Chapter VI. Eight Years. Ida's Progress.
 

Eight years slipped by, unmarked by any important event. The Crumps were still prosperous in an humble way. The cooper had been able to obtain work most of the time, and this, with the annual remittance for little Ida, had enabled the family not only to live in comfort, but even to save up one hundred and fifty dollars a year. They might even have saved more, living as frugally as they were accustomed to do, but there was one point upon which none of them would consent to be economical. The little Ida must have everything she wanted. Timothy brought home daily some little delicacy for her, which none of the rest thought of sharing. While Mrs. Crump, far enough from vanity, always dressed with exceeding plainness, Ida's attire was always rich and tasteful. She would sometimes ask, "Mother, why don't you buy yourself some of the pretty things you get for me?"

Mrs. Crump would answer, smiling, "Oh, I'm an old woman, Ida. Plain things are best for me."

"No, I'm sure you're not old, mother. You don't wear a cap."

But Mrs. Crump would always playfully evade the child's questions.

Had Ida been an ordinary child, all this petting would have had an injurious effect upon her mind. But, fortunately she had that rare simplicity, young as she was, which lifted her above the dangers to which many might have been subjected. Instead of being made vain, she only felt grateful for the many kindnesses bestowed upon her by her father and mother and brother Jack, as she was wont to call them. Indeed, it had not been thought best to let her know that such was not the relation in which they really stood to her.

There was one point, more important than dress, in which Ida profited by the indulgence of her friends.

"Wife," the cooper was wont to say, "Ida is a sacred charge in our hands. If we allow her to grow up ignorant, or afford her only ordinary advantages, we shall not fulfil our duty. We have the means, through Providence, to give her some of those advantages which she would enjoy if she remained in that sphere to which her parents, doubtless, belong. Let no unwise parsimony, on our part, withhold them from her."

"You are right, Timothy," said Mrs. Crump; "right, as you always are. Follow the dictates of your own heart, and fear not that I shall disapprove."

Accordingly Ida was, from the first, sent to a carefully-selected private school, where she had the advantage of good associates, and where her progress was astonishingly rapid.

She early displayed a remarkable taste for drawing. As soon as this was discovered, her foster parents took care that she should have abundant opportunity for cultivating it. A private master was secured, who gave her daily lessons, and boasted everywhere of his charming little pupil, whose progress, as he assured her friends, exceeded anything he had ever before known.

Nothing could exceed the cooper's gratification when, on his birthday, Ida presented him with a beautifully-drawn sketch of his wife's placid and benevolent face.

"When did you do it, Ida?" he asked, after earnest expressions of admiration.

"I did it in odd minutes," she said; "in the evening."

"But how could you do it without any one of us knowing what you were about?"

"I had a picture before me, and you thought I was copying it, but whenever I could do it without being noticed, I looked up at mother as she sat at her sewing, and so, after awhile, I made this picture."

"And a fine one it is," said Timothy, admiringly.

Mrs. Crump insisted that Ida had flattered her, but this the child would not admit. "I couldn't make it look as good as you, mother," she said. "I tried to, but somehow I couldn't succeed as well as I wanted to."

"You wouldn't have that difficulty with Aunt Rachel," said Jack, roguishly.

Ida, with difficulty, suppressed a laugh.

"I see," said Aunt Rachel, with severe resignation, "that you've taken to ridiculing your poor aunt again. But it's what I expect. I don't never expect any consideration in this house. I was born to be a martyr, and I expect I shall fulfil my destiny. If my own relations laugh at me, of course I can't expect anything better from other folks. But I sha'n't be long in the way. I've had a cough for some time past, and I expect I'm in a consumption."

"You make too much of a little thing, Rachel," said the cooper. "I don't think Jack meant anything."

"I'm sure, what I said was complimentary," said Jack.

Rachel shook her head incredulously.

"Yes it was. Ask Ida. Why won't you draw Aunt Rachel, Ida? I think she'd make a capital picture."

"So I will," said Ida, hesitatingly, "if she will let me."

"Now, Aunt Rachel, there's a chance for you," said Jack. "I advise you to improve it. When it's finished, it can be hung up at the Art Rooms, and who knows but you may secure a husband by it?"

"I wouldn't marry," said his aunt, firmly compressing her lips, "not if anybody'd go down on their knees to me."

"Now I am sure, Aunt Rachel, that's cruel in you."

"There ain't any man that I'd trust my happiness to."

"She hasn't any to trust," observed Jack, sotto voce.

"They're all deceivers," pursued Rachel, "the best of 'em. You can't believe what one of 'em says. It would be a great deal better if people never married at all."

"Then where would the world be a hundred years hence?" suggested her nephew.

"Come to an end, most likely," said Aunt Rachel; "and I don't know but that would be the best thing. It's growing more and more wicked every day."

It will be seen that no great change has come over Miss Rachel Crump during the years that have intervened. She takes the same disheartening view of human nature and the world's prospects, as ever. Nevertheless, her own hold upon the world seems as strong as ever. Her appetite continues remarkably good, and although she frequently expresses herself to the effect that there is little use in living, probably she would be as unwilling to leave the world as any one. I am not sure that she does not derive as much enjoyment from her melancholy as other people from their cheerfulness. Unfortunately, her peculiar way of enjoying herself is calculated to have rather a depressing influence upon the spirits of those with whom she comes in contact--always excepting Jack, who has a lively sense of the ludicrous, and never enjoys himself better than in bantering his aunt.

Ida is no less a favorite with Jack than with the other members of the household. Rough as he is sometimes, Jack is always gentle with Ida. When she was just learning to walk, and in her helplessness needed the constant care of others, he used, from choice, to relieve his mother of much of the task of amusing the child. He had never had a little sister, and the care of a child as young as Ida was a novelty to him. It was, perhaps, this very office of guardian to the child, assumed when she was so young, that made him feel ever after as if she was placed under his special protection.

And Ida was equally attached to Jack. She learned to look up to him for assistance in anything which she had at heart, and he never disappointed her. Whenever he could, he would accompany her to school, holding her by the hand; and fond as he was of rough play, nothing would induce him to leave her.

"How long have you been a nurse-maid?" asked a boy, older than himself, one day.

Jack's fingers itched to get hold of his derisive questioner, but he had a duty to perform, and contented himself with saying, "Just wait a few minutes, and I'll let you know."

"I dare say," was the reply. "I rather think I shall have to wait till both of us are gray before that time."

"You won't have to wait long before you are black and blue," retorted Jack.

"Don't mind what he says, Jack," whispered Ida, fearful lest he should leave her.

"Don't be afraid, Ida; I won't leave you; I guess he won't trouble us another day."

Meanwhile the boy, emboldened by Jack's passiveness, followed, with more abuse of the same sort. If he had been wiser, he would have seen a storm gathering in the flash of Jack's eye; but he mistook the cause of his forbearance.

The next day, as they were again going to school, Ida saw the same boy dodging round the corner, with his head bound up.

"What's the matter with him, Jack?" she asked.

"I licked him like blazes, that's all," said Jack, quietly.

"I guess he'll let us alone after this."