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"It doesn't, somehow, seem natural," said the cooper, as he took his seat at the tea table, "to sit down without Ida. It seems as if half the family were gone."
"Just what I've said to myself twenty times to-day," remarked his wife. "Nobody can tell how much a child is to them till they lose it."
"Not lose it," corrected Jack.
"I didn't mean to say that."
"When you used that word, mother, it made me feel just as if Ida wasn't coming back."
"I don't know why it is," said Mrs. Harding, thoughtfully, "but I've had that same feeling several times today. I've felt just as if something or other would happen to prevent Ida's coming back."
"That is only because she's never been away before," said the cooper, cheerfully. "It isn't best to borrow trouble, Martha; we shall have enough of it without."
"You never said a truer word, brother," said Rachel, mournfully. "Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. This world is a vale of tears, and a home of misery. Folks may try and try to be happy, but that isn't what they're sent here for."
"You never tried very hard, Aunt Rachel," said Jack.
"It's my fate to be misjudged," said his aunt, with the air of a martyr.
"I don't agree with you in your ideas about life, Rachel," said her brother. "Just as there are more pleasant than stormy days, so I believe there is much more of brightness than shadow in this life of ours, if we would only see it."
"I can't see it," said Rachel.
"It seems to me, Rachel, you take more pains to look at the clouds than the sun."
"Yes," chimed in Jack, "I've noticed whenever Aunt Rachel takes up the newspaper, she always looks first at the deaths, and next at the fatal accidents and steamboat explosions."
"If," retorted Rachel, with severe emphasis, "you should ever be on board a steamboat when it exploded, you wouldn't find much to laugh at."
"Yes, I should," said Jack, "I should laugh--"
"What!" exclaimed Rachel, horrified.
"On the other side of my mouth," concluded Jack. "You didn't wait till I'd finished the sentence."
"I don't think it proper to make light of such serious matters."
"Nor I Aunt Rachel," said Jack, drawing down the corners of his mouth. "I am willing to confess that this is a serious matter. I should feel as they say the cow did, that was thrown three hundred feet up into the air."
"How's that?" inquired his mother.
"Rather discouraged," answered Jack.
All laughed except Aunt Rachel, who preserved the same severe composure, and continued to eat the pie upon her plate with the air of one gulping down medicine.
In the morning all felt more cheerful.
"Ida will be home to-night," said Mrs. Harding, brightly. "What an age it seems since she went away! Who'd think it was only twenty-four hours?"
"We shall know better how to appreciate her when we get her back," said her husband.
"What time do you expect her home, mother? What did Mrs. Hardwick say?"
"Why," said Mrs. Harding, hesitating, "she didn't say as to the hour; but I guess she'll be along in the course of the afternoon."
"If we only knew where she had gone, we could tell better when to expect her."
"But as we don't know," said the cooper, "we must wait patiently till she comes."
"I guess," said Mrs. Harding, with the impulse of a notable housewife, "I'll make some apple turnovers for supper to-night. There's nothing Ida likes so well."
"That's where Ida is right," said Jack, smacking his lips. "Apple turnovers are splendid."
"They are very unwholesome," remarked Rachel.
"I shouldn't think so from the way you eat them, Aunt Rachel," retorted Jack. "You ate four the last time we had them for supper."
"I didn't think you'd begrudge me the little I eat," said his aunt, dolefully. "I didn't think you counted the mouthfuls I took."
"Come, Rachel, don't be so unreasonable," said her brother. "Nobody begrudges you what you eat, even if you choose to eat twice as much as you do. I dare say Jack ate more of the turnovers than you did."
"I ate six," said Jack, candidly.
Rachel, construing this into an apology, said no more.
"If it wasn't for you, Aunt Rachel, I should be in danger of getting too jolly, perhaps, and spilling over. It always makes me sober to look at you."
"It's lucky there's something to make you sober and stiddy," said his aunt. "You are too frivolous."
Evening came, but it did not bring Ida. An indefinable sense of apprehension oppressed the minds of all. Martha feared that Ida's mother, finding her so attractive, could not resist the temptation of keeping her.
"I suppose," she said, "that she has the best claim to her, but it would be a terrible thing for us to part with her."
"Don't let us trouble ourselves about that," said Timothy. "It seems to me very natural that her mother should keep her a little longer than she intended. Think how long it is since she saw her. Besides, it is not too late for her to return to-night."
At length there came a knock at the door.
"I guess that is Ida," said Mrs. Harding, joyfully.
Jack seized a candle, and hastening to the door, threw it open. But there was no Ida there. In her place stood Charlie Fitts, the boy who had met Ida in the cars.
"How are you, Charlie?" said Jack, trying not to look disappointed. "Come in and tell us all the news."
"Well," said Charlie, "I don't know of any. I suppose Ida has got home?"
"No," answered Jack; "we expected her to-night, but she hasn't come yet."
"She told me she expected to come back to-day."
"What! have you seen her?" exclaimed all, in chorus.
"Yes; I saw her yesterday noon."
"Why, in the cars," answered Charlie.
"What cars?" asked the cooper.
"Why, the Philadelphia cars. Of course you knew it was there she was going?"
"Philadelphia!" exclaimed all, in surprise.
"Yes, the cars were almost there when I saw her. Who was that with her?"
"Mrs. Hardwick, her old nurse."
"I didn't like her looks."
"That's where we paddle in the same canoe," said Jack.
"She didn't seem to want me to speak to Ida," continued Charlie, "but hurried her off as quick as possible."
"There were reasons for that," said the cooper. "She wanted to keep her destination secret."
"I don't know what it was," said the boy, "but I don't like the woman's looks."
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