Chapter XXIX. Katy Unburdens Her Mind
 

Possibly because she wished to eliminate herself from the offices of Nicholson and Snow for a few days, possibly because her finely attuned nature felt the call, Marian Thorne boarded a train that carried her to Los Angeles. She stepped from it at ten o'clock in the morning, and by the streetcar route made her way to Lilac Valley. When she arrived she realized that she could not see Linda before, possibly, three in the afternoon. She entered a restaurant, had a small lunch box packed, and leaving her dressing case, she set off down the valley toward the mountains. She had need of their strength, their quiet and their healing. To the one particular spot where she had found comfort in Lilac Valley her feet led her. By paths of her own, much overgrown for want of recent usage, she passed through the cultivated fields, left the roadway, and began to climb. When she reached the stream flowing down the rugged hillside, she stopped to rest for a while, and her mind was in a tumult. In one minute she was seeing the bitterly disappointed face of a lonely, sensitive man whose first wound had been reopened by the making of another possibly quite as deep; and at the next her heart was throbbing because Linda had succeeded in transferring the living Peter to paper.

The time had come when Marian felt that she would know the personality embodied in the letters she had been receiving; and in the past few days her mind had been fixing tenaciously upon Peter Morrison. And the feeling concerning which she had written Linda had taken possession of her. Wealth did not matter; position did not matter. Losing the love of a good man did not matter But the mind and the heart and the personality behind the letters she had been receiving did matter. She thought long and seriously When at last she arose she had arrived at the conclusion that she had done the right thing, no matter whether the wonderful letters she had received went on and offered her love or not, no matter about anything. She must merely live and do the best she could, until the writer of those letters chose to disclose himself and say what purpose he had in mind when he wrote them.

So Marian followed her own path beside the creek until she neared its head, which was a big, gushing icy spring at the foot of the mountain keeping watch over the small plateau that in her heart she had thought of as hers for years. As she neared the location strange sounds began to reach her, voices of men, clanging of hammers, the rip of saws. A look of deep consternation overspread her face. She listened an instant and then began to run. When she broke through the rank foliage flourishing from the waters of the spring and looked out on the plateau what she saw was Peter Morrison's house in the process of being floored and shingled. For a minute Marian was physically ill. Her heart hurt until her hand crept to her side in an effort to soothe it. Before she asked the question of a man coming to the spring with a pail in his hand, she knew the answer. It was Peter Morrison's house. Marian sprang across the brook, climbed to the temporary roadway, and walked down in front of the building. She stood looking at it intently. It was in a rough stage, but much disguise is needed to prevent a mother from knowing her own child. Marian's dark eyes began to widen and to blaze. She walked up to the front of the house and found that rough flooring had been laid so that she could go over the first floor. When she had done this she left the back door a deeply indignant woman.

"There is some connection," she told herself tersely, "between my lost sketch and this house, which is merely a left-to-right rehearsal of my plans; and it's the same plan with which Henry Anderson won the Nicholson and Snow prize money and the still more valuable honor of being the prize winner. What I want to know is how such a wrong may be righted, and what Peter Morrison has to do with it."

Stepping from the back door, Marian followed the well-worn pathway that led to the garage, looking right and left for Peter, and she was wondering what she would say to him if she met him. She was thinking that perhaps she had better return to San Francisco and talk the matter over with Mr. Snow before she said anything to anyone else; by this time she had reached the garage and stood in its wide-open door. She looked in at the cot, left just as someone had arisen from it, at the row of clothing hanging on a rough wooden rack at the back, at the piled boxes, at the big table, knocked together from rough lumber, in the center, scattered and piled with books and magazines; and then her eyes fixed intently on a packet lying on the table beside a typewriter and a stack of paper and envelopes. She walked over and picked up the packet. As she had known the instant she saw them, they were her letters. She stood an instant holding them in her hand, a dazed expression on her face. Mechanically she reached out and laid her hands on the closed typewriter to steady herself. Something about it appealed to her as familiar. She looked at it closely, then she lifted the cover and examined the machine. It was the same machine that had stood for years in Doctor Strong's library, a machine upon which she had typed business letters for her own father, and sometimes she had copied lectures and book manuscript on it for Doctor Strong. Until his house was completed and his belongings arrived, Peter undoubtedly had borrowed it. Suddenly a wild desire to escape swept over Marian. Her first thought was of her feelings. She was angry, and justly so. In her heart she had begun to feel that the letters she was receiving were from Peter Morrison. Here was the proof.

Could it be possible that in their one meeting Peter had decided that she was his dream woman, that in some way he had secured that rough sketch of her plans, and from them was preparing her dream house for her? The thought sped through her brain that he was something more than human to have secured those plans, to have found that secluded and choice location. For an instant she forgot the loss of the competition in trying to comprehend the wonder of finding her own particular house fitting her own particular location as naturally as one of its big boulders.

She tried to replace the package of letters exactly as she had found them. On tiptoe she slipped back to the door and looked searchingly down the road, around, and as far as possible through the house. Then she gathered her skirts, stepped from the garage, and began the process of effacing herself on the mountain side From clump to clump of the thickest bushes, crouching below the sage and greasewood, pausing to rest behind lilac and elder, with. out regard for her traveling suit or her beautifully shod feet, Marian fled from her location. When at last she felt that she was completely hidden and at least a mile from the spot, she dropped panting on a boulder, brushing the debris from her skirts, lifting trembling hands to straighten her hat, and ruefully contemplating her shoes. Then she tried to think in a calm, dispassionate, and reasonable manner, but she found it a most difficult process. Her mind was not well ordered, neither was it at her command. It whirled and shot off at unexpected tangents and danced as irresponsibly as a grasshopper from one place to another. The flying leaps it took ranged from San Francisco to Lilac Valley, from her location upon which Peter Morrison was building her house, to Linda. Even John Gilman obtruded himself once more. At one minute she was experiencing a raging indignation against Henry Anderson. How had he secured her plan? At another she was trying to figure dispassionately what connection Peter Morrison could have had with the building of his house upon her plan. Every time Peter came into the equation her heart arose in his defense. In some way his share in the proceeding was all right. He had cared for her and he had done what he thought would please her. Therefore she must be pleased, although forced to admit to herself that she would have been infinitely more pleased to have built her own house in her own way.

She was hungry to see Linda. She wanted Katherine O'Donovan to feed her and fuss over her and entertain her with her mellow Irish brogue; but if she went to them and disclosed her presence in the valley, Peter would know about it, and if he intended the building he was erecting as a wonderful surprise for her, then she must not spoil his joy. Plan in any way she could, Marian could see no course left to her other than to slip back to the station and return to San Francisco without meeting any of her friends. She hurriedly ate her lunch, again straightened her clothing, went to the restaurant for her traveling bag, and took the car for the station where she waited for a return train to San Francisco She bought a paper and tried to concentrate upon it in an effort to take her mind from her own problems so that, when she returned to them, she would be better able to think clearly, to reason justly, to act wisely. She was very glad when her train came and she was started on her way northward. At the first siding upon which it stopped to allow the passing of a south-bound limited, she was certain that as the cars flashed by, in one of them she saw Eugene Snow. She was so certain that when she reached the city she immediately called the office and asked for Mr. Snow only to be told that he had gone away for a day or two on business. After that Marian's thought was confused to the point of exasperation.

It would be difficult to explain precisely the state of mind in which Linda, upon arriving at her home that afternoon, received from Katy the information that a man named Snow had been waiting an hour for her in the living room. Linda's appearance was that of a person so astonished that Katy sidled up to her giving strong evidence of being ready to bristle.

"Ye know, lambie," she said with elaborate indifference, "ye aren't havin' to see anybody ye don't want to. If it's somebody intrudin' himself on ye, just say the word and I'll fire him; higher than Guilderoy's kite I'll be firin' him."

"No, I must see him, Katy," said Linda quietly. "And have something specially nice for dinner. Very likely I'll take him to see Peter Morrison's house and possibly I'll ask him and Peter to dinner. He is a San Francisco architect from the firm where Marian takes her lessons, and it's business about Peter's house. I was surprised, that's all."

Then Linda turned and laid a hand on each of Katy's hairy red arms.

"Katherine O'Donovan, old dear," she said, "if we do come back for dinner, concentrate on Mr. Snow and study him. Scrutinize, Katy! It's a bully word. Scrutinize closely. To add one more to our long lists of secrets, here's another. He's the man I told you about who has asked Marian to marry him, and Marian has refused him probably because she prefers somebody nearer home."

Then Linda felt the tensing of every muscle in Katy's body. She saw the lift of her head, the incredulous, resentful look in her eyes. There was frank hostility in her tone.

"Well, who is there nearer home that Marian knows?" she demanded belligerently.

"Well, now, who would there be?" retorted Linda.

"Ye ain't manin' John Gilman?" asked Katy.

"No," said Linda, "I am not meaning John Gilman. You should know Marian well enough to know that."

"Well, ye ought to know yourself well enough to know that they ain't anybody else around these diggin's that Marian Thorne's going to get," said Katy.

"I imagine Marian will get pretty much whom she wants," said Linda laughingly. "In your heart, Katy, you know that Marian need not have lost John Gilman if she had not deliberately let him go. If she had been willing to meet Eileen on her own ground and to play the game with her, it wouldn't have happened. Marian has more brains in a minute than Eileen has in a month."

When Linda drew back the portiere and stepped into the living room Eugene Snow rose to meet her. What either of them expected it might be difficult to explain. Knowing so little of each other, it is very possible that they had no visualizations. What Snow saw was what everyone saw who looked at Linda--a girl arrestingly unusual. With Linda lay the advantage by far, since she had Marian's letters for a background. What she saw was a tall man, slender, and about him there was to Linda a strong appeal. As she looked into his eyes, she could feel the double hurt that Fate had dealt him. She thought she could fathom the fineness in his nature that had led him to made home-building his chosen occupation. Instantly she liked him. With only one look deep into his eyes she was on his side. She stretched out both her hands and advanced.

"Now isn't this the finest thing of you?" she said. "I am so glad that you came. I'll tell you word for word what happened here."

"That will be fine," he said. "Which is your favorite chair?"

"You know," she said, "that is a joke. I am so unfamiliar with this room that I haven't any favorite chair. I'll have to take the nearest, like Thoreau selected his piece of chicken."

Then for a few minutes Linda talked frankly. She answered Eugene Snow's every question unhesitatingly and comprehensively. Together they ascended the stairs, and in the guest room she showed him the table at which she and Marian had studied the sketches of plans, and exactly where they had left them lying overnight.

"The one thing I can't be explicit about," said Linda, "is how many sheets were there in the morning. We had stayed awake so late talking, that we overslept. I packed Marian's bag while she dressed. I snatched up what there were without realizing whether there were two sheets or three, laid them in the flat bottom of the case, and folded her clothing on top of them."

"I see," said Mr. Snow comprehendingly. "Now let's experiment a little. Of course the window before that table was raised?"

"Yes, it was," said Linda, "but every window in the house is screened."

"And what about the door opening into the hall? Can you tell me whether it was closed or open?"

"It was open," said Linda. "We left it slightly ajar to create a draft; the night was warm."

"Is there anyone about the house," inquired Mr. Snow, "who could tell us certainly whether that window was screened that night?"

"Of course," said Linda. "Our housekeeper, Katherine O'Donovan, would know. When we go down we'll ask her."

On their return to the living room, for the first time in her life Linda rang for Katy. She hesitated an instant before she did it. It would be establishing a relationship that never before had existed between them. She always had gone to Katy as she would have, gone to her mother. She would have gone to her now, but she wanted Katy to make her appearance and give her information without the possibility of previous discussion. Katy answered the bell almost at once. Linda went to her side and reached her arm across her shoulders.

"Katy," she said, "this is Mr. Eugene Snow of San Francisco He is interested in finding out exactly what became of that lost plan of Marian's that we have looked for so carefully. Put on your thinking cap, old dear, and try to answer accurately any question that Mr. Snow may wish to ask you."

Katy looked expectantly at Eugene Snow.

"In the meantime," said Linda, "I'll be excused and go bring round the Bear Cat."

"I have only one question to ask you," said Mr. Snow. "Can you recall whether, for any reason, there was a screen out of the guest-room window directly in front of which the reading table was standing the night Miss Marian occupied the room before leaving for San Francisco?"

"Sure there was," answered Katy instantly in her richest, mellowest brogue.

She was taking the inventory she had been told to take. She was deciding, as instantly as Linda had done, that she liked this man. Years, appearance, everything about him appealed to Katy as being exactly right for Marian; and her cunning Irish mind was leaping and flying and tugging at the leash that thirty years of conventions had bound upon her.

"Sure," she repeated, "the wildest santana that ever roared over us just caught that screen and landed it slam against the side of the garage, and it set inside for three days till I could get a workman to go up the outside and put it back. It had been out two days before the night Marian was here."

"Did Miss Linda know about it?" asked Snow.

"Not that I know of," said Katy. "She is a schoolgirl, you know, off early in the morning, back and up to her room, the busiest youngster the valley knows; and coin' a dale of good she is, too. It was Miss Eileen that heard the screen ripped out and told me it was gone. She's the one who looked after the housekapin' and paid the bills. She knew all about it. If 'twould be helpin' Miss Marian any about findin' them plans we've ransacked the premises for, I couldn't see any reason why Miss Eileen wouldn't tell ye the same as I'm tellin' ye, and her housekapin' accounts and her cheque book would show she paid the carpenter, if it's legal business you're wantin'."

"Thank you, Katy," said Mr. Snow. "I hope nothing of that kind will occur. A great wrong has been perpetrated, but we must find some way to right it without involving such extremely nice young women in the annoyance of legal proceedings."

Katy folded her arms and raised her head. All her share of the blarney of Ireland began to roll from the mellow tip of her tongue.

"Now, the nice man ye are, to be seein' the beauty of them girls so quick," she said. "The good Lord airly in the mornin' of creation thought them out when He was jist fresh from rist, and the material was none shopworn. They ain't ladies like 'em anywhere else in the whole of California, and belave me, a many rale ladies have I seen in my time. Ye can jist make up your mind that Miss Linda is the broth of the earth. She is her father's own child and she is like him as two pase in the pod. And Marian growed beside her, and much of a hand I've had in her raisin' meself, and well I'm knowin' how fine she is and what a juel she'd be, set on any man's hearthstone. I'm wonderin'," said Katy challengingly, "if you're the Mr. Snow at whose place she is takin' her lessons, and if ye are, I'm wonderin' if ye ain't goin' to use the good judgment to set her, like the juel she would be, ia the stone of your own hearth."

Eugene Snow looked at Katy intently. He was not accustomed to discussing his affairs with household helpers, but he could not look at Katy without there remaining in his vision the forte of Linda standing beside her, a reassuring arm stretched across her shoulders, the manner in which she had presented her and then left her that she might be free to answer as she chose with out her young mistress even knowing exactly what was asked of her. Such faith and trust and love were unusual.

"I might try to do that very thing," he said, "but, you know, a wonderful woman is an animated jewel. You can't manufacture a setting and put her in and tighten the clasps without her consent."

"Then why don't you get it?" said Katy casually.

Eugene Snow laughed ruefully.

"But suppose," he said, "that the particular jewel you're discussing prefers to select her own setting, and mine does not please her."

"Well, they's jist one thing," said Katy. Her heels left the floor involuntarily; she arose on her tiptoes; her shoulders came up, and her head lifted to a height it never had known before. "They's jist one thing," she said. "Aside from Miss Linda, who is my very own child that I have washed and I have combed and I have done for since she was a toddlin' four-year-old, they ain't no woman in this world I would go as far for as I would for Miss Marian; but I'm tellin' ye now, ye Mr. Eujane Snow, that they's one thing I don't lend no countenance to. I am sorry she has had the cold, cruel luck that she has, but I ain't sorry enough that I'm goin' to stand for her droppin' herself into the place where she doesn't belong. If the good Lord ain't give her the sense to see that you're jist the image of the man that would be jist exactly right for her, somebody had better be tellin' her so. Anyway, if Miss Linda is takin' ye up to the house that Mr. Pater Morrison is buildin' and the Pater man is there, I would advise ye to cast your most discernin' eye on that gintleman. Ye watch him jist one minute when he looks at the young missus and he thinks nobody ain't observing him, and ye'll see what ye'll see. If ye want Marian, ye jist go on and take her. I'm not carin' whether ye use a club or white vi'lets, but don't ye be lettin' Marian Thorne get no idea into her head that she is goin' to take Mr. Pater Morrison, because concernin' Pater I know what I know, and I ain't goin' to stand by and see things goin' wrong for want of spakin' up. Now if you're a wise man, ye don't nade nothing further said on the subject."

Eugene Snow thought intently for a few moments. His vision centered on Katherine O'Donovan's face.

"You're absolutely sure of this?" he said at last.

"Jist as sure as the sun's sure, and the mountains, and the seaSons come and go," said Katy with finality. "Watch him and you'll see it stickin' out all over him. I have picked him for me boss, and it's jist adorin' that man crature I am."

"What about Miss Linda?" inquired Snow. "Is she adoring him?"

"She ain't nothing but a ganglin' school kid, adorin' the spade with which she can shoot around that Bear Cat of hers, and race the canyons, and the rely lovely things she can strike on paper with her pencil and light up with her joyous colors. Her day and her hour ain't come, and the Pater man's that fine he won't lay a finger on her to wake her up when she has a year yet of her schoolin' before her. But in the manetime it's my job to stand guard as I'm standin' right now. I'm tellin' ye frank and fair. Ye go on and take Marian Thorne because ye ought to have her. If she's got any idea in her head that she's goin' to have Pater Morrison, she'll have to get it out."

Eugene Snow held out his hand and started to the front door in answer to the growl of the Bear Cat. As he came down the steps and advanced to the car, Linda, with the quick eye that had been one of her special gifts as a birthright, noted a change in him. He seemed to have been keyed up and toned up. There was a different expression on his face. There was buoyancy in his step. There was a visible determination in his eye. He took the seat beside her and Linda started the car. She looked at him interrogatively.

"Can you connect a heavy wind with the date of the lost plan?" he inquired.

"There was a crack-a-jack a few days before," said Linda. "It blew over some trees in the lot next to us."

"Exactly," said Snow; "and it plucked a screen from your guest-room window. Katy thinks that the cheque to the carpenter and the cost of the repairs will be in your sister's account books."

"Um hm," nodded Linda. "Well, that simplifies matters, because Peter Morrison is going to tell you about a trip Henry Anderson made around our house the morning Marian left."

"I think that is about all we need to know," said Mr. Snow conclusively.

"I think so," said Linda, "but I want you to see Peter's house for yourself, since I understand that according to your contract the rights to reproduce these particular plans remained with you after you had paid prize money for them."

"Most certainly," said Mr. Snow. "We should have that much to show for our share of the transaction."

"It's a queer thing," said Linda. "You would have to know me a long time, and perhaps know under what conditions I have been reared in order to understand a feeling that I frequently have concerning people. I tobogganed down a sheer side of Multiflores Canyon one day without my path having been previously prepared, and I very nearly landed in the automobile that carried Henry Anderson and Peter Morrison on their first trip to Lilac Valley. I was much interested in preserving the integrity of my neck. I fervently hoped not to break more than a dozen of my legs and arms, and was forced to bring down intact the finest Cotyledon pulverulenta that Daddy or I had found in fourteen years of collecting in California. I am telling you all this that you may see why I might have been excused for not having been minutely observant of my surroundings when I landed. But what I did observe was a chilly, caterpillary sensation chasing up my spine the instant I met the eyes of Henry Anderson. In that instant I said to myself that I would not trust him, that I did not like him."

"And what about his companion?" asked Eugene Snow lightly. "Oh, Peter?" said Linda. There was a caress in her pronunciation of the name. "Why, Peter is a rock. The instant I deposited my Cotyledon in a safe place I would have put my hand in Peter Morrison's and started around the world if he had asked me to go. There is only one Peter. You will recognize that the instant you meet him."

"I am altogether willing to take your word for it," said Mr. Snow.

"And there is one thing about this disagreeable business," said Linda. "It was not Peter's coat that had the plan in it. He knew nothing about it. He has had his full service of stiff war work, and he has been knocking around big cities in newspaper work, and now he has come home to Lilac Valley to 'set up his rest,' as in the hymn book, you know. He built his garage first and he is living in it because he so loves this house of his that he has to be present to watch it grow in minutes" detail. Once on a time I saw a great wizard walking along the sidewalk, and he looked exactly like any man. He might have been you so far as anything different from other men in his appearance w as concerned."

Linda cut down the Bear Cat to its slowest speed.

"What is on my mind is this," she said. "I don't think Peter could quite afford the amount of ground he has bought, and the house he is building. I think possibly he is tying himself up in obligations. It may take him two or three years to come even on it; but it is a prepossession with him. Now can't you see that if we go to him and tell him this sordid, underhand, unmanly tale, how his fine nature is going to be hurt, how his big heart is going to be wrung, how his home-house that he is building with such eager watchfulness will be a weighty Old Man of the Sea clinging to his back? Do you think, Mr. Eugene Snow, that you're enough of a wizard to examine this house and to satisfy yourself as to whether it's an infringement of your plans or not, without letting Peter know the things about it that would spoil it for him?"

Eugene Snow reached across and closed a hand over the one of Linda's nearest him on the steering wheel.

"You very decent kid, you," he said appreciatively. "I certainly am enough of a wizard to save your Peter man any disillusionment concerning his dream house."

"Oh, but he is not my Peter man," said Linda. "We are only the best friends in the world. Really and truly, if you can keep a secret, he's Marian's."

"Is he?" asked Mr. Snow interestedly. And then he added very casually, in the most offhand manner--he said it more to an orange orchard through which they were passing than he said it to Linda--"I have very grave doubts about that. I think there must be some slight complication that will have to be cleared up."

Linda's heart gave a great jump of consternation.

"Indeed no," she said emphatically. "I don't think he has just told Marian yet, but I am very sure that he cares for her more than for any other woman, and I am equally sure she cares for him; and nothing could be more suitable."

"All right then," agreed Mr. Snow.

Linda put the Bear Cat at the mountain, crept around the road, skirted the boulders, and stopped halfway to the garage. And there, in a low tone, she indicated to Mr. Snow where they had lunched, when she found the plans, how she had brought out the coat, where she had emptied the mouse nest. Then she stepped from the car and hallooed for Peter. Peter came hurrying from the garage, and Eugene Snow was swift in his mental inventory. It coincided exactly with Linda's. He would have been willing to join hands with Peter and start around the world, quite convinced of the fairness of the outcome, with no greater acquaintance than one intent look at Peter, one grip of his sure hand. After that he began to act on Katy's hint, and in a very short time he had convinced himself that she was right. Maybe Peter tried to absorb himself in the plans he was going over, in the house he was proud to show the great architect; but it seemed to the man he was entertaining that his glance scarcely left Linda, that he was so preoccupied with where she went and what she did that he was like a juggler keeping two mental balls in the air at the same time.

It seemed to Peter a natural thing that, the architect being in the city on business, he should run out to call on Miss Thorne's dearest friend It seemed to him equally natural that Linda should bring him to see a house in which she was so kindly interesting herself. And just when Peter was most dexterous in his juggling, just when he was trying to explain the very wonderful step-saving' time-saving, rational kitchen arrangements and at the same time watch Linda on her course down to the spring, the architect halted him with a jerk. Eugene Snow stood very straight, his hands in his coat pockets, looking, Peter supposed, with interest at the arrangements of kitchen conveniences. His next terse sentence fairly staggered Peter. He looked him straight in the eye and inquired casually: "Chosen your dream woman to fit your house, Morrison?"

Peter was too surprised to conceal his feelings. His jaws snapped together; a belligerent look sprang into his eyes.

"I have had a good deal to do with houses," continued Mr. Snow. "They are my life work. I find that invariably they are built for a woman. Almost always they are built from her plans, and for her pleasure. It's a new house, a unique house, a wonderful house you're evolving here. It must be truly a wonderful woman you're dreaming about while you build it."

That was a nasty little trap. With his years and worldly experience Peter should not have fallen into it; but all men are children when they are sick, heart sick or body sick, and Peter was a very sick man at that minute. He had been addressed in such a frank and casual manner. His own brain shot off at queer tangents and led him constantly into unexpected places. The narrow side lane that opened up came into view so suddenly that Peter, with the innocence of a four-year-old, turned with military precision at the suggestion and looked over the premises for the exact location of Linda. Eugene Snow had seen for himself the thing that Katy had told him he would see if he looked for it. Suddenly he held out his hand.

"As man to man, Morrison, in this instance," he said in rather a hoarse, breathless voice, "don't you think it would be a good idea for you and me to assert our manhood, to manage our own affairs, to select our own wives if need be? If we really set ourselves to the job don't you believe we can work out our lives more to our liking than anyone else can plan for us? You get the idea, don't you, Morrison?"

Peter was facing the kitchen sink but he did not see it. His brain was whirling. He did see Snow's point of view. He did realize his position. But what Mr. Snow knew of his affairs he could only guess. The one thing Mr. Snow could not know was that Linda frankly admitted her prepossession for her school chum, Donald Whiting, but in any event if Peter could not have Linda he would much prefer occupying his dream house alone. So he caught at the straw held out to him with both hands.

"I get you," he said tersely. "It is not quite up to the mark of the manhood we like to think we possess to let our lives be engineered by a high school kid. Suppose we do just quietly and masterfully assert ourselves concerning our own affairs."

"Suppose we do," said Snow with finality.

Whereupon they shook hands with a grip that whitened their knuckles.

Then they went back to Lilac Valley and had their dinner together, and Linda and Peter escorted Eugene Snow to his train and started him on his return trip to San Francisco feeling very much better. Peter would not allow Linda to drive him home at night, so he left her after the Bear Cat had been safely placed in the garage. As she stood on the walk beside him, strongly outlined in the moonlight, Peter studied Linda whimsically. He said it half laughingly, but there was something to think about in what he said:

"I'm just picturing, Linda, what a nice old lady you will be by the time that high school kid of yours spends four years in college, one on the continent, and the Lord knows how many at mastering a profession."

Linda looked at him with widened eyes.

KATY UNBURDENS HER MIND 307

"Why, what are you talking about, Peter? Are you moonstruck?" she inquired solicitously. "Donald's only a friend, you know. I love him because he is the nicest companion; but there is nothing for you to be silly about."

Then Peter began to realize the truth. There wasn't anything for him to be concerned about. She had not the slightest notion what love meant, even as she announced that she loved Donald.