“Are you the lady of the house?” inquired the visitor, abruptly.
“There ain’t any ladies in this house,” answered Rachel. “You’ve come to the wrong place. We have to work for a living here.”
“The woman of the house, then,” said the stranger, rather impatiently. “It doesn’t make any difference about names. Are you the one I want to see?”
“No, I ain’t,” said Rachel, shortly.
“Will you tell your mistress that I want to see her, then?”
“I have no mistress,” said Rachel. “What do you take me for?”
“I thought you might be the servant, but that don’t matter. I want to see Mrs. Harding. Will you call her, or shall I go and announce myself?”
“I don’t know as she’ll see you. She’s busy in the kitchen.”
“Her business can’t be as important as what I’ve come about. Tell her that, will you?”
Rachel did not fancy the stranger’s tone or manner. Certainly she did not manifest much politeness. But the spinster’s curiosity was excited, and this led her the more readily to comply with the request.
“Stay here, and I’ll call her,” she said.
“There’s a woman wants to see you,” announced Rachel.
“Who is it?”
“I don’t know. She hasn’t got any manners, that’s all I know about her.”
Mrs. Harding presented herself at the door.
“Won’t you come in?” she asked.
“Yes, I will. What I’ve got to say to you may take some time.”
Mrs. Harding, wondering vaguely what business this strange visitor could have with her, led the way to the sitting room.
“You have in your family,” said the woman, after seating herself, “a girl named Ida.”
Mrs. Harding looked up suddenly and anxiously. Could it be that the secret of Ida’s birth was to be revealed at last? Was it possible that she was to be taken from her?
“Yes,” she answered, simply.
“Who is not your child?”
“But I love her as much. I have always taught her to look upon me as her mother.”
“I presume so. My visit has reference to her.”
“Can you tell me anything of her parentage?” inquired Mrs. Harding, eagerly.
“I was her nurse,” said the stranger.
Mrs. Harding scrutinized anxiously the hard features of the woman. It was, at least, a relief to know that no tie of blood connected her with Ida, though, even upon her assurance, she would hardly have believed it.
“Who were her parents?”
“I am not permitted to tell.”
Mrs. Harding looked disappointed.
“Surely,” she said, with a sudden sinking of the heart, “you have not come to take her away?”
“This letter will explain my object in visiting you,” said the woman, drawing a sealed envelope from a bag which she carried in her hand.
The cooper’s wife nervously broke open the letter, and read as follows: