By the time John was eight years old, the evil influences with which he had been surrounded in his uncle's home were rapidly telling on him. To be sure, there was still the same pathetic expression in his deep, brown eyes, and now and then there could be observed in them a mischievous glance or a merry twinkle; but his general appearance was that of a sadly neglected child. Still the busy aunt took little notice either of him or of her own boys.
In his heart John was longing for someone to take an interest in him and to love him -- someone to whom he could go with his boyish heartaches and from whom he could gain the sympathy for which his heart was craving. To be sure, his father was still kind, and sometimes John would imagine that he could even feel his father's love. At such times the boy would press closer to his parent, hoping that he would at least with his arm caress him; but his father did not understand. He could see only the outward roughness; and he said in his heart:
|It is all because he has never had a chance. He has grown up here on the prairie like a wild thing. He has never been to school, and I must send him at once.|
With this purpose in his heart John's father decided to return with his child to the place that had once been his happy home. In making the change there were, of course, many things to take into consideration. But under the circumstances, to go seemed the best and proper thing to do. The sad events, he reasoned, were all in a lifetime; and he must make the best of them. The home would for a time seem desolate, he knew, but he thought that perhaps they could become used to it; anyway, his boy must be in school. The school terms would not be long (for only three or four months of each year were set apart for school purposes); but even these short terms would be better than none.
To John the change meant more. The five years that he had spent in the home of his uncle had made his cousins seem to him like brothers; but still, as he considered his father's plans, he thought, |Perhaps it may be all right.| His aunt was very kind while John and his father were preparing to move; and the day they bade her good-by she said such sweet things that he wanted to throw his arms about her neck. To his mind it was the very way in which his own dear mother would have spoken had she been alive.
When all was ready for the departure, the aunt said: |John, here are the two little turkeys that you have liked so well all summer. You may take them with you. They will help you to forget that you are alone when your father is away at his work|; and she handed him a small covered basket. Then the wagon containing their few belongings moved away from the place that for nearly five years they had called their home.
As they wended their way along the thoroughfare, they saw men at work in the fields. Some were shucking corn and tossing the bright golden ears into wagons that were placed between the rows for that purpose, while others were hauling the grain to their barns to store it away for the winter's use. The broad corn leaves rustling in the wind seemed to whisper, |Winter is coming with his cold, bleak storms to rob the earth of her summer splendor; but he will bring his beautiful coverlet of snow to protect her fields and to prepare them for the coming year.|
The foliage on the small bushes that were scattered here and there was fading; but the air was still soft and mild. Near the willows might still be seen the bending goldenrods, asters, and sunflowers. And occasionally blue smoke could be seen curling up from some sod-house chimney.
It was evening when the father and his son drove up to the door of their long-desolate home; the sun was sinking lower and lower in the west. A few soft glimmers of its mellow light lingered timidly about the doorway as if to bid the home-comers welcome, and then they were gone. A rabbit, hopping boldly about in the neglected doorway, stopped suddenly as if to ask why these people had come to a place that she had chosen for her home; and some prairie dogs that had formed a colony close by anxiously watched from the entrance of their underground homes to see what was going on.
John and his father, each absorbed with his own thoughts, sprang from the wagon, and soon began to air out the musty house and to rearrange the furniture that had long been idly awaiting their return. After a while John found that his aunt had not forgotten that he would be very hungry, and soon he was sampling some large bread-and-meat sandwiches; his father, too, came for his share. Thus quickly passed the first evening in their old home. But before John retired to his own bed, he saw that his little turkeys received some attention; and in the morning he let them have their freedom.
As the days sped by and lengthened into weeks and months, John would have indeed been lonely had it not been for his little pets, the turkeys. They received his earliest attention in the morning, and it was their little beaks that touched his cheek the last thing before he retired at night; and to himself alone was their roosting-place known.
How different everything seemed to John in his new home! The change from knowing nothing but perfect freedom in God's great open out-of-doors to being left alone to hustle off to school in the early morning hours, where he must sit like a statue and prepare humdrum lessons, was to John a wonderful change. John, however, was determined to make the very best of his lot and to do all that he could to please his teacher.
Allowing this purpose to govern his life, John's conduct was such that he became in a very short time the favorite pupil in the school; and his kindly, generous, and ambitious nature won him many friends. He was soon noted for his witty remarks, made in a manner so droll and unpretentious that often merry bursts of laughter were heard from his teacher as well as his playmates.
But regardless of these pleasant conditions, John was far from happy. He still wanted someone to show deep love for him and to take an interest in his welfare; and though he constantly tried to smother the deep suffering he felt it still smoldered in his heart. This, perhaps, caused him to crave all the more tobacco that in a way had dulled his senses and caused him to realize his troubles less.