Chapter XI. Assisting Providence
 

Linda went to the library to see to what state of emptiness it had been reduced by the removal of several pieces of furniture she had ordered taken away that day. As she stood on the threshold looking over the room as usual, a throb of loving appreciation of Katy swept through her heart. Katy had been there before her. The room had been freshly swept and dusted, the rugs had been relaid, the furniture rearranged skilfully, and the table stood at the best angle to be lighted either by day or night. On the table and the mantel stood big bowls of lovely fresh flowers. Linda was quite certain that anyone entering the room for the first time would have felt it completely furnished, and she doubted if even Marian would notice the missing pieces. Cheered in her heart, she ran up to the billiard room, and there again Katy had preceded her. The windows were shining. The walls and floor had been cleaned. Everything was in readiness for the new furniture. Her heart full of gratitude, Linda went to her room, prepared her lessons for the next day, and then drew out her writing materials to answer Marian's letter. She wrote:

I have an acute attack of enlargement of the heart. So many things have happened since your leaving. But first I must tell you about your sketch. We just know you did not leave it here. Katy says there was not a scrap in our bedroom when she cleaned it; and as she knows you make plans and how precious they are to you, I guarantee she would have saved it if she had found anything looking like a parallelogram on a piece of paper. And I have very nearly combed the lawn, not only the north side, but the west, south, and east; and then I broke the laws and went over to your house and crawled through a basement window and worked my way up, and I have hunted every room in it, but there is nothing there. You must have lost that sketch after you reached San Francisco. I hope to all that's peaceful you did not lay it down in the offices of Nicholson and Snow, or where you take your lessons. I know nothing about architecture, but I do know something about comfort in a home, and I thought that was the most comfortable and convenient-looking house I ever had seen.

Now I'll go on and tell you all the news, and I don't know which is the bigger piece to burst on you first. Would you be more interested in knowing that Peter Morrison has bought three acres on the other side of the valley from us and up quite a way, or in the astonishing fact that I have a new dress, a perfect love of a dress, really too good for school? You know there was blood in my eye when you left, and I didn't wait long to start action. I have managed to put the fear of God into Eileen's heart so that she has agreed to a reasonable allowance for me from the first of next month; but she must have felt at least one small wave of contrition when I told her about a peculiarly enticing dress I had seen at The Mode. She sent it up right away, and Katy, blessed be her loving footprints, loaned me money to buy a blouse and some shoes to match, so I went to school today looking very like the Great General Average, minus rouge, lipstick, hairdress, and French heels.

I do hope you will approve of two things I have done.

Then Linda recounted the emptying of the billiard room, the inroads in the library, the listing of the technical books, and what she proposed to do with the money. And then, her face slightly pale and her fingers slightly trembling, she wrote:

And, Marian dear, I hope you won't be angry with me when I tell you that I have put the Bear Cat into commission and driven it three times already. It is running like the feline it is, and I am being as careful as I can. I know exactly how you will feel. It is the same feeling that has held me all these months, when I wouldn't even let myself think of it. But something happened at school one day, Marian. You know the Whitings? Mary Louise Whiting's brother is in the senior class. He is a six-footer, and while he is not handsome he is going to be a real man when he is fully developed, and steadied down to work. One day last week he made it his business to stop me in the hall and twit me about my shoes, and incidentally to ask me why I didn't dress like the other girls; and some way it came rougher than if it had been one of the girls. The more I thought about it the more wronged I felt, so I ended in a young revolution that is to bring me an income, a suitable place to work in and has brought me such a pretty dress. I think it has brought Eileen to a sense of at least partial justice about money, and it brought me back the Bear Cat. You know the proudest moment of my life was when Father would let me drive the little beast, and it all came back as natural as breathing. Please don't worry, Marian. Nothing shall happen, I promise you.

It won't be necessary to tell you that Katy is her darling old self, loyal and steadfast as the sun, and quite as necessary and as comforting to me. And I have a couple of other interests in life that are going to--I won't say make up for your absence, because nothing could do that--but they are going to give me something interesting to think about, something agreeable to work at, while you are gone. But, oh, Marian, do hurry. Work all day and part of the night. Be Saturday's child yourself if you must, just so you get home quick, and where your white head makes a beacon light for the truest, lovingest pal you will ever have,

LINDA.

Linda laid down the pen, slid down in her chair, and looked from the window across the valley, and she wondered if in her view lay the location that had been purchased by Peter Morrison. She glanced back at her letter and sat looking at the closing lines and the signature.

"Much good that will do her," she commented. "When a woman loves a man and loves him with all her heart, as Marian loved John, and when she loses him, not because she has done a single unworthy thing herself, but because he is so rubber spined that he will let another woman successfully intrigue him, a lot of comfort she is going to get from the love of a schoolgirl!"

Linda's eyes strayed to the window again, and traveled down to the city and up the coast, all the way to San Francisco, and out of the thousands of homes there they pictured a small, neat room, full of Marian's belongings, and Marian herself bending over a worktable, absorbed in the final draft of her precious plans. Linda could see Marian as plainly as she ever had seen her, but she let her imagination run, and she fancied that when Marian was among strangers and where no one knew of John Gilman's defection, that hers might be a very heavy heart, that hers might be a very sad face. Then she went to planning. She had been desolate, heart hungry, and isolated herself. First she had endured, then she had fought; the dawn of a new life was breaking over her hill. She had found work she was eager to do. She could put the best of her brain, the skill of her fingers, the creative impulse of her heart, into it.

She was almost sure that she had found a friend. She had a feeling that when the coming Saturday had been lived Donald Whiting would be her friend. He would want her advice and her help in his work. She would want his companionship and the stimulus of his mind, in hers. What Linda had craved was a dear friend among the girls, but no girl had offered her friendship. This boy had, so she would accept what the gods of time and circumstance provided. It was a very wonderful thing that had happened to her. Now why could not something equally wonderful happen to Marian? Linda wrinkled her brows and thought deeply.

"It's the worst thing in all this world to work and work with nobody to know about it and nobody to care," thought Linda. "Marian could break a record if she thought John Gilman cared now as he used to. It's almost a necessary element to her success. If he doesn't care, she ought to be made to feel that somebody cares. This thing of standing alone, since I have found a friend, appeals to me as almost insupportable. Let me think."

It was not long until she had worked out a scheme for putting an interest in Marian's life and giving her something for which to work, until a more vital reality supplanted it. The result was that she took some paper, went down to the library, and opening the typewriter, wrote a letter. She read it over, making many changes and corrections, and then she copied it carefully. When she came to addressing it she was uncertain, but at last she hit upon a scheme of sending it in the care of Nicholson and Snow because Marian had told her that she meant to enter their contest immediately she reached San Francisco, and she would have left them her address. On the last reading of the letter she had written, she decided that it was a manly, straightforward production, which should interest and attract any girl. But how was she to sign it? After thinking deeply for a long time, she wrote "Philip Sanders, General Delivery," and below she added a postscript:

To save you the trouble of inquiring among your friends as to who Philip Sanders is, I might as well tell you in the beginning that he isn't. He is merely an assumption under which I shall hide my personality until you let me know whether it is possible that you could become even slightly interested in me, as a small return for the very deep and wholesome interest abiding in my heart for you.

"Abiding," said Linda aloud. "It seems to me that there is nothing in all the world quite so fine as a word. Isn't 'abiding' a good word? Doesn't it mean a lot? Where could you find one other word that means being with you and also means comforting you and loving you and sympathizing with you and surrounding you with firm walls and a cushioned floor and a starry roof? I love that word. I hope it impresses Marian with all its wonderful meaning."

She went back to her room, put both letters into her Geometry, and in the morning mailed them. She stood a long time hesitating with the typewritten letter in her hand, but finally dropped it in the letter box also.

"It will just be something," she said, "to make her think that some man appreciates her lovely face and doesn't care if her hair is white, and sees how steadfast and fine she is."

And then she slowly repeated, " 'steadfast,' that is another fine word. It has pearls and rubies all over it."

After school that evening she visited James Brothers' and was paid the full amount of the appraisement of her furniture. Then she went to an art store and laid in a full supply of the materials she needed for the work she was trying to do. Her fingers were trembling as she handled the boxes of water colors and selected the brushes and pencils for her work, and sheets of drawing paper upon which she could do herself justice. When the transaction was finished, she had a few dollars remaining. As she put them in her pocket she said softly:

"That's gasoline. Poor Katy! I'm glad she doesn't need her money, because she is going to have to wait for the allowance or the sale of the books or on Jane Meredith. But it's only a few days now, so that'll be all right."