“He’s my only boy, captain,” said Mrs. Harding. “I couldn’t part with him.”
“I don’t blame you, ma’am, not a particle; though there’s the making of a sailor in Jack.”
“If he went away, he’d never come back,” said Rachel, lugubriously.
“I don’t know about that, ma’am. I’ve been a sailor, man and boy, forty years, and here I am, well and hearty to-day.”
“The captain is about your age, isn’t he, Aunt Rachel?” said Jack, maliciously.
“I’m only thirty-nine,” said Rachel, sharply.
“Then I must have been under a mistake all my life,” said the cooper to himself. “Rachel’s forty-seven, if she’s a day.”
This remark he prudently kept to himself, or a fit of hysterics would probably have been the result.
“I wouldn’t have taken you for a day over thirty-five, ma’am,” said the captain, gallantly.
Rachel actually smiled, but mildly disclaimed the compliment.
“If it hadn’t been for my trials and troubles,” she said, “I might have looked younger; but they are only to be expected. It’s the common lot.”
“Is it?” said the captain. “I can’t say I’ve been troubled much that way. With a stout heart and a good conscience we ought to be jolly.”
“Who of us has a good conscience?” asked Rachel, in a melancholy tone.
“I have, Aunt Rachel,” answered Jack.
“You?” she exclaimed, indignantly. “You, that tied a tin kettle to a dog’s tail yesterday, and chased the poor cat till she almost died of fright. I lie awake nights thinking of the bad end you’re likely to come to unless you change your ways.”
Jack shrugged his shoulders, but the captain came to his help.
“Boys will be boys, ma’am,” he said. “I was up to no end of tricks myself when I was a boy.”
“You weren’t so bad as Jack, I know,” said Rachel.
“Thank you for standing up for me, ma’am; but I’m afraid I was. I don’t think Jack’s so very bad, for my part.”
“I didn’t play the tricks Aunt Rachel mentioned,” said Jack. “It was another boy in our block.”
“You’re all alike,” said Rachel. “I don’t know what you boys are all coming to.”
Presently the captain announced that he must go. Jack accompanied him as far as the pier, but the rest of the family remained behind. Aunt Rachel became gloomier than ever.
“I don’t know what you’ll do, now you’ve lost your boarder,” she said.
“He will be a loss to us, it is true,” said Mrs. Harding; but we are fortunate in having had him with us so long.”
“It’s only puttin’ off our misery a little longer,” said Rachel. “We’ve got to go to the poorhouse, after all.”
Rachel was in one of her moods, and there was no use in arguing with her, as it would only have intensified her gloom.
Meanwhile Jack was bidding good-by to the captain.
“I’m sorry you can’t go with me, Jack,” said the bluff sailor.