Chapter XI. Suspense.
 

It doesn't somehow seem natural," said Mr. Crump, as he took his seat at the tea-table, "to sit down without Ida. It seems as if half of the family were gone."

"Just what I've said twenty times to-day," remarked his wife. "Nobody knows how much a child is to them till they lose it."

"Not lose it, mother," said Jack, who had been sitting in a silence unusual for him."

"I didn't mean to say that," said Mrs. Crump. "I meant till they were gone away for a time."

"When you spoke of losing," said Jack, "it made me feel just as Ida wasn't coming back."

"I don't know how it is," said his mother, thoughtfully, "but that's just the feeling I've had several times to-day. I've felt just as if something or other would happen so that Ida wouldn't come back."

"That is only because she has never been away before," said the cooper, cheerfully. "It isn't best to borrow trouble; we shall have enough of it without."

"You never said a truer word, brother," said Rachel, lugubriously. "'Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.' This world is a vale of tears. Folks may try and try to be happy, but that isn't what they're sent here for."

"Now that's where I differ from you," said the cooper, good-humoredly, "just as there are many more pleasant than stormy days, so I believe that there is much more of brightness than shadow in this life of ours, if we would only see it."

"I can't see it," said Rachel, shaking her head very decidedly.

"Perhaps you could if you tried."

"So I do."

"It seems to me, Rachel, you take more pains to look at the clouds than the sun."

"Yes," chimed in Jack; "I've noticed whenever Aunt Rachel takes up the newspaper, she always looks first at the (sic) death's, and next at the fatal accidents and steamboat explosions."

"It's said," said Aunt Rachel, with severe emphasis, "if you should ever be on board a steamboat when it exploded you wouldn't find much to laugh at."

"Yes, I should," said Jack. "I should laugh----"

"What!" said Aunt Rachel, horrified.

"On the other side of my mouth," concluded Jack. "You didn't wait till I had got through the sentence."

"I don't think it proper to make light of such matters."

"Nor I, Aunt Rachel," said Jack, drawing down the corners of his mouth. "I am willing to confess that this is a serious matter. I should feel as they said the cow did, that was thrown three hundred feet into the air."

"How was that?" inquired his mother.

"A little discouraged," replied Jack.

All laughed except Aunt Rachel, who preserved the same severe composure, and continued to eat the pie upon her plate with the air of one gulping down medicine.

So the evening passed. All seemed to miss Ida. Mrs. Crump found herself stealing glances at the smaller chair beside her own in which Ida usually sat. The cooper appeared abstracted, and did not take as much interest as usual in the evening paper. Jack was restless, and found it difficult to fix his attention upon anything. Even Aunt Rachel looked more dismal than usual, if such a thing be possible.

In the morning all felt brighter.

"Ida will be home to-night," said Mrs. Crump, cheerfully. "What an age it seems since she left us!"

"We shall know better how to appreciate her presence," said the cooper, cheerfully.

"What time do you expect her home? Did Mrs. Hardwick say?"

"Why no," said Mrs. Crump, she didn't say, but I guess she will be along in the course of the afternoon."

"If we only knew where she had gone," said Jack, "we could tell better."

"But as we don't know," said his father, "we must wait patiently till she comes."

"I guess," said Mrs. Crump, in the spirit of a notable housewife, "I'll make up some apple-turnovers for supper to-night. There's nothing Ida likes so well."

"That's where Ida is right," said Jack, "apple-turnovers are splendid."

"They're very unwholesome," remarked Aunt Rachel.

"I shouldn't think so from the way you eat them, Aunt Rachel," retorted Jack. "You ate four the last time we had them for supper."

"I didn't think you'd begrudge me the little I eat," said Rachel, dolefully. "I didn't think you took the trouble to keep account of what I ate."

"Come, Rachel, this is unreasonable," said her brother. "(sic) Noboby begrudges you what you eat, even if you choose to eat twice as much as you do. I dare say, Jack ate more of them than you did."

"I ate six," said Jack.

Rachel, construing this into an apology, said no more; but, feeling it unnecessary to explain why she ate what she admitted to be unhealthy, added, "And if I do eat what's unwholesome, it's because life ain't of any value to me. The sooner one gets out of this vale of affliction the better."

"And the way you take to get out of it," said Jack, gravely, "is by eating apple-turnovers. Whenever you die, Aunt Rachel, we shall have to put a paragraph in the papers, headed, 'Suicide by eating apple-turnovers.'"

Rachel intimated, in reply, that she presumed it would afford Jack a great deal of satisfaction to write such a paragraph.

The evening came. Still no tidings of Ida.

The family began to feel alarmed. An indefinable sense of apprehension oppressed the minds of all. Mrs. Crump feared that Ida's mother, seeing her grown up so attractive, could not resist the temptation of keeping her.

"I suppose," she said, "that she has the best claim to her; but it will be a terrible thing for us to part with her."

"Don't let us trouble ourselves in that way," said the cooper. "It seems to me very natural that they should keep her a little longer than they intended. Besides, it is not too late for her to return to-night."

This cheered Mrs. Crump a little.

The evening passed slowly.

At length there came a knock at the door.

"I guess that is Ida," said Mrs. Crump, joyfully.

Jack seized a candle, and hastening to the door, threw it open. But there was no Ida there. In her place stood William Fitts, the boy who had met Ida in the cars.

"How do you do, Bill?" said Jack, endeavoring not to look disappointed. "Come in, and take a seat, and tell us all the news."

"Well," said William, "I don't know of any. I suppose Ida has got home."

"No," said Jack, "we expected her to-night, but she hasn't come yet."

"She told me that she expected to come back to-day," said William.

"What! have you seen her?" exclaimed all in chorus.

"Yes, I saw her yesterday noon."

"Where?"

"Why, in the cars," said William, a little surprised at the question.

"What cars?" asked the cooper.

"Why, the Philadelphia cars. Of course, you knew that was where she was going?"

"Philadelphia!" all exclaimed, in surprise.

"Yes, the cars were almost there when I saw her. Who was that with her?"

"Mrs. Hardwick, who was her old nurse."

"Anyway, I didn't like her looks," said the boy.

"That's where I agree with you," said Jack, decidedly.

"She didn't seem to want me to speak to Ida," continued William, "but hurried her off, just as quick as possible."

"There were reasons for that," said Mrs. Crump, "she wanted to keep secret her destination."

"I don't know what it was," said William; "but any how, I don't like her looks."

The family felt a little relieved by this information; and, since Ida had gone so far, it did not seem strange that she should have outstayed her time.