An Example by
Stealing away from the ones at home, who
would be sad when they found out about it; stealing away from honor, purity,
cleanliness, goodness, and manliness, the minister's boy and the boy next door
were preparing to smoke their first cigarettes. They had skulked across the back
pasture, and were nearing the stone wall that separated Mr. Meadow's corn-field
from the road; and here, screened by the wall on one side and by corn on the
other, they intended to roll the little "coffin nails," and smoke them unseen.
The minister's boy, whose name was Johnny Brighton, and who was
an innocent, unsuspicious child, agreed that it would be a fine, manly thing to
smoke. So the lads waited and planned, and now their opportunity had come. The
boy next door, whose name was Albert Beecher, saw old Jerry Grimes, the worst
character in Roseland, drop a small bag of tobacco and some cigarette-papers.
The lad, being unobserved, transferred the stuff from the sidewalk to his
pocket, then hid it in the wood-shed.
At last their plan seemed about to be carried out. Albert's
mother was nursing a sick friend, and the minister, secure in his study, was
preparing a sermon. Johnny's mother was dead. His aunt Priscilla was his
father's housekeeper, and she was usually so busy that she had little time for
small boys. Today, as she began her sewing, Johnny slipped quietly from the
house and joined his chum.
The boys reached the stone wall and sat down, with the tobacco
between them, to enjoy (?) what they considered a manly deed. After considerable
talk and a few blunders, each succeeded in rolling a cigarette, and was about to
pass it to his lips, when a strange voice, almost directly above their heads,
said, pleasantly, "Trying to kill yourselves, boys?"
With a guilty start, Johnny and Albert turned instantly, and
beheld the strangest specimen of humanity that either had ever seen. An
unmistakable tramp, with a pale, sickly face, covered partly with grime and
partly with stubby black beard, stood leaning with his arms on top of the wall,
looking down at them. Although it was summer, he wore a greasy winter cap, and
his coat, too, spoke of many rough journeys through dirt and bad weather. His
lips were screwed into something resembling a smile; but as he spoke, his
haunted, sunken eyes roved restlessly from one upturned face to the other.
As the only answer the boys gave him was an astonished,
frightened stare, the man continued: "I would not do it, boys. It is an awful
thing?awful! I was trying to get a little sleep over here," he continued, "when
I heard your voices, and thought I would see what was going on. Did not any one
ever tell you about cigarettes? Why, each one contains enough poison to kill a
cat; if it was fixed right, I mean." He passed a thin, shaking hand over his
face, and went on: "Do you want to fool with such things??Not if you are wise.
You see, the cigarette habit will kill you sometime, by inches, if not right
away, or else drive you crazy; and no sane person wants to kill himself or spoil
his health. That is what I am doing, though," he admitted, with a bitter smile
and a sad shake of his head. "But I cannot stop it now. I have gone too far, and
I cannot help myself. I am a wreck, a blot on the face of the earth."
Both lads had thrown their cigarettes to the ground, scrambled
to their feet. Johnny, sober-faced and round-eyed, was gazing intently up at the
man; but Albert, feigning indifference, stood digging his toe into the earth. He
was listening, however.
"It is this way with me," the stranger went on, seeing he had an
audience: "I have gone from bad to worse till I cannot stop, no matter how hard
I try. Why, I was once a clean little chap like you, but I got to reading trash,
and then I began to smoke, and pretty soon I had drifted so far into evil ways
that I had no control over myself."
Here Johnny and Albert exchanged a painful glance.
"The worst thing about cigarettes," the man continued, "is that
they usually lead to something worse. I am a drunkard and a thief, because of
evil associations. Tramps never have any ready money; so when I have to have
cigarettes, which is all the time, I either steal them or steal the money to buy
them with. Besides," with another sad shake of the head, "I am what is known as
a drug fiend, and?yes, I guess I am everything bad. If your folks knew who was
talking to you, their blood would run cold.
"And it is all principally due to cigarettes!" he broke forth,
savagely, emphasizing his words with his fist and speaking more excitedly. "Just
look at me and behold a splendid example of the cigarette curse. Why, I was
naturally bright; I might have been a man to honor. But a bad habit,
uncontrolled, soon ruins one. My nerves are gone. I am only a fit companion for
jailbirds and criminals. I cannot even look an honest man in the face, yet I am
not naturally bad at heart. The best way is never to begin; then you will never
have to suffer. Cigarettes will surely hurt you some day, though you may not be
able to see the effects at first."
The speaker's manner had changed greatly during the past few
moments. At first he had spoken calmly, but he was now more than agitated. His
eyes rolled and flashed in their dark caverns, and he spoke vehemently, with
excited gestures. Johnny and Albert stood close together, regarding him with
"I wish I could reform," he exclaimed, "but I cannot! The poison
is in my veins. A thousand devils seem dragging me down. I wish I could make
every boy stop smoking those things. I wish I could warn them of the horrible
With a sudden shriek, the man threw up his hands, fell backward,
and disappeared. After a second's hesitation, both lads ran to the wall, climbed
up, and looked over. In an unmistakable fit, the man was writhing on the ground.
Johnny and Albert ran quickly across lots and into Rev. Paul Brighton's study.
After learning that the boys had found a man in a fit, Johnny's father hailed
two passing neighbors, and the little party of rescuers followed the lads to the
scene of the strange experience.
It was a sorry spectacle that greeted them. The poor fellow's
paroxysm had passed, and he lay still and apparently lifeless, covered with dust
and grime. The minister bent over him, and, ascertaining that he was alive and
conscious, lifted him up; then, with the help of the two men, took the outcast
to the parsonage.
That evening, before the minister had asked his boy three
questions, Johnny broke into convulsive sobs, and made a clean breast of the
matter from the beginning. Blaming himself for not having won the child's heart
securely long before this, the minister did not censure him severely. He knew
that after such an example, the sensitive lad would never go wrong as far as
cigarettes were concerned.
Aunt Priscilla took her nephew in her arms, and, kissing the
lips that were yet sweet and pure, said, "If I have neglected you, Johnny, I am
sorry; and after this I am going to spend considerable time being good to my
Johnny slipped an arm around Aunt Priscilla's neck. "That is
just what I want," he said, happily.
"I hope this will teach you a lesson, Albert," said Mrs. Beecher
to her son, when he, with the help and advice of the minister, had made a full
confession of his share in the matter. "After such an example, I should think
you would never want to see another cigarette."
"I do not," said Albert, soberly, "and if I can help it, I am
not going to;
I will fight them. Cigarettes certainly did not make a man of that fellow.
They unmade him."
For several days, during which the minister thought of what
could be done for him, the outcast stayed at the parsonage. He was invited to
try the gospel cure. "If you will put yourself unreservedly in the hands of God,
and remain steadfast," said Mr. Brighton, "there is hope for you. Besides, I
know of some medical missionaries who can help doctor the poison out of your
system, if you will let them."
At last the poor fellow yielded. And after a hard, bitter
struggle, during which a higher power helped him, he won the victory. He joined
a band of religious people whose work is to help rebuild wrecked lives; and
although weak at first and never robust, he was still able to point the right
way to many an erring mortal. He did much good; and Johnny and Albert, at least,
never forgot the practical example he gave them of what the cigarette can
accomplish for its slaves.