Chapter VI. Jane Meredith
 

When Eileen came down to dinner that evening Linda understood at a glance that an effort was to be made to efface thoroughly from the mind of John Gilman all memory of the Eileen of the previous evening. She had decided on redressing her hair, while she wore one of her most becoming and attractive gowns. To Linda and Katy during the dinner she was simply charming. Having said what she wanted to say and received the assurance she desired, Linda accepted her advances cordially and displayed such charming proclivities herself that Eileen began covertly to watch her, and as she watched there slowly grew in her brain the conviction that something had happened to Linda. At once she began studying deeply in an effort to learn what it might be. There were three paramount things in Eileen's cosmos that could happen to a girl: She could have lovely clothing. Linda did not have it. She could have money and influential friends. Since Marian's going Linda had practically no friend; she was merely acquainted with almost everyone living in Lilac Valley. She could have a lover. Linda had none. But stay! Eileen's thought halted at the suggestion. Maybe she had! She had been left completely, to her own devices when she was not wanted about the house. She had been mingling with hundreds of boys and girls in high school. She might have met some man repeatedly on the street cars, going to and from school. In school she might have attracted the son of some wealthy and influential family; which was the only kind of son Eileen chose to consider in connection with Linda. Through Eileen's brain ran bits of the conversation of the previous evening. She recalled that the men she had intended should spend the evening waiting on her and paying her pretty compliments had spent it eating like hungry men, laughing and jesting with Linda and Marian, giving every evidence of a satisfaction with their entertainment that never had been evinced with the best brand of attractions she had to offer.

Eileen was willing to concede that Marian Thorne had been a beautiful girl, and she had known, previous to the disaster, that it was quite as likely that any man might admire Marian's flashing dark beauty as her blonde loveliness. Between them then it would have been merely a question of taste on the part of the man. Since Marian's dark head had turned ashen, Eileen had simply eliminated her at one sweep. That white hair would brand Marian anywhere as an old woman. Very likely no man ever would want to marry her. Eileen was sure she would not want to if she were a man. No wonder John Gilman had ceased to be attracted by a girl's face with a grandmother setting.

As for Linda, Eileen never had considered her at all except as a convenience to serve her own purposes. Last night she had learned that Linda had a brain, that she had wit, that she could say things to which men of the world listened with interest. She began to watch Linda. She appraised with deepest envy the dark hair curling naturally on her temples. She wondered how hair that curled naturally could be so thick and heavy, and she thought what a crown of glory would adorn Linda's head when the day came to coil those long dark braids around it and fasten them with flashing pins. She drew some satisfaction from the sunburned face and lean figure before her, but it was not satisfaction of soul-sustaining quality. There was beginning to be something disquieting about Linda. A roundness was creeping over her lean frame; a glow was beginning to color her lips and cheek bones; a dewy look could be surprised in her dark eyes occasionally. She had the effect of a creature with something yeasty bottled inside it that was beginning to ferment and might effervesce at any minute. Eileen had been so surprised the previous evening and again before dinner, that she made up her mind that hereafter one might expect almost anything from Linda. She would no longer follow a suggestion unless the suggestion accorded with her sense of right and justice. It was barely possible that it might be required to please her inclinations. Eileen's mind worked with unbelievable swiftness. She tore at her subject like a vulture tearing at a feast, and like a vulture she reached the vitals swiftly. She prefaced her question with a dry laugh. Then she leaned forward and asked softly: "Linda, dear, why haven't you told me?"

Linda's eyes were so clear and honest as they met Eileen's that she almost hesitated.

"A little more explicit, please," said the girl quietly.

"Who is he?" asked Eileen abruptly.

"Oh, I haven't narrowed to an individual," said Linda largely "You have noticed a flock of boys following me from school and hanging around the front door? I have such hosts to choose from that it's going to take a particularly splendid knight on a snow- white charger--I think 'charger' is the proper word--to capture my young affections."

Eileen was satisfied. There wasn't any he. She might for a short time yet cut Linda's finances to the extreme limit. Whenever a man appeared on the horizon she would be forced to make a division at least approaching equality.

Linda followed Eileen to the living room and sat down with a book until John Gilman arrived. She had a desire to study him for a few minutes. She was going to write Marian a letter that night. She wanted to know if she could honestly tell her that Gilman appeared lonely and seemed to miss her. Katy had no chance to answer the bell when it rang. Eileen was in the hall. Linda could not tell what was happening from the murmur of voices. Presently John and Eileen entered the room, and as Linda greeted him she did have the impression that he appeared unusually thoughtful and worried. She sat for half an hour, taking slight part in the conversation. Then she excused herself and went to her room, and as she went she knew that she could not honestly write Marian what she had hoped, for in thirty minutes by the clock Eileen's blandishments had worked, and John Gilman was looking at her as if she were the most exquisite and desirable creature in existence.

Slowly Linda climbed the stairs and entered her room. She slid the bolt of her door behind her, turned on the lights, unlocked a drawer, and taking from it a heap of materials she scattered them over a small table, and picking up her pencil, she sat gazing at the sheet before her for some time. Then slowly she began writing:

It appeals to me that, far as modern civilization has gone in culinary efforts, we have not nearly reached the limits available to us as I pointed out last month. We consider ourselves capable of preparing and producing elaborate banquets, yet at no time are we approaching anything even to compare in lavishness and delicacy with the days of Lucullus. We are not feasting on baked swans, peacock tongues and drinking our pearls. I am not recommending that we should revive the indulgence of such lavish and useless expenditure, but I would suggest that if we tire with the sameness of our culinary efforts, we at least try some of the new dishes described in this department, established for the sole purpose of their introduction. In so doing we accomplish a multiple purpose. We enlarge the resources of the southwest. We tease stale appetites with a new tang. We offer the world something different, yet native to us. We use modern methods on Indian material and the results are most surprising. In trying these dishes I would remind you that few of us cared for oysters, olives, celery--almost any fruit or vegetable one could mention on first trial. Try several times and be sure you prepare dishes exactly right before condemning them as either fad or fancy. These are very real, nourishing and delicious foods that are being offered you. Here is a salad that would have intrigued the palate of Lucullus, himself. If you do not believe me, try it. The vegetable is slightly known by a few native mountaineers and ranchers. Botanists carried it abroad where under the name of winter-purslane it is used in France and England for greens or salad, while remaining practically unknown at home. Boiled and seasoned as spinach it makes equally good greens. But it is in salad that it stands pre-eminent.

Go to any canyon--I shall not reveal the name of my particular canyon--and locate a bed of miner's lettuce (Montia perfoliata). Growing in rank beds beside a cold, clean stream, you will find these pulpy, exquisitely shaped, pungent round leaves from the center of which lifts a tiny head of misty white lace, sending up a palate-teasing, spicy perfume. The crisp, pinkish stems snap in the fingers. Be sure that you wash the leaves carefully so that no lurking germs cling to them. Fill your salad bowl with the crisp leaves, from which the flowerhead has been plucked. For dressing, dice a teacup of the most delicious bacon you can obtain and fry it to a crisp brown together with a small sliced onion. Add to the fat two tablespoons of sugar, half a teaspoon of mustard; salt will scarcely be necessary the bacon will furnish that. Blend the fat, sugar, and mustard, and pour in a measure of the best apple vinegar, diluted to taste. Bring this mixture to the boiling point, and when it has cooled slightly pour it over the lettuce leaves, lightly turning with a silver fork. Garnish the edge of the dish with a deep border of the fresh leaves bearing their lace of white bloom intact, around the edge of the bowl, and sprinkle on top the sifted yolks of two hard-boiled eggs, heaping the diced whites in the center.

Linda paused and read. this over carefully.

"That is all right," she said. "I couldn't make that much better."

She made a few corrections here and there, and picking up a colored pencil, she deftly sketched in a head piece of delicate sprays of miners' lettuce tipped at differing angles, fringy white with bloom. Below she printed: "A delicious Indian salad. The second of a series of new dishes to be offered made from materials used by the Indians. Compounded and tested in her own diet kitchen by the author."

Swiftly she sketched a tail piece representing a table top upon which sat a tempting-looking big salad bowl filled with fresh green leaves, rimmed with a row of delicate white flowers, from which you could almost scent a teasing delicate fragrance arising; and beneath, in a clear, firm hand, she stroked in the name, Jane Meredith. She went over her work carefully, then laid it flat on a piece of cardboard, shoved it into an envelope, directed it to the editor of Everybody's Home, laid it inside her geometry, and wrote her letter to Marian before going to bed.

In the morning on her way to the street car she gaily waved to a passing automobile going down Lilac Valley, in which sat John Gilman and Peter Morrison and his architect, and as they were driving in the direction from which she had come, Linda very rightly surmised that they were going to pick up Eileen and make a tour of the valley, looking for available building locations; and she wondered why Eileen had not told her that they were coming. Linda had been right about the destination of the car. It turned in at the Strong driveway and stopped at the door. John Gilman went to ring the bell and learn if Eileen were ready. Peter followed him. Henry Anderson stepped from the car and wandered over the lawn, looking at the astonishing array of bushes, vines, flowers, and trees.

From one to another he went, fingering the waxy leaves, studying the brilliant flower faces. Finally turning a corner and crossing the wild garden, to which he paid slight attention, he started down the other side of the house. Here an almost overpowering odor greeted his nostrils, and he went over to a large tree covered with rough, dark green, almost brownish, lance-shaped leaves, each branch terminating in a heavy spray of yellowish-green flowers, whose odor was of cloying sweetness. The bees were buzzing over it. It was not a tree with which he was familiar, and stepping back, he looked at it carefully. Then at its base, wind-driven into a crevice between the roots, his attention was attracted to a crumpled sheet of paper, upon which he could see lines that would have attracted the attention of any architect. He went forward instantly, picked up the sheet, and straightening it out he stood looking at it.

"Holy smoke!" he breathed softly. "What a find!"

He looked at the reverse of the sheet, his face becoming more intent every minute. When he heard Peter Morrison's voice calling him he hastily thrust the paper into his coat pocket; but he had gone only a few steps when he stopped, glanced keenly over the house and lawn, turned his back, and taking the sheet from his pocket, he smoothed it out, folded it carefully, and put it in an inside pocket. Then he joined the party.

At once they set out to examine the available locations that yet remained in Lilac Valley. Nature provided them a wonderful day of snappy sunshine and heady sea air. Spring favored them with lilac walls at their bluest, broken here and there with the rose- misted white mahogany. The violet nightshade was beginning to add deeper color to the hills in the sunniest wild spots. The panicles of mahonia bloom were showing their gold color. Wild flowers were lifting leaves of feather and lace everywhere, and most agreeable on the cool morning air was a faint breath of California sage. Up one side of the valley, weaving in and out, up and down, over the foothills they worked their way. They stopped for dinner at one of the beautiful big hotels, practically filled with Eastern tourists. Eileen never had known a prouder moment than when she took her place at the head of the table and presided over the dinner which was served to three most attractive specimens of physical manhood, each of whom was unusually well endowed with brain, all flattering her with the most devoted attention. This triumph she achieved in a dining room seating hundreds of people, its mirror-lined walls reflecting her exquisite image from many angles, to the click of silver, and the running accompaniment of many voices. What she had expected to accomplish in her own dining room had come to her before a large audience, in which, she had no doubt, there were many envious women. Eileen rayed loveliness like a Mariposa lily, and purred in utter contentment like a deftly stroked kitten.

When they parted in the evening Peter Morrison had memoranda of three locations that he wished to consider. That he might not seem to be unduly influenced or to be giving the remainder of Los Angeles County its just due, he proposed to motor around for a week before reaching an ultimate decision, but in his heart he already had decided that somewhere near Los Angeles he would build his home, and as yet he had seen nothing nearly so attractive as Lilac Valley.