Paul Prescott's Charge/Chapter XXXV
At the very moment that Paul was driving through the village street, Mr. Nicholas Mudge entered the Poorhouse in high spirits. Certainly ill-fortune must have befallen some one to make the good man so exhilarant.
To explain, Mr. Mudge had just been to the village store to purchase some groceries. One of his parcels was tied up in a stray leaf of a recent New York Daily, in which he discovered an item which he felt sure would make Aunt Lucy unhappy. He communicated it to Mrs. Mudge, who highly approved his design. She called the old lady from the common room.
"Here, Aunt Lucy," she said, "is something that will interest you."
Aunt Lucy came in, wondering a little at such an unusual mark of attention.
Mrs. Mudge immediately commenced reading with malicious emphasis a paragraph concerning a certain Paul Prescott, who had been arrested for thieving, and sentenced to the House of Reformation for a term of months.
"There," said Mrs. Mudge, triumphantly, "what do you say to your favorite now? Turned out well, hasn't he? Didn't I always say so? I always knew that boy was bad at heart, and that he'd come to a bad end."
"I don't believe it's the same boy," declared Aunt Lucy, who was nevertheless unpleasantly affected by the paragraph. She thought it possible that Paul might have yielded to a powerful temptation.
"Perhaps you think I've been making it up. If you don't believe it look at the paper for yourself," thrusting it into Aunt Lucy's hands.
"Yes," said the old lady. "I see that the name is the same; but, for all that, there is a mistake somewhere. I do not believe it is the same boy."
"You don't? Just as if there would be more than one boy of that name. There may be other Prescotts, but there isn't but one Paul Prescott, take my word for it."
"If it is he," said Aunt Lucy, indignantly, "is it Christianlike to rejoice over the poor boy's misfortune?"
"Misfortune!" retorted Mrs. Mudge with a sneer; "you call it a misfortune to steal, then! I call it a crime."
"It's often misfortune that drives people to it, though," continued the old lady, looking keenly at Mrs. Mudge. "I have known cases where they didn't have that excuse."
Mrs. Mudge colored.
"Go back to your room," said she, sharply; "and don't stay here accusing me and Mr. Mudge of unchristian conduct. You're the most troublesome pauper we have on our hands; and I do wish the town would provide for you somewhere else."
"So do I," sighed the old lady to herself, though she did not think fit to give audible voice to her thoughts.
It was at this moment that Paul halted his chaise at the gate, and lightly jumping out, fastened his horse to a tree, and walked up to the front door.
"Who can it be?" thought Mrs. Mudge, hastily adjusting her cap, and taking off her apron.
"I don't know, I'm sure," said Mr. Mudge, unsuspiciously.
"I declare! I look like a fright."
"No worse than usual," said her husband, gallantly.
By this time Paul had knocked.
Good-morning, sir," said Mrs. Mudge, deferentially, her respect excited by Paul's dress and handsome chaise.
"Is Mrs. Lee in?" inquired Paul, not caring to declare himself, yet, to his old enemy.
"Yes," said Mrs. Mudge, obsequiously, though not overpleased to find that this was Aunt Lucy's visitor; "would you like to see her?"
"If you please."
"What can he want of the old lady?" thought Mrs. Mudge, as she went to summon her.
"A visitor for me?" asked Aunt Lucy, looking at Mrs. Mudge somewhat suspiciously.
"Yes; and as he's come in a carriage, you'd better slick up a little; put on a clean cap or something."
Aunt Lucy was soon ready.
She looked wonderingly at Paul, not recognizing him.
"You are not very good at remembering your old friends," said Paul, with a smile.
"What!" exclaimed Aunt Lucy, her face lighting up with joy; "are you little Paul?"
"Not very little, now," said our hero, laughing; "but I'm the same Paul you used to know."
Mrs. Mudge, who through the half open door had heard this revelation, was overwhelmed with astonishment and confusion. She hurried to her husband.
"Wonders will never cease!" she exclaimed, holding up both hands. "If that doesn't turn out to be Paul Prescott. Of course he's up in the world, or he wouldn't dress so well, and ride in such a handsome carriage."
"You don't say so!" returned Mr. Mudge, who looked as if he had heard of a heavy misfortune.
"Yes, I do; I heard him say so with his own lips. It's a pity you showed that paragraph to Aunt Lucy, this morning."
"That you showed, you mean," retorted her husband.
"No, I don't. You know it was you that did it."
"Hush; they'll hear."
Meanwhile the two friends were conversing together happily.
"I'm so glad you're doing so well, Paul," said Aunt Lucy. "It was a lucky day when you left the Poorhouse behind you."
"Yes, Aunt Lucy, and to-day is a lucky day for you. There's room for two in that chaise, and I'm going to take you away with me."
"I should enjoy a ride, Paul. It's a long time since I have taken one."
"You don't understand me. You're going away not to return."
The old lady smiled sadly.
"No, no, Paul. I can't consent to become a burden upon your generosity. You can't afford it, and it will not be right."
"O," said Paul, smiling, "you give me credit for too much. I mean that you shall pay your board."
"But you know I have no money."
"No, I don't. I don't consider that a lady is penniless, who has an income of three hundred dollars a year."
"I don't understand you, Paul."
"Then, perhaps you will understand this," said our hero, enjoying the old lady's astonishment.
He drew from his pocket a roll of bills, and passed them to Aunt Lucy.
The old lady looked so bewildered, that he lost no time in explaining the matter to her. Then, indeed, Aunt Lucy was happy; not only because she had become suddenly independent, but, because after years of coldness and estrangement, her brother had at last become reconciled to her.
"Now, Aunt Lucy," resumed Paul, "I'll tell you what my plans are. You shall get into the chaise with me, and go at once to New York. I think Aunt Hester will be willing to receive you as a boarder; if not, I will find you a pleasant place near by. Will that suit you?"
"It will make me very happy; but I cannot realize it. It seems like a dream."
At this moment Mrs. Mudge entered the room, and, after a moment's scrutiny, pretended to recognize Paul. Her husband followed close behind her.
"Can I believe my eyes?" she exclaimed. "Is this indeed Paul Prescott? I am very glad to see you back."
"Only a visit, Mrs. Mudge," said Paul, smiling.
"You'll stop to dinner, I hope?"
Paul thought of the soup and dry bread which he used to find so uninviting, and said that he should not have time to do so.
"We've thought of you often," said Mr. Mudge, writhing his harsh features into a smile. "There's scarcely a day that we haven't spoken of you."
"I ought to feel grateful for your remembrance," said Paul, his eyes twinkling with mirth. "But I don't think, Mr. Mudge, you always thought so much of me."
Mr. Mudge coughed in some embarrassment, and not thinking of anything in particular to say, said nothing.
"I am going to take from you another of your boarders," said Paul. "Can you spare Aunt Lucy?"
"For how long?" asked Mrs. Mudge.
"For all the time. She has just come into possession of a little property,--several hundred dollars a year,--and I have persuaded her to go to New York to board."
"Is this true?" exclaimed Mrs. Mudge in astonishment.
"Yes," said the old lady, "God has been bountiful to me when I least expected it."
"Can I be of any service in assisting you to pack up, Mrs. Lee?" asked Mrs. Mudge, with new-born politeness. She felt that as a lady of property, Aunt Lucy was entitled to much greater respect and deference than before.
"Thank you, Mrs. Mudge," said Paul, answering for her.
"She won't have occasion for anything in this house. She will get a supply of new things when she gets to New York.
The old lady looked very happy, and Mrs. Mudge, in spite of her outward deference, felt thoroughly provoked at her good fortune.
I will not dwell upon the journey to New York. Aunt Lucy, though somewhat fatigued, bore it much better than she had anticipated. Mr. and Mrs. Cameron entered very heartily into Paul's plans, and readily agreed to receive Aunt Lucy as an inmate of their happy and united household. The old lady felt it to be a happy and blessed change from the Poorhouse, where scanty food and poor accommodations had been made harder to bear by the ill temper of Mr. and Mrs. Mudge, to a home whose atmosphere was peace and kindness.
And now, dear reader, it behooves us to draw together the different threads of our story, and bring all to a satisfactory
Mr. and Mrs. Mudge are no longer in charge of the Wrenville Poorhouse. After Aunt Lucy's departure, Mrs. Mudge became so morose and despotic, that her rule became intolerable. Loud complaints came to the ears of 'Squire Newcome, Chairman of the Overseers of the Poor. One fine morning he was compelled to ride over and give the interesting couple warning to leave immediately. Mr. Mudge undertook the charge of a farm, but his habits of intoxication increased upon him to such an extent, that he was found dead one winter night, in a snow-drift, between his own house and the tavern. Mrs. Mudge was not extravagant in her expressions of grief, not having a very strong affection for her husband. At last accounts, she was keeping a boarding-house in a manufacturing town. Some time since, her boarders held an indignation meeting, and threatened to leave in a body unless she improved her fare,--a course to which she was obliged to submit.
George Dawkins, unable to obtain a recommendation from Mr. Danforth, did not succeed in securing another place in New York. He finally prevailed upon his father to advance him a sum of money, with which he went to California. Let us hope that he may "turn over a new leaf" there, and establish a better reputation than he did in New York.
Mr. Stubbs is still in the tin business. He is as happy as the day is long, and so are his wife and children. Once a year he comes to New York and pays Paul a visit. This supplies him with something to talk about for the rest of the year. He is frugal in his expenses, and is able to lay up a couple of hundred dollars every year, which he confides to Paul, in whose financial skill he has the utmost confidence.
I am sure my boy readers would not forgive me for omitting to tell them something more about Ben Newcome. Although his mirthful spirit sometimes led him into mischief, he was good-hearted, and I have known him do many an act of kindness, even at considerable trouble to himself. It will be remembered that in consequence of his night adventure, during which he personated a ghost, much to the terror of Mr. Mudge his father determined to send him to a military school. This proved to be a wise arrangement. The discipline was such as Ben needed, and he soon distinguished himself by his excellence in the military drill. Soon after he graduated, the Rebellion broke out, and Ben was at once, in spite of his youth, elected Captain of the Wrenville company. At the battle of Antiatam he acquitted himself with so much credit that he was promoted to a major. He was again promoted, and when Richmond was evacuated, he was one of the first officers to enter the streets of the Rebel capital, a colonel in command of his regiment. I have heard on high authority, that he is considered one of the best officers in the service.
Mr. and Mrs. Cameron are still living. They are happy in the success and increasing prosperity of Paul, whom they regard as a son. Between them and Aunt Lucy he would stand a very fair chance of being spoiled, if his own good sense and good judgment were not sufficient to save him from such a misfortune. Paul is now admitted to a small interest in the firm, which entitles him to a share in the profits. As Danforth and Co. have done a very extensive business of late years, this interest brings him in a very handsome income. There is only one cause of difference between him and the sexton. He insists that Uncle Hugh, who is getting infirm, should resign his office, as he is abundantly able to support the whole family. But the good sexton loves his duties, and will continue to discharge them as long as he is able.
And now we must bid farewell to Paul. He has battled bravely with the difficulties and discouragements that beset him in early life, he has been faithful to the charge which he voluntarily assumed, and his father's memory is free from reproach. He often wishes that his father could have lived to witness his prosperity? but God has decreed it otherwise. Happy in the love of friends, and in the enjoyment of all that can make life desirable, so far as external circumstances have that power, let us all wish him God speed!