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Cousin John by Horatio Alger, Jr.

Author: Alger, Horatio, 1832-1899.
Title: Cousin John.
In: Ballou's dollar monthly magazine. Boston, Elliott, Thomes & Talbot. Vol. 3, no. 4 (April 1856)
Published: Boston, Elliott, Thomes & Talbot, 1856.
Format: 18 v. ill. 23 cm.
ISSN: 0731-6437
Horatio Alger Collection.
Other Title: Ballou's Dollar Monthly.
Location: AP2 .B353a (Special Collections)
Optically scanned and encoded by Mark A. Williams
Horatio Alger Digital Serials Project, Northern llinois University Libraries
DeKalb, IL
13-October-1999


YOUNG, beautiful, and an heiress, Ida Claibome sat pensively in front of a blazing anthracite fire in the comfortable parlor of her handsome town-residence. Unfortunately for her, the highest gifts of nature and fortune do not necessarily produce happiness, and Ida was at that moment painfully sensible of a feeling of listlessness and discontent, for which she was puzzled to account.

 

Her meditations were interrupted by the entrance of a servant with a letter. The address —"miss ida claiborne"— in its deficiency of capitals and rough chirography, clearly enough evinced that the writer was by no means an adept with the pen. Ida glanced at the postmark, "Pineville," and conjectured without much difficulty that the missive was from her uncle Jeremiah, a flourishing farmer in that most countrified of villages.

With not a little curiosity, for this was the first letter with which her worthy uncle had ever favored her, she hastily opened it, and read what, errors excepted, was meant to be as follows:

"DEAR NIECE : I take up my pen to write you a short letter, hoping that this will find you well and hearty. Your aunt is pretty smart, except the rheumatiz which she sometimes has pretty bad. Your cousin John —I believe you never saw him— has just got home from college and settled down for a doctor in Pineville. I guess he'll get along pretty well by-and-by, when folks sees that he knows a thing or two, if he is old Jeremiah's son. I should like to have you see him. Why can't you come down and pay us a visit? We haven't seen you since you was five years old. Guess you've changed some since then. Write soon, and let me know if you can come.

"O, I almost forgot to write one thing that perhaps you can help us about. We want a young woman to keep the school in our deestrict this winter. The deestrict they appointed me Prudential Committee, and so it's my duty to get somebody. It's most time for school to begin, and I haint found anybody to come yet. Don't you know of somebody that would take it'? The wages are a dollar and fifty cents per week and board. She will board with me. Hoping you will write soon, as it's very important, I sign myself,
        "Your affectionate uncle,
              "JEREMIAH HAYDEN."

"Pretty well, uncle Jerry!" thought Ida, as she folded up the letter; " so you want me to see 'Cousin John,' do you? Is it possible, most disinterested uncle, that you think my property, which is much greater than I deserve, would be a very comfortable dowry for John's wife? However, I should like to meet him, just to see what sort of a person my country cousin may be."

She glanced at the latter part of the letter once more.

"So they want me to hunt up a 'deestrict' school teacher, who, for the munificent sum of one dollar and a half, with board, will consent to enlighten the rising generation of Pineville. I really don't know how I can accommodate them, unless I go myself."

She laughed at the idea, but a moment afterwards exclaimed, gaily:

"After all, why shouldn't I?" Here I am languishing in the city for the want of a little excitement. Wouldn't it be a capital idea to introduce myself under an assumed name to my worthy uncle's family, and as an humble school-mistress, to become an actor and observer in scenes which are quite shut out from Ida Claiborne the heiress?"

This idea, so rapidly conceived, was determined upon with equal rapidity. Drawing her writing-desk towards her, she hurriedly wrote the following note:

"DEAR UNCLE: I was gratified to hear from you by this morning's mail, as my prompt reply will convince you. I regret that other engagements will prevent me from accepting your kind invitation, for the present, at least. In regard to the school, I have a young friend, Jerusha Hall, who has agreed to take charge of the school for which you are seeking a teacher. Having been long acquainted with her, I can speak with some confidence of her competency to fill the situation. Please write at once, and let me know how soon you wish her to commence the school.          IDA."

After sealing and despatching the letter, Ida sat down and yielded herself up to uncontrollable mirth.

"Jerusha Hall! I flatter myself I could not have selected a more befitting name for a school-ma'am. 'Having been long acquainted with her!' at least, I am secure from fibbing in that particular, though whether it is precisely modest to speak so confidently of my own competency, is another matter. It reminds me of a student who, on entering college, was required to bring with him a certificate of moral character. Having unfortunately lost the one furnished by his teacher, he undertook to supply the deficiency by writing one for himself, but was informed that it was slightly contrary to usage to receive such a testimonial."

It occurred to Ida that it was necessary to procure an entirely new wardrobe, since, however complete and elegant her present one, rich silks and Parisian laces would look slightly out of place in Miss Jerusha Hall, a school ma'am, with an income of one dollar and fifty cents per week and found. She accordingly started on a shopping excursion, from which she returned in a short time, after ordering home several cheap ginghams and calicoes, and other articles to correspond.

Her dressmaker, Mademoiselle Fanchette, turned up her eyebrows in mingled surprise and disdain as she beheld the plebeian articles on which she was to display her professional skill.

"Apparently," she remarked, "mademoiselle intends to retire from the world."

"Just so," was the reply; "but only for a season. A little masquerading, that is all. But, however common the materials, I could not consent to forego your skill in the making up."

Deciding at once that it was a young lady's whim, and mollified by the compliment, the fashionable dressmaker set to with a will, and a few days beheld Ida Claiborne ready, as Jemsha Hall, to set out for the field of her labors.

"John," said Farmer Hayden to his son, the newly-fledged doctor, "I wish you'd go up to the village in time to meet the stage. I expect Miss Hall will come to-night."

"The new schoolmistress?" queried John

"Yes," said his father, "the one that Ida recommended."

"What is her first name?" asked the doctor, carelessly.

"Jerusha—Jerusha Hall."

"Humph! it might have been better. However, I am quite at her service." And John proceeded to the yard to harness the horse.

The lumbering stage-coach, for Pineville was not of sufficient importance to require a railroad jolted Ida most unmercifully, and but for her engagement, she might have been almost inclined to forego her plan, and given up forever her personation of a country school-ma'am. There was only one other passenger beside herself, a man of ample proportions, who, having become apparently weary of looking out of the window indulged in a long and protracted stare at Ida.

"Are you going to Pineville, ma'am?" he at length inquired.

Hardly knowing whether to be amused or indignant at this unceremonious address, Ida quietly answered in the affirmative.

"I suppose you aint Miss Jerusha Hall, are you?" further inquired her companion.

Ida could scarcely forbear laughing, this being the first time she had been called by her new cognomen.

"That is my name," said she, in a demure tone, adding to herself, "I trust I shall be forgiven the fib."

"I calculated you was," continued her companion. "I heard you was coming to-night. I suppose you don't know who I am," he added, drawing himself up in a consequential manner.

"I must confess my ignorance," said Ida, secretly amused.

"Well," said he, with considerable importance," I'm the cheerman of the school committee. My name is Nichols—Ichabod Nichols. Sometimes people call me Squire Nichols."

The squire paused to see what impression his words had made on the new school ma'am. She was looking down, as he thought, bashfully.

"Have you ever taught a deestrict school before?" he inquired.

"No, sir," said Miss Hall.

"Never mind," said Squire Nichols, encouragingly; "there's got to be a beginning to everything. Your school's going to begin Monday. Of course, you'll have to be examined first. The other members of the committee," said he, with some pomposity, "generally leave that to me. As we've got to ride five miles further alone, and haven't got anything else to do, I could do it just as well now as any time.

"Yes, sir," said Ida, whose sense of the ludicrous character of this proposition nearly destroyed her gravity, "I'm just as ready now as I ever shall be."

"Well, then," said Squire Nichols, "suppose we begin. There's no need of reading, as we haven't any book to read out of. I'll ask you some questions in geography. Which is the largest city in the world?"

"London, I believe," returned Ida.

"You aint quite right there," returned the squire. "London is a pretty large place, I know, but it don't come up to New York. New York's gone clean ahead of it. However, you wasn't very far out of the way. Can you tell me where the Crimea is—the place where they're having a war ?"

"It is a peninsula in the southern part of Russia."

"Are you sure it isn't in Turkey?"

"Yes, sir, quite sure."

"Well, perhaps you're right; I'll look when I get home. I'll ask you something about spelling. How do you spell Sebastopol?"

Ida spelled it out.

"You're pretty near right," pronounced the squire; "but there's two p's in it. I think you only gave one."

"I didn't know there was but one," said Ida, suppressing her propensity to laugh.

"The best etymologians," said Squire Nichols, dwelling impressively on the last word, "use two p's."

Ida didn't think it worth while to refute this assertion. She was next asked to spell Massachusetts, which the squire allowed to pass unquestioned, probably because he did not feel quite certain about it himself.

We will not trouble the reader with further details of the examination. The remainder was of a similar character to the specimen already given. The squire at length very graciously informed Ida that he guessed she'd do. Shortly after, the driver, with a preliminary flourish of the whip, drew up in front of the public house in Pineville, and Ida prepared to get out.

She was congratulating herself on having reached her journey's end, when a young man stepped up to her and inquired if she were not Miss Hall.

Ida replied in the affirmative.

"Then," he continued, "allow me to introduce myself as John Hayden, cousin of your friend, Ida Claiborne. My father, with whom you will board, has requested me to convey you to his house. A chaise is waiting. You must be fatigued with your long ride. Perhaps we had better not delay."

So this was her cousin John. Ida gazed at him furtively with some curiosity, for it will be remembered that she had not seen him for many years. The result of her scrutiny was, that he was a very well-looking young man. Further than that, she could not be expected to judge until after further acquaintance.

"Did you have any fellow-passengers?" inquired her cousin, when they were in the chaise.

"Only one—Squire Nichols," was the reply.

"Indeed! But how did you know him?" asked John, in some surprise.

"He introduced himself as the 'cheerman' of the school committee," answered Ida, laughing, "and, wishing to save time, proposed to examine me on the instant."

"Just like him," returned John, joining in her merriment. "He is wonderfully puffed up by the post to which he has been elevated—a post, I may add, for which he is entirely unfitted by education. May I inquire whether you passed the examination satisfactorily?"

Quite so, I believe, notwithstanding my unfortunate blunder in supposing London to be larger than New York, and that Sebastopol was spelt with only one p."

My father lives here," said her companion, pointing out with his whip a farm-house, which a turn in the road revealed.

It was a square, two-story house, flanked by out-buildings, and altogether presenting a pleasant picture of substantial comfort. Availing herself of her cousin's help to descend from the chaise, Ida accompanied him up the gravelled walk to the front door. It was thrown open before they reached it by her aunt, who, with genuine New England hospitality, was intent upon making her feel at home as soon as possible.

Ida felt some apprehension lest her aunt, in spite of the years that had elapsed since their meeting, might discover something familiar in her appearance, but the first words addressed to her by Mrs. Hayden re-assured her.

"I am glad to see you, Miss Hall. Come in and sit down by the fire. You must be cold, riding such a distance. When did you see Ida last? I hoped she would come and see us, but she writes that she will not be able to do so at present."

Miss Hall, for we must now call her by that name, answered these questions in a satisfactory manner, as she was being ushered into the large sitting-room, at one end of which glowed a wood fire in a spacious fire-place. She had scarcely seated herself, when in walked Farmer Hayden. She was introduced to him in due form as "Miss Hall." She was gradually getting accustomed to her new appellation.

On the Monday morning succeeding, our heroine, accompanied by the young doctor, whose prejudice, first excited by her name, was fast wearing away, walked to the little school-house which was for a time to be the scene of her labors. A motley collection of urchins, male and female, were grouped about the door, wailing with eagerness the approach of the school-ma'am. Ida looked at the undisciplined troop with some misgivings as to her ability to keep them in order. "However," thought she, "there's no turning back now. I might as well put a bold face upon it."

John parted from her at the door, leaving her to enter unattended the temple of learning, wherein, for three months, she was to reign absolute mistress, accountable only to the school committee, with whose dignified "cheerman" she had already made acquaintance. At one end of the room stood a rickety table, evidently intended for the sole use of the school-ma'am. Owing to the circumstance of one leg being shorter than its brethren, it was necessary to eke out its deficient length with a chip. At least, such was the suggestion offered by a red-haired young lady, who introduced herself as Miranda Tibbetts.

Ida had never before been inside of a district school-house. The oddity of her surroundings, and the thought of how horror-struck all her fashionable friends would be to see her in her present position, struck her so forcibly, that it was with the utmost difficulty she could restrain her risibilities. But something was to be done. The scholars stood about her with expectant faces, and it was absolutely necessary that she should begin school. Anxious to proceed according to rule, Ida beckoned to her side the red-haired young lady before mentioned.

"How do they usually begin school, Miranda?" she inquired.

Quite elated at the idea of being applied to by the school-ma'am for information, Miranda answered:

"Well, ma'am, the first thing is to ring the bell and make them take their seats."

"But," said Ida, "I don't see any bell."

"The school-ma'am is expected to bring her own bell, I b'lieve," said Miranda.

"I didn't know that," replied Ida. "I'll bring one to-morrow. But what shall I do now?"

"I dunno," returned Miranda," unless you pound on the table."

Ida was obliged to take up with this advice.

After the school had been called to order, Ida spent nearly all the forenoon in classifying her pupils, with the aid of Miss Miranda Tibbetts, whose vanity was not a little increased by the prominent position to which she was elevated as confidential advisor of the school-ma'am. However, Miranda had in the main a very good understanding of the way things should be arranged, and her counsel was not without value. When, at the close of the day, Ida was ready to return home, she found John at the door waiting to accompany her. With this arrangement Ida was not at all dissatisfied. Cousin John she had discovered, was very agreeable as a companion. She could not help wondering whether he, as well as his father, had ever felt a desire to bring into the family his cousin's inheritance. Curious upon this point, she ventured to inquire if he had seen his cousin Ida recently.

He shook his head. "Neither recently nor remotely, I believe," he replied. "Her life runs in an entirely different channel from mine. I may have seen her as a boy, but I recollect nothing of her. At all events, it matters little to me. The fashionable life which she leads is not at all to my taste. We have been so differently treated by fortune that it is scarcely possible there could be much community of feeling between us."

"What would he say," thought Ida, "if he knew that his fashionable cousin were at his side!"

She was a little piqued at the indifference manifested by John's speech, though, such is the inconsistency of human nature, he rose higher in her estimation for this very avowal.

"At all events," she thought, "he is not mercenary."

Of Ida's experience as a school mistress, we do not design to say much. Her pupils were rough and undisciplined, and ignorant enough to afford her ample field for exertion. Miranda Tibbetts, however, became a valuable auxiliary. She was a large, strong girl, of a resolute character. Luckily for Ida, she chose to array herself on her side, and materially assisted her to keep in check the turbulent scions of Young America of whom she had charge. Unaccustomed to labor of any kind, Ida's exertions did not fail to fatigue her. Yet she felt much happier than she had ever been in the city, when she had nothing more serious to occupy her attention than the hue of a ribbon or the choice of a dress pattern.

How much the young doctor had to do with her contentment, it would perhaps be dangerous to conjecture. It is undeniable that his attentions to Ida were very marked. At half-past four, when her school closed, he would generally manage to be near at hand in order to accompany her home. At first, he had some excuse ready; but by-and-by it became an established thing, and he did not think it necessary to offer any.

Time flew rapidly. Only three days remained before Ida's school would close. It was with a countenance graver than his wont that John prepared to escort her home.

"Where do you intend going, Miss Hall, when your school has closed?" he inquired.

"I think of returning to the city."

"And will you not return?"

"Perhaps so. If I thought I should be welcome."

"Can you doubt it?" exclaimed the young man, warmly. Then, carried away by an irresistible impulse, he added: "You do not, cannot dream how much you have endeared yourself to some of us."

Ida's face flushed. She was not displeased. They were very long in walking home that evening. When they at length reached the farmhouse, John Hayden, the young village doctor, had offered his hand and heart to Miss Jerusha Hall, the school-mistress, and she had promised to take his proposal into consideration. At her request, he was to make known the proposal to his parents that evening.

The young doctor sat in the family sitting-room with his parents. Ida, complaining of fatigue, had retired to her room.

"So Miss Hall is going to leave us," remarked the doctor, abruptly.

"Yes," said Mrs. Hayden. "I'm sorry for it. She's a likely girl."

"Likely!" repeated her son. "Can't you give her a higher compliment than that?"

"Why, John, what's got into you ?" said his mother, in some surprise. "Don't you think she's a likely girl?"

"I should say, mother, that she is charming, and that any man might deem himself fortunate in securing her for a wife."

"You don't mean to marry her yourself, I hope," said his mother, suddenly.

"And why do you hope not, mother?"

"She's a good girl enough, for that matter, but you ought to look higher."

"Where can I look higher?" said the young man, quietly.

"Where? There'll be no trouble about that. There's your cousin Ida."

"And wherein is my cousin Ida a more suitable match than Jerusha Hall. Her name is, I acknowledge, a more tasteful one, but as long as it's to be changed, what's the great importance of that?"

"Ida has money."

"Well, and she may keep it. I have not the slightest wish to deprive her of it."

"You talk as if you were in earnest," said Mrs, Hayden, anxiously.

"And so I am, mother?"

"Do you mean to say that you are going to marry the school-ma'am?" said his mother, with some warmth.

"I certainly shall, if she will allow me,"' said John, composedly.

"What is it?" asked Farmer Hayden, rousing from a light slumber into which he had fallen while attempting to wade through the president's message, "what is it you're talking about?"

"Mother objects to my marrying Miss Hall," said John.

"By jingoes, and so do I," returned his father. "Isn't she as poor as poverty?"

"Why, to be sure," said John, " one dollar and fifty cents is not a large income, but I solemnly assure you I am not after her money."

"No, I should judge not," said the farmer, drily. "I have only one word to say to you. I have set my mind on marrying you to your cousin Ida. If you marry Miss Hall, it will be without any sanction or countenance from me, and I shall not permit you to be married in my house."

"I have heard you, father," said John, gravely," and regret that I am obliged to act in opposition to your wishes. I have already offered myself to Miss Hall, and may therefore safely say that I shall not marry my cousin Ida."

After this conversation, which John communicated without reserve to Ida, the latter was treated with marked coldness by Mr. and Mrs. Hayden. She managed, however, to preserve her cheerfulness, and occasionally a mirthful glance would shoot from her eyes as she looked askance at her aunt's forbidding face, and reflected how one cabalistic word would change it all.

Jerusha Hall returned to the city. It was arranged that John should join her in three weeks and that the marriage should take place from the house of "Cousin Ida." When the meeting took place, Jerusha had a confession to make. She humbly confessed herself guilty of the sin of being herself "Cousin Ida." John was very much surprised, but didn't think the sin wholly unpardonable. Two days afterwards Ida changed her last name again—this time permanently.

A carriage drove up to Farmer Hayden's gate. John Hayden helped his young wife to alight. They walked unceremoniously into the sitting-room.

"Allow me," said John," to introduce my wife to her new parents."

His father rose angrily. "You have disobeyed my wishes. You are no son of mine. You need no longer consider this as your home."

"If," said Ida, advancing towards him with a smile,"I may not remain here as your daughter, I may at least claim as Ida Claiborne, your niece." "You Ida!" exclaimed Mr. Hayden and his wife simultaneously.

The matter was explained somewhat to the confusion of the farmer and his wife. John offered to go out and secure rooms at the hotel, but his father would not hear of it.

"But you know that you said, father, that I was no son of yours, and that I must no longer consider this my home."

"Nonsense, John," said his mother. "However, you can go if you like, but we shall keep Ida."

John concluded not to go. It is wonderful how much Miss Jerusha Hall rose in the estimation of everybody in Pineville when it was ascertained that she had no right to that appellation at all. It was suddenly discovered that the district had lost the services of a most valuable teacher.

John is a rich man, now. He sometimes playfully reminds his mother of her opposition to his marriage ; but she as often declares that she only did it to try him, and that she "know'd all along that Jerusha Hall was Ida in disguise."