The bowed man in the car-seat remem- bered with a flush of reminiscent misery how the lad turned suddenly in his walk and entered the door of a drinking-room that stood open. It was very comfortable within. The screens kept out the chill of the autumn night, the sawdust-sprinkled floor was clean, the tables placed near together, the bar glittering, the attendants white-aproned and brisk.
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 intoxicat- ing 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 mock- ing applause of the others. One young fellow was particularly hilarious at his expense. His jokes became insults, or so they seemed to David.
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, revolt- ingly 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 in the penitentiary!