Chapter II. Cotyledon of Multiflores Canyon
 

"'Ave, atque vale!' Cotyledon!"

Linda slid down the side of the canyon with the deftness of the expert. At the first available crevice she thrust in her Alpine stick, and bracing herself, gained a footing. Then she turned and by use of her fingers and toes worked her way back to the plan, she had passed. She was familiar with many members of she family, but such a fine specimen she seldom had found and she could not recall having seen it in all of her botanies. Opposite the plant she worked out a footing, drove her stick deep at the base of a rock to brace herself, and from the knapsack on her back took a sketchbook and pencil and began rapidly copying the thick fleshy leaves of the flattened rosette, sitting securely at the edge of a rock. She worked swiftly and with breathless interest. When she had finished the flower she began sketching in the moss-covered face of the boulder against which it grew, and other bits of vegetation near.

"I think, Coty," she said, "it is very probable that I can come a few simoleons with you. You are becoming better looking ever minute."

For a touch of color she margined one side of her drawing with a little spray of Pentstemon whose bright tubular flower the canyon knew as "hummingbird's dinner horn." That gave, her the idea of introducing a touch of living interest, so bearing down upon the flowers from the upper right-hand corner of her drawing she deftly sketched in a ruby-throated hummingbird, and across the bottom of the sheet the lace of a few leaves of fern. Then she returned the drawing and pencil to her knapsack, and making sure of her footing, worked her way forward. With her long slender fingers she began teasing the plant loose from the rock and the surrounding soil. The roots penetrated deeper than she had supposed and in her interest she forgot her precarious footing and pulled hard. The plant gave way unexpectedly, and losing her balance, Linda plunged down the side of the canyon catching wildly at shrubs and bushes and bruising herself severely on stones, finally landing in a sitting posture on the road that traversed the canyon.

She was not seriously hurt, but she did not present a picturesque figure as she sprawled in the road, her booted feet thrust straight before her, one of her long black braids caught on a bush at her back, her blouse pulled above her breeches, the contents of her knapsack decorating the canyon side and the road around her; but high in one hand, without break or blemish, she triumphantly held aloft the rare Cotyledon. She shrugged her shoulders, wiggled her toes, and moved her arms to assure herself that no bones were broken; then she glanced at her drawings and the fruits of her day's collecting scattered on the roadside around her. She was in the act of rising when a motor car containing two young men shot around a curve of the canyon, swerved to avoid running over her, and stopped as abruptly as possible.

"It's a girl!" cried the driver, and both men sprang to the road and hurried to Linda's assistance. Her dark cheeks were red with mortification, but she managed to recover her feet and tuck in her blouse before they reached her

"We heard you coming down," said the elder of the young men, "and we thought you might be a bear. Are you sure you're not hurt?"

Linda stood before them, a lithe slender figure, vivid with youth and vitality.

"I am able to stand," she said, "so of course I haven't broken any bones. I think I am fairly well battered, but you will please to observe that there isn't a scratch on Cotyledon, and I brought her down--at least I think it's she--from the edge of that boulder away up there. Isn't she a beauty? Only notice the delicate frosty 'bloom' on her leaves!"

"I should prefer," said the younger of the men, to know whether you have any broken bones."

"I'm sure I am all right," answered Linda. "I have falling down mountains reduced to an exact science. I'll bet you couldn't slide that far and bring down Coty without a scratch.' "Well, which is the more precious," said the young man. "Yourself or the specimen?"

"Why, the specimen!" answered Linda in impatience. "California is full of girls; but this is the finest Cotyledon of this family I have ever seen. Don't mistake this for any common stonecrop. It looks to me like an Echeveria. I know what I mean to do with the picture I have made of her, and I know exactly where she is going to grow from this day on."

"Is there any way we can help you?" inquired the elder of the two men.

For the first time Linda glanced at him, and her impression was that he was decidedly attractive.

"No, thank you!" she answered briskly. "I am going to climb back up to the boulder and collect the belongings I spilled on the way down. Then I am going to carry Coty to the car line in a kind of triumphal march, because she is the rarest find that I have ever made. I hope you have no dark designs on Coty, because this is 'what the owner had to do to redeem her.'"

Linda indicated her trail down the canyon side, brushed soil and twigs from her trousers, turned her straight young back, carefully set down her specimen, and by the aid of her recovered stick began expertly making her way up the canyon side. "Here, let me do that," offered the younger man. "You rest until I collect your belongings." Linda glanced back over her shoulder. "Thanks," she said. "I have a mental inventory of all the pencils and knives and trowels I must find. You might overlook the most important part of my paraphernalia; and really I am not damaged. I'm merely hurt. Good-bye!"

Linda started back up the side of the canyon, leaving the young men to enter their car and drive away. For a minute both of them stood watching her.

"What will girls be wearing and doing next?" asked the elder of the two as he started his car.

"What would you have a girl wear when she is occupied with coasting down canyons?" said his friend. "And as for what she is doing, it's probable that every high-school girl in Los Angeles has a botanical collection to make before she graduates."

"I see!" said the man driving. "She is only a high-school kid, , but did you notice that she is going to make an extremely attractive young woman?"

"Yes, I noticed just that; I noticed it very particularly," answered the younger man. "And I noticed also that she either doesn't know it, or doesn't give a flip."

Linda collected her belongings, straightened her hair and clothing, and, with her knapsack in place, and leaning rather on heavily on her walking stick, made her way down the road to the abutment of a small rustic bridge where she stopped to rest. The stream at her feet was noisy and icy cold. It rushed through narrow defiles in the rock, beat itself to foam against the faces a of the big stones, fell over jutting cliffs, spread in whispering pools, wound back and forth across the road at its will, singing every foot of its downward way and watering beds of crisp, cool miners' lettuce, great ferns, and heliotrope, climbing clematis, soil and blue-eyed grass. All along its length grew willows, and in a few places white-bodied sycamores. Everywhere over the walls red above it that vegetation could find a footing grew mosses, vines, flowers, and shrubs. On the shadiest side homed most of the ferns and the Cotyledon. In the sun, larkspur, lupin, and monkey flower; everywhere wild rose, holly, mahogany, gooseberry, and bayoneted yucca all intermingling in a curtain of variegated greens, brocaded with flower arabesques of vivid red, white, yellow, and blue. Canyon wrens and vireos sang as they nested. The air was clear, cool, and salty from the near-by sea. Myriad leaf shadows danced on the black roadbed, level as a barn floor, and across it trailed the wavering image of hawk and vulture, gull and white sea swallow. Linda studied the canyon with intent eyes, but bruised flesh pleaded, so reluctantly she arose, shouldered her belongings, and slowly followed the road out to the car line that passed through Lilac Valley, still carefully bearing in triumph the precious Cotyledon. An hour later she entered the driveway of her home. She stopped to set her plant carefully in the wild garden she and her father had worked all her life at collecting, then followed the back porch and kitchen route.

"Whatever have ye been doing to yourself, honey?" cried Katy.

"I came a cropper down Multiflores Canyon where it is so steep that it leans the other way. I pretty well pulverized myself for a pulverulent, Katy, which is a poor joke."

"Now ain't that just my luck!" wailed Katy, snatching a cake cutter and beginning hurriedly to stamp out little cakes from the dough before her.

"Well, I don't understand in exactly what way," said Linda, absently rubbing her elbows and her knees. "Seems to me it's my promontories that have been knocked off, not yours, Katy."

"Yes, and ain't it just like ye," said Katy, "to be coming in late, and all banged up when Miss Eileen has got sudden notice that there is going to be company again and I have an especial dinner to serve, and never in the world can I manage if ye don't help me !"

"Why, who is coming now?" asked Linda, seating herself on the nearest chair and beginning to unfasten her boots slowly.

"Well, first of all, there is Mr. Gilman, of course."

"'Of course,'" conceded Linda. "If he tried to get past our house, Eileen is perfectly capable of setting it on fire to stop him. She's got him 'vamped' properly."

"Oh I don't know that ye should say just that," said Katy "Eileen is a mighty pretty girl, and she is some manager."

"You can stake your hilarious life she is," said Linda, viciously kicking a boot to the center of the kitchen. "She can manage to go downtown for lunch and be invited out to dinner thirteen times a week, and leave us at home to eat bread and milk, bread heavily stressed. She can manage to get every cent of the income from the property in her fingers, and a great big girl like me has to go to high school looking so tacky that even the boys are beginning to comment on it. Manage, I'll say she can manage, not to mention managing to snake John Gilman right out of Marian's fingers. I doubt if Marian fully realizes yet that she's lost her man; and I happen to know that she just plain loved John!"

The second boot landed beside the first, then Linda picked them both up and started toward the back hall.

"Honey, are ye too bad hurt to help me any?" asked Katy, as she passed her.

"Of course not," said Linda. "Give me a few minutes to take a bath and step into my clothes and then I'll be on the job."

With a black scowl on her face, Linda climbed the dingy back stairway in her stocking-feet. At the head of the stairs she paused one minute, glanced at the gloom of her end of the house, then she turned and walked to the front of the hall where there were potted ferns, dainty white curtains, and bright rugs. The door of the guest room stood open and she could see that it was filled with fresh flowers and ready for occupancy. The door of her sister's room was slightly ajar and she pushed it open and stood looking inside. In her state of disarray she made a shocking contrast to the flowerlike figure busy before a dressing table. Linda was dark, narrow, rawboned, overgrown in height, and forthright of disposition. Eileen was a tiny woman, delicately moulded, exquisitely colored, and one of the most perfectly successful tendrils from the original clinging vine in her intercourse with men, and with such women as would tolerate the clinging-vine idea in the present forthright days. With a strand of softly curled hair in one hand and a fancy pin in the other, Eileen turned a disapproving look upon her sister.

"What's the great idea?" demanded Linda shortly.

"Oh, it's perfectly splendid," answered Eileen. "John Gilman's best friend is motoring around here looking for a location to build a home. He is an author and young and good looking and not married, and he thinks he would like to settle somewhere near Los Angeles. Of course John would love to have him in Lilac Valley because he hopes to build a home here some day for himself. His name is Peter Morrison and John says that his articles and stories have horse sense, logic, and humor, and he is making a lot of money."

"Then God help John Gilman, if he thinks now that he is in love with you," said Linda dryly.

Eileen arched her eyebrows, thinned to a hair line, and her lips drew together in disapproval.

"What I can't understand," she said, "is how you can be so unspeakably vulgar, Linda."

Linda laughed sharply.

"And this Peter Morrison and John are our guests for dinner?"

"Yes," said Eileen. "I am going to show them this valley inside and out. I'm so glad it's spring. We're at our very best. It would be perfectly wonderful to have an author for a neighbor, and he must be going to build a real house, because he has his architect with him; and John says that while he is young, he has done several awfully good houses. He has seen a couple of them in in San Francisco."

Linda shrugged her shoulders.

"Up the flue goes Marian's chance of drawing the plans for John Gilman's house," she said. "I have heard him say a dozen times he would not build a house unless Marian made the plans."

Eileen deftly placed the strand of hair and set the jewelled pin with precision.

"Just possibly things have changed slightly," she suggested.

"Yes," said Linda, "I observe that they have. Marian has sold the home she adored. She is leaving friends she loved and trusted, and who were particularly bound to her by a common grief without realizing exactly how it is happening. She certainly must know that you have taken her lover, and I have not a doubt but that is the reason she has discovered she can no longer work at home, that she must sell her property and spend the money cooped up in a city, to study her profession further."

"Linda," said Eileen, her face pale with anger, "you are positively insufferable. Will you leave my room and close the door after you?"

"Well, Katy has just informed me," said Linda, "that this dinner party doesn't come off without my valued assistance, and before I agree to assist, I'll know one thing. Are you proposing to entertain these three men yourself, or have you asked Marian?"

Eileen indicated an open note lying on her dressing table.

"I did not know they were coming until an hour ago," she said. "I barely had time to fill the vases and dust, and then I ran up to dress so that there would be someone presentable when they arrive."

"All right then, we'll agree that this is a surprise party, but if John Gilman has told you so much about them, you must have been expecting them, and in a measure prepared for them at any time. Haven't you talked it over with Marian, and told her that you would want her when they came?"

Eileen was extremely busy with another wave of hair. She turned her back and her voice was not quite steady as she answered. "Ever since Marian got this 'going to the city to study' idea in her head I have scarcely seen her. She had an awful job to empty the house, and pack such things as she wants to keep, and she is working overtime on a very special plan that she thinks maybe she'll submit in a prize competition offered by a big firm of San Francisco architects, so I have scarcely seen her for six weeks."

"And you never once went over to help her with her work, or to encourage her or to comfort her? You can't think Marian can leave this valley and not be almost heartbroken," said Linda. "You just make me almost wonder at you. When you think of the kind of friends that Marian Thorne's father and mother, and our father and mother were, and how we children were reared together, and the good times we have had in these two houses--and then the awful day when the car went over the cliff, and how Marian clung to us and tried to comfort us, when her own health was broken-- and Marian's the same Marian she has always been, only nicer every day--how you can sit there and say you have scarcely seen her in six of the hardest weeks of her life, certainly surprises me. I'll tell you this: I told Katy I would help her, but I won't do it if you don't go over and make Marian come tonight."

Eileen turned to her sister and looked at her keenly. Linda's brow was sullen, and her jaw set.

"A bed would look mighty good to me and I will go and get into mine this minute if you don't say you will go and ask her, in such a way that she comes," she threatened.

Eileen hesitated a second and then said: "All right, since you make such a point of it I will ask her."

"Very well," said Linda. "Then I'll help Katy the very best I can."