Paul Prescott's Charge/Chapter XIV
Although Paul could not help being vexed at having been so cleverly taken in by his late companion, he felt the better for having eaten the oysters. Carefully depositing his only remaining coin in his pocket, he resumed his wanderings. It is said that a hearty meal is a good promoter of cheerfulness. It was so in Paul's case, and although he had as yet had no idea where he should find shelter for the night he did not allow that consideration to trouble him.
So the day passed, and the evening came on. Paul's appetite returned to him once more. He invested one-half of his money at an old woman's stall for cakes and apples, and then he ate leisurely while leaning against the iron railing which encircles the park.
He began to watch with interest the movements of those about him. Already the lamplighter had started on his accustomed round, and with ladder in hand was making his way from one lamp-post to another. Paul quite marvelled at the celerity with which the lamps were lighted, never before having witnessed the use of gas. He was so much interested in the process that he sauntered along behind the lamplighter for some time. At length his eye fell upon a group common enough in our cities, but new to him.
An Italian, short and dark-featured, with a velvet cap, was grinding out music from a hand-organ, while a woman with a complexion equally dark, and black sorrowful-looking eyes, accompanied her husband on the tambourine. They were playing a lively tune as Paul came up, but quickly glided into "Home, Sweet Home."
Paul listened with pleased, yet sad interest, for him "home" was only a sad remembrance.
He wandered on, pausing now and then to look into one of the brilliantly illuminated shop windows, or catching a glimpse through the open doors of the gay scene within, and as one after another of these lively scenes passed before him, he began to think that all the strange and wonderful things in the world must be collected in these rich stores.
Next, he came to a place of public amusement. Crowds were entering constantly, and Paul, from curiosity, entered too. He passed on to a little wicket, when a man stopped him.
"Where's your ticket?" he asked.
"I haven't got any," said Paul.
"Then what business have you here?" said the man, roughly.
"Isn't this a meeting-house?" asked Paul.
This remark seemed to amuse two boys who were standing by. Looking up with some indignation, Paul recognized in one of them the boy who had cheated him out of the oysters.
`Look here," said Paul, "what made you go off and leave me to pay for the oysters this morning?"
"Which of us do you mean?" inquired the "governor's son," carelessly.
"I mean you."
"Really, I don't understand your meaning. Perhaps you mistake me for somebody else."
"What?" said Paul, in great astonishment. "Don't you remember me, and how you told me you were the Governor's son?"
Both boys laughed.
"You must be mistaken. I haven't the honor of being related to the distinguished gentleman you name."
The speaker made a mocking bow to Paul.
"I know that," said Paul, with spirit, "but you said you were, for all that."
"It must have been some other good-looking boy, that you are mistaking me for. What are you going to do about it? I hope, by the way, that the oysters agreed with you."
"Yes, they did," said Paul, "for I came honestly by them."
"He's got you there, Gerald," said the other boy.
Paul made his way out of the theater. As his funds were reduced to twelve cents, he could not have purchased a ticket if he had desired it.
Still he moved on.
Soon he came to another building, which was in like manner lighted up, but not so brilliantly as the theater. This time, from the appearance of the building, and from the tall steeple,--so tall that his eye could scarcely reach the tapering spire,--he knew that it must be a church. There was not such a crowd gathered about the door as at the place he had just left, but he saw a few persons entering, and he joined them. The interior of the church was far more gorgeous than the plain village meeting-house which he had been accustomed to attend with his mother. He gazed about him with a feeling of awe, and sank quietly into a back pew. As it was a week-day evening, and nothing of unusual interest was anticipated, there were but few present, here and there one, scattered through the capacious edifice.
By-and-by the organist commenced playing, and a flood of music, grander and more solemn than he had ever heard, filled the whole edifice. He listened with rapt attention and suspended breath till the last note died away, and then sank back upon the richly cushioned seat with a feeling of enjoyment.
In the services which followed he was not so much interested. The officiating clergyman delivered a long homily in a dull unimpassioned manner, which failed to awaken his interest. Already disposed to be drowsy, it acted upon him like a gentle soporific. He tried to pay attention as he had always been used to do, but owing to his occupying a back seat, and the low voice of the preacher, but few words reached him, and those for the most part were above his comprehension.
Gradually the feeling of fatigue--for he had been walking the streets all day--became so powerful that his struggles to keep awake became harder and harder. In vain he sat erect, resolved not to yield. The moment afterwards his head inclined to one side; the lights began to swim before his eyes; the voice of the preacher subsided into a low and undistinguishable hum. Paul's head sank upon the cushion, his bundle, which had been his constant companion during the day, fell softly to the floor, and he fell into a deep sleep.
Meanwhile the sermon came to a close, and another hymn was sung, but even the music was insufficient to wake our hero now. So the benediction was pronounced, and the people opened the doors of their pews and left the church.
Last of all the sexton walked up and down the aisles, closing such of the pew doors as were open. Then he shut off the gas, and after looking around to see that nothing was forgotten, went out, apparently satisfied, and locked the outer door behind him.
Paul, meanwhile, wholly unconscious of his situation, slept on as tranquilly as if there were nothing unusual in the circumstances in which he was placed. Through the stained windows the softened light fell upon his tranquil countenance, on which a smile played, as if his dreams were pleasant. What would Aunt Lucy have thought if she could have seen her young friend at this moment?