Chapter XV. Linda's Hearthstone
 

Early the following week Linda came from school one evening to find a load of sand and a heap of curiously marked stones beside the back door.

"Can it possibly be, Katy," she asked, "that those men are planning to begin work on my room so soon? I am scared out of almost seven of my five senses. I had no idea they would be ready to begin work until after I had my settlement with Eileen or was paid for the books."

"Don't ye be worried," said Katy. "There's more in me stocking than me leg, and you're as welcome to it as the desert is welcome to rain, an' nadin' it 'most as bad."

"Anyway," said Linda, "it will surely take them long enough so that I can pay by the time they finish."

But Linda was not figuring that back of the projected improvements stood two men, each of whom had an extremely personal reason for greatly desiring to please her. Peter Morrison had secured a slab of sandstone. He had located a marble cutter to whom he meant to carry it, and was spending much thought that he might have been using on an article in trying to hit upon exactly the right line or phrase to build in above Linda's fire--something that would convey to her in a few words a sense of friendship and beauty.

While Peter gazed at the unresponsive gray sandstone and wrote line after line which he immediately destroyed, Henry Anderson explored the mountain and came in, red faced and perspiring, from miles of climbing with a bright stone in each hand, or took the car to bring in small heaps too heavy to carry that he had collected near the roads. They were two men striving for the favor of the same girl. How Linda would have been amused had she understood the situation, or how Eileen would have been provoked, neither of the men knew nor did they care.

The workmen came after Linda left and went before her return. Having been cautioned to silence, Katy had not told her when work actually began; and so it happened that, going to her room one evening, she unlocked the door and stepped inside to face the completed fireplace. The firebox was not very large but ample. The hearthstone was a big sheet of smooth gray sandstone. The sides and top were Henry's collection of brilliant boulders, carefully and artistically laid in blue mortar, and over the firebox was set Peter's slab of gray sandstone. On it were four deeply carved lines. The quaint Old English lettering was filled even to the surface with a red mortar, while the capitals were done in dull blue. The girl slowly read:

   Voiceless stones, with Flame-tongues Preach
     Sermons struck from Nature's Lyre;
   Notes of Love and Trust and Hope
     Hourly sing in Linda's Fire.

In the firebox stood a squat pair of black andirons, showing age and usage. A rough eucalyptus log waited across them while the shavings from the placing of the mantel and the cutting of the windows were tucked beneath it. Linda stood absorbed a minute. She looked at the skylight, flooding the room with the light she so needed coming from the right angle. She went over to the new window that gave her a view of the length of the valley she loved and a most essential draft. When she turned back to the fireplace her hands were trembling.

"Now isn't that too lovely of them?" she said softly. "Isn't that altogether wonderful? How I wish Daddy were here to sit beside my fire and share with me the work I hope to do here."

In order to come as close to him as possible she did the next best thing. She sat down at her table and wrote a long letter to Marian, telling her everything she could think of that would interest her. Then she re-read with extreme care the letter she had found at the Post Office that day in reply to the one she had written Marian purporting to come from an admirer. Writing slowly and thinking deeply, she answered it. She tried to imagine that she was Peter Morrison and she tried to say the things in that letter that she thought Peter would say in the circumstances, because she felt sure that Marian would be entertained by such things as Peter would say. When she finished, she read it over carefully, and then copied it with equal care on the typewriter, which she had removed to her workroom.

When she heard Katy's footstep outside her door, she opened it and drew her in, slipping the bolt behind her. She led her to the fireplace and recited the lines.

"Now ain't they jist the finest gentlemen?" said Katy. "Cut right off of a piece of the same cloth as your father. Now some way we must get together enough money to get ye a good-sized rug for under your worktable, and then ye've got to have two bits of small ones, one for your hearthstone and one for your aisel; and then ye're ready, colleen, to show what ye can do. I'm so proud of ye when I think of the grand secret it's keepin' for ye I am; and less and less are gettin' me chances for the salvation of me soul, for every night I'm a-sittin' starin' at the magazines ye gave me when I ought to be tellin' me beads and makin' me devotions. Ain't it about time the third was comin' in?"

"Any day now," said Linda in a whisper. "And, Katy, you'll be careful? That editor must think that 'Jane Meredith' is full of years and ripe experience. I probably wouldn't get ten cents, no not even a for-nothing chance, if he knew those articles were written by a Junior."

"Junior nothing!" scoffed Katy. "There was not a day of his life that your pa did not spend hours drillin' ye in things the rest of the girls in your school never heard of. 'Tain't no high-school girl that's written them articles. It's Alexander Strong speakin' through the medium of his own flesh and blood."

"Why, so it is, Katy!" cried Linda delightedly. "You know, I never thought of that. I have been so egoistical I thought I was doing them myself."

"Paid ye anything yet?" queried Katy.

"No," said Linda, "they haven't. It seems that the amount of interest the articles evoke is going to decide what I am to be paid for them, but they certainly couldn't take the recipe and the comments and the sketch for less than twenty-five or thirty dollars, unless recipes are like poetry. Peter said the other day that if a poet did not have some other profession to support him, he would starve to death on all he was paid for writing the most beautiful things that ever are written in all this world. Peter says even an effort to write a poem is a beautiful thing."

"Well, maybe that used to be the truth," said Katy as she started toward the door, "but I have been reading some things labeled 'poetry' in the magazines of late, and if the holy father knows what they mean, he's even bigger than ever I took him to be."

"Katy," said Linda, "we are dreadful back numbers. We are letting this world progress and roll right on past us without a struggle. We haven't either one been to a psychoanalyst to find out the color of our auras."

"Now God forbid," said Katy. "I ain't going to have one of them things around me. The colors I'm wearin' satisfy me entoirely."

"And mine are going to satisfy me very shortly, now," laughed Linda, "because tomorrow is my big day with Eileen. Next time we have a minute together, old dear, I'll have started my bank account."

"Right ye are," said Katy, "jist exactly right. You're getting such a great girl it's the proper thing ye should be suitably dressed, and don't ye be too modest."

"The unfortunate thing about that, Katy, is that l intimated the other day that I would be content with less than half, since she is older and she should have her chance first."

"Now ain't that jist like ye?" said Katy. "I might have known ye would be doing that very thing."

"After I have gone over the accounts," said Linda, "I'll know better what to demand. Now fly to your cooking, Katy, and let me sit down at this table and see if I can dig out a few dollars of honest coin; but I'm going to have hard work to keep my eves on the paper with that fireplace before me. Isn't that red and blue lettering the prettiest thing, Katy, and do you notice that tiny 'P. M.' cut down in the lower left-hand corner nearly out of sight? That, Katy, stands for 'Peter Morrison,' and one of these days Peter is going to be a large figure on the landscape. The next Post he has an article in I'll buy for you."

"It never does," said Katy, "to be makin' up your mind in this world so hard and fast that ye can't change it. In the days before John Gilman got bewitched out of his senses I did think, barrin' your father, that he was the finest man the Lord ever made; but I ain't thought so much of him of late as I did before."

"Same holds good for me," said Linda.

"I've studied this Peter," continued Katy, "like your pa used to study things under his microscope. He's the most come-at-able man. He's got such a kind of a questionin' look on his face, and there's a bit of a stoop to his shoulders like they had been whittled out for carryin' a load, and there's a kind of a whimsy quiverin' around his lips that makes me heart stand still every time he speaks to me, because I can't be certain whether he is going to make me laugh or going to make me cry, and when what he's sayin' does come with that little slow drawl, I can't be just sure whether he's meanin' it or whether he's jist pokin' fun at me. He said the quarest thing to me the other day when he was here fiddlin' over the makin' of this fireplace. He was standin' out beside your desert garden and I come aven with him and I says to him: 'Them's the rare plants Miss Linda and her pa have been goin' to the deserts and the canyons, as long as he lived, to fetch in; and then Miss Linda went alone, and now the son of Judge Whiting, the biggest lawyer in Los Angeles, has begun goin' with her. Ain't it the brightest, prettiest place?' I says to him. And he stood there lookin', and he says to me: 'No, Katy, that is a graveyard.' Now what in the name of raison was the man meanin' by that?"

Linda stared at the hearth motto reflectively.

"A graveyard!" she repeated. "Well, if anything could come farther from a graveyard than that spot, I don't know how it would do it. I haven't the remotest notion what he meant. Why didn't you ask him?"

"Well, the truth is," said Katy, "that I proide myself on being able to kape me mouth shut when I should."

"I'll leave to think over it," said Linda. "At present I have no more idea than you in what respect my desert garden could resemble a graveyard. Oh! yes, there's one thing I wanted to ask you, Katy. Has Eileen been around while this room was being altered?"

"She came in yesterday," answered Katy, "when the hammerin' and sawin' was goin' full blast."

"What I wanted to find out'" said Linda, "was whether she had been here and seen this room or not, because if she hasn't and she wants to see it, now is her time. After I get things going here and these walls are covered with drying sketches this room is going to be strictly private. You see that you keep your key where nobody gets hold of it."

"It's on a string round me neck this blessed minute," said Katy. "I didn't see her come up here, but ye could be safe in bettin' anything ye've got that she came."

"Yes, I imagine she did," said Linda. "She would be sufficiently curious that she would come to learn how much I have spent if she had no other interest in me."

She looked at the fireplace reflectively.

"I wonder," she said, "what Eileen thought of that and I wonder if she noticed that little 'P. M.' tucked away down there in the corner."

"Sure she did," said Katy. "She has got eyes like a cat. She can see more things in a shorter time than anybody I ever knew." So that evening at dinner Linda told Eileen that the improvements she had made for her convenience in the billiard room were finished, and asked her if she would like to see them.

"I can't imagine what you want to stick yourself off up there alone for," said Eileen. "I don't believe I am sufficiently interested in garret skylights and windows to climb up to look at them. What everybody in the neighborhood can see is that you have absolutely ruined the looks of the back part of the house."

"Good gracious!" said Linda. "Have I? You know I never thought of that."

"Of course! But all you've got to do is go on the cast lawn and take a look at that side and the back end of the house to see what you have done," said Eileen. "Undoubtedly you've cut the selling price of the house one thousand, at least. But it's exactly like you not to have thought of what chopping up the roof and the end of the house as you have done, would make it look like. You have got one of those single-track minds, Linda, that can think of only one thing at a time, and you never do think, when you start anything, of what the end is going to be."

"Very likely there's a large amount of truth in that," said Linda soberly. "Perhaps I do get an idea and pursue it to the exclusion of everything else. It's an inheritance from Daddy, this concentrating with all my might on one thing at a time. But I am very sorry if I have disfigured the house."

"What I want to know," said Eileen, "is how in this world, at present wages and cost of material, you're expecting to pay men for the work you have had done."

"I can talk more understandingly about that," said Linda quietly, "day after tomorrow. I'll get home from school tomorrow as early as I can, and then we'll figure out our financial situation exactly."

Eileen made no reply.