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"Well, what kept you so long?" asked Peg, impatiently, as Ida rejoined her at the corner of the street. "I thought you were going to stay all the forenoon. And Where's your gingerbread?"
"He wouldn't let me have it," answered Ida.
"And why wouldn't he let you have it?" said Peg.
"Because he said the money wasn't good."
"Stuff and nonsense! It's good enough. However, it's no matter. We'll go somewhere else."
"But he said the money I gave him last week wasn't good, and I promised to bring him another to-morrow, or he wouldn't have let me go."
"Well, where are you going to get your dollar?"
"Why, won't you give it to me?" said the child.
"Catch me at such nonsense!" said Mrs. Hardwick, contemptuously. "I ain't quite a fool. But here we are at another shop. Go in and see if you can do any better there. Here's the money."
"Why, it's the same bill I gave you."
"What if it is?"
"I don't want to pass bad money."
"Tut! What hurt will it do?"
"It's the same as stealing."
"The man won't lose anything. He'll pass it off again."
"Somebody'll have to lose it by and by," said Ida.
"So you've taken up preaching, have you?" said Peg, sneeringly. "Maybe you know better than I what is proper to do. It won't do for you to be so mighty particular, and so you'll find out, if you stay with me long."
"Where did you get the dollar?" asked Ida; "and how is it you have so many of them?"
"None of your business. You mustn't pry into the affairs of other people. Are you going to do as I told you?" she continued, menacingly.
"I can't," answered Ida, pale but resolute.
"You can't!" repeated Peg, furiously. "Didn't you promise to do whatever I told you?"
"Except what was wicked," interposed Ida.
"And what business have you to decide what is wicked? Come home with me."
Peg seized the child's hand, and walked on in sullen silence, occasionally turning to scowl upon Ida, who had been strong enough, in her determination to do right, to resist successfully the will of the woman whom she had so much reason to dread.
Arrived at home, Peg walked Ida into the room by the shoulder. Dick was lounging in a chair.
"Hillo!" said he, lazily, observing his wife's frowning face. "What's the gal been doin', hey?"
"What's she been doing?" repeated Peg. "I should like to know what she hasn't been doing. She's refused to go in and buy gingerbread of the baker."
"Look here, little gal," said Dick, in a moralizing vein, "isn't this rayther undootiful conduct on your part? Ain't it a piece of ingratitude, when Peg and I go to the trouble of earning the money to pay for gingerbread for you to eat, that you ain't even willin' to go in and buy it?"
"I would just as lieve go in," said Ida, "if Peg would give me good money to pay for it."
"That don't make any difference," said the admirable moralist. "It's your dooty to do just as she tells you, and you'll do right. She'll take the risk."
"I can't," said the child.
"You hear her!" said Peg.
"Very improper conduct!" said Dick, shaking his head in grave reproval. "Little gal, I'm ashamed of you. Put her in the closet, Peg."
"Come along," said Peg, harshly. "I'll show you how I deal with those that don't obey me."
So Ida was incarcerated once more in the dark closet. Yet in the midst of her desolation, child as she was, she was sustained and comforted by the thought that she was suffering for doing right.
When Ida failed to return on the appointed day, the Hardings, though disappointed, did not think it strange.
"If I were her mother," said the cooper's wife, "and had been parted from her for so long, I should want to keep her as long as I could. Dear heart! how pretty she is and how proud her mother must be of her!"
"It's all a delusion," said Rachel, shaking her head, solemnly. "It's all a delusion. I don't believe she's got a mother at all. That Mrs. Hardwick is an impostor. I know it, and told you so at the time, but you wouldn't believe me. I never expect to set eyes on Ida again in this world."
The next day passed, and still no tidings of Jack's ward. Her young guardian, though not as gloomy as Aunt Rachel, looked unusually serious.
There was a cloud of anxiety even upon the cooper's usually placid face, and he was more silent than usual at the evening meal. At night, after Jack and his aunt had retired, he said, anxiously: "What do you think is the cause of Ida's prolonged absence, Martha?"
"I can't tell," said his wife, seriously. "It seems to me, if her mother wanted to keep her longer it would be no more than right that she should drop us a line. She must know that we would feel anxious."
"Perhaps she is so taken up with Ida that she can think of no one else."
"It may be so; but if we neither see Ida to-morrow, nor hear from her, I shall be seriously troubled."
"Suppose she should never come back," suggested the cooper, very soberly.
"Oh, husband, don't hint at such a thing," said his wife.
"We must contemplate it as a possibility," said Timothy, gravely, "though not, as I hope, as a probability. Ida's mother has an undoubted right to her."
"Then it would be better if she had never been placed in our charge," said Martha, tearfully, "for we should not have had the pain of parting with her."
"Not so, Martha," her husband said, seriously. "We ought to be grateful for God's blessings, even if He suffers us to retain them but a short time. And Ida has been a blessing to us all, I am sure. The memory of that can't be taken from us, Martha. There's some lines I came across in the paper to-night that express just what I've been sayin'. Let me find them."
The cooper put on his spectacles, and hunted slowly down the columns of the daily paper till he came to these beautiful lines of Tennyson, which he read aloud:
"'I hold it true, whate'er befall; I feel it when I sorrow most; 'Tis better to have loved and lost, Than never to have loved at all.'"
"There, wife," he said, as he laid down the paper; "I don't know who writ them lines, but I'm sure it's some one that's met with a great sorrow and conquered it."
"They are beautiful," said his wife, after a pause; "and I dare say you're right, Timothy; but I hope we mayn't have to learn the truth of them by experience. After all, it isn't certain but that Ida will come back."
"At any rate," said her husband, "there is no doubt that it is our duty to take every means that we can to recover Ida. Of course, if her mother insists upon keepin' her, we can't say anything; but we ought to be sure of that before we yield her up."
"What do you mean, Timothy?" asked Martha.
"I don't know as I ought to mention it," said the cooper. "Very likely there isn't anything in it, and it would only make you feel more anxious."
"You have already aroused my anxiety. I should feel better if you would speak out."
"Then I will," said the cooper. "I have sometimes been tempted," he continued, lowering his voice, "to doubt whether Ida's mother really sent for her."
"How do you account for the letter, then?"
"I have thought--mind, it is only a guess--that Mrs. Hardwick may have got somebody to write it for her."
"It is very singular," murmured Martha.
"What is singular?"
"Why, the very same thought has occurred to me. Somehow, I can't help feeling a little distrustful of Mrs. Hardwick, though perhaps unjustly. What object can she have in getting possession of the child?"
"That I can't conjecture; but I have come to one determination."
"What is that?"
"Unless we learn something of Ida within a week from the time she left here, I shall go on to Philadelphia, or else send Jack, and endeavor to get track of her."
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