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"Happy New Year!" was Jack's salutation to Aunt Rachel, as with an unhappy expression of countenance she entered the sitting room.
"Happy, indeed!" she repeated, dismally. "There's great chance of its being so, I should think. We don't any of us know what the year may bring forth. We may all be dead and buried before the next new year."
"If that's the case," said Jack, "let us be jolly as long as life lasts."
"I don't know what you mean by such a vulgar word," said Aunt Rachel, disdainfully. "I've heard of drunkards and such kind of people being jolly; but, thank Providence, I haven't got to that yet."
"If that was the only way to be jolly," said Jack, stoutly, "then I'd be a drunkard; I wouldn't carry round such a long face as you do, Aunt Rachel, for any money."
"It's enough to make all of us have long faces," said his aunt, sourly, "when you are brazen enough to own that you mean to be a miserable drunkard."
"I didn't say any such thing," said Jack, indignantly.
"Perhaps I have ears," remarked Aunt Rachel, sententiously, "and perhaps I have not. It's a new thing for a nephew to tell his aunt that she lies. They didn't use to allow such things when I was young. But the world's going to rack and ruin, and I shouldn't wonder if the people was right that say it's coming to an end."
Here Mrs. Harding happily interposed, by asking Jack to go round to the grocery in the next street, and buy a pint of milk for breakfast.
Jack took his hat and started with alacrity, glad to leave the dismal presence of Aunt Rachel.
He had scarcely opened the door when he started back in surprise, exclaiming: "By hokey, if there isn't a basket on the steps!"
"A basket!" repeated his mother, in surprise. "Can it be a New Year's present? Bring it in, Jack."
It was brought in immediately, and the cover being lifted, there appeared a female child, apparently a year old.
All uttered exclamations of surprise, each in itself characteristic.
"What a dear, innocent little thing!" said Mrs. Harding, with true maternal instinct.
"Ain't it a pretty un?" exclaimed Jack, admiringly.
"It looks as if it was goin' to have the measles," said Aunt Rachel, "or scarlet fever. You'd better not take it in, Martha, or we may all catch it."
"You wouldn't leave it out in the cold, would you, Rachel? The poor thing might die of exposure."
"Probably it will die," said Rachel, mournfully. "It's very hard to raise children. There's something unhealthy in its looks."
"It don't seem to me so. It looks plump and healthy."
"You can't never judge by appearances. You ought to know that, Martha."
"I will take the risk, Rachel."
"I don't see what you are going to do with a baby, when we are all on the verge of starvation, and going to be turned into the street this very day," remarked Rachel, despondently.
"We won't think of that just now. Common humanity requires us to see what we can do for the poor child."
So saying, Mrs. Harding took the infant in her arms. The child opened its eyes, and smiled.
"My! here's a letter," said Jack, diving into the bottom of the basket. "It's directed to you, father."
The cooper opened the letter, and read as follows:
"For reasons which it is unnecessary to state, the guardians of this child find it expedient to intrust it to others to bring up. The good account which they have heard of you has led them to select you for that charge. No further explanation is necessary, except that it is by no means their intention to make this a service of charity. They, therefore, inclose a certificate of deposit on the Broadway Bank of five hundred dollars, the same having been paid in to your credit. Each year, while the child remains in your charge, the same will in like manner be placed to your credit at the same bank. It may be as well to state, further, that all attempt to fathom whatever of mystery may attach to this affair will prove useless."
The letter was read in amazement. The certificate of deposit, which had fallen to the floor, was picked up by Jack, and handed to his father.
Amazement was followed by a feeling of gratitude and relief.
"What could be more fortunate?" exclaimed Mrs. Harding. "Surely, Timothy, our faith has been rewarded."
"God has listened to our cry!" said the cooper, devoutly, "and in the hour of our sorest need He has remembered us."
"Isn't it prime?" said Jack, gleefully; "five hundred dollars! Ain't we rich, Aunt Rachel?"
"Like as not," observed Rachel, "the certificate isn't genuine. It doesn't look natural it should be. I've heard of counterfeits afore now. I shouldn't be surprised at all if Timothy got took up for presenting it."
"I'll take the risk," said her brother, who did not seem much alarmed at the suggestion.
"Now you'll be able to pay the rent, Timothy," said Mrs. Harding, cheerfully.
"Yes, and it's the last quarter's rent I mean to pay Mr. Colman, if I can help it."
"Why, where are you going?" asked Jack.
"To the house belonging to Mr. Harrison that I spoke of last night, that is, if it isn't already engaged. I think I will see about it at once. If Mr. Colman should come in while I am gone, tell him I will be back directly; I don't want you to tell him of the change in our circumstances."
The cooper found Mr. Harrison at home.
"I called to inquire," asked Mr. Harding, "whether you have let your house?"
"Not as yet," was the reply.
"What rent do you ask?"
"Twenty dollars a quarter. I don't think that unreasonable."
"It is satisfactory to me," was the cooper's reply, "and if you have no objections to me as a tenant, I will engage it at once."
"Far from having any objections, Mr. Harding," was the courteous reply, "I shall be glad to secure so good a tenant. Will you go over and look at the house?"
"Not now, sir; I am somewhat in haste. Can we move in to-day?"
His errand satisfactorily accomplished, the cooper returned home.
Meanwhile the landlord had called.
He was a little surprised to find that Mrs. Harding, instead of looking depressed, looked cheerful rather than otherwise.
"I was not aware you had a child so young," he remarked, looking at the baby.
"It is not mine," said Mrs. Harding, briefly.
"The child of a neighbor, I suppose," thought the landlord.
Meanwhile he scrutinized closely, without appearing to do so, the furniture in the room.
At this point Mr. Harding entered the house.
"Good-morning," said Colman, affably. "A fine morning, Mr. Harding."
"Quite so," responded his tenant, shortly.
"I have called, Mr. Harding, to ask if you are ready with your quarter's rent."
"I think I told you last evening how I was situated. Of course I am sorry."
"So am I," interrupted the landlord, "for I may be obliged to have recourse to unpleasant measures."
"You mean that we must leave the house."
"Of course you cannot expect to remain in it, if you are unable to pay the rent. I suppose," he added, making an inventory of the furniture with his eyes, "you will leave behind a sufficient amount of furniture to cover your debt."
"Surely you would not deprive us of our furniture!"
"Is there any injustice in requiring payment of honest debts?"
"There are cases of that description. However, I will not put you to the trouble of levying on my furniture. I am ready to pay your dues."
"Have you the money?" asked Colman, in surprise.
"I have, and something over. Can you cash my check for five hundred dollars?"
It would be difficult to picture the amazement of the landlord.
"Surely you told me a different story last evening," he said.
"Last evening and this morning are different times. Then I could not pay you. Now, luckily, I am able. If you will accompany me to the bank, I will draw some money and pay your bill."
"My dear sir, I am not at all in haste for the money," said the landlord, with a return of his affability. "Any time within a week will do. I hope, by the way, you will continue to occupy this house."
"I don't feel like paying twenty-five dollars a quarter."
"You shall have it for the same rent you have been paying."
"But you said there was another family who had offered you an advanced rent. I shouldn't like to interfere with them. Besides, I have already hired a house of Mr. Harrison in the next block."
Mr. Colman was silenced. He regretted too late the hasty course which had lost him a good tenant. The family referred to had no existence; and, it may be remarked, the house remained vacant for several months, when he was glad to rent it at the old price.
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