Left to herself, the nurse behaved in a manner which might be regarded as singular. She rose from her seat, and approached the mirror. She took a full survey of herself as she stood there, and laughed a short, hard laugh. Then she made a formal courtesy to her own reflection, saying: “How do you do, Mrs. Hardwick?”
“Did you speak?” asked the cooper, who was passing through the entry on his way out.
“No,” answered the nurse, rather awkwardly. “I may have said something to myself. It’s of no consequence.”
“Somehow,” thought the cooper, “I don’t fancy the woman’s looks; but I dare say I am prejudiced. We’re all of us as God made us.”
When Mrs. Harding was making preparations for the noonday meal, she imparted to Rachel the astonishing information which has already been detailed to the reader.
“I don’t believe a word of it,” said Rachel, resolutely. “The woman’s an impostor. I knew she was, the very minute I set eyes on her.”
This remark was so characteristic of Rachel, that her sister-in-law did not attach any special importance to it. Rachel, of course, had no grounds for the opinion she so confidently expressed. It was consistent, however, with her general estimate of human nature.
“What object could she have in inventing such a story?” asked Mrs. Harding.
“What object? Hundreds of ’em,” said Rachel, rather indefinitely. “Mark my words; if you let her carry off Ida, it’ll be the last you’ll ever see of her.”
“Try to look on the bright side, Rachel. Nothing is more natural than that her mother should want to see her.”
“Why couldn’t she come herself?” muttered Rachel.
“The letter explains.”
“I don’t see that it does.”
“It says that same reasons exist for concealment as ever.”
“And what are they, I should like to know? I don’t like mysteries, for my part.”
“We won’t quarrel with them, at any rate, since they enable us to keep Ida with us.”
Aunt Rachel shook her head, as if she were far from satisfied.
“I don’t know,” said Mrs. Harding, “but I ought to invite Mrs. Hardwick in here. I have left her alone in the front room.”
“I don’t want to see her,” said Rachel. Then, changing her mind suddenly: “Yes, you may bring her in. I’ll soon find out whether she’s an impostor or not.”
The cooper’s wife returned with the nurse.
“Mrs. Hardwick,” she said, “this is my sister, Miss Rachel Harding.”
“I am glad to make your acquaintance, ma’am,” said the visitor.
“Rachel, I will leave you to entertain Mrs. Hardwick, while I get ready the dinner.”
Rachel and the nurse eyed each other with mutual dislike.
“I hope you don’t expect me to entertain you,” said Rachel. “I never expect to entertain anybody ag’in. This is a world of trial and tribulation, and I’ve had my share. So you’ve come after Ida, I hear?” with a sudden change of tone.