Paul Prescott's Charge/Chapter XXIII
Paul had a presentiment that he should not long remain in the employ of Smith & Thompson; it was not many weeks before this presentiment was verified.
After having received such instruction as was necessary, the calico department was left in Paul's charge. One day a customer in turning over the patterns shown her took up a piece which Paul knew from complaints made by purchasers would not wash.
"This is pretty," said she, "it is just what I have been looking for. You may cut me off twelve yards."
"Wait a minute, though," interposed the lady, "will it wash?"
"I don't think it will," said Paul, frankly, "there have been some complaints made about that."
"Then I shall not want it. Let me see what else you have got."
The customer finally departed, having found nothing to suit her.
No sooner had she left the store than Mr. Smith called Paul.
"Well, did you sell that lady anything?"
"And why not?" demanded Smith, harshly.
"Because she did not like any of the pieces."
"Wouldn't she have ordered a dress pattern if you had not told her the calico would not wash?"
"Yes, sir, I suppose so," said Paul, preparing for a storm.
"Then why did you tell her?" demanded his employer, angrily.
"Because she asked me."
"Couldn't you have told her that it would wash?"
"That would not have been the truth," said Paul, sturdily.
"You're a mighty conscientious young man," sneered Smith, "You're altogether too pious to succeed in business. I discharge you from my employment."
"Very well, sir," said Paul, his heart sinking, but keeping up a brave exterior, "then I have only to bid you good-morning."
"Good-morning, sir," said his employer with mock deference, "I advise you to study for the ministry, and no longer waste your talents in selling calico."
Paul made no reply, but putting on his cap walked out of the store. It was the middle of the week, and Mr. Smith was, of course, owing him a small sum for his services; but Paul was too proud to ask for his money, which that gentleman did not see fit to volunteer.
"I am sure I have done right," thought Paul. "I had no right to misrepresent the goods to that lady. I wonder what Uncle Hugh will say."
"You did perfectly right," said the sexton, after Paul had related the circumstances of his dismissal. "I wouldn't have had you act differently for twenty situations. I have no doubt you will get a better position elsewhere."
"I hope so," said Paul. "Now that I have lost the situation, Uncle Hugh, I don't mind saying that I never liked it."
Now commenced a search for another place. Day after day Paul went out, and day after day he returned with the same want of success.
"Never mind, Paul," said the sexton encouragingly. "When you do succeed, perhaps you'll get something worth waiting for."
One morning Paul went out feeling that something was going to happen,--he didn't exactly know what,--but he felt somehow that there was to be a change in his luck. He went out, therefore, with more hopefulness than usual; yet, when four o'clock came, and nothing had occurred except failure and disappointment, which unhappily were not at all out of the ordinary course, Paul began to think that he was very foolish to have expected anything.
He was walking listlessly along a narrow street, when, on a sudden, he heard an exclamation of terror, of which, on turning round, he easily discovered the cause.
Two spirited horses, attached to an elegant carriage, had been terrified in some way, and were now running at the top of their speed.
There was no coachman on the box; he had dismounted in order to ring at some door, when the horses started. He was now doing his best to overtake the horses, but in a race between man and horse, it is easy to predict which will have the advantage.
There seemed to be but one person in the carriage. It was a lady,--whose face, pale with terror, could be seen from the carriage window. Her loud cries of alarm no doubt terrified the horses still more, and, by accelerating their speed, tended to make matters worse.
Paul was roused from a train of despondent reflections by seeing the horses coming up the street. He instantly comprehended the whole danger of the lady's situation.
Most boys would have thought of nothing but getting out of the way, and leaving the carriage and its inmate to their fate. What, indeed, could a boy do against a pair of powerful horses, almost beside themselves with fright?"
But our hero, as we have already had occasion to see, was brave and self-possessed, and felt an instant desire to rescue the lady, whose glance of helpless terror, as she leaned her head from the window, he could see. Naturally quickwitted, it flashed upon him that the only way to relieve a horse from one terror, was to bring another to bear upon him.
With scarcely a moment's premeditation, he rushed out into the middle of the street, full in the path of the furious horses, and with his cheeks pale, for he knew his danger, but with determined air, he waved his arms aloft, and cried "Whoa!" at the top of his voice.
The horses saw the sudden movement. They saw the boy standing directly in front of them. They heard the word of command to which they had been used, and by a sudden impulse, relieved from the blind terror which had urged them on, they stopped suddenly, and stood still in the middle of the street, still showing in their quivering limbs the agitation through which they had passed.
Just then the coachman, panting with his hurried running, came up and seized them by the head.
"Youngster," said he, "you're a brave fellow. You've done us a good service to-day. You're a pretty cool hand, you are. I don't know what these foolish horses would have done with the carriage if it had not been for you."
"Let me get out," exclaimed the lady, not yet recovered from her fright.
"I will open the door," said Paul, observing that the coachman was fully occupied in soothing the horses.
He sprang forward, and opening the door of the carriage assisted the lady to descend.
She breathed quickly.
"I have been very much frightened," she said; "and I believe I have been in very great danger. Are you the brave boy who stopped the horses?"
Paul modestly answered in the affirmative.
"And how did you do it? I was so terrified that I was hardly conscious of what was passing, till the horses stopped.
Paul modestly related his agency in the matter.
The lady gazed at his flushed face admiringly.
"How could you have so much courage?" she asked. "You might have been trampled to death under the hoofs of the horses."
"I didn't think of that. I only thought of stopping the horses."
"You are a brave boy. I shudder when I think of your danger and mine. I shall not dare to get into the carriage again this afternoon."
"Allow me to accompany you home?" said Paul, politely.
"Thank you; I will trouble you to go with me as far as Broadway, and then I can get into an omnibus."
She turned and addressed some words to the coachman, directing him to drive home as soon as the horses were quieted, adding that she would trust herself to the escort of the young hero, who had rescued her from the late peril.
"You're a lucky boy," thought John, the coachman. "My mistress is one that never does anything by halves. It won't be for nothing that you have rescued her this afternoon."
As they walked along, the lady, by delicate questioning, succeeded in drawing from our hero his hopes and wishes for the future. Paul, who was of a frank and open nature, found it very natural to tell her all he felt and wished.
"He seems a remarkably fine boy," thought the lady to herself. "I should like to do something for him."
They emerged into Broadway.
"I will detain you a little longer," said the lady; "and perhaps trouble you with a parcel."
"I shall be very glad to take it," said Paul politely.
Appleton's bookstore was close at hand. Into this the lady went, followed by her young companion.
A clerk advanced, and inquired her wishes.
"Will you show me some writing-desks?"
"I am going to purchase a writing-desk for a young friend of mine," she explained to Paul; "as he is a boy, like yourself, perhaps you can guide me in the selection."
"Certainly," said Paul, unsuspiciously.
Several desks were shown. Paul expressed himself admiringly of one made of rosewood inlaid with pearl.
"I think I will take it," said the lady.
The price was paid, and the desk was wrapped up.
"Now," said Mrs. Danforth, for this proved to be her name, "I will trouble you, Paul, to take the desk for me, and accompany me in the omnibus, that is, if you have no other occupation for your time."
"I am quite at leisure," said Paul. "I shall be most happy to do so."
Paul left the lady at the door of her residence in Fifth Avenue, and promised to call on his new friend the next day.
He went home feeling that, though he had met with no success in obtaining a place, he had been very fortunate in rendering so important a service to a lady whose friendship might be of essential service to him.