“Y-y-yes, sir,” said Peter.
There was once, so legend declares, a darky who said that he liked to stub his toe because it felt so good when it stopped hurting. On this same principle Peter had a happy time in the hospital of the American City jail. He had a comfortable bed, and plenty to eat, and absolutely nothing to do. His sore joints became gradually healed, and he gained half a pound a day in weight, and his busy mind set to work to study the circumstances about him, to find out how he could perpetuate these comfortable conditions, and add to them the little luxuries which make life really worth living.
In charge of this hospital was an old man by the name of Doobman. He had been appointed because he was the uncle of an alderman, and he had held the job for the last six years, and during that time had gained weight almost as rapidly as Peter was gaining. He had now come to a condition where he did not like to get out of his armchair if it could be avoided. Peter discovered this, and so found it possible to make himself useful in small ways. Also Mr. Doobman had a secret vice; he took snuff, and for the sake of discipline he did not want this dreadful fact to become known. Therefore he would wait until everybody’s back was turned before he took a pinch of snuff; and Peter learned this, and would tactfully turn his back.
Everybody in this hospital had some secret vice, and it was Mr. Doobman’s duty to repress the vices of the others. The inmates of the hospital included many of the prisoners who had money, and could pay to make themselves comfortable. They wanted tobacco, whiskey, cocaine and other drugs, and some of them wanted a chance to practice unnamable horrors. All the money they could smuggle in they were ready to spend for license to indulge themselves. As for the attendants in the hospital, they were all political appointees, derelicts who had been unable to hold a job in the commercial world, and had sought an easy berth, like Peter himself. They took bribes, and were prepared to bribe Peter to outwit Mr. Doobman; Mr. Doobman, on the other hand, was prepared to reward Peter with many favors, if Peter would consent to bring him secret information. In such a situation it was possible for a man with his wits about him to accumulate quite a little capital.
For the most part Peter stuck by Doobman; having learned by bitter experience that in the long run it pays to be honest. Doobman was referred to by the other attendants as the “Old Man”; and always in Peter’s life, from the very dawn of childhood, there had been some such “Old Man,” the fountain-head of authority, the dispenser of creature comforts. First had been “Old Man” Drubb, who from early morning until late at night wore green spectacles, and a sign across his chest, “I am blind,” and made a weary little child lead him thru the streets by the hand. At night, when they got home to their garret-room, “Old Man” Drubb would take off his green goggles, and was perfectly able to see Peter, and if Peter had made the slightest mistake during the day he would beat him.