“Yes, it was. Ask Ida. Why won’t you draw Aunt Rachel, Ida? I think she’d make a very striking picture.”
“So I will,” said Ida, hesitatingly, “if she will let me.”
“Now, Aunt Rachel, there’s a chance for you,” said Jack. “Take my advice, and improve it. When it’s finished it can be hung up in the Art Rooms, and who knows but you may secure a husband by it.”
“I wouldn’t marry,” said Rachel, firmly compressing her lips; “not if anybody’d go down on their knees to me.”
“Now, I’m sure, Aunt Rachel, that’s cruel of you,” said Jack, demurely.
“There ain’t any man I’d trust my happiness to,” pursued the spinster.
“She hasn’t any to trust,” observed Jack, sotto voce.
“Men are all deceivers,” continued Rachel, “the best of ’em. You can’t believe what one of ’em says. It would be a great deal better if people never married at all.”
“Then where would the world be a hundred years hence?” suggested her nephew.
“Come to an end, most likely,” answered Aunt Rachel; “and I’m not sure but that would be the best thing. It’s growing more and more wicked every day.”
It will be seen that no great change has come over Miss Rachel Harding, during the years that have intervened. She takes the same disheartening view of human nature and the world’s prospects as ever. Nevertheless, her own hold upon the world seems as strong as ever. Her appetite continues remarkably good, and, although she frequently expresses herself to the effect that there is little use in living, she would be as unwilling to leave the world as anyone. It is not impossible that she derives as much enjoyment from her melancholy as other people from their cheerfulness. Unfortunately her peculiar mode of enjoying herself is calculated to have rather a depressing influence upon the spirits of those with whom she comes in contact—always excepting Jack, who has a lively sense of the ludicrous, and never enjoys himself better than in bantering his aunt.
“I don’t expect to live more’n a week,” said Rachel, one day. “My sands of life are ’most run out.”
“Are you sure of that, Aunt Rachel?” asked Jack.
“Yes, I’ve got a presentiment that it’s so.”
“Then, if you’re sure of it,” said her nephew, gravely, “it may be as well to order the coffin in time. What style would you prefer?”
Rachel retreated to her room in tears, exclaiming that he needn’t be in such a hurry to get her out of the world; but she came down to supper, and ate with her usual appetite.
Ida is no less a favorite with Jack than with the rest of the household. Indeed, he has constituted himself her especial guardian. Rough as he is in the playground, he is always gentle with her. When she was just learning to walk, and in her helplessness needed the constant care of others, he used, from choice, to relieve his mother of much of the task of amusing the child. He had never had a little sister, and the care of a child as young as Ida was a novelty to him. It was perhaps this very office of guardian to the child, assumed when she was young, that made him feel ever after as if she were placed under his special protection.