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- What Can She Do? - 40/72 -
we were, I don't see. I'm no more fit to be poor than to be President."
Zell never before had said a word that reflected on her father, but in the light of events her criticism seemed so Just that no one reproved her.
Mrs. Allen only sighed over her part of the implied blame. She had reached the hopeless stage of one lost in a foreign land, where the language is unknown and every sight and sound unfamiliar and bewildering. This weak fashionable woman, the costly product of an artificial luxurious life, seemed capable of being little better than a millstone around the necks of her children in this hour of their need. If there had been some innate strength and nobility in Mrs. Allen's character it might have developed now into something worthy of respect under this sharp attrition of trouble, however perverted before. But where a precious stone will take lustre a pumice stone will crumble. There is a multitude of natures so weak to begin with that they need tonic treatment all through life. What must such become under the influence of enervating luxury, flattery, and uncurbed selfishness from childhood? Poor, faded, sighing, helpless Mrs. Allen, shivering before the trouble she had largely occasioned, is the answer.
Edith soon broke the forlorn silence that followed Zell's outburst by saying:
"All the blame doesn't rest on the parents. I might have improved my advantages far better. I might have so mastered the mere rudiments of an English education as to be able to teach little children, but I can scarcely remember a single thing now."
"I can remember one thing," interrupted Zell, who was fresh from her books, "that there was mighty little attention given to the rudiments, as you call them, in the fashionable schools to which I went. To give the outward airs and graces of a fine lady seemed their whole aim. Accomplishments, deportment were everything. The way I was hustled over the rudiments almost takes away my breath to remember, and I have as remote an idea of vulgar fractions as of how to do the vulgar work before us. I tell you the whole thing is a cruel farce. If girls are educated like butterflies, it ought to be made certain that they can live like butterflies."
"Well, then," continued Edith, "we ought to have perfected ourselves in some accomplishment. They are always in demand. See what some French and music teachers obtain."
"Nonsense," said Zell pettishly, "you know well enough that by the time we were sixteen our heads were so full of beaux, parties, and dress, that French and music were a bore. We went through the fashionable mills like the rest, and if father had continued worth a million or so, no one would have found fault with our education."
"We can't help the past now," said Edith after a moment, "but I am not so old yet but that I can choose some kind of work and so thoroughly master it that I can get the highest price paid for that form of labor. I wish it could be gardening, for I have no taste for the shut- up work of woman; sitting in a close room all day with a needle would be slow suicide to me."
"Gardening!" said Zell contemptuously. "You couldn't plow as well as that snuffy old fellow who scratched your garden about as deeply as a hen would have done it. A woman can't dig and hoe in the hot sun, that is, an American girl can't, and I don't think she ought."
"Nor I either," said Mrs. Allen, with some returning vitality. "The very idea is horrid."
"But plowing, digging, and hoeing are not all of gardening," said Edith with some irritation.
"I guess you would make a slim support by just snipping around among the rose-bushes," retorted Zell provokingly,
"That's always the way with you, Zell," said Edith sharply, "from one extreme to another. Well, what would you like to do?"
"If I had to work I would like housekeeping. That admits of great variety and activity. I wish I could open a summer boarding-house up here. Wouldn't I make it attractive!"
"Such black eyes and red cheeks certainly would--to the gentlemen," answered Edith satirically.
"They would be mere accessories. I think I could give to a boarding- house, that place of hash and harrowing discomfort, a dainty, homelike air. If father, when he risked a failure, had only put aside enough to set me up in a boarding-house, I should have been made."
"A boarding-house! What horror next?" sighed Mrs. Allen.
"Don't be alarmed, mother," said Zell bitterly. "We can scarcely start one of the forlornest hash species on ten dollars. I admit I would rather keep house for a good husband, and it seems to me I could soon learn to give him the perfection of a good home," and her eyes filled with wistful tears. Dashing them scornfully away, she added, "The idea of a woman loving a man, and letting his home be dependent on the cruel mercies of foreign servants! If it's a shame that girls are not taught to make a living if they need to, it's a worse shame that they are not taught to keep house. Half the brides I know of ought to have been arrested and imprisoned for obtaining property on false pretences. They had inveigled men into the vain expectation that they would make a home for them, when they no more knew how to make a home than a heaven. The best they can do is to go to one of those places so satirically called an 'intelligence office,' and import them into their elegant houses a small mob of quarrelsome, drunken, dishonest foreigners, and then they and their husbands live on such conditions as are permitted. I would be mistress of my house, just as a man is master of his store or office, and I would know thoroughly how work of all kinds was done, and see that it was done thoroughly. If they wouldn't do it, I'd discharge them. I am satisfied that our bad servants are the result of bad housekeepers more than anything else."
"Poor little Zell!" said Edith, smiling sadly. "I hope you will have a chance to put your theories into most happy and successful practice."
"Little chance of it here in 'Bushtown,' as Hannibal calls it," said Zell suddenly.
"Well," said Edith, in a kind of desperate tone, "we've got to decide on something at once. I will suggest this. Laura must take care of mother, and teach a few little children if she can get them. We will give up the parlor to her at certain hours. I will put up a notice in the post-office asking for such patronage, and perhaps we can put an advertisement in the Pushton Recorder, if it doesn't cost too much. Zell, you must take the housekeeping mainly, for which you have a taste, and help me with any sewing that I can get. Hannibal will go into the garden and I will help him there all I can. I shall go to the village to-morrow and see if I can find anything to do that will bring in money."
There was a silent acquiescence in Edith's plan, for no one had anything else to offer.
IGNORANCE LOOKING FOR WORK
The next day Edith went to the village, and frankly told Mr. Hard how they were situated, mentioning that the failure of their lawyer to sell the stock had suddenly placed them in this crippled condition.
Mr. Hard's eyes grew more pebbly as he listened. He ventured in a constrained voice as consolation:
"That he never had much faith in stocks--No, he had no employment for ladies in connection with his store. He simply bought and sold at a _small_ advance. Miss Klip, the dressmaker, might have something."
To Miss Klip Edith went. Miss Klip, although an unprotected female, appeared to be a maiden that could take care of herself. One would scarcely venture to hinder her. Her cutting scissors seemed instinct with life, and one would get out of their way as naturally as from a railroad train. She gave Edith a sharp look through her spectacles and said abruptly in answer to her application:
"I thought you was rich."
"We were," said Edith sadly, "but we must work now and are willing to."
"What do you know about dressmaking and sewing?"
"Well, not a great deal, but I think you would find us very ready to learn."
"Oh, bless you, I can get all my work done by thorough hands, and at my own prices, too. Good-morning."
"But can you not tell me of some one who would be apt to have work?"
"There's Mrs. Glibe across the street. She has work sometimes. Most of the dressmakers around here are well trained, have machines, and go out by the day."
Edith's heart sank. What chance was there for her untaught hands among all these "trained workers."
She soon found that Mrs. Glibe was more inclined to talk (being as garrulous as Miss Klip was laconic) and to find out all about them than to help her to work. Making but little headway in Edith's confidence she at last said, "I give Rose Lacey all the work I have to spare and it isn't very much. The business is so cut up that none of us have much more than we can do except a short time in the busy season. Still, those of us who can give a nice fit and cut to advantage can make a good living after getting known. It takes time and training you know of course."
"But isn't there work of any kind that we can get in this place?" said Edith impatiently.
"Well, not that you' d be willing to do. Of course there's housecleaning and washing and some plain sewing, though that is mostly done on a machine. A good strong woman can always get day's work, except in winter, but you ain't one of that sort," she added, looking
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