Paul Prescott's Charge/Chapter XIII
Towards evening they drew up before a small house with a neat yard in front.
"I guess we'll get out here," said Mr. Stubbs. "There's a gentleman lives here that I feel pretty well acquainted with. Shouldn't wonder if he'd let us stop over Sunday. Whoa, Goliah, glad to get home, hey?" as the horse pricked up his ears and showed manifest signs of satisfaction.
"Now, youngster, follow me, and I guess I can promise you some supper, if Mrs. Stubbs hasn't forgotten her old tricks."
They passed through the entry into the kitchen, where Mrs. Stubbs was discovered before the fire toasting slices of bread.
"Lor, Jehoshaphat," said she, "I didn't expect you so soon," and she looked inquiringly at his companion.
"A young friend who is going to stay with us till Monday," explained the pedler. "His name is Paul Prescott."
"I'm glad to see you, Paul," said Mrs. Stubbs with a friendly smile. "You must be tired if you've been traveling far. Take a seat. Here's a rocking-chair for you."
This friendly greeting made Paul feel quite at home. Having no children, the pedler and his wife exerted themselves to make the time pass pleasantly to their young acquaintance. Paul could not help contrasting them with Mr. and Mrs. Mudge, not very much to the advantage of the latter. On Sunday he went to church with them, and the peculiar circumstances in which he was placed, made him listen to the sermon with unusual attention. It was an exposition of the text, "My help cometh from the Lord," and Paul could not help feeling that it was particularly applicable to his own case. It encouraged him to hope, that, however uncertain his prospects appeared, God would help him if he put his trust in Him.
On Monday morning Paul resumed his journey, with an ample stock of provisions supplied by Mrs. Stubbs, in the list of which doughnuts occupied a prominent place; this being at the particular suggestion of Mr. Stubbs.
Forty or fifty miles remained to be traversed before his destination would be reached. The road was not a difficult one to find, and he made it out without much questioning. The first night, he sought permission to sleep in a barn.
He met with a decided refusal.
He was about to turn away in disappointment, when he was called back.
"You are a little too fast, youngster. I said I wouldn't let you sleep in my barn, and I won't; but I've got a spare bed in the house, and if you choose you shall occupy it."
Under the guise of roughness, this man had a kind heart. He inquired into the particulars of Paul's story, and at the conclusion terrified him by saying that he had been very foolish and ought to be sent back. Nevertheless, when Paul took leave of him the next morning, he did not go away empty-handed.
"If you must be so foolish as to set up for yourself, take this," said the farmer, placing half a dollar in his hand. "You may reach the city after the banks are closed for the day, you know," he added, jocularly.
But it was in the morning that Paul came in sight of the city. He climbed up into a high tree, which, having the benefit of an elevated situation, afforded him an extensive prospect. Before him lay the great city of which he had so often heard, teeming with life and activity.
Half in eager anticipation, half in awe and wonder at its vastness, our young pilgrim stood upon the threshold of this great Babel.
Everything looked new and strange. It had never entered Paul's mind, that there could be so many houses in the whole State as now rose up before him. He got into Broadway, and walked on and on thinking that the street must end somewhere. But the farther he walked the thicker the houses seemed crowded together. Every few rods, too, he came to a cross street, which seemed quite as densely peopled as the one on which he was walking. One part of the city was the same as another to Paul, since he was equally a stranger to all. He wandered listlessly along, whither fancy led. His mind was constantly excited by the new and strange objects which met him at every step.
As he was looking in at a shop window, a boy of about his own age, stopped and inquired confidentially, "when did you come from the country?"
"This morning," said Paul, wondering how a stranger should know that he was a country boy.
"Could you tell me what is the price of potatoes up your way?" asked the other boy, with perfect gravity.
"I don't know," said Paul, innocently.
"I'm sorry for that," said the other, "as I have got to buy some for my wife and family."
Paul stared in surprise for a moment, and then realizing that he was being made game of, began to grow angry.
"You'd better go home to your wife and family," he said with spirit, "or you may get hurt."
"Bully for you, country!" answered the other with a laugh. "You're not as green as you look."
"Thank you," said Paul, "I wish I could say as much for you."
Tired with walking, Paul at length sat down in a doorway, and watched with interest the hurrying crowds that passed before him. Everybody seemed to be in a hurry, pressing forward as if life and death depended on his haste. There were lawyers with their sharp, keen glances; merchants with calculating faces; speculators pondering on the chances of a rise or fall in stocks; errand boys with bundles under their arms; business men hurrying to the slip to take the boat for Brooklyn or Jersey City,--all seemed intent on business of some kind, even to the ragged newsboys who had just obtained their supply of evening papers, and were now crying them at the top of their voices,--and very discordant ones at that, so Paul thought. Of the hundreds passing and repassing before him, every one had something to do. Every one had a home to go to. Perhaps it was not altogether strange that a feeling of desolation should come over Paul as he recollected that he stood alone, homeless, friendless, and, it might be, shelterless for the coming night.
"Yet," thought he with something of hopefulness, "there must be something for me to do as well as the rest."
Just then a boy some two years older than Paul paced slowly by, and in passing, chanced to fix his eyes upon our hero. He probably saw something in Paul which attracted him, for he stepped up and extending his hand, said, "why, Tom, how came you here?"
"My name isn't Tom," said Paul, feeling a little puzzled by this address.
"Why, so it isn't. But you look just like my friend, Tom Crocker."
To this succeeded a few inquiries, which Paul unsuspiciously answered.
"Do you like oysters?" inquired the new comer, after a while.
"Because I know of a tip top place to get some, just round the corner. Wouldn't you like some?"
Paul thanked his new acquaintance, and said he would.
Without more ado, his companion ushered him into a basement room near by. He led the way into a curtained recess, and both boys took seats one on each side of a small table.
"Just pull the bell, will you, and tell the waiter we'll have two stews."
Paul did so.
"I suppose," continued the other, "the governor wouldn't like it much if he knew where I was."
"The governor!" repeated Paul. "Why, it isn't against the laws, is it?"
"No," laughed the other. "I mean my father. How jolly queer you are!" He meant to say green, but had a purpose in not offending Paul.
"Are you the Governor's son?" asked Paul in amazement.
"To be sure," carelessly replied the other.
Paul's wonder had been excited many times in the course of the day, but this was more surprising than anything which had yet befallen him. That he should have the luck to fall in with the son of the Governor, on his first arrival in the city, and that the latter should prove so affable and condescending, was indeed surprising. Paul inwardly determined to mention it in his first letter to Aunt Lucy. He could imagine her astonishment.
While he was busy with these thoughts, his companion had finished his oysters.
"Most through?" he inquired nonchalantly.
"I've got to step out a minute; wait till I come back."
Paul unsuspectingly assented.
He heard his companion say a word to the barkeeper, and then go out.
He waited patiently for fifteen minutes and he did not return; another quarter of an hour, and he was still absent. Thinking he might have been unexpectedly detained, he rose to go, but was called back by the barkeeper.
"Hallo, youngster! are you going off without paying?"
"For what?" inquired Paul, in surprise.
"For the oysters, of course. You don't suppose I give 'em away, do you?"
"I thought," hesitated Paul, "that the one who was with me paid,--the Governor's son," he added, conscious of a certain pride in his intimacy with one so nearly related to the chief magistrate of the Commonwealth.
"The Governor's son," laughed the barkeeper. "Why the Governor lives a hundred miles off and more. That wasn't the Governor's son any more than I am."
"He called his father governor," said Paul, beginning to be afraid that he had made some ridiculous blunder.
"Well, I wouldn't advise you to trust him again, even if he's the President's son. He only got you in here to pay for his oysters. He told me when he went out that you would pay for them."
"And didn't he say he was coming back?" asked Paul, quite dumbfounded.
"He said you hadn't quite finished, but would pay for both when you came out. It's two shillings.
Paul rather ruefully took out the half dollar which constituted his entire stock of money, and tendered it to the barkeeper who returned him the change.
So Paul went out into the streets, with his confidence in human nature somewhat lessened.
Here, then, is our hero with twenty-five cents in his pocket, and his fortune to make.