Chapter IX. One Hundred Per Cent Plus
 

Then she went downstairs and walked into the kitchen, prepared for what she would see, by what she heard as she approached.

With Katy's apron tied around his waist, Donald Whiting was occupied in squeezing orange, lemon, and pineapple juice over a cake of ice in a big bowl, preparatory to the compounding of Katy's most delicious brand of fruit punch. Without a word, Linda stepped to the bread board and began slicing the bread and building sandwiches, while Katy hurried her preparations for filling the lunch box. A few minutes later Katy packed them in the car, kissed Linda good-bye, and repeatedly cautioned Donald to make her be careful.

As the car rolled down the driveway and into the street, Donald looked appraisingly at the girl beside him.

"Is it the prevailing custom in Lilac Valley for young ladies to kiss the cook?" inquired Donald laughingly.

"Now, you just hush," said Linda. "Katy is not the cook, alone. Katy's my father, and my mother, and my family, and my best friend--"

"Stop right there," interposed Donald. "That is quite enough for any human to be. Katy's a multitude. She came out to the car with the canteen, and when I offered to help her, without any 'polly foxin',' she just said: 'Sure. Come in and make yourself useful.' So I went, and I am expecting amazing results from the job she gave me."

"Come to think of it," said Linda, "I have small experience with anybody's cooking except Katy's and my own, but so far as I know, she can't very well be beaten."

Carefully she headed the car into the garage adjoining the salesrooms. There she had an ovation. The manager and several of the men remembered her. The whole force clustered around the Bear Cat and began to examine it, and comment on it, and Linda climbed out and asked to have the carburetor adjusted, while the mechanic put on a pair of tires. When everything was satisfactory, she backed to the street, and after a few blocks of experimental driving, she headed for the Automobile Club to arrange for her license and then turned straight toward Multiflores Canyon, but she did not fail to call Donald Whiting's attention to every beauty of Lilac Valley as they passed through. When they had reached a long level stretch of roadway leading to the canyon, Linda glanced obliquely at the boy beside her.

"It all comes back as natural as breathing," she said. "I couldn't forget it any more than I could forget how to walk, or to swim. Sit tight. I am going to step on the gas for a bit, just for old sake's sake."

"That's all right," said Donald, taking off his hat and giving his head a toss so that the wind might have full play through his hair. "But remember our tires are not safe. Better not go the limit until we get rid of these old ones, and have a new set all around."

Linda settled back in her seat, took a firm grip on the wheel, and started down the broad, smooth highway, gradually increasing the speed. The color rushed to her cheeks. Her eyes were gleaming.

"Listen to it purr!" she cried to Donald. "If you hear it begin to growl, tell me."

And then for a few minutes they rode like birds on the path of the wind. When they approached the entrance to the canyon, gradually Linda slowed down. She turned an exultant flashing face to Donald Whiting.

"That was a whizzer," said the boy. "I'll tell you I don't know what I'd give to have a car like this for my very own. I'll bet not another girl in Los Angeles has a car that can go like that."

"And I don't believe I have any business with it," said Linda; "but since circumstances make it mine, I am going to keep it and I am going to drive it."

"Of course you are," said Donald emphatically. "Don't YoU ever let anybody fool you out of this car, because if they wanted to, it would be just because they are jealous to think they haven't one that will go as fast."

"There's not the slightest possibility of my giving it up so long as I can make the engine turn over," she said. "I told you how Father always took me around with him, and there's nothing in this world I am so sure of as I am sure that I am spoiled for a house cat. I have probably less feminine sophistication than any girl of my age in the world, and I probably know more about camping and fishing and the scientific why and wherefore of all outdoors than most of them. I just naturally had such a heavenly time with Daddy that it never has hurt my feelings to be left out of any dance or party that ever was given. The one thing that has hurt is the isolation. Since I lost Daddy I haven't anyone but Katy. Sometimes, when I see a couple of nice, interesting girls visiting with their heads together, a great feeling of envy wells up in my soul, and I wish with all my heart that I had such a friend."

"Ever try to make one?" asked Donald. "There are mighty fine girls in the high school."

"I have seen several that I thought I would like to be friends with," said Linda, "but I am so lacking in feminine graces that I haven't known how to make advances, in the first place, and I haven't had the courage, in the second."

"I wish my sister were not so much older than you," said Donald.

"How old is your sister?" inquired Linda.

"She will be twenty-three next birthday," said Donald; "and of all the nice girls you ever saw, she is the queen."

"Yes," she assented, "I am sure I have heard your sister mentioned. But didn't you tell me she had been reared for society?"

"No, I did not," said Donald emphatically. "I told you Mother j believed in dressing her as the majority of other girls were dressed, but I didn't say she had been reared for society. She has been reared with an eye single to making a well-dressed, cultured, and gracious woman."

"I call that fine," said Linda. "Makes me envious of you. Now forget everything except your eyes and tell me what you see. Have you ever been here before?"

"I have been through a few times before, but seems to me I never saw it looking quite so pretty."

Linda drove carefully, but presently Donald uttered an exclamation as she swerved from the road and started down what appeared to be quite a steep embankment and headed straight for the stream.

"Sit tight," she said tersely. "The Bear Cat just loves its cave. It knows where it is going."

She broke through a group of young willows and ran the car into a tiny plateau, walled in a circle by the sheer sides of the canyon reaching upward almost out of sight, topped with great jagged overhanging boulders. Crowded to one side, she stopped the car and sat quietly, smiling at Donald Whiting.

"How about it?" she asked in a low voice.

The boy looked around him, carefully examining the canyon walls, and then at the level, odorous floor where one could not step without crushing tiny flowers of white, cerise, blue, and yellow. Big ferns grew along the walls, here and there "Our Lord's Candles" lifted high torches not yet lighted, the ambitious

mountain stream skipped and circled and fell over its rocky bed, while many canyon wrens were singing.

"Do you think," she said, "that anyone driving along here at an ordinary rate of speed would see that car?"

"No," said Donald, getting her idea, "I don't believe they would."

"All right, then," said Linda. "Toe up even and I'll race YoU to the third curve where you see the big white sycamore."

Donald had a fleeting impression of a flash of khaki, a gleam of red, and a wave of black as they started. He ran with all the speed he had ever attained at a track meet. He ran with all his might. He ran until his sides strained and his breath came short; but the creature beside him was not running; she was flying; and long before they neared the sycamore he knew he was beaten, so he laughingly cried to her to stop it. Linda turned to him panting and laughing.

"I make that dash every time I come to the canyon, to keep my muscle up, but this is the first time I have had anyone to race with in a long time."

Then together they slowly walked down the smooth black floor between the canyon walls. As they crossed a small bridge Linda leaned over and looked down.

"Anyone at your house care about 'nose twister'?" she asked lightly.

"Why, isn't that watercress?" asked Donald.

"Sure it is," said Linda. "Anyone at your house like it?"

"Every one of us," answered Donald. "We're all batty about cress salad--and, say, that reminds me of something! If you know so much about this canyon and everything in it, is there any place in it where a fellow could find a plant, a kind of salad lettuce, that the Indians used to use?"

"Might be," said Linda carelessly. "For why?"

"Haven't you heard of the big sensation that is being made in feminine circles by the new department in Everybody's Home?" inquired Donald. "Mother and Mary Louise were discussing it the other day at lunch, and they said that some of the recipes for dishes to be made from stuff the Indians used sounded delicious. One reminded them of cress, and when we saw the cress I wondered if I could get them some of the other."

"Might," said Linda drily, "if you could give me a pretty good idea of what it is that you want."

"When you know cress, it's queer that you wouldn't know other things in your own particular canyon," said Donald.

Linda realized that she had overdone her disinterestedness a trifle.

"I suspect it's miners' lettuce you want," she said. "Of course I know where there's some, but you will want it as fresh as possible if you take any, so we'll finish our day first and gather it the last thing before we leave."

How it started neither of them noticed, but they had not gone far before they were climbing the walls and hanging to precarious footings. Her cheeks flushed, her eyes brilliant, her lips laughing, Linda was showing Donald thrifty specimens of that Cotyledon known as "old hen and chickens," telling him of the rare Echeveria of the same family, and her plunge down the canyon side while trying to uproot it, exulting that she had brought down the plant without a rift in the exquisite bloom on its leaves.

Linda told about her fall, and the two men who had passed at that instant, and how she had met them later, and who they were, and what they were doing. Then Donald climbed high for a bunch of larkspur, and Linda showed him how to turn his back to the canyon wall and come down with the least possible damage to his person and clothing. When at last both of them were tired they went back to the car. Linda spread an old Indian blanket over the least flower-grown spot she could select, brought out the thermos bottles and lunch case, and served their lunch. With a glass of fruit punch in one hand and a lettuce sandwich in the other, Donald smiled at Linda.

"I'll agree about Katy. She knows how," he said appreciatively.

"Katy is more than a cook," said Linda quietly. "She is a human being. She has the biggest, kindest heart. When anybody's sick or in trouble she's the greatest help. She is honest; she has principles; she is intelligent. In her spare time she reads good books and magazines. She knows what is going on in the world. She can talk intelligently on almost any subject. It's no disgrace to be a cook. If it were, Katy would be unspeakable. Fact is, at the present minute there's no one in all the world so dear to me as Katy. I always talk Irish with her."

"Well, I call that rough on your sister," said Donald.

"Maybe it is," conceded Linda. "I suspect a lady wouldn't have i said that, but Eileen and I are so different. She never has made the slightest effort to prove herself lovable to me, and so I have never learned to love her. Which reminds me--how did you happen to come to the garage?"

"The very beautiful young lady who opened the door mistook me for a mechanic. She told me I would find you working on your car and for goodness' sake to see that it was in proper condition before you drove it."

Linda looked at him with wide, surprised eyes in which a trace of indignation was plainly discernible.

"Now listen to me," she said deliberately. "Eileen is a most sophisticated young lady. If she saw you, she never in this world, thought you were a mechanic sent from a garage presenting yourself at our front door."

"There might have been a spark of malice in the big blue-gray I eyes that carefully appraised me," said Donald.

"Your choice of words is good," said Linda, refilling the punch glass. "'Appraise' fits Eileen like her glove. She appraises every thing on a monetary basis, and when she can't figure that it's going to be worth an appreciable number of dollars and cents to her--'to the garage wid it,' as Katy would say."

When they had finished their lunch Linda began packing the box and Donald sat watching her.

"At this point," said Linda, "Daddy always smoked. Do you smoke?"

There was a hint of deeper color in the boy's cheeks.

"I did smoke an occasional cigarette," he said lightly, "up to the day, not a thousand years ago, when a very emphatic young lady who should have known, insinuated that it was bad for the nerves, and going on the presumption that she knew, I haven't smoked a cigarette since and I'm not going to until I find out whether I can do better work without them."

Linda folded napkins and packed away accessories thoughtfully. Then she looked into the boy's eyes.

"Now we reach the point of our being here together," she said. "It's time to fight, and I am sorry we didn't go at it gas and bomb the minute we met. You're so different from what I thought you were. If anyone had told me a week ago that you would take off your coat and mess with my automobile engine, or wear Katy's apron and squeeze lemons in our kitchen I would have looked him over for Daddy's high sign of hysteria, at least. It's too bad to I have such a good time as I have had this afternoon, and then end with a fight."

"That's nothing," said Donald. "You couldn't have had as good a time as I have had. You're like another boy. A fellow can be just a fellow with you, and somehow you make everything you touch mean something it never meant before. You have made me feel that I would be about twice the man I am if I had spent the time I have wasted in plain jazzing around, hunting Cotyledon or trap-door spiders' nests."

"I get you," said Linda. "It's the difference between a girl reared in an atmosphere of georgette and rouge, and one who has grown up in the canyons with the oaks and sycamores. One is natural and the other is artificial. Most boys prefer the artificial."

"I thought I did myself," said Donald, "but today has taught me that I don't. I think, Linda, that you would make the finest friend a fellow ever had. I firmly and finally decline to fight with you; but for God's sake, Linda, tell me how I can beat that little cocoanut-headed Jap."

Linda slammed down the lid to the lunch box. Her voice was smooth and even but there was battle in her eyes and she answered decisively: "Well, you can't beat him calling him names. There is only one way on God's footstool that you can beat him. You can't beat him legislating against him. You can't beat him boycotting him. You can't beat him with any tricks. He is as sly as a cat and he has got a whole bag full of tricks of his own, and he has proved right here in Los Angeles that he has got a brain that is hard to beat. All you can do, and be a man commendable to your own soul, is to take his subject and put your brain on it to such purpose that you cut pigeon wings around him. What are you studying in your classes, anyway?"

"Trigonometry, Rhetoric, Ancient History, Astronomy," answered Donald.

"And is your course the same as his?" inquired Linda.

"Strangely enough it is," answered Donald. "We have been in the same classes all through high school. I think the little monkey- -"

"Man, you mean," interposed Linda.

"'Man,'" conceded Donald. "Has waited until I selected my course all the way through, and then he has announced what he would take. He probably figured that I had somebody with brains back of the course I selected, and that whatever I studied would be suitable for him."

"I haven't a doubt of it," said Linda. "They are quick; oh they are quick; and they know from their cradles what it is that they have in the backs of their heads. We are not going to beat them driving them to Mexico or to Canada, or letting them monopolize China. That is merely temporizing. That is giving them fertile soil on which to take the best of their own and the level best of ours, and by amalgamating the two, build higher than we ever have. There is just one way in all this world that we can beat Eastern civilization and all that it intends to do to us eventually. The white man has dominated by his color so far in the history of the world, but it is written in the Books that when the men of color acquire our culture and combine it with their own methods of living and rate of production, they are going to bring forth greater numbers, better equipped for the battle of life, than we are. When they have got our last secret, constructive or scientific, they will take it, and living in a way that we would not, reproducing in numbers we don't, they will beat us at any game we start, if we don't take warning while we are in the ascendancy, and keep there."

"Well, there is something to think about," said Donald Whiting, staring past Linda at the side of the canyon as if he had seen the same handwriting on the wall that dismayed Belshazzar at the feast that preceded his downfall.

"I see what you're getting at," he said. "I had thought that there might be some way to circumvent him."

"There is!" broke in Linda hastily. "There is. You can beat him, but you have got to beat him in an honorable way and in a way that is open to him as it is to you."

"I'll do anything in the world if you will only tell me how," said Donald. "Maybe you think it isn't grinding me and humiliating me properly. Maybe you think Father and Mother haven't warned me. Maybe you think Mary Louise isn't secretly ashamed of me. How can I beat him, Linda?"

Linda's eyes were narrowed to a mere line. She was staring at the wall back of Donald as if she hoped that Heaven would intercede in her favor and write thereon a line that she might translate to the boy's benefit.

"I have been watching pretty sharply," she said. "Take them as a race, as a unit--of course there are exceptions, there always are --but the great body of them are mechanical. They are imitative. They are not developing anything great of their own in their own country. They are spreading all over the world and carrying home sewing machines and threshing machines and automobiles and cantilever bridges and submarines and aeroplanes--anything from eggbeaters to telescopes. They are not creating one single thing. They are not missing imitating everything that the white man can do anywhere else on earth. They are just like the Germans so far as that is concerned."

"I get that, all right enough," said Donald. "Now go on. What is your deduction? How the devil am I to beat the best? He is perfect, right straight along in everything."

The red in Linda's cheeks deepened. Her eyes opened their widest. She leaned forward, and with her closed fist, pounded the blanket before him.

"Then, by gracious," she said sternly, "you have got to do something new. You have got to be perfect, plus."

"'Perfect, plus?'" gasped Donald.

"Yes, sir!" said Linda emphatically. "You have got to be perfect, plus. If he can take his little mechanical brain and work a thing out till he has got it absolutely right, you have got to go further than that and discover something pertaining to it not hitherto thought of and start something new. I tell you you must use your brains. You should be more than an imitator. You must be a creator!"

Donald started up and drew a deep breath.

"Well, some job I call that," he said. "Who do you think I am, the Almighty?"

"No," said Linda quietly, "you are not. You are merely His son, created in His own image, like Him, according to the Book, and you have got to your advantage the benefit of all that has been learned down the ages. We have got to take up each subject in your course, and to find some different books treating this same subject. We have got to get at it from a new angle. We must dig into higher authorities. We have got to coach you till, when you reach the highest note possible for the parrot, you can go ahead and embellish it with a few mocking-bird flourishes. All Oka Sayye knows how to do is to learn the lesson in his book perfectly, and he is 100 per cent. I have told you what you must do to add the plus, and you can do it if you are the boy I take you for. People have talked about the 'yellow peril' till it's got to be a meaningless phrase. Somebody must wake up to the realization that it's the deadliest peril that ever has menaced white civilization. Why shouldn't you have your hand in such wonderful work?"

"Linda," said the boy breathlessly, "do you realize that you have been saying 'we'? Can you help me? Will you help me?"

"No," said Linda, "I didn't realize that I had said 'we.' I didn't mean two people, just you and me. I meant all the white boys and girls of the high school and the city and the state and the whole world. If we are going to combat the 'yellow peril' we must combine against it. We have got to curb our appetites and train our brains and enlarge our hearts till we are something bigger and finer and numerically greater than this yellow peril. We can't take it and pick it up and push it into the sea. We are not Germans and we are not Turks. I never wanted anything in all this world worse than I want to see you graduate ahead of Oka Sayye. And then I want to see the white boys and girls of Canada and of England and of Norway and Sweden and Australia, and of the whole world doing exactly what I am recommending that you do in your class and what I am doing personally in my own. I have had Japs in my classes ever since I have been in school, but Father always told me to study them, to play the game fairly, but to beat them in some way, in some fair way, to beat them at the game they are undertaking."

"Well, there is one thing you don't take into consideration," said Donald. "All of us did not happen to be fathered by Alexander Strong. Maybe we haven't all got your brains."

"Oh, posher!" said Linda. "I know of a case where a little Indian was picked up from a tribal battlefield in South America and brought to this country and put into our schools, and there was nothing that any white pupil in the school could do that he couldn't, so long as it was imitative work. You have got to be constructive. You have got to work out some way to get ahead of them; and if you will take the history of the white races and go over their great achievements in mechanics, science, art, literature--anything you choose--when a white man is constructive, when he does create, he can simply cut circles around the colored races. The thing is to get the boys and girls of today to understand what is going on in the world, what they must do as their share in making the world safe for their grandchildren. Life is a struggle. It always has been. It always will be. There is no better study than to go into the canyons or the deserts and efface yourself and watch life. It's an all-day process of the stronger annihilating the weaker. The one inexorable thing in the world is Nature. The eagle dominates the hawk; the hawk, the falcon; the falcon, the raven; and so on down to the place where the hummingbird drives the moth from his particular trumpet flower. The big snake swallows the little one. The big bear appropriates the desirable cave."

"And is that what you are recommending people to do?"

"No," said Linda, "it is not. That is wild. We go a step ahead of the wild, or we ourselves become wild. We have brains, and with our brains we must do in a scientific way what Nature does with tooth and claw. In other words, and to be concrete, put these things in the car while I fold the blanket. We'll gather our miners' lettuce and then we'll go home and search Daddy's library and see if there is anything bearing in a higher way on any subject you are taking, so that you can get from it some new ideas, some different angle, some higher light, something that will end in speedily prefacing Oka Sayye's perfect with your pluperfect!"