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A Mountain Woman Elia W. Peattie

A Resuscitation

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David liked the place, and he liked better still the laughter that came from a room within. It had a note in it a little different from anything he had ever heard before in his life, and one that echoed his mood. He ventured to ask if he might go into the farther room.

It does not mean much when most young men go to a place like this. They take their bit of unwholesome dissipation quietly enough, and are a little coarser and more careless each time they indulge in it, perhaps. But certainly their acts, whatever gradual deterioration they may indicate, bespeak no sudden moral revolution. With this young clerk it was different. He was a worse man from the moment he entered the door, for he did violence to his principles; he killed his self-respect.

He had been paid at the office that night, and he had the money -- a week's miserable pittance -- in his pocket. His every action revealed the fact that he was a novice in recklessness. His innocent face piqued the men within. They gave him a welcome that amazed him. Of course the rest of the evening was a chaos to him. The throat down which he poured the liquor was as tender as a child's. The men turned his head with their ironical compliments. Their boisterous good-fellowship was as intoxicating to this poor young recluse as the liquor.

It was the revulsion from this feeling, when he came to a consciousness that the men were laughing at him and not with him, that wrecked his life. He had gone from beer to whiskey, and from whiskey to brandy, by this time, at the suggestion of the men, and was making awkward lunges with a billiard cue, spurred on by the mocking applause of the others. One young fellow was particularly hilarious at his expense. His jokes became insults, or so they seemed to David.

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A quarrel followed, half a jest on the part of the other, all serious as far as David was concerned. And then -- Well, who could tell how it happened? The billiard cue was in David's hand, and the skull of the jester was split, a horrible gaping thing, revoltingly animal.

David never saw his home again. His mother gave it out in church that her heart was broken, and she wrote a letter to David begging him to reform. She said she would never cease to pray for him, that he might return to grace. He had an attorney, an impecunious and very aged gentleman, whose life was a venerable failure, and who talked so much about his personal inconveniences from indigestion that he forgot to take a very keen interest in the concerns of his client. David's trial made no sensation. He did not even have the cheap sympathy of the morbid. The court-room was almost empty the dull spring day when the east wind beat against the window, jangling the loose panes all through the reading of the verdict.

Twenty years!

Twenty years in the penitentiary!

David looked up at the judge and smiled. Men have been known to smile that way when the car-wheel crashes over their legs, or a bullet lets the air through their lungs.

All that followed would have seemed more terrible if it had not appeared to be so remote. David had to assure himself over and over that it was really he who was put in that disgraceful dress, and locked in that shameful walk from corridor to work-room, from work-room to chapel. The work was not much more monotonous than that to which he had been accustomed in the office. Here, as there, one was reproved for not doing the required amount, but never praised for extraordinary efforts. Here, as there, the workers regarded each other with dislike and suspicion. Here, as there, work was a penalty and not a pleasure.

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A Mountain Woman
Elia W. Peattie

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