Gutenbergery II: A Chance for Himself (Part 1)

Another favorite (and long) piece of farce from old public domain literature, what would be called YA now, is this multiple chapter subplot of John Townsend Trowbridge’s “A Chance for Himself; Or, Jack Hazard and His Treasure“. Read as he “outwit[s] the witty constable”!

So far: Jack Hazard was an orphaned boy brought up by a drunken boat captain on the Erie Canal. In the previous book, he ran away from his cruel foster “parents” and was taken in by a kindly farmer and his family. In this start of this book, he accidentally finds a little chest of silver coins on a mean neighbor’s property. He loses it and attempts to get it back by breaking into his house, but fails and instead is arrested by Sellick, the constable.

The prisoner looked anxiously at and about the room, and after little reflection said “I’m kind of hungry. Can’t I have some breakfast?”

“Where ‘s the lunch Mis’ Pipkin tucked into your pocket?” said Sellick. “Here it is, all right. She knew you would come to your appetite.”

Jack had hoped to taken down the grocery, and at that moment he did not thank Mrs. Pipkin for her kindness.

“Can’t I have something to drink with it?” he asked. “They have milk in the grocery; I can pay for a cupful.” And be took from his pocket the solitary half-dollar, which was all the riches he could
command, out of the hoard of treasure he had found so lately, and lost, and regained, and perhaps lost again forever.

“Here, sonny!” said Sellick to a boy in the crowd (every boy was “sonny” to him), “take this money and go down into the grocery and buy a cup of milk, and bring back the change, and you shall have a penny for your trouble. And spry, for we must eat our breakfast while the judge is making out his papers.”

The lad took the money and, pushing the crowd of loungers, passed the door, and went down the outside stairs at a rattling pace, the sound of which filled the heart of the waiting prisoner with envy.

Jack looked about him, nibbling his dry biscuit and butter, and saw that there was only one other door in the room, and that it nailed, with a bar across it. There were three windows, one on the side of the street near the entry door, the other two overlooking the canal. He was still nibbling and studying the premises, when the lad returned.

“I hope this ain’t canal milk,” said Jack with a smile as he pocketed change and took the cup after giving the lad his penny. “They sell horrid stuff to the boats sometimes, — mostly chalk and water, I believe. He poised the cup, still munching dry biscuit and furtively at the door. The loungers had not yet begun to leave, and there was a crowd in the way.

Sellick was saying to a village acquaintance, “I never yit lost a prisoner, and I never expect to lose one, and I never yit was afraid to take a man. Not one in fifty can run as fast as I can, and once I git holt of a chap, I jest freeze to him ; ‘t would take perty good set of muscles to shake me off, and a mighty long head to outwit me — Come, sonny, drink yer milk: judge is shaking the sand on his paper.”

Jack lifted the cup to his lips and began to drink, but stopped suddenly and, with his mouth full andhis cheeks distended, made sounds and motions of distress, as if about to eject the liquid.

“Sour?” cried Sellick.

” ‘M! ‘m” said Jack, through his nose; and with milk spilling from the cup and spirting from his lips, he started for the window; while the crowd, laughing at his ludicrous plight, and anxious to avoid a sprinkling, made way before him.

It was the window on the side of the street, and it was closed. While Sellick, laughing with the rest, was stepping quickly to help him open it, Jack, beginning choke, appearing unable to control himself longer, started for the door. The mirthful constable — who had never yet lost a prisoner and never expected to lose one — turned to follow him, rather leisurely, pausing to laugh Mr. Byron Dinks, who had some conspicuous splashes of milk on his black broadcloth.

Jack took hold of the door, if to steady himself, then, in an instant, darting pulled it after him (just missing Sellick’s fingers), turned the key on the outside, went down the with flying leaps, and ran as for his life leaving court, constable, spectators locked up in the room together, prisoners in his place, with abundant leisure to find something to laugh at besides him and his spilled milk!

There are two chapters that follow this one detailing his further escapes from his adversaries and eventual triumph. I will transcribe the humorous ones.

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