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"I don't care if I do, Martha, it's so good," said the cooper, passing
his plate. "Seems to me it's the best pudding you ever made."

"You've got a good appetite, that is all," said Mrs. Harding, modestly
disclaiming the compliment.

"Apple puddings are unhealthy," observed Rachel.

"Then what makes you eat them?" asked Jack.

"A body must eat something. Besides, life is so full of sorrow, it makes
little difference if it's longer or shorter."

"Won't you have another piece, Rachel?"

Aunt Rachel passed her plate, and received a second portion. Jack winked
slyly, but fortunately his aunt did not observe it.

When dinner was over, the cooper thought of the sealed envelope which
had been given him for his wife.

"Martha," he said, "I nearly forgot that I have something for you."

"For me?"

"Yes, from Mr. Merriam."

"But he don't know me," said Mrs. Harding, in surprise.

"At any rate, he first asked me if I was married, and then handed me
this envelope, which he asked me to give to you. I am not quite sure
whether I ought to allow strange gentlemen to write letters to my wife."

Mrs. Harding opened the envelope with considerable curiosity, and
uttered an exclamation of surprise as a bank note fell out, and
fluttered to the carpet.

"By gracious, mother!" said Jack, springing to get it, "you're in luck.
It's a hundred-dollar bill."

"So it is, I declare," said his mother, joyfully. "But, Timothy, it
isn't mine. It belongs to you."

"No, Martha, I have nothing to do with it. It belongs to you. You need
some clothes, I am sure. Use part of it, and I will put the rest in the
savings bank for you."

"I never expected to have money to invest," said Mrs. Harding. "I begin
to feel like a capitalist. When you want to borrow money, Timothy,
you'll know where to come."

"Merriam's a trump and no mistake," said Jack. "By the way, when you see
him again, father, just mention that you've got a son. Ain't we in luck,
Aunt Rachel?"

"Boast not overmuch," said his aunt. "Pride goes before destruction, and
a haughty spirit before a fall."

"I never knew Aunt Rachel to be jolly but once," said Jack under his
breath; "and that was at a funeral."




CHAPTER X

JACK'S MISCHIEF


One of the first results of the new prosperity which had dawned upon the
Hardings, was Jack's removal from the street to the school. While his
father was out of employment, his earnings seemed necessary; but now
they could be dispensed with.

To Jack, the change was not altogether agreeable. Few boys of the
immature age of eleven are devoted to study, and Jack was not one of
these few. The freedom which he had enjoyed suited him, and he tried to
impress it upon his father that there was no immediate need of his
returning to school.

"Do you want to grow up a dunce, Jack?" said his father.

"I can read and write already," said Jack.

"Are you willing to enter upon life with that scanty supply of
knowledge?"

"Oh, I guess I can get along as well as the average."

"I don't know about that. Besides, I want you to do better than the
average. I am ambitious for you, if you are not ambitious for yourself."

"I don't see what good it does a feller to study so hard," muttered
Jack.

"You won't study hard enough to do you any harm," said Aunt Rachel, who
might be excused for a little sarcasm at the expense of her mischievous
nephew.

"It makes my head ache to study," said Jack.

"Perhaps your head is weak, Jack," suggested his father, slyly.

"More than likely," said Rachel, approvingly.

So it was decided that Jack should go to school.

"I'll get even with Aunt Rachel," thought he. "She's always talking
against me, and hectorin' me. See if I don't."

An opportunity for getting even with his aunt did not immediately occur.
At length a plan suggested itself to our hero. He shrewdly suspected
that his aunt's single blessedness, and her occasional denunciations
of the married state, proceeded from disappointment.

"I'll bet she'd get married if she had a chance," he thought. "I mean
to try her, anyway."

Accordingly, with considerable effort, aided by a school-fellow, he
concocted the following letter, which was duly copied and forwarded
to his aunt's address:

"DEAR GIRL: Excuse the liberty I have taken in writing to you;
but I have seen you often, though you don't know me; and you are
the only girl I want to marry. I am not young - I am about your age,
thirty-five - and I have a good trade. I have always wanted to be
married, but you are the only one I know of to suit me. If you think
you can love me, will you meet me in Washington Park, next Tuesday,
at four o'clock? Wear a blue ribbon round your neck, if you want to
encourage me. I will have a red rose pinned to my coat.

"Don't say anything to your brother's family about this. They may not
like me, and they may try to keep us apart. Now be sure and come.
DANIEL."


This letter reached Miss Rachel just before Jack went to school one
morning. She read it through, first in surprise, then with an appearance
of pleasure.

"Who's your letter from, Aunt Rachel?" asked Jack, innocently.

"Children shouldn't ask questions about what don't concern 'em," said
his aunt.

"I thought maybe it was a love letter," said he.

"Don't make fun of your aunt," said his father, reprovingly.

"Jack's question is only a natural one," said Rachel, to her brother's
unbounded astonishment. "I suppose I ain't so old but I might be married
if I wanted to."

"I thought you had put all such thoughts out of your head long ago,
Rachel."

"If I have, it's because the race of men are so shiftless," said his
sister. "They ain't worth marrying."

"Is that meant for me?" asked the cooper, good-naturedly.

"You're all alike," said Rachel, tossing her head.

She put the letter carefully into her pocket, without deigning any
explanation.

"I suppose it's from some of her old acquaintances," thought her
brother, and he dismissed the subject.

As soon as she could, Rachel took refuge in her room. She carefully
locked the door, and read the letter again.

"Who can he be?" thought the agitated spinster. "Do I know anybody of
the name of Daniel? It must be some stranger that has fallen in love
with me unbeknown. What shall I do?"

She sat in meditation for a short time. Then she read the letter again.

"He will be very unhappy if I frown upon him," she said to herself,
complacently. "It's a great responsibility to make a fellow being
unhappy. It's a sacrifice, I know, but it's our duty to deny ourselves.
I don't know but I ought to go and meet him."

This was Rachel's conclusion.

The time was close at hand. The appointment was for that very afternoon.

"I wouldn't have my brother or Martha know it for the world," murmured
Rachel to herself, "nor that troublesome Jack. Martha's got some blue
ribbon, but I don't dare to ask her for it, for fear she'll suspect
something. No, I must go out and buy some."

"I'm goin' to walk, Martha," she said, as she came downstairs.

"Going to walk in the forenoon! Isn't that something unusual?"

"I've got a little headache. I guess it'll do me good," said Rachel.

"I hope it will," said her sister-in-law, sympathetically.

Rachel went to the nearest dry-goods store, and bought a yard of blue
ribbon.

"Only a yard?" inquired the clerk, in some surprise.

"That will do," said Rachel, nervously, coloring a little, as though the
use which she designed for it might be suspected.

She paid for the ribbon, and presently returned.

"Does your head feel any better, Rachel?" asked Mrs. Harding.

"A little," answered Rachel.

"You've been sewing too steady lately, perhaps?" suggested Martha.

"Perhaps I have," assented Rachel.

"You ought to spare yourself. You can't stand work as well as when you
were younger," said Martha, innocently.

"A body'd think I was a hundred by the way you talk," said Rachel,
sharply.

"I didn't mean to offend you, Rachel. I thought you might feel as I do.
I get tired easier than I used to."

"I guess I'll go upstairs," said Rachel, in the same tone. "There isn't
anybody there to tell me how old I am gettin'."

"It's hard to make Rachel out," thought Mrs. Harding. "She takes offense
at the most innocent remark. She can't look upon herself as young, I am
sure."

Upstairs Rachel took out the letter again, and read it through once
more. "I wonder what sort of a man Daniel is," she said to herself. "I
wonder if I have ever noticed him. How little we know what others think
of us! If he's a likely man, maybe it's my duty to marry him. I feel I'm
a burden to Timothy. His income is small, and it'll make a difference of
one mouth. It may be a sacrifice, but it's my duty."

In this way Rachel tried to deceive herself as to the real reason which
led her to regard with favoring eyes the suit of this supposed lover
whom she had never seen, and about whom she knew absolutely nothing.

Jack came home from school at half-past two o'clock. He looked roguishly
at his aunt as he entered. She sat knitting in her usual corner.

"Will she go?" thought Jack. "If she doesn't there won't be any fun."

But Jack, whose trick I am far from defending, was not to be
disappointed.

At three o'clock Rachel rolled up her knitting, and went upstairs.
Fifteen minutes later she came down dressed for a walk.

"Where are you going, Aunt Rachel?" asked Jack.

"Out for a walk," she answered, shortly.

"May I go with you?" he asked, mischievously.

"No; I prefer to go alone," she said, curtly.

"Your aunt has taken a fancy to walking," said Mrs. Harding, when her
sister-in-law had left the house. "She was out this forenoon. I don't
know what has come over her."

"I do," said Jack to himself.

Five minutes later he put on his hat and bent his steps also to
Washington Park.




CHAPTER XI

MISS HARDING'S MISTAKE


Miss Rachel Harding kept on her way to Washington Park. It was less than
a mile from her brother's house, and though she walked slowly, she got
there a quarter of an hour before the time.

She sat down on a seat near the center of the park, and began to look
around her. Poor Rachel! her heart beat quicker than it had done for
thirty years, as she realized that she was about to meet one who wished
to make her his wife.

"I hope he won't be late," she murmured to herself, and she felt of the
blue ribbon to make sure that she had not forgotten it.

Meanwhile Jack reached the park, and from a distance surveyed with
satisfaction the evident nervousness of his aunt.

"Ain't it rich?" he whispered to himself.

Rachel looked anxiously for the gentleman with the red rose pinned to
his coat.

She had to wait ten minutes. At last he came, but as he neared her seat,
Rachel felt like sinking into the earth with mortification when she
recognized in the wearer a stalwart negro. She hoped that it was a mere
chance coincidence, but he approached her, and raising his hat
respectfully, said:

"Are you Miss Harding?"

"What if I am?" she demanded, sharply. "What have you to do with me?"

The man looked surprised.

"Didn't you send word to me to meet you here?"

"No!" answered Rachel, "and I consider it very presumptuous in you to
write such a letter to me."

"I didn't write you a letter," said the negro, astonished.

"Then what made you come here?" demanded the spinster.

"Because you wrote to me."

"I wrote to you!" exclaimed Rachel, aghast.

"Yes, you wrote to me to come here. You said you'd wear a blue ribbon on
your neck, and I was to have a rose pinned to my coat."

Rachel was bewildered.

"How could I write to you when I never saw you before, and don't know
your name. Do you think a lady like me would marry a colored man?"

"Who said anything about that?" asked the other, opening his eyes wide
in astonishment. "I couldn't marry, nohow, for I've got a wife and four
children."

Rachel felt ready to collapse. Was it possible that she had made a
mistake, and that this was not her unknown correspondent, Daniel?

"There is some mistake," she said, nervously. "Where is that letter you
thought I wrote? Have you got it with you?"

"Here it is, ma'am."

He handed Rachel a letter addressed in a small hand to Daniel Thompson.

She opened it and read:

"Mr. Thompson: I hear you are out of work. I may be able to give
you a job. Meet me at Washington Park, Tuesday afternoon, at four
o'clock. I shall wear a blue ribbon round my neck, and you may have
a red rose pinned to your coat. Otherwise I might not know you.

"RACHEL HARDING."


"Some villain has done this," said Rachel, wrathfully. "I never wrote
that letter."

"You didn't!" said Daniel, looking perplexed. "Who went and did it,
then?"

"I don't know, but I'd like to have him punished for it," said Rachel,
energetically.

"But you've got a blue ribbon," said Mr. Thompson. "I can't see through
that. That's just what the letter said."

"I suppose somebody wrote the letter that knew I wear blue. It's all a
mistake. You'd better go home."

"Then haven't you got a job for me?" asked Daniel, disappointed.

"No, I haven't," said Rachel, sharply.

She hurriedly untied the ribbon from her neck, and put it in her pocket.

"Don't talk to me any more!" she said, frowning. "You're a perfect
stranger. You have no right to speak to me."

"I guess the old woman ain't right in her head!" thought Daniel. "Must
be she's crazy!"

Poor Rachel! she felt more disconsolate than ever. There was no Daniel,
then. She had been basely imposed upon. There was no call for her to
sacrifice herself on the altar of matrimony. She ought to have been
glad, but she wasn't.

Half an hour later a drooping, disconsolate figure entered the house of
Timothy Harding.

"Why, what's the matter, Rachel?" asked Martha, who noticed her
woe-begone expression.

"I ain't long for this world," said Rachel, gloomily. "Death has marked
me for his own."

"Don't you feel well this afternoon, Rachel?"

"No; I feel as if life was a burden."

"You have tired yourself with walking, Rachel. You have been out twice
to-day."

"This is a vale of tears," said Rachel, hysterically. "There's nothin'
but sorrow and misfortune to be expected."

"Have you met with any misfortune? I thought fortune was smiling upon us
all."

"It'll never smile on me again," said Rachel, despondently.

Just then Jack, who had followed his aunt home, entered.

"Have you got home so quick, Aunt Rachel?" he asked. "How did you enjoy
your walk?"

"I shall never enjoy anything again," said his aunt, gloomily.

"Why not?"

"Because there's nothing to enjoy."

"I don't feel so, aunt. I feel as merry as a cricket."

"You won't be long. Like as not you'll be took down with fever
to-morrow, and maybe die."

"I won't trouble myself about it till the time comes," said Jack. "I
expect to live to dance at your wedding yet, Aunt Rachel."

This reference was too much. It brought to Rachel's mind the Daniel to
whom she had expected to link her destiny, and she burst into a dismal
sob, and hurried upstairs to her own chamber.

"Rachel acts queerly to-day," said Mrs. Harding. "I think she can't be
feeling well. If she don't feel better to-morrow I shall advise her to
send for the doctor."

"I am afraid it was mean to play such a trick on Aunt Rachel," thought
Jack, half repentantly. "I didn't think she'd take it so much in
earnest. I must keep dark about that letter. She'd never forgive me if
she knew."

For some days there was an added gloom on Miss Rachel's countenance, but
the wound was not deep; and after a time her disappointment ceased to
rankle in her too sensitive heart.




CHAPTER XII

SEVEN YEARS


Seven years slipped by unmarked by any important change. The Hardings
were still prosperous in an humble way. The cooper had been able to
obtain work most of the time, and this, with the annual remittance for
little Ida, had enabled the family not only to live in comfort, but even
to save up one hundred and fifty dollars a year. They might even have
saved more, living as frugally as they were accustomed to do, but there
was one point in which they would none of them consent to be economical.
The little Ida must have everything she wanted. Timothy brought home
nearly every day some little delicacy for her, which none of the rest
thought of sharing. While Mrs. Harding, far enough from vanity, always
dressed with extreme plainness, Ida's attire was always of good material
and made up tastefully.

Sometimes the little girl asked: "Mother, why don't you buy yourself
some of the pretty things you get for me?"

Mrs. Harding would answer, smiling: "Oh, I'm an old woman, Ida. Plain
things are best for me."

"No, I'm sure you're not old, mother. You don't wear a cap. Aunt Rachel
is a good deal older than you."

"Hush, Ida. Don't let Aunt Rachel hear that. She wouldn't like it."

"But she is ever so much older than you, mother," persisted the child.

Once Rachel heard a remark of this kind, and perhaps it was that that
prejudiced her against Ida. At any rate, she was not one of those who
indulged her. Frequently she rebuked her for matters of no importance;
but it was so well understood in the cooper's household that this was
Aunt Rachel's way, that Ida did not allow it to trouble her, as the
lightest reproach from Mrs. Harding would have done.

Had Ida been an ordinary child, all this petting would have had an
injurious effect upon her mind. But, fortunately, she had the rare
simplicity, young as she was, which lifted her above the dangers which
might have spoiled her otherwise. Instead of being made vain and
conceited, she only felt grateful for the constant kindness shown her by
her father and mother, and brother Jack, as she was wont to call them.
Indeed it had not been thought best to let her know that such were not
the actual relations in which they stood to her.

There was one point, much more important than dress, in which Ida
profited by the indulgence of her friends.

"Martha," the cooper was wont to say, "Ida is a sacred charge in our
hands. If we allow her to grow up ignorant, or only allow her ordinary
advantages, we shall not fulfill our duty. We have the means, through
Providence, of giving her some of those advantages which she would enjoy
if she had remained in that sphere to which her parents doubtless
belong. Let no unwise parsimony on our part withhold them from her."

"You are right, Timothy," said his wife; "right, as you always are.
Follow the dictates of your own heart, and fear not that I shall
disapprove."

"Humph!" said Aunt Rachel; "you ain't actin' right, accordin' to my way
of thinkin'. Readin', writin' and cypherin' was enough for girls to
learn in my day. What's the use of stuffin' the girl's head full of
nonsense that'll never do her no good? I've got along without it, and I
ain't quite a fool."

But the cooper and his wife had no idea of restricting Ida's education
to the rather limited standard indicated by Rachel. So, from the first,
they sent her to a carefully selected private school, where she had the
advantage of good associates, and where her progress was astonishingly
rapid.

Ida early displayed a remarkable taste for drawing. As soon as this was
discovered, her adopted parents took care that she should have abundant
opportunity for cultivating it. A private master was secured, who gave
her lessons twice a week, and boasted everywhere of the progress made by
his charming young pupil.

"What's the good of it?" asked Rachel. "She'd a good deal better be
learnin' to sew and knit."

"All in good time," said Timothy. "She can attend to both."

"I never wasted my time that way," said Rachel. "I'd be ashamed to."

Nothing could exceed Timothy's gratification, when, on his birthday, Ida
presented him with a beautifully drawn sketch of his wife's placid and
benevolent face.

"When did you do it, Ida?" he asked, after earnest expressions of
admiration.

"I did it in odd minutes," she answered, "when I had nothing else to
do."

"But how could you do it, without any of us knowing what you were
about?"

"I had a picture before me, and you thought I was copying it, but,
whenever I could do it without being noticed, I looked up at mother as
she sat at her sewing, and so, after a while, I finished the picture."

"And a fine one it is," said the cooper, admiringly.

Mrs. Harding insisted that Ida had flattered her, but this Ida would not
admit.

"I couldn't make it look as good as you, mother," she said. "I tried,
but somehow I didn't succeed as I wanted to."

"You wouldn't have that difficulty with Aunt Rachel," said Jack,
roguishly.

Ida could not help smiling, but Rachel did not smile.

"I see," she said, with severe resignation, "that you've taken to
ridiculing your poor aunt again. But it's only what I expect. I don't
never expect any consideration in this house. I was born to be a martyr,
and I expect I shall fulfill my destiny. If my own relations laugh at
me, of course I can't expect anything better from other folks. But I
shan't be long in the way. I've had a cough for some time past, and I
expect I'm in consumption."

"You make too much of a little joke, Rachel," said the cooper,
soothingly. "I'm sure Jack didn't mean anything."

"What I said was complimentary," said Jack.

Rachel shook her head incredulously.

"Yes, it was. Ask Ida. Why won't you draw Aunt Rachel, Ida? I think
she'd make a very striking picture."

"So I will," said Ida, hesitatingly, "if she will let me."

"Now, Aunt Rachel, there's a chance for you," said Jack. "Take my
advice, and improve it. When it's finished it can be hung up in the Art
Rooms, and who knows but you may secure a husband by it."

"I wouldn't marry," said Rachel, firmly compressing her lips; "not if
anybody'd go down on their knees to me."

"Now, I'm sure, Aunt Rachel, that's cruel of you," said Jack, demurely.

"There ain't any man I'd trust my happiness to," pursued the spinster.

"She hasn't any to trust," observed Jack, _sotto voce_.

"Men are all deceivers," continued Rachel, "the best of 'em. You can't
believe what one of 'em says. It would be a great deal better if people
never married at all."

"Then where would the world be a hundred years hence?" suggested her
nephew.

"Come to an end, most likely," answered Aunt Rachel; "and I'm not sure
but that would be the best thing. It's growing more and more wicked
every day."

It will be seen that no great change has come over Miss Rachel Harding,
during the years that have intervened. She takes the same disheartening
view of human nature and the world's prospects as ever. Nevertheless,
her own hold upon the world seems as strong as ever. Her appetite
continues remarkably good, and, although she frequently expresses
herself to the effect that there is little use in living, she would be
as unwilling to leave the world as anyone. It is not impossible that she
derives as much enjoyment from her melancholy as other people from their
cheerfulness. Unfortunately her peculiar mode of enjoying herself is
calculated to have rather a depressing influence upon the spirits of
those with whom she comes in contact - always excepting Jack, who has a
lively sense of the ludicrous, and never enjoys himself better than in
bantering his aunt.

"I don't expect to live more'n a week," said Rachel, one day. "My sands
of life are 'most run out."

"Are you sure of that, Aunt Rachel?" asked Jack.

"Yes, I've got a presentiment that it's so."

"Then, if you're sure of it," said her nephew, gravely, "it may be as
well to order the coffin in time. What style would you prefer?"

Rachel retreated to her room in tears, exclaiming that he needn't be in
such a hurry to get her out of the world; but she came down to supper,
and ate with her usual appetite.

Ida is no less a favorite with Jack than with the rest of the household.
Indeed, he has constituted himself her especial guardian. Rough as he is
in the playground, he is always gentle with her. When she was just
learning to walk, and in her helplessness needed the constant care of
others, he used, from choice, to relieve his mother of much of the task
of amusing the child. He had never had a little sister, and the care of
a child as young as Ida was a novelty to him. It was perhaps this very
office of guardian to the child, assumed when she was young, that made
him feel ever after as if she were placed under his special protection.

Ida was equally attached to Jack. She learned to look to him for
assistance in any plan she had formed, and he never disappointed her.


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