Her Father's Daughter by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter XXIII. The Day of Jubilee
Linda started to school half an hour earlier Wednesday morning because that was the day for her weekly trip to the Post Office for any mail which might have come to her under the name of Jane Meredith. She had hard work to keep down her color when she recognized the heavy gray envelope used by the editor of Everybody's Home. As she turned from the window with it in her fingers she was trembling slightly and wondering whether she could have a minute's seclusion to face the answer which her last letter might have brought. There was a small alcove beside a public desk at one side of the room. Linda stepped into this, tore open the envelope and slipped out the sheet it contained. Dazedly she stared at the slip that fell from it. Slowly the color left her cheeks and then came rushing back from her surcharged heart until her very ears were red, because that slip was very manifestly a cheque for five hundred dollars. Mentally and physically Linda shook herself, then she straightened to full height, tensing her muscles and holding the sheet before her with a hand on each side to keep it from shaking, while she read:
MY DEAR MADAM:
I sincerely apologize for having waited so long before writing you of the very exceptional reception which your articles have had. I think one half their attraction has been the exquisite and appealing pictures you have sent for their illustration. At the present minute they are forming what I consider the most unique feature in the magazine. I am enclosing you a cheque for five hundred dollars as an initial payment on the series. Just what the completed series should be worth I am unable to say until you inform me how many months you can keep it up at the same grade of culinary and literary interest and attractive illustration; but I should say at a rough estimate that you would be safe in counting upon a repetition of this cheque for every three articles you send in. This of course includes payment for the pictures also, which are to me if anything more attractive than the recipes, since the local color and environment they add to the recipe and the word sketch are valuable in the extreme.
If you feel that you can continue this to the extent of even a small volume, I shall be delighted to send you a book contract. In considering this proposition, let me say that if you could not produce enough recipes to fill a book, you could piece it out to the necessary length most charmingly and attractively by lengthening the descriptions of the environment in which the particular fruits and vegetables you deal with are to be found; and in book form you might allow yourself much greater latitude in the instructions concerning the handling of the fruits and the preparation of the recipes. I think myself that a wonderfully attractive book could be made from this material, and hope that you will agree with me. Trusting that this will be satisfactory to you and that you will seriously consider the book proposition before you decline it, I remain, my dear madam, Very truly yours,
Editor, Everybody's Home.
Gripping the cheque and the letter, Linda lurched forward against the window casement and shut her eyes tight, because she could feel big, nervous gulps of exultation and rejoicing swelling up in her throat. She shifted the papers to one hand and surreptitiously slipped the other to her pocket. She tried to keep the papers before her and looked straight from the window to avoid attracting attention. The tumult of exultation in her heart was so wild that she did not surely know whether she wanted to sink to the floor, lay her face against the glass, and indulge in what for generations women have referred to as "a good cry," or whether she wanted to leap from the window and sport on the wind like a driven leaf.
Then she returned the letter and cheque to the envelope, and slipped it inside her blouse, and started on her way to school. She might as well have gone to Multiflores Canyon and pitted her strength against climbing its walls for the day, for all the good she did in her school work. She heard no word of any recitation by her schoolmates. She had no word ready when called on for a recitation herself. She heard nothing that was said by any of the professors. On winged feet she was flying back and forth from the desert to the mountains, from the canyons to the sea. She was raiding beds of amass and devising ways to roast the bulbs and make a new dish. She was compounding drinks from mescal and bisnaga. She was hunting desert pickles and trying to remember whether Indian rhubarb ever grew so far south. She was glad when the dismissal hour came that afternoon. With eager feet she went straight to the Consolidated Bank and there she asked again to be admitted to the office of the president. Mr. Worthington rose as she came in.
"Am I wrong in my dates?" he inquired. "I was not expecting you until tomorrow."
"No, you're quite right," said Linda. "At this hour tomorrow. But, Mr. Worthington, I am in trouble again."
Linda looked so distressed that the banker pushed a chair to the table's side for her, and when she had seated herself, he said quietly: "Tell me all about it, Linda. We must get life straightened out as best we can."
"I think I must tell you all about it," said Linda, "because I know just enough about banking to know that I have a proposition that I don't know how to handle. Are bankers like father confessors and doctors and lawyers?"
"I think they are even more so," laughed Mr. Worthington. "Perhaps the father confessor takes precedence, otherwise I believe people are quite as much interested in their financial secrets as in anything else in all this world. Have you a financial secret?"
"Yes," said Linda, "I have what is to me a big secret, and I don't in the least know how to handle it, so right away I thought about you and that you would be the one to tell me what I could do."
"Go ahead," said Mr. Worthington kindly. "I'll give you my word of honor to keep any secret you confide to me."
Linda produced her letter. She opened it and without any preliminaries handed it and the cheque to the banker. He looked at the cheque speculatively, and then laid it aside and read the letter. He gave every evidence of having read parts of it two or three times, then he examined the cheque again, and glanced at Linda.
"And just how did you come into possession of this, young lady?" he inquired. "And what is it that you want of me?"
"Why, don't you see?" said Linda. "It's my letter and my cheque; I'm 'Jane Meredith.' Now how am I going to get my money.
For one dazed moment Mr. Worthington studied Linda; then he threw back his head and laughed unrestrainedly. He came around the table and took both Linda's hands.
"Bully for you !" he cried exultantly. "How I wish your father could see the seed he has sown bearing its fruit. Isn't that fine? And do you want to go on with this anonymously?"
"I think I must," said Linda. "I have said in my heart that no Jap, male or female, young or old, shall take first honors in a class from which I graduate; and you can see that if people generally knew this, it would make it awfully hard for me to go on with my studies, and I don't know that the editor who is accepting this work would take it if he knew it were sent him by a high-school Junior. You see the dignified way in which he ad dresses me as 'madam'?"
"I see," said Mr. Worthington reflectively.
"I'm sure," said Linda with demure lips, though the eyes above them were blazing and dancing at high tension, "I'm sure that the editor is attaching a husband, and a house having a well-ordered kitchen, and rather wide culinary experience to that 'dear madam.'"
"And what about this book proposition?" asked the banker gravely. "That would be a big thing for a girl of your age. Can you do it, and continue your school work?"
"With the background I have, with the unused material I have, and with vacation coming before long, I can do it easily," said Linda. "My school work is not difficult for me. It only requires concentration for about two hours in the preparation that each day brings. The remainder of the time I could give to amplifying and producing new recipes."
"I see," said the banker. "So you have resolved, Linda, that you don't want your editor to know your real name."
"Could scarcely be done," said Linda.
"But have you stopped to think," said the banker, "that you will be asked for personal history and about your residence, and no doubt a photograph of yourself. If you continue this work anonymously you're going to have trouble with more matters than cashing a cheque."
"But I am not going to have any trouble cashing a cheque," she said, "because I have come straight to the man whose business is cheques."
"True enough," he said; "I shall have to arrange the cheque; there's not a doubt about that; and as for your other bugbears "
"I refuse to be frightened by them," interposed Linda.
"Have you ever done any business at the bank?"
"No," said Linda.
"None of the clerks know you?"
"Not that I remember," said Linda. "I might possibly be acquainted with some of them. I have merely passed through the bank on my way to your room twice."
"Then," said the banker, "we'll have to risk it. After this estate business is settled you will want to open an account in your name."
"Quite true," said Linda.
"Then I would advise you," said Mr. Worthington, "to open this account in your own name. Endorse this cheque 'Jane Meredith' and make it payable to me personally. Whenever one
of these comes, bring it to me and I'll take care of it for you. One minute."
He left Linda sitting quietly reading and rereading her letter, and presently returned and laid a sheaf of paper money before her.
"Take it to the paying teller. Tell him that you wish to deposit it, and ask him to give you a bank book and a cheque book," he said. "Thank you very much for coming to me and for confiding in me."
Linda gathered up the money, and said good-bye to the banker. Just as she started forward she recognized Eileen at the window of the paying teller. It was an Eileen she never before had seen. Her face was strained to a ghastly gray. Her hat was not straight and her hands were shaking. Without realizing that she was doing it, Linda stepped behind one of the huge marble pillars supporting the ceiling and stood there breathlessly, watching Eileen. She could gather that she was discussing the bank ledger which lay before the teller and that he was refusing something that Eileen was imploring him to do. Linda thought she understood what it was. Then very clearly Eileen's voice, sharp and strained, reached her ears.
"You mean that you are refusing to pay me my deposits on my private account?" she cried; and Linda could also hear the response.
"I am very sorry if it annoys or inconveniences you, Miss Strong, but since the settlement of the estate takes place to
morrow, our orders are to pay out no funds in any way connected with the estate until after that settlement has been arranged."
"But this is my money, my own private affair," begged Eileen. "The estate has nothing to do with it."
"I am sorry," repeated the teller. "If that is the case, you will have no difficulty in establishing the fact in a few minutes' time."
Eileen turned and left the bank, and it seemed that she was almost swaying. Linda stood a second with narrowed eyes, in deep thought.
"I think," she said at last, deep down in her heart, "that it looks precious much as if there had been a bit of transgression in this affair. It looks, too, as if 'the way of the transgressor' were a darned hard way. Straight ahead open and aboveboard for you, my girl!"
Then she went quietly to the desk and transacted her own business; but her beautiful day was clouded. Her heart was no longer leaping exultantly. She was sickened and sorrowful over the evident nerve strain and discomfort which Eileen seemed to have brought upon herself. She dreaded meeting her at dinner that night, and she wondered all the way home where Eileen had gone from the bank and what she had been doing. What she felt was a pale affair compared with what she would have felt if she could have seen Eileen leave the bank and enter a near-by store, go to a telephone booth and put in a long-distance call for San Francisco. Her eyes were brilliant, her cheeks by nature redder than the rouge she had used upon them. She squared her shoulders, lifted her head, as if she irrevocably had made a decision and would not be thwarted in acting upon it. While she waited she straightened her hat, and tucked up her pretty hair, once more evincing concern about her appearance. After a nervous wait she secured her party.
"Am I speaking with Mr. James Heitman?" she asked.
"Yes," came the answer.
"Well, Uncle Jim, this is Eileen."
"Why, hello, girlie," was the quick response. "Delighted that you're calling your ancient uncle. Haven't changed the decision in the last letter I had from you, have you?"
"Yes," said Eileen, "I have changed it. Do you and Aunt Caroline still want me, Uncle Jim?"
"You bet we want you!" roared the voice over the 'phone. "Here we are, with plenty of money and not a relation on earth but you to leave it to. You belong to us by rights. We'd be tickled to death to have you, and for you to have what's left of the money when we get through with it. May I come after you? Say the word, and I'll start this minute."
"Oh, Uncle Jim, could you? Would you?" cried Eileen.
"Well, I'd say I could. We'd be tickled to death, I tell you!"
"How long would it take you to get here?" said Eileen.
"Well, I could reach you by noon tomorrow. Eleven something is the shortest time it's been made in; that would give me thirteen --more than enough. Are you in that much of a hurry?"
"Yes," gasped Eileen, "yes, I am in the biggest kind of a hurry there is, Uncle Jim. This troublesome little estate has to be settled tomorrow afternoon. There's going to be complaint about everything that I have seen fit to do. I've been hounded and harassed till I am disgusted with it. Then I've promised to marry John Gilman as I wrote you, and I don't believe you would think that was my best chance with the opportunities you could give me. It seems foolish to stay here, abused as I have been lately, and as I will be tomorrow. You have the house number. If you come and get me out of it by noon tomorrow, I'll go with you. You may take out those adoption papers you have always entreated me to agree to and I'll be a daughter that you can be proud of. It will be a relief to have some real money and some real position, and to breathe freely and be myself once more."
"All right for you, girlie!" bellowed the great voice over the line. "Pick up any little personal bits you can put in a suitcase, and by twelve o'clock tomorrow I'll whisk you right out of that damn mess."
Eileen walked from the telephone booth with her head high, triumph written all over her face and figure. They were going to humiliate her. She would show them!
She went home immediately. Entering her room, she closed the door and stood looking at her possessions. How could she get her trunk from the garret? How could she get it to the station? Would it be possible for Uncle James to take it in his car? As she pondered these things Eileen had a dim memory of a day in her childhood when her mother had gone on business to San Francisco and had taken her along. She remembered a huge house, all turrets and towers and gables, all turns and twists and angles, closed to the light of day and glowing inside with shining artificial lights. She remembered stumbling over deep rugs. One vivid impression was of walls covered with huge canvases, some of them having frames more than a foot wide. She remembered knights in armor, and big fireplaces, and huge urns and vases. It seemed to her like the most wonderful bazaar she ever had been in. She remembered, too, that she had been glad when her mother had taken her out into the sunshine again and from the presence of two ponderous people who had objected strongly to everything her mother had discussed with them. She paused one instant, contemplating this picture. The look of triumph on her face toned down considerably. Then she comforted herself aloud.
"I've heard Mother say," she said softly, "that everybody overdid things and did not know how to be graceful with immense fortunes got from silver and gold mines, and lumber. It will be different now. Probably they don't live in the same house, even. There is a small army of servants, and there is nothing I can think of that Uncle Jim won't gladly get me. I've been too big a fool for words to live this way as long as I have. Crush me, will they? I'll show them! I won't even touch these things I have strained so to get."
Eileen jerked from her throat the strand of pearls that she had worn continuously for four years and threw it contemptuously on her dressing table.
"I'll make Uncle Jim get me a rope with two or three strands in it that will reach to my waist. 'A suitcase !' I don't know what I would fill a suitcase with from here. The trunk may stay in the garret, and while I am leaving all this rubbish, I'll just leave John Gilman with it. Uncle Jim will give me an income that will buy all the cigarettes I want without having to deceive anyone; and I can have money if I want to stake something at bridge without being scared into paralysis for fear somebody may find it out or the accounts won't balance. I'll put on the most suitable thing I have to travel in, and just walk out and leave everything else."
That was what Eileen did. At noon the next day her eyes were bright with nervousness. Her cheeks alternately paled with fear and flooded red with anxiety. She had dressed herself carefully, laid out her hat and gloves and a heavy coat in case the night should be chilly. Once she stood looking at the dainty, brightly colored dresses hanging in her wardrobe A flash of regret passed over her face.
"Tawdry little cheap things and makeshifts," she said. "If Linda feels that she has been so terribly defrauded, she can help herself now!"
By twelve o'clock she found herself standing at the window, straining her eyes down Lilac Valley. She was not looking at its helpful hills, at its appealing curves, at its brilliant colors. She was watching the roadway. When Katy rang to call her to lunch, she told her to put the things away; she was expecting people who would take her out to lunch presently. In the past years she had occasionally written to her uncle. Several times when he had had business in Los Angeles she had met him at his hotel and dined with him. She reasoned that he would come straight to the house and get her, and then they would go to one of the big hotels for lunch before they started.
"I shan't feel like myself," said Eileen, "until we are well on the way to San Francisco."
At one o'clock she was walking the floor. At two she was almost frantic. At half past she almost wished that she had had the good sense to have some lunch, since she was very hungry and under tense nerve strain. Once she paused before the glass, but what she saw frightened her. Just when she felt that she could not endure the strain another minute, grinding brakes, the blast of a huge Klaxon, and the sound of a great voice arose from the street. Eileen rushed to the window. She took one look, caught up the suitcase and raced down the stairs. At the door she met a bluff, big man, gross from head to foot. It seemed to Eileen strange that she could see in him even a trace of her mother, and yet she could. Red veins crossed his cheeks and glowed on his nose. His tired eyes were watery; his thick lips had an inclination to sag; but there was heartiness in his voice and earnestness in the manner in which he picked her up.
"What have they been doing to you down here?" he demanded. "Never should have left you this long. Ought to have come down and taken you and showed you what you wanted, and then you would have known whether you wanted it or not."
At this juncture a huge woman, gross in a feminine way as her husband was in his, paddled up the walk.
"I'm comin' in and rest a few minutes," she said. "I'm tired to death and I'm pounded to pieces."
Her husband turned toward her. He opened his lips to introduce Eileen. His wife forestalled him.
"So this is the Eileen you have been ravin' about for years," she said. "I thought you said she was a pretty girl."
Eileen's soul knew one sick instant of recoil. She looked from James Heitman to Caroline, his wife, and remembered that he had a habit of calling her "Callie." All that paint and powder and lipstick and brilliantine could do to make the ponderous, big woman more ghastly had been done, but in the rush of the long ride through which her husband had forced her, the colors had mixed and slipped, the false waves were displaced. She was not in any condition to criticize the appearance of another woman. For one second Eileen hesitated, then she lifted her shaking hands to her hat.
"I have been hounded out of my senses," she said apologetically, "and have been so terribly anxious for fear you wouldn't get here on time. Please, Aunt Caroline, let us go to a hotel, some place where we can straighten up comfortably."
"Well, what's your hurry?" said Aunt Caroline coolly. "You're not a fugitive from justice, are you? Can't a body rest a few minutes and have a drink, even? Besides, I am going to see what kind of a place you've been living in, and then I'll know how thankful you'll be for what we got to offer."
Eileen turned and threw open the door. The big woman walked in. She looked down the hall, up the stairway, and went on to the living room. She gave it one contemptuous glance, and turning, came back to the door.
"All right, Jim," she said brusquely. "I have seen enough. If you know the best hotel in the town, take me there. And then, if Eileen's in such a hurry, after we have had a bite we'll start for home."
"Thank you, Aunt Caroline, oh, thank you!" cried Eileen.
"You needn't take the trouble to 'aunt' me every time you speak to me," said the lady. "I know you're my niece, but I ain't goin' to remind you of it every time I speak to you. It's agein', this 'auntie' business. I don't stand for it, and as for a name, I am free to confess I always like the way Jim calls me 'Callie.' That sounds younger and more companionable than 'Caroline.' "
James Heitman looked at Eileen and winked.
"You just bet, old girl!" he said. "They ain't any of them can beat you, not even Eileen at her best. Let's get her out of here. Does this represent your luggage, girlie?"
"You said not to bother with anything else," said Eileen.
"So I did," said Uncle Jim, "and I meant just what I said if it's all right with you. I suppose I did have, in the back of my head, an idea that there might be a trunk or a box--some things that belonged to your mother, mebby, and your 'keepsakes.'"
"Oh, never mind," interrupted Eileen. "Do let's go. It's nearly four o'clock. Any minute they may send for me from the bank, and I'd be more than glad to be out of the way."
"Well, I'm not accustomed to being the porter, but if time's that precious, here we go," said Uncle Jim.
He picked up the suitcase with one hand and took his wife's arm with the other.
"Scoot down there and climb into that boat," he said proudly to Eileen. "We'll have a good dinner in a private room when we get to the hotel. I won't even register. And then we'll get out of here when we have rested a little."
"Can't we stay all night and go in the morning?" panted his wife.
"No, ma'am, we can't," said James Heitman authoritatively. "We'll eat a bite because we need to be fed up, and I sincerely hope they's some decent grub to be had in this burg. The first place we come to outside of here, that looks like they had a decent bed, we'll stop and make up for last night. But we ain't a-goin' to stay here if Eileen wants us to start right away, eh, Eileen?"
"Yes, please!" panted Eileen. "I just don't want to meet any of them. It's time enough for them to know what has happened after I am gone."
"All right then," said Uncle James. "Pile in and we'll go."
So Eileen started on the road to the unlimited wealth her soul had always craved.