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- Her Weight in Gold - 2/40 -
from what you already owe me. In time, you see, the whole debt will be lifted,--and you'll not owe me a cent." Eddie blinked. A slow grin crept into his face as he grasped the irony in the General's scheme.
"Fine financing, General. It suits me to a dot. By the way, do you think you can spare another hundred or two?"
"The books are closed for the month," said the General placidly. He rang the bell on the table. "More ice, boy, and the same bottle. As I was saying, Eddie, I can't for the life of me see why you fellows are so blind when it comes to Martha. She is--"
"We are not blind," interrupted Eddie, not at all annoyed by his failure to negotiate the loan. "That's just the trouble. If a blind man came along, I've no doubt he could see something attractive in her."
"Damme! If she were my own daughter, I'd thrash you for that remark, sir."
"If she were your own daughter, you wouldn't be discussing her with a high-ball in your hand."
The General coughed. "Ahem! Eddie, I'd give a good deal to see that girl married. Leave the bottle on the table, boy. She will have money --a lot of it--one of these days. There are dozens of young men that we know who'd do 'most anything for money. I--By George!" He broke off to stare with glittering eyes at the face of the young man opposite. A great thought was expanding in his brain.
Eddie shifted nervously. "Why are you looking at me like that? I don't need it that badly."
"I'd never thought of you, Eddie,--'pon my word I hadn't. Not until this moment. You need money worse than any one I know. There isn't another girl in town who would marry you, and Martha WOULD. Believe me, she would! And let me tell you, sir, you couldn't find a truer wife than Martha. You--"
"She couldn't help being true," mused Eddie, rattling the ice in his empty glass. The General pushed the bottle toward him.
"She is a bit older than you, I'll admit," pursued the General reflectively. "Worth her weight in gold," he murmured with a sort of ecstasy in his voice.
Young Ten Eyck assumed an injured air. "I am poor, General Gamble, but I am NOT blind."
"She likes you," went on the older man, revelling in the new-found hope. "You don't amount to much,--and she knows it, I suppose,--but you can have her, my boy. She'll be the richest girl in Essex when I die. Take her, my boy; I gladly give my consent. Will you permit me to congratu--"
"One moment, if you please. In a case like this, you would NEVER die. It would be just my luck. No, I thank you. I decline the honour. If you could perform a miracle and transform her into REAL gold, I might consider the proposition, but not as it now stands."
"She weighs about one-eighty," said the General speculatively.
Eddie glanced at him sharply. "One hundred and eighty pounds in gold. Quite a pile, eh?"
The General was silent for a long time, permitting the vague idea to thrive in his harassed mind. His young companion was moodily trying to estimate the value of one hundred and eighty pounds of virgin gold.
At last the General reached a conclusion. It was a rather heroic effort. He relighted his cigar with trembling fingers.
"I suppose you haven't heard of the wedding present I intend to bestow upon the fortunate man who leads her to the altar!" said he, casting the fatal die.
"No; but a separate house and lot wouldn't be despised, I should say."
"Nonsense. By the way, Eddie, this must not go any farther. It's strictly entre nous. I don't want to have the dear girl pestered to death by fortune hunters. On his wedding day the man who marries Martha is to have the equivalent of her weight in double eagles. Isn't that ra--rather handsome?"
He sank back and waited for the seed to sink deeply into Ten Eyck soil. Eddie's eyelids flickered. The grin of a Cheshire cat came to his lips involuntarily and remained there without modification for the matter of an hour or two.
"Great!" he said at last.
"I must be on my way," observed the wily step-father, beating a retreat so hastily that Eddie missed the opportunity to scoff. But the contemplative smile remained just as he had left it.
Several days passed before the two met again. The General had sowed wisely, and he was reasonably certain of the harvest. He knew that it would be hard for young Ten Eyck to bring himself to the sacrificial altar; but that he would come and would bend his neck was a foregone conclusion. He went on the theory that if you give a man rope enough he'll hang himself, and he felt that Eddie was almost at the end of his rope in these cruel days.
As for Eddie, he tried to put the thought out of his mind, but as time went on he caught himself many times--(with a start of shame)--trying to approximate the worth of Martha Gamble on the basis set forth by her step-father. The second day after the interview he consulted a friend of his who happened to be a jeweller. From him he ascertained the present market value of twenty-four carat gold. So much for the start!
His creditors were threatening to sue or to "black-list" him; his friends long since had begun to dodge him, fearing the habitual request for temporary loans; his allowance was not due for several weeks. Circumstances were so harsh that even Martha appeared desirable by contrast. He felt an instinctive longing for rest, and peace, and-- pecuniary absolution.
He was therefore deserving of pity when he finally surrendered to the inevitable. How he cursed himself--(and his creditors)--as he set out to find the General on that bright spring day when every other living creature on earth seemed to be happy and free from care. Kismet!
General Gamble was reading in a quiet corner of the Club. That is to say, he had the appearance of one reading. As a matter of fact, he had been watching Eddie's shy, uncertain evolutions for half an hour or more, and he chuckled inwardly. As many as ten times the victim strolled through the reading room, on the pretext of looking for some one. Something told the General that he was going to lose Martha.
At last Eddie approached him. He came with the swift impetuosity of a man who has decided and is afraid to risk a reaction.
"Hello, General," was his crisp greeting as he dropped into the chair which the astute old gentleman had placed, with premeditation, close to his own some time before. He went straight to the point. "I've been thinking over what you said the other day about Martha. Well, I'll marry her."
"You!" exclaimed the General, simulating incredulity. "You!"
"Yes. I'll be IT. How much does she really weigh?"
"Are--are you in earnest, my boy?" cried the other. "Why, she'll be tickled to death!"
"May I have her?"
"God bless you,--YES!"
"I suppose I ought to go up and see her and--and tell her I love her," said Eddie lugubriously. "Or," with a fine inspiration, "perhaps you wouldn't mind telling her for me. I--"
"Tell her yourself, you young rascal," cried the General in fine good humour, poking his prospective stepson-in-law in the ribs.
Eddie winced. "You can do that to me now, but if you jab me in the ribs after I'm married I'll jab you in the eye."
"Good! I like your spirit. Gad, I love a fighting-man! And now, my boy, it seems to me there's no sense in delaying matters. You have my consent. As a matter of form you ought to get Martha's. She'll take you, of course, but I--I suppose she would like the idea of being proposed to. They all do. I daresay you two can settle the point in a jiffy in some quiet nook up at the--But, there! I shall not offer suggestions to you in an affair of the heart, my son. Will you be up to see her this evening?"
Eddie drew a long breath. "If--if she has no other engagement."
"Engagement?" gasped the General, with popping eyes. "She hasn't sat up after eight o'clock in four years, except on Christmas Eve. You won't be disturbed; so come around."
"Perhaps, to be sure of finding her up, I'd better come to dinner."
"By all means. Stay as late as you like, too. She won't get sleepy to- night. Not a bit of it." He arose to depart.
"Just a moment, General," said Eddie curtly. "We've got a few preliminaries to arrange before I commit myself. Here is a paper for you to sign. Business is business, you know, and this is the first really business-like thing I've ever done. Be good enough to read this paper very carefully before signing."
General Gamble put on his glasses and read the brief, but ample contract which bound him to pay to Edward Peabody Ten Eyck, on the day that he was married to Martha Gamble, for better or for worse, an amount equivalent to the value of her weight in pure gold. He hesitated for one brief, dubious moment, then called for pen, ink, and paper. When these articles were brought to him, he deliberately drew up a second contract by which Edward Ten Eyck bound himself to wed Martha Gamble (and no other) on a day to be named by mutual consent at a later date--but not very much later, he was privately resolved.
"Now," said he, "we'll each sign one. You sha'n't get the better of me, my boy."
Each signed in the presence of two waiters, neither of whom knew the
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