Chapter XIV. Saturday's Child
 

Throughout the week Linda had worked as never during her life previously, in order to save Saturday for Donald Whiting. She ran the Bear Cat down to the garage and had it looked over once more to be sure that everything was all right. Friday evening, on her way from school, she stopped at a grocery where she knew Eileen kept an account, and for the first time ordered a few groceries. These she carried home with her, and explained to Katy what she wanted.

Katy fully realized that Linda was still her child, with no thought in her mind save standing at the head of her classes, carrying on the work she had begun with her father, keeping up her nature study, and getting the best time she could out of life in the open as she had been taught to do from her cradle.

Katy had not the slightest intention of opening her lips to say one word that might put any idea into the head of her beloved child, but she saw no reason why she herself should not harbor all the ideas she pleased.

Whereupon, actuated by a combination of family pride, love, ambition in her chosen profession, Katy made ready to see that on the morrow the son of Frederick Whiting should be properly nourished on his outing with Linda.

At six o'clock Saturday morning Linda ran the Bear Cat to the back door, where she and Katy packed it. Before they had finished, Donald Whiting came down the sidewalk, his cheeks flushed with the exercise of walking, his eyes bright with anticipation, his cause forever won--in case he had a cause--with Katy, because she liked the wholesome, hearty manner in which he greeted Linda, and she was dumbfounded when he held out his hand to her and said laughingly: "Blessed among women, did you put in a fine large consignment of orange punch?"

"No," said Katy, "I'll just tell ye flat-footed there ain't going to be any punch, but, young sir, you're eshcortin' a very capable young lady, and don't ye bewail the punch, because ye might be complimenting your face with something ye would like a hape better."

"Can't be done, Katy," cried Donald.

"Ye must have a poor opinion of us," laughed Katy, "if ye are thinking ye can get to the end of our limitations in one lunch. Fourteen years me and Miss Linda's been on this lunch-box stunt. Don't ye be thinkin' ye can exhaust us in any wan trip, or in any wan dozen."

So they said good-bye to Katy and rolled past Eileen's room on the way to the desert. Eileen stood at the window watching them, and never had her heart been so full of discontent and her soul the abiding place of such envy or her mind so busy. Just when she had thought life was going to yield her what she craved, she could not understand how or why things should begin to go wrong.

As the Bear Cat traversed Lilac Valley, Linda was pointing out Peter Morrison's location. She was telling Donald Whiting where to find Peter's articles, and what a fine man he was, and that he had promised to think how he could help with their plan to make of Donald a better scholar than was Oka Sayye.

"Well, I call that mighty decent of a stranger," said Donald.

"But he is scarcely more of a stranger than I am," answered Linda. "He is a writer. He is interested in humanity. It's the business of every man in this world to reach out and help every boy with whom he comes in contact into the biggest, finest manhood possible. He only knows that you're a boy tackling a big job that means much to every white boy to have you succeed with, and for that reason he's just as interested as I am. Maybe, when we come in this evening, I'll run up to his place, and you can talk it over with him. If your father helped you at one angle, it's altogether probable that Peter Morrison could help you at another."

Donald Whiting rubbed his knee reflectively. He was sitting half turned in the wide seat so that he might watch Linda's hands and her face while she drove.

"Well, that's all right," he said heartily. "You can write me down as willing and anxious to take all the help I can get, for it's going to be no microscopic job, that I can tell you. One week has waked up the Jap to the fact that there's something doing, and he's digging in and has begun, the last day or two, to speak up in class and suggest things himself. Since I've been studying him and watching him, I have come to the conclusion that he is much older than I am. Something he said in class yesterday made me think he had probably had the best schooling Japan could give him before he came here. The next time you meet him look for a suspicion of gray hairs around his ears. He's too blamed comprehensive for the average boy of my age. You said the Japs were the best imitators in the world and I have an idea in the back of my head that before I get through with him, Oka Sayye is going to prove your proposition."

Linda nodded as she shot the Bear Cat across the streetcar tracks and headed toward the desert. The engine was purring softly as it warmed up. The car was running smoothly. The sun of early morning was shining on them through bracing, salt, cool air, and even in the valley the larks were busy, and the mockingbirds, and from every wayside bush the rosy finches were singing. All the world was coming to the exquisite bloom of a half-tropical country. Up from earth swept the heavy odors of blooming citrus orchards, millions of roses, and the overpowering sweetness of gardens and cultivated flowers; while down from the mountains rolled the delicate breath of the misty blue lilac, the pungent odor of California sage, and the spicy sweet of the lemonade bush. They were two young things, free for the day, flying down a perfect road, adventuring with Providence. They had only gone a few miles when Donald Whiting took off his hat, stuffed it down beside him, and threw back his head, shaking his hair to the wind in a gesture so soon to become familiar to Linda. She glanced across at him and found him looking at her. A smile broke over her lips. One of her most spontaneous laughs bubbled up in her throat.

"Topping, isn't it!" she cried gaily.

"It's the best thing that ever happened to me," answered Donald Whiting instantly. "Our car is a mighty good one and Dad isn't mean about letting me drive it. I can take it frequently and can have plenty of gas and take my crowd; but lordy, I don't believe there's a boy or girl living that doesn't just positively groan when they see one of these little gray Bear Cats go loping past. And I never even had a ride in one before. I can't get over the fact that it's yours. It wouldn't seem so funny if it belonged to one of the fellows."

With steady hand and gradually increasing speed, Linda put the Bear Cat over the roads of early morning. Sometimes she stopped in the shade of pepper, eucalyptus, or palm, where the larks were specializing in their age-old offertory. And then again they went racing until they reached the real desert. Linda ran the car under the shade of a tall clump of bloom-whitened alders. She took off her hat, loosened the hair at her temples, and looked out across the long morning stretch of desert.

"It's just beginning to be good," she said. She began pointing with her slender hand. "That gleam you see over there is the gold of a small clump of early poppies. The purple beyond it is lupin. All these exquisite colors on the floor are birds'-eyes and baby blue eyes, and the misty white here and there is forget-me-not. It won't be long til thousands and thousands of yucca plants will light their torches all over the desert and all the alders show their lacy mist. Of course you know how exquisitely the Spaniards named the yucca 'Our Lord's Candles.' Isn't that the prettiest name for a flower, and isn't it the prettiest thought?"

"It certainly is," answered Donald.

"Had any experience with the desert?" Linda asked lightly.

"Hunted sage hens some," answered Donald.

"Oh, well, that'll be all right," said Linda. "I wondered if you'd go murdering yourself like a tenderfoot."

"What's the use of all this artillery?" inquired Donald as he stepped from the car.

"Better put on your hat. You're taller than most of the bushes; you'll find slight shade," cautioned Linda. "The use is purely a matter of self-protection. The desert has got such a devil of a fight for existence, without shade and practically without water, that it can't afford to take any other chance of extermination, and so it protects itself with needles here and spears there and sabers at other places and roots that strike down to China everywhere. First thing we are going to get is some soap."

"Great hat!" exclaimed Donald. "If you wanted soap why didn't you bring some?"

"For all you know," laughed Linda, "I may be going to education you up a little. Dare you to tell me how many kinds of soap I can find today that the Indians used, and where I can find it."

"Couldn't tell you one to save my life," said Donald.

"And born and reared within a few miles of the desert!" scoffed Linda. "Nice Indian you'd make. We take our choice today between finding deer-brush and digging for amole, because the mock oranges aren't ripe enough to be nice and soapy yet. I've got the deer-brush spotted, and we'll pass an amole before we go very far. Look for a wavy blue-green leaf like a wide blade of grass and coming up like a lily."

So together they went to the deer-brush and gathered a bunch of flowers that Linda bound together with some wiry desert grass and fastened to her belt. It was not long before Donald spied an amole, and having found one, discovered many others growing near. Then Linda led the way past thorns and brush, past impenetrable beds of cholla, until they reached a huge barrel cactus that she had located with the glasses. Beside this bristling monstrous growth Linda paused, and reached for the axe, which Donald handed to her. She drew it lightly across the armor protecting the plant.

"Short of Victrola needles?" she inquired. "Because if you are, these make excellent ones. A lot more singing quality to them than the steel needles, not nearly so metallic."

"Well, I am surely going to try that," said Donald. "Never heard of such a thing."

Linda chopped off a section of plant. Then she picked one of the knives from the bucket and handed it to him.

"All right, you get what you want," she said, "while I operate on the barrel."

She set her feet firmly in the sand, swung the axe, and with a couple of deft strokes sliced off the top of the huge plant, and from the heart of it lifted up half a bucketful of the juicy interior, with her dipper.

"If we didn't have drink, here is where we would get it, and mighty good it is," she said, pushing down with the dipper until she formed a small pool in the heart of the plant which rapidly filled. "Have a taste."

"Jove, that is good!" said Donald. "What are you going to do with it?"

"Show you later," laughed Linda. "Think I'll take a sip myself."

Then by a roundabout route they started on their return to the car. Once Linda stopped and gathered a small bunch of an extremely curious little plant spreading over the ground, a tiny reddish vine with quaint round leaves that looked as if a drop of white paint rimmed with maroon had fallen on each of them.

"I never saw that before," said Donald. "What are you going to do with it?"

"Use it on whichever of us gets the first snake bite," said Linda. "That is rattlesnake weed and if a poisonous snake bites you, score each side of the wound with the cleanest, sharpest knife you have and then bruise the plant and bind it on with your handkerchief, and forget it."

"Is that what you do?" inquired Donald.

"Why sure," said Linda, "that is what I would do if a snake were so ungallant as to bite me, but there doesn't seem to be much of the antagonistic element in my nature. I don't go through the desert exhaling the odor of fright, and so snakes lie quiescent or slip away so silently that I never see them."

"Now what on earth do you mean by that?" inquired Donald.

"Why that is the very first lesson Daddy ever taught me when he took me to the mountains and the desert. If you are afraid, your system throws off formic acid, and the animals need only the suspicion of a scent of it to make them ready to fight. Any animal you encounter or even a bee, recognizes it. One of the first things that I remember about Daddy was seeing him sit on the running board of the runabout buckling up his desert boots while he sang to me,

'Let not your heart be troubled. Neither let it be afraid,'

as he got ready to take me on his back and go into the desert for our first lesson; he told me that a man was perfectly safe in going to the forest or the desert or anywhere he chose among any kind of animals if he had sufficient self-control that no odor of fear emanated from him. He said that a man was safe to make his way anywhere he wanted to go, if he started his journey by recognizing a blood brotherhood with anything living he would meet on the way; and I have heard Enos Mills say that when he was snow inspector of Colorado he traveled the crest of the Rockies from one end of the state to the other without a gun or any means of self-defense."

"Now, that is something new to think about," said Donald.

"And it's something that is very true," said Linda. "I have seen it work times without number. Father and I went quietly up the mountains, through the canyons, across the desert, and we would never see a snake of any kind, but repeatedly we would see men with guns and dogs out to kill, to trespass on the rights of the wild, and they would be hunting for sticks and clubs and firing their guns where we had passed never thinking of lurking danger. If you start out in accord, at one with Nature, you're quite as safe as you are at home, sometimes more so. But if you start out to stir up a fight, the occasion is very rare on which you can't succeed."

"And that reminds me," said Donald, with a laugh, "that a week ago I came to start a fight with you. What has become of that fight we were going to have, anyway?"

"You can search me," laughed Linda, throwing out her hands in a graceful gesture. "There's not a scrap of fight in my system concerning you, but if Oka Sayye were having a fight with you and I were anywhere around, you'd have one friend who would help you to handle the Jap."

Donald looked at Linda thoughtfully.

"By the great hocus-pocus," he said, "you know, I believe you. If two fellows were having a pitched battle most of the girls I know would quietly faint or run, but I do believe that you would stand by and help a fellow if he needed it."

"That I surely would," said Linda; "but don't you say 'most of the girls I know' and then make a statement like that concerning girls, because you prove that you don't know them at all. A few years ago, I very distinctly recall how angry many women were at this line in one of Kipling's poems:

The female of the species is more deadly than the male,

and there was nothing to it save that a great poet was trying to pay womanhood everywhere the finest compliment he knew how. He always has been fundamental in his process of thought. He gets right back to the heart of primal things. When he wrote that line he was not really thinking that there was a nasty poison in the heart of a woman or death in her hands. What he was thinking was that in the jungle the female lion or tiger or jaguar must go and find a particularly secluded cave and bear her young and raise them to be quite active kittens before she leads them out, because there is danger of the bloodthirsty father eating them when they are tiny and helpless. And if perchance a male finds the cave of his mate and her tiny young and enters it to do mischief, then there is no recorded instance I know of in which the female, fighting in defense of her young, has not been 'more deadly than the male.' And that is the origin of the much-discussed line concerning the female of the species, and it holds good fairly well down the line of the wild. It's even true among such tiny things as guinea pigs and canary birds. There is a mother element in the heart of every girl. Daddy used to say that half the women in the world married the men they did because they wanted to mother them. You can't tell what is in a woman's heart by looking at her. You must bring her face to face with an emergency before you can say what she'll do, but I would be perfectly willing to stake my life on this: There is scarcely a girl you know who would see you getting the worst of a fight, say with Oka Sayye, or someone who meant to kill you or injure you, who would not pick up the first weapon she could lay her hands on, whether it was an axe or a stick or a stone, and go to your defense, and if she had nothing else to fight with, I have heard of women who put up rather a tidy battle with their claws. Sounds primitive, doesn't it?"

"It sounds true," said Donald reflectively. "I see, young lady, where one is going to have to measure his words and think before he talks to you."

"Pretty thought!" said Linda lightly. "We'll have a great time if you must stop to consider every word before you say it."

"Well, anyway," said Donald, "when are we going to have that fight which was the purpose of our coming together?"

"Why, we're not ever going to have it," answered Linda. "I have got nothing in this world to fight with you about since you're doing your level best to beat Oka Sayye. I have watched your head above the remainder of your class for three years and wanted to fight with you on that point."

"Now that's a queer thing," said Donald, "because I have watched you for three years and wanted to fight with you about your drygoods, and now since I've known you only such a short while, I don't care two whoops what you wear. It's a matter of perfect indifference to me. You can wear French heels or baby pumps, or go barefoot. You would still be you."

"Is it a truce?" asked Linda. I

"No, ma'am," said Donald, "it's not a truce. That implies war and we haven't fought. It's not armed neutrality; it's not even watchful waiting. It's my friend, Linda Strong. Me for her and her for me, if you say so."

He reached out his hand. Linda laid hers in it, and looking into his eyes, she said: "That is a compact. We'll test this friendship business and see what there is to it. Now come on; let's run for the canyon."

It was only a short time until the Bear Cat followed its trail of the previous Saturday, and, rushing across the stream, stopped at its former resting place, while Linda and Donald sat looking at the sheer-walled little room before them.

"I can see," said Linda, "a stronger tinge in the green. There are more flowers in the carpet. There is more melody in the birds' song. We are going to have a better time than we had last Saturday. First let's fix up our old furnace, because we must have a fire today."

So they left the car, and under Linda's direction they reconstructed the old fireplace at which the girl and her father had cooked when botanizing in Multiflores. In a corner secluded from wind, using the wall of the canyon for a back wall, big boulders the right distance apart on each side, and small stones for chinking, Linda superintended the rebuilding of the fireplace.

She unpacked the lunch box, set the table, and when she had everything in readiness she covered the table, and taking a package, she carried it on a couple of aluminium pie pans to where her fire was burning crisply. With a small field axe she chopped a couple of small green branches, pointed them to her liking, and peeled them. Then she made a poker from one of the saplings they had used to move the rocks, and beat down her fire until she had a bright bed of deep coals. When these were arranged exactly to her satisfaction, she pulled some sprays of deer weed bloom from her bundle and, going down to the creek, made a lather and carefully washed her hands, tucking the towel she used in drying them through her belt. Then she came back to the fire and, sitting down beside it, opened the package and began her operations. On the long, slender sticks she strung a piece of tenderloin beef, about three inches in circumference and one fourth of an inch in thickness, then half a slice of bacon, and then a slice of onion. This she repeated until her skewer would bear no more weight. Then she laid it across the rocks walling her fire, occasionally turning it while she filled the second skewer. Then she brought from the car the bucket of pulp she had taken from the barrel cactus, transferred it to a piece of cheesecloth and deftly extracted the juice. To this she added the contents of a thermos bottle containing a pint of sugar that had been brought to the boiling point with a pint of water and poured over some chopped spearmint to which had been added the juice of half a dozen lemons and three or four oranges. From a small, metal-lined compartment, Linda took a chunk of ice and dropped it into this mixture.

She was sitting on the ground, one foot doubled under her, the other extended. She had taken off her hat; the wind and the bushes had roughened her hair. Exercise had brought deep red to her cheeks and her lips. Happiness had brought a mellow glow to her dark eyes. She had turned back her sleeves, and her slender hands were fascinatingly graceful in their deft handling of everything she touched. They were a second edition of the hands with which Alexander Strong had felt out defective nerve systems and made delicate muscular adjustments. She was wholly absorbed in what she was doing. Sitting on the blanket across from her Donald Whiting was wholly absorbed in her and he was thinking. He was planning how he could please her, how he could earn her friendship. He was admitting to himself that he had very little, if anything, to show for hours of time that he had spent in dancing, at card games, beach picnics, and races. All these things had been amusing. But he had nothing to show for the time he had spent or the money he had wasted. Nothing had happened that in any way equipped him for his battle with Oka Sayye. Conversely, this girl, whom he had resented, whom he had criticized, who had claimed his notice only by her radical difference from the other girls, had managed, during the few minutes he had first talked with her in the hall, to wound his pride, to spur his ambition, to start him on a course that must end in lasting and material benefit to him even if he failed in making a higher record of scholarship than Oka Sayye. It was very certain that the exercise he was giving his brain must be beneficial. He had learned many things that were intensely interesting to him and he had not even touched the surface of what he could see that she had been taught by her father or had learned through experience and personal investigation. She had been coming to the mountains and the canyons alone, for four years doing by herself what she would have done under her father's supervision had he lived. That argued for steadfastness and strength of character. She would not utter one word of flattery. She would say nothing she did not mean. Watching her intently, Donald Whiting thought of all these things. He thought of what she had said about fighting for him, and he wondered if it really was true that any girl he knew would fight for him. He hardly believed it when he remembered some of his friends, so entirely devoted to personal adornment and personal gratification. But Linda had said that all women were alike in their hearts. She knew about other things. She must know about this. Maybe all women would fight for their young or for their men, but he knew of no other girl who could drive a Bear Cat with the precision and skill with which Linda drove. He knew no other girl who was master of the secrets of the desert and the canyons and the mountains. Certainly he knew no other girl who would tug at great boulders and build a fireplace and risk burning her fingers and scorching her face to prepare a meal for him. So he watched Linda and so he thought.

At first he thought she was the finest pal a boy ever had, and then he thought how he meant to work to earn and keep her friendship; and then, as the fire reddened Linda's cheeks and she made running comments while she deftly turned her skewers of brigand beefsteak, food that half the Boy Scouts in the country had been eating for four years, there came an idea with which he dallied until it grew into a luring vision.

"Linda," he asked suddenly, "do you know that one of these days you're going to be a beautiful woman?"

Linda turned her skewers with intense absorption. At first he almost thought she had not heard him, but at last she said quietly: "Do you really think that is possible, Donald?"

"You're lovely right now !" answered the boy promptly.

"For goodness' sake, have an eye single to your record for truth and veracity," said Linda. "Doesn't this begin to smell zippy?"

"It certainly does," said Donald. "It's making me ravenous. But honest, Linda, you are a pretty girl."

"Honest, your foot!" said Linda scornfully. "I am not a pretty girl. I am lean and bony and I've got a beak where I should have a nose. Speaking of pretty girls, my sister, Eileen, is a pretty girl. She is a downright beautiful girl."

"Yes," said Donald, "she is, but she can't hold a candle to you. How did she look when she was your age?"

"I can't remember Eileen," said Linda, "when she was not exquisitely dressed and thinking more about taking care of her shoes than anything else in the world. I can't remember her when she was not curled, and even when she was a tiny thing Mother put a dust of powder on her nose. She said her skin was so delicate that it could not bear the sun. She never could run or play or motor much or do anything, because she has always had to be saved for the sole purpose of being exquisitely beautiful. Talk about lilies of the field, that's what Eileen is! She is an improvement on the original lily of the field--she's a lily of the drawing room. Me, now, I'm more of a Joshua tree."

Donald Whiting laughed, as Linda intended that he should.

A minute afterward she slid the savory food from a skewer upon one of the pie pans, tossed back the cover from the little table, stacked some bread-and-butter sandwiches beside the meat and handed the pan to Donald.

"Fall to," she said, "and prove that you're a man with an appreciative tummy. Father used to be positively ravenous for this stuff. I like it myself."

She slid the food from the second skewer to a pan for herself, settled the fire to her satisfaction and they began their meal. Presently she filled a cup from the bucket beside her and handed it to Donald. At the same time she lifted another for herself.

"Here's to the barrel cactus," she said. "May the desert grow enough of them so that we'll never lack one when we want to have a Saturday picnic."

Laughingly they drank this toast; and the skewers were filled a second time. When they could eat no more they packed away the lunch things, buried the fire, took the axe and the field glasses, and started on a trip of exploration down the canyon. Together they admired delicate and exquisite ferns growing around great gray boulders. Donald tasted hunters' rock leek, and learned that any he found while on a hunting expedition would furnish a splendid substitute for water. Linda told him of rare flowers she lacked and what they were like and how he would be able to identify what she wanted in case he should ever find any when he was out hunting or with his other friends. They peeped into the nesting places of canyon wrens and doves and finches, and listened to the exquisite courting songs of the birds whose hearts were almost bursting with the exuberance of spring and the joy of home making. When they were tired out they went back to the dining room and after resting a time, they made a supper from the remnants of their dinner. When they were seated in the car and Linda's hand was on the steering wheel, Donald reached across and covered it with his own.

"Wait a bit," he said. "Before we leave here I want to ask you a question and I want you to make me a promise."

"All right," said Linda. "What's your question?"

"What is there," said Donald, "that I can do that would give you such pleasure as you have given me?"

Linda could jest on occasions, but by nature she was a serious person. She looked at Donald reflectively.

"Why, I think," she said at last, "that having a friend, having someone who understands and who cares for the things I do, and who likes to go to the same places and to do the same things, is the biggest thing that has happened to me since I lost my father. I don't see that you are in any way in my debt, Donald."

"All right then," said the boy, "that brings me to the promise I want you to make me. May we always have our Saturdays together like this?"

"Sure!" said Linda, "I would be mightily pleased. I'll have to work later at night and scheme, maybe. By good rights Saturday belongs to me anyway because I am born Saturday's child."

"Well, hurrah for Saturday! It always was a grand old day," said Donald, "and since I see what it can do in turning out a girl like you, I've got a better opinion of it than ever. We'll call that settled. I'll always ask you on Friday at what hour to come, and hereafter Saturday is ours."

"Ours it is," said Linda.

Then she put the Bear Cat through the creek and on the road and, driving swiftly as she dared, ran to Lilac Valley and up to Peter Morrison's location.

She was amazed at the amount of work that had been accomplished. The garage was finished. Peter's temporary work desk and his cot were in it. A number of his personal belongings were there. The site for his house had been selected and the cellar was being excavated.

Linda descended from the Bear Cat and led Donald before Peter.

"Since you're both my friends," she said, "I want you to know each other. This is Donald Whiting, the Senior I told you about, Mr. Morrison. You know you said you would help him if you could."

"Certainly," said Peter. "I am very glad to know any friend of yours, Miss Linda. Come over to my workroom and let's hear about this."

"Oh, go and talk it over between yourselves," said Linda. "I am going up here to have a private conversation with the spring. I want it to tell me confidentially exactly the course it would enjoy running so that when your house is finished and I come to lay out your grounds I will know exactly how it feels about making a change."

"Fine!" said Peter. "Take your time and become extremely confidential, because the more I look at the location and the more I hear the gay chuckling song that that water sings, the more I am in love with your plan to run it across the lawn and bring it around the boulder."

"It would be a downright sin not to have that water in a convenient place for your children to play in, Peter," said Linda.

"Then that's all settled," said Peter. "Now, Whiting, come this way and we'll see whether I can suggest anything that will help you with your problem."

"Whistle when you are ready, Donald," called Linda as she turned away.

Peter Morrison glanced after her a second, and then he led Donald Whiting to a nail keg in the garage and impaled that youngster on the mental point of a mental pin and studied him as carefully as any scientist ever studied a rare specimen. When finally he let him go, his mental comment was: "He's a mighty fine kid. Linda is perfectly safe with him."