Chapter XXIV. Linda's First Party
 

At the bank Linda and John Gilman waited an hour past the time set for Eileen's appearance. Then Linda asserted herself.

"I have had a feeling for some time," she said quietly, "that Eileen would not appear today, and if she doesn't see fit to come, there is no particular reason why she should. There is nothing to do but go over the revenue from the estate. The books will show what Eileen has drawn monthly for her expense budget. That can be set aside and the remainder divided equally between us. It's very simple. Here is a letter I wrote to the publishers of Father's books asking about royalties. I haven't even opened it. I will turn it in with the remainder of the business."

They were in the office with the president of the bank. He rang for the clerk he wanted and the books he required, and an hour's rapid figuring settled the entire matter, with the exception of the private account, amounting to several thousands, standing in Eileen's name. None of them knew any source of separate income she might have. At a suggestion from Linda, the paying teller was called in and asked if he could account for any of the funds that had gone into the private account.

"Not definitely," he said, "but the amounts always corresponded exactly with the royalties from the books. I strongly suspect that they constitute this private account of Miss Eileen's."

But he did not say that she had tried to draw it the day previous.

John Gilman made the suggestion that they should let the matter rest until Eileen explained about it. Then Linda spoke very quietly, but with considerable finality in her tone.

"No," she said, "I know that Eileen had no source of private income. Mother used to mention that she had some wealthy relatives in San Francisco, but they didn't approve of her marriage to what they called a 'poor doctor,' and she would never accept, or allow us to accept, anything from them. They never came to see us and we never went to see them. Eileen knows no more about them than I do. We will work upon the supposition that everything that is here belonged to Father. Set aside to Eileen's credit the usual amount for housekeeping expenses. Turn the private account in with the remainder. Start two new bank books, one for Eileen and one for me. Divide the surplus each month exactly in halves. And I believe this is the proper time for the bank to turn over to me a certain key, specified by my father as having been left in your possession to be delivered to me on my coming of age."

With the key in her possession, Linda and John Gilman left the bank. As they stood for a moment in front of the building, Gilman removed his hat and ran his hands through his hair as if it were irritating his head.

"Linda," he said in a deeply wistful tone, "I don't understand this. Why shouldn't Eileen have come today as she agreed? What is there about this that is not according to law and honor and the plain, simple rights of the case?"

"I don't know," said Linda; "but there is something we don't understand about it. And I am going to ask you, John, as my guardian, closing up my affairs today, to go home with me to be present when I open the little hidden door I found at the back of a library shelf when I was disposing of Daddy's technical books. There was a slip of paper at the edge of it specifying that the key was in possession of the Consolidated Bank and was to be delivered to me, in the event of Daddy's passing, on my coming of age. I have the key, but I would like to have you with me, and Eileen if she is in the house, when I open that door. I don't know what is behind it, but there's a certain feeling that always has been strong in my heart and it never was so strong as it is at this minute."

So they boarded the street car and ran out to Lilac Valley. When Katy admitted them Linda put her arm around her and kissed her. She could see that the house was freshly swept and beautifully decorated with flowers, and her trained nostrils could scent whiffs of delicious odors from food of which she was specially fond. In all her world Katy was the one person who was celebrating her birthday. She seemed rather surprised when Linda and Gilman came in together.

"Where is Eileen?" inquired Linda.

"She must have made some new friends," said Katy. "About four o'clock, the biggest car that ever roared down this street rolled up, and the biggest man and woman that I ever see came puffin' and pantin' in. Miss Eileen did not tell me where she was goin' or when she would be back, but I know it won't be the night, because she took her little dressin' case with her. Belike it's another of them trips to Riverside or Pasadena."

"Very likely," said Linda quietly. "Katy, can you spare a few minutes?"

"No, lambie, I jist can't," said Katy, "because a young person that's the apple of me eye is havin' a birthday the day and I have got me custard cake in the oven and the custard is in the makin', and after Miss Eileen went and I didn't see no chance for nothin' special, I jist happened to look out, one of the ways ye do things unbeknownst to yourself, and there stood Mr. Pater Morrison moonin' over the 'graveyard,' like he called it, and it was lookin' like seein' graves he was, and I jist took the bull by the horns, and I sings out to him and I says: 'Mr. Pater Morrison, it's a good friend ye were to the young missus when ye engineered her skylight and her beautiful fireplace, and this bein' her birthday, I'm takin' the liberty to ask ye to come to dinner and help me celebrate.' And he said he would run up to the garage and get into his raygimentals, whatever them might be, and he would be here at six o'clock. So ye got a guest for dinner, and if the custard's scorched and the cake's flat, it's up to ye for kapin' me here to tell ye all this."

Then Katy hurried to the kitchen. Linda looked at John Gilman and smiled.

"Isn't that like her?" she said.

Then she led the way to the library, pulled aside the books, fitted the key to the little door, and opened it. Inside lay a single envelope, sealed and bearing her name. She took the envelope, and walking to her father's chair beside his library table, sat down in it, and laying the envelope on the table, crossed her hands on top of it.

"John," she said, "ever since I have been big enough to think and reason and study things out for myself, there is a feeling I have had--I used to think it was unreasonable, then I thought it remote possibility. This minute I think it's extremely probable. Before I open this envelope I am going to tell you what I believe it contains. I have not the slightest evidence except personal conviction, but I believe that the paper inside this envelope is written by my father's hand and I believe it tells me that he was not Eileen's father and that I am not her sister. If it does not say this, then there is nothing in race and blood and inherited tendencies."

Linda picked up the paper cutter, ran it across the envelope, slipped out the sheet, and bracing herself she read:

MY DARLING LINDA:

These lines are to tell you that your mother went to her eternal sleep when you were born. Four years later I met and fell in love with the only mother you ever have known. At the time of our marriage we entered into a solemn compact that her little daughter by a former marriage and mine should be reared as sisters. I was to give half my earnings and to do for Eileen exactly as I did for you. She was to give half her love and her best attention to your interests.

I sincerely hope that what I have done will not result in any discomfort or inconvenience to you.

With dearest love, as ever your father,

ALEXANDER STRONG.

Linda laid the sheet on the table and dropped her hands on top of it. Then she looked at John Gilman.

"John," she said, "I believe you had better face the fact that the big car and the big people that carried Eileen away today were her mother's wealthy relatives from San Francisco. She must have been in touch with them. I think very likely she sent for them after I saw her in the bank yesterday afternoon, trying with all her might to make the paying teller turn over to her the funds of the private account."

John Gilman sat very still for a long time, then he raised tired, disappointed eyes to Linda's face.

"Linda," he said, "do you mean you think Eileen was not straight about money matters?"

"John," said Linda quietly, "I think it is time for the truth about Eileen between you and me. If you want me to answer that question candidly, I'll answer it."

"I want the truth," said John Gilman gravely.

"Well," said Linda, "I never knew Eileen to be honest about anything in all her life unless the truth served her better than an evasion. Her hair was not honest color and it was not honest curl. Her eyebrows were not so dark as she made them. Her cheeks and lips were not so red, her forehead and throat were not so white, her form was not so perfect. Her friends were selected because they could serve her. As long as you were poor and struggling, Marian was welcome to you. When you won a great case and became prosperous and fame came rapidly, Eileen took you. I believe what I told you a minute ago: I think she has gone for good. I think she went because she had not been fair and she would not be forced to face the fact before you and me and the president of the Consolidated today. I think you will have to take your heart home tonight and I think that before the night is over you will realize what Marian felt when she knew that in addition to having been able to take you from her, Eileen was not a woman who would make you happy. I am glad, deeply g]ad, that there is not a drop of her blood in my veins, sorry as I am for you and much as I regret what has happened. I won't ask you to stay tonight, because you must go through the same black waters Marian breasted, and you will want to be alone. Later, if you think of any way I can serve you, I will be glad for old sake's sake; but you must not expect me ever to love you or respect your judgment as I did before the shadow fell."

Then Linda rose, replaced the letter, turned the key in the lock, and quietly slipped out of the room.

When she opened her door and stepped into her room she paused in astonishment. Spread out upon the bed lay a dress of georgette with little touches of fur and broad ribbons of satin. In color it was like the flame of seasoned beechwood. Across the foot of the bed hung petticoat, camisole, and hose, and beside the dress a pair of satin slippers exactly matching the hose, and they seemed the right size. Linda tiptoed to the side of the bed and delicately touched the dress, and then she saw a paper lying on the waist front, and picking it up read:

Lambie, here's your birthday, from loving old Katy.

The lines were terse and to the point. Linda laid them down, and picking up the dress she walked to the mirror, and holding it under her chin glanced down the length of its reflection. What she saw almost stunned her.

"Oh, good Lord!" she said. "I can't wear that. That isn't me."

Then she tossed the dress on the bed and started in a headlong rush to the kitchen. As she came through the door, "You blessed old darling!" she cried. "What am I going to say to make you know how I appreciate your lovely, lovely gift?"

Katy raised her head. There was something that is supposed to be the prerogative of royalty in the lift of it. Her smile was complacent in the extreme.

"Don't ye be standin' there wastin' no time talkie'," she said.

"I have oodles of time," said Linda, "but I warn you, you won't know me if I put on that frock, Katy."

"Yes, I will, too," said Katy.

"Katy," said Linda, sobering suddenly, "would it make any great difference to you if I were the only one here for always, after this?"

Katy laughed contemptuously.

"Well, I'd warrant to survive it," she said coolly.

"But that is exactly what I must tell you, Katy," said Linda soberly. "You know I have told you a number of times through these years that I did not believe Eileen and I were sisters, and I am telling you now that I know it. She did not come to the bank today, and the settlement of Father's affairs developed the fact that I was my father's child and Eileen was her mother's; and I'm thinking, Katy, that the big car you saw and the opulent people in it were Eileen's mother's wealthy relatives from San Francisco. My guess is, Katy, that Eileen has gone with them for good. Lock her door and don't touch her things until we know certainly what she wants done with them."

Katy stood thinking intently, then she lifted her eyes to Linda's.

"Lambie," she whispered softly, "are we ixpicted to go into mourning over this?"

A mischievous light leaped into Linda's eyes.

"Well, if there are any such expectations abroad, Katherine O'Donovan," she said soberly, "the saints preserve 'em, for we can't fulfill 'em, can we, Katy?"

"Not to be savin' our souls," answered Katy heartily. "I'm jist so glad and thankful that I don't know what to do, and it's such good news that I don't belave one word of it. And while you're talkie', what about John Gilman?"

"I think," said Linda quietly, "that tonight is going to teach him how Marian felt in her blackest hours."

"Well, he needn't be coming to me for sympathy," said Katy. "But if Miss Eileen has gone to live with the folks that come after her the day, ye might be savin' a wee crap o' sympathy for her, lambie. They was jist the kind of people that you'd risk your neck slidin' down a mountain to get out of their way."

"That is too bad," said Linda reflectively; "because Eileen is sensitive and constant contact with crass vulgarity certainly would wear on her nerves."

"Now you be goin' and gettin' into that dress, lambie," said Katy.

"Katherine O'Donovan," said Linda, "you're used to it; come again to confession. Tell me truly where and how did you get that dress?"

"'Tain't no rule of polite society to be lookin' gift horses in the mouth," said Katy proudly. "How I got it is me own affair, jist like ye got any gifts ye was ever makin' me, is yours. Where I got it? I went into the city on the strafe car and I went to the biggest store in the city and I got in the elevator and I says to the naygur: 'Let me off where real ladies buy ready-to-wear dresses.'

"And up comes a little woman, and her hair was jist as soft and curling round her ears, and brown and pretty was her eyes, and the pink that God made was in her cheeks, and in a voice like runnin' water she says: 'Could I do anything for you?' I told her what I wanted. And she says: 'How old is the young lady, and what's her size, and what's her color?' Darlin', ain't that dress the answer to what I told her?"

"Yes," said Linda. "If an artist had been selecting a dress for me he would probably have chosen that one. But, old dear, it's not suitable for me. It's not the kind of dress that I intended to wear for years and years yet. Do you think, if I put it on tonight, I'll ever be able to go back to boots and breeches again, and hunt the canyons for plants to cook for--you know what?"

Katy stood in what is commonly designated as a "brown study." Then she looked Linda over piercingly.

"Yes, ma'am," she said conclusively. "It's my judgment that ye will. I think ye'll maybe wrap the braids of ye around your head tonight, and I think ye'll put on that frock, and I think ye'll show Pater Morrison how your pa's daughter can sit at the head of his table and entertain her friends. Then I think ye'll hang it in your closet and put on your boots and breeches and go back to your old Multiflores and attind to your business, the same as before."

"All right, Katy," said Linda, "if you have that much faith in me I have that much faith in myself; but, old dear, I can't tell you how I love having a pretty dress for tonight. Katy dear, the 'Day of Jubilee' has come. Before you go to sleep I'm coming to your room to tell you fine large secrets, that you won't believe for a minute, but I haven't the time to do it now."

Then Linda raced to her room and began dressing. She let down the mop of her hair waving below her waist and looked at it despairingly.

"That dress never was made for braids down your back," she said, glancing toward the bed where it lay shimmering in a mass of lovely color. "I am of age today; for state occasions I should be a woman. What shall I do with it?"

And then she recalled Katy's voice saying: "Braids round your head."

"Of course," said Linda, "that would be the thing to do. I certainly don't need anything to add to my height; I am far too tall now."

So she parted her hair in the middle, brushed it back, divided it in even halves, and instead of braiding it, she coiled it around her head, first one side and then the other.

She slipped into the dress and struggled with its many and intricate fastenings. Then she went to the guest room to stand before the full-length mirror there. Slowly she turned. Critically she examined herself.

"It's a bit shorter than I would have ordered it," she said, "but it reduces my height, it certainly gives wonderful freedom in walking, and it's not nearly so short as I see other girls wearing."

Again she studied herself critically.

"Need some kind of ornament for my hair," she muttered, "but I haven't got it, and neither do I own beads, bracelet, or a ring; and my ears are sticking right out in the air. I am almost offensively uncovered."

Then she went down to show herself to a delighted Katy. When the doorbell rang Linda turned toward the hall. Katy reached a detaining hand.

"You'll do nothing of the sort," she said. "I answered the bell for Miss Eileen. Answer the bell I shall for you."

Down the hall went Katy with the light of battle in her eyes and the air of a conqueror in the carriage of her head. She was well trained. Neither eyelid quivered as she flung the door wide to Peter Morrison. He stood there in dinner dress, more imposing than Katy had thought he could be. With quick, inner exultation she reached for two parcels he carried; over them her delight was so overpowering that Peter Morrison must have seen a hint of it. With a flourish Katy seated him, and carried the packages to Linda. She returned a second later for a big vase, and in this Linda arranged a great sheaf of radiant roses. As Katy started to carry them back to the room, Linda said "Wait a second," and selecting one half opened, she slipped it out, shortened the stem and tucked it among the coils of hair where she would have set an ornament. The other package was a big box that when opened showed its interior to be divided into compartments in each of which nestled an exquisite flower made of spun sugar. The petals, buds, and leaves were perfect. There were wonderful roses with pale pink outer petals and deeper-colored hearts. There were pink mallows that seemed as if they must have been cut from the bushes bordering Santa Monica road. There were hollyhocks of white and gold, and simply perfect tulips. Linda never before had seen such a treasure candy box. She cried out in delight, and hurried to show Katy. In her pleasure over the real flowers and the candy flowers Linda forgot her dress, but when she saw Peter Morrison standing tall and straight, in dinner dress, she stopped and looked the surprise and pleasure she felt. She had grown accustomed to Peter in khaki pottering around his building. This Peter she never before had seen. He represented something of culture, something of pride, a conformity to a nice custom and something more. Linda was not a psychoanalyst.

She could not see a wonderful aura of exquisite color enveloping Peter. But when Peter saw the girl approaching him, transformed into a woman whose shining coronet was jewelled with his living red rose, when he saw the beauty of her lithe slenderness clothed in a soft, flaming color, something emanated from his inner consciousness that Linda did see, and for an instant it disturbed her as she went forward holding out her hands.

"Peter," she said gaily, "do you know that this is my Day of Jubilee? I am a woman today by law, Peter. Hereafter I am to experience at least a moderate degree of financial freedom, and that I shall enjoy. But the greatest thing in life is friends."

Peter took both the hands extended to him and looked smilingly into her eyes.

"You take my breath," he said. "I knew, the first glimpse I ever had of you scrambling from the canyon floor, that this transformation could take place. My good fortune is beyond words that I have been first to see it. Permit me, fair lady."

Peter bent and kissed both her hands. He hesitated a second, then he turned the right hand and left one more kiss in its palm.

"To have and to hold!" he said whimsically.

"Thank you," said Linda, closing her fist over it and holding it up for inspection. "I'll see that it doesn't escape. And this minute I thank you for the candy, which I know is delicious, and for my very first sheaf of roses from any man. See what I have done with one of them?"

She turned fully around that he might catch the effect of the rose, and in getting that he also got the full effect of the costume, and the possibilities of the girl before him. And then she gave him a shock.

"Isn't it a lovely frock?" she said. "Another birthday gift from the Strong rock of ages. I have been making a collection of rocks for my fern bed, and I have got another collection that is not visible to anyone save myself. Katy's a rock, and you're a rock, and Donald is a rock, and Marian's a rock, and I am resting securely on all of you. I wish my father knew that in addition to Marian and Katy I have found two more such wonderful friends."

"And what about Henry Anderson?" inquired Peter. "Aren't you going to include him?"

Linda walked over to the chair in which she intended to seat herself.

"Peter," she said, "I wish you hadn't asked me that."

Peter's figure tensed suddenly.

"Look here, Linda," he said sternly, "has that rather bold youngster made himself in any way offensive to you?"

"Not in any way that I am not perfectly capable of handling myself," said Linda. She looked at Peter confidently.

"Do you suppose," she said, "that I can sit down in this thing without ruining it? Shouldn't I really stand up while I am wearing it?"

Peter laughed unrestrainedly.

"Linda, you're simply delicious," he said. "It seems to me that I have seen young ladies in like case reach round and gather the sash to one side and smooth out the skirt as they sit."

"Thank you, Peter, of course that would be the way," said Linda. "This being my first, I'm lacking in experience."

And thereupon she sat according to direction; while Peter sat opposite her.

"Now finish. Just one word more about Henry Anderson," he said. "Are you perfectly sure there is nothing I need do for you in that connection?"

"Oh, perfectly," said Linda lightly. "I didn't mean to alarm you. He merely carried that bug-catcher nonsense a trifle too far. I wouldn't have minded humoring him and fooling about it a little. But, Peter, do you know him quite well? Are you very sure of him?"

"No," said Peter, "I don't know him well at all. The only thing I am sure about him is that he is doing well in his profession. I chose him because he was an ambitious youngster and I thought I could get more careful attention from him than I could from some of the older fellows who had made their reputation. You see, there are such a lot of things I want to know about in this building proposition, and the last four years haven't been a time for any man to be careful about saving his money."

"Then," said Linda, "he is all right, of course. He must be. But I think I'm like a cat. I'm very complacent with certain people, but when I begin to get goose flesh and hair prickles my head a bit, I realize that there is something antagonistic around, something for me to beware of. I guess it's because I am such a wild creature."

"Do you mean to say," said Peter, "that these are the sensations that Henry gives you?"

Linda nodded.

"Now forget Henry," she said. "I have had such a big day I must tell you about it, and then we'll come to that last article you left me. I haven't had time to put anything on paper concerning it yet, but I believe I have an awfully good idea in the paint pot, and I'll find time in a day or two to work it out. Peter, I have just come from the bank, where I was recognized as of legal age, and my guardian discharged. And perhaps I ought to explain to you, Peter, that your friend, John Gilman, is not here because this night is going to be a bad one for him. When you knew him best he was engaged, or should have been, to Marian Thorne. When you met him this time he really was engaged to Eileen. I don't know what you think about Eileen. I don't feel like influencing anyone's thought concerning her, so I'll merely say that today has confirmed a conviction that always has been in my heart. Katy could tell you that long ago I said to her that I did not believe Eileen was my sister. Today has brought me the knowledge and proof positive that she is not, and today she has gone to some wealthy relatives of her mother in San Francisco. She expressed her contempt for what she was giving up by leaving everything, including the exquisite little necklace of pearls which has been a daily part of her since she owned them. I may be mistaken, but intuition tells me that with the pearls and the wardrobe she has also discarded John Gilman. I think your friend will be suffering tonight quite as deeply as my friend suffered when John abandoned her at a time when she had lost everything else in life but her money. I feel very sure that we won't see Eileen any more. I hope she will have every lovely thing in life."

"Amen," said Peter Morrison earnestly. "I loved John Gilman when we were in school together, but I have not been able to feel, since I located here, that he is exactly the same John; and what you have told me very probably explains the difference in him."

When Katy announced dinner Linda arose.

Peter Morrison stepped beside her and offered his arm. Linda rested her finger tips upon it and he led her to the head of the table and seated her. Then Katy served a meal that, if it had been prepared for Eileen, she would have described as a banquet. She gave them delicious, finely flavored food, stimulating, exquisitely compounded drinks that she had concocted from the rich fruits of California and mints and essences at her command. When, at the close of the meal, she brought Morrison some of the cigars Eileen kept for John Gilman, she set a second tray before Linda, and this tray contained two packages. Linda looked at Katy inquiringly, and Katy, her face beaming, nodded her sandy red head emphatically.

"More birthday gifts you've havin', me lady," she said in her mellowest Irish voice.

"More?" marveled Linda. She picked up the larger package, and opening it, found a beautiful book inscribed from her friend Donald, over which she passed caressing fingers.

"Why, how lovely of him!" she said. "How in this world did he know?"

Katherine O'Donovan could have answered that question, but she did not. The other package was from Marian. When she opened it Linda laughed unrestrainedly.

"What a joke!" she said. "I had promised myself that I would not touch a thing in Eileen's room, and before I could do justice to Katy's lovely dress I had to go there for pins for my hair and powder for my nose. This is Marian's way of telling me that I am almost a woman. Will you look at this?"

"Well, just what is it?" inquired Peter.

"Hairpins," laughed Linda, "and hair ornaments, and a box of face powder, and the little, feminine touches that my dressing table needs badly. How would you like, Peter, to finish your cigar in my workroom?"

"I would like it immensely," said Peter.

So together they climbed to the top of the house. Linda knelt and made a little ceremony of lighting the first fire in her fireplace. She pushed one of her chairs to one side for Peter, and taking the other for herself, she sat down and began the process of really becoming acquainted with him. Two hours later, as he was leaving her, Peter made a circuit of the room, scrutinizing the sketches and paintings that were rapidly covering the walls, and presently he came to the wasp. He looked at it so closely that he did not miss even the stinger. Linda stood beside him when he made his first dazed comment: "If that isn't Eileen, and true to the life!"

"I must take that down," said Linda. "I did it one night when my heart was full of bitterness."

"Better leave it," said Peter drily.

"Do you think I need it as a warning?" asked Linda.

Peter turned and surveyed her slowly.

"Linda," he said quietly, "what I think of you has not yet been written in any of the books."