Seven years slipped by unmarked by any important change. The Hardings were still prosperous in an humble way. The cooper had been able to obtain work most of the time, and this, with the annual remittance for little Ida, had enabled the family not only to live in comfort, but even to save up one hundred and fifty dollars a year. They might even have saved more, living as frugally as they were accustomed to do, but there was one point in which they would none of them consent to be economical. The little Ida must have everything she wanted. Timothy brought home nearly every day some little delicacy for her, which none of the rest thought of sharing. While Mrs. Harding, far enough from vanity, always dressed with extreme plainness, Ida’s attire was always of good material and made up tastefully.
Sometimes the little girl asked: “Mother, why don’t you buy yourself some of the pretty things you get for me?”
Mrs. Harding would answer, smiling: “Oh, I’m an old woman, Ida. Plain things are best for me.”
“No, I’m sure you’re not old, mother. You don’t wear a cap. Aunt Rachel is a good deal older than you.”
“Hush, Ida. Don’t let Aunt Rachel hear that. She wouldn’t like it.”
“But she is ever so much older than you, mother,” persisted the child.
Once Rachel heard a remark of this kind, and perhaps it was that that prejudiced her against Ida. At any rate, she was not one of those who indulged her. Frequently she rebuked her for matters of no importance; but it was so well understood in the cooper’s household that this was Aunt Rachel’s way, that Ida did not allow it to trouble her, as the lightest reproach from Mrs. Harding would have done.
Had Ida been an ordinary child, all this petting would have had an injurious effect upon her mind. But, fortunately, she had the rare simplicity, young as she was, which lifted her above the dangers which might have spoiled her otherwise. Instead of being made vain and conceited, she only felt grateful for the constant kindness shown her by her father and mother, and brother Jack, as she was wont to call them. Indeed it had not been thought best to let her know that such were not the actual relations in which they stood to her.
There was one point, much more important than dress, in which Ida profited by the indulgence of her friends.
“Martha,” the cooper was wont to say, “Ida is a sacred charge in our hands. If we allow her to grow up ignorant, or only allow her ordinary advantages, we shall not fulfill our duty. We have the means, through Providence, of giving her some of those advantages which she would enjoy if she had remained in that sphere to which her parents doubtless belong. Let no unwise parsimony on our part withhold them from her.”
“You are right, Timothy,” said his wife; “right, as you always are. Follow the dictates of your own heart, and fear not that I shall disapprove.”