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How John Became A Man by Isabel C. Byrum

CHAPTER VI Visitors and Pastimes

During the winter that followed his father's marriage, John's stepmother's brother came to live with the family; and the influence of this stepuncle, whose name was Ed, was as bad or worse than Will's or Charley's could ever have been; for Ed was older and wiser, and knew much more of sin.

In Ed's home both the father and the mother used tobacco a long time before their child was born. When he was just a little infant, he worried and cried a great deal. He continued to do this, seemingly never to be satisfied, until finally the parents imagined that he wanted tobacco; and sure enough he did. The mother tied a small amount in a rag and gave it to her baby to suck, and immediately he became quiet and contented. So, from that time she gave him tobacco to stop his crying. As he grew, the quantity he used gradually increased until, when he was in his teens, he spent much of his money for tobacco. He went without many of the necessary things of life in order that he might have the money those things would cost to spend for tobacco.

The Bible tells us that God is abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands and forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin ... Parents may be sorry for their sins, and be forgiven for their transgressions; but their children must suffer from inherited ill-dispositions, unnatural appetites, or diseases.... Oh, what a responsibility is resting upon the parents of the future generations!

Now, tobacco acts directly on the mind. It clouds the understanding and dulls the memory; and sometimes it has much worse effects. The story is told of the experience of a brilliant young man -- a graduate from Andover College -- who, for a time, seemed to have a wonderful future before him. After a few short successful years, however, all hopes were blighted; he was thrown into an insane asylum a physical wreck. The doctors said that tobacco had done it; but regardless of this, he was each day given, according to the rules of the asylum, a small quantity of tobacco. For twenty years he was in this seemingly hopeless condition; and then suddenly, one day as he was walking the floor, his reason returned, and he realized what was the matter. Throwing the plug of tobacco through the iron grate of his cell, he said: |What brought me here? What keeps me here? Why am I here? Tobacco! tobacco! tobacco! God help, help! I will never use it again!|

He was restored; and for ten years he preached the gospel.

But not only does tobacco injure the mind; it also affects the blood and sensitive tissues and the different organs of the body, which in order to act normally and to do their work properly must be in healthful condition. When the blood becomes saturated with the deadly poison that comes from the pipe or cigar, and the soft membranes of the mouth become filled with the poisonous secretion from the quid, as a consequence, every member of the body becomes affected, and disease and suffering are the final results. Lord Bacon said, |To smoke is a secret delight, serving to steal away men's brains.| Many others have expressed themselves in even louder terms against the evil effects of tobacco; but we must now return to John and to Ed, his stepuncle.

Soon after Ed came to live in the family, he paid a visit to a neighboring town; and while there, he stole from a store a case of plug tobacco. This he stealthily brought to his sister's new home, confiding his secret to no one except John; and by generous promises he persuaded John to say nothing about the matter. At this time John was in his thirteenth year. He still keenly felt that something was dreadfully missing in his life; so he turned to Ed, hoping to find that something in his companionship. But again he was disappointed. The standard of Ed's ideals were so far below the standard that John had fixed for himself that John was conscious of a constant repulsion in his heart toward Ed. As a consequence, John's loneliness increased.

About the time Ed arrived in the neighborhood, another dangerous pastime was introduced. Dancing found a place in the social gatherings; and again John was an apt scholar. Before very long he was considered to be one of the best among the young people in this art; and for the time being he seemed to find real enjoyment in the amusement. There was a fascination about it that helped him partly to forget his troubles and heartaches, also the discouragements with which he had been haunted so much of late.

During the winter that followed, the social spirit increased and the months were full of changes and excitement. The uncle with whom John and his father had spent several years came with his family for a prolonged visit. A hearty welcome was given the visitors, especially by John; for regardless of the fact that in order to make room for the company he had to exchange his nice warm bed in the house for a less comfortable one in the sod cellar, he rejoiced in the thought that he could once more be with his old companion, Will. In fact, any change was appreciated by John in his restless, discontented frame of mind.

The first evening the boys retired early, partly because they had no light and partly because they wanted to visit about bygone days. They had so many things to say to each other; and besides, they wanted to lay their plans for a jolly time while they could be together. Will laughed heartily about John's intense desire to become a man, and asked him how he felt about it now. It was in a discouraged tone of voice that John replied:

|There ain't so much fun in it as I supposed. The older I get, the more unhappy I feel. Why, Will, there are times when I almost wish that I were dead. No one seems to care for me or to have any time to give me. It's just 'John here' and 'John there'; and if I dare to say anything, I'm laughed at or told to keep still. It was different before Pa got married. Then he used to talk to me and try to help me when I got lonesome; but now I just have to get along the best way I can. If I like anything it's all right, and if I don't it's the same.

|I'll just tell you, if it wasn't for Pa, I'd run away from home! As for being a man, I don't think that it is so wonderful after all. The men that I know are all so bad. Just look at Ed! I'm getting so that I can hardly endure Ed!|

In reply to John's great outburst of sorrow, Will had no words of sympathy to offer. All that he could propose was that they could spend their evenings in playing cards (for Will, too, had learned many things since John had left; and card-playing was one of them). John was pleased with the suggestion; but he said, |I haven't any cards.| As usual, however, he was quick to invent a way out of that difficulty and added: |Hey, Will! why couldn't we make some? I know where there's a lot of cardboard boxes that we could cut up. One could cut while the other marked them. You would know how to make them, would you not?|

|Yes, I think so,| Will answered. |We could do that all right in the daytime; but how could we work in the dark? And does it get very cold in here?|

|Oh, it doesn't get so awfully cold; and as for a light, I can get a dish of lard and put a rag in it which we can light! That won't be a very good light; but I think we can get along.|

The boys found that it was no small task to make the cards. First they had to cut the cardboard. This John did with a very sharp knife. Next, they drew hearts and diamonds and other necessary markings. To be sure, the set of cards was a very crude one when it was finished; and when the boys began to shuffle them in the pack, they were disappointed because of the bulky appearance and wished for a more perfect set. But John had done a good job in cutting them out, and the marking answered the purpose very well. So night after night, by the aid of the flickering and sputtering light, furnished by the rag burning in the saucer of lard, the two boys, with heads bent low, sat scheming and planning, each striving to get ahead of the other in the game.

Long before Will's visit was ended, both boys had become so skillful in playing that the one could scarcely get the better of the other unless one in some way cheated. This caused them to try many underhanded tricks and encouraged them to bet and gamble; and in course of time they had exchanged as wagers the greater part of their simple belongings. Taking advantage of one another became a part of the game and seemingly was the principal aim. And the evenings that they did not spend in dancing were spent in indulging in these dangerous amusements. (Card-playing -- as does also dancing -- wields an influence that is very harmful, especially to the young. As the interest in the game increases, the players' desire for things that are good and wholesome is lessened. One player sees only the pleasure that he derives from getting the better of the one he is playing against. He fails to see that each time he stoops to unfair methods in order to gain his purpose he helps to pave the way for other things that are wrong and deceitful.)

When the first warm days of spring arrived and the grass of the prairie began to unfold its tiny blades, John's uncle said it was time for him and his family to return home. |It's a long way, Will,| he said; |and we must get there in good time to plant a big crop of 'tobaker.' You remember we didn't have near enough to do us last year!| Will agreed; but the boys were all sorry to be separated again, and when the day of departure came, it was very hard indeed for them to bid one another farewell.

During the winter months John had not thought much about his aunt, for Will and he had been too deeply interested in other things. But now at the last moment that old longing again clutched at his heart. When he saw them disappearing in the distance and finally lost them to view, like a flash the desire that had so long been smoldering within his heart was fanned, as it were, into a mighty flame, and in his mind he resolved what he would do. |I will stay in this home no longer!| he cried in his distress. |My father may miss me; but if I stay here, I shall die!| and going to his father, he stated his intentions.

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