Paul Prescott's Charge/Chapter VI
At the close of the last chapter it was stated that Paul had come to a determination.
This was,--TO RUN AWAY.
That he had good reason for this we have already seen.
He was now improving rapidly, and only waited till he was well enough to put his design into execution.
"Aunt Lucy," said he one day, "I've got something to tell you."
The old lady looked up inquiringly.
"It's something I've been thinking of a long time,--at least most of the time since I've been sick. It isn't pleasant for me to stay here, and I've pretty much made up my mind that I sha'n't."
"Where will you go?" asked the old lady, dropping her work in surprise.
"I don't know of any particular place, but I should be better off most anywhere than here."
"But you are so young, Paul."
"God will take care of me, Aunt Lucy,--mother used to tell me that. Besides, here I have no hope of learning anything or improving my condition. Then again, if I stay here, I can never do what father wished me to do."
"What is that, Paul?"
Paul told the story of his father's indebtedness to Squire Conant, and the cruel letter which the Squire had written.
"I mean to pay that debt," he concluded firmly. "I won't let anybody say that my father kept them out of their money. There is no chance here; somewhere else I may find work and money."
"It is a great undertaking for a boy like you, Paul," said Aunt Lucy, thoughtfully. "To whom is the money due?"
"Squire Conant of Cedarville."
Aunt Lucy seemed surprised and agitated by the mention of this name.
"Paul," said she, "Squire Conant is my brother."
"Your brother!" repeated he in great surprise. "Then why does he allow you to live here? He is rich enough to take care of you."
"It is a long story," said the old lady, sadly. "All that you will be interested to know is that I married against the wishes of my family. My husband died and I was left destitute. My brother has never noticed me since."
"It is a great shame," said Paul.
"We won't judge him, Paul. Have you fixed upon any time to go?"
"I shall wait a few days till I get stronger. Can you tell me how far it is to New York?"
"O, a great distance; a hundred miles at least. You can't think of going so far as that?"
"I think it would be the best plan," said Paul. "In a great city like New York there must be a great many things to do which I can't do here. I don't feel strong enough to work on a farm. Besides, I don't like it. O, it must be a fine thing to live in a great city. Then too," pursued Paul, his face lighting up with the hopeful confidence of youth, "I may become rich. If I do, Aunt Lucy, I will build a fine house, and you shall come and live with me."
Aunt Lucy had seen more of life than Paul, and was less sanguine. The thought came to her that her life was already declining while his was but just begun, and in the course of nature, even if his bright dreams should be realized, she could hardly hope to live long enough to see it. But of this she said nothing. She would not for the world have dimmed the brightness of his anticipations by the expression of a single doubt.
"I wish you all success, Paul, and I thank you for wishing me to share in your good fortune. God helps those who help themselves, and he will help you if you only deserve it. I shall miss you very much when you are gone. It will seem more lonely than ever."
"If it were not for you, Aunt Lucy, I should not mind going at all, but I shall be sorry to leave you behind."
"God will care for both of us, my dear boy. I shall hope to hear from you now and then, and if I learn that you are prosperous and happy, I shall be better contented with my own lot. But have you thought of all the labor and weariness that you will have to encounter? It is best to consider well all this, before entering upon such an undertaking."
"I have thought of all that, and if there were any prospect of my being happy here, I might stay for the present. But you know how Mrs. Mudge has treated me, and how she feels towards me now."
"I acknowledge, Paul, that it has proved a hard apprenticeship, and perhaps it might be made yet harder if you should stay longer. You must let me know when you are going, I shall want to bid you good-by."
"No fear that I shall forget that, Aunt Lucy. Next to my mother you have been most kind to me, and I love you for it."
Lightly pressing her lips to Paul's forehead Aunt Lucy left the room to conceal the emotion called forth by his approaching departure. Of all the inmates of the establishment she had felt most closely drawn to the orphan boy, whose loneliness and bereavement had appealed to her woman's heart. This feeling had been strengthened by the care she had been called to bestow upon him in his illness, for it is natural to love those whom we have benefited. But Aunt Lucy was the most unselfish of living creatures, and the idea of dissuading Paul from a course which he felt was right never occurred to her. She determined that she would do what she could to further his plans, now that he had decided to go. Accordingly she commenced knitting him a pair of stockings, knowing that this would prove a useful present. This came near being the means of discovering Paul's plan to Mrs. Mudge The latter, who notwithstanding her numerous duties, managed to see everything that was going on, had her attention directed to Aunt Lucy's work.
"Have you finished the stockings that I set you to knitting for Mr. Mudge?" she asked.
"No," said Aunt Lucy, in some confusion.
"Then whose are those, I should like to know? Somebody of more importance than my husband, I suppose."
"They are for Paul," returned the old lady, in some uneasiness.
"Paul!" repeated Mrs. Mudge, in her haste putting a double quantity of salaeratus into the bread she was mixing; "Paul's are they? And who asked you to knit him a pair, I should like to be informed?"
"Then what are you doing it for?"
"I thought he might want them."
"Mighty considerate, I declare. And I shouldn't be at all surprised if you were knitting them with the yarn I gave you for Mr. Mudge's stockings."
"You are mistaken," said Aunt Lucy, shortly.
"Oh, you're putting on your airs, are you? I'll tell you what, Madam, you'd better put those stockings away in double-quick time, and finish my husband's, or I'll throw them into the fire, and Paul Prescott may wait till he goes barefoot before he gets them."
There was no alternative. Aunt Lucy was obliged to obey, at least while her persecutor was in the room. When alone for any length of time she took out Paul's stockings from under her apron, and worked on them till the approaching steps of Mrs. Mudge warned her to desist.
Three days passed. The shadows of twilight were already upon the earth. The paupers were collected in the common room appropriated to their use. Aunt Lucy had suspended her work in consequence of the darkness, for in this economical household a lamp was considered a useless piece of extravagance. Paul crept quietly to her side, and whispered in tones audible to her alone, "I AM GOING TO- MORROW."
"To-morrow! so soon?"
"Yes," said Paul, "I am as ready now as I shall ever be. I wanted to tell you, because I thought maybe you might like to know that this is the last evening we shall spend together at present."
"Do you go in the morning?"
"Yes, Aunt Lucy, early in the morning. Mr. Mudge usually calls me at five; I must be gone an hour before that time. I suppose I must bid you good-by to-night."
"Not to-night, Paul; I shall be up in the morning to see you go."
"But if Mrs. Mudge finds it out she will abuse you."
"I am used to that, Paul," said Aunt Lucy, with a sorrowful smile. "I have borne it many times, and I can again. But I can't lie quiet and let you go without one word of parting. You are quite determined to go?"
"Quite, Aunt Lucy. I never could stay here. There is no pleasure in the present, and no hope for the future. I want to see something of life," and Paul's boyish figure dilated with enthusiasm.
"God grant that you do not see too much!" said Aunt Lucy, half to herself.
"Is the world then, so very sad a place?" asked Paul.
"Both joy and sorrow are mingled in the cup of human life," said Aunt Lucy, solemnly:
"Which shall preponderate it is partly in our power to determine. He who follows the path of duty steadfastly, cannot be wholly miserable, whatever misfortunes may come upon him. He will be sustained by the conviction that his own errors have not brought them upon him."
"I will try to do right," said Paul, placing his hand in that of his companion, "and if ever I am tempted to do wrong, I will think of you and of my mother, and that thought shall restrain me."
"It's time to go bed, folks," proclaimed Mrs Mudge, appearing at the door. "I can't have you sitting up all night, as I've no doubt you'd like to do."
It was only eight o'clock, but no one thought of interposing an objection. The word of Mrs. Mudge was law in her household, as even her husband was sometimes made aware.
All quietly rose from their seats and repaired to bed. It was an affecting sight to watch the tottering gait of those on whose heads the snows of many winters had drifted heavily, as they meekly obeyed the behest of one whose coarse nature forbade her sympathizing with them in their clouded age, and many infirmities.
"Come," said she, impatient of their slow movements, "move a little quicker, if it's perfectly convenient. Anybody'd think you'd been hard at work all day, as I have. You're about the laziest set I ever had anything to do with. I've got to be up early in the morning, and can't stay here dawdling."
"She's got a sweet temper," said Paul, in a whisper, to Aunt Lucy.
"Hush!" said the old lady. "She may hear you."
"What's that you're whispering about?" said Mrs. Mudge, suspiciously. "Something you're ashamed to have heard, most likely.
Paul thought it best to remain silent.
"To-morrow morning at four!" he whispered to Aunt Lucy, as he pressed her hand in the darkness.