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Chapter 5

The Pinch Bug and His Prey

ABOUT HALF-PAST TEN the cracked bell of the small church began to ring,
and presently the people began to gather for the morning sermon. The Sunday-
school children distributed themselves about the house and occupied pews with
their parents, so as to be under supervision. Aunt Polly came, and Tom and Sid
and Mary sat with her-Tom being placed next the aisle, in order that he might
be as far away from the open window and the seductive outside summer scenes
as possible. The crowd filed up the aisles: the aged and needy postmaster, who
had seen better days; the mayor and his wife-for they had a mayor there, among
other unnecessaries; the justice of the peace; the widow Douglas, fair, smart and
forty, a generous, goodhearted soul and well-to-do, her hill mansion the only
palace in the town, and the most hospitable and much the most lavish in the
matter of festivities that St. Petersburg could boast; the bent and venerable Major
and Mrs. Ward; lawyer Riverson, the new notable from a distance; next the belle
of the village, followed by a troop of lawn-clad and ribbon-decked young heart-
breakers; then all the young clerks in town in a body-for they had stood in the
vestibule sucking their cane-heads, a circling wall of oiled and simpering
admirers, till the last girl had run their gauntlet; and last of all came the Model
Boy, Willie Mufferson, taking as heedful care of his mother as if she were cut
glass. He always brought his mother to church, and was the pride of all the
matrons. The boys all hated him, he was so good. And besides, he had been
“thrown up to them” so much. His white handkerchief was hanging out of his
pocket behind, as usual on Sundays-accidentally. Tom had no handkerchief,
and he looked upon boys who had, as snobs.

The congregation being fully assembled, now, the bell rang once more, to warn
laggards and stragglers, and then a solemn hush fell upon the church which was
only broken by the tittering and whispering of the choir in the gallery. The choir
always tittered and whispered all through service. There was once a church
choir that was not ill-bred, but I have forgotten where it was, now. It was a great
many years ago, and I can scarcely remember anything about it, but I think it
was in some foreign country.

The minister gave out the hymn, and read it through with a relish, in a peculiar
style which was much admired in that part of the country. His voice began on a
medium key and climbed steadily up till it reached a certain point, where it bore
with strong emphasis upon the topmost word and then plunged down as if from
a spring-board: Shall I be car-ri-ed to the skies, on flow’ry beds of ease, Whilst
others fight to win the prize, and sail thro’ blood y seas?

He was regarded as a wonderful reader. At church “sociables” he was always
called upon to read poetry; and when he was through, the ladies would lift up
their hands and let them fall helplessly in their laps, and “wall” their eyes, and
shake their heads, as much as to say, “Words cannot express it; it is too beautiful,

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