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HOME > Classical Novels > The Worst Boy in Town > CHAPTER IX. THE STOOL OF REPENTANCE.
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It was customary in Doveton to put sober offenders against the peace in the second floor rooms of the jail, for these, though not containing everything that a fastidious taste might desire, were well lighted and ventilated. But as the constable led Jack to jail, he thought upon his own despoiled melon patch, so he decided to put the young man into the dungeon which was reserved for the most depraved disturbers and desperate villains. As Jack was pushed into this receptacle he noticed, with a sinking of the heart, that the door was a foot thick, built of most chilling oak-tree hearts, and strapped with huge bars of iron. Not that he had contemplated escape; he was just then too feeble of soul to contemplate anything but his own iniquity; but he had the natural, healthful objection to restraint, and when restraint can be measured by the cubic foot it is depressing almost to idiocy. Then the constable shot four massive bolts, each one of which seemed to give Jack's heart a mighty thump as it grated and groaned into its proper place. Jack turned to look at the window. It was of rough glass, so that a prisoner could not look out; it was only six inches high, though its length was about two feet, and it was crossed both inside and outside by stout bars of iron let into the stone. The furniture, when Jack's eyes became sufficiently accustomed to the dim light to see it all, consisted of a dingy cot of canvas and a broken pitcher containing the water left by the cell's last occupant, who had gone to the state prison two months before for passing counterfeit money. The only decorations were some cobwebs, which in tone harmonized with the general effect of the interior, and an engraving, upon the stone of the lightest side of the cell, of a frightful looking being with horns, hoof and barbed tail, having beneath it the inscription, "ThE DEViL Taik Evry boDDy." The odor of the apartment was undesirable.

By the time Jack had learned this much, he threw himself upon the canvas cot, careless of what else there might be to observe, and sobbed violently. This, then, was the end of the boy who had been so good for a month, who was going to join the church and be useful in persuading other boys out of bad courses, and be a missionary, perhaps, and a minister at the very least! Everybody now would think him a hypocrite; he would probably be sent to the penitentiary for a year or two, for now that the proper occasion for recalling the fact had passed, he remembered to have heard that disturbing religious assemblages was a great crime in the eyes of the law. Perhaps they would send him to the reform school, which would be a thousand times worse than the penitentiary, for the word "reform" suggested as dreadful possibilities to Jack as it ever did to a self-made politician. When he came out again what would happen to him? He had never seen any persons but loafers pay any attention to discharged prisoners who made Doveton their abiding place. Nobody would let their boys play with him then—if, indeed, by that time he had enough youth and spirits left to want to play; he would have to sit on the back seats in church among the sad-eyed, uninteresting reprobates who now sat there, instead of among the neatly dressed boys who sat under the eyes of their parents and the preacher.

Then Jack thought of the hereafter, in the literal, material manner, which was the natural result of the religious teachings he had received. If angels knew everything and went wherever they pleased, and if his deceased brothers and sisters became angels just after they died—they had been angelic while they lived—how must they feel to see their well-born, carefully taught brother in so dreadful a place as a common prison? As Jack thought of it he wished the prison bed had a cover under which he could hide; but as it had not, he squeezed his face and flattened his nose upon the rough, dirty canvas. The thought of his parents recalled the wish, frequently felt by Jack, that somebody would understand him, know how earnestly he longed to be good—some one to whom he could tell some of the splendid thoughts he sometimes had—thoughts which would simply astonish his parents out of their senses, if he could feel free to tell them. Why didn't people give him credit for what was in him, instead of eternally finding fault with him for what came out of him? Was he a jug that he should be judged in such a manner? Looking the matter squarely in the face, however, how was any one to know what was inside of him except by what proceeded from him?

This train of reasoning was promptly dismissed as unpleasant in the extreme, and Jack began to search his pockets for something that might assist him in consuming time more endurably, when some one at the grating in the door startled him by exclaiming:

"Well, young man!"

Jack recognized the voice of his father, and his heart went down, down, down, apparently through the floor, and all the way into the depths of the middle of the western half of the Pacific Ocean, which, by careful investigation, Jack had determined was the geographical antipode of Doveton. Then the door opened, and Jack's father entered, and, oh, horror of horrors! he brought with him Mr. Daybright, the minister. Jack sat upon the side of the cot and nervelessly dropped his face into his hands and his elbows upon his knees.

"Well, young man," resumed the doctor, "what have you got to say for yourself?"

Jack preserved utter silence, but determined that he never before heard so exasperating a question.

"My poor boy," said Mr. Daybright, sitting down beside Jack and putting his arm around him, "Satan has indeed been making a mighty fight to secure your immortal part."

"I think so too," sobbed Jack, glad of a chance to lay the blame of his mischievousness upon somebody else, and determining that if he ever did become a minister, he would make things lively for Matt Bolton's father, who denied the existence of a personal devil.

"So think I," remarked the doctor, "and a very successful job Satan has made of it. I wish he would give me a few lessons in the art of getting hold of boys."

The minister thought to himself that it was not necessary for the doctor to go so far for information when he could have obtained it from present company, but as the doctor paid a large pew rent in Mr. Daybright's church, that divine thought it inadvisable to offend a person upon whom a portion of his own salary depended. But he could safely say what he chose to Jack, so he said:

"Rouse yourself, my dear young friend; you still live and move and have your being, and
'While the lamp holds out to burn
The vilest sinner may return,'

you know. Why not, in this unsavory place, eschew finally and forever all bad associations?"

"I will—oh, I will!" cried Jack.

"I've heard something of the sort before," remarked the doctor. "I've heard it from this young scamp himself, and, Mr. Daybright, you and I have often heard it from men who thought they were upon their death-beds."

"Blessed be death-beds, then," fervently exclaimed the minister. "Jack, why don't you determine to say, hereafter and always, 'Get thee behind me, Satan!' when wrong impulses make themselves known in your mind?"

"I have done it," said Jack, recalling his experience with the pin in the German Methodist meeting, "but it don't take him long to get around in front of me again."

The doctor hid an unseemly giggle in his handkerchief, and the minister himself was temporarily silenced; then the doctor managed to straighten out his voice, as he said:

"Listen to me, my boy. I can take you out of this vile hole, but only by subscribin............
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