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- What Can She Do? - 4/72 -
"Heigho! then I am to have no part in the matter," said her father.
"Yes, indeed, papa," cried the saucy girl, "you are to have no end of kisses, and a very long bill."
This sally pleased him immensely, for it expressed his ideal of womanly return for masculine affection, at least the bills had never been wanting in his experience. But, mellowed by wine and elated by the success of the day, he now prepared to give the coup that would make a far greater sensation in the family circle than even a debut or a birthday party. So, glancing from one eager face to another (for between the wine and the excitement even Mrs. Allen was no longer a colorless, languid creature, ready to faint at the embrace of her child), he said with a twinkle in his eye--
"Well, go to your mother about the party. She is a veteran in such matters. But let there be some limit to the length of the bill, or I can't carry out another plan I have in view for you."
Chorus--"What is that?"
Coolly filling his glass, he commenced leisurely sipping, while glancing humorously from one to another, enjoying their impatient expectancy.
"If you don't tell us right away," cried Zell, bouncing up, "I'll pull your whiskers without mercy."
"Papa, you will throw mother into a fever. See how flushed her face is!" said Laura, the eldest daughter, speaking at the same time two words for herself.
The face of Edith, with dazzling complexion all aglow, and large dark eyes lustrous with excitement, was more eloquent than words could have been, and the bon vivant drank in her expression with as much zest as he sipped his wine. Perhaps it was well for him to make the most of that little keen-edged moment of bright anticipation and bewildering hope, for what he was about to propose would cost him many thousands, and exile him from business, which to him was the very breath of life.
But Mrs. Allen's matter-of-fact voice brought things to a crisis, for with an injured air she said:
"How can you, George, when you know the state of my nerves?"
"What I propose, mamma, will cure your nerves and everything else, for it is nothing less than a tour through Europe."
There was a shriek of delight from the girls, in which even the exquisite Laura joined, and Mrs. Allen trembled with excitement. Apart from the trip itself, they considered it a sort of disgrace that a family of their social position and wealth had never been abroad. Therefore the announcement was doubly welcome. Hitherto Mr. Allen's devotion to business had made it impossible, and he had given them no hints of the near consummation of their wishes. But he had begun to feel the need of change and rest himself, and this weighed more with him than all their entreaties.
In a moment Zell had her arms about his neck, and her sisters were throwing him kisses across the table. His wife, looking unusually gratified, said:
"You are a sensible man at last," which was a great deal for Mrs. Allen to say.
"Why, mamma," exclaimed her husband, elevating his eyebrows in comic surprise, "that I should live to hear you say that!"
"Now don't be silly," she replied, joining slightly in the laugh at her expense, "or we shall think that you have taken too much champagne, and that this Europe business is all a hoax."
"Wait till you have been outside of Sandy Hook an hour, and you will find everything real enough then. I think I see the elegant ladies of my household about that time."
"For shame, papa! what an uncomfortable suggestion over a dinner table!" said the fastidious Laura. "Picture the ladies of your household in the salons of Paris. I promise we will do you credit there."
"I hope so, for I fear I shall have need of _credit_ when you all reach that Mecca of women."
"It's no more the Mecca of women than Wall Street is the Jerusalem of men. What you are all going to do in Heaven without Wall Street, I don't see."
Mr. Allen gave his significant shrug and said, "I don't meet notes till they are due," which was his way of saying: "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."
"The salons of Paris!" said Edith, with some disdain. "Think of the scenery, the orange-groves, and vineyards that we shall see, the Alpine flowers--"
"I declare," interrupted Zell, "I believe that Edith would rather see a grape-vine and orange-tree than all the toilets of Paris."
"I shall enjoy seeing both," was the reply, "and so have the advantage of you in having two strings to my bow."
"By the way, that reminds me to ask how many beaux you now have on the string," said the father.
Edith tossed her head with a pretty blush and said: "Pity me, my father; you know I am always poor at arithmetic."
"You will take up with a crooked stick after all. Now Laura is a sensible girl, like her mother, and has picked out one of the richest, longest-headed fellows on the street."
"Indeed!" said his wife. "I do not see but you are paying yourself a greater compliment than either Laura or me."
"Oh, no, a mere business statement. Laura means business, and so does Mr. Goulden."
Laura looked annoyed and said:
"Pa, I thought you never talked business at home."
"Oh, this is a feminine phase that women understand. I want your sisters to profit by your good example."
"I shall marry an Italian count," cried Zell.
"Who will turn out a fourth-rate Italian barber, and I shall have to support you both. But I won't do it. You would have to help him shave."
"No, I should transform him into a leader of banditti, and we would live in princely state in the Apennines. Then we would capture you, papa, and carry you off to the mountains, and I would be your jailer, and give you nothing but turtle-soup, champagne, and kisses till you paid a ransom that would break Wall Street."
"I would not pay a cent, but stay and eat you out of house and home."
"I never expect to marry," said Edith, "but some day I am going to commence saving my money--now don't laugh, papa, for I could be economical if I once made up my mind"--and the pretty head gave a decisive little nod.
"I am going to save my money and buy a beautiful place in the country and make it as near like the garden of Eden as possible."
"Snakes will get into it as of old," was Mrs. Allen's cynical remark.
"Yes, that is woman's experience with a garden," said her husband with a mock sigh.
Popping off the cork of another bottle, he added, "I have got ahead of you, Edith. I own a place in the country, much as I dislike that kind of property. I had to take it to-day in a trade, and so am a landholder in Pushton--prospect, you see, of my becoming a rural gentleman (Squire is the title, I believe), and of exchanging stock in Wall Street for the stock of a farm. Here's to my estate of three acres with a story and a half mansion upon it! Perhaps you would rather go up there this summer than to Paris, my dear?" to his wife.
Mrs. Allen gave a contemptuous shrug as if the jest were too preposterous to be answered, but Edith cried:
"Fill my glass; I will drink to your country place. I know the cottage is a sweet rustic little box, all smothered with vines and roses like one I saw last June." Then she added in sport, "I wish you would give it to me for my birthday present. It would make such a nice porter's lodge at the entrance to my future Eden."
"Are you in earnest?" asked the father suddenly.
Both were excited by the wine they had drunk. She glanced at her father, and saw that he was in a mood to say yes to anything, and, quick as thought, she determined to get the place if possible.
"Of course I am. I would rather have it than all the jewelry in New York." She was over-supplied with that style of gift.
"You shall have it then, for I am sure I don't want it, and am devoutly thankful to be rid of it."
Edith clapped her hands with a delight scarcely less demonstrative than that of Zell in her wildest moods.
"Nonsense!" said Mrs. Allen; "the idea of giving a young lady such an elephant!"
"Bat remember," continued her father, "you must manage it yourself, pay the taxes, keep it repaired, insured, etc. There is a first-class summer hotel near it. Next year, after we get back from Europe, we will go up there and stay awhile. You shall then take possession, employ an agent to take care of it, who by the way will cheat you to your heart's content. I will wager you a box of gloves that, before a year passes, you will try to sell the ivy-twined cottage for anything you can get, and will be thoroughly cured of your mania for country life."
"I'll take you up," said Edith, in great excitement, "but remember, I
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