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HOME > Classical Novels > The Worst Boy in Town > CHAPTER III. INJURY AND RESTITUTION.
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Dr. Wittingham, whose only son Jack was, sat in his office one morning compounding a complicated and consequently a favorite prescription of his own, and at the same time pondering upon the equally complicated character of his boy. The doctor had been a boy himself, a third of a century before, and an extremely lively one, if the traditions of his native village had been correctly handed down, but a man's memory is not in the habit of going backward half a lifetime, unless in search of old sweethearts, so the doctor owned to himself that Jack was without exception the most mischievous boy he had ever known or heard of.

"It passes all explanation, too," said the doctor, sitting down and watching his prescription as it filtered slowly into a glass beneath it. "I'm a man of good behavior if ever there was one, his mother was a lady born and bred, he knows the Bible better than our minister does, and there's nothing good but what the boy seems to take a lively interest in. I was going to write a book upon heredity, basing it upon the development of that boy's character as inherited from his parents and modified by such teachings as I have imparted, to improve the original stock. But bless me! I'm sometimes unable to find the original stock at all, and as for the improvements I intend to make in it, well, they're as invisible as the ailments of some of my rich patients. Whatever I say to him seems to filter through him more rapidly than that mixture is doing through the paper, and leaves not even a sediment behind, while whatever he shouldn't hear seems to stick to him like an adhesive plaster. Before he goes to school, he recites his lessons to me in the most perfect manner; when he comes home he brings a written complaint from the teacher, who has found him outrageously mischievous all day long; and when his mother takes any of his torn jackets and trowsers in hand, she is certain to find two or three more documents of the same kind which Jack has kindly forgotten to deliver, perhaps out of regard for my feelings. He will chop wood all day Saturday for the Widow Batty or some other needy person, until I determine he's growing to be too good to live; then my own dinner comes up underdone because he hasn't considered that wood-chopping, like charity, should begin at home. I've heard no complaints of him for nearly a week; there must be a terrible shower of them brewing somewhere."

There was a knock at the door, and the town supervisor of roads entered.

"Ah, good morning," said the doctor, briskly. "Who's under the weather now?"

"Wa'al," drawled the supervisor, "nobody, I reckon 'less its you. Here's a little bill I'm sorry to have to bring to you, but its had to be done."

The doctor took the paper from the Supervisor's hand and read as follows:

"Dr. Andrew Wittingham to town of Doveton, Dr. One-half cost of replacing Second Brook Bridge, $11.62."

"What on earth does this mean?" exclaimed the doctor after reading the bill several times.

"Bolton has paid the other half," said the supervisor; "its for that bridge that Jack and Matt hooked, you know, and left in the middle of Prewitt's corn field half a mile from where it belonged."

"Hooked a bridge?" exclaimed the doctor, "I don't understand. Jack never said anything to me about it."

"Didn't he?" asked the supervisor with an ironical grin. "Wa'al, like enough he didn't; 'twas during the June freshet, you know, an' the boys found it loose, an' went raftin' around on it. Like enough they'd have fetched it back, but they rammed it through one fence after another, an' at last they got it aground. We tried to get it under a log wagon an' haul it back, but 'twas no go, an' we havn't put the hire of the wagon into the bill, for the man wasn't to charge anything if he didn't get it through. Shouldn't wonder, though, if Prewitt brought in a bill for damages, he says it'll do him out of twenty hills of corn, besides being a nuisance to plough around. An' he and the next man are out about a dozen fence rails each."

The doctor recognized the inevitable, yet remarked that the price seemed a large one for a bridge in a country where lumber was so cheap.

"Just what it cost," remarked the supervisor, "the whole thing came to $23.25, an' in dividin' I threw the odd cent on to Bolton, for I think the medical profession ought to be encouraged."

The doctor paid the bill, and bade his visitor a rather curt good morning. Then he went to the door and shouted "Jack!" in tones which would have been heard by the young man if he had been at school, which he was not.

"Jack," said the doctor, sternly, when the youth appeared, "I've just had to pay for a bridge which you stole in June."

"I didn't," promptly answered the boy.

"It amounted to the same thing, in dollars and cents, as stealing," said the doctor. "How many hours of fun did you have that day?"

Jack thought profoundly for a minute or two, and replied, meekly,

"About two, I suppose."

"And to pay for those I have had to lose the receipts of about a day of hard, disgusting work. Do you consider that the fair thing, for one who is doing everything he can for your good?"

"No, sir," replied Jack, honestly contrite in the presence of this new view of the case.

"Then why did you do it?"


"Because what?"


"Because you're an ungrateful scamp, and don't care for anything but your own pleasure."

"Yes I do, father," said Jack, beginning to cry, "I"——

"Don't make excuses, sir," interrupted the doctor; "you shall do extra work, at whatever a laborer would be paid, to make up the cost of that bridge, and do it on your holidays and Saturdays, too. Now I want you to go and burn that old bridge, or I'll have to pay for the annoyance it will give Prewitt."

Jack lingered for a moment, as bad boys often do on such occasions, longing to say something which he could not put into words, and to hear some recognition of what he felt was good within him. Had the doctor used a mere tithe of the patience and love that Heaven had been compelled to display in reforming him, he might have attached Jack to him by that love which is the best of all educators in things wise and thoughtful. But the doctor, like the boy, lived first, though unconsciously, for himself, and so with an impatient gesture he drove Jack from the door. The boy filled a pocket with matches and lounged off, muttering to himself,

"It'll be bully fun to burn the old bridge, anyhow, I shouldn't wonder if it would take a couple of days, and there'll be that much school time gone, but I say—Matt ought to be made to help—oh, wouldn't that be jolly! I'll go ask his father right away—everybody calls him an honest man, and he oughtn't to see me paying Matt's debts."

Jack hurried at once to Mr. Bolton's store; as he entered, the proprietor, who was alone, picked up a hoe-handle, and exclaimed—

"You young scoundrel, I've a good mind to break every bone in your rascally body. Don't you ever dare to coax my boy to go anywhere with you again, or I'll half kill you. You're the worst boy in town."

Rightly assuming that the opportunity for presenting his request was not a promising one, Jack departed at once, and hung about the schoolhouse until the mid-morning intermission; then he seized Matt and announced the situation, taking care to omit mention of his interview with Bolton senior. Matt at once volunteered assistance, and an hour later the boys had burning upon the bridge a glorious fire of dead boughs and broken rails. When the boards had burned in two, the boys pried the two logs toward each other, and thereafter they adjusted the logs several times, getting each time some smut upon their clothes as well as occasional burns upon their hands. When at length the logs seemed able to take care of themselves the boys strewed some green twigs upon the ground to lie on, and as they were stretched upon them, chatting in the desultory manner peculiar to every one who lies down about a fire, Jack remarked,

"Say Matt, do you know that people in this world are awfully unfair to boys?"

"I guess I do," replied Matt, "but what made you think of it just now?"

"Why, my govenor gave me fits this morning about this bridge, and called me ungrateful and all sorts of things. I s'pose he thought he told the truth, but I know better. I'd do anything for him—I'd die for him. Why, one day that big mulatto Ijam, that he can never collect his bills of, came in looking awful ugly, and blazing about being sued, and I was sure he meant to hurt father; I just got a hatchet and stood outside the door, ready to rush in and tomahawk him if he did the least thing. It made me late at school, and I got licked for that, but I didn't care, and the teacher wrote a note home about it and I got scolded, but I didn't tell what I'd done."

"My father's the same way, sometimes," said Matt.

"I know he is," said Jack, hastily debating (with decision in the negative) whether he should tell of his own morning experience with Mr. Bolton.

"Now," continued Jack, "I've got to work all my holidays at something, I don't know what, until I earn enough money to pay my share of that bridge—you know the two govenors have had to settle for a new one?"

"Mercy, no!" exclaimed Matt.

"They have, this morning," said Jack. "I shouldn't wonder if you'd catch it when you go home, but there's some bully mullein leaves under the hill that you can put inside the back of your jacket."

Matt devoted some moments of disagreeable reflection to this topic; then his sense of companionship came to the surface, and he said—

"I'll help you, Jack—unless father punishes me in the same way. What do you suppose you'll have to do?"

"I don't know yet," said Jack, "but I've got a splendid idea. The govenor has just bought his winter's supply of wood, as he generally does in June, and he always has it cut while its green because it costs only a dollar and a quarter a cord, while the men charge a dollar and a half when its seasoned. I'll ask him to let me work it out in that way."

"Why, Jack," remonstrated Matt, "it will take you more than half a year of holidays."

"No, it won't," said Jack, "I can chop nearly a cord a day when I work hard. Besides, I've got an idea worth more than my own industry. I'm going to blow at school, and around among the boys, about what a splendid wood-chopper I am."

"I'll say the same thing about you," said Matt.

"All right; we'll both talk of my particular swing with the axe until the whole crowd will be mad enough to take the conceit out of me at any price. Then I'll offer a bet of something worth having—a half dollar against half a dime, say—that I can chop and split more in a single day than any other boy in town. Lots of them will take up the bet, we'll appoint a day, the place to be our wood, pile, and every boy to bring his own axe. You shall be umpire, so you won't have to do anything but walk about and egg the others up to business."

This brilliant device took complete possession of Matt, and as for Jack, within a week there was not a boy in town who could pass him without making a face at him, and scarcely a mother dependant upon her own boys for fuel but had an abundant supply without having to beg for it. Many indignant boys offered indefinite bets in favor of their own skill with the axe, but the sagacious Jack declined them all on the ground that he could not honorably bet on what he called a sure thing. When finally he offered his own wager, it was accepted by acclamation by nearly the whole of his own arithmetic class, numbering twenty-nine. The boys from the other school hoped they were not to be excluded just because they lived in a different part of the town, and Matt went on a special mission to them to assure them that this was to be, figuratively speaking, an international contest, in which all territorial lines were to be as if they existed not. Some other boys who never went to school, hardened young rowdies, who, as a rule did nothing, and accumulated a large stock of vitality which was not always expended in proper ways, heard of the approaching match, swore by all sorts of persons, places and things that they only wished they might "take a whack at that game," and were cordially invited to participate. Then the would-be contestants met in convention, and Jack formally deposited his half dollar in the hands of Matt, who was to be stake-holder. There being some difficulty in deciding how the bets against Jack were to be held, the challenger magnanimously declined to accept any bet, if the crowd would agree, each for himself, that the man who cut least, and he alone, should be loser of a half dime in case of Jack's triumph.

After a fair canvass of conflicting interests as to date, which involved the withdrawal of several boys who had agreed to go fishing or shooting, or berrying, or visiting, it was decided that the ensuing Saturday morning would be the most available time, particularly as Jack explained that his father who, he was sure, would stop the whole thing if he heard of it in advance, would start before daylight that morning to attend a consultation miles away by rail. The idea that the proceeding would be displeasing to any adult silenced at once the objections of all who had preferred another date, and it even brought back the boys who had pleaded prior engagements.

As for Dr. Wittingham, he was completely astounded and wonderfully pleased when Jack, with a frank business-like air, proposed to cut the ten cords of winter wood as an offset to the bridge bill of eleven dollars and sixty-two cents. The doctor patted Jack's head, called him a noble fellow, gave him a stick of licorice, and promised him a dollar for himself on the completion of the work.

"Now," said the doctor, when Jack had left his presence, "I think I've a good hard point for that work on heredity; Impose a rational penalty for offense, and its manifest justice will improve both the reasoning and moral nature of the offender."

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