As John's father looked into the deep pathetic eyes of his son, he in part understood the meaning of what he read. He could see that the soul of his child was crying out for something; but again he failed to understand the true longings of the young heart. He failed to see that the boy was being crushed by sinful habits, and that for parental care and interest he was starving. In ignorance the father supposed that the boy's unrest was due to a longing to know more of the world, to a feeling akin to that which an explorer experiences.
Poor man! Could he have known just then what really was troubling his boy, he could have stayed the spirit of unrest by holding out to John the |olive branch of peace.| He could have said: |John, we have drifted apart. We are not to one another what we used to be. Stop, my boy; sit down here. Let us carefully talk these things over before you take such a step. Out in the world you will meet many temptations and evils, more than you have ever known.| And many other tender words of advice he might have spoken to the child; but these things were left unspoken.
Instead, his father only said, |John, I would like to have you remain at home a while longer; but if you are determined to go, you may, only remember to try to do as nearly right as you can! I have wanted to bring you up well for your mother's sake; for she had made so many plans for your future. My wish, John, is that you become a good man.|
John was deeply touched by his father's farewell speech; and had there been any other drawing to keep him at home, he certainly would have remained. As it was, he soon gathered together his belongings, and while still in his thirteenth year, said good-by to his people, and went away to work for a thrifty farmer.
During the two years preceding his departure from home, John had now and then worked for the farmers in different parts of the country. This and his attendance at the social gatherings had enabled him to become acquainted with numbers of boys, some of whom were very wild and rough. But because of the companionship of Will during the winter months, the evil influences of his wide circle of friends had not been so strong. But when the cousins were parted, John's companions were again some of the roughest and toughest in the community. Because of this his tobacco and beer bills increased, and to this alarming expenditure he added many accounts for whiskey.
John had made a discovery. He had found that Ed, in order to satisfy the awful craving and gnawing in his stomach (a sensation produced by the tobacco poison), was using a generous supply of whiskey; and for the same reason John began to use it. Whiskey did perhaps satisfy for the time being; but John also discovered that the seemingly good effect was very soon gone and that the old trouble was again there, only with renewed force and strength. Another thing he found, too, was that he had added to his list of evil habits one even more fierce and strong than the others.
When John left home, his desire was principally to find relief for his loneliness; but he had another object. His expenses had been heavy and hard to defray. And now with the amount he had to pay for his whiskey added to what he was already spending for beer and tobacco, his bills were so high he felt that he must have more money in order to meet them. This seeming necessity was, therefore, one thing that urged him to take the step he took.
[Illustration: Leaving the Old Homestead]
The farmer for whom John began to work was known among his men as |the captain.| All the hired help worked under one manager, or boss; so John's experience while in this service was new and varied.
|We have orders today to work for Farmer Z,| explained the boss one morning a few weeks after John's arrival. |And the captain says we must be sure and get around there early in the morning, for we are to get our breakfast over there.|
The home of Farmer Z was some distance from that of John's employer; but the prancing horses on which the men were to ride were soon carrying them across the prairie, and it was not long until they were in sight of Farmer Z's modest farmhouse. As they entered the gateway, Farmer Z stepped into the doorway; and when he greeted the men with a kindly |Good morning,| John particularly noticed his countenance and expression and wondered why he was so different from the comrades with whom he had always associated. He noticed, too, that, as the men gathered in the dining room and took their places around the table, they were quiet and reserved; and he was puzzled by still another thing -- Farmer Z bowed his head and thanked God for all of His blessings and benefits and goodness to them all.
Such things were new and strange to John; and when at the close of the meal, the farmer invited them into another room, saying, |We always have reading and prayer immediately after breakfast and would be glad to have you all join with us,| John suddenly felt extremely awkward and out of place, and he longed to make his escape to the barn.
John could have given no reason for his feelings, unless it was that the farmer's suggestion of prayer made him think about his mother and of the time when his father had taught him the little prayer, |Now I lay me down to sleep,| and had told him that he very much desired him to be a little man. But it was not strange that John should feel as he did; for he had so often associated other scenes with that of learning the prayer, but had since that time heard very little about the Bible. In fact, the only part of the Bible that he had ever read was a few verses in the small New Testament that had belonged to his mother; and he had read these because he had heard that the reading of certain passages would stop the toothache and relieve the nosebleed. He experimented one time when he had the nosebleed, and his nosebleed did stop; but he was not sure that it would not have stopped as soon had he not read the verses.
Now, for some reason unknown to himself, John did not want to remain for worship; so when he noticed one of the other men slipping out of the back door, he quickly followed. The two were just about to enter the barn when the farmer, calling to them in words that were gentle but firm, said, |We always have our help come in with us for worship.| Seeing then that there was no way around going in except to stoutly refuse, the two returned to the house; and with the others they seated themselves in the room where it was evident that the family worship was to be held. This experience was so entirely new to John that he actually suffered. He did not know what to do nor how to act.
He observed that the children, the workmen, and the farmer's wife, were all seated, so he sat down, too. He also observed that the men had left their hats outside where they had washed; and this caused him to feel very strangely, because he had his own in his hand. He dropped it, however, beside his chair; then he began to watch the children and to try to do just as they were doing. But as no two of the youngsters were doing the same thing, he again felt troubled. The older members of the family, he noticed, sat very still; and suddenly John realized that they must be listening to the farmer, who had been reading. John knew that he had not heard one single word that had been read, and here, the farmer was now saying, |Let us pray.|
When they knelt beside their chairs, John was again bewildered; but having decided to do just as nearly as he possibly could the way the rest did, he, too, slipped down upon his knees. For some reason that he could not understand, a burning shame that seemed to benumb his whole being swept over him, and he could hardly hear the farmer's words; but he realized suddenly that the farmer was saying, |Dear Lord, bless the help today, and keep them from accidents and danger.|
Hurriedly glancing around, John saw the children peeking from between their fingers; and hastily covering his own face with his hands, he gave a quick glance toward Mr. A, his boss. Mr. A was kneeling beside his chair, but was picking his teeth and looking out of the window. Just then the farmer said, |Amen,| and they all arose.
Then, as John compared his own attitude with that of Mr. A.'s, another feeling of shame came over him; and for some time he kept asking himself, |Why didn't I act unconcerned like the boss?| But John was not a bad boy naturally. He was ignorant of what was right. He had never understood that there is a Savior and that that Savior loved him and left an example for him to follow. To be sure, he had often heard both his Savior's and his Creator's names reviled and abused by his evil companions. But he did not know that these were Beings to whom he could go when in trouble; nor did he understand that in God's sight he was a sinner.
More than once that day while working, John thought of the farmer's words and wondered if the prayer would have any effect upon the day. Some way he thought it would, and he decided to watch and see. The day was ideal, and the help orderly; and God kept them free from accident and trouble. It was all a mystery to John, and he pondered over it along the way home and even during the night. Farmer Z had opened up a new channel for his thoughts.