“You are right, Martha. He is our ever-present help in time of trouble. When I think of that, I feel easier.”
They retired to rest thoughtfully but not sadly.
The fire upon the hearth flickered and died out at length. The last sands of the old year were running out, and the new morning ushered in its successor.
THE NEW YEAR’S GIFT
“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.”