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CHAPTER VI.
"When the devil was sick
The devil a saint would be."

The only consolation that Master Jack could conjure up, as he carried his broken arm home, was that his father would undoubtedly consider the disaster a sufficient punishment for the offense. Jack could not at first imagine why his arm should indulge in such sudden and terrible twinges and object so nervously to being rubbed or held. The pain which it experienced from the shaking consequent upon running caused Jack to subside into a walk as soon as he had assured himself that he was not followed; even then the pain gave no indication of subsiding. Suddenly the truth dawned upon the boy's mind, and between the shock occasioned by the discovery and the sense of at least a month of vacation to be utterly lost, Jack became so weak and faint that when he at last reached home he dropped upon the office step and his head fell heavily against the door. The doctor, who fortunately was at home, opened hastily and exclaimed,

"Well, what's the latest?"

"Oh, father," gasped Jack, "I've tumbled, and I'm afraid my arm is broken."

The doctor helped the boy into a chair, eliciting a howl as he did so. A short examination of the arm caused additional howling, and during the quarter hour consumed by the operation of setting, Jack abandoned all preconceived ideas of the nature of fun. Finally, when the doctor carefully removed his clothing, put him into bed, and told him he would have to lie there for at least a fortnight, Jack dragged the pillow up to his face with his unhurt arm, and moistened it most uncomfortably with tears. Half an hour later, when his father had broken the news to his mother, who had nerves, and the lady came up to see him, she found him sobbing violently.

"Jack, Jack," she exclaimed, "this will never do. There is always a fever with arms broken above the elbow, and if you excite yourself it will come on too soon, and it may destroy your reason."

"I wish it would," sobbed Jack, "I'd a great deal rather be crazy than lie here in my senses all through this jolly, awful month. I can't pick a blackberry, and I can't have any money for Christmas, and I know Frank Parker guesses one of the new baits I was going to try on the perch, and it'll be just like him to go and catch every one of them. It's just horrid."

"Jack!" remonstrated Mrs. Wittingham, "can't you think how horrid it is for you to go and break your arm, and make more work for every body in the house?"

"Yes," said Jack, "but you don't think that makes me feel any better, do you?"

"Then," said Mrs. Wittingham, "you should take your suffering as a judgment from the Lord."

"He might have put it off until after vacation, anyhow," exclaimed the bad boy, at which Mrs. Wittingham clapped her fingers to her ears and fled, and informed her husband in almost the same breath, that the dreadful boy deserved a sound whipping even now, and that nothing but the grace of God could ever make Jack what he should be.

But after Jack had recovered from his rage, and had been surprised into taking a short nap, he began to view the situation in about the light which his mother would have liked him to use. It certainly had been great fun to tease that French teacher—the thought of it provoked even now a merry chuckle which a twinge of the arm suddenly discouraged—but it was equally certain that the teacher himself did not seem to enjoy it. As for sliding down a bell rope, no boy had ever done it before, to Jack's knowledge, but oh, how his hands were smarting! The more he thought of them the worse they burned; he must have something cooling put upon them, even if he had to confess how he came by them. Some one would be sure to tell his father of his exploits at the schoolhouse, so why shouldn't he confess in advance and get the credit for it?

May be the broken arm was a judgment upon him, as his mother suggested. Well, he would admit that he deserved it, though he still doubted the necessity for its infliction at this particular season of the year. He would do his best to learn by it, anyhow—he certainly was going to have time enough in which he could do nothing else. So Jack confessed, and had his hands treated to a cooling lotion. The doctor, having previously heard the story from the vivacious tongue of the outraged exile himself, and having spent a delightful hour, partly retrospective, in laughing over the latest capers of his son, was in a position to listen with judicial gravity and to express his horror at frequent intervals and in fitting terms. Then Jack listened to a long and solemn lecture which was more wordy than pithy, and was told that he must avoid even exciting subjects of thought for a fortnight to come.

"Mayn't Matt come to see me?" asked Jack in faltering tones.

"Only for two or three minutes at a time," said the doctor; "even conversation will excite you."

"I want to talk to him," said Jack.

"Why can't you talk to your mother and me?" asked the doctor.

It is beyond all things astonishing what silly questions may be asked by sensible men when they have forgotten their own boyhood days, and it is not surprising that Jack could not easily frame an answer to the doctor's question.

"Did Matt ever feed or clothe you?" asked the doctor.

Jack admitted, with some trifling modifications of the first condition, that Matt had not.

"Did he ever give you a home, or take care of you when you were sick, or pay your school bills?"

Jack shook his head.

"Then why can't you care so much for your mother and me as you do for him?" continued the doctor.

Jack was silent.

"It's because you're an ungrateful young scamp," exclaimed the doctor with considerable temper, as he arose and left the room.

"Father," shouted Jack, "it isn't! Please come back?"

The doctor, considerably startled by such an exhibition of feeling, hastily returned.

"Father," said Jack, turning his head in spite of considerable pain which the motion inflicted upon his arm, "it's because—because Matt's a boy."

"Umph!" exclaimed the doctor, "that is a reason—a wonderful reason. I should think you would want to have it patented, or copyrighted, or something."

The doctor retired, pondering upon human depravity as exemplified by ingratitude, and Jack, having plenty of time, began to devise some way of shaming his father out of so unjust an idea as that his boy was ungrateful. When he became a man and a steamboat captain he would bring all the doctor's medicines free of charge—perhaps that wouldn't heap coals of fire upon the old gentleman's head—oh, no! Indeed, he was not sure but he might one day become a missionary—missionaries must have jolly times on tropical islands where they can always go about in their shirt sleeves, have for nothing all the bananas they can eat, and shoot lions, and birds of paradise, and things, right from their own doors. Perhaps when he sent his father a tiger-skin rug, and his mother a whole lot of ostrich plumes, and a monkey, and some cunning heathen gods to put on her parlor mantel, his father would talk about ingratitude then, but Jack rather guessed not! Then when his mother came in with a plate of water-toast, Jack surprised her by remarking.

"Mother, when marble time comes, I'll give you all the buttons I win."

"What do you mean, Jack?" said the lady.

"Why, we play marbles for buttons sometimes, and there's only two or three boys in town that can beat me, and I never play with them."

"Where do they get the buttons to bet?" asked Mrs. Wittingham, "and," she continued, a dire suspicion coming suddenly to mind, "where do you get them?"

"I—I don't know," said Jack feebly, at which answer his mother sniffed alarmingly, and left Jack to feel that grown folks were most shamefully suspicious, and that they couldn't appreciate gratitude when it was offered them.

Two or three days later the fever set in, and Jack dreamed for days of Polar explorations, where he could go swimming in cooling seas and sun himself dry on iridescent icebergs. He planned a wonderful voyage of discovery to the North Pole, and it was of inestimable comfort to him to report progress to Matt, in the five minutes which that youth was allowed daily at the sufferer's bedside. The tenor of his thoughts was daily interrupted by his mother, who considered the occasion demanded Bible reading instead of personal sympathy for the youth, who could not leave his bed to attend family prayers, and she so frequently selected passages descriptive of a locality the temperature of which is the reverse of polar, that Jack had to do a great deal of mental rambling to get his thoughts in proper trim again.

At last the fever subsided leaving Jack extremely weak in body, but of a temper simply angelic. He prefaced every request with "please," he never forgot to say "thank you," and he sang little hymns softly to himself. Mrs. Wittingham was delighted beyond measure, and when she suggested that the minister might like to call, and Jack replied that it would be very nice to have a chat with that gentleman, the lady became considerably alarmed on the subject of the boy's recovery. Mr. Daybright, the minister, was really a very pleasant man, as Jack discovered, now that he had time to "take his measure," as he himself expressed it, and after Mr. Daybright had talked with him for half an hour, and prayed with him, and departed, Jack did not know but he might finally conclude to be a minister himself, and have cake and cider offered him in the middle of the afternoon when he called upon boys with broken arms.

Then Jack's Sunday-school teacher called, and suggested that the class should come in a body, on the following Sunday, and Jack accepted the suggestion with fervor, and the class came, and stood decorously in a row, and sang several hymns, and looked as sober as if fish-lines and peg-tops and balls and birds' nests and orchards and crooked pins and truancy did not exist anywhere nearer than the planet Neptune. Then the teacher gave Jack a book from the Sunday-school library, which book he had selected with Jack's particular condition of mind in view, and although it proved to be the story of a dreadfully priggish but very pious little London footman, whose nature, tastes, temptations and general environment were utterly unlike Jack's, the boy labored manfully through it, and endeavored to persuade himself that he enjoyed it.

In fact, so thorough an overhauling did Jack's conscience receive that he even felt himself called upon to confess to the doctor his affair with Hoccamine's whiskey, but although the doctor had heard the story a month before from the lips of Matt's father, he had not yet reached that mental balance which would enable him to reprove the boy and still leave him impressed with a sense of the vileness of the rum traffic, so the doctor said only "Well," in a very grave way, and made an excuse to leave the sick chamber.

A few days later Jack was allowed to sit under the great trees in front of the house, and as he was positively forbidden to leave the grounds, to run, or to make any exertion which might disturb the arm, which he carried in a sling, he fell to noting the habits of birds with their young, until he became so affected that he silently vowed never to rob a nest again. He found in the flowers and the shrubbery many a charm which he had never suspected when weeding them; he contemplated cloud pictures until an overwhelming sense of the beautiful compelled him to decide upon an artistic career, and he watched every motion of whatever laborer happened to be in sight until he determined that he never again would throw a chip or anything else at a laboring man, no matter how funny he might look or how fluently he could swear when he espied his tormentor.

Finally, to the delight of his parents and many other people who were responsible for boys, but to the general depression of the boys themselves, it became known that Jack had signified his intention of joining the church. Mr. Daybright admitted that in years Jack was rather young to take such a step, but, on the other hand, he had a far abler mind, and—even although he was called the worst boy in town—a cleaner record than half the adults who came into the fold. Mr. Daybright had explained to him, as men often will to boys other than their own, that boys need not stop being boys and being happy just because they become good, so there was considerable disappointment experienced by such youths as shrewdly imagined that Jack's change of heart would result in his large and varied assortment of knives, lines, marbles, skates, etc., being thrown upon the market at reduced prices. Jack explained, with considerable vigor, that because he was going to give up mischief it did not necessarily follow that he should become a muff, or a soft head, or a twiddler, or an apron string, or a foo-foo, or a stick-in-the-mud, or a dummy, or any other of a dozen or two unpopular varieties of boy which he mentioned, but that he proposed to "keep his shirt on," remain "forked end down," retain possession of his eye-teeth, and have as good a time as anybody else could who didn't have to suffer for it afterward. And the unregenerate boys went away slowly and without the great possessions which they had expected to carry with them, while one of them who was generous as well as shrewd was heard to say that bully old Jack Wittingham wasn't going to flunk out after all, and that a fellow could do many a worse thing than to join the church.
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