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The Pilot’s Voice | Isabel C. Byrum

The Shoals

“I wonder,” Jason remarked, “if Byron said his prayers before he went to sleep, and if he is having very pleasant dreams?”

In an instant Byron was sitting up with all sleepiness driven far from him, wondering how long he had slept. The tempest of recollections that raged in his brain would be hard to describe.

“Sleep is a partner we can’t do without,” Jason continued. “Nothing can equal the influence of sleep upon the tired mind and body. But when sleep leaves us for a time, I know of a very good substitute; and here it is,” he added, drawing from his pocket an old and much-used pipe. “This is the greatest comforter I have,” he said as he proceeded to fill the pipe from the small bag of tobacco that he had taken from his pocket. “Whenever I’m tired a good smoke rests me; but the time when it’s the greatest comfort to me is after a hearty meal. I only wish I had enough pipes to go around. But never mind, my friends, you shall each have a turn.”

While the pipe was being passed from one to the other, Byron noticed that after smoking it each one assumed a dull and dazed expression, and he remembered his teacher’s words when she explained the effects of tobacco upon the system. She said that the poison, or nicotine, in the tobacco worked on the system as to dull the senses. The seeming relief it produced was only temporary, and the poison not only produced a shock, but entered the most vital organs, doing great injury.

The strong odor from the pipe and the smoke that was constantly increasing in the room made him very uncomfortable. He did not want to take the horrid pipe in his mouth, but what was he to do when it came his turn? At last the pipe was offered to him. He took it, trying to think of some excuse to give it back. Not being able to make an excuse for not smoking and being unwilling to be laughed at, he braced himself for the task.

With the pipe held carelessly in his right hand, he joined freely in the conversation, endeavoring to avert attention and pretending now and then to smoke. As soon as he thought he could pass the detestable pipe on without inviting embarrassing remarks, he handed it the next fellow. Thus he avoided the deathly sick feeling that he had before experienced. If the boys noticed his actions, they said nothing.

It was not long until a pack of cards was produced, and game after game was played with them in the flickering firelight. Byron became really interested in the card games, though he was forced to battle with sleep. He was in a measure able to forget his surroundings, and did not so distinctly hear the voice of his conscience as he did when there was so little to take up his attention. As nothing was said about playing for money, the thought of gambling did not present itself in so repulsive a manner.

After several games had been played, George sprang up, and peering out into the darkness, exclaimed, “Boys, I really believe it’s getting light in the east! We had better be making tracks for home if we don’t want to be caught by Mr. Sun.”

He had scarcely finished speaking when a cock in a distant farm yard began to crow. On hearing it, Jason sprang to his feet and said excitedly, “Well, I should say so! If we don’t get out of here at once, we’ll be sure to be seen, and then we’ll catch it!”

The boys took no time to change the appearance of the room nor to put out the remains of the fire, but quickly fled out into the darkness. They followed the same course that had been traveled earlier in the evening and were soon wending their way along the riverbank and out again upon the highway. While passing the Sibley house, Jason whispered, “We are none too soon, boys. To be seen around here will not be good medicine for us. The best thing to do is to hustle home as lively as we can and to be sure that no grass grows under our feet along the way.”

“Humph, you must have imbibed some of Byron’s doctrine,” James remarked in a low tone.

“Well, his preaching may not be so bad,” Jason answered, “for some of these things we’ve done tonight will no doubt be found out before long. The first question about the matter will be, ‘Who did them?’ and for us to be seen together at this hour of the morning will be a pretty hard thing to explain away.”

The boys separated at the crossroads—George and Jason going in one direction, and James and Byron in another. As they were hastening down the road toward the farmer’s house, James remarked, “It will not be safe for us to try to enter the house at this hour. It might arouse unnecessary suspicion. We’ll slip around to the hay barn, which is never locked, and creep in there.”

So with great caution they entered the gate that led into the farmer’s yard, and, softly slipping around the house, they entered an old log barn, where the hay for the horses and cattle was kept. Then they mounted a ladder that led up to the loft above. As they laid down upon the hay, James said, “Here we can get a couple of hours sleep at least before breakfast.”

It was no trouble for James to fall asleep, but with Byron it was different. He had never before slept in a barn, and then once more he had to listen to the voice that had troubled him at the river. But from sheer exhaustion he at last closed his eyes. The incidents of the day passed before him, but they became more and more indistinct until he forgot them altogether and slept.

When he awoke, the farmer was below, attending to his morning chores, and the sunlight was streaming in through the wide cracks between the logs of which the barn was made. At first Byron did not realize where he was, and his surroundings appeared so strange that he wondered if he was having a strange dream or a nightmare. But he soon realized that it was all too true and that it was really Sunday morning.

“What are they doing at home?” he wondered. “Mother is no doubt preparing breakfast and thinking of her wayward boy, perhaps praying at this very moment. Very soon it will be time for the morning worship, when the family will be gathered together. Mother will take the Bible and read a chapter. Then as they silently kneel to pray, she will remember each one of her children. What will she say when she comes to my name?”

He could almost hear the words pouring from her troubled soul, “O Lord, be with Byron, wherever he may be this morning. Bless my wayward boy and shield him from the many snares that Satan has prepared for his feet. Without Thy sustaining grace, O Lord, my heart would give way beneath its burden this morning. O God! how I love my boy! How I long for his salvation! Have pity and compassion upon him for Jesus’ sake! Give me strength, dear Father, to bear up under this new trial, and bring to my boy’s mind his former teaching. Talk to him, Lord, through his conscience and bring him safely home to me again. Have pity and compassion upon him for Jesus’ sake.”

Rising upon his elbow, Byron glanced to see if James had wakened, but found that he was sleeping soundly. Byron settled back once more into the nest that he had made in the hay, and tried to get more sleep. But the noises of the farmer moving about below kept him awake, and the various greetings that the different animals gave their owner when he approached them with their morning meal brought remembrances of his own neglected duties at home.

The sound of streams of milk pouring into empty milk pails renewed his thoughts of mother. He would not be there to help her with the milking, and it would be difficult for her to finish her other duties in time for Sunday school.

When the squealing of the pigs had died away in the pen adjoining the log barn and the farmer had returned up the gravel walk to the house, all was once more quiet, and for another hour James continued to sleep.

At last Byron heard him exclaim, “Whew! Is it really morning? Say, but I’ve had a good sleep. How did you rest, old boy? Pretty fine, I suppose; and did you have peaceful dreams?” Not waiting for a reply, James quickly arose, saying, “If two boys want any breakfast, they had better make haste and get into the house. Things will be cold now, I expect.”

“It would make little difference to me if I had no breakfast,” Byron said. “For my part, I am not in the least hungry. This staying up all night has just taken all of the life and ambition out of me. I don’t feel a bit like myself, and such a weight and burden has come over me since last evening that I am perfectly miserable. I thought that perhaps when I had slept some I would feel better, and in one sense I do. But, oh! I don’t feel as I used to. James, when I think of my unkind remarks to Mother last night, it almost breaks my heart.”

“Oh, never mind your feelings, Byron,” James said in a more encouraging tone of voice than he had been using of late. “You’ll feel all right when you’ve had a good hearty breakfast and a strong cup of coffee to stimulate you! Some of the things last night were just a little new to you and were no doubt exciting; but when your nerves quiet down a bit, you’ll be yourself again.”

“Well, what you say may be true, James, but what are you going to tell the folks in the house? How will you explain our being out last night?”

“Just leave that to me, Byron,” James answered. “I have many times had to make explanations, and I think I’m equal to the occasion this morning. But we had better be moving on at once, as it’s getting late.”

Descending a ladder, they left the barn through a rear door, and then snuck along behind a fence until they reached the road, so that they could enter the yard through the gate in front of the house. As they entered the yard, the farmer noticed them, but he did not suspect that they had spent a part of the night in the barn.

“It seems to me, boys, that you are rather late, or early, I do not know which you would call it, in getting back from the post office,” he said rather gruffly.

Reaching into his pocket, James brought forth the mail that he had received the night before, saying, “We had intended to come directly home from the post office, but after we left the store, George was taken with some kind of sick spell. It was quite a while before he could walk at all, and when we finally got started, Byron and I had to help him along. We went with him all the way to his home and saw him safely in bed. By that time it was so late that we didn’t like to come home and disturb you, and as they gave us an urgent invitation to stay all night, we decided to do so. George was so much better this morning that we came over here as soon as we could.”

As James finished these remarks, he glanced quickly at Byron and winked as if to say, “I fixed that up all right, didn’t I?”

Little was said during breakfast, and as soon as possible after it was over, the boys prepared to leave for Sunday school. They planned on attending the services at the little chapel that day, not because they wished to learn more about the Lord and salvation, but because they knew that they would be expected to be there and that many difficult questions would be asked if they were not.

Sunday school did not begin until ten o’clock, and as they had plenty of time they did not hasten on their way. Neither was in a talkative mood, so Byron had an opportunity to think, and many peculiar thoughts surged through his mind. He remembered the kindness of his teacher, a motherly, middle-aged woman, as from time to time she had taught his class. How sweet and good she had appeared while explaining the lesson and illustrating it by stories taken either from the Bible or from life!

One of these stories now came to his mind. It was of Jonah, the Bible truant. He remembered that she had pictured Jonah’s stubborn and rebellious spirit, and had described the trouble and disaster he brought upon himself through his unwillingness to obey God.

He did not want to be like Jonah. He would choose to be more brave and noble. Jonah’s course had often been a source of wonderment to him, and he reasoned that it was foolish and unnecessary. But how about his own? Jonah sinned only by turning from his duty and trying to run away from God, but he, Byron, not only had turned from duty and from God, but had committed sins that were really crimes.

Jonah, he remembered having heard her say, was really a good man, and wanted to do right. God had commanded him to warn the people of their danger—to inform them that if they did not repent they would be destroyed. Jonah had been severely punished because of his disobedience alone, and Byron wondered what would be done to those who not only disobeyed but committed crimes as well.

The sight of his mother’s carriage and horse tied near the chapel door told plainly that she was there in her accustomed seat. In order to take his place in his class, he must pass directly in front of her. How he dreaded to look into her eyes, which thing he knew he would be almost obliged to do. Many a time he had entered that door with a heart as light and happy as a bird, but now it was different.

She was there as Byron had expected, and as he looked into that patient face, so kind and pure, he was unable to return the smile with which she greeted him. With shame and guilt burning into his soul, he longed to hide himself. Heavy weights seemed to be fastened to his feet, and his heart was as lead. If only he could recall the cruel words of the evening before! Dropping his eyes to the floor, he walked as quickly as possible down the aisle and slipped into the seat beside James. Then began a tempest more fierce than any that had ever raged in his soul.

“The Lord’s Secret” was the subject of the lesson, and the memory verse was, “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.”* (John 7:16) As the teacher explained the Jews’ question in regard to the wisdom of Jesus and applied the memory verse, she said, “The secret of the Lord is very simple if anyone will open his heart to receive it. Now, Jesus came into the world to show men and women how to be good and happy. It was a very simple lesson that He wanted to teach them—the difference between right and wrong—and because of its simplicity the people who had been so long striving to solve it, thinking it was a difficult problem, could not easily understand. They were of the opinion that in order to get anything out of the Scriptures one must have much learning, and, knowing that Jesus had not enjoyed many educational privileges, they considered themselves safe in saying that He was not a scholar.

“In His answer Jesus told them that it did not require earthly wisdom in this instance, for His teacher was God. And that all who would know of His secret must be willing to be taught in the same way.”

She then told her class a little story that she had read. In the story the human heart was compared to a box securely locked and hidden in a large house. The first, or outside, door of this house opened into an entryway, into which strangers were admitted. The second door admitted acquaintances into halls and parlors. The third door opened into the living room, and here relatives and close friends were entertained. The next opened into the chamber where none but the nearest and dearest could come. Aside from all these, there was still another door, which opened into the closet containing the secret box.

This box represented the heart, which contains the secret thoughts and desires of the soul, the best and noblest, as well as the lowest and basest. Now, only God’s eye could see into the heart and discern man’s true character. But there is a day coming, Byron’s teacher said, when the heart will be opened, and as the husks are stripped from the corn and the shell removed from the kernel, so the thoughts of our hearts will be revealed as they really are.

Then she retold the story of the aged men who were walking upon the seashore viewing the wreckage. One of them was evidently a sailor and a person well acquainted with that part of the country, for he could explain something about most of the rubbish with which the coast was strewn.

As they came to the keel of a huge ship half buried in the sand, he said, “I remember well the night this came ashore. She was a fine ship and was well manned, and the master’s chart plainly described the bar on which she struck. He could have missed it, but he thought he could come a little closer than the map stated and still miss it. He tried it, but was caught in a storm, and his vessel was lost.”

Coming to another wreck, he said, “And I remember, too, when this bark was heaving her anchor, one fine morning, with every promise of a prosperous voyage. Her captain thought she would not need a pilot, and the result was that she, too, came ashore. My friend,” the old man continued, “as I look up and down this rocky coast and view the wrecks with which it is strewn, whose history I know so well, I am made sad indeed, and life seems to be full of clouds and storms.”

“When I read this story, boys,” the teacher said, “I thought of the many young men starting out upon life’s voyage. Some of them are wise enough to take a Pilot with them, but do not listen to His voice and at the risk of their lives and friends venture too close to the bar and are shipwrecked. How I wish that everyone could realize his danger when he turns away from the warnings of his conscience and ventures too close to dangerous places. The conscience warns of danger, but its power to help is useless when its instruction is not obeyed. Like an abused and slighted friend, it will in time become wounded and silenced.

“I wish, boys, that you would each learn the great secret contained in our lesson today that Jesus endeavored to teach the people. If you will follow the directions that are laid down in God’s chart, the Bible, and let Jesus be your Pilot, you not only will be able to plow through the foaming billows, but will land in the quiet waters of the haven of success, carrying with you rich cargoes of joy and happiness. Otherwise you are in constant danger of either being wrecked or carried away in the tide of sin and wickedness.

“How sad it would be, when God calls you home, should you find that your life had been wasted; that God’s design for you had not been fulfilled because you refused to follow the instructions of the chart or obey the counsel of the Pilot. Heed them, boys. God wants you to have a purpose in life that will reveal the best that is in you. A strong Christian character and a distinct purpose are what God desired above all things else.”

The entire lesson made a deep impression upon Byron. He was still thinking seriously upon it when he felt a gentle touch upon his shoulder. Looking up, he saw that it was his mother, saying, “I hope, boys, that you have had a pleasant time together, and that you enjoyed yourselves last night.”

He felt a choking sensation as he tried to answer, and could not think of anything to say. But his companion, seeing his predicament, spoke for him.

“Oh, yes,” James said, “we had a very nice time. Byron was a little late in getting there, but we spent a very pleasant evening with the family and in reading over our Sunday school lesson.”

Somewhat recovering himself from his surprise, Byron endeavored to join in the conversation, but it was with difficulty that he did so. He could think of little to say, and what he did say had an awkward and uncertain meaning. His mother did not press him any farther with questions; and as she was ready to leave for home, Byron bade James goodbye and entered the carriage beside her.