Paul Prescott's Charge/Chapter XX
The month after Paul Prescott succeeded in reaching the head of his class, George Dawkins exerted himself to rise above him. He studied better than usual, and proved in truth a formidable rival. But Paul's spirit was roused. He resolved to maintain his position if possible. He had now become accustomed to study, and it cost him less effort. When the end of the month came, there was considerable speculation in the minds of the boys as to the result of the rivalry. The majority had faith in Paul, but there were some who, remembering how long Dawkins had been at the head of the class, thought he would easily regain his lost rank.
The eventful day, the first of the month, at length came, and the class-list was read.
Paul Prescott ranked first.
George Dawkins ranked second.
A flush spread over the pale face of Dawkins, and he darted a malignant glance at Paul, who was naturally pleased at having retained his rank.
Dawkins had his satellites. One of these came to him at recess, and expressed his regret that Dawkins had failed of success.
Dawkins repelled the sympathy with cold disdain.
"What do you suppose I care for the head of the class?" he demanded, haughtily.
"I thought you had been studying for it."
"Then you thought wrong. Let the sexton's son have it, if he wants it. It would be of no use to me, as I leave this school at the end of the week."
The boys gathered about Dawkins, curiously.
"Is it really so, Dawkins?" they inquired.
"Yes," said Dawkins, with an air of importance; "I shall go to a private school, where the advantages are greater than here. My father does not wish me to attend a public school any longer.
This statement was made on the spur of the moment, to cover the mortification which his defeat had occasioned him. It proved true, however. On his return home, Dawkins succeeded in persuading his father to transfer him to a private school, and he took away his books at the end of the week. Had he recovered his lost rank there is no doubt that he would have remained.
Truth to tell, there were few who mourned much for the departure of George Dawkins. He had never been a favorite. His imperious temper and arrogance rendered this impossible.
After he left school, Paul saw little of him for two or three years. At their first encounter Paul bowed and spoke pleasantly, but Dawkins looked superciliously at him without appearing to know him.
Paul's face flushed proudly, and afterwards he abstained from making advances which were likely to be repulsed. He had too much self-respect to submit voluntarily to such slights.
Meanwhile Paul's school life fled rapidly. It was a happy time,--happy in its freedom from care, and happy for him, though all school boys do not appreciate that consideration, in the opportunities for improvement which it afforded. These opportunities, it is only just to Paul to say, were fully improved. He left school with an enviable reputation, and with the good wishes of his schoolmates and teachers.
Paul was now sixteen years old, a stout, handsome boy, with a frank, open countenance, and a general air of health which formed quite a contrast to the appearance he presented when he left the hospitable mansion which Mr. Nicholas Mudge kept open at the public expense.
Paul was now very desirous of procuring a situation. He felt that it was time he was doing something for himself. He was ambitious to relieve the kind sexton and his wife of some portion, at least, of the burden of his support.
Besides, there was the legacy of debt which his father had bequeathed him. Never for a moment had Paul forgotten it. Never for a moment had he faltered in his determination to liquidate it at whatever sacrifice to himself.
"My father's name shall be cleared," he said to himself, proudly. "Neither Squire Conant nor any one else shall have it in his power to cast reproach upon his memory."
The sexton applauded his purpose.
"You are quite right, Paul," he said. "But you need not feel in haste. Obtain your education first, and the money will come by-and- by. As long as you repay the amount, principal and interest, you will have done all that you are in honor bound to do. Squire Conant, as I understand from you, is a rich man, so that he will experience no hardship in waiting."
Paul was now solicitous about a place. The sexton had little influence, so that he must depend mainly upon his own inquiries.
He went into the reading-room of the Astor House every day to look over the advertised wants in the daily papers. Every day he noted down some addresses, and presented himself as an applicant for a position. Generally, however, he found that some one else had been before him.
One day his attention was drawn to the following advertisement.
"WANTED. A smart, active, wide-awake boy, of sixteen or seventeen, in a retail dry- goods store. Apply immediately at--Broadway."
Paul walked up to the address mentioned. Over the door he read, "Smith & Thompson." This, then, was the firm that had advertised.
The store ran back some distance. There appeared to be six or eight clerks in attendance upon quite a respectable number of customers.
"Is Mr. Smith in?" inquired Paul, of the nearest clerk.
"You'll find him at the lower end of the store. How many yards, ma'am?"
This last was of course addressed to a customer.
Paul made his way, as directed, to the lower end of the store.
A short, wiry, nervous man was writing at a desk.
"Is Mr. Smith in?" asked Paul.
"My name; what can I do for you?" said the short man, crisply.
"I saw an advertisement in the Tribune for a boy."
"And you have applied for the situation?" said Mr. Smith.
"How old are you?" with a rapid glance at our hero.
"I suppose that means that you will be seventeen in eleven months and a half."
"No, sir," said Paul, "I shall be seventeen in three months."
"All right. Most boys call themselves a year older. What's your name?"
"P. P. Any relation to Fanny Fern?"
"No, sir," said Paul, rather astonished.
"Didn't know but you might be. P. P. and F. F. Where do you live?"
Paul mentioned the street and number.
"That's well, you are near by," said Mr. Smith. "Now, are you afraid of work?"
"No sir," said Paul, smiling, "not much."
"Well, that's important; how much wages do you expect?"
"I suppose," said Paul, hesitating, "I couldn't expect very much at first."
"Of course not; green, you know. What do you say to a dollar a week?"
"A dollar a week!" exclaimed Paul, in dismay, "I hoped to get enough to pay for my board."
"Nonsense. There are plenty of boys glad enough to come for a dollar a week. At first, you know. But I'll stretch a point with you, and offer you a dollar and a quarter. What do you say?"
"How soon could I expect to have my wages advanced?" inquired our hero, with considerable anxiety.
"Well," said Smith, "at the end of a month or two."
"I'll go home and speak to my uncle about it," said Paul, feeling undecided.
"Can't keep the place open for you. Ah, there's another boy at the door."
"I'll accept," said Paul, jumping to a decision. He had applied in so many different quarters without success, that he could not make up his mind to throw away this chance, poor as it seemed.
"When shall I come?"
"At what time, sir?"
"At seven o'clock."
This seemed rather early. However, Paul was prepared to expect some discomforts, and signified that he would come.
As he turned to go away, another boy passed him, probably bent on the same errand with himself.
Paul hardly knew whether to feel glad or sorry. He had expected at least three dollars a week, and the descent to a dollar and a quarter was rather disheartening. Still, he was encouraged by the promise of a rise at the end of a month or two,--so on the whole he went home cheerful.
"Well, Paul, what luck to-day?" asked Mr. Cameron, who had just got home as Paul entered.
"I've got a place, Uncle Hugh."
"With Smith & Thompson, No.--Broadway."
"What sort of a store? I don't remember the name."
"It is a retail dry-goods store."
"Did you like the looks of your future employer?"
"I don't know," said Paul, hesitating, "He looked as if he might be a pretty sharp man in business, but I have seen others that I would rather work for. However, beggars mustn't be choosers. But there was one thing I was disappointed about."
"What was that, Paul?"
"About the wages."
"How much will they give you?"
"Only a dollar and a quarter a week, at first."
"That is small, to be sure."
"The most I think of, Uncle Hugh, is, that I shall still be an expense to you. I hoped to get enough to be able to pay my board from the first."
"My dear boy," said the sexton, kindly, "don't trouble yourself on that score. It costs little more for three than for two, and the little I expend on your account is richly made up by the satisfaction we feel in your society, and your good conduct."
"You say that to encourage me, Uncle Hugh," said Paul. "You have done all for me. I have done nothing for you."
"No, Paul, I spoke the truth. Hester and I have both been happier since you came to us. We hope you will long remain with us. You are already as dear to us as the son that we lost."
"Thank you, Uncle Hugh," said Paul, in a voice tremulous with feeling. "I will do all I can to deserve your kindness."