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In the station-house a fat sergeant sat dozing upon his throne. "Another vagrant," said the policeman, as if to say there was no special need to rouse himself.
"What was he doing?" the sergeant asked.
"Sleeping in a doorway," was the reply.
By this time Samuel had come to realize the futility of protest. He accepted his fate with dumb despair. He gave the information the sergeant asked for--Samuel Prescott, aged seventeen, native born, from Euba Corners, occupation farmer, never arrested before.
"All right," said the man, and went back to his nap; and Samuel was led away, and after a pretense at a search was shoved into a cell and heard the iron door clang upon him.
He was alone now, and free to sob out his grief. It was the culmination of all the shame and horror that he could ever have imagined; first, to have to beg, and then to be locked up in jail. He knew now what they did with men who were out of work and starving.
He lay there weeping, and then suddenly he sat up transfixed. From the cell next to him had come a cry, a horrible blood-curdling screech, more like the scream of a wild cat than any human sound. Samuel listened, his heart pounding.
There came the voice of a man from across the corridor--"Shut up, you hag!" And after that bedlam broke loose. The woman--Samuel realized at last that the scream had come from a woman--broke forth into a torrent of yells and curses. Such hideous obscenities, such revolting blasphemies he had never heard in his life before--he had never dreamed that life contained within it the possibility of such depravity. It was like an explosion from some loathsome sewer; and its source was the lips of a woman.
For ten minutes or so the tirade continued until it seemed to the boy that every beautiful and sacred thing he had ever heard of in his life had been defiled forever. Then a jailer strolled down the corridor, and with a few vigorous and judicious oaths contrived to quell the uproar.
Samuel lay down again; and now he had a chance to make another discovery. He had felt sharp stinging sensations which caused him to scratch himself frantically. Then suddenly he realized that he was lying upon a mattress infested with vermin.
The discovery sent him bounding to the middle of the floor. It set him wild with rage. Such a thing had never happened to him in his life before, for his home was a decent and clean one. This was the crowning infamy--that they should have taken him, helpless as he was, and shut him up in a filthy hole to be devoured by bedbugs and lice.
In the morning they brought him bread and coffee; and after a couple of hours' more waiting he was taken to court.
It was a big bare room with whitewashed walls. There were a few scattered spectators, a couple of policemen and several men writing at tables. Seated within an inclosure were a number of prisoners, dull and listless looking. One by one they stepped up before the railing and faced the judge; there would be a few muttered words and they would move on. Everything went as a matter of routine, which had been going that way for ages. The judge, who was elderly and gray haired, looked like a prosperous business man in a masquerade costume.
Samuel's turn came and he stood before the bar. His name was read, and the charge--vagrancy.
"Well?" said the judge mechanically. "What have you to say for yourself?"
Samuel caught his breath. "It's not my fault, sir," he began.
"Your honor," prompted the policeman who stood at his elbow.
"Your honor," said Samuel, "I lost all my money. And I've been trying to find work, your honor."
"Have you any friends in town?"
"No, your honor."
"How long have you been here?"
"Only since yesterday, your honor."
"How did you get here?"
"I came in on a freight train, your honor."
"I see," said the judge. "Well, you came to the wrong place. We're going to put an end to vagrancy in Lockmanville. Thirty days. Next case."
Samuel caught his breath. "Your honor," he gasped.
"Next case," repeated the judge.
The policeman started to lead Samuel away. "Your honor," he cried frantically. "Don't send me to jail." And fighting against the policeman's grip, he rushed on, "It's not my fault--I'm an honest boy and I tried to find work. I haven't done anything. And you'll kill me if you send me to jail. Have mercy! Have mercy!"
The policeman shook him roughly. But there was something so genuine in Samuel's wail that the judge said, "Wait."
"How could I help it if I was robbed?" the boy rushed on, taking advantage of his chance. "And what could I do but ask for work? I was brought up honest, your honor. It would have killed my father if he'd thought I'd be sent to jail. He brought me up to earn my living."
"Who was your father?" asked the judge.
"His name was Ephraim Prescott, and he was a farmer. You can ask anyone at Euba Corners what sort of a man he was. He'd fought all through the war--he was wounded four times. And if he could be here he'd tell you that I don't deserve to go to jail."
There was a moment's pause. "What regiment was your father in?" asked the magistrate.
"He was in the Seventeenth Pennsylvania, your honor."
"Be careful, boy," said the other sternly. Don't try to deceive me."
"I don't want to deceive you, your honor," protested Samuel.
"What brigade was the Seventeenth Pennsylvania in?"
"In the Third Brigade, your honor."
"And who commanded it?"
"General Anderson--that is, until he was killed at the battle of Chancellorsville. My father was there."
"I was there, too," said the judge.
"My father used to tell me about it," exclaimed Samuel with sudden eagerness. "His brigade was in the right wing and they had a double line of trenches. And the rebels charged the line with cavalry. They charged a dozen times during the day, and there were big trees cut down by the bullets. My father said the rebels never fought harder than they did right there."
"Yes," said his honor, "I know. I was one of them."
Everyone within hearing laughed; and Samuel turned crimson.
"I beg pardon, your honor," he said.
"That's all right," said the judge. And then he added gravely, "Very well, Samuel, we'll give you another chance for your father's sake. But don't let me see you here again."
"No, your honor," said Samuel. Then he added quickly. "But what can I do?"
"Get out of Lockmanville," said the other.
"But how? When I've no money. If your honor could only help me to some work."
"No," said the judge. "I'm sorry, but I've found jobs for three men this week, and I don't know any more."
"But then--" began Samuel.
"I'll give you a dollar out of my own pocket," the other added.
"Your honor," cried Samuel startled, "I don't want to take money!"
"You can send it back to me when you get a job," said the judge, holding out a bill. "Take it. Prisoner discharged. Next case."
Samuel took the money and was turning away, when a man who had been sitting in a chair near the magistrate suddenly leaned forward.
"Judge," he said, "if I may interrupt--"
"Why, surely, professor," said the other pleasantly.
"I may possibly be able to find something for the boy to do."
"Ah, that will be fine!"
"He seems to be a capable young fellow and might be worth helping."
"The very thing, professor. Samuel, this is Professor Stewart, of Lockman College."
Samuel was very glad to meet the professor. He was a trim little gentleman, with a carefully cut black beard and gold-rimmed eyeglasses.
"Here is my card," he said; "and if you'll come to see me to-morrow morning at my house, we'll see what we can do."
"Thank you very much," said the boy, and put the card in his pocket. Then, realizing suddenly that the policeman had let go of his arm, and that he was free, he turned and made his way through the gate.
"A diverting episode," said the professor.
"Yes," said the judge, with a smile. "We have them now and then, you see."
Samuel went out with a glow in his heart. At last he had got a start. He had got underneath the world's tough hide and found kindness and humanity after all. It had been a harrowing experience, but it would not happen again.
He had now one definite purpose in mind. He walked straight out of town and down the river road until he came to a sufficiently solitary place. Then he took off his clothes and sat down on the bank and performed a most elaborate toilet. For half an hour at least he scrubbed his head with sand and water, and combed his hair out with his fingers. And then he went over his clothing inch by inch. At least he would be through with one hideous reminder of his imprisonment.
After which he dressed again and went back to town and found the saloon where he had eaten.
"Hello!" said his friend Finnegan, the bar-keeper. "Back again!"
"I came to explain about this morning," said Samuel. "I couldn't come because they put me in jail."
"Gee!" said the other; but then he added, with a laugh, "Well, it was a wet night."
Samuel did not reply. "I'll come to-morrow morning," he said.
"You'd better get out of town, sonny," advised the other.
"I'm all right. The judge gave me a dollar."
"Humph! A dollar won't last forever."
"No. But I've got the promise of a job. There was a gentleman there-- Professor Stewart, from the college."
"Hully gee!" said Finnegan. "I know that guy. A little runt with a black beard?"
"I guess so," said Samuel dubiously.
"I seen his pitcher in the paper," said the other. "He's one of them reformers--always messin' into things."
"Maybe that's why he was at the court," observed Samuel.
"Sure thing! He's a professor of sociology an' such things, an' he thinks he knows all about politics. But we handed him a few last election--just you bet!"
"Who's 'we'?" asked Samuel.
"The organization," said Finnegan; "the Democrats, o' course. Them reformers is always Republicans--the 'better element,' an' all that. That means the rich guys--that have their own little grafts to work. This perfessor was a great friend of old Henry Lockman--an' the old man used to run this town with his little finger. But they had a big strike here three years ago, and too many men got hit over the head. So it'll be a long day before there's any more 'reform' in Lockmanville."
"I see," said Samuel.
"They make a great howl about the saloons an' all the rest," added the barkeeper. "But when the Republicans ran things, my boss paid his little rake-off just the same, you can bet. But you needn't tell that to the perfessor."
"I won't," said the boy.
"What you goin' to do now?" asked the other.
"I don't know. I guess I'll have to get something to eat first."
"You'll find the cheapest way is to buy a glass of beer and then feed over there."
"No," said Samuel, startled. "I--I think I'd rather not do that."
"Well, so long," said Finnegan, with a laugh.
"You'll see me to-morrow morning," said Samuel, as he went out.
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