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- Her Weight in Gold - 3/40 -
nature of the instruments.
"Troy weight," said the General magnanimously. "She is a jewel, you know."
"Certainly. It's stipulated in the contract--twenty-four carat gold. You said pure, you remember. You may have noticed that I take her at the prevailing market price of gold. It is now four cents a carat. Twenty-four carats in a pennyweight. That makes ninety-six cents per pennyweight. Twenty pennyweight in an ounce, and there we have nineteen dollars and twenty cents per ounce. We'll--we'll weigh her in by ounces."
"That's reasonable. The price of gold isn't likely to fluctuate much."
"It must be distinctly understood that you keep her well-fed from this day on, General. I won't have her fluctuating. She hasn't any silly notions about reducing, has she?"
"My dear fellow, she poses as a Venus," cried the General. "Good! And here's another point: pardon me for suggesting it, but you understand that she's to weigh in--er--that is to say, her clothing is to be weighed in with her."
"You heard what I said. She's to be settled for--dressed." "Good Lord, she isn't a chicken!"
"Nobody said she was. It is fit and proper that her garments should be weighed with her. Hang it all, man, I'm marrying her clothes as well as anything else."
"I will not agree to that. It's preposterous."
"I don't mean her entire wardrobe. Just the going-away gown and hat. You can't very well ask her to weigh herself without any--But as gentlemen we need not pursue the matter any farther. You shall have your way about it."
"She has a fine pair of scales in her bedroom. She weighs herself every night for her own gratification. I don't see why she can't do it once or twice for my sake."
"But women are such dreadful liars about their own weight. She'll be sure to lop off fifteen or twenty pounds in the telling. Hang it, I want witnesses."
The General assumed a look of distress. "Remember, sir, that you are speaking of your future wife. You'll have to take her word."
Eddie slumped down in his chair, muttering something about niggardliness.
"I suppose I'll have to concede the point." His eyes twinkled. "I say, it would be a horrible shock to you, General, if she were to refuse me to-night."
"She sha--WON'T!" said the General, setting his jaw, but turning a shade paler. "She'll jump at the chance."
Eddie sighed dismally. "Doesn't it really seem awful to you?"
"Having you for a son-in-law? YES."
"You know I'm only doing this because I want to set up in business for myself and need the money," explained the groom-elect in an effort to justify himself. "Oh, another little point. I'd almost forgotten it. I suppose it will be perfectly convenient for us to live with you for a year or two, until I--"
"No!" thundered the General. "Not by a long shot! You go to housekeeping at once, do you understand?"
"But think of her poor mother's feelings--"
"Her mother has nothing whatever to do with it, sir. See here, we'll put that in the contract." He was visibly disturbed by the thought of what the oversight might have meant to him. "And now, when shall we have the wedding?"
"Perhaps we'd better leave that to Martha."
"We'll leave nothing to anybody."
"She'll want to get a trousseau together and all that sort of thing. I'm ready to go through with it at any time, but you know what girls are." He was perspiring.
"Yes," said the General with a reminiscent light in his eye. "I daresay they all enjoy a few weeks of courtship and love-making."
Eddie gulped suddenly and then shot a quick, hunted look toward the buffet door.
"Have a drink?" demanded the other abruptly. He had caught the sign of danger.
They strolled into the buffet, arm-in-arm, one loving the world in general, the other hating everybody in it, including the General. Before they parted Eddie Ten Eyck extracted a solemn promise from his future step-father-in-law that he would ascertain Martha's exact weight and report the figure to him on the following day.
"It will seem easier if I know just about what to expect," explained the young man.
That very afternoon the General, with a timidity that astonished him, requested his stepdaughter to report her correct weight to him on the following morning. He kept his face well screened behind his newspaper while speaking, and his voice was a little thick.
"What for, father?" asked Martha, looking up from her book in surprise. Her eyes seemed to grow even larger than the lenses of her spectacles.
"Why, you see--er--I'm figuring on a little more insurance," he stammered.
"What has my weight to do with it?"
"It isn't life insurance," he made haste to explain. A bright idea struck him. "It is fire insurance, my dear."
"I don't see what my--"
"Of course you don't," he interrupted genially. "It's this way. The fire insurance companies are getting absurdly finicky about the risks. Now they insist on knowing the weight of every inmate of the houses they insure. Has something to do with the displacement of oxygen, I believe. Your mother and I--and the servants, too--expect to be weighed to-night."
"Oh," she said, and resumed her reading.
He waited for a while, fumbling nervously with his watch chain.
"By the way, my dear," he said, "what have you been doing to that bully chap, Eddie Ten Eyck?"
"Doing to him? What do you mean?"
"Just what I say."
"I haven't seen the miserable loafer in months," she said. Her voice was heavy, not unlike that of a man. For some reason she shuffled uneasily in her chair. The book dropped into her capacious lap.
"You've been doing something behind my back, you sly minx," he chided. "What do you think happened to-day?"
"To Eddie Ten Eyck?"
"In a way, yes. He came up to me in the Club and asked my permission to pay--er--court to you, my dear. He said he loved you better than-- Hey! Look out there! What the dev--Hi, Mother! Come here quick! Good Heaven, she's going to die!"
Poor Martha had collapsed in a heap, her arms dangling limply over the side of the chair, her eyes bulging and blinking in a most grotesque manner. At first glance one would have sworn she was strangling. Afterwards the General denounced himself as an unmitigated idiot for having given her such a shock. He ought to have known better.
Mrs. Gamble rushed downstairs in great alarm, and it was not long before they had Martha breathing naturally, although the General almost made that an impossibility by the ruthless manner in which he fanned her with the very book she had been reading--a heavy volume which he neglected to open.
The whirligig room reduced itself to a library for Martha once more, not so monotonous as it once had been, no doubt, but still a library. Out of the turmoil of her own emotions, she managed to grasp enough of what the General was saying to convince herself that this was not another dream but a reality, and she became so excited that her mother advised her to go to bed for a while before dinner, if she expected to appear at her best when Eddie arrived.
For the first time since early childhood, Martha blushed as she attempted to trip lightly upstairs. As a matter of fact, she DID trip on next to the top step and sprawled. Under ordinary circumstances she would have been as mad as a wet hen, but on this happy occasion she merely cried out, when her parents dashed into the hall below on hearing the crash:
"It's good luck to fall upstairs!"
The fires of life had been rekindled, and when such a thing happens to a person of Martha's horse-power, the effect is astonishing. At four o 'clock she began dressing for the coming suitor. When he arrived at seven, she was still trying to decide whether her hair looked better by itself or with augmentations.
Below, in the huge library, Eddie Ten Eyck sat disconsolate, nervously contemplating the immediate future. He was all alone. Not even a servant was to be seen or heard. It was as still as the Christmas Eve whose jingle we love so well.
Never in all his aimless existence had he felt so small, so unimportant, so put-upon as at this moment. His gaze, sweeping the
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