Her Father's Daughter by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter XXXI. The End of Donald's Contest
The middle of the week Linda had told Katy that she intended stocking up the Bear Cat for three and that she would take her along on the next Saturday's trip to her canyon kitchen. It was a day upon which she had planned to gather greens, vegetables, and roots, and prepare a dinner wholly from the wild. She was fairly sure exactly where in nature she would find the materials she wanted, but she knew that the search would be long and tiring. It would be jolly to have Katy to help her prepare the lunch. It would please Katy immensely to be taken; and the original things she said in her quaint Irish brogue greatly amused Donald. The arrangement had been understood among them for some time, so they all started on their journey filled with happy expectations. They closed the house and the garage carefully. Linda looked over the equipment of the Bear Cat minutely making sure that her field axe, saw, knives, and her field glasses were in place. Because more food than usual was to be prepared in the kitchen they took along a nest of cooking vessels and a broiler. They found Donald waiting before either of them were ready, and in great glee, with much laughing and many jests they rolled down the valley in the early morning. They drove to the kitchen, spread their blankets, set up their table, and arranged the small circular opening for their day's occupancy. While Katy and Linda were busy with these affairs Donald took the axe and collected a big heap of wood. Then they left Katy to burn the wood and have a deep bed of coals ready while they started out to collect from the canyon walls, the foot of the mountains, and the near-by desert the materials they would use for their dinner.
Just where the desert began to climb the mountain Linda had for a long time watched a big bed of amole. Donald used the shovel, she the hatchet, and soon they had brought to the surface such a quantity that Donald protested.
"But I have two uses for them today," explained Linda. "They must serve for potatoes and they have to furnish our meat."
"Oh, I get you," said Donald. "I have always been crazy to try that."
So he began to dig again enthusiastically.
"Now I'll tell you what I think we had better do," said Linda. "We will skirmish around this side of the mountain and find a very nice tender yucca shoot; and then we'll take these back to Katy and let her bury them in the ashes and keep up the fire while we forage for the remainder of our wild Indian feast."
Presently they found a yucca head that Linda said was exactly right, a delicate pink, thicker than her wrist and two feet in length. With this and the amole they ran back to Katy. She knew how to prepare the amole for roasting. Linda gave her a few words of instruction concerning the yucca. Then from the interior of the Bear Cat she drew a tightly rolled section of wire window screening. Just where a deep, wide pool narrowed at a rocky defile they sank the screening, jammed it well to the bottom, fastened it tight at the sides, and against the current side of it they threw leaves, grass, chunks of moss, any debris they could gather that would make a temporary dam. Then, standing on one side with her field knife, Linda began to slice the remainder of the amole very thin and to throw it over the surface of the pool. On the other, Donald pounded the big, juicy bulbs to pulp and scattered it broadcast over the water. Linda instructed Katy to sit on the bank with a long-handled landing net and whenever a trout arose, to snatch it out as speedily as possible, being careful not to take more than they would require.
Then the two youngsters, exhilarated with youth, with living, with the joy of friendship, with the lure of the valley, with the heady intoxication of the salt breeze and the gold of the sunshine, climbed into the Bear Cat and went rolling through the canyon and out to the valley on the far side. Here they gathered the tenderest heart shoots of the lupin until Linda said they had enough. Then to a particular spot that she knew on the desert they hurried for the enlarged stems of the desert trumpet which was to serve that day for an appetizer in the stead of pickles. Here, too, they filled a bucket from the heart of a big Bisnaga cactus as a basis for their drink. Among Katherine O'Donovan's cooking utensils there was a box of delicious cactus candy made from the preserved and sun-dried heart meat of this same fruit which was to serve as their confection. On the way back they stopped at the bridge and gathered cress for their salad. When they returned to Katy she had five fine trout lying in the shade, and with more experienced eyes and a more skillful hand Linda in a few minutes doubled this number. Then they tore out the dam, rinsed the screen and spread it over a rock to dry. While Donald scaled the fish Linda put the greens to cook, prepared the salad and set the table. Once, as he worked under her supervision, Linda said to Donald: "Now about bread, kid--there's not going to be any bread, because the Indians did not have it when they lived the way we are living today. When you reach the place where your left hand feels empty without a piece of bread in it, just butter up another amole and try it. It will serve the same purpose as bread, and be much better for the inner man."
"If you would let me skin these fish," said Donald, "I could do it much faster and make a better job of it."
"But you shouldn't skin them; you want the skin to hold the meat together when it begins to cook tender; and you should be able to peel it off and discard it if it burns or gets smoky in the cooking. It's a great concession to clean them as we do. The Indians cooked them in the altogether and ate the meat from the bones."
"Oh my tummy!" said Donald. "I always thought there was some dark secret about the Indians."
Linda sat on a rock opposite him and clasped her hands around her knees. She looked at him meditatively.
"Did you?" she asked. "Suppose you revise that opinion. Our North American Indians in their original state were as fine as any peoples that ever have been discovered the round of the globe. My grandfather came into intimate contact with them in the early days, and he said that their religion, embracing the idea of a great spirit to whom they were responsible for their deeds here, and a happy hunting ground to which they went as a reward for decent living, was as fine as any religion that ever has been practiced by people of any nation. Immorality was unknown among them. Family ties were formed and they were binding They loved their children and reared them carefully. They were hardy and healthful. Until the introduction of whiskey and what we are pleased to term civilized methods of living, very few of them died save from war or old age. They were free; they were happy. The moping, lazy, diseased creature that you find sleeping in the sun around the reservations is a product of our civilization. Nice commentary on civilization, isn't it?"
"For heaven's sake, Linda," said Donald, "don't start any big brainstorming trains of thought today! Grant me repose. I have overworked my brain for a few months past until I know only one thing for certain."
"All right then, me lad, this is the time for the big secret," said Linda. "I just happened to be in the assembly room on some business of my own last Thursday afternoon when my sessions were over, and I overheard your professor in trigonometry tell a marl I did not know, who seemed to be a friend visiting him, that the son of Judge Whiting was doing the finest work that ever had been done in any of the Los Angeles high schools, and that undoubtedly you were going to graduate with higher honors than any other boy ever had from that school."
Donald sat thinking this over. He absently lifted an elbow and wiped the tiny scales from his face with his shirt sleeve.
"Young woman," he said solemnly, "them things what you're saying, are they 'cross your heart, honest to goodness, so help you,' truth, or are they the fruit of a perfervid imagination?"
Linda shook her head vigorously.
"De but', kid," she said, "de gospel but'. You have the Jap going properly. He can't stop you now. You have fought your good fight, and you have practically won it. All you have to do is to carry on till the middle of June, and you're It."
"I wish Dad knew," said Donald in a low voice.
"The Judge does know," said Linda heartily. "It wasn't fifteen minutes after I heard that till I had him on the telephone repeating it as fast as I could repeat. Come to think of it, haven't you noticed a particularly cocky set of his head and the corksome lightness about his heels during the past few days?"
"By Jove, he has been happy about something!" said Donald. "And I noticed that Louise and the Mater were sort of cheery and making a specialty of the only son and brother."
"Sure, brother, sure," said Linda. "Hurry up and scrape those fish and let's scamper down the canyon merely for the joy of flying with wings on our feet. You're It, young man, just It!"
Donald was sitting on a boulder. On another in front of him he was operating on the trout. His hands were soiled; his hair was tousled; he was fairly well decorated with fine scales. He looked at Linda appealingly.
"Am I 'It' with you, Linda?" he asked soberly.
"Sure you are," said Linda. "You're the best friend I have."
"Will you write to me when I go to college this fall?"
"Why, you couldn't keep me from it," said Linda. "I'll have so many things to tell you. And when your first vacation comes we'll make it a hummer."
"I know Dad won't let me come home for my holidays except for the midsummer ones," said Donald soberly. "It would take most of the time there would be of the short holidays to travel back and forth."
"You will have to go very carefully about getting a start," said Linda, "and you should be careful to find the right kind of friends at the very start. Christmas and Thanksgiving boxes can always be sent on time to reach you. It won't be so long for you as for us; and by the time you have Oka Sayye beaten to ravelings you will have such a 'perfect habit' that you will start right in with the beating idea. That should keep you fairly busy, because most of the men you come up against will be beaters themselves."
"Yes, I know," said Donald. "Are you going to start me to college with the idea that I have to keep up this beating habit? If I were to be one of fifty or a hundred, wouldn't that be good enough?"
"Why, sure," said Linda, "if you will be satisfied with having me like fifty or a hundred as well as I do you."
"Oh, damn!" said Donald angrily. "Do I have to keep up this top-crust business all my days?"
Linda looked at him with a queer smile on her lips.
"Not unless you want to, Donald," she said quietly; "not unless you think you would rather."
Donald scraped a fish vigorously. Linda sat watching him. Presently the tense lines around his eyes vanished. A faint red crept up his neck and settled on his left cheek bone. A confused grin slowly widened his naturally wide mouth.
"Then it's me for the top crust," he said conclusively.
"Then it's me for you," answered Linda in equally as matter-of-fact tones; and rising, she gathered up the fish and carried them to Katy while Donald knelt beside the chilly stream and scoured his face and hands, after which Linda whipped away the scales with an improvised brush of willow twigs.
It was such a wonderful day; it was such an unusual and delicious feast. Plump brook trout, fresh from icy water, delicately broiled over searing wood coals, are the finest of food. Through the meal to the point where Donald lay on his back at the far curve of the canyon wall, nibbling a piece of cactus candy, everything had been perfect. Nine months would be a long time to be gone, but Linda would wait for him, and she would write to him.
He raised his head on his elbow and called across to her: "Say, Linda, how often will you write to me?"
Linda answered promptly: "Every Saturday night. Saturday is our day. I'll tell you what has happened all the week. I'll tell you specially what a darned unprofitable day Saturday is when you're three thousand miles away."
Bending over the canyon fireplace, her face red with heat and exertion, Katherine O'Donovan caught up her poker and beat up the fire until the ashes flew.
"Easy, Katy, easy," cautioned Linda. "We may want to bury those coals and resurrect them to warm up what is left for supper."
"We'll do no such thing," said Katy promptly. "What remains goes to feed the fish. Next time it's hungry ye are, we're goin' to hit it straight to Lilac Valley and fill ourselves with God's own bread and beefsteak and paraties. Don't ye think we're goin' to be atin' these haythen messes twice in one day."
To herself she was saying: "The sooner I get you home to Pater Morrison, missy, the better I'll be satisfied."
Once she stood erect, her hands at her belt, her elbows widespread, and with narrowed eyes watched the youngsters. Her lips were closed so tightly they wrinkled curiously as she turned back to the fireplace.
"Nayther one of them fool kids has come to yet," she said to herself, "and a mighty good thing it is that they haven't."
Linda was looking speculatively at Donald as he lay stretched on the Indian blanket at the base of the cliff. And then, because she was for ever busy with Nature, her eyes strayed above him up the side of the cliff, noting the vegetation, the scarred rocks, the sheer beauty of the canyon wall until they reached the top. Then, for no reason at all, she sat looking steadily at a huge boulder overhanging the edge of the cliff, and she was wondering how many ages it had hung there and how many more it would hang, poised almost in air, when a tiny pebble at its base loosened and came rattling and bounding down the canyon face. Every nerve in Linda tensed. She opened her mouth, but not a sound came. For a breathless second she was paralyzed. Then she shrieked wildly: "Donald, Donald, roll under the ledge! Quick, quick!"
She turned to Katy.
"Back, Katy, back!" she screamed. "That boulder is loose; it's coming down!"
For months Donald Whiting had obeyed Linda implicitly and instantly. He had moved with almost invisible speed at her warning many times before. Sometimes it had been a venomous snake, sometimes a yucca bayonet, sometimes poison vines, again unsafe footing--in each case instant obedience had been the rule. He did hot "question why" at her warning; he instantly did as he was told. He, too, had noticed the falling pebble. With all the agility of which he was capable he rolled under the narrow projecting ledge above him. Katherine O'Donovan was a good soldier also. She whirled and ran to the roadway. She had barely reached it when, with a grinding crash, down came the huge boulder, carrying bushes, smaller rocks, sand, and debris with it. On account of its weight it fell straight, struck heavily, and buried itself in the earth exactly on the spot upon which Donald had been lying. Linda raised terrified eyes to the top of the wall. For one instant a dark object peered over it and then drew back. Without thought for herself Linda rushed to the boulder, and kneeling, tried to see back of it.
"Donald!" she cried, "Donald, are you all right?"
"Guess I am, unless it hit one foot pretty hard. Feels fast."
"Can you get out?" she cried, beginning to tear with her hands at the stone and the bushes where she thought his head would be.
"I'm fast; but I'm all right," he panted. "Why the devil did that thing hang there for ages, and then come down on me today?"
"Yes, why did it?" gasped Linda. "Donald, I must leave you a minute. I've got to know if I saw a head peer over just as that stone came down."
"Be careful what you do!" he cried after her.
Linda sprang to her feet and rushed to the car. She caught out the field classes and threw the strap over her head as she raced to the far side of the fireplace where the walls were not so sheer. Katherine O'Donovan promptly seized the axe, caught its carrying strap lying beside it, thrust the handle through, swung it over her own head, dropped it between her shoulders, and ripping off her dress skirt she started up the cliff after Linda. Linda was climbing so swiftly and so absorbedly that she reached the top before she heard a sound behind her. Then she turned with a white face, and her mouth dropped open as she saw Katy three fourths of the way up the cliff. For one second she was again stiff with terror, then, feeling she could do nothing, she stepped back out of sight and waited a second until Katy's red head and redder face appeared over the edge. Realizing that her authority was of no avail, that Katy would follow her no matter where she went or what she did, and with no time to argue, Linda simply called to her encouragingly: "Follow where I go; take your time; hang tight, old dear, it's dangerous!"
She started around the side of the mountain, heading almost
straight upward, traveling as swiftly and as noiselessly as possible. Over big boulders, on precarious footing, clinging to bushes, they made their way until they reached a place that seemed to be sheer above them; certainly it was for hundreds of feet below On a point of rock screened by overhanging bushes Linda paused until Katy overtook her.
"We are about stalled," she panted. "Find a good footing and stay where you are. I'm going to climb out on these bushes and see if I can get a view of the mountain side."
Advancing a few yards, Linda braced herself, drew around her glasses, and began searching the side of the mountain opposite her and below as far as she could range with the glasses. At last she gave up.
"Must have gone the other way," she said to Katy. "I'll crawl back to you. We'll go after help and get Donald out. There will be time enough to examine the cliff afterward; but I am just as sure now as I will be when it is examined that that stone was purposely loosened to a degree where a slight push would drop it. As Donald says, there's no reason why it should hang there for centuries and fall on him today. Shut your eyes, old dear, and back up. We must go to Donald. I rather think it's on one of his feet from what he said. Let me take one more good look."
At that minute from high on the mountain above them a shower of sand and pebbles came rattling down. Linda gave Katy one terrified look.
"My God!" she panted. "He's coming down right above us!"
Just how Linda recrossed the bushes and reached Katy she did not know. She motioned for her to make her way back as they had come. Katy planted her feet squarely upon the rock. Her lower jaw shot out; her eyes were aflame. She stood perfectly still with the exception of motioning Linda to crowd back under the bushes, and again Linda realized that she had no authority; as she had done from childhood when Katy was in earnest, Linda obeyed her. She had barely reached the overhanging bushes, crouched under them, and straightened herself, when a small avalanche came showering down, and a minute later a pair of feet were level with her head. Then screened by the bushes, she could have reached out and touched Oka Sayye. As his feet found a solid resting place on the ledge on which Linda and Katy stood, and while he was still clinging to the bushes, Katherine O'Donovan advanced upon him. He had felt that his feet were firm, let go his hold, and turned, when he faced the infuriated Irishwoman. She had pulled the strap from around her neck, slipped the axe from it, and with a strong thrust she planted the head of it against Oka Sayye's chest so hard that she almost fell forward. The Jap plunged backward among the bushes, the roots of which had supported Linda while she used the glasses. Then he fell, sliding among them, snatching wildly. Linda gripped the overhanging growth behind which she had been screened, and leaned forward.
"He has a hold; he is coming back up, Katy!" she cried.
Katy took another step forward. She looked over the cliff down an appalling depth of hundreds of feet. Deliberately she raised the axe, circled it round her head and brought it down upon that particular branch to which Oka Sayye was clinging. She cut it
through, and the axe rang upon the stone wall behind it. As she swayed forward Linda reached out, gripped Katy and pulled her back.
"Get him?" she asked tersely, as if she were speaking of a rat or a rattlesnake.
Katy sank back limply against the wall. Linda slowly turned her around, and as she faced the rock, "Squeeze tight against it shut your eyes, and keep a stiff upper lip," she cautioned. "I'm going to work around You; I want to be ahead of you."
She squeezed past Katy, secured the axe and hung it round her own neck. She cautioned Katy to keep her eyes shut and follow where she led her, then they started on their way back. Linda did not attempt to descend the sheer wall by which they had climbed, but making a detour she went lower, and in a very short time they were back in the kitchen. Linda rushed to the boulder and knelt again, but she could get no response to her questions. Evidently Donald's foot was caught and he was unconscious from the pain. Squeezing as close as she could, she thrust her arm under the ledge until she could feel his head. Then she went to the other side, and there she could see that his right foot was pinned under the rock. She looked at Katy reassuringly, then she took off the axe and handed it to her.
"He's alive," she said. "Can't kill a healthy youngster to have a crushed foot. You stand guard until I take the Bear Cat and bring help. It's not far to where I can find people."
At full speed Linda put the Cat through the stream and out of the canyon until she reached cultivated land, where she found a man who would gather other men and start to the rescue. She ran on until she found a house with a telephone. There she called Judge Whiting, telling him to bring an ambulance and a surgeon, giving him explicit directions as to where to come, and assuring him that Donald could not possibly be seriously hurt. She found time to urge, also, that before starting he set in motion any precautions he had taken for Donald's protection. She told him where she thought what remained of Oka Sayye could be found. And then, as naturally and as methodically as she had done all the rest, she called Peter Morrison and told him that she was in trouble and where he could find her.
And because Peter had many miles less distance to travel than the others she had summoned, he arrived first. He found Linda and Katy had burrowed under the stone until they had made an opening into which the broken foot might sink so that the pain of the pressure would be relieved. Before the rock, with picks and shovels, half a dozen sympathetic farmers from ranches and cultivated land at the mouth of the canyon were digging furiously to make an opening undermining the boulder so that it could be easily tipped forward. Donald was conscious and they had been passing water to him and encouraging him with the report that his father and a good surgeon would be there very soon. Katherine O'Donovan had crouched at one side of the boulder, supporting the hurt foot. She was breathing heavily and her usually red face was a ghastly green. Linda had helped her to resume the skirt of her dress. At the other side of the rock the girl was reaching to where she could touch Donald's head or reassuringly grip the hand that he could extend to her. Peter seized Linda's axe and began hewing at the earth and rock in order to help in the speedy removal of the huge boulder. Soon Judge Whiting, accompanied by Doctor Fleming, the city's greatest surgeon, came caring into the canyon and stopped on the roadway when he saw the party. The Judge sprang from the car, leaped the stream, and started toward them. In an effort to free his son before his arrival, all the men braced themselves against the face of the cliff and pushed with their combined strength. The boulder dropped forward into the trench they had dug for it enough to allow Peter to crowd his body between it and the cliff and lift Donald's head and shoulders. Linda instantly ran around the boulder, pushed
her way in, and carefully lifting Donald's feet, she managed to work the lithe slenderness of her body through the opening, so that they carried Donald out and laid him down in the open. He was considerably dazed and shaken, cruelly hurt, but proved
himself a game youngster of the right mettle. He raised himself to a sitting posture, managing a rather stiff-lipped smile for his father and Linda. The surgeon instantly began cutting to reach the hurt foot, while Peter Morrison supported the boy's head and shoulders on one side, his father on the other.
An exclamation of dismay broke from the surgeon's lips. He looked at Judge Whiting and nodded slightly. The men immediately picked up Donald and carried him to the ambulance. Katherine O'Donovan sat down suddenly and buried her face in the skirt of her dress. Linda laid a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
"Don't, Katy," she said. "Keep up your nerve; you're all right, old dear. Donald's fine. That doesn't mean anything except that his foot is broken, so he won't be able, and it won't be necessary for him, to endure the pain of setting it in a cast without an anesthetic; and Doctor Fleming can work much better where he has every convenience. It's all right."
The surgeon climbed into the ambulance and they started on an emergency run to the hospital. As the car turned and swept down the canyon, for no reason that she could have explained, Linda began to shake until her teeth clicked. Peter Morrison sprang back across the brook, and running to her side, he put his arm around her and with one hand he pressed her head against his shoulder, covering her face.
"Steady, Linda," he said quietly, "steady. You know that he is all right. It will only be a question of a short confinement."
Linda made a brave effort to control herself. She leaned against Peter and held out both her hands.
"I'm all right," she chattered. "Give me a minute."
Judge Whiting came to them.
"I am getting away immediately," he said. "I must reach Louise and Mother before they get word of this. Doctor Fleming will take care of Donald all right. What happened, Linda? Can you tell me?"
Linda opened her lips and tried to speak, but she was too breathless, too full of excitement, to be coherent. To her amazement Katherine O'Donovan scrambled to her feet, lifted her head and faced the Judge. She pointed to the fireplace.
"I was right there, busy with me cookie' utensils," she said l Miss Linda was a-sittin, on that exact spot, they jist havin 1 finished atin' some of her haythen messes; and the lad was lyin, square where the boulder struck, on the Indian blanket, atin' a pace of cactus candy. And jist one pebble came rattlin' down, but Miss Linda happened to be lookin', and she scramed to the b'y to be rollin' under where ye found him; so he gave a flop or two, and it's well that he took his orders without waitin' to ask the raison for them, for if he had, at the prisint minute he would be about as thick as a shate of writing paper. The thing dropped clear and straight and drove itself into the earth and stone below it, as ye see."
Katherine O'Donovan paused.
"Yes," said the Judge. "Anything else?"
"Miss Linda got to him and she made sure he had brathin' space and he wasn't hurt bad, and then she told him he had got to stand it, because, sittin' where she did, she faced the cliff and she thought she had seen someone. She took the telescope and started climbin', and I took the axe and I started climbin' after her."
Katy broke down and emitted a weird Irish howl. Linda instantly braced herself, threw her arms around Katy, and drew her head to her shoulder. She looked at Judge Whiting and began to talk
"I can show you where she followed me, straight up the face of the canyon, almost," she said. "And she never had tried to climb a canyon side for a yard, either, but she came up and over after me, like a cat. And up there on a small ledge Oka Sayye came down directly above us. I couldn't be mistaken. I saw him plainly. I know him by sight as well as I do any of you. We heard the stones coming down before him, and we knew someone was going to be on us who was desperate enough to kill. When he touched our level and turned to follow the ledge we were on, I pushed him over."
Katy shook off Linda's protecting arm and straightened suddenly.
"Why, ye domned little fool, ye!" she screamed. "Ye never told a lie before in all your days! Judge Whiting, I had the axe round me neck by the climbin' strap, and I got it in me fingers when we heard the crature comin', and against his chist I set it, and I gave him a shove that sint him over. Like a cat he was a-clingin' and climbin', and when I saw him comin' up on us with that awful face of his, I jist swung the axe like I do when I'm rejoocin' a pace of eucalyptus to fireplace size, and whack! I took the branch supportin' him, and a dome' good axe I spoiled din' it."
Katy folded her arms, lifted her chin higher than it ever had been before, and glared defiance at the Judge.
"Now go on," she said, "and decide what ye'll do to me for it."
The Judge reached over and took both Katherine O'Donovan's hands in a firm grip.
"You brave woman!" he said. "If it lay in my power, I would give you the Carnegie Medal. In any event I will see that you have a good bungalow with plenty of shamrock on each side of your front path, and a fair income to keep you comfortable when the rheumatic days are upon you."
"I am no over-feeder," said Katy proudly. "I'm daily exercisin' me muscles enough to kape them young. The rheumatism I'll not have. And nayther will I have the house nor the income. I've saved me money; I've an income of me own."
"And as for the bungalow," interrupted Linda, "Katherine, as I have mentioned frequently before is my father, and my mother, and my whole family, and her front door is mine."
"Sure," said Katy proudly. "When these two fine people before you set up their hearthstone, a-swapin' it I'll be, and carin' for their youngsters; but, Judge, I would like a bit of the shamrock. Ye might be sendin' me a start of that, if it would plase Your Honor."
Judge Whiting looked intently at Katherine O'Donovan. And then, as if they had been on the witness stand, he looked searchingly at Linda. But Linda was too perturbed, too accustomed to Katy's extravagant nonsense even to notice the purport of what she had said. Then the Judge turned his attention to Peter Morrison and realized that at least one of the parties to Katherine's proposed hearthstone had understood and heartily endorsed her proposal.
"I will have to be going. The boy and his mother will need me," he said. "I will see all of you later."
Then he sprang across the brook and sent his car roaring down the canyon after the ambulance.
Once more Katy sank to the ground. Linda looked at her as she buried her face and began to wail.
"Peter," she said quietly, "hunt our belongings and pack them in the Bear Cat the best you can. Excuse us for a few minutes. We must act this out of our systems."
Gravely she sat down beside Katy, laid her head on her shoulder, and began to cry very nearly as energetically as Katy herself. And that was the one thing which was most effective in restoring Katy's nerves. Tears were such an unaccustomed thing with Linda that Katy controlled herself speedily so that she might be better able to serve the girl. In a few minutes Katy had reduced her emotions to a dry sniffle. She lifted her head, groped for her pocket, and being unable to find it for the very good reason that she was sitting upon it, she used her gingham hem as a handkerchief. Once she had risen to the physical effort of wiping her eyes, she regained calmness rapidly. The last time she applied the hem she looked at Peter, but addressed the Almighty in resigned tones: "There, Lord, I guess that will do."
In a few minutes she was searching the kitchen, making sure that no knives, spoons, or cooking utensils were lost. Missing her support, Linda sat erect and endeavored to follow Katy's example. Her eyes met Peter's and when she saw that his shoulders were shaking, a dry, hysterical laugh possessed her.
"Yes, Katy," she panted, "that will do, and remember the tears we are shedding are over Donald's broken foot, and because this may interfere with his work, though I don't think it will for long."
"When I cry," said Katy tersely, "I cry because I feel like it. I wasn't wapin' over the snake that'd plan a death like that for anyone"--Katy waved toward the boulder--"and nayther was I wastin' me tears over the fut of a kid bein' jommed up a trifle."
"Well, then, Katy," asked Linda tremulously, "why were you crying?"
"Well, there's times," said Katy judicially, "when me spirits tell me I would be the better for lettin' off a wee bit of stame, and one of them times havin' arrived, I jist bowed me head to it, as is in accordance with the makings of me. Far be it from me to be flyin' in the face of Providence and sayin' I won't, when all me interior disposhion says to me: 'Ye will!'"
"And now, Linda," said Peter, "can you tell us why you were crying?"
"Why, I think," said Linda, "that Katy has explained sufficiently for both of us. It was merely time for us to howl after such fearful nerve strain, so we howled."
"Well, that's all right," said Peter. "Now I'll tell you something. If you had gone away in that ambulance to an anesthetic and an operation, no wildcat that ever indulged in a hunger hunt through this canyon could have put up a howl equal to the one that I would have sent up."
"Peter," said Linda, "there is nothing funny about this; it's no tame for jest. But do men have nerves? Would you really?"
"Of course I would," said Peter.
"No, you wouldn't," contradicted Linda. "You just say that because you want to comfort us for having broken down, instead of trying to tease us as most men would."
"He would, too!" said Katy, starting to the Bear Cat with a load of utensils. "Now come on; let's go home and be gettin' craned up and ready for what's goin' to happen to us. Will they be jailin' us, belike, Miss Linda?"
Linda looked at Peter questioningly.
"No," he said quietly. "It is very probable that the matter never will be mentioned to you again, unless Judge Whiting gets hold of some clue that he wishes to use as an argument against matured Japs being admitted in the same high-school classes with our clean, decent, young Americans. They stopped that in the grades several years ago, I am told."
Before they could start back to Lilac Valley a car stopped in the canyon and a couple of men introducing themselves as having come from Judge Whiting interviewed Katy and Linda exhaustively. Then Linda pointed out to them an easier but much longer route by which they might reach the top of the canyon to examine the spot from which the boulder had fallen. She showed them where she and Katy had ascended, and told them where they would be likely to find Oka Sayye.
When it came to a question of really starting, Linda looked with appealing eyes at Peter.
"Peter," she said, "could we fix it any way so you could drive Katy and me home? For the first time since I have begun driving this spring I don't feel equal to keeping the road."
"Of course," said Peter. "I'll take your car to the nearest farmhouse and leave it, then I'll take you and Katy in my car."
Late that evening Judge Whiting came to Lilac Valley with his wife and daughter to tell Linda that the top of the cliff gave every evidence of the stone having been loosened previously, so that a slight impetus would send it crashing down at the time when Donald lay in his accustomed place directly in the line of its fall. His detectives had found the location of the encounter and they had gone to the bottom of the cliff, a thousand feet below, but they had not been able to find any trace of Oka Sayye. Somewhere in waiting there had been confederates who had removed what remained of him. On the way home Mrs. Whiting said to her husband: "Judge, are you very sure that what the cook said to you this afternoon about Miss Strong and Mr. Morrison is true?"
"I am only sure of its truth so far as he is concerned," replied the Judge. "What he thought about Linda was evident. I am very sorry. She is a mighty fine girl and I think Donald is very much interested in her."
"Yes, I think so, too," said Donald's mother. "Interested; but he has not even a case of first love. He is interested for the same reason you would be or I would be, because she is intellectually so stimulating. And you have to take into consideration the fact that in two or three years more she will be ready for marriage and a home of her own, and Donald will still be in school with his worldly experience and his business education not yet begun. The best thing that can happen to Donald is just to let his infatuation for her die a natural death, with the quiet assistance of his family."
The Judge's face reddened slightly.
"Well, I would like mighty well to have her in the family," he said. "She's a corking fine girl. She would make a fine mother of fine men. I haven't a doubt but that with the power of his personality and the power of his pen and the lure of propinquity, Peter Morrison will win her, but I hate it. It's the best chance the boy ever will have."
And then Louise spoke up softly.
"Donald hasn't any chance, Dad," she said quietly, "and he never did have. I have met Peter Morrison myself and I would be only too glad if I thought he was devoted to me. I'll grant that Linda Strong is a fine girl, but when she wakes up to the worth of Peter Morrison and to a realization of what other women would be glad to be to him, she will merely reach out and lay possessive hands upon what already belongs to her."
It was a curious thing that such occurrences as the death of Oka Sayye and the injury to Donald could take place and no one know about them. Yet the papers were silent on the subject and so were the courts. Linda and Katy were fully protected. The confederates of Oka Sayye for reasons of their own preferred to keep very quiet.
By Monday Donald, with his foot in a plaster cast, was on a side veranda of his home with a table beside him strewn with books and papers. An agreement had been made that his professors should call and hear his recitations for a few days until by the aid of a crutch and a cane he could resume his place in school. Linda went to visit him exactly as she would have gone to see Marian in like circumstances. She succeeded in making all of the Whiting family her very devoted friends.
One evening, after he had been hobbling about for over a week, Linda and Peter called to spend the evening, and a very gay and enjoyable evening it was. And yet when it was over and they had gone away together Donald appeared worried and deeply thoughtful. When his mother came to his room to see if the foot was unduly painful or there was anything she could do to make him more comfortable, he looked at her belligerently.
"Mother," he said, "I don't like Peter Morrison being so much with my girl."
Mrs. Whiting stood very still. She thought very fast. Should she postpone it or should she let the boy take all of his hurts together? Her heart ached for him and yet she felt that she knew what life had in store for him concerning Linda. So she sat on the edge of the bed and began to talk quietly, plainly, reasonably. She tried to explain nature and human nature and what she thought the laws of probability were in the case. Donald lay silent. He said nothing until she had finished all she had to say, and then he announced triumphantly: "You're all wrong. That is what would happen if Linda were a girl like any of the other girls in her class, or like Louise. But she has promised that she would write to me every Saturday night and she has said that she thinks more of me than of any of the other boys."
"Donald dear," said Mrs. Whiting, "you're not 'in love' with Linda yourself, and neither is she with you. By the time you are ready to marry and settle down in life, Linda in all probability will be married and be the mother of two or three babies."
"Yes, like fun she will," said Donald roughly.
"Have you asked her whether she loves you?" inquired Mrs. Whiting.
"Oh, that 'love' business," said Donald, "it makes me tired! Linda and I never did any mushing around. We had things of some importance to talk about and to do."
A bit of pain in Mrs. Whiting's heart eased. It was difficult to keep her lips quiet and even.
"You haven't asked her to marry you, then?" she said soberly. "Oh good Lord," cried Donald, "'marry!' How could I marry anyone when I haven't even graduated from high school and with college and all that to come?"
"That is what I have been trying to tell you," said his mother evenly. "I don't believe you have been thinking about marriage and I am absolutely certain that Linda has not, but she is going to be made to think about it long before you will be in such financial position that you dare. That is the reason I am suggesting that you think about these things seriously and question yourself as to whether you would be doing the fair thing by Linda if you tried to tie her up in an arrangement that would ask her to wait six or eight years yet before you would be ready."
"Well, I can get around faster than that," said Donald belligerently.
"Of course you can," agreed his mother. "I made that estimate fully a year too long. But even in seven years Linda could do an awful lot of waiting; and there are some very wonderful girls that will be coming up six or seven years from now here at home. You know that hereafter all the girls in the world are going to be very much more Linda's kind of girls than they have been heretofore. The girls who have lived through the war and who have been intimate with its sorrow and its suffering and its terrible results to humanity, are not going to be such heedless, thoughtless, not nearly such selfish, girls as the world has known in the decade just past. And there is going to be more outdoor life, more nature study. There are going to be stronger bodies, better food, better-cared-for young people; and every year educational advantages are going to be greater. If you can bring yourself to think about giving up the idea of there ever existing any extremely personal thing between you and Linda, I am very sure I could guarantee to introduce you to a girl who would be quite her counterpart, and undoubtedly we could meet one who would be handsomer."
Donald punched his pillow viciously.
"That's nice talk," he said, "and it may be true talk. But in the first place I wish that Peter Morrison would let my girl alone, and in the second place I don't care if there are a thousand just as nice girls or even better-looking girls than Linda, though any girl would be going some if she were nicer and better looking than Linda. But I am telling you that when my foot gets better I am going to Lilac Valley and tell him where to head in, and I'll punch his head if he doesn't do it promptly."
"Of course you will," said his mother reassuringly; "and I'll go with you and we'll see to it that he attends strictly to his own affairs."
Donald burst out laughing, exactly as his mother in her heart had hoped that he would.
"Yes, I've got a hand-painted picture of myself starting to Lilac Valley to fight a man who is butting in with my girl, and taking my mother along to help me beat him up," he said.
Mrs. Whiting put her arms around her boy, kissed him tenderly, and smoothed his hair, and then turned out the lights and slipped from the room. But in the clear moonlight as she closed the door she could see that a boyish grin was twisting his lips, and she went down to tell the Judge that he need not worry. If his boy were irreparably hurt anywhere, it was in his foot.