Chapter XII. The Lay of the Land
 

Linda entered the street car for her daily ride to Lilac Valley. She noticed Peter Morrison and Henry Anderson sitting beside each other, deeply engrossed in a drawing. She had been accustomed to ride in the open section of the car as she liked the fresh air. She had a fleeting thought of entering the body of the car and sitting where they would see her; and then a perverse spirit in Linda's heart said to her:

"That is precisely what Eileen would do. You sit where you belong."

Whereupon Linda dropped into the first vacant seat she could reach, but it was only a few moments before Peter Morrison, looking up from the plans he was studying, saw her, and lifting his hat, beckoned her to come and sit with him. They made room for her between them and spreading the paper across her lap, all three of them began to discuss the plans for the foundation for Peter's house. Anderson had roughly outlined the grounds, sketching in the trees that were to be saved, the spring, and the most available route for reaching the road. The discussion was as to where the road should logically enter the grounds, and where the garage should stand.

"Which reminds me," said Linda--"haven't you your car with you? Or was that a hired one you were touring in?"

"Mine," said Peter Morrison, "but we toured so far, it's in the shop for a general overhauling today."

"That being the case," said Linda, "walk home with me and I'll take you to your place in mine and bring you back to the cars, if you only want to stay an hour or two."

"Why, that would be fine," said Peter. "You didn't mention, the other evening, that you had a car."

"No," said Linda, "I had been trying to keep cars out of my thought for a long time, but I could endure it no longer the other day, so I got mine out and tuned it up. If you don't mind stacking up a bit, three can ride in it very comfortably."

That was the way it happened that Linda walked home after school that afternoon between Peter Morrison and his architect, brought out the Bear Cat, and drove them to Peter's location.

All that day, workmen had been busy under the management of a well-instructed foreman, removing trees and bushes and stones and clearing the spot that had been selected for the garage and approximately for the house.

The soft brownish gray of Linda's dress was exactly the color to intensify the darker brown of her eyes. There was a fluctuating red in her olive cheeks, a brilliant red framing her even white teeth. Once dressed so that she was satisfied with the results, Linda immediately forgot her clothes, and plunged into Morrison's plans.

"Peter," she said gravely, with Peter perfectly cognizant of the twinkle in her dark eyes, "Peter, you may save money in a straight-line road, but you're going to sin against your soul if you build it. You'll have to economize in some other way, and run your road around the base of those boulders, then come in straight to the line here, and then you should swing again and run out on this point, where guests can have one bewildering glimpse of the length of our blue valley, and then whip them around this clump of perfumy lilac and elders, run them to your side entrance, and then scoot the car back to the garage. I think you should place the front of your house about here." Linda indicated where. "So long as you're buying a place like this you don't want to miss one single thing; and you do want to make the very most possible out of every beauty you have. And you mustn't fail to open up and widen the runway from that energetic, enthusiastic spring. Carry it across your road, sure. It will cost you another little something for a safe bridge, but there's nothing so artistic as a bridge with a cold stream running under it. And think what a joyful time I'll have, gathering specimens for you of every pretty water plant that grows in my particular canyon. Any time when you're busy in your library and you hear my car puffing up the incline and around the corner and rattling across the bridge, you'll know that I am down here giving you a start of watercress and miners' lettuce and every lovely thing you could mention that likes to be nibbled or loved-up, while it dabbles its toes in the water."

Peter Morrison looked at Linda reflectively. He looked for such a long moment that Henry Anderson reached a nebulous conclusion. "Fine!" he cried. "Every one of those suggestions is valuable to an inexperienced man. Morrison, shan't I make a note of them?"

"Yes, Henry, you shall," said Peter. "I am going to push this thing as fast as possible, so far as building the garage is concerned and getting settled in it. After that I don't care if I live on this spot until we know each other by the inch, before I begin building my home. At the present minute it appeals to me that 'home' is about the best word in the language of any nation. I have a feeling that what I build here is going to be my home, very possibly the only one I shall ever have. We must find the spot on which the Lord intended that a house should grow on this hillside, and then we must build that house so that it has a room suitable for a workshop in which I may strive, under the best conditions possible, to get my share of the joy of life and to earn the money that I shall require to support me and entertain my friends; and that sounds about as selfish as anything possibly could. It seems to be mostly 'me' and 'mine,' and it's not the real truth concerning this house. I don't believe there is a healthy, normal man living who has not his dream. I have no hesitation whatever in admitting that I have mine. This house must be two things. It has got to be a concrete workshop for me, and it has got to be an abstract abiding place for a dream. It's rather difficult to build a dream house for a dream lady, so I don't know what kind of a fist I am going to make of it."

Linda sat down on a boulder and contemplated her shoes for a minute. Then she raised her ever-shifting, eager, young eyes to Peter, and it seemed to him as he looked into them that there were little gold lights flickering at the bottom of their darkness.

"Why, that's just as easy," she said. "A home is merely a home. It includes a front porch and a back porch and a fireplace and a bathtub and an ice chest and a view and a garden around it; all the rest is incidental. If you have more money, you have more incidentals. If you don't have so much, you use your imagination and think you have just as much on less."

"Now, I wonder," said Peter, "when I find my dream lady, if she will have an elastic imagination."

"Haven't you found her yet?" asked Linda casually.

"No," said Peter, "I haven't found her, and unfortunately she hasn't found me. I have had a strenuous time getting my start in life. It's mostly a rush from one point of interest to another, dropping at any wayside station for refreshment and the use of a writing table. Occasionally I have seen a vision that I have wanted to follow, but I never have had time. So far, the lady of this house is even more of a dream than the house."

"Oh, well, don't worry," said Linda comfortingly. "The world is full of the nicest girls. When you get ready for a gracious lady I'll find you one that will have an India-rubber imagination and a great big loving heart and Indian-hemp apron strings so that half a dozen babies can swing from them."

Morrison turned to Henry Anderson.

"You hear, Henry?" he said. "I'm destined to have a large family. You must curtail your plans for the workroom and make that big room back of it into a nursery."

"Well, what I am going to do," said Henry Anderson, "is to build a place suitable for your needs. If any dream woman comes to it, she will have to fit herself to her environment."

Linda frowned.

"Now, that isn't a bit nice of you," she said, "and I don't believe Peter will pay the slightest attention to you. He'll let me make you build a lovely room for the love of his heart, and a great big bright nursery on the sunny side for his small people."

"I never believed," said Henry Anderson, "in counting your chickens before they are hatched. There are a couple of acres around Peter's house, and he can build an addition as his needs increase."

"Messy idea," said Linda promptly. "Thing to do, when you build a house, is to build it the way you want it for the remainder of your life, so you don't have to tear up the scenery every few years, dragging in lumber for expansion. And I'll tell you another thing. If the homemakers of this country don't get the idea into their heads pretty soon that they are not going to be able to hold their own with the rest of the world, with no children, or one child in the family, there's a sad day of reckoning coming. With the records at the patent office open to the world, you can't claim that the brain of the white man is not constructive. You can look at our records and compare them with those of countries ages and ages older than we are, which never discovered the beauties of a Dover egg-beater or a washing machine or a churn or a railroad or a steamboat or a bridge. We are head and shoulders above other nations in invention, and just as fast as possible, we are falling behind in the birth rate. The red man and the yellow man and the brown man and the black man can look at our egg-beaters and washing machines and bridges and big guns, and go home and copy them; and use them while rearing even bigger families than they have now. If every home in Lilac Valley had at least six sturdy boys and girls growing up in it with the proper love of country and the proper realization of the white man's right to supremacy, and if all the world now occupied by white men could make an equal record, where would be the talk of the yellow peril? There wouldn't be any yellow peril. You see what I mean?"

Linda lifted her frank eyes to Peter Morrison.

"Yes, young woman," said Peter gravely, "I see what you mean, but this is the first time I ever heard a high-school kid propound such ideas. Where did you get them?"

"Got them in Multiflores Canyon from my father to start with," said Linda, "but recently I have been thinking, because there is a boy in high school who is making a great fight for a better scholarship record than a Jap in his class. I brood over it every spare minute, day or night, and when I say my prayers I implore high Heaven to send him an idea or to send me one that I can pass on to him, that will help him to beat that Jap."

"I see," said Peter Morrison. "We'll have to take time to talk this over. It's barely possible I might be able to suggest something."

"You let that kid fight his own battles," said Henry Anderson roughly. "He's no proper bug-catcher. I feel it in my bones."

For the first time, Linda's joy laugh rang over Peter Morrison's possession.

"I don't know about that," she said gaily. "He's a wide-awake specimen; he has led his class for four years when the Jap didn't get ahead of him. But, all foolishness aside, take my word for it, Peter, you'll be sorry if you don't build this house big enough for your dream lady and for all the little dreams that may spring from her heart."

"Nightmares, you mean," said Henry Anderson. "I can't imagine a bunch of kids muddying up this spring and breaking the bushes and using slingshots on the birds."

"Yes," said Linda with scathing sarcasm, "and wouldn't our government be tickled to death to have a clear spring and a perfect bush and a singing bird, if it needed six men to go over the top to handle a regiment of Japanese!"

Then Peter Morrison laughed.

"Well, your estimate is too low, Linda," he said in his nicest drawling tone of voice. "Believe me, one U. S. kid will never march in a whole regiment of Japanese. They won't lay down their guns and walk to surrender as bunches of Germans did. Nobody need ever think that. They are as good fighters as they are imitators. There's nothing for you to do, Henry, but to take to heart what Miss Linda has said. Plan the house with a suite for a dream lady, and a dining room, a sleeping porch and a nursery big enough for the six children allotted to me."

"You're not really in earnest?" asked Henry Anderson in doubting astonishment.

"I am in the deepest kind of earnest," said Peter Morrison. "What Miss Linda says is true. As a nation, our people are pampering themselves and living for their own pleasures. They won't take the trouble or endure the pain required to bear and to rear children; and the day is rolling toward us, with every turn of the planet one day closer, when we are going to be outnumbered by a combination of peoples who can take our own tricks and beat us with them. We must pass along the good word that the one thing America needs above every other thing on earth is homes and hearts big enough for children, as were the homes of our grandfathers, when no joy in life equaled the joy of a new child in the family, and if you didn't have a dozen you weren't doing your manifest duty."

"Well, if that is the way you see the light, we must enlarge this house. As designed, it included every feminine convenience anyway. But when I build my house I am going to build it for myself."

"Then don't talk any more about being my bug-catcher," said Linda promptly, "because when I build my house it's going to be a nest that will hold six at the very least. My heart is perfectly set on a brood of six."

Linda was quite unaware that the two men were studying her closely, but if she had known what was going on in their minds she would have had nothing to regret, because both of them found her very attractive, and both of them were wondering how anything so superficial as Eileen could be of the same blood as Linda.

"Are we keeping you too late?" inquired Peter.

"No," said Linda, "I am as interested as I can be. Finish everything you want to do before we go. I hope you're going to let me come over often and watch you with your building. Maybe I can get an idea for some things I want to do. Eileen and I have our house divided by a Mason and Dixon line. On her side is Mother's suite, the dining room, the living room and the front door. On mine there's the garage and the kitchen and Katy's bedroom and mine and the library and the billiard room. At the present minute I am interested in adapting the library to my requirements instead of Father's, and I am emptying the billiard room and furnishing it to make a workroom. I have a small talent with a brush and pencil, and I need some bare walls to tack my prints on to dry, and I need numerous places for all the things I am always dragging in from the desert and the canyons; and since I have the Bear Cat running, what I have been doing in that line with a knapsack won't be worthy of mention."

"How did it come," inquired Henry Anderson, "that you had that car jacked up so long?"

"Why, hasn't anybody told you," asked Linda, "about our day of the Black Shadow?"

"John Gilman wrote me when it happened," said Peter softly, "but I don't believe it has been mentioned before Henry. You tell him."

Linda turned to Henry Anderson, and with trembling lips and paling cheeks, in a few brief sentences she gave him the details. Then she said to Peter Morrison in a low voice: "And that is the why of Marian Thorne's white head. Anybody tell you that?"

"That white head puzzled me beyond anything I ever saw," he said. "I meant to ask John about it. He used to talk to me and write to me often about her, and lately he hasn't; when I came I saw the reason, and so you see I felt reticent on the subject."

"Well, there's nothing the matter with my tongue," said Linda. "It's loose at both ends. Marian was an expert driver. She drove with the same calm judgment and precision and graceful skill that she does everything else, but the curve was steep and something in the brakes was defective. It broke with a snap and there was not a thing she could do. Enough was left of the remains of the car to prove that. Ten days afterward her head was almost as white as snow. Before that it was as dark as mine. But her body is just as young and her heart is just as young and her face is even more beautiful. I do think that a white crown makes her lovelier than she was before. I have known Marian ever since I can remember, and I don't know one thing about her that I could not look you straight in the eye and tell you all about. There is not a subterfuge or an evasion or a small mean deceit in her soul. She is the brainiest woman and the biggest woman I know."

"I haven't a doubt of it," said Peter Morrison. "And while you are talking about nice women, we met a mighty fine one at Riverside on Sunday. Her name is Mary Louise Whiting. Do you know her?"

"Not personally," said Linda. "I don't recall that I ever saw her. I know her brother, Donald. He is the high-school boy who is having the wrestle with the Jap."

"I liked her too," said Henry Anderson. "And by the way, Miss Linda, haven't bug-catchers any reputation at all as nest builders? Is it true that among feathered creatures the hen builds the home?"

"No, it's not," said Linda promptly. "Male birds make a splendid record carrying nest material. What is true is that in the majority of cases the female does the building."

"Well, what I am getting at," said Henry Anderson, "is this. Is there anything I can do to help you with that billiard room that you're going to convert to a workroom? What do you lack in it that you would like to have? Do you need more light or air, or a fireplace, or what? When you take us to the station, suppose you drive us past your house and give me a look at that room and let me think over it a day or two. I might be able to make some suggestion that would help you."

"Now that is positively sweet of you," said Linda. "I never thought of such a thing as either comfort or convenience. I thought I had to take that room as it stands and do the best I could with it, but since you mention it, it's barely possible that more air might be agreeable and also more light, and if there could be a small fireplace built in front of the chimney where it goes up from the library fireplace, it certainly would be a comfort, and it would add something to the room that nothing else could.

"No workroom really has a soul if you can't smell smoke and see red when you go to it at night."

"You little outdoor heathen," laughed Peter Morrison. "One would think you were an Indian."

"I am a fairly good Indian," said Linda. "I have been scouting around with my father a good many years. How about it, Peter? Does the road go crooked?"

"Yes," said Peter, "the road goes crooked."

"Does the bed of the spring curve and sweep across the lawn and drop off to the original stream below the tree-tobacco clump there?"

"If you say so, it does," said Peter.

"Including the bridge?" inquired Linda.

"Including the bridge," said Peter. "I'll have to burn some midnight oil, but I can visualize the bridge."

"And is this house where you 'set up your rest,' as you so beautifully said the other night at dinner, going to lay its corner stone and grow to its roof a selfish house, or is it going to be generous enough for a gracious lady and a flight of little footsteps?"

Peter Morrison took off his hat. He turned his face toward the length of Lilac Valley and stood, very tall and straight, looking far away before him. Presently he looked down at Linda.

"Even so," he said softly. "My shoulders are broad enough; I have a brain; and I am not afraid to work. If my heart is not quite big enough yet, I see very clearly how it can be made to expand."

"I have been told," said Linda in a low voice, "that Mary Louise Whiting is a perfect darling."

Peter looked at her from the top of her black head to the tips of her brown shoes. He could have counted the freckles bridging her nose. The sunburn on her cheeks was very visible; there was something arresting in the depth of her eyes, the curve of her lips, the lithe slenderness of her young body; she gave the effect of something smoldering inside that would leap at a breath.

"I was not thinking of Miss Whiting," he said soberly.

Henry Anderson was watching. Now he turned his back and commenced talking about plans, but in his heart he said: "So that's the lay of the land. You've got to hustle yourself, Henry, or you won't have the ghost of a show."

Later, when they motored down the valley and stopped at the Strong residence, Peter refused to be monopolized by Eileen. He climbed the two flights of stairs with Henry Anderson and Linda and exhausted his fund of suggestions as to what could be done to that empty billiard room to make an attractive study of it. Linda listened quietly to all their suggestions, and then she said:

"It would be fine to have another window, and a small skylight would be a dream, and as for the fireplace you mention, I can't even conceive how great it would be to have that; but my purse is much more limited than Peter's, and while I have my school work to do every day, my earning capacity is nearly negligible. I can only pick up a bit here and there with my brush and pencil -- place cards and Easter cards and valentines, and once or twice magazine covers, and little things like that. I don't see my way clear to lumber and glass and bricks and chimney pieces."

Peter looked at Henry, and Henry looked at Peter, and a male high sign, ancient as day, passed between them.

"Easiest thing in the world," said Peter. "It's as sure as shooting that when my three or four fireplaces, which Henry's present plans call for, are built, there is going to be all the material left that can be used in a light tiny fireplace such as could be built on a third floor, and when the figuring for the house is done it could very easily include the cutting of a skylight and an extra window or two here, and getting the material in with my stuff, it would cost you almost nothing."

Linda's eyes opened wide and dewy with surprise and pleasure.

"Why, you two perfectly nice men!" she said. "I haven't felt as I do this minute since I lost Daddy. It's wonderful to be taken care of. It's better than cream puffs with almond flavoring."

Henry Anderson looked at Linda keenly.

"You're the darndest kid!" he said. "One minute you're smacking your lips over cream puffs, and the next you're going to the bottom of the yellow peril. I never before saw your combination in one girl. What's the explanation?" For the second time that evening Linda's specialty in rapture floated free.

"Bunch all the component parts into the one paramount fact that I am Saturday's child," she said, "so I am constantly on the job of working for a living, and then add to that the fact that I was reared by a nerve specialist."

Then they went downstairs, and the men refused both Eileen's and Linda's invitation to remain for dinner. When they had gone Eileen turned to Linda with a discontented and aggrieved face.

"In the name of all that's holy, what are you doing or planning to do?" she demanded.

"Not anything that will cost you a penny beyond my natural rights," said Linda quietly.

"That is not answering my question," said Eileen. "You're not of age and you're still under the authority of a guardian. If you can't answer me, possibly you can him. Shall I send John Gilman to ask what I want to know of you?"

"When did I ever ask you any questions about what you chose to do?" asked Linda. "I am merely following the example that you have previously set me. John Gilman and I used to be great friends. It might help both of us to have a family reunion. Send him by all means."

"You used to take pride," suggested Eileen, "in leading your class."

"And has anyone told you that I am not leading my class at the present minute?" asked Linda.

"No," said Eileen, "but what I want to point out to you is that the minute you start running with the boys you will quit leading your class."

"Don't you believe it," said Linda quietly. "I'm not built that way. I shan't concentrate on any boy to the exclusion of chemistry and geometry, never fear it."

Then she thoughtfully ascended the stairs and went to work.

Eileen went to her room and sat down to think; and the more she thought, the deeper grew her anger and chagrin; and to the indifference that always had existed in her heart concerning Linda was added in that moment a new element. She was jealous of her. How did it come that a lanky, gangling kid in her tees had been paid a visit by the son of possibly the most cultured and influential family of the city, people of prestige, comfortable wealth, and unlimited popularity? For four years she had struggled to gain an entrance in some way into Louise Whiting's intimate circle of friends, and she had ended by shutting the door on the only son of the family. And why had she ever allowed Linda to keep the runabout? It was not proper that a young girl should own a high powered car like that. It was not proper that she should drive it and go racing around the country, heaven knew where, and with heaven knew whom. Eileen bit her lip until it almost bled. Her eyes were hateful and her hands were nervous as she reviewed the past week. She might think any mean thing that a mean brain could conjure up, but when she calmed down to facts she had to admit that there was not a reason in the world why Linda should not drive the car she had driven for her father, or why she should not take with her Donald Whiting or Peter Morrison or Henry Anderson. The thing that rankled was that the car belonged to Linda. The touring car which she might have owned and driven, had she so desired, lay in an extremely slender string of pearls around her neck at that instant. She reflected that if she had kept her car and made herself sufficiently hardy to drive it, she might have been the one to have taken Peter Morrison to his home location and to have had many opportunities for being with him.

"I've been a fool," said Eileen, tugging at the pearls viciously. "They are nothing but a little bit of a string that looks as if I were trying to do something and couldn't, at best. What I've got to do is to think more of myself. I've got to plan some way to prevent Linda from being too popular until I really get my mind made up as to what I want to do."