Chapter V. The Smoke of Battle
 

Then Linda walked down the hall, climbed the front stairs, and presented herself at Eileen's door, there to receive one of the severest shocks of her young life. Eileen had tossed her hat and fur upon a couch, seated herself at her dressing table, and was studying her hair in the effort to decide whether she could fluff it up sufficiently to serve for the evening or whether she must take it down and redress it. At Linda's step in the doorway she turned a smiling face upon her and cried: "Hello, little sister, come in and tell me the news."

Linda stopped as if dazed. The wonderment in which she looked at Eileen was stamped all over her. A surprised braid of hair hung over one of her shoulders. Her hands were surprised, and the skirt of her dress, and her shoes flatly set on the floor.

"Well, I'll be darned!" she ejaculated, and then walked to where she could face Eileen, and seated herself without making any attempt to conceal her amazement.

"Linda," said Eileen sweetly, "you would stand far better chance of being popular and making a host of friends if you would not be so coarse. I am quite sure you never heard Mama or me use such an expression."

For one long instant Linda was too amazed to speak. Then she recovered herself.

"Look here, Eileen, you needn't try any 'perfect lady' business on me," she said shortly. "Do you think I have forgotten the extent of your vocabulary when the curling iron gets too hot or you fail to receive an invitation to the Bachelors' Ball?"

Linda never had been capable of understanding Eileen. At that minute she could not know that Eileen had been facing facts through the long hours of the night and all through the day, and that she had reached the decision that for the future her only hope of working Linda to her will was to conciliate her, to ignore the previous night, to try to put their relationship upon the old basis by pretending that there never had been a break. She laughed softly.

"On rare occasions, I grant it. Of course a little swear slips out sometimes. What I am trying to point out is that you do too much of it."

"How did you ever get the idea," said Linda, "that I wanted to be popular and have hosts of friends? What would I do with them if I had them?"

"Why, use them, my child, use them," answered Eileen promptly.

"Let's cut this," said Linda tersely. "I am not your child. I'm getting to the place where I have serious doubt as to whether I am your sister or not. If I am, it's not my fault, and the same clay never made two objects quite so different. I came up here to fight, and I'm going to see it through. I'm on the warpath, so you may take your club and proceed to battle."

"What have we to fight about?" inquired Eileen.

"Every single thing that you have done that was unfair to me all my life," said Linda. "Since all of it has been deliberate you probably know more about the details than I do, so I'll just content myself with telling you that for the future, last night marked a change in the relations between us. I am going to be eighteen before so very long, and I have ceased to be your maid or your waitress or your dupe. You are not going to work me one single time when I have got brains to see through your schemes after this. Hereafter I take my place in my father's house and at my father's table on an equality with you."

Eileen looked at Linda steadily, trying to see to the depths of her soul. She saw enough to convince her that the young creature in front of her was in earnest.

"Hm," she said, "have I been so busy that I have failed to notice what a great girl you are getting?"

"Busy!" scoffed Linda. "Tell that to Katy. It's a kumquat!"

"Perhaps you are too big," continued Eileen, "to be asked to wait on the table any more."

"I certainly am," retorted Linda, "and I am also too big to wear such shoes or such a dress as I have on at the present min. ute. I know all about the war and the inflation of prices and the reduction in income, but I know also that if there is enough to run the house, and dress you, and furnish you such a suite of rooms as you're enjoying right now, there is enough to furnish me suitable clothes, a comfortable bedroom and a place where I can leave my work without putting away everything I am doing each time I step from the room. I told you four years ago that you might take the touring car and do what you pleased with it. I have never asked what you did or what you got out of it, so I'll thank you to observe equal silence about anything I choose to do now with the runabout, which I reserved for myself. I told you to take this suite, and this is the first time that I have ever mentioned to you what you spent on it."

Linda waved an inclusive hand toward the fully equipped, dainty dressing table, over rugs of pale blue, and beautifully decorated walls, including the sleeping room and bath adjoining.

"So now I'll ask you to keep off while I do what I please about the library and the billiard room. I'll try to get along without much money in doing what I desire there, but I must have some new clothes. I want money to buy me a pair of new shoes for school. I want a pair of pumps suitable for evenings when there are guests to dinner. I want a couple of attractive school dresses. This old serge is getting too hot and too worn for common decency. And I also want a couple of dresses something like you are wearing, for afternoons and evenings."

Eileen stared aghast at Linda.

"Where," she inquired politely, "is the money for all this to come from?"

"Eileen," said Linda in a low tense voice, "I have reached the place where even the boys of the high school are twitting me about how I am dressed, and that is the limit. I have stood it for three years from the girls. I am an adept in pretending that I don't see, and I don't hear. I have got to the point where I am perfectly capable of walking into your wardrobe and taking out enough of the clothes there and selling them at a second-hand store to buy me what I require to dress me just plainly and decently. So take warning. I don't know where you are going to get the money, but you are going to get it. If you would welcome a suggestion from me, come home only half the times you dine yourself and your girl friends at tearooms and cafes in the city, and you will save my share that way. I am going to give you a chance to total your budget, and then I demand one half of the income from Father's estate above household expenses; and if I don't get it, on the day I am eighteen I shall go to John Gilman and say to him what I have said to you, and I shall go to the bank and demand that a division be made there, and that a separate bank book be started for me."

Linda's amazement on entering the room had been worthy of note. Eileen's at the present minute was beyond description. Dumbfounded was a colorless word to describe her state of mind.

"You don't mean that," she gasped in a quivering voice when at last she could speak.

"I can see, Eileen, that you are taken unawares," said Linda. "I have had four long years to work up to this hour. Hasn't it even dawned on you that this worm was ever going to turn? You know exquisite moths and butterflies evolve in the canyons from very unprepossessing and lowly living worms. You are spending your life on the butterfly stunt. Have I been such a weak worm that it hasn't ever occurred to you that I might want to try a plain, everyday pair of wings sometime myself ?"

Eileen's face was an ugly red, her hands were shaking, her voice was unnatural, but she controlled her temper.

"Of course," she said, "I have always known that the time would come, after you finished school and were of a proper age, when you would want to enter society."

"No, you never knew anything of the kind," said Linda bluntly, "because I have not the slightest ambition to enter society either now or then. All I am asking is to enter the high school in a commonly decent, suitable dress; to enter our dining room as a daughter; to enter a workroom decently equipped for my convenience. You needn't be surprised if you hear some changes going on in the billiard room and see some changes going on in the library. And if I feel that I can muster the nerve to drive the runabout, it's my car, it's up to me."

"Linda!" wailed Eileen, "how can you think of such a thing? You wouldn't dare."

"Because I haven't dared till the present is no reason why I should deprive myself of every single pleasure in life," said Linda. "You spend your days doing exactly what you please; driving that runabout for Father was my one soul-satisfying diversion. Why shouldn't I do the thing I love most, if I can muster the nerve?"

Linda arose, and walking over to a table, picked up a magazine lying among some small packages that Eileen evidently had placed there on entering her room.

"Are you subscribing to this?" she asked.

She turned in her hands and leafed through the pages of a most attractive magazine, Everybody's Home. It was devoted to poetry, good fiction, and everything concerning home life from beef to biscuits, and from rugs to roses.

"I saw it on a newsstand," said Eileen. "I was at lunch with some girls who had a copy and they were talking about some articles by somebody named something--Meredith, I think it was --Jane Meredith, maybe she's a Californian, and she is advocating the queer idea that we go back to nature by trying modern cooking on the food the aborigines ate. If we find it good then she recommends that we specialize on the growing of these native vegetables for home use and for export--as a new industry."

"I see," said Linda. "Out-Burbanking Burbank, as it were."

"No, not that," said Eileen. "She is not proposing to evolve new forms. She is proposing to show us how to make delicious dishes for luncheon or dinner from wild things now going to waste. What the girls said was so interesting that I thought I'd get a copy and if I see anything good I'll turn it over to Katy."

"And where's Katy going to get the wild vegetables?" asked Linda sceptically.

"Why you might have some of them in your wild garden, or you could easily find enough to try--all the prowling the canyons you do ought to result in something."

"So it should," said Linda. "I quite agree with you. Did I understand you to say that I should be ready to go to the bank with you to arrange about my income next week?"

Again the color deepened in Eileen's face, again she made a visible effort at self-control.

"Oh, Linda," she said, "what is the use of being so hard? You will make them think at the bank that I have not treated you fairly."

"I?"said Linda, "I will make them think? Don't you think it is you who will make them think? Will you kindly answer my question?"

"If I show you the books," said Eileen, "if I divide what is left after the bills are paid so that you say yourself that it is fair, what more can you ask?"

Linda hesitated.

"What I ought to do is exactly what I have said I would do," she said tersely, "but if you are going to put it on that basis I have no desire to hurt you or humiliate you in public. If you do that, I can't see that I have any reason to complain, so we'll call it a bargain and we'll say no more about it until the first of the month, unless the spirit moves you, after taking a good square look at me, to produce some shoes and a school dress instanter."

"I'll see what I can do," answered Eileen.

"All right then," said Linda. "See you at dinner."

She went to her own room, slipped off her school dress, brushed her hair, and put on the skirt and blouse she had worn the previous evening, these being the only extra clothing she possessed. As she straightened her hair she looked at herself intently.

"My, aren't you coming on!" she said to the figure in the glass. "Dressing for dinner! First thing you know you'll be a perfect lady."