Chapter XX. The Cap Sheaf
 

Toward the last of the week Linda began to clear the mental decks of her ship of life in order that she might have Saturday free for her promised day with Donald. She had decided that they would devote that day to wave-beaten Laguna. It was a long drive but delightful. It ran over the old King's Highway between miles of orange and lemon orchards in full flower, bordered by other miles of roses in their prime.

Every minute when her mind was not actively occupied with her lessons or her recipes Linda was dreaming of the King's Highway. Almost unconsciously she began to chant:

"All in the golden weather, forth let us ride today, You and I together on the King's Highway, The blue skies above us, and below the shining sea; There's many a road to travel, but it's this road for me."

You must have ridden this road with an understanding heart and the arm of God around you to know the exact degree of disappointment that swelled in Linda's heart when she answered the telephone early Saturday morning and heard Donald Whiting's strained voice speaking into it. He was talking breathlessly in eager, boyish fashion.

"Linda, I am in a garage halfway downtown," he was saying, "and it looks to me as if to save my soul I couldn't reach you before noon. I have had the darnedest luck. Our Jap got sick last week and he sent a new man to take his place. There wasn't a thing the matter with our car when I drove it in Friday night. This morning Father wanted to use it on important business, and it wouldn't run. He ordered me to tinker it up enough to get it to the shop. I went at it and when it would go, I started You can imagine the clip I was going, and the thing went to pieces. I don't know yet how it comes that I saved my skin. I'm pretty badly knocked out, but I'll get there by noon if it's a possible thing."

"Oh, that's all right," said Linda, fervently hoping that the ache in her throat would not tincture her voice.

It was half-past eleven when Donald came. Linda could not bring herself to give up the sea that day. She found it impossible to drive the King's Highway. It seemed equally impossible not to look on the face of the ocean, so she compromised by skirting Santa Monica Bay, and taking the foothill road she ran it to the north end of the beach drive. When they had spread their blankets on the sand, finished their lunch and were resting, Linda began to question Donald about what had happened. She wanted to know how long Whitings' gardener had been in their employ; if they knew where he lived and about his family; if they knew who his friends were, or anything concerning him. She inquired about the man who had taken his place, and wanted most particularly to know what the garage men had found the trouble with a car that ran perfectly on Friday night and broke down in half a dozen different places on Saturday morning. Finally Donald looked at her, laughingly quizzical.

"Linda," he said, "you're no nerve specialist and no naturalist. You're the cross examiner for the plaintiff. What are you trying to get at? Make out a case against Yogo Sani?"

"Of course it's all right," said Linda, watching a distant pelican turn head down and catapult into the sea. "It has to be all right, but you must admit that it looks peculiar. How have you been getting along this week?"

Donald waved his hand in the direction of a formation of stone the size of a small house.

"Been rolling that to the top of the mountain," he said lightly. Linda's eyes narrowed, her face grew speculative. She looked at Donald intently.

"Is it as difficult as that?" she asked in a lowered voice as if the surf and the sea chickens might hear.

"It is just as difficult as that," said Donald. "While you're talking about peculiar things, I'll tell you one. In class I came right up against Oka Sayye on the solution of a theorem in trigonometry. We both had the answer, the correct answer, but we had arrived at it by widely different routes, and it was up to me to prove that my line of reasoning was more lucid, more natural, the inevitable one by which the solution should be reached. We got so in earnest that I am afraid both of us were rather tense. I stepped over to his demonstration to point out where I thought his reasoning was wrong. I got closer to the Jap than I had ever been before; and by gracious, Linda scattered, but nevertheless still there, and visible, I saw a sprinkling of gray hairs just in front of and over his ears. It caught me unawares, and before I knew what I was doing, before the professor and the assembled classroom I blurted it out: 'Say, Oka Sayye, how old are you?' If the Jap had had any way of killing me, I believe he would have done it. There was a look in his eyes that was what I would call deadly. It was only a flash and then, very courteously, putting me in the wrong, of course, he remarked that he was 'almost ninekleen'; and it struck me from his look and the way he said it that it was a lie. If he truly was the average age of the rest of the class there was nothing for him to be angry about. Then I did take a deliberate survey. From the settled solidity of his frame and the shape of his hands and the skin of his face and the set of his eyes in his head, I couldn't see that much youth. I'll bet he's thirty if he's a day, and I shouldn't be a bit surprised if he has graduated at the most worthwhile university in Japan, before he ever came to this country to get his English for nothing."

Linda was watching a sea swallow now, and slowly her lean fingers were gathering handfuls of sand and sifting them into a little pyramid she was heaping beside her. Again almost under her breath she spoke.

"Donald, do you really believe that?" she asked. "Is it possible that mature Jap men are coming here and entering our schools and availing themselves of the benefits that the taxpayers of California provide for their children?"

"Didn't you know it?" asked Donald. "I hadn't thought of it in connection with Oka Sayye, but I do know cases where mature Japs have been in grade schools with children under ten."

"Oh, Donald!" exclaimed Linda. "If California is permitting that or ever has permitted it, we're too easy. We deserve to become their prey if we are so careless."

"Why, I know it's true," said Donald. "I have been in the same classes with men more than old enough to be my father."

"I never was," said Linda, industriously sifting sand. "I have been in classes with Japs ever since I have been at school, but it was with girls and boys of our gardeners and fruit dealers and curio-shop people, and they were always of my age and entitled to be in school, since our system includes the education of anybody who happens to be in California and wants to go to school."

"Did my being late spoil any particular plan you had made, Linda?"

"Yes," said Linda, "it did."

"Oh, I am so sorry!" cried Donald. "I certainly shall try to see that it doesn't occur again. Could we do it next Saturday?"

"I am hoping so," said Linda.

"I told Dad," said Donald, "where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do, and he was awfully sorry but he said it was business and it would take only a few minutes and he thought I could do it and be on time. If he had known I would be detained I don't believe he would have asked it of me. He's a grand old peter, Linda."

"Yes, I know," said Linda. "There's not much you can tell me about peters of the grand sort, the real, true flesh-and-blood, bighearted, human-being fathers, who will take you to the fields and the woods and take the time to teach you what God made and how He made it and why He made it and what we can do with it, and of the fellowship and brotherhood we can get from Nature by being real kin. The one thing that I have had that was the biggest thing in all this world was one of these real fathers."

Donald watched as she raised the pyramid higher and higher.

"Did you tell your father whom you were to go with?" she asked.

"Sure I did," said Donald. "Told the whole family at dinner last night. Told 'em about all the things I was learning, from where to get soap off the bushes to the best spot for material for wooden legs or instantaneous relief for snake bite."

"What did they say?" Linda inquired laughingly.

"Unanimously in favour of continuing the course," he said. "I had already told Father about you when I asked him for books and any help that he could give me with Oka Sayye. Since I had mentioned you last night he told Mother and Louise about that, and they told me to bring you to the house some time. All of them are crazy to know you. Mother says she is just wild to know whether a girl who wears boots and breeches and who knows canyons and the desert and the mountains as you do can be a feminine and lovable person."

"If I told her how many friends I have, she could have speedily decided whether I am lovable or not," said Linda; "but I would make an effort to convince her that I am strictly feminine."

"You would convince her of that without making the slightest effort. You're infinitely more feminine than any other girl I have ever known "

"How do you figure that?" asked Linda.

"Well," said Donald, "it's a queer thing about you, Linda. I take any liberty I pretty nearly please with most of the girls I have been associated with. I tie their shoes and pull their hair--down if I want to--and hand them round 'most any way the notion takes me, and they just laugh and take the same liberties with me, which proves that I am pretty much a girl with them or they are pretty much boys with me. But it wouldn't occur to me to touch your hair or your shoe lace or the tips of your fingers; which proves that you're more feminine than any other girl I know, because if you were not I would be treating you more like another boy. I thought, the first day we were together, that you were like a boy, and I said so, and I thought it because you did not tease me and flirt with me, but since I have come to know you better, you're less like a boy than any other girl I ever have known."

"Don't get psychological, Donald," said Linda. "Go on with the Jap. I haven't got an answer yet to what I really want to know. Have you made the least progress this week? Can you beat him?"

Donald hesitated, studying over the answer.

"Beat him at that trig proposition the other day," he said. "Got an open commendation before the class. There's not a professor in any of my classes who isn't 'hep' to what I'm after by this time, and if I would cajole them a little they would naturally be on my side, especially if their attention were called to that incident of yesterday; but you said I have to beat him with my brains, by doing better work than he does; so about the biggest thing I can honestly tell you is that I have held my own. I have only been ahead of him once this week, but I haven't failed in anything that he has accomplished. I have been able to put some additional touches to some work that he has done for which he used to be marked A which means your One Hundred. Double A which means your plus I made in one instance. And you needn't think that Oka Sayye does not realize what I am up to as well as any of the rest of the class, and you needn't think that he is not going to give me a run for my brain. All I've got will be needed before we finish this term."

"I see," said Linda, slowly nodding her head.

"I wish," said Donald, "that we had started this thing two years ago, or better still, four. But of course you were not in the high school four years ago and there wasn't a girl in my class or among my friends who cared whether I beat the Jap or not. They greatly preferred that I take them motoring or to a dance or a picture show or a beach party. You're the only one except Mother and Louise who ever inspired me to get down to business."

Linda laid her palm on the top of the sand heap and pressed it flat. She looked at Donald with laughing eyes.

"Symbolical," she announced. "That sand was the Jap." She stretched her hand toward him. "That was you. Did you see yourself squash him?"

Donald's laugh was grim.

"Yes, I saw," he said. "I wish it were as easy as that."

"That was not easy," said Linda; "make a mental computation of all the seconds that it took me to erect that pyramid and all the millions of grains of sand I had to gather."

Donald was deeply thoughtful, yet a half smile was playing round his lips.

"Of all the queer girls I ever knew, you're the cap sheaf, Linda," he said.

Linda rose slowly, shook the sand from her breeches and stretched out her hand.

"Let's hotfoot it down to the African village and see what the movies are doing that is interesting today," she proposed.