It may be remarked that our story opens in the year 1867, memorable for its panic, and the business depression which followed. Nearly every branch of industry suffered, and thousands of men were thrown out of work, and utterly unable to find employment of any kind. Among them was Timothy Harding, the father of our hero. He was a sober, steady man, and industrious; but his wages had never been large, and he had been unable to save up a reserve fund, on which to draw in time of need. He had an excellent wife, and but one child—our present hero; but there was another, and by no means unimportant member of the family. This was Rachel Harding, a spinster of melancholy temperament, who belonged to that unhappy class who are always prophesying evil, and expecting the worst. She had been “disappointed” in early life, and this had something to do with her gloomy views, but probably she was somewhat inclined by nature to despondency.
The family lived in a humble tenement, which, however, was neatly kept, and would have been a cheerful home but for the gloomy presence of Aunt Rachel, who, since her brother had been thrown out of employment, was gloomier than ever.
But all this while we have left Jack and the stranger standing in the street.
“You seem to be a good boy,” said the latter, “and, under the circumstances, I will pay you more than I intended.”
He drew from his vest pocket a dollar bill, and handed it to Jack.
“What! is all this for me?” asked Jack, joyfully.
“Yes, on the condition that you carry it home, and give it to your mother.”
“That I will, sir; she’ll be glad enough to get it.”
“Well, good-by, my boy. I hope your father’ll find work soon.”
“He’s a trump!” ejaculated Jack. “Wasn’t it lucky I was here just as he wanted a boy to hold his horse. I wonder what Aunt Rachel will have to say to that? Very likely she’ll say the bill is bad.”
Jack made the best of his way home. It was already late in the afternoon, and he knew he would be expected. It was with a lighter heart than usual that he bent his steps homeward, for he knew that the dollar would be heartily welcome.
We will precede him, and give a brief description of his home.
There were only five rooms, and these were furnished in the plainest manner. In the sitting room were his mother and aunt. Mrs. Harding was a motherly-looking woman, with a pleasant face, the prevailing expression of which was a serene cheerfulness, though of late it had been harder than usual to preserve this, in the straits to which the family had been reduced. She was setting the table for tea.
Aunt Rachel sat in a rocking-chair at the window. She was engaged in knitting. Her face was long and thin, and, as Jack expressed it, she looked as if she hadn’t a friend in the world. Her voice harmonized with her mournful expression, and was equally doleful.