Chapter IV. The New Year's Present.
 

"Happy New Year!" was Jack's salutation to Aunt Rachel, as, with an unhappy expression of countenance, she entered the sitting-room.

"Happy, indeed!" she repeated, dismally. "There's great chance of its being so, I should think. We don't any of us know what the year may bring forth. We may all be dead before the next New Year."

"If that's the case, said Jack, "we'll be jolly as long as it lasts."

"I don't know what you mean by such a vulgar word," said Aunt Rachel, disdainfully. "I've heard of drunkards and such kind of people being jolly; but, thank Providence, I haven't got to that yet."

"If that was the only way to be jolly," said Jack, stoutly, "then I'd be a drunkard; I wouldn't carry round such a long face as you do, Aunt Rachel, for any money."

"It's enough to make all of us have long faces, when you are brazen enough to own that you mean to be a drunkard."

"I didn't say any such thing," said Jack, indignantly.

"Perhaps I have ears," remarked Aunt Rachel, sententiously, "and perhaps I have not. It's a new thing for a nephew to tell his aunt that she lies. They didn't use to allow such things when I was young.--But the world's going to rack and ruin, and I shouldn't much wonder if the people are right that says it's comin' to an end."

Here Mrs. Crump happily interposed, by asking Jack to go round to the grocery, in the next street, and buy a pint of milk.

Jack took his cap and started, with alacrity, glad to leave the dismal presence of Aunt Rachel.

He had scarcely opened the door when he started back in surprise, exclaiming, "By hokey, if there isn't a basket on the steps!"

"A basket!" repeated Mrs. Crump, in surprise. "Can it be a New Year's present? Bring it in, Jack."

It was brought in immediately, and the cover being lifted there appeared a female child, of apparently a year old. All uttered exclamations of surprise, each in itself characteristic.

"What a dear, innocent little thing!" said Mrs. Crump, with true maternal instinct.

"Ain't it a pretty 'un?" said Jack, admiringly.

"Poor thing!" said the cooper, compassionately.

"It's a world of iniquity!" remarked Rachel, lifting up her eyes, dismally. "There isn't any one you can trust. I didn't think a brother of mine would have such a sin brought to his door."

"Good heavens, Rachel!" said the honest cooper, in amazement, "what can you mean?"

"It isn't for me to explain," said Rachel, shaking her head; "only it's strange that it should have been brought to this house, that's all I say."

"Perhaps it was meant for you, Aunt Rachel," said Jack, with thoughtless fun.

"Me!" exclaimed Rachel, rising to her feet, while her face betrayed the utmost horror at the suggestion. She fell back in her seat, and made a violent effort to faint.

"What have I said?" asked Jack, a little frightened at the effect of his words. "Aunt Rachel takes one up so."

"He didn't mean anything," said Mrs. Crump. "How could you suspect such a thing? But here's a letter. It looks as if there was something in it. Here, Timothy, it is directed to you."

Mr. Cooper opened the letter, and read as follows:--

"For reasons which it is unnecessary to state, the guardians of this child find it expedient to (sic) intrust it to others to be brought up. The good opinion which they have formed of you, has led them to select you for that charge. No further explanation is necessary, except that it is by no means their object to make this a service of charity. They therefore (sic) inclose a certificate of deposits on the Broadway Bank, of three hundred dollars, the same having been made in your name. Each year, while the child remains in your charge, the same sum will in like manner be placed to your credit at the same bank It may be as well to state, farther, that all attempts to fathom whatever of mystery may attach to this affair, will prove useless."

This letter was read in silent amazement.

The certificate of deposits, which had fallen to the floor, was handed to Timothy by his wife.

Amazement was followed by a feeling of gratitude and relief.

"What could be more fortunate?" exclaimed Mrs. Crump. "Surely, Timothy, our faith has been rewarded."

"God has listened to our cry," said the cooper, devoutly; "and, in the hour of our need, He has remembered us."

"Isn't it prime?" said Jack, gleefully; "three hundred dollars! Ain't we rich, Aunt Rachel?"

"Like as not," observed Rachel, "the certificate isn't genuine. It doesn't look natural it should be. I've heard of counterfeits before. I shouldn't be surprised at all if Timothy got taken up for presenting it."

"I'll risk that," said Mr. Crump, who did not look very much depressed by this suggestion.

"Now you'll be able to pay the rent, Timothy," said Mrs. Crump, cheerfully.

"Yes; and it's the last quarter I shall pay to Mr. Colman, if I can help it."

"Why, where are you going?" inquired Jack.

"To the corner house belonging to Mr. Harrison, that is, if it is not already engaged. I think I will go and see about it at once. If Mr. Colman should come in while I am gone, tell him I will be back directly; I don't wish you to tell him of the change in our circumstances."

The cooper found Mr. Harrison at home.

"I called to inquire," commenced the cooper, "whether you had let that house of yours on the corner of the street."

"Not as yet," was the reply.

"What rent do you ask?"

"Twenty dollars a quarter," said Mr. Harrison; "that I consider reasonable."

"It is satisfactory to me," was the cooper's reply, "and, if you have no objections to me as a tenant, I will engage it at once."

"Far from having any objections, Mr. Crump," was the courteous reply, "I shall be glad to secure so good a tenant. Will you go over and look at the house?"

"Not now, sir; I am somewhat in haste. When can we move in?"

"To-day, if you like."

His errand satisfactorily accomplished, the cooper returned home. Meanwhile the landlord had called.

He was a little surprised to find that Mrs. Crump, instead of looking depressed, looked cheerful, rather than otherwise.

"I was not aware you had a child so young," he remarked, looking at the baby.

"It isn't mine," said Mrs. Crump, briefly.

"The child of a neighbor, I suppose," thought Colman.

Meanwhile he scrutinized closely, without appearing to do so, the furniture in the room.

At this point Mr. Crump opened the outer door.

"Good-morning," said Colman, affably. "A fine morning."

"Quite so," answered his tenant, shortly.

"I have called, Mr. Crump, to know if you are ready with your quarter's rent."

"I think I told you, last night, how I was situated. Of course I am sorry----"

"So am I," said the landlord, "for I may be obliged to have recourse to unpleasant measures."

"You mean that we must leave the house!"

"Of course, you cannot expect to remain in it if you are unable to pay the rent. Of course," added Colman, making an inventory with his eyes, of the furniture, "you will leave behind a sufficient amount of furniture to cover your bill----"

"Surely, you would not deprive us of our furniture!"

"Is there any hardship in requiring payment of honest debts?"

"There are cases of that description. However, I will not put you to that trouble. I am ready to pay you your dues."

"You have the money?" said Colman, hastily.

"I have, and something over; as you will see by this document. Can you give me the two hundred and eighty dollars over?"

It would be difficult to picture the amazement of Colman. "Surely, you told me a different story last night," he said.

"Last night and this morning are different times. Then I could not pay you; now, luckily, I am able. If you cannot change this amount, and will accompany me to the bank, I will place the money in your hands."

"My dear sir, I am not at all in haste," said the landlord, with a return of his former affability. "Any time within a week will do. I hope, by the way, you will continue to occupy this house."

"As I have already engaged Mr. Harrison's house, at the corner of the street, I shall be unable to remain. Besides, I do not want to interfere with the family who are so desirous of moving in."

Mr. Colman was silenced. He regretted, too late, the hasty course which had lost him a good tenant. The family referred to had no existence; and, it may be remarked, the house remained vacant for several months, when he was glad to rent it at the old price.