Chapter VII. Trying Yucca
 

On her way to school that morning Linda stopped at the post office and pasted the required amount of stamps upon the package that she was mailing to New York. She hurried from her last class that afternoon to the city directory to find the street and number of James Brothers, figuring that the firm with whom Marian dealt would be the proper people for her to consult. She had no difficulty in finding the place for which she was searching, and she was rather agreeably impressed with the men to whom she talked. She made arrangements with their buyer to call at her home in Lilac Valley at nine o'clock the following Saturday morning to appraise the articles with which she wished to part.

Then she went to one of the leading book stores of the city and made inquiries which guided her to a reliable second-hand book dealer, and she arranged to be ready to receive his representative at ten o'clock on Saturday.

Reaching home she took a note book and pencil, and studied the billiard room and the library, making a list of the furniture which she did not actually need. After that she began on the library shelves, listing such medical works as were of a technical nature. Books of fiction, history, art, and biography, and those books written by her father she did not include. She found that she had a long task which would occupy several evenings. Her mind was methodical and she had been with her father through sufficient business transactions to understand that in order to drive a good bargain she must know how many volumes she had to offer and the importance of their authors as medical authorities; she should also know the exact condition of each set of books. Since she had made up her mind to let them go, and she knew the value of many of the big, leather-bound volumes, she determined that she would not sell them until she could secure the highest possible price for them.

Two months previously she would have consulted John Gilman and asked him to arrange the transaction for her. Since he had allowed himself to be duped so easily--or at least it had seemed easy to Linda; for, much as she knew of Eileen, she could not possibly know the weeks of secret plotting, the plans for unexpected meetings, the trumped-up business problems necessary to discuss, the deliberate flaunting of her physical charms before him, all of which had made his conquest extremely hard for Eileen, but Linda, seeing only results, had thought it contemptibly easy--she would not ask John Gilman anything. She would go ahead on the basis of her agreement with Eileen and do the best she could alone.

She counted on Saturday to dispose of the furniture. The books might go at her leisure. Then the first of the week she could select such furniture as she desired in order to arrange the billiard room for her study. If she had a suitable place in which to work in seclusion, there need be no hurry about the library. She conscientiously prepared all the lessons required in her school course for the next day and then, stacking her books, she again unlocked the drawer opened the previous evening, and taking from it the same materials, set to work. She wrote:

Botanists have failed to mention that there is any connection between asparagus, originally a product of salt marshes, and Yucca, a product of the alkaline desert. Very probably there is no botanical relationship, but these two plants are alike in flavor. From the alkaline, sunbeaten desert where the bayonet plant thrusts up a tender bloom head six inches in height, it slowly increases in stature as it travels across country more frequently rain washed, and winds its way beside mountain streams to where in more fertile soil and the same sunshine it develops magnificent specimens from ten to fifteen and more feet in height. The plant grows a number of years before it decides to flower. When it reaches maturity it throws up a bloom stem as tender as the delicate head of asparagus, thick as one's upper arm, and running to twice one's height. This bloom stem in its early stages is colored the pale pink of asparagus, with faint touches of yellow, and hints of blue. At maturity it breaks into a gorgeous head of lavender-tinted, creamy pendent flowers covering the upper third of its height, billowing out slightly in the center, so that from a distance the waxen torch takes on very much the appearance of a flaming candle. For this reason, in Mexico, where the plant flourishes in even greater abundance than in California, with the exquisite poetry common to the tongue and heart of the Spaniard, Yucca Whipplei has been commonly named "Our Lord's Candle." At the most delicate time of their growth these candlesticks were roasted and eaten by the Indians. Based upon this knowledge, I would recommend two dishes, almost equally delicious, which may be pre. pared from this plant.

Take the most succulent young bloom stems when they have exactly the appearance of an asparagus head at its moment of delicious perfection. With a sharp knife, cut them in circles an inch in depth. Arrange these in a shallow porcelain baking dish, sprinkle with salt, dot them with butter, add enough water to keep them from sticking and burning. Bake until thoroughly tender. Use a pancake turner to slide the rings to a hot platter, and garnish with circles of hard-boiled egg. This you will find an extremely delicate and appetizing dish.

The second recipe I would offer is to treat this vegetable precisely as you would creamed asparagus. Cut the stalks in six-inch lengths, quarter them to facilitate cooking and handling, and boil in salted water. Drain, arrange in a hot dish, and pour over a carefully made cream sauce. I might add that one stalk would furnish sufficient material for several families. This dish should be popular in southwestern states where the plant grows profusely; and to cultivate these plants for shipping to Eastern markets would be quite as feasible as the shipping of asparagus, rhubarb, artichokes, or lettuce.

I have found both these dishes peculiarly appetizing, but I should be sorry if, in introducing Yucca as a food, I became instrumental in the extermination of this universal and wonderfully beautiful plant. For this reason I have hesitated about including Yucca among these articles; but when I see the bloom destroyed ruthlessly by thousands who cut it to decorate touring automobiles and fruit and vegetable stands beside the highways, who carry it from its native location and stick it in the parching sun of the seashore as a temporary shelter, I feel that the bloom stems might as well be used for food as to be so ruthlessly wasted.

The plant is hardy in the extreme, growing in the most unfavorable places, clinging tenaciously to sheer mountain and canyon walls. After blooming and seeding the plant seems to have thrown every particle of nourishment it contains into its development, it dries out and dies (the spongy wood is made into pincushions for the art stores); but from the roots there spring a number of young plants, which, after a few years of growth, mature and repeat their life cycle, while other young plants develop from the widely scattered seeds. The Spaniards at times call the plant Quiota. This word seems to be derived from quiotl, which is the Aztec name for Agave, from which plant a drink not unlike beer is produced, and suggests the possibility that there might have been a time when the succulent flower stem of the Yucca furnished drink as well as food for the Indians.

After carefully re-reading and making several minor corrections, Linda picked up her pencil, and across the top of a sheet of heavy paper sketched the peaks of a chain of mountains. Across the base she drew a stretch of desert floor, bristling with the thorns of many different cacti brilliant with their gold, pink, and red bloom, intermingled with fine grasses and desert flower faces.

At the left she painstakingly drew a huge plant of yucca with a perfect circle of bayonets, from the center of which uprose the gigantic flower stem the length of her page, and on the misty bloom of the flaming tongue she worked quite as late as Marian Thorne had ever seen a light burning in her window. When she had finished her drawing she studied it carefully a long time, adding a touch here and there, and then she said softly: "There, Daddy, I feel that even you would think that a faithful reproduction Tomorrow night I'll paint it."

John Gilman saw the light from Linda's window when he brought Eileen home that night, and when he left he glanced that way again, and was surprised to see the room still lighted, and the young figure bending over a worktable. He stood very still for a few minutes, wondering what could keep Linda awake so far into the night, and while his thoughts were upon her he wondered, too, why she did not care to have beautiful clothes such as Eileen wore; and then he went further and wondered why, when she could be as entertaining as she had been the night she joined them at dinner, she did not make her appearance oftener; and then, because the mind is a queer thing, and he had wondered about a given state of affairs, he went a step further, and wondered whether the explanation lay in Linda's inclinations or in Eileen's management, and then his thought fastened tenaciously upon the subject of Eileen's management.

He was a patient man. He had allowed his reason and better judgment to be swayed by Eileen's exquisite beauty and her blandishments. He did not regret having discovered before it was too late that Marian Thorne was not the girl he had thought her. He wanted a wife cut after the clinging-vine pattern. He wanted to be the dominating figure in his home. It had not taken Eileen long to teach him that Marian was self-assertive and would do a large share of dominating herself. He had thought that he was perfectly satisfied and very happy with Eileen; yet that day he repeatedly had felt piqued and annoyed with her. She had openly cajoled and flirted with Henry Anderson past a point which was agreeable for any man to see his sweetheart go with another man With Peter Morrison she had been unspeakably charming in a manner with which John was very familiar.

He turned up his coat collar, thrust his hands in his pockets, and swore softly. Looking straight ahead of him, he should have seen a stretch of level sidewalk, bordered on one hand by lacy, tropical foliage, on the other, by sheets of level green lawn, broken everywhere by the uprising boles of great trees, clumps of rare vines, and rows of darkened homes, attractive in architectural

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design' vine covered, hushed for the night. What he really saw was a small plateau, sun illumined, at the foot of a mountain across the valley, where the lilac wall was the bluest, where the sun shone slightly more golden than anywhere else in the valley, where huge live oaks outstretched rugged arms, where the air had a tang of salt, a tinge of sage, an odor of orange, shot through with snowy coolness, thrilled with bird song, and the laughing chuckle of a big spring breaking from the foot of the mountain. They had left the road and followed a narrow, screened path by which they came unexpectedly into this opening. They had stood upon it in wordless enchantment, looking down the slope beneath it, across the peace of the valley, to the blue ranges beyond.

"Just where are we?" Peter Morrison had asked at last.

John Gilman had been looking at a view which included Eileen. She lifted her face, flushed and exquisite, to Peter Morrison and answered in a breathless undertone, yet John had distinctly heard her:

"How wonderful it would be if we were at your house. Oh, I envy the woman who shares this with you !"

It had not been anything in particular, yet all day it had teased John Gilman's sensibilities. He felt ashamed of himself for not being more enthusiastic as he searched records and helped to locate the owner of that particular spot. To John, there was a new tone in Peter's voice, a possessive light in his eyes as he studied the location, and made excursions in several directions, to fix in his mind the exact position of the land.

He had indicated what he considered the topographical location for a house--stood on it facing the valley, and stepped the distance suitably far away to set a garage and figured on a short private road down to the highway. He very plainly was deeply prepossessed with a location John Gilman blamed himself for not having found first. Certainly nature had here grown and walled a dream garden in which to set a house of dreams. So, past midnight, Gilman stood in the sunshine, looking at the face of the girl he had asked to marry him and who had said that she would; and a small doubt crept into his heart, and a feeling that perhaps life might be different for him if Peter Morrison decided to come to Lilac Valley to build his home. Then the sunlight faded, night closed in, but as he went his homeward way John Gilman was thinking, thinking deeply and not at all happily.