Abridged from The Pilot’s Voice
The Pilot’s Voice: Part 2
Byron has been getting into bad company lately, despite the warning of his mother and the faithful voice of his conscience. When his chance comes to steal some eggs, Byron really has to fight the warning voice.
When Byron returned from the mill, he struggled with the conviction that he should tell the whole thing to his mother. As he put off the warnings, many excuses for waiting came to mind. Mother would be better off not knowing just yet, he persuaded himself, and until evening he kept out of sight.
“Let us talk, Byron,” Mother said that night, before he had a chance to slip off to bed. “My son, I want to you be protected from the sin and wickedness in the world, because I want the best for you.” For a long while she talked to him gently and earnestly about the dangers of liquor, tobacco, and opium.
Before she kissed him good-night, she asked kindly, “Won’t you tell me what is troubling you, dear?” But Byron only shook his head and hurried off to bed.
In the days that followed, his mother’s words, like tiny darts, returned to prick him. Again he felt he should tell her, but it seemed always easier to keep silent. Though he avoided looking in the hidden nest for eggs, the stolen money was in Byron’s pocket the next time the cousins went to the riverside.
“Now, boys,” James said, after the news had all been shared, “I have our program for this evening all arranged. There’s to be a dance at a public hall two miles away from here, and I thought we’d all enjoy attending.” Though Byron knew his mother disapproved because of the degrading influence of such a place, the older boys soon had him silenced.
The dance had begun when they entered and Byron found the gay entertainment quite interesting. His enjoyment was cut short when a tap on the arm startled him. “Hey, Byron!” It was a neighbor boy. “Didn’t ever think to see you here the way your mother disapproves.” Byron fumbled to make some excuse, but the evening was ruined as he ducked people he knew and tried remain unnoticed.
He was on a nervous edge when the boys finally gathered in a dim corner near a soft drink stand. “Now we’ll have some benefit from that egg money,” said James, and he ordered a cigar for each of them.
Why, I surely know better than this! Byron said to himself, as he remembered the hurtful and addicting effect tobacco has on the body. After several attempts Byron had a cigar lit, but he could not feel nearly so casual and merry as the others acted. For awhile he attempted to puff little clouds like the rest, but soon sickening feeling overcame him and he hurried outside for fresh air. James’ consolation didn’t help much, and he was glad when they at last turned for home.
It was several days before Byron was able to shake off the bad feelings that night had left him with. When the week slipped past without his mother finding out, he felt at ease once more.
Several weeks later the boys were gathered in the hayloft of a barn when James told them of an adventure story he had been reading. “It’s nothing like those dry old textbooks—once I started I could hardly put it down.”
“Well, James,” said George smugly, “if you have such an interesting book, we had better look it over.” James hurriedly brought out the book, which had a yellow cover, entitled: “The Life of Jesse James.” Though his mother had cautioned him against such reading, the outlaw’s daring robberies and escapes had soon fascinated Byron as well as the rest.
“Now, boys, this is true courage,” said James, when he had closed the book. “And why can’t we have one of these adventures of our own? What thrills it gives me to think of it!”
Byron’s conscience was now quite awakened again, and he protested hotly of the real “fun” of such recklessness. “Such things will surely get us into trouble,” he said. But the boys’ only mocked his priggish notions.
“Get out a few nights with George and me and your fears will soon disappear,” said James as they parted. “Make your mother realize that you’re old enough to look out for yourself, and we’ll have a gay old time together.” Byron hesitated, but finally agreed to try it out.
It was Saturday night, the evening on which this story began, that Byron made his trek through the woods toward his first adventure. His daring escape and determination to join the boys in a night of fun wavered as again he heard the pleadings of Mother. Oh, should he turn back and repent at her feet? But he knew what the boys would think of such ideas—he must take courage and shake off these fearful thoughts.
“What’s the matter, Byron?” James exclaimed, when he finally joined them at the meeting place. “Did the old woman try to keep you?” Byron flushed, but hid his hurt feelings as he listened to his friend lay out the plans. “First,” said James, “I must pick up the mail for the farmer I work for, and if you come along we can scheme up something on the way.”
Though the other boys talked excitedly all the way to the post office, Byron made the trip in silence. With reluctance he took the cigar that James bought him, but the memories of the dance hall made him toss it away as soon as he could.
“Hey, there’s a good pal of mine!” said George, as they came upon a group joking and laughing in the churchyard. “Come along on our trip, will you, Jason?” The older boy agreed with a grin, and soon the four were wending their way down the highway.
“Know old Davis?” George asked as they passed an orchard of young fruit trees. “He’s a stingy old codger and has been at my dad for a long time.” Byron protested, knowing the man to be a friendly neighbor, but George only sneered. “I’ll show him a thing or two,” he said, and began slicing bark from several of the trees. Byron was startled, but other boys only grinned.
“Say, boys,” said Jason, “Let’s have a chicken roast tonight. I know where some fat hens can be found.” They followed him to a fine old house and watched as he slipped into the darkness. Suddenly the flapping of wings and a few smothered squawks broke the silence. With one accord the boys broke into a run and headed for the river.
Byron had hardly caught his breath with Jason joined them, a hen in each hand. A sickening feeling filled him as he watched the older boys pluck the strangled birds. The excitement filled him with fearful thoughts, and brought to mind his mother’s parting words. Was she still awake praying for him?
With longing for home, Byron followed the others along winding paths and highroads to an abandoned house. After prodding at the doors, Jason smashed a window and crawled inside. Soon the door flew open and he called out, “Step into my parlor, boys!”
Byron stepped in—and looked with disdain at the rubbish that littered the room. The others began heaping it up to make a fire on the old hearth, and soon the dark room was lit with crackling flames.
After a bit James said, “Why, what’s the matter with Byron? It looks like he’s seen a ghost—but perhaps all this is too new for him.” He smiled at Byron, whose face was quite pale, and added, “But I guess we’ve all been raised differently.”
“I think you grew up without any raising, James,” George said with a wink. Byron couldn’t help joining in the laughter, but he didn’t feel like eating when the others began roasting chunks of meat over the fire. The smell of burnt chicken, smoke, and grime all made him think more longingly of home. There every advantage was awaiting him—and he had left it all to sit among thieves.
As the night wore on, Byron became so tired that he could scarcely keep awake. After a bit Jason pulled out a pipe and said, “When sleep takes its departure, this is the greatest comforter I have.” The tobacco smoke added to the bad odor and sickened Byron more, but he propped himself up as a pack of cards were brought out.
The time flew away as the four of them sat playing game after game in the flickering light of the fire. Suddenly George glanced out the window and exclaimed, “Boys, I do believe it’s getting light! We better get out of here before—”
Just then a rooster crowed, and forgetting the fire, the boys fled out into the darkness. Byron followed James back to the farm he worked at, and the two slipped into the hayloft to catch a few hours of sleep.
Byron couldn’t sleep long, and as he listened to the farmer do his early morning chores, he thought of his own work at home. They would soon have family prayers, what will Mother say about me? He could almost hear pray, “O Lord, have mercy! Be with Byron and bring him safely home to me!”
It was a few hours later when the boys walked to Sunday school (because they would be suspected if they didn’t), and Byron’s thoughts continued to tumble in his head. James had lied to the farmer to cover up their night-time ramblings, but Byron only felt more condemned. If Jonah were severely punished for disobeying, what would happen to him for the crimes he had committed?
Mother was sitting in the chapel as he had expected, but he couldn’t return her smile. He slid into a seat next to James and listened intently as the teacher spoke on following God’s guide chart to have a happy and safe life. He knew it was true, but his path was far different.
As he stood thinking, his mother came up and said pleasantly, “I hope you boys had a good evening together.” Byron couldn’t speak for the tight feeling in his throat, but James came to his rescue.
“Oh, yes we did,” he said with a smile. “We stayed at the house and had a fine time reading our Sunday school lesson.”
Many times a day we make choices, either good or bad. In the first paragraph Byron made a choice. What was it? Though it seemed like a good idea, was it really?
As you read the story you can tell that Byron is not going in the right direction, but into more and more trouble. Why is that?
Count to see how many times warnings were given to turn from evil and do right.
Did Byron enjoy his time at the dance? Why not?
What is wrong with smoking cigars or cigarettes?
What made the book about Jesse James interesting to the boys? How could have Byron been truly brave?
When we hide the truth, make excuses, or tell lies it is a danger signal that we are on the wrong path. Can you give an example of this from the story?
Even though Byron didn’t enjoy his night with the boys, he stuck with them. Why?
“I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God in him will I trust.” (Psalm 91:2)