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HOME > Classical Novels > The Worst Boy in Town > CHAPTER X. YOUNG AMERICA IN POLITICS.
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For a month Jack labored manfully to keep his pledge to eschew the society of boys, and a very miserable month it was. He at first determined to not even answer any boy who spoke to him, but this led to his being called "Proudy," and "Codfish," and "Bloated Aristocrat." All this was very galling to a youth who considered himself as pre-eminently a man of the people. Then, one day, as he was hoeing potatoes in the family garden, half a dozen boys leaned on the fence for an hour, and shouted themselves hoarse by exclaiming in concert, "Tombstone!" To hold one's tongue, as Jack did throughout the infliction, is to prove one's self a possessor of a high degree of self-control. When, however, the half dozen boys grew angry at their inability to elicit any response, and began to throw stones at the young gardener, Jack's endurance escaped him suddenly and he dashed at the fence, hoe in hand. All the boys fled except one who, being a rowdy, had hugged one of the palings in the affectionate manner peculiar to rowdies, and had unconsciously established an entangling alliance between the paling and a hole in his shirt. Him, Jack pounded over the head with the hoe handle until utter breathlessness compelled the operator to discontinue his labors; then Jack cut him loose with his pocket-knife and sent him away after an interchange of terrible threats had been effected. As the rowdy's skull had a roof of wondrous thickness, he sustained no injury in his mental parts, so he changed his base only to a point from which he could watch Jack's going in and coming out.

An hour later, as Jack was going to the store, with two empty jugs to be filled, respectively, with vinegar and molasses, the rowdy sprang at him from a sheltering fence corner. Jack shouted "Foul!" but the rowdy was not particular to regard the rules of the ring just then, so he stuck one dirty finger in Jack's mouth so as to obtain a secure grip, and then with amazing celerity, invested Jack with a bloody nose and a black eye. Jack was not going to abandon the family property, even in a fight, so he retained tight hold of the jugs, raised his hands alternately and smote his antagonist, first with one jug and then with the other. Then the rowdy made haste to cry "Foul!" but Jack, merely remarking, "What's sauce for the goose—" allowed the rowdy to complete the quotation for himself, striking him meanwhile wherever an unprotected point presented itself. A final blow in the pit of the stomach caused the rowdy to curl up on the lap of mother earth, and then Jack discovered, for the first time, that all that remained of the jugs were their respective handles, and that the rowdy was bleeding profusely in several places.

Jack had never before seen a more dangerous wound than a cut finger, and even of these he had seen but one at a time, so he greatly feared that the rowdy would bleed to death. What to do, he did not know; he recalled the little affair of Moses with the Egyptian taskmaster, and determined that flight was the dictate of prudence, but as for burying his victim in the sand, there was no sand nearer than the river bank, a mile away, and the dirt under the rowdy was a hard-beaten footpath. Away flew Jack toward home and into his father's office, where he exclaimed:

"Father, there's a rowdy dying out on the path to the store."

"Heaven be praised!" said the doctor; "that'll lessen the state prison expenses a few dollars."

"He's bleeding to death," explained Jack.

"Oh," said the doctor arising and snatching a case of instruments, "that's a different thing; it now becomes an opportunity for experimental surgery."

"It was I that killed him," continued Jack, in a very thin voice.

"Eh?" exclaimed the doctor, dropping his instruments. "Then you'd better get out as fast as you can, and not let me know where you are until you have to. Don't ever do it—I don't want even to see you again—I wash my hands of you forever."

"Father!" screamed Jack in utter agony, while gallows trees sprung up before his eyes in every direction, "let me tell you how it was." And Jack hastily detailed his experiences of the morning, concluding with:

"It was all because I was trying so hard to mind you, and not have anything to do with boys."

The doctor threw his arms around the youth, and exclaimed:

"You're a darling, noble, splendid boy, but there is no knowing how a jury may look at the case, when your previous reputation is considered. Get ready to hide."

Jack hurried up to his room for what seemed to him necessities, but he had time to reflect upon his varied experiences to do right, with their lamentable results, and to wonder if it were not really true, as was implied by some novels he had been unfortunate enough to read, that fate occasionally forbade some people to do right successfully. Of one thing he was very sure; come what would, he never could ask nice little Mattie Baker to become the wife of a murderer. Then he tiptoed feebly, after one or two ineffectual efforts, to his father's room, which overlooked the scene of the battle; it might be that the doctor had reached the wounded boy in time to staunch the flow of blood before it was eternally too late. From the window, Jack, with great astonishment and not entirely without disgust, beheld the rowdy sauntering away with his hands in his pockets, while beside him walked the doctor, violently shaking his fist and head at the beaten man, and filling the air with threats which a breeze wafted back to Jack.

The surprise was too much for Jack's nerves; he dropped upon his father's bed and doubted whether he ever would regain his breath again; then he bemoaned the loss of the vagabond life which had been just within his grasp, and which is the ideal of every boy at a certain period of his life. From this he was recovered by the thought that, after all, nice little Mattie Barker was not to be entirely a memory of the past. His eye and nose finally obtruded themselves upon his attention, and very unsightly objects they were in a mirror; he hoped nice little Mattie Barker would not see him until his face regained its natural appearance; and he would certainly take care never to have himself so disfigured again.

Then his father returned, hastily searched the house for Jack, caught him in his arms, and actually cried over him, upon which the boy felt himself a hero indeed. But when his father assured him that his latest exploit would have a wonderful effect in keeping boys away from him, Jack did not seem so elated as the doctor would have had him; he looked so solemn that the doctor asked what the matter was, and Jack burst out crying, and answered:

"I'm so dreadfully lonely all the time."

The doctor started to ask if either he or his wife were not always at home, but recalling the drift of a previous conversation on the same topic, he grew suddenly very cool and undemonstrative and removed himself, whereupon Jack, who read the human face as correctly as boys usually do, waxed angry, and lost sight of all his principles, as every one does in anger, and determined that if he could not have fun with the boys he would have it without them, and have all he wanted, too.

He did not lose much time in discovering a way of amusing himself. August had worked through into September, and though the public was to have no opportunity of disarranging national affa............
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