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- Her Weight in Gold - 6/40 -
valuable figure; but--this! His brain reeled. He was being married to an utter stranger. His loss was incalculable.
We will speed over the ensuing months. It goes without saying that Martha became well and strong and abominably vigorous in the matter of appetite. Her days of convalescence--But why go into them? They are interesting only to the person who is emerging from a period of suffering and fasting. Why dwell upon the reflections of Eddie Ten Eyck as he saw an erstwhile stranger transformed into an old acquaintance before his very eyes? Why go into the painful details attending the stealthy payment of nearly $17,000 by the party of the first part to the party of the second part, and why tell of the uses to which the latter was compelled to put this meagre fortune almost immediately after acquiring it? No one cares to be harassed by these miserable, mawkish details.
One really needs to know but one thing: the bridegroom soon stood shorn of all his ill-gotten gains, unless we except the wife of whom no form of adversity could rob him.
A month after the wedding, Eddie was eagerly awaiting the fourth quarterly instalment of his allowance. He was out of debt, it is true, but he never had been poorer in all his life. The thing that appalled him most was the fact that he had unlimited credit and did not possess the courage to take advantage of it. He could have borrowed right and left; he could have run up stupendous accounts; he could have lived like a lord. But Martha, before she was really able to sit up in bed, began to talk about something in a cottage,--something that made him turn pale with desperation,--and bread and cheese and kisses, entirely with an eye to thrift and what Eddie considered a nose for squalor. He couldn't imagine anything more squalid than a subsistence on the three commodities mentioned. In fact, he preferred starvation.
Martha harped for hours at a stretch on how economically she could conduct their small establishment, once they got into the house he had bound himself to buy in his days of affluence. She seemed to take it for granted that she would be obliged to skimp and pinch in order to get along on what Eddie would be able to earn.
"Our meat and grocery bills will be almost nothing, Eddie dear," she said one day, with an enthusiasm that discouraged him. "You see, I mean to keep my figure, now that I've got it. I sha'n't eat a thing for days at a time. "We'll have no meat, nor potatoes, nor sugar--"
"Just bread and cheese," said he wanly.
"And something else," she added coquettishly.
"Kisses are fattening," he said.
"Goodness! Who ever told you that?" she cried in dismay.
"A well-known specialist," he said, his mind adrift.
"Well, there is one thing sure, Eddie," she declared firmly; "we will not go into debt for anything. We positively must keep out of debt. I won't have you worrying about money matters."
"I'm not likely to," said he with conviction.
He then began to watch for signs of decrepitude in the General.
As soon as Martha was strong enough to travel, her step-father suggested that they go South for the winter instead of opening the little house down the street. He went so far as to offer to pay the expenses of the trip as a sort of belated wedding gift.
Eddie objected. He said that his real estate business was in such a state that he couldn't afford to leave it for a day.
"I didn't know you HAD a business," exclaimed the General.
"I am making arrangements to take up a Government claim in Alaska," said his son-in-law grimly.
"I'm going to some place where I can DIG for gold."
"Are you in earnest?"
"And--and would you subject Martha to the rigours of an Alaskan winter in--"
"Inasmuch as we shall have to subsist on snowballs until you pass in your cheques, General, I think we'd better go where they are fresh and plentiful."
Fortunately for the bride and groom, everybody that was anybody in Essex gave them a wedding present. Not a few, in a fever of exultation, gave beyond their means, and a great many of them with unintentional irony gave pickle dishes. By the time they were ready to go into their new home, it was cosily, even handsomely furnished. The General, contrite of heart, spent money lavishly in trying to make the home so attractive for Eddie that he wouldn't be likely to desert it for something worse.
The groom's sense of humour was only temporarily dulled. He noted signs of its awakening when he assisted in the unpacking of four cheval mirrors, gifts to the bride from persons who may or may not have been in collusion but who certainly wanted Martha to see herself as others saw her, and, as it turned out, from all sides.
The glow of health--an almost superhuman health--increased in the countenance of Mrs. Edward Ten Eyck. Her hair was a bit slow in restoring itself, and a shade or two darker, but on the other hand, despite all she could do to prevent it, she resumed her natural proportions with a rapidity that was sickening.
It was not long before her figure was unquestionably her own.
Eddie tried to conceal his dismay. He even tried to drown it. Their first quarrel grew out of her objection to the presence of intoxicating liquors in the house.
"I don't approve of whiskey," she said flatly.
"But you had it at your house."
"You forget that he was only my stepfather."
"He isn't in the past tense yet," said he bitterly.
"I've always maintained that whiskey should be used for medicinal purposes only."
"Then please don't worry about it," said he curtly. "I've ordered a barrel of it."
"For--for medicinal purposes?" "Strictly."
She studied his face with uneasy alarm in her eyes.
"You--don't feel as though you were going to be ill, do you, dear?"
He moved to the opposite side of the table, involuntarily lifting his left elbow as if to shield himself. She stopped half-way. Then he laughed awkwardly and turned the subject.
One day he reached the startling conclusion, that she was getting heavier than she had ever been before. It required days of contemplation, scrutiny, and development of purpose before he could ask her to step onto the scales at the meat market.
A cold perspiration started on his forehead as he moved the balance along the bar and found it would be necessary to use the two-hundred pound weight instead of the one-hundred, the fifty, and divers small ones that had been sufficient in days of yore.
She weighed two hundred and three pounds.
At nine o 'clock that night some one took him home from the Essex Club, and Martha was in hysterics until the doctor, summoned with haste and vehemence, assured her that her husband was not dead.
The approach of springtime found Eddie in a noticeably run-down condition. Friends and acquaintances began to remark that he was "going to seed in a hurry," or "he's awfully run down at the heel," or "I've never seen such a change in a man."
He was no longer the gay, whilom, inconsequent man about town. The best proof of this was his utter lack of pride in the matter of dress and his carelessness in respect to his personal appearance. Once he had been the beau-ideal of the town. Nowadays he slouched about the streets with a cigarette drooping listlessly between his lips, his face unshaven, his clothes unpressed and dusty. There was always a hunted, far-away look in his eyes.
Habitues of the Club began to notice that he was once more making mathematical calculations on the backs of envelopes or the margins of newspapers and magazines. No one pretended to explain this queer habit of his, but they observed that his efforts represented sums in multiplication. Occasionally, as if to throw them off the track, he did a sum in subtraction, and there were frequent lapses into simplified addition.
It was noted, however, that the numerals one, nine, decimal, two and a cipher, invariably in that sequence, figured somewhere in every calculation.
General Gamble could have solved the mystery, but he maintained a rigid silence. In his heart, the old schemer nurtured a fear that sooner or later Eddie would commit suicide or run away, either of which would signify the return of Martha to the mansion she had deserted for a cottage. And he knew that if she ever came back it would be as a permanent visitor.
He encountered his son-in-law frequently at unexpected times and in unusual places, and was never without the feeling that the young man eyed him balefully. He could feel the intensity of that unwavering gaze for hours after meeting Eddie. It was an ardent, searching look that seemed to question his right to survive the day.
After such meetings, the General was wont to survey himself long and fearsomely in the first mirror or show window that presented itself. He began to wonder if he was in failing health. At times he thought he discerned signs of approaching decrepitude, but his doctor assured him that he was never healthier or happier than he appeared to be at this
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