Paul Prescott's Charge/Chapter XXVIII

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Paul Prescott's Charge by Horatio Alger
Chapter XXVIII: How Ben Got Home

Delighted with the complete success of his practical joke, Ben took his way homeward with the sheet under his arm. By the time he reached his father's house it was ten o'clock. The question for Ben to consider now was, how to get in. If his father had not fastened the front door he might steal in, and slip up stairs on tiptoe without being heard. This would be the easiest way of overcoming the difficulty, and Ben, perceiving that the light was still burning in the sitting-room, had some hopes that he would be able to adopt it. But while he was only a couple of rods distant he saw the lamp taken up by his father, who appeared to be moving from the room.

"He's going to lock the front door," thought Ben, in disappointment; "if I had only got along five minutes sooner."

From his post outside he heard the key turn in the lock.

The 'Squire little dreamed that the son whom he imagined fast asleep in his room was just outside the door he was locking.

"I guess I'll go round to the back part of the house," thought Ben, "perhaps I can get in the same way I came out."

Accordingly he went round and managed to clamber upon the roof, which was only four feet from the ground. But a brief trial served to convince our young adventurer that it is a good deal easier sliding down a roof than it is climbing up. The shingles being old were slippery, and though the ascent was not steep, Ben found the progress he made was very much like that of a man at the bottom of a well, who is reported as falling back two feet for every three that he ascended. What increased the difficulty of his attempt was that the soles of his shoes were well worn, and slippery as well as the shingles.

"I never can get up this way," Ben concluded, after several fruitless attempts; "I know what I'll do," he decided, after a moment's perplexity; "I'll pull off my shoes and stockings, and then I guess I can get along better."

Ben accordingly got down from the roof, and pulled off his shoes and stockings. As he wanted to carry these with him, he was at first a little puzzled by this new difficulty. He finally tied the shoes together by the strings and hung them round his neck. He disposed of the stockings by stuffing one in each pocket.

"Now," thought Ben, "I guess I can get along better. I don't know what to do with the plaguy sheet, though."

But necessity is the mother of invention, and Ben found that he could throw the sheet over his shoulders, as a lady does with her shawl. Thus accoutered he recommenced the ascent with considerable confidence.

He found that his bare feet clung to the roof more tenaciously than the shoes had done, and success was already within his grasp, when an unforeseen mishap frustrated his plans. He had accomplished about three quarters of the ascent when all at once the string which united the shoes which he had hung round his neck gave way, and both fell with a great thump on the roof. Ben made a clutch for them in which he lost his own hold, and made a hurried descent in their company, alighting with his bare feet on some flinty gravel stones, which he found by no means agreeable.

"Ow!" ejaculated Ben, limping painfully, "them plaguy gravel stones hurt like thunder. I'll move 'em away the first thing to-morrow. If that confounded shoe-string hadn't broken I'd have been in bed by this time."

Meanwhile Hannah had been sitting over the kitchen fire enjoying a social chat with a "cousin" of hers from Ireland, a young man whom she had never seen or heard of three months before. In what way he had succeeded in convincing her of the relationship I have never been able to learn, but he had managed to place himself on familiar visiting terms with the inmate of 'Squire Newcome's kitchen.

"It's only me cousin, sir," Hannah explained to the 'Squire, when he had questioned her on the subject; "he's just from Ireland, sir, and it seems like home to see him."

On the present occasion Tim Flaherty had outstayed his usual time, and was still in the kitchen when Ben reached home. They did not at first hear him, but when he made his last abortive attempt, and the shoes came clattering down, they could not help hearing.

"What's that?" asked Hannah, listening attentively.

She went to the door to look out, her cousin following.

There was nothing to be seen.

"Perhaps you was dramin' Hannah," said Tim, "more by token, it's time we was both doin' that same, so I'll bid you good-night."

"Come again soon, Tim," said Hannah, preparing to close the door.

A new plan of entrance flashed upon Ben.

He quickly put on his shoes and stockings, unfolded the sheet and prepared to enact the part of a ghost once more,--this time for the special benefit of Hannah.

After fully attiring himself he came to the back door which Hannah had already locked, and tapped three times.

Hannah was engaged in raking out the kitchen fire.

"Sure it's Tim come back," thought she, as she went to the door. "Perhaps he's forgotten something."

She opened the door unsuspiciously, fully expecting to see her Irish cousin standing before her.

What was her terror on beholding a white- robed figure, with extended arms.

"Howly virgin, defend me!" she exclaimed, in paralyzing terror, which was increased by a guttural sound which proceeded from the throat of the ghost, who at the same time waved his arms aloft, and made a step towards Hannah.

Hannah, with a wild howl dropped the lamp and fed towards the sitting-room, where 'Squire Newcome was still sitting.

Ben sped upstairs at the top of his speed, dashed into his own chamber, spread the sheet on the bed, and undressed so rapidly that he seemed only to shake his clothes off, and jumped into bed. He closed his eyes and appeared to be in a profound slumber.

Hannah's sudden appearance in the sitting- room in such a state naturally astonished the 'Squire.

"What's the matter?" he demanded of the affrighted servant.

"Oh, sir," she gasped, "I'm almost kilt entirely."

"Are you?" said the 'Squire, "you appear to be more frightened than hurt."

"Yes, sir, shure I am frightened, which indeed I couldn't help it, sir, for I never saw a ghost before in all my life."

"A ghost! What nonsense are you talking, Hannah?"

"Shure it's not nonsense, for it's just now that the ghost came to the door, sir, and knocked, and I went to the door thinking it might be me cousin, who's been passing the evening with me, when I saw a great white ghost, ten foot tall, standing forninst me."

"Ten feet tall?"

"Yes, sir, and he spread out his arms and spoke in a terrible voice, and was going to carry me off wid him, but I dropped the lamp, and O sir, I'm kilt entirely."

"This is a strange story," said 'Squire Newcome, rather suspiciously; "I hope you have not been drinking."

Hannah protested vehemently that not a drop of liquor had passed her lips, which was true.

"I'll go out and hunt for the ghost," said the 'Squire.

"Oh, don't sir. He'll carry you off," said Hannah, terrified.

"Nonsense!" exclaimed the 'Squire. "Follow me, or you may stay here if you are frightened."

This Hannah would by no means do, since the 'Squire had taken the lamp and she would be left in the dark.

Accordingly she followed him with a trembling step, as he penetrated through the kitchen into the back room, ready to run at the least alarm.

The back-door was wide open, but nothing was to be seen of the ghost.

"Perhaps the ghost's up-stairs," said Hannah, "I can't sleep up there this night, shure."

But something had attracted Squire Newcome's attention. It was quite muddy out of doors, and Ben had tracked in considerable mud with him. The footprints were very perceptible on the painted floor.

"The ghost seems to have had muddy shoes," said the 'Squire dryly; "I guess I can find him."

He followed the tracks which witnessed so strongly against Ben, to whose chamber they led.

Ben, though still awake, appeared to be in a profound slumber.

"Ben-ja-min!" said his father, stooping over the bed.

There was no answer.

"Ben-ja-min!" repeated his father, giving him a shake, "what does all this mean?"

"What?" inquired Ben, opening his eyes, and looking very innocent.

"Where have you been, to-night?"

"You sent me to bed," said Ben, "and I came."

But the 'Squire was not to be deceived. He was already in possession of too much information to be put off. So Ben, who with all his love of mischief was a boy of truth, finally owned up everything. His father said very little, but told him the next morning that he had made up his mind to send him to a military boarding-school, where the discipline was very strict. Ben hardly knew whether to he glad or sorry, but finally, as boys like change and variety, came to look upon his new prospects with considerable cheerfulness.