Chapter XIII.
 
    "Evil communications corrupt good manners."
                             --1 Cor. 15:33.

The one drawback upon Max's perfect enjoyment of his new home was the lack of a companion of his own age and sex; the only boys in the family connection, or among the near neighbors, were nearly grown to manhood or very little fellows.

Therefore, when Ralph Conly came home for the Christmas holidays, and though four years older than himself, at once admitted him to a footing of intimacy, Max was both pleased and flattered.

Ralph's manner, to be sure, was more condescending than was altogether agreeable, but that seemed not inexcusable, considering his superiority in years and knowledge of the world.

At Ion, Max played the part of host, taking Ralph up to his own bedroom to show him his books and other treasures, to the boys' work-room, out to the stables to see the horses, and about the grounds.

To-day, at Roselands, it was Ralph's turn to entertain. He soon drew Max away from the company in the parlors, showed him the horses and dogs, then invited him to take a walk.

It was near dinner time when they returned. After dinner he took him to his room, and producing a pack of cards, invited him to play.

"Cards!" exclaimed Max. "I don't know anything about playing with them, and don't want to."

"Why not? are you too pious?" Ralph asked with a sneer, tumbling them out in a heap upon the table.

"I've always been taught that men gamble with cards, and that gambling is very wicked and disgraceful, quite as bad as getting drunk."

"Pooh! you're a muff!"

"I'd rather be a muff than a gambler, any day," returned Max with spirit.

"Pshaw! 'tisn't gambling, unless you play for money, and I haven't asked you to do that, and don't propose to. Come now, take a hand," urged Ralph persuasively. "There isn't a bit more harm in it than in a game of ball."

"But I don't know how," objected Max.

"I'll teach you," said Ralph. "You'll soon learn and will find it good sport."

At length Max yielded, though not without some qualms of conscience which he tried to quiet by saying to himself, "Papa never said I shouldn't play in this way; only that gambling was very wicked, and I must never go where it was done."

"Have a cigar?" said Ralph, producing two, handing one to Max, and proceeding to light the other. "You smoke, of course; every gentleman does."

Max never had, and did not care to, but was so foolish as to be ashamed to refuse after that last remark of Ralph's; beside having seen his father smoke a cigar occasionally, he thought there could be no harm in it.

"Thank you, I don't care if I do," he said, and was soon puffing away as if quite accustomed to it.

But it was not many minutes before he began to feel sick and faint, then to find himself trembling and growing giddy.

He tried to conceal his sensations, and fought against them as long as possible. But at length, finding he could endure it no longer, he threw the stump of the cigar into the fire, and rising, said, "I--I feel sick. I must get out into the air."

He took a step forward, staggered, and would have fallen, if Ralph had not jumped up and caught him.

"Here, I'll help you to the bed and open the window," he said. "Never smoked before? Well, don't be discouraged; I was deathly sick first time myself."

"I'm half blind and awfully sick," groaned Max, as he stretched himself on the bed. "Does it last long? can a fellow get over it without taking any medicine?"

"Oh, yes; you'll be all right after a little."

But Max was not all right when a servant came to the door to say that he was wanted down-stairs, as the party from Ion were about to return home.

"Think you can get down with the help of my arm?" asked Ralph.

"Don't b'lieve he kin, Marse Ralph," remarked the servant, gazing earnestly at Max. "What's de mattah wid de young gentleman? He's white as de wall, and his eyes looks like glass."

"Hush, Sam! you'll frighten him," whispered Ralph. "Run down and ask my brother Arthur to come up. Don't let anybody else hear you."

Max had tried to rise, but only to fall back again sicker than ever.

"Oh, but I'm sick, and how my heart beats!" he said. "I can't possibly sit up, much less walk down-stairs. What will Mamma Vi and the rest say? I'm afraid Grandpa Dinsmore will be very angry with me."

"He hasn't any right to be," said Ralph; "'tisn't wicked to smoke. But I'll tell Art not to let him know what made you sick."

Just then the doctor came in. Sam had met him in the hall.

"What's the matter?" he asked; "sick, Max? Ah, you've been smoking?" sniffing the air of the room and glancing at the boy's pallid face.

"Tell him it isn't dangerous. Art," laughed Ralph, "for I do believe he's dreadfully scared."

"No, I'm not!" protested Max indignantly, "but I'm sick, and giddy, and half blind. I never smoked before, and didn't know it would sicken me so."

"How many cigars have you smoked?" asked Arthur, taking hold of his wrist.

"Only half a one," said Ralph; "he threw the rest of it in the fire."

"The best place for it," said Arthur. "Don't be alarmed, my boy, the sickness and all the other bad effects will pass off after a while; all the sooner if you are breathing pure air. Ralph, open the door into the hall and the one opposite. Then ring for Sam to kindle a fire in that room."

As he spoke he took Max in his arms, and, Ralph preceding them to open the doors, carried him into an unoccupied bedroom, laid him on a couch, and covered him up carefully to guard against his taking cold.

"No need to ring for Sam; fire's laid all ready to kindle," remarked Ralph, glancing at the open grate.

He struck a match, and in another minute the flames were leaping up right merrily.

Meantime a report that Max was sick had reached the parlor, and Mr. Dinsmore, his daughter, and granddaughter came up to express their sympathy and see for themselves how serious the illness was. Their faces were full of anxiety and concern till they learned the cause of the sickness, when they evidently felt much relieved.

"Dear boy, I'm sorry you are suffering," Violet said, leaning over him, "but I hope you will never try it again."

"Papa smokes," he said, "so I thought it was all right for me."

"No," said Mr. Dinsmore; "a grown person may sometimes do safely what is dangerous for a younger one. You have my sympathy this time, Max, but if ever you make yourself sick in the same way again, I don't think I shall pity you at all. He will hardly be able to go home to-day, Arthur?"

"No, sir; leave him here in my care. To-morrow he will probably be quite recovered, and I will drive him over in my gig."

"Would you like me to stay with you, Max?" Violet asked, laying her cool hand on his forehead.

"Or me?" asked her mother.

"No, thank you, Grandma Elsie and Mamma Vi," he said. "You are both very kind, but Walter and Gracie wouldn't know what to do without you; and I shall do very well."

"Yes," said Ralph, "I'll help Art take care of him. I ought to, as I gave him the cigar that sickened him so."

Mr. Dinsmore and the ladies then bade good-by and went down-stairs, the doctor accompanying them, leaving the two boys alone together.

"Do you begin to get over it, old fellow?" asked Ralph.

"No; I'm wretchedly sick," said Max. "I think I've had enough tobacco to last me all my days."

"O pshaw! it won't be half so bad next time, and pretty soon won't sicken you at all."

"But what should I gain to pay me for all the suffering?"

"Well, it seems sort o' babyish not to smoke."

"Does it? I've never seen Grandpa Dinsmore smoke, and I don't believe he ever does, nor Uncle Edward, nor Uncle Horace either."

"No, they don't, and Art doesn't, but they're all sort o' pious old fogies," Ralph said, with a coarse laugh.

"I wouldn't talk so about my own relations, if I were you," returned Max, in a tone of disgust.

"Of course I shouldn't let anybody else say a word against them," said Ralph.

Arthur's entrance put an end to the conversation. He inquired of Max if the sickness were abating; then sitting down beside him, "Boys," he said, "I want to talk to you a little about this silly business of smoking and chewing."

"I've never chewed," said Max.

"I'm glad to hear it, and I hope you never will, or smoke again either. How would you like, Max, to have a cancer on your lip?"

"Cancer, sir? I wouldn't choose to have one for anything in the world."

"Then don't smoke, especially a short pipe, for it often causes cancer of the lip. I cut one out of a man's lip the other day; and not long ago saw a man die from one after months of agonizing pain. Tobacco contains a great deal of virulent poison, and though some persons use it for many years without much apparent injury, it costs many others loss of health and even of life. It weakens the nerves and the action of the heart, and is a fruitful source of dyspepsia."

"Pooh! I don't believe it will ever hurt me," said Ralph.

"I think it will," said Arthur; "you have not yet attained your growth, and therefore are the more certain to be injured by its use.

"Max, my boy, I admire your father greatly, particularly his magnificent physique."

Max flushed with pleasure.

"Do you not wish to be like him in that? as tall and finely developed?"

"Yes, sir; yes, indeed! I want to be like papa in everything!"

"Then eschew tobacco, for it will stunt your growth!"

"But papa smokes," repeated Max.

"Now, but probably he did not until grown," said Arthur. "And very likely he sometimes wishes he had never contracted the habit. Now I must leave you for a time, as I have some other patients to visit."

"I told you he was an old fogy," said Ralph, as the door closed on his brother, adding with an oath, "I believe he wouldn't allow a fellow a bit of pleasure if he could help it."

Max started, and looked at Ralph with troubled eyes. "I didn't think you would swear," he said. "If you do, I--I can't be intimate with you, because my father won't allow it."

"I don't often," said Ralph, looking ashamed, "I won't again in your company."