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Jack's Ward; Or, The Boy Guardian By Jr. Horatio Alger Characters: 7524

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

"Jack," said the captain, at breakfast, the next morning, "how would you like to go round with me to see my vessel?"

"I'll go," said Jack, promptly.

"Very likely he'll fall over into the water and be drowned," suggested Aunt Rachel, cheerfully.

"I'll take care of that, ma'am," said Capt. Bowling. "Won't you come yourself?"

"I go to see a vessel!" repeated Rachel.

"Yes; why not?"

"I am afraid it wouldn't be proper to go with a stranger," said Rachel, with a high sense of propriety.

"I'll promise not to run away with you," said the captain, bluntly. "If I should attempt it, Jack, here, would interfere."

"No, I wouldn't," said Jack. "It wouldn't be proper for me to interfere with Aunt Rachel's plans."

"You seem to speak as if your aunt proposed to run away," said Mr. Harding, jocosely.

"You shouldn't speak of such things, nephew; I am shocked," said Rachel.

"Then you won't go, ma'am?" asked the captain.

"If I thought it was consistent with propriety," said Rachel, hesitating. "What do you think, Martha?"

"I think there is no objection," said Mrs. Harding, secretly amazed at Rachel's entertaining the idea.

The result was that Miss Rachel put on her things, and accompanied the captain. She was prevailed on to take the captain's arm at length, greatly to Jack's amusement. He was still more amused when a boy picked up her handkerchief which she had accidentally dropped, and, restoring it to the captain, said, "Here's your wife's handkerchief, gov'nor."

"Ho! ho!" laughed the captain. "He takes you for my wife, ma'am."

"Ho! ho!" echoed Jack, equally amused.

Aunt Rachel turned red with confusion. "I am afraid I ought not to have come," she murmured. "I feel ready to drop."

"You'd better not drop just yet," said the captain-they were just crossing the street-"wait till it isn't so muddy."

On the whole, Aunt Rachel decided not to drop.

The Argo was a medium-sized vessel, and Jack in particular was pleased with his visit. Though not outwardly so demonstrative, Aunt Rachel also seemed to enjoy the expedition. The captain, though blunt, was attentive, and it was something new to her to have such an escort. It was observed that Miss Harding was much less gloomy than usual during the remainder of the day. It might be that the captain's cheerfulness was contagious. For a stranger, Aunt Rachel certainly conversed with him with a freedom remarkable for her.

"I never saw Rachel so cheerful," remarked Mrs. Harding to her husband that evening after they had retired. "She hasn't once spoken of life being a vale of tears to-day."

"It's the captain," said her husband. "He has such spirits that it seems to enliven all of us."

"I wish we could have him for a permanent boarder."

"Yes; the five dollars a week which he pays are a great help, especially now that I am out of work."

"What is the prospect of getting work soon?"

"I am hoping for it from day to day, but it may be weeks yet."

"Jack earned fifty cents to-day by selling papers."

"His daily earnings are an important help. With what the captain pays us, it is enough to pay all our living expenses. But there's one thing that troubles me."

"The rent?"

"Yes, it is due in three weeks, and as yet I haven't a dollar laid by to meet it. It makes me feel anxious."

"Don't lose your trust in Providence, Timothy. He may yet carry us over this difficulty."

"So I hope, but I can't help feeling in what straits we shall be, if some help does not come."

Two weeks later, Capt. Bowling sailed for Liverpool.

"I hope we shall see you again sometime, captain," said Mrs. Harding.

"Whenever I come back to New York, I shall come here if you'll keep me," said the bluff sailor.

"Aunt Rac

hel will miss you, captain," said Jack, slyly.

Capt. Bowling turned to the confused spinster.

"I hope she will," said he, heartily. "Perhaps when I see her again, she'll have a husband."

"Oh, Capt. Bowling, how can you say such things?" gasped Rachel, who, as the time for the captain's departure approached, had been subsiding into her old melancholy. "There's other things to think of in this vale of tears."

"Are there? Well, if they're gloomy, I don't want to think of 'em. Jack, my lad, I wish you were going to sail with me."

"So do I," said Jack.

"He's my only boy, captain," said Mrs. Harding. "I couldn't part with him."

"I don't blame you, ma'am, not a particle; though there's the making of a sailor in Jack."

"If he went away, he'd never come back," said Rachel, lugubriously.

"I don't know about that, ma'am. I've been a sailor, man and boy, forty years, and here I am, well and hearty to-day."

"The captain is about your age, isn't he, Aunt Rachel?" said Jack, maliciously.

"I'm only thirty-nine," said Rachel, sharply.

"Then I must have been under a mistake all my life," said the cooper to himself. "Rachel's forty-seven, if she's a day."

This remark he prudently kept to himself, or a fit of hysterics would probably have been the result.

"I wouldn't have taken you for a day over thirty-five, ma'am," said the captain, gallantly.

Rachel actually smiled, but mildly disclaimed the compliment.

"If it hadn't been for my trials and troubles," she said, "I might have looked younger; but they are only to be expected. It's the common lot."

"Is it?" said the captain. "I can't say I've been troubled much that way. With a stout heart and a good conscience we ought to be jolly."

"Who of us has a good conscience?" asked Rachel, in a melancholy tone.

"I have, Aunt Rachel," answered Jack.

"You?" she exclaimed, indignantly. "You, that tied a tin kettle to a dog's tail yesterday, and chased the poor cat till she almost died of fright. I lie awake nights thinking of the bad end you're likely to come to unless you change your ways."

Jack shrugged his shoulders, but the captain came to his help.

"Boys will be boys, ma'am," he said. "I was up to no end of tricks myself when I was a boy."

"You weren't so bad as Jack, I know," said Rachel.

"Thank you for standing up for me, ma'am; but I'm afraid I was. I don't think Jack's so very bad, for my part."

"I didn't play the tricks Aunt Rachel mentioned," said Jack. "It was another boy in our block."

"You're all alike," said Rachel. "I don't know what you boys are all coming to."

Presently the captain announced that he must go. Jack accompanied him as far as the pier, but the rest of the family remained behind. Aunt Rachel became gloomier than ever.

"I don't know what you'll do, now you've lost your boarder," she said.

"He will be a loss to us, it is true," said Mrs. Harding; but we are fortunate in having had him with us so long."

"It's only puttin' off our misery a little longer," said Rachel. "We've got to go to the poorhouse, after all."

Rachel was in one of her moods, and there was no use in arguing with her, as it would only have intensified her gloom.

Meanwhile Jack was bidding good-by to the captain.

"I'm sorry you can't go with me, Jack," said the bluff sailor.

"So am I; but I can't leave mother."

"Right, my lad; I wouldn't take you away from her. But there-take that, and don't forget me."

"You are very kind," said Jack, as the captain pressed into his hand a five-dollar gold piece. "May I give it to my mother?"

"Certainly, my lad; you can't do better."

Jack stood on the wharf till the vessel was drawn out into the stream by a steam tug. Then he went home.

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