Chapter XVI. Producing the Evidence
 

When Linda hurried home the next evening, her first word to Katy was to ask if Eileen were there.

"No, she isn't here," said Katy, "and she's not going to be."

"Not going to be!" cried Linda, her face paling perceptibly.

"She went downtown this morning and she telephoned me about three sayin' she had an invoitation to go with a motor party to Pasadena this afternoon, an' she wasn't knowin' whether she could get home the night or not."

"I don't like it," said Linda. "I don't like it at all."

She liked it still less when Eileen came home for a change of clothing the following day, and again went to spend the night with a friend, without leaving any word whatever.

"I don't understand this," said Linda, white lipped and tense. "She does not want to see me. She does not intend to talk business with me if she can possibly help it. She is treating me as if I were a four-year-old instead of a woman with as much brain as she has. If she appears while I am gone tomorrow and starts away again, you tell her Come to think of it, you needn't tell her anything; I'll give you a note for her."

So Linda sat down and wrote:

DEAR EILEEN:

It won't be necessary to remind you of our agreement night before last to settle on an allowance from Father's estate for me. Of course I realize that you are purposely avoiding seeing me, for what reason I can't imagine; but I give you warning, that if you have been in this house and have read this note, and are not here with your figures ready to meet me when I get home tomorrow night, I'll take matters into my own hands, and do exactly what I think best without the slightest reference to what you think about it. If you don't want something done that you will dislike, even more than you dislike seeing me, you had better heed this warning.

LINDA.

She read it over slowly: "My, that sounds melodramatic!" she commented. "It's even got a threat in it, and it's a funny thing to threaten my own sister. I don't think that it's a situation that occurs very frequently, but for that matter I sincerely hope that Eileen isn't the kind of sister that occurs frequently."

Linda went up to her room and tried to settle herself to work, but found that it was impossible to fix her attention on what she was doing. Her mind jumped from one thing to another in a way that totally prohibited effective work of any kind. A sudden resolve came into her heart. She would not wait any longer. She would know for herself just how she was situated financially. She wrote a note to the editor of Everybody's Home, asking him if it would be convenient to let her know what reception her work was having with his subscribers, whether he desired her to continue the department in his magazines, and if so, what was the best offer he could make her for the recipes, the natural history comments accompanying them, and the sketches. Then she went down to the telephone book and looked up the location of the Consolidated Bank. She decided that she would stop there on her way from school the next day and ask to be shown the Strong accounts.

While she was meditating these heroic measures the bell rang and Katy admitted John Gilman. Strangely enough, he was asking for Linda, not for Eileen. At the first glimpse of him Linda knew that something was wrong; so without any prelude she said abruptly: "What's the matter, John? Don't you know where I Eileen is either?"

"Approximately," he answered. "She has 'phoned me two or three times, but I haven't seen her for three days. Do you know where she is or exactly why she is keeping away from home as she is?"

"Yes," said Linda, "I do. I told you the other day the time had come when I was going to demand a settlement of Father's estate and a fixed income. That time came three days ago and I have not seen Eileen since."

They entered the living room. As Linda passed the table, propped against a candlestick on it, she noticed a note addressed to herself.

"Oh, here will be an explanation," she said. "Here is a note for me. Sit down a minute till I read it."

She seated herself on the arm of a chair, tore open the note, and instantly began reading aloud.

"Dear little sister--"

"Pathetic," interpolated Linda, "in consideration of the fact that I am about twice as big as she is. However, we'll let that go, and focus on the enclosure." She waved a slender slip of paper at Gilman. "I never was possessed of an article like this before in all my tender young life, but it seems to me that it's a cheque, and I can't tell you quite how deeply it amuses me. But to return to business, at the present instant I am:

DEAR LITTLE SISTER:

It seems that all the friends I have are particularly insistent on seeing me all at once and all in a rush. I don't think I ever had quite so many invitations at one time in my life before, and the next two or three days seem to be going to be equally as full. But I took time to run into the bank and go over things carefully. I find that after the payment of taxes and insurance and all the household expenses, that by wearing old clothes I have and making them over I can afford to turn over at least seventy-five dollars a month to you for your clothing and personal expenses. As I don't know exactly when I can get home, I am enclosing a cheque which is considerably larger than I had supposed I could make it, and I can only do this by skimping myself; but of course you are getting such a big girl and beginning to attract attention, so it is only right that you should have the very best that I can afford to do for you. I am not taking the bill from The Mode into consideration. I paid that with last month's expenses.

With love,

EILEEN.

Linda held the letter in one hand, the cheque in the other, and stared questioningly at John Gilman.

"What do you think of that?" she inquired tersely.

"It seems to me," said Gilman, "that a more pertinent question would be, what do you think of it?"

"Rot!" said Linda tersely. "If I were a stenographer in your office I would think that I was making a fairly good start; but I happen to be the daughter of Alexander Strong living in my own home with my only sister, who can afford to flit like the flittingest of social butterflies from one party to another as well dressed as, and better dressed than, the Great General Average. You have known us, John, ever since Eileen sat in the sun to dry her handmade curls, while I was leaving a piece of my dress on every busk in Multiflores Canyon. Right here and now I am going to show you something!"

Linda started upstairs, so John Gilman followed her. She went to the door of Eileen's suite and opened it.

"Now then," she said, "take a look at what Eileen feels she can afford for herself. You will observe she has complete and exquisite furnishings and all sorts of feminine accessories on her dressing table. You will observe that she has fine rugs in her dressing room and bathroom. Let me call your attention to the fact that all these drawers are filled with expensive comforts and conveniences."

Angrily Linda began to open drawers filled with fancy feminine apparel, daintily and neatly folded, everything in perfect order: gloves, hose, handkerchiefs, ribbons, laces, all in separate compartments She pointed to the high chiffonier, the top decorated with candlesticks and silver-framed pictures. Here the drawers revealed heaps of embroidered underclothing and silken garments. Then she walked to the closet and threw the door wide.

She pushed hangers on their rods, sliding before the perplexed and bewildered man dress after dress of lace and georgette, walking suits of cloth, street dresses of silk, and pretty afternoon gowns, heavy coats, light coats, a beautiful evening coat. Linda took this down and held it in front of John Gilman.

"I see things marked in store windows," she said. "Eileen paid not a penny less than three hundred for this one coat. Look at the rows of shoes, and pumps, and slippers, and what that box is or I don't know."

Linda slid to the light a box screened by the hanging dresses, and with the toe of her shoe lifted the lid, disclosing a complete smoking outfit--case after case of cigarettes. Linda dropped the lid and shoved the box back. She stood silent a second, then she looked at John Gilman.

"That is the way things go in this world," she said quietly. "Whenever you lose your temper, you always do something you didn't intend to do when you started. I didn't know that, and I wouldn't have shown it to you purposely if I had known it; but it doesn't alter the fact that you should know it. If you did know it no harm's done but if you didn't know it, you shouldn't be allowed to marry Eileen without knowing as much about her as you did about Marian, and there was nothing about Marian that you didn't know. I am sorry for that, but since I have started this I am going through with it. Now give me just one minute more."

Then she went down the hall, threw open the door to her room, and walking in said: "You have seen Eileen's surroundings; now take a look at mine. There's my bed; there's my dresser and toilet articles; and this is my wardrobe."

She opened the closet door and exhibited a pair of overalls in which she watered her desert garden. Next ranged her khaki breeches and felt hat. Then hung the old serge school dress, beside it the extra skirt and orange blouse. The stack of underclothing on the shelves was pitifully small, visibly dilapidated. Two or three outgrown gingham dresses hung forlornly on the opposite wall. Linda stood tall and straight before John Gilman.

"What I have on and one other waist constitute my wardrobe," she said, "and I told Eileen where to get this dress and suggested it before I got it."

Gilman looked at her in a dazed fashion.

"I don't understand," he said slowly. "If that isn't the dress I saw Eileen send up for herself, I'm badly mistaken. It was the Saturday we went to Riverside. It surely is the very dress."

Linda laughed bleakly.

"That may be," she said. "The one time she ever has any respect for me is in a question of taste. She will agree that I know when colors are right and a thing is artistic. Now then, John, you are the administrator of my father's estate; you have seen what you have seen. What are you going to do about it?"

"Linda," he said quietly, "what my heart might prompt me to do in consideration of the fact that I am engaged to marry Eileen, and what my legal sense tells me I must do as executor of your father's wishes, are different propositions. I am going to do exactly what you tell me to. What you have shown me, and what I'd have realized, if I had stopped to think, is neither right nor just."

Then Linda took her tun at deep thought.

"John," she said at last, "I am feeling depressed over what I have just done. I am not sure that in losing my temper and bringing you up here I have played the game fairly. You don't need to do anything. I'll manage my affairs with Eileen myself. But I'll tell you before you go, that you needn't practice any subterfuges. When she reaches the point where she is ready to come home, I'll tell her that you were here, and what you have seen. That is the best I can do toward squaring myself with my own conscience."

Slowly they walked down the ha]l together. At the head of the stairs Linda took the cheque that she carried and tore it into bits. Stepping across the hall, she let the little heap slowly flutter to the rug in front of Eileen's door. Then she went back to her room and left John Gilman to his own reflections.