“Laughing Bill” (from Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet, November 1850, pp. 327-329)
There was a boy in our school, who generally went by the name of “Laughing Bill.” His real name was William Scott; but he was so seldom addressed by that name, that I doubt if half a dozen among all that troop of merry school-boys were aware that such a person as William Scott was connected with the school. As you may surmise, this urchin was a laughing character. In fact, he laughed as if it was a business he had taken up for life, and one by which he intended to get his living. If things went on well with him, he laughed. He laughed, too, quite as heartily, if they went ill. I have known him absolutely convulsed with laughter, while the village schoolmaster was giving him a sound drubbing with one of the seasoned hickory sprouts, which had been laid up for three months in his desk. So you see William Scott came pretty honestly by the title which the boys gave him.
He was a kind, good-natured boy. Few of our number ever had any quarrels with him; and if any one did so forget himself as to commence a battle with him, just as likely as not Bill would set his laughing engine in motion, and do his part of the fighting with that.
He was, on the whole, a pretty good scholar, though it happened to frequently, I used to think, that he would come to school with a very bad lesson. For that, however, he generally managed to make up pretty soon, probably as early as the next day, when he would have a better lesson, perhaps, than any other boy in school.
As William lived in the immediate neighborhood of my father’s house, we used to be often together. He had no
bad habits; and so, my mother, who was very particular in respect to the company I kept, while I was a boy, did not hesitate to allow us to be together.
I said that William had no bad habits. I ought to explain that a little. I mean that he did not use profane and impure language, and that he was not what is called a bad boy. There was one bad habit about him, although that was of such a nature that it is hardly proper to speak of it as a wicked habit. I will tell you what it was. He could hardly ever deny a person, when he was asked to do anything or to go anywhere. “But that was a good trait in Bill’s character, I should think.” No, that is a great mistake. “Why, is it not right to oblige everybody, as much as possible?” Certainly, when you can oblige every one without doing wrong. Boys and girls, and men and women, are often asked to do something which would be a great injury to them; and perhaps, if they yielded, they would disobey God. In that case, it would be wrong to yield, you see. William Scott, because he was so anxious to please everybody, or for some other reason, used too often, as he grew older, to do as he was urged to do, when by so doing, he ws the cause of a good deal of mischief.
There were in our village, as there are, I am sorry to say, in too many other places in different parts of the country, some young men that indulged in drinking intoxicating liquors. Once in a while they got together, and drank a good deal, at which times they did a great many foolish things, as if they were trying to see which could act most like a brute. Laughing Bill had scarcely tasted a drop of liquor when he was fourteen years of age. His father was strictly temperate in his habits, and never furnished liquor to his boys or any of his hired men. But about this time, William was in company with two or three dissipated young men I have alluded to, and they persuaded him to go to the tavern with them the next night. He could not say no. How strange! Why, he must have known that it would be dangerous to be in such a place, with that kind of company, even for one evening. But perhaps he did not think much about it. Young people frequently do things which they are sorry for as long as they live, just because they did not have their thoughts about them at the time. They ought to think, though. What are our thoughts good for, if we cannot make use of them when we are tempted to sin?
William yielded, and went to the tavern. He did not mean to drink any intoxicating liquor when he consented to go. He did not mean to drink after he got to the tavern. But he was urged to do so—urged strongly. He could not refuse; it would be unkind to do so, he thought. His companions would be offended: so he drank. Poor fellow! how little did he know, when he touched that glass to his lips—how little did he know what misery that apparently unimportant act was to cost him. Though he was disgusted with what he saw and heard at the tavern, and left it with the determination never to visit it with such company again, he did go there the second time, with the same company, in less than three weeks. You see he had hard work to refuse, because he had formed the habit of yielding. But he ought to have refused. If he found it a hard task, he should have worked harder at it—he
should have set himself more resolutely about it.
I do not wish to follow this young man through all the windings of his path for five or six years. Knowing him so well as I did, it would be too painful to pursue his history so minutely, nor is it necessary to do so. The depraved taste which he formed for intoxicating and poisonous stimulants, soon led him along the highway of intemperance with fearful rapidity. Do you wonder at it, my young friend? You need not wonder at it. Intoxicating liquors set the whole body and mind on fire. They drive a person crazy. He loses command of himself. He goes on drinking, though he knows well that he is going swiftly to destruction.
William was soon a confirmed drunkard; and oh, what distress he brought on the once happy family of which he was a member! Before he was twenty-one years of age, he was often found, in the dead of night, in a state of loathsome drunkenness.
One day, in company with one of the young men who led him astray, he went into the woods on a hunting excursion. A bottle of brandy was a part of the outfit for this excursion. They both drank freely—William more freely than his companion. Toward night, just before they were thinking of returning home, William was separated a few rods from his companion, and for some reason or other, had climbed a little distance up a tree which was partly blown down by the wind, and which overhung the brow of the hill. Poor man! he had not sufficient command of himself to retain his balance. He fell head foremost from the tree, before his companion could reach him, and was almost instantly killed.
So ended the career of Laughing Bill. Will not my young friends learn a wholesome lesson from his fate?