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HOME > Classical Novels > The Worst Boy in Town > CHAPTER XVI. LOSING A REPUTATION.
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Jack was so overjoyed at getting home again that his plain little room seemed a palatial residence when he entered it. As long sections of bare skin were visible through his dried but burned clothing, and as the latter was also well sprinkled with hay-seed, he made haste to change his apparel. He really hoped his father would whip him, he had been so bad, and lest the punishment should not be as heavy as he deserved he put on very thin clothing, and neglected to put anything between jacket and skin to temper the blows. If his father did not punish him, he would punish himself; he would go without pie and cake for a year, or he would commit to memory a chapter of the Bible every day. Of course nobody in the village would speak to him now, but he didn't care, if only he could remain at home, never to go away, not even when he became a man.

Suddenly, as he emptied the remaining pockets of his burned clothes, he found the letter which he had intended to mail to his sweetheart from some convenient post-office. At sight of this his heart gave a mighty bound, and he retracted his resolution to remain at home all his life, unless, indeed, his mother might be brought to fully approve the choice of his heart. He would lose no time in consulting both his parents about this affair of the affections, and he counted it as a sin that he had not done so long before. What very different people from what he had supposed them to be, that night had taught him his father and mother were!

The expected punishment not manifesting itself, Jack ventured out of his room and stood upon the back piazza to look at the garden, which suddenly appeared to him to be the finest garden that the world ever knew—the garden of Eden excepted, perhaps.

From here he listened to the breakfast bell, and wondered if any bread and water would be sent to him; if not, he would at least have the consolation of knowing that he didn't deserve any. But suddenly his father shouted that his breakfast would be cold if he didn't eat it soon, so Jack descended, in a maze, to the nicest breakfast he had ever seen, and oh! wonder of wonders, his father gave him a cup of coffee, a luxury which he had been taught to forego, because the doctor thought it very injurious to growing boys with large heads. Jack occasionally stole a loving look at both parents, but it pained him greatly to discover for the first time, that his father looked as if he was going to be an old man, and he was confused by seeing his mother's eyes fill with tears at short intervals.

When breakfast was over, the doctor went into his office without saying a word to Jack, and Mrs. Wittingham, first kissing her boy, went to her household affairs, and Jack felt very uncomfortable. He was too full to be silent, but it was not the sort of fullness, so often experienced, that could be relieved by whistling, or singing, or dancing, or teasing the family cat. He was absolutely longing to pay the penalty of his misdeeds, and he was determined not to be the cause of any delay, so he followed his father into the office—a thing he had never done before in his life in the face of impending conflict. The doctor was surprised beyond measure by this unexpected demonstration, and his astonishment increased as Jack, after lounging about uncomfortably for a few moments, suddenly exclaimed:

"Father, I want to be punished."

"Bless me!" exclaimed the doctor, turning so suddenly that a powder which he was preparing dusted all over his clothing. "Have you lost your senses, my boy?"

"No, sir," said Jack, hanging his head. "I guess I've just found them. I've been a dreadfully bad boy, and I think I deserve to be punished severely."

"Well," said the doctor, after several moments of silent contemplation of his boy, "that's the strangest case I ever heard of."

The doctor dropped the paper which had held the powder, hurried to the desk, took out the notes for his work on heredity, and made the following memorandum: "It is undeniable that the mental, like the physical nature, sometimes generates a quality utterly different from itself." Then the doctor erased this, and re-wrote and amplified it. The second form did not satisfy him entirely, so again he erased and wrote, and repeated the process several times. As he was making his sixth erasure he became conscious that Jack had lounged up to his elbow.

"Oh!" said the doctor, "you said you wanted to be punished, didn't you?"

"Yes, sir."

The doctor wanted to say "Confound it!" but he habitually refrained from such remarks before his boy; as he looked back to his doubly scrawled page, however, he unconsciously penned "Confound it!" directly after his late erasure, and he followed it with exclamation points to the end of the line.

"What do you think should be done to you?" asked the doctor, finally.

"I don't know," said Jack, "but it ought to be something dreadful, for I've been so bad."

"Why did you get drunk?"

"I didn't mean to do it," said Jack, "but that's just the way with everything I do," and Jack explained the affair with the brandy-bottle.

"You did something worse than get drunk when you took that brandy, my boy," said the doctor.

"I suppose so," said Jack; "I always do something worse. But I don't know what it was."

"You showed yourself to be a coward," replied the doctor. "What do you think of cowards?"

"They'd have called me a coward if I hadn't drunk it," said Jack.

"Yes," said the doctor, "and that's what you were cowardly about, can't you see?"

Jack admitted that he could.

"Wouldn't it have taken more bravery to have laughed and fought down such a charge, than it required to drink the liquor?" asked the doctor.

"Yes, sir. And I want to be punished for being a coward too."

"Goodness!" exclaimed the doctor, seizing his hat and vanishing. A few minutes later the Reverend Mr. Daybright, just as he had entered his study, received a call from Dr. Wittingham, and the doctor promptly proceeded to detail Jack's case and ask for advice. Now Mr. Daybright belonged to a denomination which has very pronounced ideas on the subject of sin and punishment, and the minister preached as his church believed, and was sure that he believed what he preached, yet he counselled the doctor to let the boy alone.

"But he wants to be punished," urged the doctor.

"What good can it do him?" asked the minister; "if he is in that frame of mind, the sole object of punishment is attained in advance."

"But he has done wrong; he has kept his mother and me in intolerable misery for twenty-four hours, and it seems to me that something should be done to him."

"Ah!" said the minister, "you're thinking about revenge, which is very different from punishment. And it is my duty, as your pastor, to urge you to give up the thought at once, for it is unchristian and brutal."

"Why," said the doctor, flushing angrily, "I don't want to punish him; I simply think it a matter of duty."

"Yes," sighed the minister, "revenge has generally been considered a duty, so great is the influence of inheritance even upon minds intentionally honest."

The doctor abruptly departed, muttering to himself:

"That's a point for the book, any how!"

Arrived at his office, the doctor found Jack still there. He picked the boy up in his arms, and as Jack mentally submitted to whatever was to be his fate, his father sat down, hugged the boy close, and said:

"My darling fellow, tell me what I can do to keep you out of further mischief and trouble. That shall be your punishment."

The exquisite sarcasm of the potter questioning his clay did not strike Jack, which is not very strange, as the doctor himself was unconscious of it. But Jack could only say:

"I don't know."

"I would sell everything I own, if money would do it," said the doctor.

Jack was still unable to answer, but the doctor's assertion caused the boy to squeeze closer to his father's breast, which movement greatly comforted the old gentleman.

"I think if you'd always let me be with you, father, I would be a real good boy," said Jack. "I like you better than I do anybody—but Matt; yes, better than Matt either."

"Thank you, my boy," said the doctor, with some little coolness which Jack detected.

"I've got to do something," sai............
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