When Ida failed to return on the appointed day, the Hardings, though disappointed, did not think it strange.
“If I were her mother,” said the cooper’s wife, “and had been parted from her for so long, I should want to keep her as long as I could. Dear heart! how pretty she is and how proud her mother must be of her!”
“It’s all a delusion,” said Rachel, shaking her head, solemnly. “It’s all a delusion. I don’t believe she’s got a mother at all. That Mrs. Hardwick is an impostor. I know it, and told you so at the time, but you wouldn’t believe me. I never expect to set eyes on Ida again in this world.”
The next day passed, and still no tidings of Jack’s ward. Her young guardian, though not as gloomy as Aunt Rachel, looked unusually serious.
There was a cloud of anxiety even upon the cooper’s usually placid face, and he was more silent than usual at the evening meal. At night, after Jack and his aunt had retired, he said, anxiously: “What do you think is the cause of Ida’s prolonged absence, Martha?”
“I can’t tell,” said his wife, seriously. “It seems to me, if her mother wanted to keep her longer it would be no more than right that she should drop us a line. She must know that we would feel anxious.”
“Perhaps she is so taken up with Ida that she can think of no one else.”
“It may be so; but if we neither see Ida to-morrow, nor hear from her, I shall be seriously troubled.”
“Suppose she should never come back,” suggested the cooper, very soberly.
“Oh, husband, don’t hint at such a thing,” said his wife.
“We must contemplate it as a possibility,” said Timothy, gravely, “though not, as I hope, as a probability. Ida’s mother has an undoubted right to her.”
“Then it would be better if she had never been placed in our charge,” said Martha, tearfully, “for we should not have had the pain of parting with her.”
“Not so, Martha,” her husband said, seriously. “We ought to be grateful for God’s blessings, even if He suffers us to retain them but a short time. And Ida has been a blessing to us all, I am sure. The memory of that can’t be taken from us, Martha. There’s some lines I came across in the paper to-night that express just what I’ve been sayin’. Let me find them.”
The cooper put on his spectacles, and hunted slowly down the columns of the daily paper till he came to these beautiful lines of Tennyson, which he read aloud:
“’I hold it true, whate’er
I feel it when I sorrow most;
’Tis better to have loved and lost,
Than never to have loved at all.’”
“There, wife,” he said, as he laid down the paper; “I don’t know who writ them lines, but I’m sure it’s some one that’s met with a great sorrow and conquered it.”
“They are beautiful,” said his wife, after a pause; “and I dare say you’re right, Timothy; but I hope we mayn’t have to learn the truth of them by experience. After all, it isn’t certain but that Ida will come back.”