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It is quite time to return to New York, from which Ida was carried but three short weeks before.
"I am beginning to feel anxious about Jack," said Mrs. Harding. "It's more than a week since we heard from him. I'm afraid he's got into some trouble."
"Probably he's too busy to write," said the cooper, wishing to relieve his wife's anxiety, though he, too, was not without anxiety.
"I told you so," said Rachel, in one of her usual fits of depression. "I told you Jack wasn't fit to be sent on such an errand. If you'd only taken my advice you wouldn't have had so much worry and trouble about him now. Most likely he's got into the House of Reformation, or somewhere. I knew a young man once who went away from home, and never came back again. Nobody ever knew what became of him till his body was found in the river half eaten by fishes."
"How can you talk so, Rachel?" said Mrs. Harding, "and about your own nephew, too?"
"This is a world of trial and disappointment," said Rachel, "and we might as well expect the worst, for it's sure to come."
"At that rate there wouldn't be much joy in life," said Timothy. "No, Rachel, you are wrong. God did not send us into the world to be melancholy. He wants us to enjoy ourselves. Now, I have no idea that Jack has jumped into the river, or become food for the fishes. Even if he should happen to tumble in, he can swim."
"I suppose," said Rachel, with mild sarcasm, "you expect him to come home in a coach and four, bringing Ida with him."
"Well," said the cooper, good-humoredly, "that's a good deal better to anticipate than your suggestion, and I don't know but it's as probable."
Rachel shook her head dismally.
"Bless me!" interrupted Mrs. Harding, looking out of the window, in a tone of excitement, "there's a carriage just stopped at the door, and--yes, it is Jack and Ida, too!"
The strange fulfillment of her own ironical suggestion struck even Aunt Rachel. She, too, hastened to the window, and saw a handsome carriage drawn, not by four horses, but by two, standing before the door.
Jack had already jumped out, and was now assisting Ida to alight. No sooner was Ida on firm ground than she ran into the house, and was at once clasped in the arms of her adopted mother.
"Oh, mother," she exclaimed, "how glad I am to see you once more!"
"Haven't you a kiss for me, too, Ida?" said the cooper, his face radiant with joy. "You don't know how much we've missed you."
"And I am so glad to see you all, and Aunt Rachel too!"
To her astonishment, Aunt Rachel, for the first time in her remembrance, kissed her. There was nothing wanting to her welcome home.
But the observant eyes of the spinster detected what had escaped the cooper and his wife, in their joy at Ida's return.
"Where did you get this handsome dress, Ida?" she asked.
Then, for the first time, the cooper's family noticed that Ida was more elegantly dressed than when she went away. She looked like a young princess.
"That Mrs. Hardwick didn't give you this gown, I'll be bound!" said Aunt Rachel.
"Oh, I've so much to tell you," said Ida, breathlessly. "I've found my mother--my other mother!"
A pang struck to the honest hearts of Timothy Harding and his wife. Ida must leave them. After all the happy years which they had watched over and cared for her, she must leave them at length.
While they were silent in view of their threatened loss, an elegantly dressed lady appeared on the threshold. Smiling, radiant with happiness, Mrs. Clifton seemed, to the cooper's family, almost a being from another sphere.
"Mother," said Ida, taking the hand of the stranger, and leading her up to Mrs. Harding, "this is my other mother, who has always taken such good care of me, and loved me so well."
"Mrs. Harding," said Mrs, Clifton, her voice full of feeling, "how can I ever thank you for your kindness to my child?"
It was hard for Mrs. Harding to hear another speak of Ida this way.
"I have tried to do my duty by her," she said, simply. "I love her as if she were my own."
"Yes," said the cooper, clearing his throat, and speaking a little huskily, "we love her so much that we almost forgot that she wasn't ours. We have had her since she was a baby, and it won't be easy at first to give her up."
"My good friends," said Mrs. Clifton, earnestly, "I acknowledge your claim. I shall not think of asking you to make that sacrifice. I shall always think of Ida as only a little less yours than mine."
The cooper shook his head.
"But you live in Philadelphia," he said. "We shall lose sight of her."
"Not unless you refuse to come to Philadelphia, too."
"I am a poor man. Perhaps I might not find work there."
"That shall be my care, Mr. Harding. I have another inducement to offer. God has bestowed upon me a large share of this world's goods. I am thankful for it since it will enable me in some slight way to express my sense of your great kindness to Ida. I own a neat brick house, in a quiet street, which you will find more comfortable than this. Just before I left Philadelphia, my lawyer, by my directions, drew up a deed of gift, conveying the house to you. It is Ida's gift, not mine. Ida, give this to Mr. Harding."
The child took the parchment and handed it to the cooper, who took it mechanically, quite bewildered by his sudden good fortune.
"This for me?" he said.
"It is the first installment of my debt of gratitude; it shall not be the last," said Mrs. Clifton.
"How shall I thank you, madam?" said the cooper. "To a poor man, like me, this is a most munificent gift."
"You will best thank me by accepting it," said Mrs. Clifton. "Let me add, for I know it will enhance the value of the gift in your eyes, that it is only five minutes' walk from my house, and Ida will come and see you every day."
"Yes, mamma," said Ida. "I couldn't be happy away from father and mother, and Jack and Aunt Rachel."
"You must introduce me to Aunt Rachel," said Mrs. Clifton, with a grace all her own.
Ida did so.
"I am glad to make your acquaintance, Miss Rachel," said Mrs. Clifton. "I need not say that I shall be glad to see you, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Harding, at my house very frequently."
"I'm much obleeged to ye," said Aunt Rachel; "but I don't think I shall live long to go anywheres. The feelin's I have sometimes warn me that I'm not long for this world."
"You see, Mrs. Clifton," said Jack, his eyes dancing with mischief, "we come of a short-lived family. Grandmother died at eighty-two, and that wouldn't give Aunt Rachel long to live."
"You impudent boy!" exclaimed Aunt Rachel, in great indignation. Then, relapsing into melancholy: "I'm a poor, afflicted creetur, and the sooner I leave this scene of trial the better."
"I'm afraid, Mrs. Clifton," said Jack, "Aunt Rachel won't live to wear that silk dress you brought along. I'd take it myself, but I'm afraid it wouldn't be of any use to me."
"A silk dress!" exclaimed Rachel, looking up with sudden animation.
It had long been her desire to have a new silk dress, but in her brother's circumstances she had not ventured to hint at it.
"Yes," said Mrs. Clifton, "I ventured to purchase dresses for both of the ladies. Jack, if it won't be too much trouble, will you bring them in?"
Jack darted out, and returned with two ample patterns of heavy black silk, one for his mother, the other for his aunt. Aunt Rachel would not have been human if she had not eagerly examined the rich fabric with secret satisfaction. She inwardly resolved to live a little longer.
There was a marked improvement in her spirits, and she indulged in no prognostications of evil for an unusual period.
Mrs. Clifton and Ida stopped to supper, and before they returned to the hotel an early date was fixed upon for the Hardings to remove to Philadelphia.
In the evening Jack told the eventful story of his adventures to eager listeners, closing with the welcome news that he was to receive the reward of a thousand dollars offered for the detection of the counterfeiters.
"So you see, father, I am a man of fortune!" he concluded.
"After all, Rachel, it was a good thing we sent Jack to Philadelphia," said the cooper.
Rachel did not notice this remark. She was busily discussing with her sister-in-law the best way of making up her new silk.
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