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Haunted By A Crime

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(.Copyright, 1893, by Charles B. Lewis.] [I wasone of the coroner's jury impaneled in the case of an old man fonnd drowned, and as soon as the mud had been washed ofl: his face I recognized the unfortunate as a mendicant whohadtold me his story several days before.] It was my intention to gradúate as a lawyer, but while preparing myself for college a circumstance happened to change my plans and the current of my lif e. Eight or ten of the leading citizens of the town in which I lived formed a stock company and erected a large tory, and when ready to opei-ate I was appointed cashier. I was then only 20 years old. Although my father was one of the stockholders, it was not on this account that I received the appointment. I had reasons to bel.eve that he opposed it on the ground tliat I was too young and lacking in business experience, but at the same time he rnust have been pleased at my preferment. I was a popular young man. Everybody was my friend, and everybody was kind enough to sa3' that I had' a brilliant future before me. Some were disappointed when I took the place oiïered me, declaring that nature had intended me for a lawyer, but others insisted that I would develop business talents which would inake me a wealthy man before I reached the age of 30. It is very pleasant for a young man to realize that he is popular and that everybody wishes him well, and in my case at least it did not result in throwing me off my balance. Before entering oh my dnties the president of the concern invited me to an interview one day and said: "Jaines. you have been elected to a very responsible position, and it is usual in such cases to exact a bond. You come from an honest family. All of us believe you to be an honest, straightforward young man. There are a dozen men in town willing to go on your bond, and for these reasons we f eel secure without any. We shall trast you implicitly. All of us have known you from childhood, and we have no fear that you will go wrong." Trust me? Why not? Had I found a dollar bill on thestreet I should not have rested content until making every effort to restore it to tho loser. I could not rexnember of ever having told a lie. I regarded a thief with even more horror than a mnrderer. To have made me furnish a bond would have been only business in one sense, and yet in another it would have implied a distrust of my honesty which would have been gall and wormwood to me. Am I egotistical? No. Each one knows himself the best. If men truthfully declare themselves thieves, robbers and embezzlers, and the daily court records prove that they do, then why criticise others for asserting that they cannot be tempted to steal? For three years all went well in the factory. As a matter of fact, I did develop a talent for financiering, and those who had predicted well for me were not disappointed. After the first year the capacity was increased, and at the end of the third year we were able to declare a dividend of 12 per cent. That jumped our stock way above par. In the three years my salary was increased three times, and the semiannual examination of my books and accounts proved everything right to a cent. At the beginning of the fourth year, when there was another issue of stock, I was presented with $5,000 worth and the thanks of the board of directors for my nntiring vigilance and sterling honesty. Wasn't that a thing to be proud of? I had a social standing second to none, and during the last month of the third year I was engaged to the beautiful and accomplished daughter of our president. Whèn I went into his private office one day to broach the subject, he met me with: "There, James, I know what you have come for, and I frankly confess that lam pleased and satisfied. Nellie is one of the best girls in all this world, and I know you will make her happy." Taken all around, could any young man have asked for more. I was in the path leading to wealth and honor, and I could not blame other young men who envied me and sarcastically referred tu me as one of fortune's favorites. The beginning of my downward career was a very simple circumstance, or rather two circumstances in one. In looking over the safe one day 1 carne across a package of $500, which had been mislaid by my assistant. It was just after an examination of my books, and the examination had been so much a matter of form that tkis money, paid in weeks before, had not been inissed. You may say we had rather a loóse system. 1 adniit it. Find me a place where the cashier is not ondel bonds and is implicitly trusted, and 111 ehow you that same careless system. Things are careless because he is strictly honest, or because he is dishonest and wants to cover up shortages. The findi;;;; oí that money was no temptation to me. Fd have chopped a hand off before enibezzling it. On that very day, however, one of our best customers in New York, who had happened that way altnost by accident, paid the factory a visit. lío had just cleared $28,000 in a pork deal and naturally wanted to talk about it. I had kept clear of all sortsof speculation, butwhen the man had explained hifi deal to me and told ie of other speculation in which he had cleared handsome suma he started the fever which proved my destruction. He did not advise me one way or the other, and I never blamed him. Had I asked his advice he would probably have warned mo not to risk a dollar. I did not wait to think the matter over. I had invested my savings in real estáte, and of course I could not sell my stock without questions being asked. 1 would take the $500 I have referred to. It never entered my mind that I inight lose it. I should win, of course, and the money would be returned to the cash account. I called it a temporary loan from the factory. After I had invested it I had twinges of conscienco. It wasn't exactly dishonest, but it was a breach of trust, and I feit degraded. For the first time in my life I found it an eff ort to look other men square in the face. That should have been the turning point. I should have replaced the money and taken warning. I believe it was the worst thing that could have tiappened to me that that $500 made me $3,000 within a fortnight. Did I stop there? Of course not. The fact that I liad hit it right satisfied me that I had the necessary nerver and acumen, and I reinvested. I made $1,500 on the next deal, but on the third was wiped out. You can guess what followed. I managed to dispose of my stock without siispicion, and it was swallowed almost at a gulp. Up to the first day of June on my fourth year I had embezzled $10,000 of the company. My books would be examined on the lst of July and the shortage discovered. Flight always follows embezzlement if the criminal can get away. Robbery precedes fliffht if there is anything left to lay hands on. I had $5,000 worth of real estáte, and I could have borrowed $5,000 in cash almost without comment. Why didn't I do it and save myself? It never occured to me to do so. When you have taken the first step, the descent is rapid. Your integrity is shattered, and you plan to complete your ruin rather than torestore yourself. It is wonderful how rapidly the ruin of a man can be effected under what may be termed favorable circumstances. In the course of four or five months my degradation was complete. One night toward the last of June, having paved the way for a week or more, I robbed the safe of $48,000 and fied. I made for New York and got aboard a sailing vessel bound for England. About half of the money I took belonged to outsiders who had it in the safe for security. I ruined a grocer, a jeweler and a builder - all honest, upright men. I robbed an orphan child of a legacy. I took the last dollar belonging to a widow with five fatherless children. My father gave up his all and then drowned himself . The young lady to whoin I was to be married lived out the rest of her days. in an insane asylum. I crippled the business of the factory and sent its stock down to 60 and ruined two or three of my best friends. And what did 1 gain by it all? I had figured, aa all men seem to under the circumstances, that with my capital I would go into business abroad and. in time make restitution. "While the captain of the vessel had taken me as a passenger, I soon discovered that he looked on me as a suspect. The company did not seek my arreat, but even bef ore we sighted the shores of England I feit like a hunted wolf. I remained in Liverpool a month. In two instances I sought to go into business. I had the money, but who was I - where were my credentials - who conld vouch for me? I know that a detective folio wed' me for a couple of days. I know that the people at the hotel thought me queer. Even my efforts to appear at ease doubtlesa told against me. I went to Paris, and within three days after my arrival I was robbed of $12,000. When I went to complain, I was asked to identify myself - what I was doing abroad - if the money belonged to me. I could not admit that I was an absconder, and therefore the robber was allowed to enjoy Iris plunder unmolested. In Berlín I met Americans from New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and St. Louis- that is, I could have met them, but did not dare to. I did not even dare to adinit that I was an American. I became acquainted with a Germán inventor and loaned him $3,000 on what appeared to be good security. When I iound this security worthless and threatuied him with the law, he only laughed at me and told me to go ahead. He was litisfied in liis own mind that there was iomething wrong about me. One day ivhüe I was in a public restaurant a man I ■ ■ ■" ■ Blapped me on the shouldor by mistake. I 1 sprang to my f oet so suddenly as to upB( I tHe table, beí'oro me, and no doubt . every line of my face betrayed fear and ! grolt. The man 'apologized, and I sat down and made a great efrort to regain my composure. The haría was done, however. I heard enough to satisfy me j that I was looked upon as a ñigitive f rom ■ justice. I went to India and thence to Japan. 1 1 was robbed in both countries, and I also lost considerable sums by gambling. While on the voyage back to Singapore I was shipwrecked and lost my last dollar. There was an American consul at Singapore, trat I dared not apply to him. There were American tourists there, but I had denied my nativity and had no claim on them as fellow countrymen. There wasn't one single day for the first two years that I did not fear arrest. Night never came without its bitter re6ections. When I finally concluded that the factorj' cmpany had not sought my arrest, I was f urther debased. It hurt me to think they would not look upon me aa a scoundrel deserving of prison bars. I am an oM man, as you see. It is nearly 40 year.? since my flight. All this time I have boen an outlaw from my country. I have never been able to secure a position of trust. It has seemed as if every man's hand was against me. [ have been compelled to labor at the most slavish pursuits to earn my daily bread, and I have never made a friend who did not suspect me in time to be guilty of worse than my crime. I have wandered over the face of the earth - penniless, friendless- a man without a country or a home. A thousand times in these 40 years I have wanted to come back here and give myself up and ask to be punished. A year ago I landed in the United States and made no halt until I reached the town from which I ried so many years ago. The factory was wiped out yeaxs ago, thanks to my robbery; the widows and the fatherless were dead or scattered; the old stockholders not to be found; none of my relatives left. I could not find a man who even remembered my crime or had heard my name mentioned. I had been blotted out of existsnce. I was dead to the world. Here vvhere I had started out in life with such bright prospects, here where I had brought wreek and ruin to so many, they laughed at me when I wanted to be put under arrest and punished by the law. I have been a wanderer since - a beggar, I should say - living on the crusts and crumbs of charity. I am old and feeble and can scarcely move about, but death is slow in coming. "What will it be for me? It will be the end- nothing more; a grave in potters field- forgetfulness. Do you realize what the first false step led to? That departure from the plain and open path of integrity which is before all men and leads to honor and wealth wrecked half a dozen homes and careers. It outlawed one who might have filled a chair of state. It beggared one who might have had thousands to give in charity. Repentance comes, but it always comes too late! [His story affected me deeply. While l sat pondering over it he bowed his head and wept. What could I say to comfort tiiin? There could be no solace for him. He was old and feeble and penniless. I 3ould make the nest few days a little brigbter for him, and I slipped a bül into bis trembling hand and went away without a word. I did not know what to say. When I was a hundred steps away, I pansed and looked back. He had not moved. I wanted to go back, and yet what could I havp said to bring him peace of mind? "It's an easy job," the coroner said as we viewed the body. "He's an old vag who got tired of lif e and decided to end .t. No inoney, no papers, no identity. [fa a case of 'found drowned - unknowu.' Please hurry up, as I want to get him ander ground this afternoon!"]


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