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HOME > Classical Novels > The Worst Boy in Town > CHAPTER VII.
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"When the devil was well,
The devil a saint was he."

Jack sat, one evening, on a horse-block just outside the front gate, contemplating the evening star and such of its companions as were putting in their respective appearances. He was attired rather more carefully than was considered necessary for a Doveton boy on any day but Sunday, and his countenance was in keeping with his garb; while his hair was brushed to a degree of smoothness almost dandyish. Suddenly one-half of the Pinkshaw twins approached and asked Jack if he didn't feel like going that night to a meeting to be held by the German Methodists, who were holding a series of week-day evening services.

"I can't," said Jack. "We're expecting—expecting a visitor, and I must stay home to meet him."

"That's too bad," said the half of the Pinkshaw twins, scraping the dust into a heap with his bare feet, "for they've got old Vater Offenstein, all the way from New Munich, to do the exhorting, and they expect a great time."

"They are real good people, those German Methodists are," said Jack, "but you'll have to excuse me to-night. Get some other fellow to go with you."

"I can't," explained young Pinkshaw. "Nearly all the boys are going to a party at Billy Barker's sister's, but Billy and I don't speak since he traded me a dog that was given to fits, so I'm not going."

Jack sympathized with the Pinkshaw twin in his loneliness; besides, he did not know but some feeling stronger than mere curiosity was drawing the boy toward the church; certainly he, Jack, would never have divulged a religious feeling in any but a roundabout way. The church was but a five minutes' walk, and he could excuse himself and come away after the Pinkshaw twin became fairly interested. So he accompanied the boy, their direction being toward the sound of some very spirited singing, which could be distinctly heard above all other evening sounds. Arrived at the little church, Jack found that his companion would not have lacked congenial society even had he come alone, for in the back seats were already congregated several boys of respectable parentage, and a loafer or two besides, as well as half a dozen adults who frequently occupied back seats in churches. Jack would have retired at once, but the famous Vater Offenstein had just ascended the pulpit, removed his coat, laid it across the desk and opened the Bible, and Jack, who was just then full of sympathy with all believers of the Word, was anxious to observe the old man's method.

The service began with an earnest prayer, to which responses were offered from most of the benches near the altar. Then a rich old German choral was finely rendered, after which Vater Offenstein proceeded to business. Jack understood a little of the exhortation, having studied German, and he ventured a silent prayer that its whole meaning might be taken in by Sam Mugley, the sadler shop apprentice, who understood German and all the ways of the evil one beside. The discourse was apparently a powerful one, for "Amen!" "Gott macht es!" "Liebes Herr und Heiland!" and various other responses escaped frequently from the faithful. Old Nokkerman, man-of-all-work at Matt Bolton's father's store, seemed particularly excited; he waved to and fro on his seat, his shock of long uncombed hair with a bald spot in its centre making him particularly noticeable. The old man's cranium did not, however, attract attention only from admirers of the picturesque, for suddenly a small but rapid ball of soft-chewed paper made a fair bull's eye on the circle of bare scalp, and flattened itself over considerable space. Old Nokkerman turned speedily to perceive only several rows of solemn-faced unregenerates, Jack's eye being the only one he could catch, so he shook his fist warningly at the general line of occupants of the back seats, and then resumed his blissful manifestations as quickly as if the religious ecstacy were a mere habit which could be assumed or laid aside at will. A hurried interchange of views took place in a whisper on the furthest seat back, with the result that Sam Mugley, the sadler shop apprentice, slyly drew a small tin putty-blower from an inner breast pocket, and aimed a ball of putty at old Nokkerman's cranial target. The shot missed its mark, being low and to one side, and struck Fritz Shantz a smart blow in the back of his neck. As Shantz was a butcher as well as a devout Methodist, he rose instantly with blood in his eye, and started for the back of the church, his mien being so terrible that one of the more cautious of the loafers hurried out of church and took to his heels, thus diverting suspicion from the guilty person, and laying up for himself a day of wrath which Shantz determined should not be long postponed.

Jack was really in sympathy with the worshippers, and was also indignant, with them, at the godless disturbers of the excellent tone of the meeting, but it was out of the power of any healthy boy with a keen sense of the ridiculous to avoid a little laughter at the peculiar ways of old Nokkerman and the butcher under their annoyances. And a little laughter in a boy of fourteen is quite likely to be something like the beginning of strife; it led to more and yet more, until Jack was too full to restrain his merriment, and it bubbled out of his eyes and all over his face. The brethren knew by experience that when disturbances began so early in the evening, the occasion demanded sharp eyes and prompt action, so several of the occupants of the "Amen" seats kept a pretty steady sidelong glance at the back benches, while one brother walked quietly out of church and notified a constable that trouble was expected.

Meanwhile, Vater Offenstein continued his exhortations, alternating between heavenly love and the brimstone of the unpopular extreme of the debatable land, and the excitable among the brethren and sisters responded more and more fervently, and Gottlieb Wiffterschneck sprang to his feet and jumped up and down shouting, "Ach, Herr Jesu!" when the horse doctor's boy, who had been biding his time outside the church just under one of the windows, carefully trained a huge syringe to bear upon the altar, and deluged Vater Offenstein's face with water, which, like the precious oil upon the head of Aaron, ran down upon his beard and garments, and shed considerable upon the Holy Book beside. This was too much for even good Vater Offenstein, so instead of repeating the sublime prayer of the dying Stephen he picked up a small wooden bench upon which short preachers usually knelt in the pulpit, and hurled it at the window, missing the open space and sending it through two panes of glass and the intervening sash. This provoked a laugh even from one or two of the faithful, so the occupants of the back benches released themselves from all restraint, and laughed aloud in a most unseemly manner, while Vater Offenstein wiped his face and hair with his coat, and quoted appropriate passages of Scripture most dreadfully between his teeth, translating some of them into English for the benefit of the race from which alone the annoyances of the brethren proceeded. A general quiet being thereby induced, the exhortation was resumed for a short time, and ended in an invitation to the penitent to go forward to the altar and be prayed for.

While the brethren sang a hymn, several sinners passed up the narrow aisle and Jack turned his head with the hope that he might see Sam Mugley, the saddler shop apprentice, join the band, but the wicked Sam was just in the act of blowing a second putty-ball, and Jack's head coming suddenly in range as it turned, the ball struck Jack fairly in one eye, causing the boy to emit a howl of anguish. In an instant Shantz the butcher had collared Jack and shaken him soundly, exclaiming,

"Dat iss vat a gute Amerigan boy iss, iss it?"

"Somebody hit me in the eye with something," screamed Jack, "and it hurts awfully. Oh!"

"Den dat iss too bad," said Shantz. "Dell me who it vass and I will break effery bone in hiss body."

But Jack could not tell, and several sympathizing brethren gathered about him and suggested that he should take a seat farther forward, and be where the bad boys could not annoy him. Although this suggestion, thanks to the mysterious ways of the unfathomable German mind, was equivalent to asking him to put himself more directly under fire, Jack gladly availed himself of it, so as to remove himself from an environment which was full of cause for suspicion.

By this time the assemblage was on its knees, listening to a prayer by Petrus von Schlenker. Petrus' prayer was very earnest, but it was also long; it was delivered with such rapidity that Jack could not understand a word of it, so the exercise became rather monotonous to him, and he opened his eyes and looked about. Under the single slat which formed the back of the bench, and directly in front of him, Jack beheld the broad and well-patched trowsers-seat of Nuderkopf Trinkelspiel, and Satan, who long ago became noted for putting in an appearance when the Sons of God were in council (See Job, Chap. I), suggested to Jack that through such a mass of patches a bent pin might work its way for quite a distance without doing any serious damage to the wearer. Jack broke an anticipatory laugh square in two, and closed his eyes in prayer to be delivered from temptation, but when he opened his eyes again there were the patches, apparently a little more inviting than before. Jack did not exactly wish that some good brother on the bench behind Nuderkopf Trinkelspiel would think to crook a pin and place it on Nuderkopf's bench just as the latter arose to take his seat, but he wished, in case anyone should be prompted to do such a thing, that he, Jack, might have his head turned just then so as to observe the result of the operation. And still Petrus von Schlenker's prayer went on, and Jack's eyes remained open, and the boy was glad that he did not occupy the seat behind Nuderkopf Trinkelspiel, lest he might be tempted. Suddenly there came to Jack something which would have been called an inspiration had its tendency been different. He remembered that he had a pin in the lapel of his own jacket, and it occurred to him that this pin might be bent so as to have a reliable base, and the point might be inserted in the seat of Nuderkopf Trinkelspiel's trowsers, where it would be in position to attend to business as soon as the worshippers resumed a sitting posture. Jack promptly whispered to himself "Get thee behind me, Satan," suiting the action to the word by removing the pin from the coat and dropping it on the floor. But there it was more tempting than it had been before; it lay there, bright, thick and strong, demanding that Jack should look at it. It was no common, soft pin, to collapse at the first sign of pressure, but tough enough to serve as a nail, if occasion required. Jack was really curious to know if so unprecedented an application of a pin could be successful, because, if he became a preacher, as he instantly resolved he would, he might some time preach in German in that very church, and then if such a trick were served upon any one, he would be able to detect the guilty person. Besides, the patch seemed to repose upon other patches, and probably the pin point could not more than pierce the cloth itself, where it would be when Nuderkopf Trinkelspiel knelt at the next prayer, and it would demonstrate what would be the effect of a similar operation upon a thinner pair of trowsers.

Jack picked up the pin and bent it with the greatest care, though it would have seemed to an exact scientist that the upright portion was unnecessarily long for a purpose merely experimental. He inserted it with the greatest nicety between the coarse threads of the homespun patch, and though he admitted that Petrus von Schlenker was considered a very good man, he determined that his prayer was too long to be efficacious. Suddenly the voluble Petrus said "Amen," the audience arose, Jack's heart bounced into his mouth, Nuderkopf Trinkelspiel began to sit down, the brethren started the noble choral beginning
"Groser Gott wir loben dich;
Herr, wir preisen deiner st?rke,"

when suddenly Nuderkopf Trinkelspiel emitted a most appalling yell, and followed it up with so many others of a similar character, that the song sank to a faltering termination, and the singers crowded around their disturber, scarcely knowing whether to attribute the disturbance to pain or to grace. Several minutes elapsed before Nuderkopf Trinkelspiel sought the cause of his agony, but when at length he extracted the pin from the seat of his trowsers and held it aloft in explanation, no one failed to comprehend the cause of his agitation. Then astonishment gave place to mystery, for it passed conjecture how the pin could even have got upon the bench, with several reliable brethren just behind Nuderkopf and one at either side of him. During the general arising, Jack considered it safer to start homeward to see the company that had been expected early in the evening, but he lingered outside the window just a moment, to see the excitement subside, and great was his mirth as he beheld the wondering faces of the honest Germans. Here he was joined by the Pinkshaw twin and two or three other boys, but just then Vater Offenstein reminded the congregation that time was rapidly bearing them on to eternity, so the brethren resumed their seats, and Jack was going to start for home when the Pinkshaw twin asked, perhaps forgetting Jack's new professions,

"What next?"

Lazy George Crayton remarked that he had brought some torpedoes which he had saved over from the fourth of July, but none of them had exploded when he threw them, perhaps because in the church he could not get good elbow-room when he threw.

Jack had determined not to make any more trouble, but if there was anything which he despised above all others, it was a person who could never think of but one way to do a thing. So he reproached George Crayton with being a dunderhead, and George replied that if somebody was smarter than somebody else, perhaps somebody would have the kindness to show how. So Jack thought carefully for a moment or two, and then asked if anyone had an old letter in his pocket. Nobody answered in the affirmative, but as Jack said that any stout sheet of paper a foot long would do, a boy who lived near by sped homeward, and soon returned with a sheet of foolscap. Jack rolled this into a tube, put several torpedoes into it, put his lips to one end by way of illustration, and remarked


"I'll bet you can't blow them hard enough to snap," whispered the lazy George in reply.

Such an aspersion of the power of his lungs was too much for Jack's principles, so he peered cautiously about the church for an appropriate mark. Vater Offenstein was the most prominent and tempting one in sight, but him Jack regarded almost as the Lord's anointed. On either side of the pulpit, however, were large oil lamps, and inviting attention to the one which was nearest, Jack took deliberate aim and blew a mighty blast. He missed the lamp, but the wall behind the pulpit was hard enough to stop any small projectile, and against this the torpedoes crashed almost as a single one, and caused Vater Offenstein to jump nearly across the pulpit. Half a dozen of the faithful hurried out of doors, and after them, to see the fun, dashed all the occupants of the back seats, while from some unknown hiding place sprang the constable. Away flew the boys, all in the same direction, and after them went the constable, the brethren and the whole body of the scoffers. Jack and the Pinkshaw twin easily got away from their pursuers and found friendly cover in the darkness, but a confused sound of harsh voices, dominated by a loud wail, indicated that lazy George Crayton had been caught.

"Oh, oh, oh," exclaimed Jack in a hoarse whisper, "isn't it too dreadful?"

"Never mind," said the Pinkshaw twin, reassuringly, "they haven't got us."

"They will get us, though," said Jack. "That George Crayton will tell on us—he's an awful coward when he gets cornered. What shall I do?"

"Lick him," suggested the Pinkshaw twin; "lick him until he'll be afraid to say his soul's his own the next time he gets into a scrape."

"That isn't it," said Jack. "The thing will get all over town, and all this time I ought to have been at home to see Mr. Daybright, who was to come to our house to-night for the express purpose of examining me on my evidences!"

The Pinkshaw twin had nothing to say in reply to this information, and Jack sneaked home and hung about the doorway until he assured himself that Mr. Daybright had gone; then he made some lame excuse for his absence and retired to a very uneasy pillow.

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