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HOME > Classical Novels > The Worst Boy in Town > CHAPTER XII. SWEET SOLACE.
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Jack was willing to live on bread and water for a week; he would have acknowledged the justice of any penalty short of death, for the burning of the stable would not appear to him other than a dreadful calamity for which he was primarily responsible. He did not mean anything wrong, to be sure, when he designated the stable as the place for the game, but it began to seem to him that what one meant or did not mean was of very little consequence when he made any departures from the beaten path of rectitude. He had not put matches in his pocket for the sake of burning the stable; he had meant nothing wrong by sitting on his jacket that night—he had only done so that he might be cooler, and that it might prevent the sharp stalks of hay from protruding so successfully through his thin trowsers. He could not foresee that the Pinkshaw twin—hang him!—would get angry, and stamp over that coat as he struck the winner—for that was undoubtedly the time, when, under the crunching of the Pinkshaw shoe-heel, the matches were ignited. Why couldn't the old jacket have burned up, instead of remaining to tell tales? What could have brought the gunmaker, usually so industrious, to view so uninteresting an object as a burned stable, and how came he to walk just where he could espy his own saw? Why should the doctor have assumed, at sight, that the yard of hose had been cut from his own carriage sprinkler? And why had the whole affair happened on the evening preceding clean stocking day?

"Morality is the order of things." Jack may never have heard this saying, but he became slowly of an opinion which embodied the same idea, and he determined upon a reformation which should leave nothing to be desired in point of thoroughness. He would not say anything about it to his father and mother, but he would let the truth burst upon them of its own irresistible force some day. He had his doubts as to whether an announcement of his resolution would have any particular effect any way, for his parents had heard something of the sort before, without beholding any particular fruition thereof. He would give up every single pleasure which could not be justified by the Bible itself. His issue of veracity with the Pinkshaw twin came to his mind, with the suggestion that the only boyish method of settling such affairs was hardly consistent with the nature of his good resolutions. Still, had not Ananias and Sapphira been struck dead for lying?—surely to give the Pinkshaw twin a sound drubbing would not only be excusable but necessary, as a matter of moral duty. Had not Mr. Daybright himself preached a sermon to prove that every man was, morally, his brother's keeper, and was not lying positively forbidden by one of the Ten Commandments?

As for the stable, Jack determined that the first thousand dollars he earned when he became a man should be given to his father to compensate for the loss of the building and its contents. The building cost but little more than half that sum, but the interest which would accumulate in six or seven years would bring the loss up to the amount determined upon, and Jack was determined to be honest to the last penny. And if the Pinkshaw twin was any sort of a fellow when he became a man—though from present appearances this seemed improbable—he would see the justice of providing the money himself, for he had had no moral right to get angry at the result of fair play, particularly after having been himself detected in the act of cheating. Jack determined to reason calmly with the Pinkshaw twin on this subject—after the other settlement had been made, of course.

Then Jack began to realize that he had eaten a very light breakfast, and that the smell of boiling and roasting and baking which was wafted up from the kitchen was particularly tantalizing to a fellow who had to dine on plain bread. But even this serious thought was overborne by a graver one which came suddenly to his mind: could nice little Mattie Barker ever bring herself to love a gambler who had burned down a stable—his own father's stable, too? This was too great an agony to be endured—he could give up his darling sins, but nice little Mattie Barker was a darling of a different kind. Something ought to be done, and that very promptly, to disabuse Mattie's mind of the erroneous reports which would be sure to reach the young lady's ears, but what could it be? He might write to her the plain, unvarnished tale of the affair, but that would have to admit that he had gambled, and which would Mattie be likely to dislike most—a possible incendiary or a confessed gambler?

Suddenly, to Jack's great relief, there entered Matt, whom Mr. Wittingham had failed to realize had been a participator in the irregularities which led to the destruction of the barn. To him Jack explained the situation regarding the stable, and a right doleful time the two boys had together until Jack remembered that he had not yet informed his bosom-friend of the affair with the political meeting. Jack endeavored to recount the incidents thereof in the light of his new resolutions, but Matt's hilarity became speedily contagious, and within a scant ten minutes Jack detected himself, to his great horror, in the act of framing a revised and enlarged order of disturbances for the next great Puttytop meeting, which would take place in about a fortnight, and was arranging that Matt, whom he had half an hour before vowed to lead into right ways, should blow torpedoes at the speaker through the open windows from a long tube which Jack would have made for the purpose.

Then nice little Mattie Barker came to mind during a lull in the conversation, love being merely secondary to action, as it is in most other restless natures, and Jack, not without some confusion and halting of speech, informed Matt that he was in love.

"Why, are you sure?" asked Matt.

"It's a dead sure thing," declared Jack.

"Dear me!" ejaculated Matt.

"Dear Mattie Barker!" exclaimed Jack, and instantly his countenance ran through the whole chromatic scale of facial expression, and then dropped low, perhaps to rest from its sudden exertion.

"That's who, is it?" said Matt.

"Yes," said Jack. "I didn't mean to tell you, Matt, but it came out all of a sudden. I meant to ask you, though, to go and explain things to her, so she shouldn't have to think any worse of me than she needs to."

"All right," said the literal Matt, "but I couldn't very well have told her if I hadn't known who she was, you see."

"Yes, that's true," admitted Jack.

"Well, I guess I had better do it at once, for I saw her sitting on the back piazza, peeling peaches, as I came along, and there's no time like the present, you know."

Jack acknowledged to himself the general application of Matt's plea for promptness, but he somehow wished that the explanation might be deferred, for he was doubtful as to what message to send, so he asked:

"What will you tell her, Matt?"

"Oh, I'll say you didn't set the barn afire," said Matt, "and that your worst present fear is that she may believe you did."

"That's pretty good," said Jack, beginning to walk up and down the room, "and it's delicate, too; you can tell her I haven't sent that message to any other girl in town, and that I'd rather die than do it. Go ahead."

But Matt could not think of anything else to say, and Jack himself thought of something, but made several ineffectual attempts to give voice to it. At length he assumed a heroic attitude and said:

"Tell her that in my rigorous confinement my sole comfort is taken from thoughts of her."

"Golly!" exclaimed Matt; "that sounds just like a book! It's just stunning. I'll write that down and commit it to memory on the way, for it's too good to spoil."

Matt pencilled the sentence on the............
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