Begins A Past Life
When I finally returned home from college, without graduation, but somewhat disgusted with myself and yet without the shame and reproach that I ought to have felt because of my repeated failures, my father was very anxious for me to go into business with him, but, knowing his serious views of life and intending to be free from the restraints which I felt be would place upon me, I accepted a position as bookkeeper in a large livery and sale stable in the city. Here, you may be sure, I came in contact with a class of men who were of no moral advantage to me. I bad become passionately fond of baseball and spent much of my time reading the sporting newspapers and indulging in loud conversation and heated disputes over this, that, and the other champion-losing not a little of my salary betting on my idols.
The first thing I stole was the time that belonged to my employer. When I ought to have been busy with my bookkeeping, I was at a baseball park, race track, or pool room. Frequently he spoke to me about my negligence and I made promises and many good resolutions but did not have in me the power to keep them. The wasting of one’s time, which bus been paid for by one’s employer, is the beginning of dishonesty that will deaden the conscience and lead by and by, at least in many instances, to the appropriation of money.
I spent almost two years on my first job and then secured employment as a commercial traveler. I succeeded very well in this business and got a good salary, but wasted my money in fine clothing and high living. Occasionally I visited my father who was growing old rapidly. He was what is called a “hen-pecked” man. He had resigned himself to the situation and had become a deeply pious man and spent much of his time reading his Bible and, I have no doubt, lived a life of true devotion. When I would visit him, he showed the tenderest concern for me and frequently tried to talk to me about my wild ways. I could see that he was full of anxiety and fear for my future, and while I treated him with courtesy, I felt perfectly safe and independent of all his counsel and warnings; thus the time went by, my heart growing harder and I drifting further and further from the path of righteousness.
My brother John became a Christian when but a boy and always looked on the serious side of life. He was not a melancholy man, but a sober man. He was a fine student and graduated from college with honors. While in school he commenced preaching and directly after his graduation entered actively upon his life work of preaching the gospel. John followed me with many letters, good books, and prayers. I neglected his letters, read but few of the books he sent me, and felt a sort of pity for him that he should be so dull as to imagine his prayers were of any account to me.
After about a year on the road, I learned to play cards successfully. I played at first for small sums of money to make the games exciting, and finally, as I became more expert, I bet to win money and was sometimes quite flush never winning large sums but frequently up into three figures and perhaps three or four times reached four figures. I thought quite well of myself and was beginning to believe that I was quite an expert with brilliant possibilities ahead of me at games of chance; but frequently I was so badly beaten at cards and horse races that betting, for a time, lost its influence over me, and I gave myself more diligently to my business and, for a few months, saved up nay money with careful economy, only to risk it again and lose; while I did not give up my employment, I spent many a night at cards.
There is no more exciting and dissipating life than that of gambling. Games of chance stir the blood, excite the mind, affect the nervous system, break down the morals, assassinate the conscience, and degrade a man as few things practiced among men. Constantly on the road, spending almost every night in some pool room or gambling den or theater, I became passionately fond of excitement and gave almost no time to the companionship of religious friends Or the reading of books of any kind except the most exciting works of fiction.
All the time I had a great faith in, and a great love for my brother John and would frequently visit him; his influence calmed me. I delighted to take long walks with him and talk over our early life and the happy days we had spent together. He was pastor of a large church in one of our northern cities, which had been builded for middle-class people in a thickly settled residential part of the city. Most of his people were poor, at least in moderate circumstances. In his church there was a widow who kept a small millinery establishment and did quite a prosperous little business. Her daughter a tall graceful, beautiful girl, sang in John’s choir This widow and daughter took the greatest possible interest in all the meetings held at the church, both of a religious and social character. On visiting the place, I was strongly impressed that they had designs on John and gave him a word of warning. He spoke very earnestly of their sincerity and devotion as Christians and their deep devotion to the church, but felt that I was mistaken in their feeling any selfish interest in their pastor and I saw in the course of the conversation on the subject, that John was quite fond of the young lady and was not surprised, some months later, when I received an invitation to attend the marriage of John to the pretty daughter of the milliner. Somehow, I had learned that the girl was the discarded sweetheart of a medical student and felt that she was not the girl for John to marry, but attended their wedding and hoped in my heart that she would make the wife that so true a man deserved.
Directly after his marriage John was moved to another city and to quite a prominent church which paid him a very respectable salary. At once the mother of his wife closed up her establishment, went out of business, and went to live with John and his wife, and I noticed how readily they assumed considerable superiority, put on all manner of high-toned airs and sought the association of the most wealthy and cultured people, not only of John’s congregation, but of the wealthy class living in the neighborhood of his church.
I shall not forget how angry I became on visiting John sometime after lie had moved to this new field of labor when, the table, his mother-in-law absorbed most of the conversation with a dissertation on the kind of husband a man ought to be; how he ought to provide for his, wife, how he should treat her, and how he should shield her from hardship and how patient he should be with her in her various nervous states; in fact an eloquent lecture on the duties of a husband, with many remarks on what a woman’s needs were, how impossible it was for a pastor’s wife to meet her social and church obligations without certain servants and various equipments. She talked as if John were receiving a salary of four or five thousand per year instead of fifteen hundred. John bowed his head in meekness, was deeply in love with his wife, and had learned that when his mother-in-law proposed to give a lecture it was best to remain silent. I spoke to him about it afterward. He admitted that the situation was unfortunate but could see no way out of it and was quite disposed to go forward making the best of the circumstances.
John’s wife soon purchased a fine bred, fox terrier puppy, on which she lavished much of her time and affection. A little later on, she was quite inclined to become a fashionable invalid and spent no little time at the telephone calling up the drug store and asking for advice from a handsome, young, infidel doctor, whom she had selected as her family physician and whom, I learned afterward, had been an intimate friend of hers while attending medical college in the town where her mother kept the millinery store. From some friends I learned that this young doctor was quite a reprobate, and suggested to John that it would be wise to secure an older and more experienced man for his family physician. He said it would suit him to have some one else, but that this man was an old friend of his wife’s and she preferred him to all others.
Having had quite a little experience with the world and its wicked people, I had a very uncomfortable feeling over the drift of things in my brother’s home and although far from what I should be, I loved John devotedly, and was jealous for his happiness and usefulness.
The doctor suggested that my sister-in-law attend a certain watering place through the summer. Her mother went with her, John paying the bills for both of them. I made it convenient to drop into the place about ten days after they went up and was not surprised to find that the young physician was spending his summer vacation at the same watering place and he and my invalid sister-in-law were having rather a gay time together. I left the place without any of them knowing that I had been there or had observed their movements, but with a spirit of vengeance burning in me, making up my mind to say nothing to John but that if I was fully convinced of infidelity I would take the matter into my own hands.