“So you can,” said his mother, brightly.
“There ain’t horses to hold every day,” said Rachel, apparently fearing that the family might become too cheerful, when, like herself, it was their duty to be profoundly gloomy.
“You’re always tryin’ to discourage people, Aunt Rachel,” said Jack, discontentedly.
Rachel took instant umbrage at these words.
“I’m sure,” said she, mournfully, “I don’t want to make you unhappy. If you can find anything to be cheerful about when you’re on the verge of starvation, I hope you’ll enjoy yourselves, and not mind me. I’m a poor, dependent creetur, and I feel I’m a burden.”
“Now, Rachel, that’s all foolishness,” said Timothy. “You don’t feel anything of the kind.”
“Perhaps others can tell how I feel better than I can myself,” answered his sister, with the air of a martyr. “If it hadn’t been for me, I know you’d have been able to lay up money, and have something to carry you through the winter. It’s hard to be a burden on your relations, and bring a brother’s family to this poverty.”
“Don’t talk of being a burden, Rachel,” said Mrs. Harding. “You’ve been a great help to me in many ways. That pair of stockings, now, you’re knitting for Jack—that’s a help, for I couldn’t have got time for them myself.”
“I don’t expect,” said Aunt Rachel, in the same sunny manner, “that I shall be able to do it long. From the pains I have in my hands sometimes, I expect I’m goin’ to lose the use of ’em soon, and be as useless as old Mrs. Sprague, who for the last ten years of her life had to sit with her hands folded on her lap. But I wouldn’t stay to be a burden—I’d go to the poorhouse first. But perhaps,” with the look of a martyr, “they wouldn’t want me there, because I’d be discouragin’ ’em too much.”
Poor Jack, who had so unwittingly raised this storm, winced under the last words, which he knew were directed at him.
“Then why,” asked he, half in extenuation, “why don’t you try to look pleasant and cheerful? Why won’t you be jolly, as Tom Piper’s aunt is?”
“I dare say I ain’t pleasant,” said Rachel, “as my own nephew twits me with it. There is some folks that can be cheerful when their house is a-burnin’ down before their eyes, and I’ve heard of one young man that laughed at his aunt’s funeral,” directing a severe glance at Jack; “but I’m not one of that kind. I think, with the Scriptures, that there’s a time to weep.”
“Doesn’t it say there’s a time to laugh, too?” asked Mrs. Harding.
“When I see anything to laugh about, I’m ready to laugh,” said Aunt Rachel; “but human nater ain’t to be forced. I can’t see anything to laugh at now, and perhaps you won’t by and by.”
It was evidently quite useless to persuade Rachel to cheerfulness, and the subject dropped.
The tea things were cleared away by Mrs. Harding, who then sat down to her sewing. Aunt Rachel continued to knit in grim silence, while Jack seated himself on a three-legged stool near his aunt, and began to whittle out a boat, after a model lent him by Tom Piper, a young gentleman whose aunt has already been referred to.