeding an automobile, on dances, and all sorts of foolishness that is not doing you any good in any particular way. Bet you are developing nerves smoking cigarettes. You are not concentrating. Oka Sayye is not thinking of a thing except the triumph of proving to California that he is head man in one of the Los Angeles high schools. That's what I have got against you, and every other white boy in your class, and in the long run it stacks up bigger than your arraignment of my shoes."
"Oh, darn your shoes!" cried Donald hotly. "Forget 'em! I've got to move on or I'll be late for trigonometry, but I don't know when I've had such a tidy little fight with a girl, and I don't enjoy feeling that I have been worsted. I propose another session. May I come out to Lilac Valley Saturday afternoon and flay you alive to pay up for my present humiliation?"
"Why, if your mother happened to be motoring that way and would care to call, I think that would be fine," said Linda.
"Well, for the Lord's sake!" exclaimed the irate senior. "Can't a fellow come and fight with you without being refereed by his mother? Shall I bring Father too?"
"I only thought," said Linda quietly, "that you would like your mother to see the home and environment of any girl whose acquaintance you made, but the fight we have coming will in all probability be such a pitched battle that when I go over the top, you won't ever care to follow me and start another issue on the other side. You're dying right now to ask why I wear my hair in braids down my back instead of in cootie coops over my ears."
"I don't give a hang," said Donald ungallantly, "as to how you; wear your hair, but I am coming Saturday to fight, and I don't think Mother will take any greater interest in the matter than to know that I am going to do battle with a daughter of Doctor I Strong."
"That is a very nice compliment to my daddy, thank you, said Linda, turning away and proceeding in the direction of her own classrooms. There was a brilliant sparkle in her eyes and she sang in a muffled voice, yet distinctly enough to be heard:
"The shoes I wear are common-sense shoes, And you may wear them if you choose."
"By gracious! She's no fool," he said to himself. In three minutes' unpremeditated talk the "Junior Freak," as he mentally denominated her, had managed to irritate him, to puncture his pride, to entertain and amuse him.
"I wonder—" he said as he went his way; and all day he kept on wondering, when he was not studying harder than ever before in all his life.
That night Linda walked slowly along the road toward home. She was not seeing the broad stretch of Lilac Valley, on every hand green with spring, odorous with citrus and wild bloom, blue walled with lacy lilacs veiling the mountain face on either side; and she was not thinking of her plain, well-worn dress or her common-sense shoes. What she was thinking was of every flaying, scathing, solidly based argument she could produce the following Saturday to spur Donald Whiting in some way to surpass Oka Sayye. His chance remark that morning, as they stood near each other waiting a few minutes in the hall, had ended in his asking to come to see her, and she decided as she walked homeward that his first visit in all probability would be his last, since she had not time to spare for boys, when she had so many different interests involved; but she did decide very finely in her own mind that the would make that visit a memorable one for him.
In arriving at this decision her mind traveled a number of devious roads. The thought that she had been criticized did not annoy her as to the kind of criticism, but she did resent the quality of truth about it. She was right in following the rules her father had laid down for her health and physical well-being, but was it right that she should wear shoes scuffed, resoled, and even patched, when there was money enough for Eileen to have many pairs of expensive laced boots, walking shoes, and fancy slippers? She was sure she was right in wearing dresses suitable for school, but was it right that she must wear them until they were sunfaded, stained, and disreputable? Was it right that Eileen should occupy their father and mother's suite, redecorated and daintily furnished according to her own taste, to keep the parts of the house that she cared to use decorated with flowers and beautifully appointed, while Linda must lock herself in a small stuffy bedroom room, dingy and none too comfortable, when in deference to her pride she wished to work in secret until she learned whether she could succeed.
Then she began thinking, and decided that the only available place in the house for her use was the billiard room. She made up her mind that she would demand the sole right to this big attic room. She would sell the table and use the money to buy herself a suitable worktable and a rug. She would demand that Eileen produce enough money for better clothing for her, and then she remembered what she had said to Donald Whiting about conquering her horror for a motor car. Linda turned in at the walk leading to her home, but she passed the front entrance and followed around to the side. As she went she could hear voices in the living room and she knew that Eileen was entertaining some of her many friends; for Eileen was that peculiar creature known as a social butterfly. Each day of her life friends came; or Eileen went—mostly the latter, for Eileen had a knack of management and she so managed her friends that, without their realizing it, they entertained her many times while she entertained them once. Linda went to the kitchen, Laid her books and package of mail on the table, and, walking over to the stove, she proceeded deliberately and heartily to kiss the cook.
"Katy, me darlin'," she said, "look upon your only child. Do you notice a 'lean and hungry look' on her classic features?"
Katy turned adoring eyes to the young girl.
"It's growing so fast ye are, childie," she said. "It's only a little while to dinner, and there's company tonight, so hadn't ye better wait and not spoil your appetite with piecing?"
"Is there going to be anything 'jarvis'?" inquired Linda.
'"I'd say there is," said Katy. "John Gilman is here and two friends of Eileen's. It's a near banquet, lassie."
"Then I'll wait," said Linda. "I want the keys to the garage."
Katy handed them to her and Linda went down the back walk beneath an arch of tropical foliage, between blazing walls of brilliant flower faces, unlocked the garage, and stood looking at her father's runabout.
In the revolution that had taken place in their home after the passing of their father and mother, Eileen had dominated the situation and done as she pleased, with the exception of two instances. Linda had shown both temper and determination at the proposal to dismantle the library and dispose of the cars. She had told Eileen that she might take the touring car and do as she pleased with it. For her share she wanted her father's roadster, and she meant to have it. She took the same firm stand concerning the Library. With the rest of the house Eileen might do as she would. The library was to remain absolutely untouched and what it contained was Linda's. To this Eileen had agreed, but so far Linda had been content merely to possess her property.
Lately, driven by the feeling that she must find a way in which she could earn money, she had been secretly working on some plans that she hoped might soon yield her small returns. As for the roadster, she as well as Eileen had been horror-stricken when the car containing their father and mother and their adjoining neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Thorne, driven by Marian Thorne, the playmate and companion from childhood of the Strong girls, had become uncontrollable and plunged down the mountain in a disaster that had left only Marian, protected by the steering gear, alive. They had simply by mutual agreement begun using the street cars when they wanted to reach the city.
Linda stood looking at the roadster, jacked up and tucked under a heavy canvas tent that she and her father had used on their hunting and fishing trips. After a long time she laid strong hands on the canvas and dragged it to one side. She looked the car over carefully and then, her face very white and her hands trembling, she climbed into it and slowly and mechanically went through the motions of starting it. For another intent period she sat with her hands on the steering gear, staring straight ahead, and then she said slowly: "Something has got to be done. It's not going to be very agreeable, but I am going to do it. Eileen: has had things all her own way long enough. I am getting such a big girl I ought to have a few things in my life as I want them. Something must be done."
Then Linda proceeded to do something. What she did was to lean forward, rest her head upon the steering wheel and fight to keep down deep, pitiful sobbing until her whole slender body twisted in the effort.
She was yielding to a breaking up after four years of endurance, for the greater part in silence. As the months of the past year had rolled their deliberate way, Linda had begun to realize that the course her elder sister had taken was wholly unfair to her, and slowly a tumult of revolt was growing in her soul. Without a doubt the culmination had resulted from her few minutes' talk with Donald Whiting in the hall that morning. It had started Linda to thinking deeply, and the more deeply she thought the clearly she saw the situation. Linda was a loyal soul and her heart was honest. She was quite willing that Eileen should: exercise her rights as head of the family, that she should take the precedence to which she was entitled by her four years' seniority, that she should spend the money which accrued monthly from their father's estate as she saw fit, up to a certain point. That point was where things ceased to be fair or to be just. If there had been money to do no more for Eileen than had been done for Linda, it would not have been in Linda's heart to utter a complaint. She could have worn scuffed shoes and old dresses, and gone her way with her proud young head held very high and a jest on her lips; but when her mind really fastened on the problem and she began to reason, she could not feel that Eileen was just to her or that she was fair in her administration of the money which should have been divided more nearly equally between them, after the household expenses had been paid. Once rebellion burned in her heart the flames leaped rapidly, and Linda began to remember a thousand small things that she had scarcely noted at the time of their occurrence.
She was leaning on the steering wheel, tired with nerve strain, when she heard Katy calling her, and realized that she was needed in the kitchen. As a matter of economy Eileen, after her parents' passing, had dismissed the housemaid, and when there were guests before whom she wished to make a nice appearance Linda had been impressed either to wait on the table or to help in the kitchen in order that Katy might attend the dining room, so Linda understood what was wanted when Katy called her. She ran her fingers over the steering wheel, worn bright by the touch of her father's and her own hands, and with the buoyancy of youth, found comfort. Once more she mechanically went through the motions of starting the car, then she stepped down, closed the door, and stood an instant thinking.
"You're four years behind the times," she said slowly. "No doubt there's a newer and a better model; I suspect the tires are rotten, but the last day I drove you for Daddy you purred like a kitten, and ran like a clock, and if you were cleaned and oiled and put in proper shape, there's no reason in the world why I should not drive you again, as I have driven you hundreds of miles when Daddy was tired or when he wanted to teach me the rules of good motoring, and the laws of the road. I can do it all right. I have got to do it, but it will be some time before I'll care to tackle the mountains."
Leaving the cover on the floor, she locked the door and returned to the kitchen.
"All right, Katy, what is the programme?" she inquired as lightly as she could.
Katy had been cook in the Strong family ever since they had moved to Lilac Valley. She had obeyed Mrs. Strong and Eileen. She had worshiped the Doctor and Linda It always had been patent to her eyes that Mrs. Strong was extremely partial to Eileen, so Katy had joined forces with the Doctor in surreptitiously doing everything her warm Irish heart prompted to prevent Linda from feeling neglected. Her quick eyes saw the traces of tears on Linda's face, and she instantly knew that the trip the girl had made to the garage was in some way connected with some belongings of her father's, so she said: "I am serving tonight but I want you to keep things smoking hot and to have them dished up ready for me so that everything will go smoothly."
"What would happen," inquired Linda, "if everything did NOT go smoothly? Katy, do you think the roof would blow straight up if I had MY way about something, just for a change?"
"No, I think the roof would stay right where it belongs," said Katy with a chuckle, "but I do think its staying there would not be because Miss Eileen wanted it to."
"Well," said Linda deliberately, "we won't waste any time on thinking We are going to have some positive knowledge on the subject pretty immediately. I don't feel equal to starting any domestic santana today, but the forces are gathering and the blow is coming soon. To that I have firmly made up my mind."
"It's not the least mite I'm blaming you, honey," said Katy.
"Ye've got to be such a big girl that it's only fair things in this house should go a good deal different."
"Is Marian to be here?" asked Linda as she stood beside the stove peering into pans and kettles.
"Miss Eileen didn't say," replied Katy.
Linda's eyes reddened suddenly. She slammed down a lid with vicious emphasis.
"That is another deal Eileen's engineered," she said, "that is just about as wrong as anything possibly can be. What makes me the maddest about it is that John Gilman will let Eileen take him by the nose and lead him around like a ringed calf. Where is his common sense? Where is his perception? Where is his honor?"
"Now wait, dearie," said Katy soothingly, "wait. John Gilman is a mighty fine man. Ye know how your father loved him and trusted him and gave him charge of all his business affairs. Ye mustn't go so far as to be insinuating that he is lacking in honor."
"No," said Linda, "that was not fair. I don't in the least know that he ever ASKED Marian to marry him; but I do know that as long as he was a struggling, threadbare young lawyer Marian was welcome to him, and they had grand times together. The minute he won the big Bailey suit and came into public notice and his practice increased until he was independent, that minute Eileen began to take notice, and it looks to me now as if she very nearly had him."
"And so far as I can see," said Katy, "Miss Marian is taking it without a struggle. She is not lifting a finger or making a move to win him back."
"Of course she isn't!" said Linda indignantly. "If she thought he preferred some other girl to her, she would merely say: 'If John has discovered that he likes Eileen the better, why, that is all right; but there wouldn't be anything to prevent seeing Eileen take John from hurting like the deuce. Did you ever lose a man you loved, Katy?"
"That I did not!" said Katy emphatically. "We didn't do any four or five years' philanderin' to see if a man 'could make good' when I was a youngster. When a girl and her laddie stood up to each other and looked each other straight in the eye and had the great understanding, there weren't no question of whether he could do for her what her father and mither had been doing, nor of how much he had to earn before they would be able to begin life together. They just caught hands and hot-footed it to the praste and told him to read the banns the next Sunday, and when the law allowed they was man and wife and taking what life had for them the way it came, and together. All this philanderin' that young folks do nowadays is just pure nonsense, and waste of time."
"Sure!" laughed Linda. "When my brave comes along with his blanket I'll just step under, and then if anybody tries to take my man I'll have the right to go on the warpath and have a scalping party that would be some satisfaction to the soul."
Then they served the dinner, and when the guests had left the dining room, Katy closed the doors, and brought on the delicacies she had hidden for Linda and patted and cajoled her while she ate like any healthy, hungry young creature.
CHAPTER II. Cotyledon of Multiflores Canyon
"'Ave, atque vale!' Cotyledon!"
Linda slid down the side of the canyon with the deftness of the expert. At the first available crevice she thrust in her Alpine stick, and bracing herself, gained a footing. Then she turned and by use of her fingers and toes worked her way back to the plan, she had passed. She was familiar with many members of she family, but such a fine specimen she seldom had found and she could not recall having seen it in all of her botanies. Opposite the plant she worked out a footing, drove her stick deep at the base of a rock to brace herself, and from the knapsack on her back took a sketchbook and pencil and began rapidly copying the thick fleshy leaves of the flattened rosette, sitting securely at the edge of a rock. She worked swiftly and with breathless interest. When she had finished the flower she began sketching in the moss-covered face of the boulder against which it grew, and other bits of vegetation near.
"I think, Coty," she said, "it is very probable that I can come a few simoleons with you. You are becoming better looking ever minute."
For a touch of color she margined one side of her drawing with a little spray of Pentstemon whose bright tubular flower the canyon knew as "hummingbird's dinner horn." That gave, her the idea of introducing a touch of living interest, so bearing down upon the flowers from the upper right-hand corner of her drawing she deftly sketched in a ruby-throated hummingbird, and across the bottom of the sheet the lace of a few leaves of fern. Then she returned the drawing and pencil to her knapsack, and making sure of her footing, worked her way forward. With her long slender fingers she began teasing the plant loose from the rock and the surrounding soil. The roots penetrated deeper than she had supposed and in her interest she forgot her precarious footing and pulled hard. The plant gave way unexpectedly, and losing her balance, Linda plunged down the side of the canyon catching wildly at shrubs and bushes and bruising herself severely on stones, finally landing in a sitting posture on the road that traversed the canyon.
She was not seriously hurt, but she did not present a picturesque figure as she sprawled in the road, her booted feet thrust straight before her, one of her long black braids caught on a bush at her back, her blouse pulled above her breeches, the contents of her knapsack decorating the canyon side and the road around her; but high in one hand, without break or blemish, she triumphantly held aloft the rare Cotyledon. She shrugged her shoulders, wiggled her toes, and moved her arms to assure herself that no bones were broken; then she glanced at her drawings and the fruits of her day's collecting scattered on the roadside around her. She was in the act of rising when a motor car containing two young men shot around a curve of the canyon, swerved to avoid running over her, and stopped as abruptly as possible.
"It's a girl!" cried the driver, and both men sprang to the road and hurried to Linda's assistance. Her dark cheeks were red with mortification, but she managed to recover her feet and tuck in her blouse before they reached her.
"We heard you coming down," said the elder of the young men, "and we thought you might be a bear. Are you sure you're not hurt?"
Linda stood before them, a lithe slender figure, vivid with youth and vitality.
"I am able to stand," she said, "so of course I haven't broken any bones. I think I am fairly well battered, but you will please to observe that there isn't a scratch on Cotyledon, and I brought her down—at least I think it's she—from the edge of that boulder away up there. Isn't she a beauty? Only notice the delicate frosty 'bloom' on her leaves!"
"I should prefer," said the younger of the men, "to know whether you have any broken bones."
"I'm sure I am all right," answered Linda. "I have falling down mountains reduced to an exact science. I'll bet you couldn't slide that far and bring down Coty without a scratch."
"Well, which is the more precious," said the young man. "Yourself or the specimen?"
"Why, the specimen!" answered Linda in impatience. "California is full of girls; but this is the finest Cotyledon of this family I have ever seen. Don't mistake this for any common stonecrop. It looks to me like an Echeveria. I know what I mean to do with the picture I have made of her, and I know exactly where she is going to grow from this day on."
"Is there any way we can help you?" inquired the elder of the two men.
For the first time Linda glanced at him, and her impression was that he was decidedly attractive.
"No, thank you!" she answered briskly. "I am going to climb back up to the boulder and collect the belongings I spilled on the way down. Then I am going to carry Coty to the car line in a kind of triumphal march, because she is the rarest find that I have ever made. I hope you have no dark designs on Coty, because this is 'what the owner had to do to redeem her.'"
Linda indicated her trail down the canyon side, brushed soil and twigs from her trousers, turned her straight young back, carefully set down her specimen, and by the aid of her recovered stick began expertly making her way up the canyon side. "Here, let me do that," offered the younger man. "You rest until I collect your belongings." Linda glanced back over her shoulder. "Thanks," she said. "I have a mental inventory of all the pencils and knives and trowels I must find. You might overlook the most important part of my paraphernalia; and really I am not damaged. I'm merely hurt. Good-bye!"
Linda started back up the side of the canyon, leaving the young men to enter their car and drive away. For a minute both of them stood watching her.
"What will girls be wearing and doing next?" asked the elder of the two as he started his car.
"What would you have a girl wear when she is occupied with coasting down canyons?" said his friend. "And as for what she is doing, it's probable that every high-school girl in Los Angeles has a botanical collection to make before she graduates."
"I see!" said the man driving. "She is only a high-school kid, but did you notice that she is going to make an extremely attractive young woman?"
"Yes, I noticed just that; I noticed it very particularly," answered the younger man. "And I noticed also that she either doesn't know it, or doesn't give a flip."
Linda collected her belongings, straightened her hair and clothing, and, with her knapsack in place, and leaning rather on heavily on her walking stick, made her way down the road to the abutment of a small rustic bridge where she stopped to rest. The stream at her feet was noisy and icy cold. It rushed through narrow defiles in the rock, beat itself to foam against the faces a of the big stones, fell over jutting cliffs, spread in whispering pools, wound back and forth across the road at its will, singing every foot of its downward way and watering beds of crisp, cool miners' lettuce, great ferns, and heliotrope, climbing clematis, soil and blue-eyed grass. All along its length grew willows, and in a few places white-bodied sycamores. Everywhere over the walls red above it that vegetation could find a footing grew mosses, vines, flowers, and shrubs. On the shadiest side homed most of the ferns and the Cotyledon. In the sun, larkspur, lupin, and monkey flower; everywhere wild rose, holly, mahogany, gooseberry, and bayoneted yucca all intermingling in a curtain of variegated greens, brocaded with flower arabesques of vivid red, white, yellow, and blue. Canyon wrens and vireos sang as they nested. The air was clear, cool, and salty from the near-by sea. Myriad leaf shadows danced on the black roadbed, level as a barn floor, and across it trailed the wavering image of hawk and vulture, gull and white sea swallow. Linda studied the canyon with intent eyes, but bruised flesh pleaded, so reluctantly she arose, shouldered her belongings, and slowly followed the road out to the car line that passed through Lilac Valley, still carefully bearing in triumph the precious Cotyledon. An hour later she entered the driveway of her home. She stopped to set her plant carefully in the wild garden she and her father had worked all her life at collecting, then followed the back porch and kitchen route.
"Whatever have ye been doing to yourself, honey?" cried Katy.
"I came a cropper down Multiflores Canyon where it is so steep that it leans the other way. I pretty well pulverized myself for a pulverulent, Katy, which is a poor joke."
"Now ain't that just my luck!" wailed Katy, snatching a cake cutter and beginning hurriedly to stamp out little cakes from the dough before her.
"Well, I don't understand in exactly what way," said Linda, absently rubbing her elbows and her knees. "Seems to me it's my promontories that have been knocked off, not yours, Katy."
"Yes, and ain't it just like ye," said Katy, "to be coming in late, and all banged up when Miss Eileen has got sudden notice that there is going to be company again and I have an especial dinner to serve, and never in the world can I manage if ye don't help me!"
"Why, who is coming now?" asked Linda, seating herself on the nearest chair and beginning to unfasten her boots slowly.
"Well, first of all, there is Mr. Gilman, of course."
"'Of course,'" conceded Linda. "If he tried to get past our house, Eileen is perfectly capable of setting it on fire to stop him. She's got him 'vamped' properly."
"Oh I don't know that ye should say just that," said Katy "Eileen is a mighty pretty girl, and she is SOME manager."
"You can stake your hilarious life she is," said Linda, viciously kicking a boot to the center of the kitchen. "She can manage to go downtown for lunch and be invited out to dinner thirteen times a week, and leave us at home to eat bread and milk, bread heavily stressed. She can manage to get every cent of the income from the property in her fingers, and a great big girl like me has to go to high school looking so tacky that even the boys are beginning to comment on it. Manage, I'll say she can manage, not to mention managing to snake John Gilman right out of Marian's fingers. I doubt if Marian fully realizes yet that she's lost her man; and I happen to know that she just plain loved John!"
The second boot landed beside the first, then Linda picked them both up and started toward the back hall.
"Honey, are ye too bad hurt to help me any?" asked Katy, as she passed her.
"Of course not," said Linda. "Give me a few minutes to take a bath and step into my clothes and then I'll be on the job."
With a black scowl on her face, Linda climbed the dingy back stairway in her stocking-feet. At the head of the stairs she paused one minute, glanced at the gloom of her end of the house, then she turned and walked to the front of the hall where there were potted ferns, dainty white curtains, and bright rugs. The door of the guest room stood open and she could see that it was filled with fresh flowers and ready for occupancy. The door of her sister's room was slightly ajar and she pushed it open and stood looking inside. In her state of disarray she made a shocking contrast to the flowerlike figure busy before a dressing table. Linda was dark, narrow, rawboned, overgrown in height, and forthright of disposition. Eileen was a tiny woman, delicately moulded, exquisitely colored, and one of the most perfectly successful tendrils from the original clinging vine in her intercourse with men, and with such women as would tolerate the clinging-vine idea in the present forthright days. With a strand of softly curled hair in one hand and a fancy pin in the other, Eileen turned a disapproving look upon her sister.
"What's the great idea?" demanded Linda shortly.
"Oh, it's perfectly splendid," answered Eileen. "John Gilman's best friend is motoring around here looking for a location to build a home. He is an author and young and good looking and not married, and he thinks he would like to settle somewhere near Los Angeles. Of course John would love to have him in Lilac Valley because he hopes to build a home here some day for himself. His name is Peter Morrison and John says that his articles and stories have horse sense, logic, and humor, and he is making a lot of money."
"Then God help John Gilman, if he thinks now that he is in love with you," said Linda dryly.
Eileen arched her eyebrows, thinned to a hair line, and her lips drew together in disapproval.
"What I can't understand," she said, "is how you can be so unspeakably vulgar, Linda."
Linda laughed sharply.
"And this Peter Morrison and John are our guests for dinner?"
"Yes," said Eileen. "I am going to show them this valley inside and out. I'm so glad it's spring. We're at our very best. It would be perfectly wonderful to have an author for a neighbor, and he must be going to build a real house, because he has his architect with him; and John says that while he is young, he has done several awfully good houses. He has seen a couple of them in in San Francisco."
Linda shrugged her shoulders.
"Up the flue goes Marian's chance of drawing the plans for John Gilman's house," she said. "I have heard him say a dozen times he would not build a house unless Marian made the plans."
Eileen deftly placed the strand of hair and set the jewelled pin with precision.
"Just possibly things have changed slightly," she suggested.
"Yes," said Linda, "I observe that they have. Marian has sold the home she adored. She is leaving friends she loved and trusted, and who were particularly bound to her by a common grief without realizing exactly how it is happening. She certainly must know that you have taken her lover, and I have not a doubt but that is the reason she has discovered she can no longer work at home, that she must sell her property and spend the money cooped up in a city, to study her profession further."
"Linda," said Eileen, her face pale with anger, "you are positively insufferable. Will you leave my room and close the door after you?"
"Well, Katy has just informed me," said Linda, "that this dinner party doesn't come off without my valued assistance, and before I agree to assist, I'll know ONE thing. Are you proposing to entertain these three men yourself, or have you asked Marian?"
Eileen indicated an open note lying on her dressing table.
"I did not know they were coming until an hour ago," she said. "I barely had time to fill the vases and dust, and then I ran up to dress so that there would be someone presentable when they arrive."
"All right then, we'll agree that this is a surprise party, but if John Gilman has told you so much about them, you must have been expecting them, and in a measure prepared for them at any time. Haven't you talked it over with Marian, and told her that you would want her when they came?"
Eileen was extremely busy with another wave of hair. She turned her back and her voice was not quite steady as she answered. "Ever since Marian got this 'going to the city to study' idea in her head I have scarcely seen her. She had an awful job to empty the house, and pack such things as she wants to keep, and she is working overtime on a very special plan that she thinks maybe she'll submit in a prize competition offered by a big firm of San Francisco architects, so I have scarcely seen her for six weeks."
"And you never once went over to help her with her work, or to encourage her or to comfort her? You can't think Marian can leave this valley and not be almost heartbroken," said Linda. "You just make me almost wonder at you. When you think of the kind of friends that Marian Thorne's father and mother, and our father and mother were, and how we children were reared together, and the good times we have had in these two houses—and then the awful day when the car went over the cliff, and how Marian clung to us and tried to comfort us, when her own health was broken—and Marian's the same Marian she has always been, only nicer every day—how you can sit there and say you have scarcely seen her in six of the hardest weeks of her life, certainly surprises me. I'll tell you this: I told Katy I would help her, but I won't do it if you don't go over and make Marian come tonight."
Eileen turned to her sister and looked at her keenly. Linda's brow was sullen, and her jaw set.
"A bed would look mighty good to me and I will go and get into mine this minute if you don't say you will go and ask her, in such a way that she comes," she threatened.
Eileen hesitated a second and then said: "All right, since you make such a point of it I will ask her."
"Very well," said Linda. "Then I'll help Katy the very best I can."
CHAPTER III. The House of Dreams
In less than an hour, Linda was in the kitchen, dressed in an old green skirt and an orange blouse. Katy pinned one of her aprons on the girl and told her that her first job was to set the table.
"And Miss Eileen has given most particular orders that I use the very best of everything. Lay the table for four, and you are to be extremely careful in serving not to spill the soup."
Linda stood very quietly for a second, her heavy black brows drawn together in deep thought.
"When did Eileen issue these instructions?" she inquired.
"Not five minutes ago," said Katy. "She just left me kitchen and I'll say I never saw her lookin' such a perfect picture. That new dress of hers is the most becoming one she has ever had."
Almost unconsciously, Linda's hand reached to the front of her well-worn blouse, and she glanced downward at her skirt and shoes.
"Um-hm," she said meditatively, "another new dress for Eileen, which means that I will get nothing until next month's allowance comes in, if I do then. The table set for four, which, interpreted, signifies that she has asked Marian in such a way that Marian won't come. And the caution as to care with the soup means that I am to serve my father's table like a paid waitress. Katy, I have run for over three years on Eileen's schedule, but this past year I am beginning to use my brains and I am reaching the place of self-assertion. That programme won't do, Katy. It's got to be completely revised. You just watch me and see how I follow those instructions."
Then Linda marched out of the kitchen door and started across the lawn in the direction of a big brown house dimly outlined through widely spreading branches of ancient live oaks, palm, and bamboo thickets. She entered the house without knocking and in the hall uttered a low penetrating whistle. It was instantly answered from upstairs. Linda began climbing, and met Marian at the top.
"Why, Marian," she cried, "I had no idea you were so far along. The house is actually empty."
"Practically everything went yesterday," answered Marian. "Those things of Father's and Mother's and my own that I wish to keep I have put in storage, and the remainder went to James's Auction Rooms. The house is sold, and I am leaving in the morning."
"Then that explains," questioned Linda, "why you refused Eileen's invitation to dinner tonight?"
"On the contrary," answered Marian, "an invitation to dinner tonight would be particularly and peculiarly acceptable to me, since the kitchen is barren as the remainder of the house, and I was intending to slip over when your room was lighted to ask if I might spend the night with you."
Linda suddenly gathered her friend in her arms and held her tight.
"Well, thank heaven that you felt sufficiently sure of me to come to me when you needed me. Of course you shall spend the night with me; and I must have been mistaken in thinking Eileen had been here. She probably will come any minute. There are guests for the night. John is bringing that writer friend of his. Of course you know about him. It's Peter Morrison."
Marian nodded her head. "Of course! John has always talked of him. He had some extremely clever articles in The Post lately."
"Well, he is one," said Linda, "and an architect who is touring with him is two; they are looking for a location to build a house for the writer. You can see that it would be a particularly attractive feather in our cap if he would endorse our valley sufficiently to home in it. So Eileen has invited them to sample our brand of entertainment, and in the morning no doubt she will be delighted to accompany them and show them all the beautiful spots not yet preempted."
"Oh, heavens," cried Marian, "I'm glad I never showed her my spot!"
"Well, if you are particular about wanting a certain place I sincerely hope you did not," said Linda.
"I am sure I never did," answered Marian. "I so love one spot that I have been most secretive about it. I am certain I never went further than to say there was a place on which I would love to build for myself the house of my dreams. I have just about finished getting that home on paper, and I truly have high hopes that I may stand at least a fair chance of winning with it the prize Nicholson and Snow are offering. That is one of the reasons why I am hurrying on my way to San Francisco much sooner than I had expected to go. I haven't a suitable dinner dress because my trunks have gone, but among such old friends it won't matter. I have one fussy blouse in my bag, and I'll be over as soon as I can see to closing up the house and dressing."
Linda hurried home, and going to the dining room, she laid the table for six in a deft and artistic manner. She filled a basket with beautiful flowers of her own growing for a centerpiece, and carefully followed Eileen's instruction to use the best of everything. When she had finished she went to the kitchen.
"Katy," she said, "take a look at my handiwork."
"It's just lovely," said Katy heartily.
"I quite agree with you," answered Linda, "and now in pursuance of a recently arrived at decision, I have resigned, vamoosed, quit, dead stopped being waitress for Eileen. I was seventeen my last birthday. Hereafter when there are guests I sit at my father's table, and you will have to do the best you can with serving, Katy."
"And it's just exactly right ye are," said Katy. "I'll do my best, and if that's not good enough, Miss Eileen knows what she can do."
"Now listen to you," laughed Linda. "Katy, you couldn't be driven to leave me, by anything on this earth that Eileen could do; you know you couldn't."
Katy chuckled quietly. "Sure, I wouldn't be leaving ye, lambie," she said. "We'll get everything ready, and I can serve I six as nicely as anyone. But you're not forgetting that Miss Eileen said most explicit to lay the table for FOUR?'
"I am not forgetting," said Linda. "For Eileen's sake I am I sorry to say that her ship is on the shoals. She is not going to have clear sailing with little sister Linda any longer. This is the year of woman's rights, you know, Katy, and I am beginning to realize that my rights have been badly infringed upon for lo these many years. If Eileen chooses to make a scene before guests, that is strictly up to Eileen. Now what is it you want me to do?"
Katy directed and Linda worked swiftly. Soon they heard a motor stop, and laughing voices told them that the guests had arrived.
"Now I wonder," said Linda, "whether Marian is here yet."
At that minute Marian appeared at the kitchen door.
"Linda," she said breathlessly, "I am feeling queer about this. Eileen hasn't been over."
"Oh, that's all right," said Linda casually. "The folks have come, and she was only waiting to make them a bit at home before she ran after you."
"She was not allowing me much time to dress."
"That's 'cause she knew you did not need it," retorted Linda. "The more you fuss up, the less handsome you are, and you never owned anything in your life so becoming as that old red blouse. So farewell, Katy, we're due to burst into high society tonight. We're going to help Eileen vamp a lawyer, and an author, and an architect, one apiece. Which do you prefer, Marian?"
"I'll take the architect," said Marian. "We should have something in common since I am going to be a great architect myself one of these days."
"Why, that is too bad," said Linda. "I'll have to rearrange the table if you insist, because I took him, and left you the author, and it was for love of you I did it. I truly wanted him myself, all the time."
They stopped in the dining room and Marian praised Linda's work in laying the table; and then, together they entered the living room.
At the moment of their entrance, Eileen was talking animatedly about the beauties of the valley as a location for a happy home. When she saw the two girls she paused, the color swiftly faded from her face, and Linda, who was watching to see what would happen, noticed the effort she made at self-control, but she was very sure that their guests did not.
It never occurred to Linda that anyone would consider good looks in connection with her overgrown, rawboned frame and lean face, but she was accustomed to seeing people admire Marian, for Marian was a perfectly modeled woman with peach bloom cheeks, deep, dark eyes, her face framed in a waving mass of hair whose whiteness dated from the day that the brakes of her car failed and she plunged down the mountain with her father beside her, and her mother and Doctor and Mrs. Strong in the back seat. Ten days afterward Marian's head of beautiful dark hair was muslin white. Now it framed a face of youth and beauty with peculiar pathos. "Striking" was perhaps the one adjective which would best describe her.
John Gilman came hastily to greet them. Linda, after a swift glance at Eileen, turned astonished eyes on their guests. For one second she looked at the elder of them, then at the younger. There was no recognition in her eyes, and there was a decided negative in a swift movement of her head. Both men understood that she did not wish them to mention that they ever had seen her previously. For an instant there was a strained situation. Eileen was white with anger. John Gilman was looking straight at Marian, and in his soul he must have wondered if he had been wise in neglecting her for Eileen. Peter Morrison and his architect, Henry Anderson, had two things to think about. One was the stunning beauty of Marian Thorne as she paused in the doorway, the light misting her white hair and deepening the tints of her red waist The other was why the young girl facing them had forbidden them to reveal that two hours before they had seen her in the canyon. Katy, the efficient life-saver of the Strong family, announced dinner, and Linda drew back the curtains and led the way to the dining room, saying when they had arrived: "I didn't have time in my hour's notice to make elaborate place cards as I should have liked to do, so these little pen sketches will have to serve."
To cover his embarrassment and to satisfy his legal mind, John Gilman turned to Linda, asking: "Why 'an hour'? I told Eileen a week ago I was expecting the boys today."
"But that does not prove that Eileen mentioned it to me," answered Linda quietly; "so you must find your places from the cards I could prepare in a hurry."
This same preparation of cards at the round table placed Eileen between the architect and the author, Marian between the author and John Gilman, and Linda between Gilman and the architect, which added one more tiny gale to the storm of fury that was raging in the breast of white-faced Eileen. The situation was so strained that without fully understanding it, Marian, who was several years older than either of the Strong sisters, knew that although she was tired to the point of exhaustion she should muster what reserve force she could to the end of making the dinner party particularly attractive, because she was deeply interested in drawing to the valley every suitable home seeker it was possible to locate there. It was the unwritten law of the valley that whenever a home seeker passed through, every soul who belonged exerted the strongest influence to prove that the stars hung lower and shone bigger and in bluer heavens than anywhere else on earth; that nowhere could be found air to equal the energizing salt breezes from the sea, snow chilled, perfumed with almond and orange; that the sun shone brighter more days in the year, and the soil produced a greater variety of vegetables and fruits than any other spot of the same size on God's wonderful footstool. This could be done with unanimity and enthusiasm by every resident of Lilac Valley for the very simple reason that it was the truth. The valley stood with its steep sides raying blue from myriad wild lilacs; olives and oranges sloped down to the flat floor, where cultivated ranches and gardens were so screened by eucalyptus and pepper trees, palm and live oak, myriads of roses of every color and variety, and gaudy plants gathered there from the entire girth of the tropical world, that to the traveler on the highway trees and flowers predominated. The greatest treasure of the valley was the enthusiastic stream of icy mountain water that wandered through the near-by canyon and followed the length of the valley on its singing, chuckling way to the ocean. All the residents of Lilac Valley had to do to entrance strangers with the location was to show any one of a dozen vantage points, and let visitors test for themselves the quality of the sunshine and air, and study the picture made by the broad stretch of intensively cultivated valley, walled on either side by mountains whose highest peaks were often cloud-draped and for ever shifting their delicate pastel shades from gray to blue, from lavender to purple, from tawny yellow to sepia, under the play of the sun and clouds.
They had not been seated three minutes before Linda realized from her knowledge of Eileen that the shock had been too great, if such a thing might be said of so resourceful a creature as Eileen. Evidently she was going to sulk in the hope that this would prove that any party was a failure at which she did not exert herself to be gracious. It had not been in Linda's heart to do more than sit quietly in the place belonging by right to her, but when she realized what was going to happen, she sent Marian one swift appealing glance, and then desperately plunged into conversation to cover Eileen's defection.
"I have been told," she said, addressing the author, "that you are looking for a home in California. Is this true, or is it merely that every good Californian hopes this will happen when any distinguished Easterner comes our way?"
"I can scarcely answer you," said Peter Morrison, "because my ideas on the subject are still slightly nebulous, but I am only too willing to see them become concrete."
"You have struck exactly the right place," said Linda. "We have concrete by the wagon load in this valley and we are perfectly willing to donate the amount required to materialize your ideas. Do you dream of a whole ranch or only a nest?"
"Well, the fact is," answered Peter Morrison with a most attractive drawl in his slow speech, "the fact is the dimensions of my dream must fit my purse. Ever since I finished college I have been in newspaper work and I have lived in an apartment in New York except while I was abroad. When I came back my paper sent me to San Francisco and from there I motored down to see for myself if the wonderful things that are written about Los Angeles County are true."
"That is not much of a compliment to us," said Linda slowly. "How do you think we would dare write them if they were not true?"
This caused such a laugh that everyone felt much easier. Marian turned her dark eyes toward Peter Morrison.
"Linda and I are busy people," she said. "We waste little time in indirections, so I hope it's not out of the way for me to ask straightforwardly if you are truly in earnest, about wanting a home in Lilac Valley?"
"Then I'll have to answer you," said Peter, "that I have an attractive part of the 'makin's' and I am in deadly earnest about wanting a home somewhere. I am sick in my soul of narrow apartments and wheels and the rush and roar of the city. There was a time when I ate and drank it. It was the very breath of life to me. I charged on Broadway like a caterpillar tank charging in battle; but it is very remarkable how quickly one changes in this world. I have had some success in my work, and the higher I go, the better work I feel I can do in a quiet place and among less enervating surroundings. John and I were in college together, roommates, and no doubt he has told you that we graduated with the same class. He has found his location here and I would particularly enjoy having a home near him. They tell me there are well-trained servants to look after a house and care for a bachelor, so I truly feel that if I can find a location I would like, and if Henry can plan me a house, and I can stretch my purse to cover the investment, that there is a very large possibility that somewhere within twenty miles of Los Angeles I may find the home of my dreams."
"One would almost expect," said Marian, "that a writer would say something more original. This valley is filled with people who came here saying precisely what you have said; and the lure of the land won them and here they are, shameless boosters of California."
"Why shameless?" inquired Henry Anderson.
"Because California so verifies the wildest statement that can be made concerning her that one may go the limit of imagination without shame," laughed Marian. "I try in all my dealings to stick to the straight and narrow path."
"Oh, kid, don't stick to the straight and narrow," broke in Linda, "there's no scenery."
Eileen laid down her fork and stared in white-lipped amazement at the two girls, but she was utterly incapable of forgetting herself and her neatly arranged plans to have the three cultivated and attractive young men all to herself for the evening. She realized too, from the satisfaction betrayed in the glances these men were exchanging among each other, the ease with which they sat, and the gusto with which they ate the food Katy was deftly serving them, that something was happening which never had happened at the Strong table since she had presided as its head, her sole endeavor having been to flatter her guests or to extract flattery for herself from them.
"That is what makes this valley so adorable," said Marian when at last she could make herself heard. "It is neither straight nor narrow. The wing of a white sea swallow never swept a lovelier curve on the breast of the ocean than the line of this valley. My mother was the dearest little woman, and she used to say that this valley was outlined by a gracious gesture from the hand of God in the dawn of Creation."
Peter Morrison deliberately turned in his chair, his eyes intent on Marian's earnest face.
"You almost make me want to say, in the language of an old hymn I used to hear my mother sing, 'Here will I set up my rest.' With such a name as Lilac Valley and with such a thought in the heart concerning it, I scarcely feel that there is any use in looking further. How about it, Henry? Doesn't it sound conclusive to you?"
"It certainly does," answered Henry Anderson, "and from what I could see as we drove in, it looks as well as it sounds."
Peter Morrison turned to his friend.
"Gilman," he said, "you're a lawyer; you should know the things I'd like to. Are there desirable homesites still to be found in the valley, and does the inflation of land at the present minute put it out of my reach?"
"Well, that is on a par with the average question asked a lawyer," answered Gilman, "but part of it I can answer definitely and at once. I think every acre of land suitable for garden or field cultivation is taken. I doubt if there is much of the orchard land higher up remaining and what there is would command a rather stiff price; but if you would be content with some small plateau at the base of a mountain where you could set any sort of a house and have—say two or three acres, mostly of sage and boulders and greasewood and yucca around it."
"Why in this world are you talking about stones and sage and greasewood?" cried Linda. "Next thing they'll be asking about mountain lions and rattlesnakes."
"I beg your pardon," said Gilman, "I fear none of us has remembered to present Miss Linda as a coming naturalist. She got her start from her father, who was one of the greatest nerve specialists the world ever has known. She knows every inch of the mountains, the canyons and the desert. She always says that she cut her teeth on a chunk of adobe, while her father hunted the nests of trap-door spiders out in Sunland. What should I have said when describing a suitable homesite for Peter, Linda?"
"You should have assumed that immediately, Peter,"—Linda lifted her eyes to Morrison's face with a sparkle of gay challenge, and by way of apology interjected—"I am only a kid, you know, so I may call John's friend Peter—you should have assumed that sage and greasewood would simply have vanished from any home location chosen by Peter, leaving it all lacy blue with lilac, and misty white with lemonade bush, and lovely gold with monkey flower, and purple with lupin, and painted blood red with broad strokes of Indian paint brush, and beautifully lighted with feathery flames from Our Lord's Candles, and perfumy as altar incense with wild almond."
"Oh, my soul," said Peter Morrison. "Good people, I have located. I have come to stay. I would like three acres but I could exist with two; an acre would seem an estate to me, and my ideas of a house, Henry, are shriveling. I did have a dream of something that must have been precious near a home. There might have been an evanescent hint of flitting draperies and inexperienced feet in it, but for the sake of living and working in such a location as Miss Linda describes, I would gladly cut my residence to a workroom and a sleeping room and kitchen."
"Won't do," said Linda. "A house is not a house in California without a furnace and a bathroom. We are cold as blue blazes here when the sun goes down and the salty fog creeps up from the sea, and the icy mist rolls down from the mountains to chill our bones; and when it has not rained for six months at a stretch, your own private swimming pool is a comfort. This to add verisimilitude to what everyone else in Lilac Valley is going to tell you."
"I hadn't thought I would need a fire," said Peter, "and I was depending on the ocean for my bathtub. I am particularly fond of a salt rub."
So far, Eileen had not deigned to enter the conversation. It was all so human, so far from her ideas of entertaining that the disapproval on her lips was not sufficiently veiled to be invisible, and John Gilman, glancing in her direction, realized that he was having the best time he had ever had in the Strong household since the passing of his friends, Doctor and Mrs. Strong, vaguely wondered why. And it occurred to him that Linda and Marian were dominating the party. He said the most irritating thing possible in the circumstances: "I am afraid you are not feeling well this evening, Eileen."
Eileen laughed shortly.
"The one perfect thing about me," she said with closely cut precision, "is my health. I haven't the faintest notion what it means to be ill. I am merely waiting for the conversation to take a I turn where I can join in it intelligently."
"Why, bless the child!" exclaimed Linda. "Can't you talk intelligently about a suitable location for a home? On what subject is a woman supposed to be intelligent if she is not at her best on the theme of home. If you really are not interested you had better begin to polish up, because it appeals to me that the world goes just so far in one direction, and then it whirls to the right-about and goes equally as far in the opposite direction. If Daddy were living I think he would say we have reached the limit with apartment house homes minus fireplaces, with restaurant dining minus a blessing, with jazz music minus melody, with jazz dancing minus grace, with national progress minus cradles."
"Linda!" cried Eileen indignantly.
"Good gracious!" cried Linda. "Do I get the shillalah for that? Weren't all of us rocked in cradles? I think that the pendulum has swung far and it is time to swing back to where one man and one woman choose any little spot on God's footstool, build a nest and plan their lives in accord with personal desire and inclination instead of aping their neighbors."
"Bravo!" cried Henry Anderson. "Miss Linda, if you see any suitable spot, and you think I would serve for a bug-catcher, won't you please stake the location?"
"Well, I don't know about that," said Linda. "Would it be the old case of 'I furnish the bread and you furnish the water'?"
"No," said Peter Morrison, "it would not. Henry is doing mighty well. I guarantee that he would furnish a cow that would produce real cream."
"How joyous!" said Linda. "I feel quite competent to manage the bread question. We'll call that settled then. When I next cast an appraising eye over my beloved valley, I shan't select the choicest spot in it for Peter Morrison to write a book in; and I want to warn you people when you go hunting to keep a mile away from Marian's plot. She has had her location staked from childhood and has worked on her dream house until she has it all ready to put the ice in the chest and scratch the match for the living room fire-logs. The one thing she won't ever tell is where her location is, but wherever it is, Peter Morrison, don't you dare take it."
"I wouldn't for the world," said Peter Morrison gravely. "If Miss Thorne will tell me even on which side of the valley her location lies, I will agree to stay on the other side."
"Well there is one thing you can depend upon," said the irrepressible Linda before Marian had time to speak. "It is sure to be on the sunny side. Every living soul in California is looking for a place in the sun."
"Then I will make a note of it," said Peter Morrison. "But isn't there enough sun in all this lovely valley that I may have a place in it too?"
"You go straight ahead and select any location you like," said Marian. "I give you the freedom of the valley. There's not one chance in ten thousand that you would find or see anything attractive about the one secluded spot I have always hoped I might some day own."
"This is not fooling, then?" asked Peter Morrison. "You truly have a place selected where you would like to live?"
"She truly has the spot selected and she truly has the house on paper and it truly is a house of dreams," said Linda. "I dream about it myself. When she builds it and lives in it awhile and finds out all the things that are wrong with it, then I am going to build one like it, only I shall eliminate all the mistakes she has made."
"I have often wondered," said Henry Anderson, "if such a thing ever happened as that people built a house and lived in it, say ten years, and did not find one single thing about it that they would change if they had it to build over again. I never have heard of such a case. Have any of you?"
"I am sure no one has," said John Gilman meditatively, "and it's a queer thing. I can't see why people don't plan a house the way they want it before they build."
Marian turned to him—the same Marian he had fallen in love with when they were children.
"Mightn't it be," she asked, "that it is due to changing conditions caused by the rapid development of science and invention? If one had built the most perfect house possible five years ago and learned today that infinitely superior lighting and heating and living facilities could be installed at much less expense and far greater convenience, don't you think that one would want to change? Isn't life a series of changes? Mustn't one be changing constantly to keep abreast of one's day and age?"
"Why, surely," answered Gilman, "and no doubt therein lies at least part of the answer to Anderson's question."
"And then," added Marian, "things happen in families. Sometimes more babies than they expect come to newly married people and they require more room."
"My goodness, yes!" broke in Linda. "Just look at Sylvia Townsend—twins to begin with."
"Linda!" breathed Eileen, aghast.
"So glad you like my name, dear," murmured Linda sweetly.
"And then," continued Marian, "changes come to other people as they have to me. I can't say that I had any fault to find with either the comforts or the conveniences of Hawthorne House until Daddy and Mother were swept from it at one cruel sweep; and after that it was nothing to me but a haunted house, and I don't feel that I can be blamed for wanting to leave it. I will be glad to know that there are people living in it who won't see a big strong figure meditatively smoking before the fireplace and a gray dove of a woman sitting on the arm of his chair. I will be glad, if Fate is kind to me and people like my houses, to come back to the valley when I can afford to and build myself a home that has no past—a place, in fact, where I can furnish my own ghost, and if I meet myself on the stairs then I won't be shocked by me.
"I don't think there is a soul in the valley who blames you for selling your home and going, Marian," said Linda soberly. "I think it would be foolish if you did not."
The return to the living room brought no change. Eileen pouted while Linda and Marian thoroughly enjoyed themselves and gave the guests a most entertaining evening. So disgruntled was Eileen, when the young men had gone, that she immediately went to her room, leaving Linda and Marian to close the house and make their own arrangements for the night. Whereupon Linda deliberately led Marian to the carefully dusted and flower-garnished guest room and installed her with every comfort and convenience that the house afforded. Then bringing her brushes from her own room, she and Marian made themselves comfortable, visiting far into the night.
"I wonder," said Linda, "if Peter Morrison will go to a real estate man in the morning and look over the locations remaining in Lilac Valley."
"Yes, I think he will," said Marian conclusively.
"It seems to me," said Linda, "that we did a whole lot of talking about homes tonight; which reminds me, Marian, in packing have you put in your plans? Have you got your last draft with you?"
"No," answered Marian, "it's in one of the cases. I haven't anything but two or three pencil sketches from which I drew the final plans as I now think I'll submit them for the contest. Wouldn't it be a tall feather in my cap, Linda, if by any chance l I should win that prize?"
"It would be more than a feather," said Linda. "It would be a whole cap, and a coat to wear with it, and a dress to match the coat, and slippers to match the dress, and so forth just like 'The House That Jack Built.' Have you those sketches, Marian?"
Opening her case, Marian slid from underneath the garments folded in it, several sheets on which were roughly penciled sketches of the exterior of a house—on the reverse, the upstairs and downstairs floor plans; and sitting down, she explained these to Linda. Then she left them lying on a table, waiting to be returned to her case before she replaced her clothes in the morning. Both girls were fast asleep when a mischievous wind slipped down the valley, and lightly lifting the top sheet, carried it through the window, across the garden, and dropped it at the foot of a honey-dripping loquat.
Because they had talked until late in the night of Marian's plans and prospects in the city, of Peter Morrison's proposed residence in the valley, of how lonely Linda would be without Marian, of everything concerning their lives except the change in Eileen and John Gilman, the two girls slept until late in the morning, so that there were but a few minutes remaining in which Marian might dress, have a hasty breakfast and make her train. In helping her, it fell to Linda to pack Marian's case. She put the drawings she found on the table in the bottom, the clothing and brushes on top of them, and closing the case, carried it herself until she delivered it into the porter's hands as Marian boarded her train.
CHAPTER IV. Linda Starts a Revolution
The last glimpse Marian Thorne had of Linda was as she stood alone, waving her hand, her cheeks flushed, her eyes shining, her final word cheery and encouraging. Marian smiled and waved in return until the train bore her away. Then she sat down wearily and stared unseeingly from a window. Life did such very dreadful things to people. Her girlhood had been so happy. Then came the day of the Black Shadow, but in her blackest hour she had not felt alone. She had supposed she was leaning on John Gilman as securely as she had leaned on her father. She had learned, with the loss of her father, that one cannot be sure of anything in this world least of all of human life. Yet in her darkest days she had depended on John Gilman. She had every reason to believe that it was for her that he struggled daily to gain a footing in his chosen profession. When success came, when there was no reason that Marian could see why they might not have begun life together, there had come a subtle change in John, and that change had developed so rapidly that in a few weeks' time, she was forced to admit that the companionship and loving attentions that once had been all hers were now all Eileen's.
She sat in the train, steadily carrying her mile after mile farther from her home, and tried to think what had happened and how and why it had happened. She could not feel that she had been wrong in her estimate of John Gilman. Her valuation of him had been taught her by her father and mother and by Doctor and Mrs. Strong and by John Gilman himself. Dating from the time that Doctor Strong had purchased the property and built a home in Lilac Valley beside Hawthorne House, Marian had admired Eileen and had loved her. She was several years older than the beautiful girl she had grown up beside. Age had not mattered; Eileen's beauty had not mattered. Marian was good looking herself.
She always had known that Eileen had imposed upon her and was selfish with her, but Eileen's impositions were so skillfully maneuvered, her selfishness was so adorably taken for granted that Marian in retrospection felt that perhaps she was responsible for at least a small part of it. She never had been able to see the inner workings of Eileen's heart. She was not capable of understanding that when John Gilman was poor and struggling Eileen had ignored him. It had not occurred to Marian that when the success for which he struggled began to come generously, Eileen would begin to covet the man she had previously disdained. She had always striven to find friends among people of wealth and distinction. How was Marian to know that when John began to achieve wealth and distinction, Eileen would covet him also?
Marian could not know that Eileen had studied her harder than she ever studied any book, that she had deliberately set herself to make the most of every defect or idiosyncrasy in Marian, at the same time offering herself as a charming substitute. Marian was prepared to be the mental, the spiritual, and the physical mate of a man.
Eileen was not prepared to be in truth and honor any of these. She was prepared to make any emergency of life subservient to her own selfish desires. She was prepared to use any man with whom she came in contact for the furtherance of any whim that at the hour possessed her. What she wanted was unbridled personal liberty, unlimited financial resources.
Marian, almost numbed with physical fatigue and weeks of mental strain, came repeatedly against the dead wall of ignorance when she tried to fathom the change that had taken place between herself and John Gilman and between herself and Eileen. Daniel Thorne was an older man than Doctor Strong. He had accumulated more property. Marian had sufficient means at her command to make it unnecessary for her to acquire a profession or work for her living, but she had always been interested in and loved to plan houses and help her friends with buildings they were erecting. When the silence and the loneliness of her empty home enveloped her, she had begun, at first as a distraction, to work on the drawings for a home that an architect had made for one of her neighbors. She had been able to suggest so many comforts and conveniences, and so to revise these plans that, at first in a desultory way, later in real earnest, she had begun to draw plans for houses. Then, being of methodical habit and mathematical mind, she began scaling up the plans and figuring on the cost of building, and so she had worked until she felt that she was evolving homes that could be built for the same amount of money and lived in with more comfort and convenience than the homes that many of her friends were having planned for them by architects of the city.
To one spot in the valley she had gone from childhood as a secret place in which to dream and study. She had loved that retreat until it had become a living passion with her. The more John Gilman neglected her, the more she concentrated upon her plans, and when the hour came in which she realized what she had lost and what Eileen had won, she reached the decision to sell her home, go to the city, and study until she knew whether she really could succeed at her chosen profession.
Then she would come back to the valley, buy the spot she coveted, build the house of which she dreamed, and in it she would spend the remainder of her life making homes for the women who knew how to hold the love of men. When she reached the city she had decided that if one could not have the best in life, one must be content with the next best, and for her the next best would be homes for other people, since she might not materialize the home she had dreamed for John Gilman and herself. She had not wanted to leave the valley. She had not wanted to lose John Gilman. She had not wanted to part with the home she had been reared in. Yet all of these things seemed to have been forced upon her. All Marian knew to do was to square her shoulders, take a deep breath, put regrets behind her, and move steadily toward the best future she could devise for herself.
She carried letters of introduction to the San Francisco architects, Nicholson and Snow, who had offered a prize for the best house that could be built in a reasonable time for fifteen thousand dollars. She meant to offer her plans in this competition. Through friends she had secured a comfortable place in which to live and work. She need undergo no hardships in searching for a home, in clothing herself, in paying for instruction in the course in architecture she meant to pursue.
Concerning Linda she could not resist a feeling of exultation. Linda was one of the friends in Lilac Valley about whom Marian could think wholeheartedly and lovingly. Sometimes she had been on the point of making a suggestion to Linda, and then she had contented herself with waiting in the thought that very soon there must come to the girl a proper sense of her position and her rights. The experience of the previous night taught Marian that Linda had arrived. She would no longer be the compliant little sister who would run Eileen's errands, wait upon her guests and wear disreputable clothing. When Linda reached a point where she was capable of the performance of the previous night, Marian knew that she would proceed to live up to her blue china in every ramification of life. She did not know exactly how Linda would follow up the assertion of her rights that she had made, but she did know that in some way she would follow it up, because Linda was a very close reproduction of her father.
She had been almost constantly with him during his life, very much alone since his death. She was a busy young person. From Marian's windows she had watched the business of carrying on the wild-flower garden that Linda and her father had begun. What the occupation was that kept the light burning in Linda's room far into the night Marian did not know. For a long time she had supposed that her studies were difficult for her, and when she had asked Linda if it were not possible for her to prepare her lessons without so many hours of midnight study she had caught the stare of frank amazement with which the girl regarded her and in that surprised, almost grieved look she had realized that very probably a daughter of Alexander Strong, who resembled him as Linda resembled him, would not be compelled to overwork to master the prescribed course of any city high school. What Linda was doing during those midnight hours Marian did not know, but she did know that she was not wrestling with mathematics and languages—at least not all of the time. So Marian knowing Linda's gift with a pencil, had come to the conclusion that she was drawing pictures; but circumstantial evidence was all she had as a basis for her conviction. Linda went her way silently and alone. She was acquainted with everyone living in Lilac Valley, frank and friendly with all of them; aside from Marian she had no intimate friend. Not another girl in the valley cared to follow Linda's pursuits or to cultivate the acquaintance of the breeched, booted girl, constantly devoting herself to outdoor study with her father during his lifetime, afterward alone.