It was a beautiful day. The little birds had finished their morning songs and were busy with other duties, but occasionally some songster in a clump of trees near the road cheered the passersby with his music. As Byron rode home from Sunday school with his mother, he tried hard to forget his cruel words to her and what had followed. But, try as he would, the remembrance of these things persisted in returning to his troubled mind. Would his mother talk to him about it when they got home? How could he answer her?
However, his mother never mentioned what had happened. During the entire week she bestowed upon him the same affection that she had in former days, and he also heard nothing from the boys; but everything about the place seemed changed. The house, the yard, the well, the garden, and even the horses and the barn seemed different to him. Yet they were the same—the change was in himself.
In every way his mother was a wonder to him. He had never known her to be so kind. At meals she placed special dainties on his plate, and when he had finished his day’s work she greeted him with pleasant and endearing words. The chapters she read during the worship hour were full of deep meaning, and the prayers she offered sank into his heart like arrows.
Once after prayer he felt that he must go to her and unburden his heart and beg forgiveness for the way he had spoken to her. But the suggestion quickly came that it would be better not to do it. It would only make bad matters worse, for it was not really necessary. Then he wondered if anyone had found out about what had happened on Saturday night. Thus the week slipped away, and Sunday morning came again.
Byron opened his eyes and beheld the warm rays of sunlight streaming into his room through the open window. He felt thankful that his surroundings were different from what they were the week before. Then a call from the stairway reminded him that breakfast was nearly ready. He had no time to lose if he were to get to Sunday school on time.
Promptness was a thing that had always been taught in Byron’s home. When attending school, which was some distance away, he had never had any tardy marks against him, and the family had always made a special effort to be at Sunday school on time. On this particular morning Byron was eager to get started. He was anxious to see James and George and to learn how things were going.
To Byron’s surprise, when he reached the chapel, the boys were not there. Perhaps they had been detained, he thought, and would come in later; so he carefully watched the door for a long time. So interested was he to see them enter that he paid little attention to the lesson or to what the teacher was saying. When the school was dismissed, he asked some of the boys if they knew why James and George were absent. But none of them knew.
He walked silently out into the yard, and after looking up and down the road, hoping that the boys would appear, he sat down in the carriage. Soon the preaching service began. Byron heard the singing, but he did not care to go inside. He was disappointed because the boys did not come, and he wanted to be alone.
“What a relief it would be,” he said to himself, “to know what has hindered them! It is certainly unusual, for they are nearly always at Sunday school and are generally on time.” Then a sudden fear gripped his heart. Could it be possible that anything had happened? Had some of their reckless deeds of the week before been discovered and traced to the guilty ones? Why was there such a choking sensation in his throat, and such a feeling and expectancy of danger in his mind? Had not James repeatedly assured him that there was no reason to be afraid? Yes, he had—but, then, had not Jason told them both that there was cause for real carefulness as well as fear? Jason and George had seemed to understand the necessity of covering the deeds of that awful night, and they were both older and more experienced than James. These and many similar thoughts troubled Byron as he sat there alone in the carriage. He could easily have listened to a part of the sermon, as the carriage was close to the open windows and doors, but his mind was too busily occupied with other things.
What made Byron start so suddenly, and what caused him to tremble so violently? Two men, in a covered buggy, had turned into the churchyard, had alighted, and were approaching the carriage in which Byron was sitting. It was no uncommon thing for him to see these men, for he was well acquainted with them both. One of them was Farmer Davis. He was the owner of the house whose windows the boys had broken by throwing stones and clubs, and of the orchard in which George had destroyed the apple trees.
The men greeted him with a pleasant smile and spoke very kindly to him; but as they talked he became more and more uneasy. He felt that something was surely to happen soon, and his conscience was again talking with him. He struggled to be brave, but he could not look either of the men in the face. His guilty conscience alone would have condemned him.
Suddenly the conversation ceased. During the silence that followed, Byron felt that the terrible moment had arrived. Although his eyes were riveted on the ground, he knew that both men were looking him squarely in the face.
“Where were you, Byron,” Mr. Davis asked, “on Saturday night one week ago?”
Byron felt the color leave his cheek. His throat became dry and parched. He tried to say that he had spent the night with James, and that they had remained in the house all evening, but his words felt strange and weak.
The men did not seem surprised; but Mr. Davis continued, “Now, Byron, you might as well tell us the truth, for your guilty look has betrayed you. You know very well that what you’ve said isn’t so. We have known you since you were a small boy, and we know that your mother is a good woman and has tried to bring you up in the right way. We know, too, that of late you have been keeping company with boys whom you have no business to be with. These boys have influenced you and have encouraged you to do things you would not have otherwise done. This has been so noticeable that others have spoken about it. You are breaking your mother’s heart and bringing disgrace and reproach upon a respectable family.
“Now, the way of the transgressor is hard, and you will have to give an answer for some of the things you have done. You say that you spent the night with James and that you were not out of the house all evening. Now, Byron, why do you say that?”
Byron tried to answer, but could not. The words seemed to die in his throat as the pangs of guilt pierced his heart. He would have given anything to be rid of that awful feeling.
“You see,” Mr. Davis went on, in a voice which showed that he knew and understood a great deal about the matter, “the facts in the case are these: I happened to be in the post office that evening and distinctly remember noticing you and James and another boy come in to ask for mail. I saw you reluctantly take the cigar that James gave you, and when it was lighted place it between your lips. Later I was told by another man that he had seen you going away from church in the same company, except that Jason White had gone with you. Now, you were seen at these places, and still you claim to have spent the entire evening with James at his home. There must be some cause for your making a statement like that. Why did you do it?”
Byron was still speechless. He could not answer.
“You were in the company of those three boys that night, and you know just what you did,” Mr. Davis continued when he saw that Byron was not willing to confess himself. “As soon as your evil deeds were discovered, an investigation was started. You four boys were suspected at once, and every bit of evidence that we have collected points that way. You are guilty, and the best thing for you to do is to acknowledge it and to take your medicine. Now, if you can tell the truth, we will intercede in your behalf, as we believe that you have been influenced and have been thus led into trouble.”
Byron could stand no more. With quivering lips and shining eyes, he acknowledged his guilt and pled for mercy. He ended his pitiful story by saying, “Oh, do not tell my poor mother! It will break her heart. She warned me faithfully, but I would not heed her advice, and now it has come to this.” And burying his face in his hands he sobbed, “What will Mother say? How can I ever face her again?”
The two men talked kindly to Byron, but let him know that his mother must be told. The offense was so grave that it would be necessary for the law to have its course, and that the boys must suffer the consequences.
“We are going now,” Mr. Davis gravely said, “to visit an officer of the law, and you will hear from this later. My advice to you would be to tell a straightforward story. It will certainly be better for you in the end if you do.”
As the two men untied their horse and drove away Byron watched them in a bewildered manner until they had disappeared.
“O God!” he cried, realizing his fate, “what shall I do? I can never face this!”
He thought of running away, but wondered where he could go. His mother would find it out, anyway, and why make her suffer any more than she must? With teeth set firmly together, he said to himself, “I might as well face it one time as another.” With this thought uppermost in his mind he jumped from the carriage and, going into the chapel, dropped into the first empty seat. In a few minutes the service ended.
As Byron sat still, wondering what his mother would say when she had learned all, his cousin came to him and invited Byron to go home with him. “Oh, here is my chance,” he thought. “If I go to his home, I won’t have to tell Mother myself. Someone else will surely tell her before I get home tonight.”
He got permission from his mother to spend the afternoon at his cousin’s home, promising to return home before sundown.
What an afternoon that was! A good dinner had been prepared by his aunt, but he had no relish for it. His cousin proposed games and amusements of various kinds, in which the two boys had often engaged, and even a trip down to the river, but nothing seemed to interest him. He was thoroughly miserable. At last, seeing the sun sinking to rest, he started home. As he walked along, he wondered again and again what was awaiting him there. Had Mother heard? How could he meet her? What questions would she first ask him? These and many other things came to his mind as he wended his way homeward.
When he came in sight of his home, he stopped, and his courage fell. How could he ever enter that place again? he thought. He felt that he was worse than an outcast, for he had abused and misused his rights and was no longer worthy to share the comforts of home. The story of the prodigal son came to his mind. How like that miserable fellow he felt himself!
Summoning all his remaining courage, he again pressed on. The door opened. There stood his mother, her hand still clinging to the knob as if for support. One glance at her pale, tear-stained face told him that she already knew the dreadful story. The awful look of sorrow spoke more plainly than words could have done, but beneath her sorrow, he could see that there was still the same tender love.
Springing forward, Byron clasped her in his arms, saying, “O Mother! you have heard the story, haven’t you? Can you ever love and respect your wayward boy again? Can you ever have any confidence in him?”
And the two poor, wounded hearts poured out their grief together.
“O my boy,” at last his mother cried, “has it come to this? You have indeed broken my heart! If it were not for the comfort and strength I am now receiving from above, I could never stand this.”
“Yes, Mother,” Byron said in a low tone, “It has come to this! Can you forgive me? Oh, say that you can!” And then, in the gathering gloom, he told his mother the tale of his sorrow and distress.
When his mother had recovered herself sufficiently, she told Byron that, two hours before, the men who had talked to him in the churchyard had come to her home and told her all about the trouble.
“Oh! you cannot imagine, Byron, how I felt!” she exclaimed, sobbing again. “It pierced my heart like poisoned arrows, and I have suffered terribly!”
“Yes, Mother,” Byron answered gently. “I do know something about your feelings; for I have passed through an experience that I shall never forget! Your prayers have followed me all the way! When I left you that night at the gate, with those cruel words ringing in my ears, you told me that you would pray for me. Well, I had a strange experience that night.” Then Byron told her all about the voice that spoke to him as he crossed the river and stood upon the foot log.
“O my boy!” his mother exclaimed, “God is surely talking to you through His Spirit. He wants to save you from your sinful ways and deliver your soul from all guilt and condemnation. The voice that you heard on the foot log was more than your conscience alone; it was God’s Holy Spirit, in answer to prayer, striving to make you see and understand your duty toward your Creator and to keep you out of danger. Jesus wants to come into your heart and make it His abode, and God will give you His Holy Spirit to guide you if only you will let Him.”
“I know it, Mother, and I long to be free from sin, but this affair that I am in is something awful, and I must face it!” he said, burying his face in his hands.
“Yes, my boy, you will have to meet it. Mr. Davis said that as soon as he could locate the other boys an officer of the law would come to arrest you.” Then rising, and lighting a lamp, she continued, “Aren’t you hungry, Byron? Come and have some food.”
The two walked together into the dining room, and while Byron ate a light supper his mother sat beside him and listened to the remaining details of the sad story. At last she said, “You must go to bed now, my son, for you may be called for in the night.” And with a goodnight kiss they parted at the stairway.
Going to his room, Byron made hasty preparations for bed, and throwing himself upon it, gave vent to his feelings. The tears that he had struggled to suppress, because he did not think it manly to cry, flowed freely now, and he round the relief that nature gives to grieving hearts.
How dark the future, at this moment, appeared to this wayward young man, no one but those who have a like experience can comprehend. He felt that all happiness was gone out of his life and that it would be impossible ever to live down a record so dark, so black! He could not bear to think of what the next few hours would bring forth.
If only he had listened to his dear mother’s advice! If only he had heeded the warnings of his conscience, he would have been spared all of this! In utter despair he buried his face in his pillow. “O God!” he cried form the agony of his heart, “what shall I—what can I—do?” The wail had scarcely died upon the night air, when he arose upon his elbow to listen.
He heard a sound of wheels in the distance coming in the direction of his home. Could it be, oh! could it be the officers? Yes. The wagon had stopped. Feet were walking upon the graveled walk below. Mother had opened the door. He heard voices, but the words were indistinct.
Upon the mantle in the dining room the old clock was sounding the hour of nine, and Byron heard the hall door gently opening and someone coming up the stairs. It was Mother! She was coming to break the news as softly as possible. Stopping beside his bed, she clasped him to herself, kissing him again and again. For a moment neither mother nor son uttered a word; but as he felt the hot tears falling upon his face and the heaving of her bosom, Byron knew something of his mother’s suffering.
At last, as if in a dream, Byron heard her saying, “An officer is below, waiting for you, Byron. You must dress at once and go down. It’s hard, but you must face it. You will probably be taken for trial, and I cannot go, but your older brother will go with you. I’m going to give you enough money to pay your fine, however much it will be. If they will let you off that way, perhaps you can return with your brother tomorrow.
“But now, my boy, there is one thing I must ask of you, and it is this: when you are put upon the witness stand, be truthful. Tell everything just as it happened and do not try to shield yourself, no matter what the consequences may be. Never mind what the boys may say or do; speak the truth and let the law have its course. It will be hard for us all, but we must submit.
“While I shall not be with you, Byron, remember that I am praying for you, and I’m sure God in His mercy will come to your rescue in this trying hour. You remember what I told you of the voyage that you were starting upon. You are stranded now, my boy, upon the shoals that Satan has prepared for unwary souls; and because you failed to properly prepare for the journey, your former reputation will indeed be shipwrecked. But don’t be discouraged. Jesus extends a lifeline to the lost, and if you will look you can easily find it.”
Then kissing him on the brow again, she said, “I will go now, and you must come down immediately or the men will be coming up after you.”
Byron did not move until the door to the dining room below had closed behind his mother. Reluctantly, then, he arose, then dressed quickly, and was soon descending the stairs over which he had so often traveled before. Where would he spend the nights that were to follow this one?
As he entered the dining room, he was seized with a choking sensation. He knew practically nothing of the law and its officers and of their methods of dealing with their prisoners, but he had at last made up his mind to take his mother’s advice. He would follow her directions as closely as it as possible for him to do.
Mustering all of his immature manly powers, he stepped into the presence of those whom he most dreaded to see. There was no unnecessary delay or words. The officer was prepared, and, drawing forth a paper from his pocket, he began at once to read from its contents, and after finishing it he said, “Byron, you are now under arrest.”
Solemn words indeed were these in the ears of Byron. He felt himself a great criminal. He looked at his mother as she stood beside him and realized in part what she was suffering. He saw the great tears running down her cheeks, and remembered when she had said, just a few hours before, “O my boy! you have broken my heart!” It seemed too true. He was indeed stranded, and he felt that only a divine power could release him.
For a moment no one spoke; then the officer broke the painful silence. “I had intended, Byron,” he said, “to take you with me, but I have decided not to do so. You will be placed upon your honor to appear at the place for your trial and can come with your brother later tonight. I must go and arrest the other boys, and as soon as I can get them it will be necessary for you to be there.”
Three hours later, when his brother called to him from the gate, Byron arose and went out into the night. A moment later he heard his mother’s footsteps behind him. No words were spoken. After a tender embrace and a loving kiss she helped him into the carriage, and the two brothers were soon driving out onto the highway.
The hour of the night, their mission, his mother at the gate, and the moon above looking down upon them made the scene very impressive to Byron. The picture that was there stamped upon his mind was never erased.