Chapter VIII. The Bear Cat
 

"Friday's child is loving and giving, But Saturday's child must work for a living,"

Linda was chanting happily as she entered the kitchen early Saturday morning.

"Katy, me blessing," she said gaily, "did I ever point out to you the interesting fact that I was born on Saturday? And a devilish piece of luck it was, for I have been hustling ever since. It's bad enough to have been born on Monday and spoiled wash day, but I call Saturday the vanishing point, the end of the extreme limit."

Katy laughed, and, as always, turned adoring eyes on Linda.

"I am not needing ye, lambie," she said. "Is it big business in the canyon ye're having today? Shall I be ready to be cooking up one of them God-forsaken Red Indian messes for ye when ye come back?"

Linda held up a warning finger.

"Hiss, Katy," she said. "That is a dark secret. Don't you be forgetting yourself and saying anything like that before anyone, or I would be ruined entirely."

"Well, I did think when ye began it," said Katy, "that of all the wild foolishness ye and your pa had ever gone through with, that was the worst, but that last mess ye worked out was so tasty to the tongue that I thought of it a lot, and I'm kind o' hankering for more."

Linda caught Katy and swung her around the kitchen in a wild war dance. Her gayest laugh bubbled clear from the joy peak of her soul.

"Katy," she said, "if you had lain awake all night trying to say something that would particularly please me, you couldn't have done better. That was a quaint little phrase and a true little phrase, and I know a little spot that it will fit exactly. What am I doing today? Well, several things, Katy. First, anything you need about the house. Next, I am going to empty the billiard room and sell some of the excess furniture of the library, and with the returns I am going to buy me a rug and a table and some tools to work with, so I won't have to clutter up my bedroom with my lessons and things I bring in that I want to save. And then I am going to sell the technical stuff from the library and use that money where it will be of greatest advantage to me. And then, Katy, I am going to manicure the Bear Cat and I am going to drive it again."

Linda hesitated. Katy stood very still, thinking intently, but finally she said: "That's all right; ye have got good common sense; your nerves are steady; your pa drilled ye fine. Many's the time he has bragged to me behind your back what a fine little driver he was making of ye. I don't know a girl of your age anywhere that has less enjoyment than ye. If it would be giving ye any happiness to be driving that car, ye just go ahead and drive it, lambie, but ye promise me here and now that ye will be mortal careful. In all my days I don't think I have seen a meaner-looking little baste of a car."

"Of course I'll be careful, Katy," said Linda. "That car was not bought for its beauty. Its primal object in this world was to arrive. Gee, how we shot curves, and coasted down the canyons, and gassed up on the level when some poor soul went batty from nerve strain! The truth is, Katy, that you can't drive very slowly. You have got to go the speed for which it was built. But I have had my training. I won't forget. I adore that car, Katy, and I don't know how I have ever kept my fingers off it this long. Today it gets a bath and a facial treatment, and when 1 have thought up some way to meet my big problem, you're going to have a ride, Katy, that will quite uplift your soul. We'll go scooting through the canyons, and whizzing around the mountains, and roaring along the beach, as slick as a white sea swallow."

"Now, easy, lambie, easy," said Katy. "Ye're planning to speed that thing before ye've got it off the jacks."

"No, that was mere talk," said Linda. "But, Katy, this is my great day. I feel in my bones that I shall have enough money by night to get me some new tires, which I must have before I can start out in safety."

"Of course ye must, honey. I would just be tickled to pieces to let ye have what ye need."

Linda slid her hand across Katy's lips and gathered her close in her arms.

"You blessed old darling," she said. "Of course you would, but I don't need it, Katy. I can sit on the floor to work, if I must, and instead of taking the money from the billiard table to buy a worktable, I can buy tires with that. But here's another thing I want to tell you, Katy. This afternoon a male biped is coming to this house, and he's not coming to see Eileen. His name is Donald Whiting, and when he tells you it is, and stands very straight and takes off his hat, and looks you in the eye and says, 'Calling on Miss Linda Strong,' walk him into the living room, Katy, and seat him in the best chair and put a book beside him and the morning paper; and don't you forget to do it with a flourish. He is nothing but a high-school kid, but he's the first boy that ever in all my days asked to come to see me so it's a big event; and I wish to my soul I had something decent to wear."

"Well, with all the clothes in this house," said Katy; and then she stopped and shut her lips tight and looked at Linda with belligerent Irish eyes.

"I know it," nodded Linda in acquiescence; "I know what you think; but never mind. Eileen has agreed to make me a fair allowance the first of the month, and if that isn't sufficient, I may possibly figure up some way to do some extra work that will bring me a few honest pennies, so I can fuss up enough to look feminine at times, Katy. In the meantime, farewell, oh, my belovedest. Call me at half-past eight, so I will be ready for business at nine."

Then Linda went to the garage and began operations. She turned the hose on the car and washed the dust from it carefully. Then she dried it with the chamois skins as she often had done before. She carefully examined the cushioning, and finding it dry and hard, she gave it a bath of olive oil and wiped and manipulated it. She cleaned the engine with extreme care. At one minute she was running to Katy for kerosene to pour through the engine to loosen the carbon. At another she was telephoning for the delivery of oil, gasoline, and batteries for which she had no money to pay, so she charged them to Eileen, ordering the bill to be sent on the first of the month. It seemed to her that she had only a good start when Katy came after her.

The business of appraising the furniture was short, and Linda was well satisfied with the price she was offered for it. After the man had gone she showed Katy the pieces she had marked to dispose of, and told her when they would be called for. She ate a few bites of lunch while waiting for the book man, and the results of her business with him quite delighted Linda. She had not known that the value of books had risen with the price of everything else. The man with whom she dealt had known her father. He had appreciated the strain in her nature which made her suggest that he should number and appraise the books, but she must be allowed time to go through each volume in order to remove any scraps of paper or memoranda which her father so frequently left in books to which he was referring. He had figured carefully and he had made Linda a far higher price than could have been secured by a man. As the girl went back to her absorbing task in the garage, she could see her way clear to the comforts and conveniences and the material that she needed for her work. When .she reached the car she patted it as if it had been a living creature.

"Cheer up, nice old thing," she said gaily. "I know how to get new tires for you, and you shall drink all the gasoline and oil your tummy can hold. Now let me see. What must I do next? I must get you off your jacks; and oh, my gracious there are the grease cups, and that's a nasty job, but it must be done; and what is the use of Saturday if I can't do it? Daddy often did."

Linda began work in utter absorption. She succeeded in getting the car off the jacks. She was lying on her back under it, filling some of the most inaccessible grease cups, and she was softly singing as she worked:

"The shoes I wear are common-sense shoes--"

At that minute Donald Whiting swung down the street, turned in at the Strong residence, and rang the bell. Eileen was coming down the stairs, dressed for the street. She had inquired for Linda, and Katy had told her that she thought Miss Linda had decided to begin using her car, and that she was in the garage working on it. To Eileen's credit it may be said that she had not been told that a caller was expected. Linda never before had had a caller and, as always, Eileen was absorbed in her own concerns. Had she got the rouge a trifle brighter on one cheek than on the other? Was the powder evenly distributed? Would the veil hold the handmade curls in exactly the proper place? When the bell rang her one thought might have been that some of her friends were calling for her. She opened the door, and when she learned that Linda was being asked for, it is possible that she mistook the clean, interesting, and well-dressed youngster standing before her for a mechanic. What she said was: "Linda's working on her car. Go around to the left and you will find her in the garage, and for heaven's sake, get it right before you let her start out, for we've had enough horror in this family from motor accidents."

Then she closed the door before him and stood buttoning her gloves; a wicked and malicious smile spreading over her face.

"Just possibly," she said, "that youngster is from a garage, but if he is, he's the best imitation of the real thing that I have seen in these chaotic days."

Donald Whiting stopped at the garage door and looked in, before Linda had finished her grease cups, and in time to be informed that he might wear common-sense shoes if he chose. At his step, Linda rolled her black head on the cement floor and raised her eyes. She dropped the grease cup, and her face reddened deeply.

"Oh, my Lord!" she gasped breathlessly. "I forgot to tell Katy when to call me!"

In that instant she also forgot that the stress of the previous four years had accustomed men to seeing women do any kind of work in any kind of costume; but soon Linda realized that Donald Whiting was not paying any particular attention either to her or to her occupation. He was leaning forward, gazing at the car with positively an enraptured expression on his eager young face.

"Shades of Jehu!" he cried. "It's a Bear Cat!"

Linda felt around her head for the grease cup.

"Why, sure it's a Bear Cat," she said with the calmness of complete recovery. "And it's just about ready to start for its very own cave in the canyon."

Donald Whiting pitched his hat upon the seat, shook off his coat, and sent it flying after the hat. Then he began unbuttoning and turning back his sleeves.

"Here, let me do that," he said authoritatively. "Gee! I have never yet ridden in a Bear Cat. Take me with you, will you, Linda?"

"Sure," said Linda, pressing the grease into the cup with a little paddle and holding it up to see if she had it well filled. "Sure, but there's no use in you getting into this mess, because I have only got two more. You look over the engine. Did you ever grind valves, and do you think these need it?"

"Why, they don't need it," said Donald, "if they were all right when it was jacked up."

"Well, they were," said Linda. "It was running like a watch when it went to sleep. But do we dare take it out on these tires?"

"How long has it been?" asked Donald, busy at the engine.

"All of four years," answered Linda.

Donald whistled softly and started a circuit of the car, kicking the tires and feeling them.

"Have you filled them?" he asked.

"No," said Linda. "I did not want to start the engine until I had finished everything else."

"All right," he said, "I'll look at the valves first and then, if it is all ready, there ought to be a garage near that we can run to carefully, and get tuned up."

"There is," said Linda. "There is one only a few blocks down the street where Dad always had anything done that he did not want to do himself."

"That's that, then," said Donald.

Linda crawled from under the car and stood up, wiping her hands on a bit of waste.

"Do you know what tires cost now?" she asked anxiously.

"They have 'em at the garage," answered Donald, "and if I were you, I wouldn't get a set; I would get two. I would-put them on the rear wheels. You might be surprised at how long some of these will last. Anyway, that would be the thing to do."

"Of course," said Linda, in a relieved tone. "That would be the thing to do."

"Now," she said, "I must be excused a few minutes till I clean up so I am fit to go on the streets. I hope you won't think I forgot you were coming."

Donald laughed drily.

"When 'shoes' was the first word I heard," he said, "I did not for a minute think you had forgotten."

"No, I didn't forget," said Linda. "What I did do was to become so excited about cleaning up the car that I let time go faster than I thought it could. That was what made me late."

"Well, forget it!" said Donald. "Run along and jump into something, and let us get our tires and try Kitty out."

Linda reached up and released the brakes. She stepped to one side of the car and laid her hands on it.

"Let us run it down opposite the kitchen door," she said, "then you go around to the front, and I'll let you in, and you can read something a few minutes till I make myself presentable."

"Oh, I'll stay out here and look around the yard and go over the car again," said the boy. "What a bunch of stuff you have got growing here; I don't believe I ever saw half of it before." "It's Daddy's and my collection," said Linda. "Some day I'll show you some of the things, and tell you how we got them, and why they are rare. Today I just naturally can't wait a minute until I try my car."

"Is it really yours?" asked Donald enviously.

"Yes," said Linda. "It's about the only thing on earth that is peculiarly and particularly mine. I haven't a doubt there are improved models, but Daddy had driven this car only about nine months. It was going smooth as velvet, and there's no reason why it should not keep it up, though I suspect that by this time there are later models that could outrun it."

"Oh, I don't know," said the boy. "It looks like some little old car to me. I bet it can just skate."

"I know it can," said Linda, "if I haven't neglected something. We'll start carefully, and we'll have the inspector at the salesrooms look it over."

Then Linda entered the kitchen door to find Katy with everything edible that the house afforded spread before her on the table.

"Why, Katy, what are you doing?" she asked.

"I was makin' ready," explained Katy, "to fix ye the same kind of lunch I would for Miss Eileen. Will ye have it under the live oak, or in the living room?"

"Neither," said Linda. "Come upstairs with me, and in the storeroom you'll find the lunch case and the thermos bottles

and don't stint yourself, Katy. This is a rare occasion. It never happened before. Probably it will never happen again. Let's make it high altitude while we are at it."

"I'll do my very best with what I happen to have," said Katy; "but I warn you right now I am making a good big hole in the Sunday dinner."

"I don't give two whoops," said Linda, "if there isn't any Sunday dinner. In memory of hundreds of times that we have eaten bread and milk, make it a banquet, Katy, and we'll eat bread and milk tomorrow."

Then she took the stairway at a bound, and ran to her room. Ln a very short time she emerged, clad in a clean blouse and breeches' her climbing boots, her black hair freshly brushed and braided.

"I ought to have something," said Linda, "to shade my eyes. i The glare's hard on them facing the sun."

Going down the hall she came to the storeroom, opened a drawer' and picked out a fine black felt Alpine hat that had belonged to her father. She carried it back to her room and, standing at the glass, tried it on, pulling it down on one side, turning it up at the other, and striking a deep cleft across the crown. She looked at herself intently for a minute, and then she reached up and deliberately loosened the hair at her temples.

"Not half bad, all things considered, Linda," she said. "But, oh, how you do need a tich of color."

She ran down the hall and opened the door to Eileen's room, and going to her chiffonier, pulled out a drawer containing an array of gloves, veils, and ribbons. At the bottom of the ribbon stack, her eye caught the gleam of color for which she was searching, and she deftly slipped out a narrow scarf of Roman stripes with a deep black fringe at the end. Sitting down, she fitted the hat over her knee, picked up the dressing-table scissors,and ripped off the band. In its place she fitted the ribbon, pinning it securely and knotting the ends so that the fringe reached her shoulder. Then she tried the hat again. The result was blissfully satisfactory. The flash of orange, the blaze of red, the gleam of green, were what she needed.

"Thank you very much, sister mine," she said, "I know you I would be perfectly delighted to loan me this."