Paul Prescott's Charge/Chapter III
Two days later, the funeral of Mr. Prescott took place.
Poor Paul! It seemed to him a dream of inexpressible sorrow. His father and mother both gone, he felt that he was indeed left alone in the world. No thought of the future had yet entered his mind. He was wholly occupied with his present sorrow. Desolate at heart he slipped away from the graveyard after the funeral ceremony was over, and took his way back again to the lonely dwelling which he had called home.
As he was sitting in the corner, plunged in sorrowful thought, there was a scraping heard at the door, and a loud hem!
Looking up, Paul saw entering the cottage the stiff form of Squire Benjamin Newcome, who, as has already been stated, was the owner.
"Paul," said the Squire, with measured deliberation.
"Do you mean me, sir?" asked Paul, vaguely conscious that his name had been called.
"Did I not address you by your baptismal appellation?" demanded the Squire, who thought the boy's question superfluous.
"Paul," pursued Squire Newcome, "have you thought of your future destination?"
"No, sir," said Paul, "I suppose I shall live here."
"That arrangement would not be consistent with propriety. I suppose you are aware that your deceased parent left little or no worldly goods."
"I know he was poor."
"Therefore it has been thought best that you should be placed in charge of a worthy man, who I see is now approaching the house. You will therefore accompany him without resistance. If you obey him and read the Bible regularly, you will--ahem!--you will some time or other see the advantage of it."
With this consolatory remark Squire Newcome wheeled about and strode out of the house.
Immediately afterwards there entered a rough-looking man arrayed in a farmer's blue frock.
"You're to come with me, youngster," said Mr. Nicholas Mudge, for that was his name.
"With you?" said Paul, recoiling instinctively.
In fact there was nothing attractive in the appearance or manners of Mr. Mudge. He had a coarse hard face, while his head was surmounted by a shock of red hair, which to all appearance had suffered little interference from the comb for a time which the observer would scarcely venture to compute. There was such an utter absence of refinement about the man, that Paul, who had been accustomed to the gentle manners of his father, was repelled by the contrast which this man exhibited.
"To be sure you're to go with me," said Mr. Mudge. "You did not calc'late you was a goin' to stay here by yourself, did you? We've got a better place for you than that. But the wagon's waitin' outside, so just be lively and bundle in, and I'll carry you to where you're a goin' to live."
"Wal, some folks call it the Poor House, but it ain't any the worse for that, I expect. Anyhow, them as has no money may feel themselves lucky to get so good a home. So jest be a movin', for I can't be a waitin' here all day."
Paul quietly submitted himself to the guidance of Mr. Mudge. He was so occupied with the thought of his sad loss that he did not realize the change that was about to take place in his circumstances.
About half a mile from the village in the bleakest and most desolate part of the town, stood the Poor House. It was a crazy old building of extreme antiquity, which, being no longer considered fit for an ordinary dwelling- house, had been selected as a suitable residence for the town's poor. It was bleak and comfortless to be sure, but on that very account had been purchased at a trifling expense, and that was, of course, a primary consideration. Connected with the house were some dozen acres of rough-looking land, plentifully over- spread with stones, which might have filled with despair the most enterprising agriculturist. However, it had this recommendation at least, that it was quite in character with the buildings upon it, which in addition to the house already described, consisted of a barn of equal antiquity and a pig pen.
This magnificent domain was under the superintendence of Mr. Nicholas Mudge, who in consideration of taking charge of the town paupers had the use of the farm and buildings, rent free, together with a stipulated weekly sum for each of the inmates.
"Well, Paul," said Mr. Mudge, as they approached the house, in a tone which was meant to be encouraging, "this is goin' to be your home. How do you like it?"
Thus addressed, Paul ventured a glance around him.
`I don't know," said he, doubtfully; "it don't look very pleasant."
"Don't look very pleasant!" repeated Mr. Mudge in a tone of mingled amazement and indignation. "Well, there's gratitude for you. After the town has been at the expense of providin' a nice, comfortable home for you, because you haven't got any of your own, you must turn up your nose at it."
"I didn't mean to complain," said Paul, feeling very little interest in the matter.
"Perhaps you expected to live in a marble palace," pursued Mr. Mudge, in an injured tone. "We don't have any marble palaces in this neighborhood, we don't."
Paul disclaimed any such anticipation.
Mr. Mudge deigned to accept Paul's apology, and as they had now reached the door, unceremoniously threw it open, and led the way into a room with floor unpainted, which, to judge from its appearance, was used as a kitchen.