Paul Prescott's Charge/Chapter XVIII
"Benjamin," said Squire Newcome, two days after the occurrence mentioned in the last chapter, "what made the dog howl so this morning? Was you a doing anything to him?"
"I gave him his breakfast," said Ben, innocently. "Perhaps he was hungry, and howling for that."
"I do not refer to that," said the Squire. "He howled as if in pain or terror. I repeat; was you a doing anything to him?"
Ben shifted from one foot to the other, and looked out of the window.
"I desire a categorical answer," said Squire Newcome.
"Don't know what categorical means," said Ben, assuming a perplexed look.
"I desire you to answer me IMMEGIATELY," explained the Squire. "What was you a doing to Watch?"
"I was tying a tin-kettle to his tail," said Ben, a little reluctantly.
"And what was you a doing that for?" pursued the Squire.
"I wanted to see how he would look," said Ben, glancing demurely at his father, out of the corner of his eye.
"Did it ever occur to you that it must be disagreeable to Watch to have such an appendage to his tail?" queried the Squire.
"I don't know," said Ben.
"How should you like to have a tin pail suspended to your--ahem! your coat tail?"
"I haven't got any coat tail," said Ben, "I wear jackets. But I think I am old enough to wear coats. Can't I have one made, father?"
"Ahem!" said the Squire, blowing his nose, "we will speak of that at some future period."
"Fred Newell wears a coat, and he isn't any older than I am," persisted Ben, who was desirous of interrupting his father's inquiries.
"I apprehend that we are wandering from the question," said the Squire. "Would you like to be treated as you treated Watch?"
"No," said Ben, slowly, "I don't know as I should."
"Then take care not to repeat your conduct of this morning," said his father. "Stay a moment," as Ben was about to leave the room hastily. "I desire that you should go to the post-office and inquire for letters."
Ben left the room and sauntered out in the direction of the post-office.
A chaise, driven by a stranger, stopped as it came up with him.
The driver looked towards Ben, and inquired, "Boy, is this the way to Sparta?"
Ben, who was walking leisurely along the path, whistling as he went, never turned his head.
"Are you deaf, boy?" said the driver, impatiently. "I want to know if this is the road to Sparta?"
Ben turned round.
"Fine morning, sir," he said politely.
"I know that well enough without your telling me. Will you tell me whether this is the road to Sparta?"
Ben put his hand to his ear, and seemed to listen attentively. Then he slowly shook his head, and said, "Would you be kind enough to speak a little louder, sir?"
"The boy is deaf, after all," said the driver to himself. "IS THIS THE ROAD TO SPARTA?"
"Yes, sir, this is Wrenville," said Ben, politely.
"Plague take it! he don't hear me yet. IS THIS THE ROAD TO SPARTA?"
"Just a little louder, if you please," said Ben, keeping his hand to his ear, and appearing anxious to hear.
"Deaf as a post!" muttered the driver. "I couldn't scream any louder, if I should try. Go along."
"Poor man! I hope he hasn't injured his voice," thought Ben, his eyes dancing with fun. "By gracious!" he continued a moment later, bursting into a laugh, "if he isn't going to ask the way of old Tom Haven. He's as deaf as I pretended to be."
The driver had reined up again, and inquired the way to Sparta.
"What did you say?" said the old man, putting his hand to his ear. "I'm rather hard of hearing."
The traveller repeated his question in a louder voice.
The old man shook his head.
"I guess you'd better ask that boy," he said, pointing to Ben, who by this time had nearly come up with the chaise.
"I have had enough of him," said the traveller, disgusted. "I believe you're all deaf in this town. I'll get out of it as soon as possible."
He whipped up his horse, somewhat to the old man's surprise, and drove rapidly away.
I desire my young readers to understand that I am describing Ben as he was, and not as he ought to be. There is no doubt that he carried his love of fun too far. We will hope that as he grows older, he will grow wiser.
Ben pursued the remainder of his way to the Post-office without any further adventure.
Entering a small building appropriated to this purpose, he inquired for letters.
"There's nothing for your father to-day," said the post-master.
"Perhaps there's something for me,-- Benjamin Newcome, Esq.," said Ben.
"Let me see," said the post-master, putting on his spectacles; "yes, I believe there is. Post-marked at New York, too. I didn't know you had any correspondents there."
"It's probably from the Mayor of New York," said Ben, in a tone of comical importance, "asking my advice about laying out Central Park."
"Probably it is," said the postmaster. "It's a pretty thick letter,--looks like an official document."
By this time, Ben, who was really surprised by the reception of the letter, had opened it. It proved to be from our hero, Paul Prescott, and inclosed one for Aunt Lucy.
"Mr. Crosby," said Ben, suddenly, addressing the postmaster, "you remember about Paul Prescott's running away from the Poorhouse?"
"Yes, I didn't blame the poor boy a bit. I never liked Mudge, and they say his wife is worse than he."
"Well, suppose the town should find out where he is, could they get him back again?"
"Bless you! no. They ain't so fond of supporting paupers. If he's able to earn his own living, they won't want to interfere with him."
"Well, this letter is from him," said Ben. "He's found a pleasant family in New York, who have adopted him."
"I'm glad of it," said Mr. Crosby, heartily. "I always liked him. He was a fine fellow."
"That's just what I think. I'll read his letter to you, if you would like to hear it."
"I should, very much. Come in behind here, and sit down."
Ben went inside the office, and sitting down on a stool, read Paul's letter. As our reader may be interested in the contents, we will take the liberty of looking over Ben's shoulder while he reads.
New York, Oct. 10, 18--.
I have been intending to write to you before, knowing the kind interest which you take in me. I got safely to New York a few days after I left Wrenville. I didn't have so hard a time as I expected, having fallen in with a pedler, who was very kind to me, with whom I rode thirty or forty miles. I wish I had time to tell all the adventures I met with on the way, but I must wait till I see you.
When I got to the city, I was astonished to find how large it was. The first day I got pretty tired wandering about, and strayed into a church in the evening, not knowing where else to go. I was so tired I fell asleep there, and didn't wake up till morning. When I found myself locked up in a great church, I was frightened, I can tell you. It was only Thursday morning, and I was afraid I should have to stay there till Sunday. If I had, I am afraid I should have starved to death. But, fortunately for me, the sexton came in the morning, and let me out. That wasn't all. He very kindly took me home with him, and then told me I might live with him and go to school. I like him very much, and his wife too. I call them Uncle Hugh and Aunt Hester. When you write to me, you must direct to the care of Mr. Hugh Cameron, 10 R---- Street. Then it will be sure to reach me.
I am going to one of the city schools. At first, I was a good deal troubled because I was so far behind boys of my age. You know I hadn't been to school for a long time before I left Wrenville, on account of father's sickness. But I studied pretty hard, and now I stand very well. I sometimes think, Ben, that you don't care quite so much about study as you ought to. I wish you would come to feel the importance of it. You must excuse me saying this, as we have always been such good friends.
I sometimes think of Mr. and Mrs. Mudge, and wonder whether they miss me much. I am sure Mr. Mudge misses me, for now he is obliged to get up early and milk, unless he has found another boy to do it. If he has, I pity the boy. Write me what they said about my going away.
I inclose a letter for Aunt Lucy Lee, which I should like to have you give her with your own hands. Don't trust it to Mrs. Mudge, for she doesn't like Aunt Lucy, and I don't think she would give it to her.
Write soon, Ben, and I will answer without delay,
Your affectionate friend, PAUL PRESCOTT.
"That's a very good letter," said Mr. Crosby; "I am glad Paul is doing so well. I should like to see him."
"So should I," said Ben; "he was a prime fellow,--twice as good as I am. That's true, what he said about my not liking study. I guess I'll try to do better."
"You'll make a smart boy if you only try," said the postmaster, with whom Ben was rather a favorite, in spite of his mischievous propensities.
"Thank you," said Ben, laughing, "that's what my friend, the mayor of New York, often writes me. But honestly, I know I can do a good deal better than I am doing now. I don't know but I shall turn over a new leaf. I suppose I like fun a little too well. Such jolly sport as I had coming to the office this morning."
Ben related the story of the traveller who inquired the way to Sparta, much to the amusement of the postmaster, who, in his enjoyment of the joke, forgot to tell Ben that his conduct was hardly justifiable.
"Now," said Ben, "as soon as I have been home, I must go and see my particular friend, Mrs. Mudge. I'm a great favorite of hers," he added, with a sly wink.