At this point, Rachel applied a segment of a pocket handkerchief to her eyes; but, unfortunately, owing to circumstances, the effect instead of being pathetic, as she intended it to be, was simply ludicrous.
It so happened that a short time previous, the inkstand had been partially spilled upon the table, through Jack’s carelessness and this handkerchief had been used to sop it up. It had been placed inadvertently upon the window seat, where it had remained until Rachel, who was sitting beside the window, called it into requisition. The ink upon it was by no means dry. The consequence was, that, when Rachel removed it from her eyes, her face was discovered to be covered with ink in streaks mingling with the tears that were falling, for Rachel always had a plentiful supply of tears at command.
The first intimation the luckless spinster had of her mishap was conveyed in a stentorian laugh from Jack.
He looked intently at the dark traces of sorrow on his aunt’s face—of which she was yet unconscious—and doubling up, went off into a perfect paroxysm of laughter.
“Jack!” said his mother, reprovingly, for she had not observed the cause of his amusement, “it’s improper for you to laugh at your aunt in such a rude manner.”
“Oh, I can’t help it, mother. Just look at her.”
Thus invited, Mrs. Harding did look, and the rueful expression of Rachel, set off by the inky stains, was so irresistibly comical, that, after a hard struggle, she too gave way, and followed Jack’s example.
Astonished and indignant at this unexpected behavior of her sister-in-law, Rachel burst into a fresh fit of weeping, and again had recourse to the handkerchief.
“This is too much!” she sobbed. “I’ve stayed here long enough, if even my sister-in-law, as well as my own nephew, from whom I expect nothing better, makes me her laughingstock. Brother Timothy, I can no longer remain in your dwelling to be laughed at; I will go to the poorhouse and end my miserable existence as a common pauper. If I only receive Christian burial when I leave the world, it will be all I hope or expect from my relatives, who will be glad enough to get rid of me.”
The second application of the handkerchief had so increased the effect, that Jack found it impossible to check his laughter, while the cooper, whose attention was now drawn to his sister’s face, burst out in a similar manner.
This more amazed Rachel than Martha’s merriment.
“Even you, Timothy, join in ridiculing your sister!” she exclaimed, in an “Et tu, Brute” tone.
“We don’t mean to ridicule you, Rachel,” gasped her sister-in-law, “but we can’t help laughing.”
“At the prospect of my death!” uttered Rachel, in a tragic tone. “Well, I’m a poor, forlorn creetur, I know. Even my nearest relations make sport of me, and when I speak of dying, they shout their joy to my face.”