Chapter XXI. Shifting the Responsibility
 

On her pillow that night before dropping to almost instantaneous sleep Linda reflected that if you could not ride the King's Highway, racing the sands of Santa Monica was a very excellent substitute. It had been a wonderful day after all. When she had left Donald at the Lilac Valley end of the car line he had held her hand tight an instant and looked into her face with the most engaging of clear, boyish smiles.

"Linda, isn't our friendship the nicest thing that ever happened to us?" he demanded.

"Yes," answered Linda promptly, "quite the nicest. Make your plans for all day long next Saturday."

"I'll be here before the birds are awake," promised Donald.

At the close of Monday's sessions, going down the broad walk from the high school, Donald overtook Linda and in a breathless whisper he said: "What do you think? I came near Oka Sayye again this morning in trig, and his hair was as black as jet, dyed to a midnight, charcoal finish, and I am not right sure that he had not borrowed some girl's lipstick and rouge pot for the benefit of his lips and cheeks. Positively he's hectically youthful today. What do you know about that?"

Then he hurried on to overtake the crowd of boys he had left, Linda's heart was racing in her breast.

Turning, she re-entered the school building, and taking a telephone directory she hunted an address, and then, instead of going to the car line that took her to Lilac Valley she went to the address she had looked up. With a pencil she wrote a few lines on a bit of scratch paper in one of her books. That note opened a door and admitted her to the presence of a tall, lean, gray-haired man with quick, blue-gray eyes and lips that seemed capable of being either grave or gay on short notice. With that perfect ease which Linda had acquired through the young days of her life in meeting friends of her father, she went to the table beside which this man was standing and stretched out her hand.

"Judge Whiting?" she asked.

"Yes," said the Judge.

"I am Linda Strong, the younger daughter of Alexander Strong. I think you knew my father."

"Yes," said the Judge, "I knew him very well indeed, and I have some small acquaintance with his daughter through very interesting reports that my son brings home."

"Yes, it is about Donald that I came to see you," said Linda.

If she had been watching as her father would have watched, Linda would have seen the slight uplift of the Judge's figure, the tensing of his muscles, the narrowing of his eyes in the swift, speculative look he passed over her from the crown of her bare, roughened black head down the gold-brown of her dress to her slender, well-shod feet. The last part of that glance Linda caught. She slightly lifted one of the feet under inspection, thrust it forward and looked at the Judge with a gay challenge in her dark eyes.

"Are you interested in them too?" she asked.

The Judge was embarrassed. A flush crept into his cheeks. He was supposed to be master of any emergency that might arise, but one had arisen in connection with a slip of a schoolgirl that left him wordless.

"It is very probable," said Linda, "that if my shoes had been like most other girls' shoes I wouldn't be here today. I was in the same schoolroom with your son for three years, and he never saw me or spoke to me until one day he stopped me to inquire why I wore the kind of shoes I did. He said he had a battle to wage with me because I tried to be a law to myself, and he wanted to know why I wasn't like other girls. And I told him I had a crow to pick with him because he had the kind of brain that would be content to let a Jap beat him in his own school, in his own language and in his own country; so we made an engagement to fight to a finish, and it ended by his becoming the only boy friend I have and the nicest boy friend a girl ever had, I am very sure. That's why I'm here."

Linda lifted her eyes and Judge Whiting looked into them till he saw the same gold lights in their depths that Peter Morrison had seen. He came around the table and placed a big leather chair for Linda. Then he went back and resumed his own.

"Of course," said the Judge in his most engaging manner. "I gather from what Donald has told me that you have a reason for being here, and I want you to understand that I am intensely interested in anything you have to say to me. Now tell me why you came."

"I came," said Linda, "because I started something and am afraid of the possible result. I think very likely if, in retaliation for what Donald said to me about my hair and my shoes, I had not twitted him about the use he was making of his brain and done everything in my power to drive him into competition with Oka Sayye in the hope that a white man would graduate with the highest honors, he would not have gone into this competition, which I am now certain has antagonized Oka Sayye."

Linda folded her slim hands on the table and leaned forward.

"Judge Whiting," she said earnestly, "I know very little about men. The most I know was what I learned about my father and the men with whom he occasionally hunted and fished. They were all such fine men that I must have grown up thinking that every man was very like them, but one day I came in direct contact with the Jap that Donald is trying to beat, and the thing I saw in his face put fear into my heart and it has been there ever since. I have almost an unreasoning fear of that Jap, not because he has said anything or done anything. It's just instinctive. I may be wholly wrong in having come to you and in taking up your time, but there are two things I wanted to tell you. I could have told Donald, but if I did and his mind went off at a tangent thinking of these things he wouldn't be nearly so likely to be in condition to give his best thought to his studies. If I really made him see what I think I have seen, and fear what I know I fear, he might fail where I would give almost anything to see him succeed; so I thought I would come to you and tell you about it and ask you please to think it over, and to take extra care of him, because I really believe that he may be in danger; and if he is I never shall be able to rid myself of a sense of responsibility."

"I see," said Judge Whiting. "Now tell me, just as explicitly as you have told me this, exactly what it is that you fear."

"Last Saturday," said Linda, "Donald told me that while standing at the board beside Oka Sayye, demonstrating a theorem, he noticed that there were gray hairs above the Jap's ears, and he bluntly asked him, before the professor and the class, how old he was. In telling me, he said he had the feeling that if the Jap could have done so in that instant, he would have killed him. He said he was nineteen, but Donald says from the matured lines of his body, from his hands and his face and his hair, he is certain that he is thirty or more, and he thinks it very probable that he may have graduated at home before he came here to get his English for nothing from our public schools. I never before had the fact called to my attention that this was being done, but Donald told me that he had been in classes with matured men when he was less than ten years of age. That is not fair, Judge Whiting; it is not right. There should be an age specified above which people may not be allowed to attend public school."

"I quite agree with you," said the Judge. "That has been done in the grades, but there is nothing fair in bringing a boy under twenty in competition with a man graduated from the institutions of another country, even in the high schools. If this be the case--"

"You can be certain that it is," said Linda, "because Donald whispered to me as he passed me half an hour ago, coming from the school building, that today Oka Sayye's hair is a uniform, shining black, and he also thought that he had used a lipstick and rouge in an effort at rejuvenation. Do you think, from your knowledge of Donald, that he would imagine that?"

"No," said Judge Whiting, "I don't think such a thing would occur to him unless he saw it."

"Neither do I," said Linda. "From the short acquaintance I have with him I should not call him at all imaginative, but he is extremely quick and wonderfully retentive. You have to show him but once from which cactus he can get Victrola needles and fishing hooks, or where to find material for wooden legs."

The Judge laughed. "Doesn't prove much," he said. "You wouldn't have to show me that more than once either. If anyone were giving me an intensive course on such interesting subjects, I would guarantee to remember, even at my age."

Linda nodded in acquiescence. "Then you can regard it as quite certain," she said, "that Oka Sayye is making up in an effort to appear younger than he is which means that he doesn't want his right questioned to be in our schools, to absorb the things that we are taught, to learn our language, our government, our institutions, our ideals, our approximate strength and our only-too-apparent weakness."

The Judge leaned forward and waited attentively.

"The other matter," said Linda, "was relative to Saturday. There may not be a thing in it, but sometimes a woman's intuition proves truer than what a man thinks he sees and knows. I haven't seen a thing, and I don't know a thing, but I don't believe your gardener was sick last week. I believe he had a dirty job he wanted done and preferred to save his position and avoid risks by getting some other Jap who had no family and no interests here, to do it for him. I don't believe that your car, having run all right Friday night, was shot to pieces Saturday morning so that Donald went smash with it in a manner that might very easily have killed him, or sent him to the hospital for months, while Oka Sayye carried off the honors without competition I want to ask you to find out whether your regular gardener truly was ill, whether he has a family and interests to protect here, or whether he is a man who could disappear in a night as Japs who have leased land and have families cannot. I want to know about the man who took your gardener's place, and I want the man who is repairing your car interviewed very carefully as to what he found the trouble with it."

Linda paused. Judge Whiting sat in deep thought, then he looked at Linda.

"I see," he said at last. "Thank you very much for coming to me. All these things and anything that develops from them shall be handled carefully. Of course you know that Donald is my only son and you can realize what he is to me and to his mother and sister."

"It is because I do realize that," said Linda, "that I am here. I appreciate his friendship, but it is not for my own interests that I am asking to have him taken care of while he wages his mental war with this Jap. I want Donald to have the victory, but I want it to be a victory that will be an inspiration to any boy of white blood among any of our allies or among peoples who should be our allies. There's a showdown coming between the white race and a mighty aggregation of colored peoples one of these days, and if the white man doesn't realize pretty soon that his supremacy is not only going to be contested but may be lost, it just simply will be lost; that is all there is to it."

The Judge was studying deeply now. Finally he said: "Young lady, I greatly appreciate your coming to me. There may be nothing in what you fear. It might be a matter of national importance. In any event, it shows that your heart is in the right place. May Mrs. Whiting and I pay you a visit some day soon in your home?"

"Of course," said Linda simply. "I told Donald to bring his mother the first time he came, but he said he did not need to be chaperoned when he came to see me, because my father's name was a guarantee to his mother that my home would be a proper place for him to visit."

"I wonder how many of his other girl friends invited him to bring his mother to see them," said the Judge.

"Oh, he probably grew up with the other girls and was acquainted with them from tiny things," said Linda.

"Very likely," conceded the Judge. "I think, after all, I would rather have an invitation to make one of those trips with you to the desert or the mountains. Is there anything else as interesting as fish hooks and Victrola needles and wooden legs to be learned?"

"Oh, yes," said Linda, leaning farther forward, a lovely color sweeping up into her cheeks, her eyes a-shine. She had missed the fact that the Judge was jesting. She had thought him in sober, scientific earnest.

"It's an awfully nice thing if you dig a plant or soil your hands in hunting, or anything like that, to know that there are four or five different kinds of vegetable soap where you can easily reach them, if you know them. If you lose your way or have a long tramp, it's good to know which plants will give you drink and where they are. And if you're short of implements, you might at any time need a mescal stick, or an arrow shaft or an arrow, even. If Donald were lost now, he could keep alive for days, because he would know what wood would make him a bow and how he could take amole fiber and braid a bow string and where he could make arrows and arrow points so that he could shoot game for food. I've taught him to make a number of snares, and he knows where to find and how to cook his greens and potatoes and onions and where to find his pickles and how to make lemonade and tea, and what to use for snake bite. It's been such fun, Judge Whiting, and he has been so interested."

"Yes, I should think he would be," said the Judge. "I am interested myself. If you would take an old boy like me on a few of those trips, I would be immensely pleased."

"You'd like brigand beefsteak," suggested Linda, "and you'd like cress salad, and I am sure you'd like creamed yucca."

"Hm," said the Judge. "Sounds to me like Jane Meredith."

Linda suddenly sat straight. A dazed expression crossed her face. Presently she recovered.

"Will you kindly tell me," she said, "what a great criminal judge knows about Jane Meredith?"

"Why, I hear my wife and daughter talking about her," said the Judge.

"I wonder," said Linda, "if a judge hears so many secrets that he forgets what a secret is and couldn't possibly keep one to save his life."

"On the other hand," said Judge Whiting, "a judge hears so many secrets that he learns to be a very secretive person himself, and if a young lady just your size and so like you in every way as to be you, told me anything and told me that it was a secret, I would guarantee to carry it with me to my grave, if I said I would."

One of Linda's special laughs floated out of the windows. Her right hand slipped across the table toward the Judge.

"Cross your heart and body?" she challenged.

The Judge took the hand she offered in both of his own.

"On my soul," he said, "I swear it."

"All right," bubbled Linda. "Judge Whiting, allow me to present to you Jane Meredith, the author and originator of the Aboriginal Cookery articles now running in Everybody's Home.',

Linda stood up as she made the presentation and the Judge arose with her. When she bowed her dark head before him the Judge bowed equally as low, then he took the hand he held and pressed it against his lips.

"I am not surprised," he said. "I am honored, deeply honored, and I am delighted. For a high school girl that is a splendid achievement."

"But you realize, of course," said Linda, "that it is vicarious. I really haven't done anything. I am just passing on to the world what Alexander Strong found it interesting to teach his daughter, because he hadn't a son."

"I certainly am fortunate that my son is getting the benefit of this," said Judge Whiting earnestly. "There are girls who make my old-fashioned soul shudder, but I shall rest in great comfort whenever I know that my boy is with you."

"Sure!" laughed Linda. "I'm not vamping him. I don't know the first principles. We're not doing a thing worse than sucking 'hunters' rock leek' or roasting Indian potatoes or fishing for trout with cactus spines. I have had such a lovely time I don't believe that I'll apologize for coming. But you won't waste a minute in making sure about Oka Sayye?"

"I won't waste a minute," said the Judge.