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What Diantha Did

CHAPTER XII. LIKE A BANYAN TREE

The Earth-Plants spring up from beneath,
The Air-Plants swing down from above,
But the Banyan trees grow
Both above and below,
And one makes a prosperous grove.

In the fleeting opportunities offered by the Caffeteria, and in longer moments, rather neatly planned for, with some remnants of an earlier ingenuity, Mr. Thaddler contrived to become acquainted with Mrs. Bell. Diantha never quite liked him, but he won her mother's heart by frank praise of the girl and her ventures.

"I never saw a smarter woman in my life," he said; "and no airs. I tell you, ma'am, if there was more like her this world would be an easier place to live in, and I can see she owes it all to you, ma'am."

This the mother would never admit for a moment, but expatiated loyally on the scientific mind of Mr. Henderson Bell, still of Jopalez.

"I don't see how he can bear to let her out of his sight," said Mr. Thaddler.

"Of course he hated to let her go," replied the lady. "We both did. But he is very proud of her now."

"I guess there's somebody else who's proud of her, too," he suggested. "Excuse me, ma'am, I don't mean to intrude, but we know there must be a good reason for your daughter keeping all Orchardina at a distance. Why, she could have married six times over in her first year here!"

"She does not wish to give up her work," Mrs. Bell explained.

"Of course not; and why should she? Nice, womanly business, I am sure. I hope nobody'd expect a girl who can keep house for a whole township to settle down to bossing one man and a hired girl."

In course of time he got a pretty clear notion of how matters stood, and meditated upon it, seriously rolling his big cigar about between pursed lips. Mr. Thaddler was a good deal of a gossip, but this he kept to himself, and did what he could to enlarge the patronage of Union House.

The business grew. It held its own in spite of fluctuations, and after a certain point began to spread steadily. Mrs. Bell's coming and Mr. Eltwood's ardent championship, together with Mr. Thaddler's, quieted the dangerous slanders which had imperilled the place at one time. They lingered, subterraneously, of course. People never forget slanders. A score of years after there were to be found in Orchardina folk who still whispered about dark allegations concerning Union House; and the papers had done some pretty serious damage; but the fame of good food, good service, cheapness and efficiency made steady headway.

In view of the increase and of the plans still working in her mind, Diantha made certain propositions to Mr. Porne, and also to Mrs. Porne, in regard to a new, specially built club-house for the girls.

"I have proved what they can do, with me to manage them, and want now to prove that they can do it themselves, with any matron competent to follow my directions. The house need not be so expensive; one big dining-room, with turn-up tables like those ironing-board seat-tables, you know—then they can dance there. Small reception room and office, hall, kitchen and laundry, and thirty bedrooms, forty by thirty, with an "ell" for the laundry, ought to do it, oughtn't it?"

Mrs. Porne agreed to make plans, and did so most successfully, and Mr. Porne found small difficulty in persuading an investor to put up such a house, which visibly could be used as a boarding-house or small hotel, if it failed in its first purpose.

It was built of concrete, a plain simple structure, but fine in proportions and pleasantly colored.

Diantha kept her plans to herself, as usual, but they grew so fast that she felt a species of terror sometimes, lest the ice break somewhere.

"Steady, now!" she would say. "This is real business, just plain business. There's no reason why I shouldn't succeed as well as Fred Harvey. I will succeed. I am succeeding."

She kept well, she worked hard, she was more than glad to have her mother with her; but she wanted something else, which seemed farther off than ever. Her lover's picture hung on the wall of her bedroom, stood on her bureau, and (but this was a secret) a small one was carried in her bosom.

Rather a grim looking young woman, Diantha, with the cares of the world of house-keepers upon her proud young shoulders; with all the stirring hopes to be kept within bounds, all the skulking fears to be resisted, and the growing burden of a large affair to be carried steadily.

But when she woke, in the brilliant California mornings, she would lie still a few moments looking at the face on the wall and the face on the bureau; would draw the little picture out from under her pillow and kiss it, would say to herself for the thousandth time, "It is for him, too."

She missed him, always.

The very vigor of her general attitude, the continued strength with which she met the days and carried them, made it all the more needful for her to have some one with whom she could forget every care, every purpose, every effort; some one who would put strong arms around her and call her "Little Girl." His letters were both a comfort and a pain. He was loyal, kind, loving, but always that wall of disapproval. He loved her, he did not love her work.

She read them over and over, hunting anew for the tender phrases, the things which seemed most to feed and comfort her. She suffered not only from her loneliness, but from his; and most keenly from his sternly suppressed longing for freedom and the work that belonged to him.

"Why can't he see," she would say to herself, "that if this succeeds, he can do his work; that I can make it possible for him? And he won't let me. He won't take it from me. Why are men so proud? Is there anything so ignominious about a woman that it is disgraceful to let one help you? And why can't he think at all about the others? It's not just us, it's all people. If this works, men will have easier times, as well as women. Everybody can do their real work better with this old primitive business once set right."

And then it was always time to get up, or time to go to bed, or time to attend to some of the numberless details of her affairs.

She and her mother had an early lunch before the caffeteria opened, and were glad of the afternoon tea, often held in a retired corner of the broad piazza. She sat there one hot, dusty afternoon, alone and unusually tired. The asphalted street was glaring and noisy, the cross street deep in soft dust, for months unwet.

Failure had not discouraged her, but increasing success with all its stimulus and satisfaction called for more and more power. Her mind was busy foreseeing, arranging, providing for emergencies; and then the whole thing slipped away from her, she dropped her head upon her arm for a moment, on the edge of the tea table, and wished for Ross.

From down the street and up the street at this moment, two men were coming; both young, both tall, both good looking, both apparently approaching Union House. One of them was the nearer, and his foot soon sounded on the wooden step. The other stopped and looked in a shop window.

Diantha started up, came forward,—it was Mr. Eltwood. She had a vague sense of disappointment, but received him cordially. He stood there, his hat off, holding her hand for a long moment, and gazing at her with evident admiration. They turned and sat down in the shadow of the reed-curtained corner.

The man at the shop window turned, too, and went away.

Mr. Eltwood had been a warm friend and cordial supporter from the epoch of the Club-splitting speech. He had helped materially in the slow, up-hill days of the girl's effort, with faith and kind words. He had met the mother's coming with most friendly advances, and Mrs. Bell found herself much at home in his liberal little church.

Diantha had grown to like and trust him much.

"What's this about the new house, Miss Bell? Your mother says I may know."

"Why not?" she said. "You have followed this thing from the first. Sugar or lemon? You see I want to disentangle the undertakings, set them upon their own separate feet, and establish the practical working of each one."

"I see," he said, "and 'day service' is not 'cooked food delivery.'"

"Nor yet 'rooms for entertainment'," she agreed. "We've got them all labelled, mother and I. There's the 'd. s.' and 'c. f. d.' and 'r. f. e.' and the 'p. p.' That's picnics and parties. And more coming."

"What, more yet? You'll kill yourself, Miss Bell. Don't go too fast. You are doing a great work for humanity. Why not take a little more time?"

"I want to do it as quickly as I can, for reasons," answered Diantha.

Mr. Eltwood looked at her with tender understanding. "I don't want to intrude any further than you are willing to want me," he said, "but sometimes I think that even you—strong as you are—would be better for some help."

She did not contradict him. Her hands were in her lap, her eyes on the worn boards of the piazza floor. She did not see a man pass on the other side of the street, cast a searching glance across and walk quickly on again.

"If you were quite free to go on with your beautiful work," said Mr. Eltwood slowly, "if you were offered heartiest appreciation, profound respect, as well as love, of course; would you object to marrying, Miss Bell?" asked in an even voice, as if it were a matter of metaphysical inquiry. Mrs. Porne had told him of her theory as to a lover in the home town, wishing to save him a long heart ache, but he was not sure of it, and he wanted to be.

Diantha glanced quickly at him, and felt the emotion under his quiet words. She withdrew her eyes, looking quite the other way.

"You are enough of a friend to know, Mr. Eltwood," she said, "I rather thought you did know. I am engaged."

"Thank you for telling me; some one is greatly to be congratulated," he spoke sincerely, and talked quietly on about less personal matters, holding his tea untasted till it was cold.

"Do let me give you some that is hot," she said at last, "and let me thank you from my heart for the help and strength and comfort you have been to me, Mr. Eltwood."

"I'm very glad," he said; and again, "I am very glad." "You may count upon anything I can do for you, always," he continued. "I am proud to be your friend."

He held her hand once more for a moment, and went away with his head up and a firm step. To one who watched him go, he had almost a triumphant air, but it was not triumph, only the brave beginning of a hard fight and a long one.

Then came Mrs. Bell, returned from a shopping trip, and sank down in a wicker rocker, glad of the shade and a cup of tea. No, she didn't want it iced. "Hot tea makes you cooler," was her theory.

"You don't look very tired," said the girl. "Seems to me you get stronger all the time."

"I do," said her mother. "You don't realize, you can't realize, Diantha, what this means to me. Of course to you I am an old woman, a back number—one has to feel so about one's mother. I did when I married, and my mother then was five years younger than I am now."

"I don't think you old, mother, not a bit of it. You ought to have twenty or thirty years of life before you, real life."

"That's just what I'm feeling," said Mrs. Bell, "as if I'd just begun to live! This is so different! There is a big, moving thing to work for. There is—why Diantha, you wouldn't believe what a comfort it is to me to feel that my work here is—really—adding to the profits!"

Diantha laughed aloud.

"You dear old darling," she said, "I should think it was! It is making the profits."

"And it grows so," her mother went on. "Here's this part so well assured that you're setting up the new Union House! Are you sure about Mrs. Jessup, dear?"

"As sure as I can be of any one till I've tried a long time. She has done all I've asked her to here, and done it well. Besides, I mean to keep a hand on it for a year or two yet—I can't afford to have that fail."

Mrs. Jessup was an imported aunt, belonging to one of the cleverest girls, and Diantha had had her in training for some weeks.

"Well, I guess she's as good as any you'd be likely to get," Mrs. Bell admitted, "and we mustn't expect paragons. If this can't be done by an average bunch of working women the world over, it can't be done—that's all!"

"It can be done," said the girl, calmly. "It will be done. You see."

"Mr. Thaddler says you could run any kind of a business you set your hand to," her mother went on. "He has a profound respect for your abilities, Dina."

"Seems to me you and Mr. Thaddler have a good deal to say to each other, motherkins. I believe you enjoy that caffeteria desk, and all the compliments you get."

"I do," said Mrs. Bell stoutly. "I do indeed! Why, I haven't seen so many men, to speak to, since—why, never in my life! And they are very amusing—some of them. They like to come here—like it immensely. And I don't wonder. I believe you'll do well to enlarge."

Then they plunged into a discussion of the winter's plans. The day service department and its employment agency was to go on at the New Union House, with Mrs. Jessup as manager; the present establishment was to be run as a hotel and restaurant, and the depot for the cooked food delivery.

Mrs. Thorvald and her husband were installed by themselves in another new venture; a small laundry outside the town. This place employed several girls steadily, and the motor wagon found a new use between meals, in collecting and delivering laundry parcels.

"It simplifies it a lot—to get the washing out of the place and the girls off my mind," said Diantha. "Now I mean to buckle down and learn the hotel business—thoroughly, and develop this cooked food delivery to perfection."

"Modest young lady," smiled her mother. "Where do you mean to stop—if ever?"

"I don't mean to stop till I'm dead," Diantha answered; "but I don't mean to undertake any more trades, if that is what you mean. You know what I'm after—to get 'housework' on a business basis, that's all; and prove, prove, PROVE what a good business it is. There's the cleaning branch—that's all started and going well in the day service. There's the washing—that's simple and easy. Laundry work's no mystery. But the food part is a big thing. It's an art, a science, a business, and a handicraft. I had the handicraft to start with; I'm learning the business; but I've got a lot to learn yet in the science and art of it."

"Don't do too much at once," her mother urged. "You've got to cater to people as they are."

"I know it," the girl agreed. "They must be led, step by step—the natural method. It's a big job, but not too big. Out of all the women who have done housework for so many ages, surely it's not too much to expect one to have a special genius for it!"

Her mother gazed at her with loving admiration.

"That's just what you have, Dina—a special genius for housework. I wish there were more of you!"

"There are plenty of me, mother dear, only they haven't come out. As soon as I show 'em how to make the thing pay, you'll find that we have a big percentage of this kind of ability. It's all buried now in the occasional 'perfect housekeeper.'

"But they won't leave their husbands, Dina."

"They don't need to," the girl answered cheerfully. "Some of them aren't married yet; some of them have lost their husbands, and some of them"—she said this a little bitterly—"have husbands who will be willing to let their wives grow."

"Not many, I'm afraid," said Mrs. Bell, also with some gloom.

Diantha lightened up again. "Anyhow, here you are, mother dear! And for this year I propose that you assume the financial management of the whole business at a salary of $1,000 'and found.' How does that suit you?"

Mrs. Bell looked at her unbelievingly.

"You can't afford it, Dina!"

"Oh, yes, I can—you know I can, because you've got the accounts. I'm going to make big money this year."

"But you'll need it. This hotel and restaurant business may not do well."

"Now, mother, you know we're doing well. Look here!" And Diantha produced her note-book.

"Here's the little laundry place; its fittings come to so much, wages so much, collection and delivery so much, supplies so much—and already enough patronage engaged to cover. It will be bigger in winter, a lot, with transients, and this hotel to fall back on; ought to clear at least a thousand a year. The service club don't pay me anything, of course; that is for the girls' benefit; but the food delivery is doing better than I dared hope."

Mrs. Bell knew the figures better than Diantha, even, and they went over them carefully again. If the winter's patronage held on to equal the summer's—and the many transient residents ought to increase it—they would have an average of twenty families a week to provide for—one hundred persons.

The expenses were:

Food for 100 at $250 a week. Per capita. $600
—- per year $13,000

Labor—delivery man. $600
Head cook. $600
Two assistant cooks. $1,040
Three washers and packers. $1,560
Office girl. $520
—- Per year $4,320

Rent, kitchen, office, etc. $500
Rent of motor. $300
Rent of cases. $250
Gasolene and repairs. $630
—- Per year $1,680

Total. $19,000

"How do you make the gasolene and repairs as much as that?" asked Mrs. Bell.

"It's margin, mother—makes it even money. It won't be so much, probably."

The income was simple and sufficient. They charged $5.00 a week per capita for three meals, table d'hote, delivered thrice daily. Frequent orders for extra meals really gave them more than they set down, but the hundred-person estimate amounted to $26,000 a year.

"Now, see," said Diantha triumphantly; "subtract all that expense list (and it is a liberal one), and we have $7,000 left. I can buy the car and the cases this year and have $1,600 over! More; because if I do buy them I can leave off some of the interest, and the rent of kitchen and office comes to Union House! Then there's all of the extra orders. It's going to pay splendidly, mother! It clears $70 a year per person. Next year it will clear a lot more."

It did not take long to make Mrs. Bell admit that if the business went on as it had been going Diantha would be able to pay her a salary of a thousand dollars, and have five hundred left—from the food business alone.

There remained the hotel, with large possibilities. The present simple furnishings were to be moved over to New Union House, and paid for by the girls in due time. With new paint, paper, and furniture, the old house would make a very comfortable place.

"Of course, it's the restaurant mainly—these big kitchens and the central location are the main thing. The guests will be mostly tourists, I suppose."

Diantha dwelt upon the prospect at some length; and even her cautious mother had to admit that unless there was some setback the year had a prospect of large success.

"How about all this new furnishing?" Mrs. Bell said suddenly. "How do you cover that? Take what you've got ahead now?"

"Yes; there's plenty," said Diantha. "You see, there is all Union House has made, and this summer's profit on the cooked food—it's plenty."

"Then you can't pay for the motor and cases as you planned," her mother insisted.

"No, not unless the hotel and restaurant pays enough to make good. But I don't have to buy them the first year. If I don't, there is $5,500 leeway."

"Yes, you are safe enough; there's over $4,000 in the bank now," Mrs. Bell admitted. "But, child," she said suddenly, "your father!"

"Yes, I've thought of father," said the girl, "and I mean to ask him to come and live at the hotel. I think he'd like it. He could meet people and talk about his ideas, and I'm sure I'd like to have him."

They talked much and long about this, till the evening settled about them, till they had their quiet supper, and the girls came home to their noisy one; and late that evening, when all was still again, Diantha came to the dim piazza corner once more and sat there quite alone.

Full of hope, full of courage, sure of her progress—and aching with loneliness.

She sat with her head in her hands, and to her ears came suddenly the sound of a familiar step—a well-known voice—the hands and the lips of her lover.

"Diantha!" He held her close.

"Oh, Ross! Ross! Darling! Is it true? When did you come? Oh, I'm so glad! So glad to see you!"

She was so glad that she had to cry a little on his shoulder, which he seemed to thoroughly enjoy.

"I've good news for you, little girl," he said. "Good news at last! Listen, dear; don't cry. There's an end in sight. A man has bought out my shop. The incubus is off—I can live now!"

He held his head up in a fine triumph, and she watched him adoringly.

"Did you—was it profitable?" she asked.

"It's all exchange, and some cash to boot. Just think! You know what I've wanted so long—a ranch. A big one that would keep us all, and let me go on with my work. And, dear—I've got it! It's a big fruit ranch, with its own water—think of that! And a vegetable garden, too, and small fruit, and everything. And, what's better, it's all in good running order, with a competent ranchman, and two Chinese who rent the vegetable part. And there are two houses on it—two. One for mother and the girls, and one for us!"

Diantha's heart stirred suddenly.

"Where is it, dear?" she whispered.

He laughed joyfully. "It's here!" he said. "About eight miles or so out, up by the mountains; has a little canyon of its own—its own little stream and reservoir. Oh, my darling! My darling!"

They sat in happy silence in the perfumed night. The strong arms were around her, the big shoulder to lean on, the dear voice to call her "little girl."

The year of separation vanished from their thoughts, and the long years of companionship opened bright and glorious before them.

"I came this afternoon," he said at length, "but I saw another man coming. He got here first. I thought—"

"Ross! You didn't! And you've left me to go without you all these hours!"

"He looked so confident when he went away that I was jealous," Ross admitted, "furiously jealous. And then your mother was here, and then those cackling girls. I wanted you—alone."

And then he had her, alone, for other quiet, happy moments. She was so glad of him. Her hold upon his hand, upon his coat, was tight.

"I don't know how I've lived without you," she said softly.

"Nor I," said he. "I haven't lived. It isn't life—without you. Well, dearest, it needn't be much longer. We closed the deal this afternoon. I came down here to see the place, and—incidentally—to see you!"

More silence.

"I shall turn over the store at once. It won't take long to move and settle; there's enough money over to do that. And the ranch pays, Diantha! It really pays, and will carry us all. How long will it take you to get out of this?"

"Get out of—what?" she faltered.

"Why, the whole abominable business you're so deep in here. Thank God, there's no shadow of need for it any more!"

The girl's face went white, but he could not see it. She would not believe him.

"Why, dear," she said, "if your ranch is as near as that it would be perfectly easy for me to come in to the business—with a car. I can afford a car soon."

"But I tell you there's no need any more," said he. "Don't you understand? This is a paying fruit ranch, with land rented to advantage, and a competent manager right there running it. It's simply changed owners. I'm the owner now! There's two or three thousand a year to be made on it—has been made on it! There is a home for my people—a home for us! Oh, my beloved girl! My darling! My own sweetheart! Surely you won't refuse me now!"

Diantha's head swam dizzily.

"Ross," she urged, "you don't understand! I've built up a good business here—a real successful business. Mother is in it; father's to come down; there is a big patronage; it grows. I can't give it up!"

"Not for me? Not when I can offer you a home at last? Not when I show you that there is no longer any need of your earning money?" he said hotly.

"But, dear—dear!" she protested. "It isn't for the money; it is the work I want to do—it is my work! You are so happy now that you can do your work—at last! This is mine!"

When he spoke again his voice was low and stern.

"Do you mean that you love—your work—better than you love me?"

"No! It isn't that! That's not fair!" cried the girl. "Do you love your work better than you love me? Of course not! You love both. So do I. Can't you see? Why should I have to give up anything?"

"You do not have to," he said patiently. "I cannot compel you to marry me. But now, when at last—after these awful years—I can really offer you a home—you refuse!"

"I have not refused," she said slowly.

His voice lightened again.

"Ah, dearest! And you will not! You will marry me?"

"I will marry you, Ross!"

"And when? When, dearest?"

"As soon as you are ready."

"But—can you drop this at once?"

"I shall not drop it."

Her voice was low, very low, but clear and steady.

He rose to his feet with a muffled exclamation, and walked the length of the piazza and back.

"Do you realize that you are saying no to me, Diantha?"

"You are mistaken, dear. I have said that I will marry you whenever you choose. But it is you who are saying, 'I will not marry a woman with a business.'"

"This is foolishness!" he said sharply. "No man—that is a man—would marry a woman and let her run a business."

"You are mistaken," she answered. "One of the finest men I ever knew has asked me to marry him—and keep on with my work!"

"Why didn't you take him up?"

"Because I didn't love him." She stopped, a sob in her voice, and he caught her in his arms again.

It was late indeed when he went away, walking swiftly, with a black rebellion in his heart; and Diantha dragged herself to bed.

She was stunned, deadened, exhausted; torn with a desire to run after him and give up—give up anything to hold his love. But something, partly reason and partly pride, kept saying within her: "I have not refused him; he has refused me!"


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