“Fine,” commented the young engineer, a few moments later, as he let go the captive wrist.
“Good pulse, eh?” questioned Alf Drew.
“Great!” quoth Tom. “Fine and wiry, and almost skips some beats. I’m not much of an authority on such subjects, but I believe a boy of your age ought to have a normal pulse. Where do you expect to wind up with your ‘makings’ and your cigarettes?”
“They don’t hurt me,” whined Alf.
“They don’t, eh?” demanded Reade, rising and drawing himself up to his full height of five-feet-eleven. “Drew, do you think you look as healthy as I do?”
As he stood there, erect as a soldier, with his fine athletic figure revealed, and the bronze on his face seemingly inches deep, Tom Reade looked what he was—–every inch a man though still a boy in years.
“Do you think you look as healthy as I do?” Tom repeated.
“No-o-o-o,” admitted Alf. “But you’re older’n me.”
“Not so much, as years go,” Tom rejoined. “For that matter, if you go on with your cigarettes you’ll be an old man before I get through with being a young man. Fill up your chest, Alf; expand it—–like this.”
As he expanded his chest Reade looked a good deal more like some Greek god of old than a twentieth century civil engineer.
Alf puffed and squirmed in his efforts to show “some chest.”
“That isn’t the right way,” Tom informed him. “Breathe deeply and steadily. Draw in your stomach and expand your chest. Fill up the upper part of your lungs with air. Watch! Right here at the top of the chest.”
Alf watched. For that matter he seemed unable to remove his gaze from the splendid chest development that young Reade displayed so easily. Then the boy tried to fill the upper portions of his own lungs in the same manner. The attempt ended in a spasm of coughing.
“Fine, isn’t it?” queried Tom Reade, scornfully. “The upper parts of your lungs are affected already, and you’ll carry the work of destruction on rapidly. Alf, if you ever live to be twenty you’ll be a wreck at best. Don’t you know that?”
“I—–I have heard folks say so,” nodded the boy.
“And you didn’t believe them?”
“I—–I don’t know.”
“Why did you ever take up smoking?”
“All men smoke,” argued Alf Drew.
“Lie number one. All men don’t smoke,” Tom corrected him. “But I think I catch the drift of your idea. If you smoke you think men will look upon you as being more manly. That’s it, it?”
“It must be manly, if men do it,” Alf argued.
“You funny little shaver,” laughed Tom, good-humoredly. “So you think that, when men see you smoking cigarettes, they immediately imagine you to be one of them? Cigarette-smoking, for a boy of fourteen, is the short cut to manhood, I suppose.”
Tom laughed long, heartily, and with intense enjoyment. At last he paused, to remark, soberly: