“At any rate,” said her husband, “there is no doubt that it is our duty to take every means that we can to recover Ida. Of course, if her mother insists upon keepin’ her, we can’t say anything; but we ought to be sure of that before we yield her up.”
“What do you mean, Timothy?” asked Martha.
“I don’t know as I ought to mention it,” said the cooper. “Very likely there isn’t anything in it, and it would only make you feel more anxious.”
“You have already aroused my anxiety. I should feel better if you would speak out.”
“Then I will,” said the cooper. “I have sometimes been tempted,” he continued, lowering his voice, “to doubt whether Ida’s mother really sent for her.”
“How do you account for the letter, then?”
“I have thought—mind, it is only a guess—that Mrs. Hardwick may have got somebody to write it for her.”
“It is very singular,” murmured Martha.
“What is singular?”
“Why, the very same thought has occurred to me. Somehow, I can’t help feeling a little distrustful of Mrs. Hardwick, though perhaps unjustly. What object can she have in getting possession of the child?”
“That I can’t conjecture; but I have come to one determination.”
“What is that?”
“Unless we learn something of Ida within a week from the time she left here, I shall go on to Philadelphia, or else send Jack, and endeavor to get track of her.”
AUNT RACHEL’S MISHAPS
The week slipped away, and still no tidings of Ida. The house seemed lonely without her. Not until then did they understand how largely she had entered into their life and thoughts. But worse even than the sense of loss was the uncertainty as to her fate.
“It is time that we took some steps about finding Ida,” the cooper said. “I would like to go to Philadelphia myself, to make inquiries about her, but I am just now engaged upon a job which I cannot very well leave, and so I have concluded to send Jack.”
“When shall I start?” exclaimed Jack.
“To-morrow morning,” answered his father.
“What good do you think it will do,” interposed Rachel, “to send a mere boy like Jack to Philadelphia?”
“A mere boy!” repeated her nephew, indignantly.
“A boy hardly sixteen years old,” continued Rachel. “Why, he’ll need somebody to take care of him. Most likely you’ll have to go after him.”
“What’s the use of provoking a fellow so, Aunt Rachel?” said Jack. “You know I’m ’most eighteen. Hardly sixteen! Why, I might as well say you’re hardly forty, when we all know you’re fifty.”
“Fifty!” ejaculated the scandalized spinster. “It’s a base slander. I’m only thirty-seven.”
“Maybe I’m mistaken,” said Jack, carelessly. “I didn’t know exactly how old you were; I only judged from your looks.”