Chapter III. The Landlord's Visit.
 

Soon after Rachel's departure Jack, also, was seized with a sleepy fit, and postponing the construction of his boat to a more favorable opportunity, took a candle and followed his aunt's example.

The cooper and his wife were now left alone.

"Now that Rachel and Jack have gone to bed, Mary," he commenced, hesitatingly, "I don't mind saying that I am a little troubled in mind about one thing."

"What's that?" asked Mrs. Crump, anxiously.

"It's just this, I don't anticipate being stinted for food. I know we shall get along some way; but there's another expense which I am afraid of."

"Is it the rent?" inquired his wife, apprehensively.

"That's it. The quarter's rent, twenty dollars, comes due to-morrow, and I've got less than a dollar to meet it."

"Won't Mr. Colman wait?"

"I'm afraid not. You know what sort of a man he is, Mary. There ain't much feeling about him. He cares more for money than anything else."

"Perhaps you are doing him injustice."

"I am afraid not. Did you never hear how he treated the Underhills?"

"How was it?"

"Underhill was laid up with a rheumatic fever for three months. The consequence was, that, when quarter-day came round, he was in about the same situation with ourselves,--a little worse even, for his wife was sick, also. But though Colman was aware of the circumstances, he had no pity; but turned them out without ceremony."

"Is it possible?" asked Mrs. Crump, uneasily.

"And there's no reason for his being more lenient with us. I can't but feel anxious about to-morrow, Mary."

At this moment, verifying an old adage which will perhaps occur to the reader, who should knock but Mr. Colman himself?

Both the cooper and his wife had an instinctive foreboding as to the meaning of his visit.

He came in, rubbing his hands in a social way, as was his custom. No one, to look at him, would have suspected the hardness of heart that lay veiled under his velvety softness of manner.

"Good evening, Mr. Crump," said he, affably, "I trust you and your worthy wife are in good health."

"That blessing, at least, is continued to us," said the cooper, gravely.

"And how comfortable you're looking too, eh! It makes an old bachelor, like me, feel lonesome when he contrasts his own solitary room with such a scene of comfort as this. You've got a comfortable home, and dog-cheap, too. All my other tenants are grumbling to think you don't have to pay any more for such superior accommodations. I've about made up my mind that I must ask you twenty-five dollars a quarter, hereafter."

All this was said very pleasantly, but the pill was none the less bitter.

"It seems to me, Mr. Colman," remarked the cooper soberly, "you have chosen rather a singular time for raising the rent."

"Why singular, my good sir?" inquired the landlord, urbanely.

"You know of course, that this is a time of general business depression; my own trade in particular has suffered greatly. For a month past, I have not been able to find any work."

Colman's face lost something of its graciousness.

"And I fear I sha'n't be able to pay my quarter's rent to-morrow."

"Indeed!" said the landlord coldly. "Perhaps you can make it up within two or three dollars?"

"I can't pay a dollar towards it," said the cooper. "It's the first time, in five years that I've lived here, that this thing has happened to me. I've always been prompt before."

"You should have economized as you found times growing harder," said Colman, harshly. "It is hardly honest to live in a house when you know you can't pay the rent."

"You sha'n't lose it Mr. Colman," said the cooper, earnestly. "No one ever yet lost anything by me. Only give me time, and I will pay you all."

The landlord shook his head.

"You ought to cut your coat according to your cloth," he responded. "Much as it will go against my feelings, under the circumstances I am compelled by a prudent regard to my own interests to warn you that, in case your rent is not ready to-morrow, I shall be obliged to trouble you to find another tenement; and furthermore, the rent of this will be raised five dollars a quarter."

"I can't pay it, Mr. Colman," said the cooper; "I may as well say that now; and it's no use my agreeing to pay more rent. I pay all I can afford now."

"Very well, you know the alternative. But it is a disagreeable subject. We won't talk of it now; I shall be round to-morrow morning. How's your excellent sister; as cheerful as ever?"

"Quite as much so as usual," answered the cooper, dryly.

"But there's one favor I should like to ask, if you will allow us to remain here a few days till I can look about me a little."

"I would with the greatest pleasure in the world," was the reply, "but there's another family very anxious to take the house, and they wish to come in immediately. Therefore I shall be obliged to ask you to move out to-morrow. In fact that is the very thing I came here this evening to speak about, as I thought you might not wish to pay the increased rent."

"We are much obliged to you," said the cooper, with a tinge of bitterness unusual to him. "If we are to be turned out of doors, it is pleasant to have a few hours' notice of it."

"Turned out of doors, my good friend! What disagreeable expressions you employ! It is merely a matter of business. I have an article to dispose of. There are two bidders; yourself and another person. The latter is willing to pay a larger sum. Of course I give him the preference. Don't you see how it is?"

"I believe I do," replied the cooper. "Of course, it's a regular proceeding; but you must excuse me if I think of it in another light, when I reflect that to-morrow at this time my family and myself may be without a shelter."

"My dear sir, positively you are looking on the dark side of things. It is actually sinful to distrust Providence as you seem to do. You're a little disappointed, that's all. Just take to-night to sleep on it, and I've no doubt you'll think better of it and of me. But positively I have stayed longer than I intended. Good night, my friends. I'll look in upon you in the morning. And by the by, as it is so near the time, allow me to wish you a Happy New Year."

The door closed upon the landlord, leaving behind two anxious hearts.

"It looks well in him to wish that," said the cooper, gloomily. "A great deal he is doing to make it so. I don't know how it seems to others, but for my part I never say them words to any one unless I really wish 'em well, and am willing to do something to make 'em so. I should feel as if I was a hypocrite if I acted anyways different."

Mary did not respond to this. In her own gentle heart she could not help feeling a silent repugnance, mingled, it may be, with a shade of contempt, for the man who had just left them. It was an uncomfortable feeling, and she strove to get rid of it."

"Is there any tenement vacant in this neighborhood?" she asked.

"Yes, there's the one at the corner, belonging to Mr. Harrison."

"It is a better one than this."

"Yes, but Harrison only asks the same that we have been paying. He is not so exorbitant as Colman."

"Couldn't we get that?"

"I am afraid, if he knew that we had failed to pay our rent here, he would object."

"But he knows you are honest, and that nothing but the hard times would have brought you to such a pass."

"It may be, Mary. At any rate you have lightened my heart a little. I feel as if there was some hope left."

"We ought always to feel so, Timothy. There was one thing that Mr. Colman said that didn't sound so well, coming from his lips; but it's true, for all that."

"What do you mean, Mary?"

"I mean that about not distrusting Providence. Many a time have I been comforted by reading the verse, "Never have I seen the righteous forsaken, or his seed begging bread. "As long as we try to do what is right, Timothy, God will not suffer us to want."

"You are right, Mary. He is our ever-present help in time of need. Let us put away all anxious cares, fully confiding in his gracious promises."

They retired to rest thoughtfully, but not sadly.

The fire upon the hearth flickered, and died out at length. The last sands of the old year were running out, and the new morning ushered in its successor.