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Bert Lloyd's Boyhood
Chapter XII. A Question of Influence

WHEN Mr. Lloyd heard the story of Bert’s “meeching,” it was evident that it hurt him sorely. He was quite prepared for a reasonable amount of waywardness in his boy, but this seriously exceeded his expectations. He could not, of course, put himself exactly in Bert’s place, and he was inclined to think him guilty of far more deliberate wrong than poor Bert had for a moment contemplated.

Then, again, he was much puzzled as to what should be done with reference to Frank Bowser. He had evidently been Bert’s tempter, and Bert ought, perhaps, to be forbidden to have any more to do with him than he could possibly help. On the other hand, if Bert were to be interdicted from the companionship of his schoolmates, how would he ever learn to take care of himself among other dangerous associations? This was a lesson he must learn some day. Should he not begin now?

So Mr. Lloyd was not a little bewildered, and his talk with Bert did not give him much light; for while Bert, of course, was thoroughly penitent and ready to promise anything, what he had to tell about Frank was simply how good-natured and generous and plucky he was, and so forth.

The three of them, father, mother, and sister, held a consultation over the matter that night after Bert had gone to bed.

“I wish I felt more sure as to what is the wisest thing to do,” said Mr. Lloyd. “We can’t keep Bert in a glass case, and yet it seems as if we should do our best to protect him from every evil influence. I would like to know more about that Bowser boy.”

“Bert tells me he has no mother,” said Mrs. Lloyd, in sympathetic tones, “and from what he says himself, his father does not seem to take much interest in him. Poor boy! he cannot have much to help him at that rate.”

“He’s a good, sturdy little chap,” put in Mary. “He came down from school with Bert one day. He seems very fond of him.”

“Well, what had we better do?” asked Mr. Lloyd. “Forbid Bert to make a companion of him, or say nothing about it, and trust Bert to come out all right?”

“I feel as though we ought to forbid Bert,” answered Mrs. Lloyd. “Frank Bowser’s influence cannot help him much, and it may harm him a good deal.”

“Suppose you put that the other way, mother,” spoke up Mary, her face flushing under the inspiration of the thought that had just occurred to her. “Frank Bowser has no help at home, and Bert has. Why, then, not say that Bert’s influence cannot harm Frank, and it may help him a good deal?”

“Mary, my dear,” exclaimed Mr. Lloyd, bending over to pat her affectionately on the shoulder, “that’s a brilliant idea of yours. You’re right. Bert should help Frank, and not let Frank harm him. We must make Bert understand that clearly, and then there will be nothing to fear.”

And so the consultation closed, with Mary bearing off the honours of having made the best suggestion.

It was acted upon without delay. Calling Bert to him next morning while they were awaiting breakfast, Mr. Lloyd laid the matter before him:

“Bert,” said he, kindly, “we were talking about you last night, and wondering whether we ought to forbid your making a companion of Frank Bowser. What do you think?”

“Oh, father, don’t do that,” answered Bert, looking up with a startled expression. “He’s been so good to me. You remember how he served Bob Brandon for shoving me down in class?”

“Yes, Bert; but I’m afraid he’s leading you into mischief, and that is not the sort of companion I want for you.”

Bert dropped his head again. He had no answer ready this time.

“But then there are always two sides to a question, Bert,” continued Mr. Lloyd, while Bert pricked up his ears hopefully. “Why should you not help Frank to keep out of mischief, instead of his leading you into it? What do you say to that?”

Bert did not seem quite to understand, so his father went on:

“Don’t you see, Bert? You must either help Frank to be better, or he will cause you to be worse. Now, which is it to be?”

Bert saw it clearly now.

“Why, father,” he cried, his face beaming with gladness at this new turn to the situation, “I’ll do my best to be a good boy, and I know Shorty will, too, for he always likes to do what I do.”

“Very well then, Bert,” said Mr. Lloyd, “that’s a bargain. And now, suppose you invite Frank, or ‘Shorty,’ as you call him, to spend next Saturday afternoon with you, and take tea with us.”

“Oh, father, that will be splendid,” cried Bert, delightedly. “We can coast in the fort all the afternoon and have fun in the evening. I’m sure Shorty will be so glad to come.”

The question thus satisfactorily settled, Bert took his breakfast, and went off to school in high glee and great impatience to see Frank, for the invitation he bore for him fairly burned in his mouth, so to speak.

As he expected, Frank needed no pressing to accept it. He did not get many invitations, poor chap! and the prospect of an afternoon at Bert’s home seemed very attractive to him. He did enjoy himself thoroughly, too, even if he was so shy and awkward that Mrs. Lloyd and Mary were afraid to say very much to him; he seemed to find it so hard to answer them.

But Mr. Lloyd got on much better with him. Although his boyhood was a good way in the past, he kept its memories fresh, and could enter heartily into the discussion of any of the sports the younger generation delighted in. He knew all the phrases peculiar to baseball, cricket, marbles, and so forth, and fairly astonished Frank by his intimate knowledge of those amusements, so that ere long Frank, without knowing just how it happened, was chatting away as freely as though he were out on the Garrison playground instead of being in Mr. Lloyd’s parlour.

Having once got him well started, Mr. Lloyd led him on to talk about himself and his home, and his way of spending his time, and thus learned a great deal more about him than he had yet known. One fact that he learned pointed out a way in which Bert’s influence could be exerted for good at once. Frank attended no Sunday school. He went to church sometimes, but not very often, as his father took little interest in church-going, but he never went to Sunday school; in fact, he had not been there for years. Mr. Lloyd said nothing himself on the subject to Frank. He thought it better to leave it all to Bert.

After Frank had gone, leaving behind him a very good impression upon the whole, Mr. Lloyd told Bert of the opportunity awaiting him.

“Wouldn’t you like to ask Frank to go with you to Sunday school, Bert?” he inquired.

“Of course, I would, father,” replied Bert, promptly; “and I’m sure he’d go, too, and that Mr. Silver would be very glad to have him in our class.”

When Bert, however, came to talk to Frank about it, he found him not quite so willing to go as he had been to accept the invitation for Saturday.

“I’m not anxious to go to Sunday school, Bert,” said he. “I shan’t know anybody there but you, and it’ll be awfully slow.”

“But you’ll soon get to know plenty of people,” urged Bert; “and Mr. Silver is so nice.”

And so they argued, Frank holding back, partly because his shyness made him shrink from going into a strange place, and partly because, having been accustomed to spend his Sunday afternoons pretty much as he pleased, he did not like the idea of giving up his liberty. But Bert was too much in earnest to be put off. The suggestion of his father that he should try to do Frank some good had taken strong hold upon his mind, and he urged, and pleaded, and argued until, at last, Frank gave way, and promised to try the Sunday school for a while, at any rate.

Bert reported the decision at home with much pride and satisfaction. He had no doubt that when once Frank found out what a pleasant place the Sunday school was, and how kind and nice Mr. Silver—his teacher there—was, he would want to go every Sunday.

The Sunday school of Calvary Baptist Church certainly had about as pleasant and cheery quarters as could be desired. For one thing, it was not held in a damp, dark, unventilated basement as so many Sunday schools are.

And, oh, what a shame—what an extraordinary perversion of sense this condemning of the children to the cellars of the churches is! Just as though anything were good enough for them, when in them lies the hope of the Church, and every possible means should be employed to twine their young affections about it! But these words do not apply to the Calvary Sunday School, for it was not held in a dingy basement, but in a separate building that united in itself nearly every good quality such an edifice should possess. It was of ample size, full of light and air, had free exposure to the sunshine, and was so arranged that every convenience was offered for the work of the school. Around the central hall were arranged rooms for the Bible classes, the infant class, and the library, so planned that by throwing up sliding doors they became part of the large room. The walls were hung with pictures illustrating Bible scenes, and with mottoes founded upon Bible texts; and finally, the benches were of a special make that was particularly comfortable.

All this was quite a revelation to Frank when, after some little coaxing, Bert brought him to the school. His conception of a Sunday school was of going down into a gloomy basement, and being lectured about the Bible by a severe old man with a long grey beard. Instead of that, he found himself in one of the brightest rooms he had ever seen, and receiving a cordial welcome from a handsome young gentleman, to whom Bert had just said:

“This is my friend Frank, Mr. Silver. He’s going to come to school with me after this.”

“Very glad indeed to have you, Frank,” said Mr. Silver, giving him a warm grasp of the hand. “Sit right down with Bert, and make yourself at home.” And Frank sat down, so surprised and pleased with everything as to be half inclined to wonder if he was not dreaming. Then the fine singing, as the whole school, led by an organ and choir, burst forth into song, the bright pleasant remarks of the superintendent, Mr. Hamilton, Bert’s ideal of a “Christian soldier,” and the simple earnest prayer offered,—all impressed Frank deeply.

No less interesting did he find Mr. Silver’s teaching of the lesson. Mr. Silver attached great importance to his work in the Sunday school. Nothing was permitted to interfere with thorough preparation for it, and he always met his class brimful of information, illustration, and application, bearing upon the passage appointed for the day. And not only so, but by shrewd questioning and personal appeal he sent the precious words home to his young hearers and fixed them deep in their memories. He was a rare teacher in many respects, and Bert was very fond of him. Frank did not fail to be attracted by him. As he and Bert left the school together, Bert asked:

“Well, Frank, how do you like my Sunday school?”

“First rate,” replied Frank, heartily. “Say, but isn’t Mr. Silver nice? Seems as though I’d known him for ever so long instead of just to-day.”

“Guess he is nice,” said Bert. “He’s just the best teacher in the school. You’ll come every Sunday now, won’t you, Frank?”

“I think so,” answered Frank; “I might just as well be going there as loafing about on Sunday afternoon doing nothing.”

Mr. Lloyd was very much pleased when he heard of Bert’s success in getting Frank to the Sunday school. He recognised in Bert many of those qualities which make a boy a leader among his companions, and his desire was that his son’s influence should always tell for that which was manly, pure, and upright. To get him interested in recruiting for the Sunday school was a very good beginning in church work, and Mr. Lloyd felt thankful accordingly.

Neither was he alone in feeling pleased and thankful. Mr. John Bowser, Frank’s father, although he showed great indifference to both the intellectual and moral welfare of his boy, was, nevertheless, not opposed to others taking an interest in him. He cared too little about either church or Sunday school to see that Frank was a regular attendant. But he was very willing that somebody else should take an interest in the matter. Moreover, he felt not a little complacency over the fact that his son was chosen as a companion by Lawyer Lloyd’s son. Engrossed as he was in the making of money, a big, burly, gruff, uncultured contractor, he found time somehow to acquire a great respect for Mr. Lloyd. He thought him rather too scrupulous and straightforward a man to be his lawyer, but he admired him greatly, nevertheless; and, although he said nothing about it, secretly congratulated, himself upon the way things were going. He had little idea that the circle of influence Bert had unconsciously started would come to include him before its force would be spent.

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