Chapter II. The Events of an Evening.
 

At this moment the outer door opened, and Timothy Crump entered, not with the quick elastic step of one who brings good tidings, but slowly and deliberately, with a quiet gravity of demeanor, in which his wife could read only too well that he had failed in his efforts to procure work.

His wife, reading all these things in his manner, had the delicacy to forbear intruding upon him questions to which she saw that he could give no satisfactory answers.

Not so Aunt Rachel.

"I needn't ask," she began, "whether you got work, Timothy. I knew beforehand you wouldn't. There ain't no use in tryin'. The times is awful dull, and, mark my words, they'll be wuss before they're better. We mayn't live to see 'em. I don't expect we shall. Folks can't live without money, and when that's gone we shall have to starve."

"Not so bad as that, Rachel," said the cooper, trying to look cheerful; "don't talk about starving till the time comes. Anyhow," glancing at the table on which was spread a good plain meal, "we needn't talk about starving till to-morrow, with that before us. Where's Jack?"

"Gone after some flour," replied his wife.

"On credit?" asked the cooper.

"No, he's got the money to pay for a few pounds," said Mrs. Crump, smiling, with an air of mystery.

"Where did it come from?" asked Timothy, who was puzzled, as his wife anticipated. "I didn't know you had any money in the house."

"No more we had, but he earned it himself, holding horses, this afternoon."

"Come, that's good," said the cooper, cheerfully, "We ain't so bad off as we might be, you see, Rachel."

The latter shook her head with the air of a martyr.

At this moment Jack returned, and the family sat down to supper.

"You haven't told us," said Mrs. Crump, seeing her husband's cheerfulness in a measure restored, "what Mr. Blodgett said about the chances for employment."

"Not much that was encouraging," answered Timothy. "He isn't at all sure how soon it will be best to commence work; perhaps not before spring."

"Didn't I tell you so?" commented Rachel, with sepulchral sadness.

Even Mr. Crump could not help looking sober.

"I suppose, Timothy, you haven't formed any plans," she said.

"No, I haven't had time. I must try to get something else to do."

"What, for instance?"

"Anything by which I can earn a little, I don't care if it's only sawing wood. We shall have to get along as economically as we can; cut our coat according to our cloth."

"Oh, you'll be able to earn something, and we can live very plain," said Mrs. Crump, affecting a cheerfulness greater than she felt.

"Pity you hadn't done it sooner," was the comforting suggestion of Rachel.

"Mustn't cry over spilt milk," said the cooper, good-humoredly. "Perhaps we might have lived a leetle more economically, but I don't think we've been extravagant."

"Besides, I can earn something, father," said Jack, hopefully. "You know I did this afternoon."

"So you can," said Mrs. Crump, 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 become profoundly gloomy.

"You're always trying' to discourage people," 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 to know I'm a burden."

"Now, Rachel, that's all foolishness," said Uncle Tim. "You don't feel anything of the kind."

"Perhaps others can tell how I feel, better than I can myself," answered his sister, knitting rapidly. "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 upon your relations, and bring a brother's family to poverty."

"Don't talk of being a burden, Rachel," said Mrs. Crump. "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 going 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 in her lap. But I wouldn't stay to be a burden. I'd go to the poor-house first, but perhaps," with the look of a martyr, "they wouldn't want me there, because I should be discouragin' 'em too much."

Poor Jack, who had so unwittingly raised this storm, winced under the words, which he knew were directed at him.

"Then why," said 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 Aunt Rachel, "as my own nephew tells me so. 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, also?" asked Mrs. Crump.

"When I see anything to laugh about, I'm ready to laugh," said Aunt Rachel; "but human nature 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 of no use to attempt a confutation of this, and the subject dropped.

The tea-things were cleared away by Mrs. Crump, who afterwards 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.

The cooper took out his spectacles, wiped them carefully with his handkerchief, and as carefully adjusted them to his nose. He then took down from the mantel-piece one of the few books belonging to his library,--"Captain Cook's Travels,"--and began to read, for the tenth time it might be, the record of the gallant sailor's circumnavigations.

The plain little room presented a picture of peaceful tranquillity, but it proved to be only the calm which precedes a storm.

The storm in question, I regret to say, was brought about by the luckless Jack. As has been said, he was engaged in constructing a boat, the particular operation he was now intent upon being the excavation or hollowing out. Now three-legged stools are not the most secure seats in the world. That, I think, no one can doubt who has any practical acquaintance with them. Jack was working quite vigorously, the block from which the boat was to be fashioned being held firmly between his knees. His knife having got wedged in the wood, he made an unusual effort to draw it out, in which he lost his balance, and disturbed the equilibrium of his stool, which, with his load, tumbled over backwards. Now it very unfortunately happened that Aunt Rachel sat close behind, and the treacherous stool came down with considerable force upon her foot.

A piercing shriek was heard, and Aunt Rachel, lifting her foot, clung to it convulsively, while an expression of pain distorted her features.

At the sound, the cooper hastily removed his spectacles, and letting "Captain Cook" fall to the floor, started up in great dismay--Mrs. Crump likewise dropped her sewing, and jumped to her feet in alarm.

It did not take long to see how matters stood.

"Hurt ye much, Rachel?" inquired Timothy.

"It's about killed me," groaned the afflicted maiden. "Oh, I shall have to have my foot cut off, or be a cripple anyway." Then turning upon Jack, fiercely, "you careless, wicked, ungrateful boy, that I've been wearin' myself out knittin' for. I'm almost sure you did it a purpose. You won't be satisfied till you've got me out of the world, and then--then, perhaps----" here Rachel began to whimper, "perhaps you'll get Tom Piper's aunt to knit your stockings."

"I didn't mean to, Aunt Rachel," said Jack, penitently, eyeing his aunt, who was rocking to and fro in her chair. "Besides, I hurt myself like thunder," rubbing vigorously the lower part of the dorsal-region.

"Served you right," said his aunt, still clasping her foot.

"Sha'n't I get something for you to put on it?" asked Mrs. Crump of (sic) her-sister-in-law.

This Rachel steadily refused, and after a few more postures, (sic) indicatiing a great amount of anguish, limped out of the room, and ascended the stairs to her own apartment.