Chapter XXXII. How the Wasp Built Her Nest
 

The following weeks were very happy for Linda. When the cast was removed from Donald's foot and it was found that a year or two of care would put him even on the athletic fields and the dancing floor again, she was greatly relieved.

She lacked words in which to express her joy that Marian was rapidly coming into happiness. She was so very busy with her school work, with doing all she could to help Donald with his, with her "Jane Meredith" articles, with hunting and working out material for her book, that she never had many minutes at a time for introspection. When she did have a few she sometimes pondered deeply as to whether Marian had been altogether sincere in the last letter she had written her in their correspondence, but she was so delighted in the outcome that if she did at times have the same doubt in a fleeting form that had not been in the least fleeting with Peter Morrison, she dismissed it as rapidly as possible. When things were so very good as they were at that time, why try to improve them?

One evening as she came from school, thinking that she would take Katy for a short run in the Bear Cat before dinner, she noticed a red head prominent in the front yard as she neared home. When she turned in at the front walk and crossed the lawn she would have been willing to wager quite a sum that Katy had been crying.

"Why, old dear," said Linda, putting her arms around her, "if anything has gone wrong with you I will certainly take to the warpath, instanter. I can't even imagine what could be troubling you." Linda lowered her voice. "Nothing has come up about Oka Sayye?"

Katy shook her head.

"I thought not," said Linda. "Judge Whiting promised me that what use he made of that should be man's business and exploited wholly for the sake of California and her people. He said we shouldn't be involved. I haven't been worried about it even, although I am willing to go upon the stand and tell the whole story if it will be any help toward putting right what is at present a great wrong to California."

"Yes, so would I," said Katy. "I'm not worryin' meself about the little baste any more than I would if it had been a mad dog foaming up that cliff at ye."

"Then what is it?" asked Linda. "Tell me this minute."

"I dunno what in the world you're going to think," said Katy "I dunno what in the world you're going to do."

Her face was so distressed that Linda's nimble brain flew to a conclusion. She tightened her arm across Katy's shoulder.

"By Jove, Katy!" she said breathlessly. "Is Eileen in the house?"

Katy nodded.

"Has she been to see John and made things right with him?"

Katy nodded again.

"He's in there with her waitin' for ye," she said.

It was a stunned Linda who slowly dropped her arm, stood erect, and lifted her head very high. She thought intently.

"You don't mean to tell me," she said, "that you have been crying over her?"

Katy held out both hands.

"Linda," she said, "she always was such a pretty thing, and her ma didn't raise her to have the sense of a peewee. If your pa had been let take her outdoors and grow her in the sun and the air, she would have been bigger and broader, an' there would have been the truth of God's sunshine an' the glory of His rain about her. Ye know, Linda, that she didn't ever have a common decent chance. It was curls that couldn't be shook out and a nose that dassen't be sunburned and shoes that mustn't be scuffed and a dress that shouldn't be mussed, from the day she was born. Ye couldn't jist honest say she had ever had a fair chance, now could ye?"

"No," said Linda conclusively' "no, Katherine O'Donovan, you could not. But what are we up against? Does she want to come back? Does she want to stay here again?"

"I think she would like to," said Katy. "You go in and see her for yourself, lambie, before ye come to any decision."

"You don't mean," said Linda in a marveling tone, "that she has been homesick, that she has come back to us because she would like to be with us again?"

"You go and see her for yourself; and if you don't say she is the worst beat out and the tiredest mortal that ye have ever seen you'll be surprisin' me. My God, Linda, they ain't nothin' in bein' rich if it can do to a girl what has been done to Eileen!"

"Oh, well," said Linda impatiently, "don't condemn all money because Eileen has not found happiness with it. The trouble has been that Eileen's only chance to be rich came to her through the wrong kind of people."

"Well, will ye jist tell me, then," said Katy, "how it happened that Eileen's ma was a sister to that great beef of a man, which same is hard on self-rayspectin' beef; pork would come nearer."

"Yes," said Linda, "I'll tell you. Eileen's mother had a big streak of the same coarseness and the same vulgarity in her nature, or she could not have reared Eileen as she did. She probably had been sent to school and had better advantages than the boy through a designing mother of her own. Her first husband must have been a man who greatly refined and educated her. We can't ever get away from the fact that Daddy believed in her and loved her."

"Yes," said Katy, "but he was a fooled man. She wasn't what we thought she was. Many's the time I've stood injustice about the accounts and household management because I wouldn't be wakin' him up to what he was bound to for life."

"That doesn't help us," said Linda. "I must go in and face them."

She handed her books to Katy, and went into the living room She concentrated on John Gilman first, and a wee qualm of disgust crept through her soul when she saw that after weeks of suffering he was once more ready to devote himself to Eileen. Linda marveled at the power a woman could hold over a man that would force him to compromise with his intellect, his education and environment. Then she turned her attention to Eileen, and the shock she received was informing. She studied her an instant incredulously, then she went to her and held out her hand.

"How do you do?" she said as cordially as was possible to her."This is unexpected."

Her mind was working rapidly, yet she could not recall ever having seen a woman quite so beautiful as Eileen. She was very certain that the color on her cheeks was ebbing and rising with excitement; it was no longer so deep as to be stationary. She was very certain that her eyes had not been darkened as to lids or waxed as to lashes. Her hair was beautifully dressed in sweeping waves with scarcely any artificial work upon it. Her dress was extremely tasteful and very expensive. There was no simper on her lips, nothing superficial. She was only a tired, homesick girl. As Linda looked at her she understood why Katy had cried over her. She felt tears beginning to rise in her own heart. She put both arms protectingly around Eileen.

"Why, you poor little thing," she said wonderingly, "was it so damn' bad as all that?"

Eileen stood straight. She held herself rigidly. She merelY nodded. Then after a second she said: "Worse than anything you could imagine, Linda. Being rich with people who have grown rich by accident is a dreadful experience."

"So I have always imagined," said Linda. And then in her usual downright way she asked: "Why did you come, Eileen? Is there anything you wanted of me?"

Eileen hesitated. It was not in Linda's heart to be mean.

"Homesick, little sister?" she asked lightly "Do you want to come here while you're getting ready to make a home for John? Is that it?"

Then Eileen swayed forward suddenly, buried her face in Linda's breast, and for the first time in her life Linda saw and heard her cry, not from selfishness, not from anger, not from greed, but as an ordinary human being cries when the heart is so full that nature relieves itself with tears. Linda closed her arms around her and smiled over her head at John Gilman.

"Finish all of it before you stop," she advised. "It's all right. You come straight home. You didn't leave me any word, and I didn't know what to do with your things, but I couldn't feel that you would want to give up such beautiful things that you had so enjoyed. We had planned for Marian to spend her summer vacation here so I put her things in your suite and I had moved mine into the guest room, but I have had my room done over and the guest room things are in there, and every scrap of yours is carefully put away. If that will do, you are perfectly welcome to it."

Eileen wiped her eyes.

"Anything," she sobbed. "I'd rather have Katy's room than be shamed and humiliated and hurt any further. Linda, I would almost like you to know my Aunt Callie, because you will never understand about her if you don't. Her favorite pastime was to tell everyone we met how much the things I wore cost her."

Linda released Eileen with a slight shake.

"Cheer up !" she said. "We'll all have a gorgeous time together. I haven't the slightest ambition to know more than that about your Aunt Callie. If my brain really had been acting properly I would never have dismantled your room. I would have known that you could not endure her, and that you would come home just as you should. It's all right, John, make yourself comfortable. I don't know what Katy has for dinner but she can always find enough for an extra couple. Come Eileen, I'll help you to settle. Where is your luggage?"

"I brought back, Linda, just what I have on," said Eileen. "I will begin again where I left off. I realize that I am not entitled to anything further from the Strong estate, but Uncle was so unhappy and John says it's all right--really I am the only blood heir to all they have; I might as well take a comfortable allowance from it. I am to go to see them a few days of every month. I can endure that when I know I have John and you to come back to."

When Eileen had been installed in Linda's old room Linda went down to the kitchen, shut the door behind her, and leaning against it, laid her hand over her mouth to suppress a low laugh.

"Katy," she said, "I've been and gone and done it; I have put the perfect lady in my old room. That will be a test of her sincerity--even dainty and pretty as it is since it's been done over. If she is sincere enough to spend the summer getting ready to marry John Gilman--why that is all right, old girl. We can stand it, can't we?"

"Yes," said Katy, "it's one of them infernal nuisances but we can stand it. I'm thinkin', from the looks of John Gilman and his manner of spakin', that it ain't goin' to be but a very short time that he'll be waitin'."

"Katy," said Linda, "isn't this the most entertaining world? Doesn't it produce the most lightning-like changes, and don't the most unexpected things happen? Sort of dazes me. I had planned to take a little run with you and the Cat. Since we are having--no, I mustn't say guests--since John and Eileen have come home, I'll have to give up that plan until after dinner, and then we'll go and take counsel with our souls and see if we can figure out how we are going to solve this equation; and if you don t know what an equation is, old dear heart, it's me with a war-club and you with a shillalah and Eileen between us, and be 'damned' to us if we can't make an average, ordinary, decent human being out of her. Pin an apron on her in the morning, Katy, and hand her a dust cloth and tell her to industrialize. We will help her with her trousseau, but she shall help us with the work."

"Ye know, lambie," whispered Katy suddenly, "this is a burnin' shame. The one thing I didn't think about is that book of yours. What about it?"

"I scarcely know," said Linda; "it's difficult to say. Of course we can't carry out the plans we had made to work here, exactly as we had intended, with Eileen in the house preparing to be married. But she tells me that her uncle has made her a generous allowance, so probably it's environment and love she is needing much more than help. It is barely possible, Katy, that after I have watched her a few days, if I decide she is in genuine, sincere, heart-whole earnest, I might introduce her and John to my friend, 'Jane.' It is probable that if I did, Eileen would not expect me to help her, and at the same time she wouldn't feel that I was acting indifferently because I did not. We'll wait awhile, Katy, and see whether we skid before we put on the chains."

"What about Marian?" inquired Katy.

"I don't know," said Linda thoughtfully. "If Marian is big enough to come here and spend the summer under the same roof with Eileen and John Gilman, and have a really restful, enjoyable time out of it, she is bigger than I am. Come up to the garret; I think Eileen has brought no more with her than she took away. We'll bring her trunk down, put it in her room and lay the keys on top. Don't begin by treating her as a visitor; treat her as if she were truly my sister. Tell her what you want and how you want it, exactly as you tell me and as I tell you. If you see even a suspicion of any of the former objectionable tendencies popping up, let's check them quick and hard, Katy."

For a week Linda watched Eileen closely. At the end of that time she was sincere in her conviction that Eileen had been severely chastened. When she came in contact with Peter Morrison or any other man they met she was not immediately artificial. She had learned to be as natural with men as with other women. There were no pretty postures, no softened vocal modulations, no childish nonsense on subjects upon which the average child of these days displays the knowledge of the past-generation grandmother. When they visited Peter Morrison's house it was easy to see that Eileen was interested, more interested than any of them ever before had seen her in any subject outside of clothing and jewels. Her conduct in the Strong home had been irreproachable. She had cared for her own room, quietly undertaken the duties of dusting and arranging the rooms and cutting and bringing in flowers. She had gone to the kitchen and wiped dishes and asked to be taught how to cook things of which John was particularly fond. She had been reasonable in the amount of time she had spent on her shopping, and had repeatedly gone to Linda and shown interest in her concerns. The result was that Linda at once displayed the same interest in anything pertaining to Eileen.

One afternoon Linda came home unusually early. She called for Eileen, told her to tie on her sunshade and be ready for a short ride. Almost immediately she brought around the Bear Cat and when they were seated side by side headed it toward the canyon. She stopped at the usual resting place, and together she and Eileen walked down the light-dappled road bed. She pointed out things to Eileen, telling her what they were, to what uses they could be put, while at the same time narrowly watching her. To her amazement she found that Eileen was interested, that she was noticing things for herself, asking what they were. She wanted to know the names of the singing birds. When a big bird trailed a waving shadow in front of her Linda explained how she might distinguish an eagle from a hawk, a hawk from a vulture, a sea bird from those of the land. When they reached the bridge Linda climbed down the embankment to gather cress. She was moved to protest when Eileen followed and without saying a word began to assist her, but she restrained herself, for it suddenly occurred to her that it would be an excellent thing for Eileen to think more of what she was doing and why she was doing it than about whether she would wet her feet or muddy her fingers. So the protest became an explanation that it was rather late for cress: the leaves toughened when it bloomed and were too peppery. The only way it could be used agreeably was to work along the edges and select the small tender shoots that had not yet matured to the flowering point. When they had an armload they went back to the car, and without any explanation Linda drove into Los Angeles and stopped at the residence of Judge Whiting, not telling Eileen where she was.

"Friends of mine," said Linda lightly as she stepped from the car. "Fond of cress salad with their dinner. They prepare it after the Jane Meredith recipe to which you called my attention, in Everybody's Home last winter. Come along with me."

Eileen stepped from the car and followed. Linda led the way round the sidewalk to where her quick ear had located voices on the side lawn. She stopped at the kitchen door, handed in the cress, exchanged a few laughing words with the cook, and then presented herself at the door of the summerhouse. Inside, his books and papers spread over a worktable, sat Donald Whiting. One side of him his mother was busy darning his socks; on the other his sister Louise was working with embroidery silk and small squares of gaily colored linen. Linda entered with exactly the same self-possession that characterized her at home. She shook hands with Mrs. Whiting, Mary Louise, and Donald, and then she said quietly: "Eileen and I were gathering cress and we stopped to leave you some for your dinner." With this explanation she introduced Eileen to Mrs. Whiting. Mary Louise immediately sprang up and recalled their meeting at Riverside. Donald remembered a meeting he did not mention. It was only a few minutes until Linda was seated beside Donald, interesting herself in his lessons. Eileen begged to be shown the pretty handkerchiefs that Mary Louise was making. An hour later Linda refused an invitation to dinner because Katy would be expecting them. When she arose to go, Eileen was carrying a small square of blue-green linen. Carefully pinned to it was a patch of white with a spray of delicate flowers outlined upon it, and a skein of pink silk thread. She had been initiated into the thrillingly absorbing feminine accomplishment of making sport handkerchiefs. When they left Eileen was included naturally, casually, spontaneously, in their invitation to Linda to run in any time she would. Mary Louise had said she would ride out with Donald in few days and see how the handkerchiefs were coming on, and more instruction and different stitches and patterns were necessary, she would love to teach them. So Linda realized that Mary Louise had been told about the trousseau. She knew, even lacking as she was in feminine sophistication, that there were two open roads to the heart of a woman. One is a wedding and the other is a baby. The lure of either is irresistible.

As the Bear Cat glided back to Lilac Valley, Eileen sat silent. For ten years she had coveted the entree to the Whiting home perhaps more than any other in the city. Merely by being simple and natural, by living her life as life presented itself each day, Linda with no effort whatever had made possible to Eileen the thing she so deeply craved. Eileen was learning a new lesson each day--some days many of them--but none was more amazing more simple, or struck deeper into her awakened consciousness. As she gazed with far-seeing eye on the blue walls of the valley Eileen was taking a mental inventory of her former self. One by one she was arraigning all the old tricks she had used in her trade of getting on in the world. One by one she was discarding them in favor of honesty, unaffectedness, and wholesome enjoyment.

Because of these things Linda came home the next afternoon and left a bundle on Eileen's bed before she made her way to her own room to busy herself with a head piece for Peter's latest article. She had taken down the wasp picture and while she had not destroyed it she had turned the key of a very substantial lock upon it. She was hard at work when she heard steps on the stairs. When Eileen entered, Linda smiled quizzically and then broke into an unaffected ejaculation.

"Ripping!" she cried. "Why, Eileen, you're perfectly topping."

Eileen's face flamed with delight. She was a challenging little figure. None of them was accustomed to her when she represented anything more substantial than curls and ruffles.

Linda reached for the telephone, called Gilman, and asked him if he could go to the beach for supper that evening. He immediately replied that he would. Then she called Peter Morrison and asked him the same question and when Peter answered affirmatively she told him to bring his car. Then she hastily put on her own field clothes and ran to the kitchen to fill the lunch box. To Katy's delight Linda told her there would be room for her and that she needed her.

It was evening and the sun was moving slowly toward the horizon when they stopped the cars and went down on the white sands of Santa Monica Bay. Eileen had been complimented until she was in a glow of delight. She did not notice that in piling things out of the car for their beach supper Linda had handed her a shovel and the blackened iron legs of a broiler. Everyone was loaded promiscuously as they took up their march down to as near the water's edge as the sands were dry. Peter and John gathered driftwood. Linda improvised two cooking places, one behind a rock for herself, the other under the little outdoor stove for Katy. Eileen was instructed as to how to set up the beach table, spread the blankets beside it, and place the food upon it. While Katy made coffee and toasted biscuit Linda was busy introducing her party to brigand beefsteak upon four long steel skewers. The day had been warm. The light salt breeze from the sea was like a benediction. Friendly gulls gathered on the white sands around them. Cunning little sea chickens worked in accord with the tide: when the waves advanced they rose above them on wing; when they retreated they scampered over the wet sand, hunting any small particles of food that might have been carried in. Out over the water big brown pelicans went slowly fanning homeward; and white sea swallows drew wonderful pictures on the blue night sky with the tips of their wings. For a few minutes at the reddest point of its setting the sun painted a marvelous picture in a bank of white clouds. These piled up like a great rosy castle, and down the sky roadway before it came a long procession of armored knights, red in the sun glow and riding huge red horses. Then the colors mixed and faded and a long red bridge for a short time spanned the water, ending at their feet. The gulls hunted the last scrap thrown them and went home. The swallows sought their high cliffs. The insidiously alluring perfume of sand verbena rose like altar incense around them. Gilman spread a blanket, piled the beach fire higher, and sitting beside Eileen, he drew her head to his shoulder and put his arm around her. Possibly he could have been happier in a careless way if he had never suffered. It is very probable that the poignant depth of exquisite happiness he felt in that hour never would have come to him had he not lost Eileen and found her again so much more worth loving. Linda wandered down the beach until she reached the lighthouse rocks. She climbed on a high one and sat watching the sea as it sprayed just below. Peter Morrison followed her.

"May I come up?" he asked.

"Surely," said Linda, "this belongs to the Lord; it isn't mine."

So Peter climbed up and sat beside her.

"How did the landscape appeal to you when you left the campfire?" inquired Linda.

"I should think the night cry might very well be Eight o'clock and all's well," answered Peter.

"'God's in his heaven, all's right with the world?'" Linda put it in the form of a question.

"It seems to be for John and Eileen," said Peter.

"It is for a number of people," said Linda. "I had a letter from Marian today. I had written her to ask if she would come to us for the summer, in spite of the change in our plans; but Mr. Snow has made some plans of his own. He is a very astute individual. He wanted Marian to marry him at once and she would not, so he took her for a short visit to see his daughter at her grandmother's home in the northern part of the state. Marian fell deeply in love with his little girl, and of course those people found Marian charming, just as right-minded people would find her. When she saw how the little girl missed her father and how difficult it was for him to leave her, and when she saw how she would be loved and appreciated in that fine family, she changed her mind. Peter, we are going to be invited to San Francisco to see them married very shortly. Are you glad or sorry?"

"I am very glad," said Peter heartily. "I make no concealment of my admiration for Miss Thorne but I am very glad indeed that it is not her head that is to complete the decoration when you start the iris marching down my creek banks."

"Well, that's all right," said Linda. "Of course you should have something to say about whose head finished that picture. I can't contract to do more than set the iris. The thing about this I dread is that Marian and Eugene are going to live in San Francisco, and I did so want her to make her home in Lilac Valley."

"That's too bad," said Peter sympathetically. "I know how you appreciate her, how deeply you love her. Do you think the valley will ever be right for you without her, Linda?"

"It will have to be," said Linda. "I've had to go on without Father, you know. If greater happiness seems to be in store for Marian in San Francisco, all I can do is to efface myself and say 'Amen.' When the world is all right for Marian, it is about as near all right as it can be for me. And did you ever see much more sincerely and clearly contented people than John and Eileen are at the present minute?"

Peter looked at Linda whimsically. He lowered his voice as if a sea urchin might hear and tattle.

"What did you do about the wasp, Linda?" he whispered.

"I delicately erased the stinger, fluffed up a ruffle, and put the sketch under lock and key. I should have started a fire with it, but couldn't quite bring myself to let it go, yet."

"Is she going to hold out?" asked Peter.

"She'll hold out or get her neck wrung," said Linda. "I truly think she has been redeemed. She has been born again. She has a new heart and a new soul and a new impulse and a right conception of life. Why, Peter, she has even got a new body. Her face is not the same."

"She is much handsomer," said Peter.

"Isn't she?" cried Linda enthusiastically. "And doesn't having a soul and doesn't thinking about essential things make the most remarkable difference in her? It is worth going through a fiery furnace to come out new like that. I called her Abednego the other day, but she didn't know what I meant."

Then they sat silent and watched the sea for a long time. By and by the night air grew chill. Peter slipped from the rock and went

up the beach and came back with an Indian blanket. He put it very carefully around Linda's shoulders, and when he went to resume his seat beside her he found one of her arms stretching it with a blanket corner for him. So he sat down beside her and drew the corner over his shoulder; and because his right arm was very much in his way, and it would have been very disagreeable if Linda had slipped from the rock and fallen into the cold, salt, unsympathetic Pacific at nine o'clock at night--merely to dispose of the arm comfortably and to ensure her security, Peter put it around Linda and drew her up beside him very close. Linda did not seem to notice. She sat quietly looking at the Pacific and thinking her own thoughts. When the fog became damp and chill, she said they must be going, and so they went back to their cars and drove home through the sheer wonder of the moonlight, through the perfume of the orange orchards, hearing the night song of the mockingbirds.