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The Pilot’s Voice | Isabel C. Byrum

In the Tide

An hour may seem to be prolonged to a year in the mind where there is suspense. Thus the day had crept by for Byron’s mother. She realized that the strong unity which had existed between her and her son was broken. The thought that he no longer confided in her as in the past pierced and stung her heart as a poisoned dagger would have done. Though the duties of the day were pressing, she thought continually of her son. “Why are we drifting so far apart? How can I get him to tell the secret that has become a barrier between us?” she pondered. “If only I could get a clue that would enable me to draw from him the secret that is separating us, how gladly I would grasp it!”

She heard Byron driving into the yard and appeared in the doorway to greet him with a smile; but his eyes were turned away from the house, and although she called he did not appear to hear. Returning to the stove where she was preparing the meal, she continued her meditation. It was not until late in the evening that she found herself alone with her son.

For a time after his return from the mill, Byron struggled with the conviction that he should keep his secret from his mother no longer. But he did not obey the first impulses to go to her, so his decision was weakened and to tell her seemed harder than ever. Little by little excuses for himself and the boys arose in his mind, and as he considered them he felt relief and decided to wait at least until the following morning. He was just preparing to steal away unnoticed to his bedroom when his mother met him and requested him to take the chair that she offered him.

With an earnest prayer in her heart, his mother endeavored to draw from her son the cause of his changed attitude toward her, but in vain. He listened to her tender, loving words as one in a dream, making no response. As she finished her talk and bade him goodnight, she kissed him tenderly and whispered, “Byron dear, is something troubling you? You can surely tell me about it, can you not? I might be able to help you out of your difficulty if I knew. Open up your heart and tell me all.” But Byron simply shook his head and hastened away into his own room.

Long into the night he continued to think of his mother’s kindness and love, and how she had explained the sorrow and misery that come to many people simply because they continually refuse to accept instruction and advice. But as a drowsiness crept over him, the cruel remarks of the boys and his fear of their displeasure were uppermost in his mind. There had already been too many failures, he reasoned, and good resolutions must be a thing of the past.

There once was a ship about to make a voyage. The time of starting had arrived; the farewells by the passengers had been said; the gangway that connected them with the land had been withdrawn; and the boat was being rocked from side to side by its efforts to launch out into the deep. But although the machinery was in motion, no headway was being made. At last the cause was discovered. One of the cables, which had not been unfastened, was holding them to the pier. As soon as the line was untied, the ship began speeding away from the shallow water.

It was much the same with Byron. He was being held by his fear of the boys, but the taste of the pleasure of sin made it difficult for him to break away from their company. His conscience was pointing out the trouble to him, but he was not heeding advice. Instead, he was wasting precious moments and was dreaming of the fairyland of pleasure that he had been told was upon the land, and longing to view it for himself. He was where the tide of the world could play with him at will, where it could lash and beat him about at every turn.

Morning dawned bright and clear, and little birds sang merry songs as they had so often done before. But it was not until the sunlight stole across the room to his pillow and shone on his face that Byron awoke. His mother downstairs was preparing the breakfast, and he could hear the rattle of the dishes as she placed them upon the table.

“I didn’t dream it was so late,” he remarked to himself, as he sprang from the bed and began to dress. “I wonder if Mother has forgotten to call me.”

He had been called some time before, but his mother only smiled and bade him good morning as he passed her on his way to the barn. She had always been gentle with her children, and Byron had not gone so deeply into sin that he was wholly unmindful of this. Her earnest words of the previous evening returned to his mind as he went about his morning duties.

“My son,” she had said, “The world is full of sin and wickedness, but it is not the things that God has created that are causing this shame. It’s the wrong use of them. Take for example, the delicious fruit of the vineyard and the different grains that are grown in the field. See the ungodly uses these products are put to when they are made into wines and liquors. And again, look at these wines and liquors upon the shelves of the saloon. They could not harm man if he would let them alone. It is the wrong use of them that caused all the trouble they produce.

“Carefully examine the tobacco plant and you’ll find it perfectly harmless in itself and to the worms that feed upon it. It wasn’t intended to share a place among our foods. Man has made a wrong use of it.

“The beautiful poppy is not to blame for the millions who are lulled to sleep through the use of opium. Man is responsible for all the harm caused by opium and drugs like it. He has put the articles manufactured from these natural products to a dishonorable use.

“Man was made in God’s own image, just a little lower than the angels. He fell from this holy plane through Satan’s efforts, and now, by Satan’s help and suggestions, he abuses and misuses the things that would otherwise be a blessing to all humanity.

“It is sad that this is so, but since it is, we don’t need to obey Satan and follow his example. You will no doubt sometime be tempted to partake of liquor, tobacco, and perhaps opium; but it lies within your power to resist the temptation. All of these powerful articles have similar effects upon the system, according to their strength. They all produce addictions and cravings, dull the senses, and bind with habits from which few are able to escape.”

The words of Byron’s mother returned to him as tiny darts. As he pondered them, they seemed to vibrate in the air about him. When he passed the manger, he did not look beneath the feed trough for eggs. Once more he felt that he would like to unburden his heart to his mother; but when he returned to the house, he ate his breakfast in silence and afterward hurried away to the field.

The day passed as many others had done before it, and at last he went once more to visit his cousin, with the permission of his mother to spend the night with him. He carried, hidden in his pocket, the money that he had received for the stolen eggs.

As soon as it was possible for the cousins to do so they quietly slipped away down by the riverside, and it was not long until they were joined by the other boys. James and George had been anxiously waiting for Byron’s appearance. They were not quite sure whether he would actually try, or succeed in carrying out, the plan that they had suggested for getting more money. They were therefore ready with questions about it as soon as he arrived.

Now it was that Byron could open his heart, but it was in a much different way from that in which he had resolved to tell his mother. He told them about hiding and selling the eggs. When he had finished, the boys patted him upon the back and called him a good fellow, and they told him that he was making rapid progress and would someday be up with them.

“And now, boys,” James continued, “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. I’ve never danced very much myself, but I want to learn more about it. And here is Byron it is high time he was being initiated!”

Byron’s heart began beating fast. He endeavored to be calm, but in spite of his efforts his mother’s face and warnings again came before him. He had heard about those dances at the hall ever since his earliest recollection, and he knew that only a low class of people made up the crowds. He had been taught that dancing was one of the great evils that led on to the baser things of life. He had never attended one of these gatherings, and he had no desire to do so. But he was already in the tide, and such things might be expected frequently.

“Now, see here, boys,” he said, “you are constantly springing something new upon me whenever we meet of late. Where is this thing going to end?” He wanted to tell them some of the things that his mother had told him about dancing, but he realized that he would only be laughed at.

“Why, of course we want something new,” George said. “Do you suppose we always want to go along in the same old way? We want to keep apace with the times. Why, a fellow might as well be dead as to be behind the times! Oh, Byron, come along and get rid of that idea of yours about not wanting to learn new things!”

“Yes, but there’s something more to it than that,” Byron answered. “We can’t go to that dance without having people see us. Those with whom I’m acquainted know very well that my mother doesn’t approve of my going to such places, and the thing will be sure to be found out. If once it’s found out, there’ll be an investigation started that will deprive us of each other’s company hereafter.”

“Oh, Byron, you’re always afraid something awful is going to happen,” answered James. “It’s the same old story every time. You know very well that everything has been running smoothly and that all has been kept a secret. There’ll be no one at that dance that will run to your mother with the news. They’ll be only too glad to see you there, and will be your friends; they and won’t tell on you.”

After a little more persuasion the boys started on their way, and they soon arrived at the hall. The dance had already begun. The music was grand, and the dancers kept perfect time and answered every call. It was all new to Byron, and he could not help enjoying the scene.

Suddenly as he sat watching, someone tapped him on the shoulder and said, “What are you doing here? I thought your mother didn’t believe in your attending such places.” The speaker was a neighbor boy that lived only a short distance from Byron’s home. Byron hardly knew what to answer him, but said that he had come there with some friends. As soon as it was possible, he got out of the boy’s presence.

In every part of the room Byron ran across those whom he knew, and thus the evening was spoiled for him. After he had passed an hour in trying to dodge acquaintances, his companions bade him come with them to the farther end of the hall, where soft drinks and other things were kept for sale.

“We might as well get the benefit of our egg money,” James said with a very important air as he ordered a number of things and told Byron to pay for them. The last purchase made was that of some cigars.

Now, Byron had never smoked, but he remembered distinctly an experience he had with tobacco the winter before. His mother had gotten some tobacco leaves from a neighbor to be used in some way among the poultry, and Byron had thought, since he had never tasted tobacco, that he should like to see just what it was like. The opportunity to try it came one evening while he was on his way to feed the pigs. The dried leaves were hanging in the granary, and after securing his corn for the pigs, he pinched a piece from a wide brown leaf and began to chew it. It did not taste at all as he had expected it would, and he could not understand why anyone would want to chew such nasty-tasting stuff.

But he continued chewing it all the way to the pigpen, which was quite a distance from the granary. He was already beginning to feel faint when he set down his basket, and by the time he had finished throwing the corn to the pigs, he was so faint and dizzy that he could not stand up. He somehow managed to get out of sight behind the pen, and there he sat down. It was several minutes before the spell had passed off.

As Byron took the cigar, he also remembered a talk his teacher made to the school the previous winter, in which she explained the effects upon the human system of the poisons contained in whiskey and tobacco. Also, a story that he had read in a book flashed across his mind—the story of a lion and a tiger that did much harm in a certain village. Both of these animals were fierce and savage. They roamed about the village during many hours of the night and sometimes during the day, and often killed some of the people. In fact, the animals had such power that at every public gathering several people were killed. For some reason the people thought that the beasts must be allowed to live, as it would not be wise to kill them. They were really handsome creatures and able to attract so much attention that it was decided best to chain them in a certain part of the city where they could be seen by the people as they passed along the streets. Accordingly they were both chained and great signs and advertisements were scattered abroad urging the people to become interested in the animals.

When the people heard that the beasts, which had before been such a terror to them, were chained, they rushed in such masses to see them that, notwithstanding the chains, many in various ways fell an easy prey to the deadly claws. Then, too, some young men, thinking that it would be manly and smart to tease the ferocious beasts, fell beneath their mighty paws. Even the fathers and mothers sometimes became the prey. At last such an agonizing cry had risen from the hearts of the people that some of the citizens became aroused and declared that the animals ought to be killed. This they soon found was no easy matter, for the most of the people said, “Let them live.” And the men and women who urged their destruction were declared insane. So the animals were allowed to live on and continued their deadly work of death among the inhabitants of the village.

The lion and tiger that did so much harm among the people, Byron remembered, were whiskey and tobacco, and they would continue to cause destruction and misery just as long as they were manufactured and placed in the reach of the people. His conscience warned him now of his danger, and he knew better than to have anything to do with the poisonous stuff. But he saw the other boys lighting their cigars, and he thought, “I don’t believe smoking tobacco would be as bad as chewing the leaves.” So, after getting a match, he began another new experience.

He used several matches before he succeeded in lighting the cigar, but finally he was puffing tiny clouds of smoke into the air just as his companions were doing. All seemed well for a time, but suddenly a feeling of sickness stole over him, and he told the boys that he would have to go outside, where he could breathe the fresh air.

James, with a laugh, told him that smoking always did that to people at first, and assured him that he would soon be all right. But Byron did not want to finish his cigar even after he was in the fresh air and was feeling better. He even thought that he would never want to smoke again.

The evening had not been pleasant for him. The old proverb, “A guilty conscience needs no accusing,” was too true in his case. He had tried to enjoy the music but it was spoiled through his fear that he would be noticed, and he had not enjoyed the things that he had purchased with the egg money at all.

After leaving the dance hall, the boys soon separated. As Byron walked along with his cousin, he thought of his mother’s words about things that were gotten dishonestly. In all the things he had been doing of late he could find no pleasure whatever. The money for which he had schemed and risked so much was gone, and for what! He shuddered as he thought of the cigars and wished that the eggs were all back in their nests again and that he had never taken part in the plan suggested by the boys.

Several days passed before Byron was able to rid himself of his bad feelings and overcome the fearful foreboding that someone was coming to “tell on” him. But as day after day passed by and nobody came, he felt a great relief and thoughts of the cigar no longer made his head feel dizzy.

One Sunday afternoon, three weeks from the time the boys had been together before, they went to the loft of an old barn owned by the farmer for whom James worked. James’ employer was not interested in the company of his hired help, so their friends were seldom brought into the farmhouse.

Upon this occasion James had a surprise planned for the boys. He waited until they were all comfortably seated upon the hay, and then in a new dignified tone he said, “Boys, I’ve got a new book. It’s one that I believe will be of real interest to us all. I consider it very valuable and something we need to read before we go any further with our plans. We can take turns in reading it, and then no one will be especially tired.”

“Oh, go on with your book!” George exclaimed roughly. “I never did like books, and I never shall. I always hated to go to school because books and I are such poor friends! They always seemed so dry to me.”

“This is none of your dry kind, George,” James said reassuringly. “Every page is full of good things. Why, I was so carried away with it that I hardly knew whether it was morning or evening.”

“Well, James, if you have such an interesting book, we had better look it over,” George said in a patronizing tone. So James hastened to his room and soon returned with a small yellow book called The Life of Jesse James.

Now, Byron had heard of the James boys and of some of their wild and daring deeds, but he had also been warned of the dangers in the future of those who read the account of their reckless lives. Of course, his conscience reproved him, but how could advice so often unheeded be of any service in times of danger now? He heard the voice that had spoken, but, oh, it was now so far away that it seemed only an echo of the past.

As the boys listened to the thrilling accounts, James’ enthusiasm increased, and he said, “Boys, it takes real courage and bravery to rob a bank or a train and get away with booty.”

Byron thought of his experience with the eggs as James went on to say, “It fairly makes my hair stand on end when I think of the close quarters they got into, and of how they often had to shoot their way out.”

“It surely does!” Byron added with feeling. “And,” he added, “I don’t see what enjoyment they got out of the money they took or from the things bought with it. They never could feel free and easy while they had it, for they were continually thinking that they might be found out, and were in constant danger!”

The night at the dance hall seemed to loom up before Byron, and he seemed to hear again his mother’s words on how things that are gotten dishonestly are not enjoyed.

Seeing the course of Byron’s thoughts, James said emphatically, “Why, of course they had a good time! They had all the money they desired, and when that was gone they knew how to get more. I’ve been getting some good points from this book that will be helpful to us. We’ve been too backward and it’s time we began to move out a little. There’s no need of us fellows going through life without more money. It’s for us if we will just go after it.

“The other day when I was over to the store, I sized up the situation pretty thoroughly, and I believe that some night we can get in through one of the rear windows and help ourselves to what is there. George and I have been preparing ourselves for such a raid, and we want you, Byron, to join us. Of course, this will be only a starter. But as we proceed, our courage and bravery will increase and after a while the brave deeds of which we have been reading this afternoon will not outshine us very far.”

The reading of the book Byron had somewhat enjoyed; but the proposal that he take part in the robbing of a store was more than he could stand. He thought that if he should do such a thing and end up being just as guilty as he had been on account of the eggs, while hardly getting any pleasure, he did not want to have any part in this new scheme. So he said, “Boys, this thing is going too far. Just as sure as I am sitting here, if we enter into this stealing business, it will leak out some way and the prison cell will be our fate.”

“There—there it is again!” George said with a sneer, as James had been in the habit of doing. “Our preacher has gotten his text ready for another sermon! Byron, you are always getting scared before there’s any danger. James and I are both older than you are, and we know several things that you don’t know. Now our experience has been greater than yours, and if you’ll listen to a little reason and common sense you’ll come along all right. This thing of the people finding out everything we do is all bosh. Most every night James and I are out together, and we’re having some fine times of late, and no one has caught us yet or even suspected us. They think we’re all right because we go to Sunday school on Sunday.”

“Don’t you fool yourself, George,” Byron answered. “There’s more than one who doesn’t look upon you boys as angels, by any means, and among that number is my mother. Of course, she doesn’t know just what you’re doing, but she’s afraid to have me associate with you too much.”

“See here, Byron! You will have to get rid of some of your fanatical ideas about your mother. Mothers are all right in their proper place, but they have never been boys. What do they know about what a boy should do! All your mother thinks about is trying to keep you from having a good time.”

Deeply stung by these words, Byron flushed. He knew that his mother was a good woman, but he could not reply without being laughed at.

“When Byron gets a little more experience, he will see things differently,” James said almost kindly, a moment later. Then turning to Byron, he said, “If you could only go out a few nights with George and me, it would be a great help to you in getting rid of some of your fears. Why not break loose from the restraint you’re under? Just let your mother know that you’re old enough to look out for yourself. Set a date to meet us sometime and we’ll have a grand old time.”

“Yes, but Mother would want to know where I was going, and then there would be trouble,” Byron answered.

“Let the trouble come,” James replied. “It will soon blow over. You’re old enough to do as you please, and there’s no need of always being tied down to her. Suppose we all plan to meet here next Saturday night, and I’ll try to arrange for the rest.”

“Planning is fine,” Byron said, “but to get here will be another thing altogether. Mother will not consent to my coming.”

“I’ll tell you what I would do, Byron,” said George, who had been quietly listening. “I would just go to her and tell her that I would like to spend the night with James and go with him to Sunday school the next morning. If she doesn’t consent, I would simply take the law in my own hands and go regardless of her wishes. It will have to come to that sooner or later, anyway, so you might as well break the ice now.”

Byron promised to try to be with them upon the following Saturday night, but had little hope of success. Soon after the conversation the boys parted. The following week passed swiftly by, and the Saturday evening which begins this story soon arrived. Byron was on his way to the place where James was working.

The tide had done its work.