Paul Prescott's Charge/Chapter XXXIII
Two years passed, unmarked by any incident of importance. Paul continued in Mr. Danforth's employment, giving, if possible, increased satisfaction. He was not only faithful, but exhibited a rare aptitude for business, which made his services of great value to his employer. From time to time Mr. Danforth increased his salary, so that, though only nineteen, he was now receiving twelve dollars per week, with the prospect of a speedy increase. But with his increasing salary, he did not increase his expenses. He continued as economical as ever. He had not forgotten his father's dying injunction. He remained true to the charge which he had taken upon himself, that of redeeming his father's memory from reproach. This, at times subjected him to the imputation of meanness, but for this he cared little. He would not swerve from the line of duty which he had marked out.
One evening as he was walking down Broadway with an acquaintance, Edward Hastings, who was employed in a counting-room near him, they paused before a transparency in front of a hall brilliantly lighted.
"The Hutchinsons are going to sing to-night, Paul," said Hastings. "Did you ever hear them?"
"No; but I have often wished to."
"Then suppose we go in."
"No, I believe not."
"Why not. Paul? It seems to me you never go anywhere. You ought to amuse yourself now and then."
"Some other time I will,--not now."
"You are not required to be at home in the evening, are you?"
"Then why not come in now? It's only twenty-five cents."
"To tell the truth, Ned, I am saving up my money for a particular purpose; and until that is accomplished, I avoid all unnecessary expense."
"Going to invest in a house in Fifth Avenue? When you do, I'll call. However, never mind the expense. I'll pay you in."
"I'm much obliged to you, Ned, but I can't. accept."
"Because at present I can't afford to return the favor."
"Never mind that."
"But I do mind it. By-and-by I shall feel more free. Good-night, if you are going in."
"He's a strange fellow," mused Hastings.
"It's impossible to think him mean, and yet, it looks a great deal like it. He spends nothing for dress or amusements. I do believe that I've had three coats since he's been wearing that old brown one. Yet, he always looks neat. I wonder what he's saving up his money for."
Meanwhile Paul went home.
The sexton and his wife looked the same as ever. Paul sometimes fancied that Uncle Hugh stooped a little more than he used to do; but his life moved on so placidly and evenly, that he grew old but slowly. Aunt Hester was the same good, kind, benevolent friend that she had always been. No mother could have been more devoted to Paul. He felt that he had much to be grateful for, in his chance meeting with this worthy couple.
It was the first of January,--a clear, cold day. A pleasant fire burned in the little stove. Mr. Cameron sat at one side, reading the evening paper; Mrs. Cameron at the other, knitting a stocking for Paul. A large, comfortable- looking cat was dozing tranquilly on the hearth-rug. Paul, who had been seated at the table, rose and lighted a candle.
"Where are you going, Paul?" asked Aunt Hester.
"Up-stairs for a moment."
Paul speedily returned, bearing in his hand a small blue bank-book, with his name on the cover.
He took out his pencil and figured a few minutes.
"Uncle Hugh," said he, looking up, "when I get a hundred dollars more, I shall have enough to pay father's debt."
"Principal and interest?"
"Yes, principal and interest; reckoning the interest for a year to come."
"I did not suppose you had so much money, Paul. You must have been very economical."
"Yes, Uncle Hugh more so than I have wanted to be, oftentimes; but whenever I have been tempted to spend a cent unnecessarily, I have always called to mind my promise made to father on his deathbed, and I have denied myself."
"You have done well, Paul. There are few who would have had the resolution to do as you have."
"Oh yes, Uncle Hugh," said Paul, modestly, "I think there are a great many. I begin to feel repaid already. In a few months I shall be able to pay up the whole debt."
At this moment a knock was heard at the door. Mr. Cameron answered the summons.
"Does Mr. Paul Prescott live here?" inquired a boy.
"Yes. Do you want to see him?"
"Here is a letter for him. There is no answer."
The messenger departed, leaving the letter in Mr. Cameron's hand.
Somewhat surprised, he returned to the sitting-room and handed it to Paul.
Paul opened it hastily, and discovered inclosed, a bank-note for one hundred dollars. It was accompanied with a note from his employer, stating that it was intended as a New Year's gift, but in the hurry of business, he had forgotten to give it to him during the day.
Paul's face lighted up with joy.
"Oh, Uncle Hugh!" he exclaimed, almost breathless with delight. "Don't you see that this will enable me to pay my debt at once?"
"So it will, Paul. I wish you joy."
"And my father's memory will be vindicated," said Paul, in a tone of deep satisfaction. "If he could only have lived to see this day!"
A fortnight later, Paul obtained permission from his employer to be absent from the office for a week. It was his purpose to visit Cedarville and repay 'Squire Conant the debt due him: and then, to go across the country to Wrenville, thirty miles distant, to see Aunt Lucy Lee. First, however, he ordered a new suit of a tailor, feeling a desire to appear to the best advantage on his return to the scene of his former humiliation. I must not omit to say that Paul was now a fine-looking young fellow of nineteen, with a frank, manly face, that won favor wherever he went.
In due course of time, he arrived at Cedarville, and found his way without difficulty to the house of 'Squire Conant.
It was a large house, rather imposing in its exterior, being quite the finest residence in the village.
Paul went up the walk, and rang the bell.
"Can I see 'Squire Conant?" he asked of the servant who answered the bell.
"You'll find him in that room," said the girl, pointing to a door on the left hand of the hall.
"As he doesn't know me, perhaps you had better go before."
The door was opened, and Paul found himself in the presence of his father's creditor. 'Squire Conant was looking pale and thin. He was just recovering from a severe sickness.
"I presume you don't recognize me, sir," said Paul.
"Did I ever see you before?"
"Yes, sir; my name is Paul Prescott."
"Not the son of John Prescott?"
"The same, sir. I believe my father died in your debt."
"Yes. I lent him five hundred dollars, which he never repaid."
"He tried to do so, sir. He had saved up a hundred and fifty dollars towards it, but sickness came upon him, and he was obliged to use it."
'Squire Conant's temper had been subdued by the long and dangerous illness through which he had passed. It had made him set a smaller value on his earthly possessions, from which he might be separated at any moment. When he answered Paul, it was in a manner which our hero did not expect.
"Never mind. I can afford to lose it. I have no doubt he did what he could."
"But I have come to pay it, sir," said Paul.
"You!" exclaimed 'Squire Conant, in the greatest astonishment.
"Where did you get the money?"
"I earned it, sir."
"But you are very young. How could you have earned so much?"
Paul frankly told the story of his struggles; how for years he had practised a pinching economy, in order to redeem his father's memory from reproach.
'Squire Conant listened attentively.
"You are a good boy," he said, at length.
"Shall you have anything left after paying this money?"
"No, sir; but I shall soon earn more."
"Still, you ought to have something to begin the world with. You shall pay me half the money, and I will cancel the note."
"Not a word. I am satisfied, and that is enough. If I hadn't lent your father the money, I might have invested it with the rest, and lost all."
'Squire Conant produced the note from a little trunk of papers, and handed it to Paul, who paid him the amount which he had stipulated, expressing at the same time his gratitude for his unexpected generosity.
"Never mind about thanks, my boy," said 'Squire Conant: "I am afraid I have loved money too well heretofore. I hope I am not too old to turn over a new leaf."