Paul Prescott's Charge/Chapter XXXII
George Dawkins resumed his duties the next morning as usual. Notwithstanding the crime he had committed to screen himself from the consequences of a lighter fault, he felt immeasurably relieved at the thought that he had shaken himself free from the clutches of Duval. His satisfaction was heightened by the disgrace and summary dismissal of Paul, whom he had never liked. He decided to ask the place for a cousin of his own, whose society would be more agreeable to him than that of his late associate.
"Good-morning, sir," he said, as Mr. Danforth entered.
"Good-morning," returned his employer, coldly.
"Have you selected any one in Prescott's place, yet, sir?"
"Why do you ask?"
"Because I have a cousin, Malcolm Harcourt, who would be glad to take it."
"Indeed!" said Mr. Danforth, whose manner somewhat puzzled Dawkins.
"I should enjoy having him with me," continued Dawkins.
"Did you like Prescott?"
"No, sir," said Dawkins, promptly, "I didn't want to say so before, but now, since he's turned out so badly, I don't mind saying that I never thought much of him."
"On the contrary," said Mr. Danforth, "I liked him from the first. Perhaps we are wrong in thinking that he took the money."
"I should think there could be no doubt of it," said Dawkins, not liking the sympathy and returning good feeling for Paul which his employer manifested.
"I don't agree with you," said Mr. Danforth, coldly. "I have decided to reinstate Paul in his former place."
"Then, if any more money is missing, you will know where it has gone," said Dawkins, hastily.
"Then there is no chance for my cousin?"
"I am expecting to have a vacancy."
Dawkins looked up in surprise.
"I shall require some one to fill YOUR place," said Mr. Danforth, significantly.
"Sir!" exclaimed Dawkins, in astonishment and dismay.
His employer bent a searching glance upon him as he asked, sternly, "where did you obtain the money which you paid away last evening?"
"I--don't--understand--you, sir," gasped Dawkins, who understood only too well.
"You met a man at the door of a low tavern in--Street, last evening, to whom you paid one hundred and fifty dollars, precisely the sum which I lost yesterday."
"Who has been slandering me, sir?" asked Dawkins, very pale.
"An eye-witness of the meeting, who heard the conversation between you. If you want more satisfactory proof, here it is."
Mr. Danforth took from his pocket-book the torn fragments of the note which Dawkins had given to Duval.
"Here is an obligation to pay a certain Duval the sum of one hundred and fifty dollars. It bears your signature. How you could have incurred such a debt to him you best know."
Dawkins maintained a sullen silence.
"I suppose you wish me to leave your employment," he said at length.
"You are right. Hold," he added, as Dawkins was about leaving the room, "a word more. It is only just that you should make a restitution of the sum which you have taken. If you belonged to a poor family and there were extenuating circumstances, I might forego my claim. But your father is abundantly able to make good the loss, and I shall require you to lay the matter before him without loss of time. In consideration of your youth, I shall not bring the matter before the public tribunals, as I have a right to do."
Dawkins turned pale at this allusion, and muttering some words to the effect that he would do what he could, left the counting-room.
This threat proved not to be without its effect. The next day he came to Mr. Danforth and brought the sum for which he had become responsible. He had represented to his father that he had had his pocket picked of this sum belonging to Mr. Danforth, and in that manner obtained an equal amount to replace it. It was some time before Mr. Dawkins learned the truth. Then came a storm of reproaches in which all the bitterness of his father's nature was fully exhibited. There had never been much love between father and son. Henceforth there was open hatred.
We must return to Paul, whom we left in much trouble.
It was a sad walk which he took homeward on the morning of his dismissal.
"What brings you home so early?" asked Mrs. Cameron, looking up from her baking, as Paul entered.
Paul tried to explain, but tears came to his eyes, and sobs choked his utterance.
"Are you sick, Paul?" exclaimed Mrs. Cameron, in alarm.
"No, Aunt Hester."
"Then what is the matter?" she asked anxiously.
"I have lost my place."
"Poor boy! I am very sorry to hear it. But it might have been worse."
"No, not very well, Aunt Hester, for Mr. Danforth thinks I have taken some of his money."
"He is very unjust!" exclaimed Aunt Hester, indignantly, "he ought to have known better than to think you would steal."
"Why, no," said Paul, candidly, "I must confess the evidence was against me, and he doesn't know me as well as you do, Aunt Hester."
"Tell me all about it, Paul."
Aunt Hester sat down and listened attentively to our hero's story.
"How do you account for the money being found in your pocket?" she asked at length.
"I think it must have been put there by some one else."
"Have you any suspicions?"
"Yes," said Paul, a little reluctantly, "but I don't know whether I ought to have. I may be wronging an innocent person."
"At any rate it won't do any harm to tell me."
"You've heard me speak of George Dawkins?"
"I can't help thinking that he put the fifty dollars into my pocket, and took the rest himself."
"How very wicked he must be!" exclaimed Mrs. Cameron, indignantly.
"Don't judge him too hastily; Aunt Hester, he may not be guilty, and I know from my own experience how hard it is to be accused when you are innocent."
Soon after the sexton came in, and Paul of course, told his story over again.
"Never mind, Paul," said Uncle Hugh, cheerily. "You know your own innocence; that is the main thing. It's a great thing to have a clear conscience."
"But I liked Mr. Danforth and I think he liked me. It's hard to feel that he and Mrs. Danforth will both think me guilty, especially after the kindness which I have experienced from them."
"We all have our crosses, my boy,--some light and others heavy. Yours, I admit is a heavy one for a boy to bear. But when men are unjust there is One above who will deal justly with us. You have not forgotten him."
"No, Uncle Hugh," said Paul, reverently.
"Trust in him, Paul, and all will come out right at last. He can prove your innocence, and you may be sure he will, in his own good time. Only be patient, Paul."
"I will try to be, Uncle Hugh."
The simple, hearty trust in God, which the sexton manifested, was not lost upon Paul. Sustained by his own consciousness of innocence, and the confidence reposed in him by those who knew him best, his mind soon regained its cheerful tone. He felt an inward conviction that God would vindicate his innocence.
His vindication came sooner than he anticipated.
The next day as the sexton's family were seated at their plain dinner, a knock was heard upon the outer door.
"Sit still, Hester," said Mr. Cameron. "I will go to the door."
Opening the door he recognized Mr. Danforth, who attended the same church.
"Mr. Cameron, I believe," said Mr. Danforth, pleasantly.
"May I come in? I am here on a little business."
"Certainly, Mr. Danforth. Excuse my not inviting you before; but in my surprise at seeing you, I forgot my politeness."
The sexton led the way into the plain sitting-room.
"I believe Paul Prescott is an inmate of your family."
"Yes, sir. I am sorry----"
"I know what you would say, sir; but it is needless. May I see Paul a moment?"
Paul was surprised at the summons, and still more surprised at finding who it was that wished to see him.
He entered the room slowly, uncertain how to accost Mr. Danforth. His employer solved the doubt in his mind by advancing cordially, and taking his hand.
"Paul," he said pleasantly, "I have come here to ask your forgiveness for an injustice, and to beg you to resume your place in my counting-room."
"Have you found out who took the money, sir?" asked Paul, eagerly.
"Who was it, sir?"
"It was Dawkins."
Mr. Danforth explained how he had become acquainted with the real thief. In conclusion, he said, "I shall expect you back to-morrow morning, Paul."
"Thank you, sir."
"Dawkins of course leaves my employ. You will take his place, and receive his salary, seven dollars a week instead of five. Have you any friend whom you would like to have in your own place?"
Paul reflected a moment and finally named a schoolmate of his, the son of poor parents, whom he knew to be anxiously seeking a situation, but without influential friends to help him.
"I will take him on your recommendation," said Mr. Danforth, promptly. "Can you see him this afternoon?"
"Yes, sir," said Paul.
The next day Paul resumed his place in Mr. Danforth's counting-room.