In the fall of the year I made my headquarters in the city where my brother was preaching, Securing rooms in a hotel only a few blocks from the parsonage. My sister-in-law and her mother seemed quite displeased that I should be so near a neighbor, but I made it a point to see but little of them and conceal from them my knowledge of their distaste for me. Meanwhile I took a devoted friend into my confidence, and, without the young doctor suspecting it, kept a close eye on his actions and found plenty of material to confirm the fears I had for sometime harbored.
Up to this time, wicked as I had been, I had never taken a human life or felt any desire to do so. As I have already said, I had become a gambler. I had stolen my employer’s time and in representing my goods and settling up accounts with the firm for which I labored and their various customers with whom I dealt, I had not been strictly honest and yet I by no means looked upon myself as a this but my heart was hard and wicked and bitter hatred was rising in me and I could feel the spirit of murder taking possession of me. I had secured a pistol which I carried constantly and, frequently passing the young doctor’s office, I felt like stepping in and shooting him down at his desk.
If I could have induced my brother to leave his wife, I would have cheerfully given every dollar I had to have taken him to any part of the country or over the seas or anywhere to get him entirely away from her and her influence and the disgrace that I felt, sooner or later, she would bring upon him. But knowing his love for her, I never breathed a hint of my suspicious to him. Frequently I would be out of the city for weeks and sometimes months at a time and my mind would become somewhat relieved on The subject that agitated and enraged me, but on my return my confidential friend would tell me of things that had occurred during my absence end would throw me into a frenzy of anger and yet neither of us were positive that I would be justified in shooting the wretched man on the basis of the unwritten law.
The next summer John’s wife again went away to the watering place, the young physician went up and spent his summer vacation and I drifted along in his wake and looked with venomous eye on his devoted attentions to the beautiful, silly woman, who was breaking my innocent brother’s heart. John was so devotedly in love that he was quite blinded to the faults of his wife and yet her treatment of him had become such that he had been forced to conclude that she had no real affection for him.
I shall not go into the details of what followed, but suffice it to say that directly after my sister-in-law’s return from the summer resort, my brother went away from home to spend a week at a religious convention. My confidential friend sent me a telegram to come at once to the city. He met me and we talked together and arrangements were made. That evening, which I remember with a shudder in my poor soul, my friend and myself went to the parsonage, it being near midnight. I crept quietly to a back porch where a back door led to an alley way. At a given moment, my friend rang the door bell violently; all was quiet. He rang again and then beat with his fists upon the door. I heard a noise in the house and directly the young physician, with his coat on his arm and his shoes in his hand glided from the back door on to the porch. I had an electric flashlight in my hand and threw the glare of it in his face. I shall never forget his startled look as he recognized me. No word was spoken; it all occurred in an instant. The electric light was in my left hand, the forty-four in my right, and there was a tremendous crash. The muzzle was within a few feet of the poor fellow’s left breast, and he sank to the floor without a word.
I ran rapidly through the alley and down a back street for three blocks, came out quietly into the street with a cigarette in my mouth, entered the hotel at the side door and went up a back stairway, threw off my clothing and leaped into bed and assumed to be sound asleep when some one beat on my door and said there was a telephone call for me to come instantly to the parsonage, my brother’s residence. I dressed hastily, ran to the telephone, and called up to know if anyone was sick. My brother’s mother-in-law said: “For mercy sake come quickly and bring a physician with you if you can find one convenient.” I left word with the night clerk to send the hotel doctor around at once, and ran to the house. I found my sister-in-law fainting with hysterics, her mother wild with excitement. They said an awful murder had been committed on the back porch. They supposed that possibly two burglars had met there and fought with each other, that they heard a pistol shot and the mother-in-law looking out of the window could see the dead man in his shirt sleeves without his shoes on. She supposed he must have been undertaking to rob the house and had been shot dead.
I called for a lantern and going out with the doctor, who had by this time arrived, turned the unfortunate man over and the mother-in-law, who had followed me, screamed out, “Why it is Dr. George Prater!” The coroner was summoned, the undertaker was called, and the next morning a little after daylight the dead body was taken away. I telephoned my brother to come home at once and I shell never forget the look or his sad, white face when he came. His wife was in a hysterical condition, he did all he could to solace her but she refused to be comforted. A few days later she was sent to a sanitarium and my brother, being granted leave of absence from his church, went away to visit our father.
The newspapers were full of accounts of the tragedy, the reporters indulging in all sorts of guesswork and imaginations. No one seemed to suspect me of being in any way connected with the unfortunate affair. The young doctor seemed to have no near relatives in the city and those best acquainted with him, knowing his character, said that his untimely death was the logical sequence of the course he had followed, let his blood be upon his own head, and so there was no special effort put forth to ascertain the cause of his death, or who was the perpetrator of the deed.
Being a little afraid to hasten away lest I should be suspected, I remained in the city for several weeks and flattered myself that I succeeded in wearing an air of perfect innocence. Afterward I went about my business as usual, traveling here, there and yonder, and carrying with me a load much heavier than I had anticipated as I had thought over the matter. As I lay awake many nights reflecting over the matter, I thought of many better ways out of the trouble than the one I had chosen. I condemned myself for my action upon the ground that the woman was not worth the price I had paid in seeking vengeance for my brother. I deeply regretted that I had not left the family to their fate trusting my brother in the merciful hands, of the Christ he loved instead of madly determining to blot out the life of a fellow-being.
The thought of this tragedy has haunted me through the years. Sometimes I have almost succeeded in convincing myself that I did right, but then my better judgment, like a rising tide, would sweep away the frail barriers that I had tried to build, and I would again have to admit my unwisdom and the great wickedness of my action. I grew restless and found that I was incapable of attending to business and would hurry from town to town and city to city, hardly taking time to show my samples or to take orders from the merchants who desired to purchase goods from the firm I represented.
I had resigned my position and was making arrangements to join Gomez in Cuba and help the patriots in their struggles against the Spaniards, when war was declared against Spain. I at once joined a volunteer regiment and was thoroughly glad that my regiment was ordered to the front, hoping that in the excitement of battle and becoming familiar with death, would have the effect of quieting my anxieties and relieving my mind of the distress which had fastened upon me because of the sad tragedy that now hung as a black cloud over my life.
The excitement attending our landing in a new country, the strange and interesting surroundings, the effect of marching, the thrill of battle, the benumbing influences of walking about among dead men, did very much to occupy my mind and, for the time, I found not a little relief from the gaunt specter that haunted me. Sometimes I felt like it would be best to so expose myself that I would be killed, at other times I was inclined to rush headlong into all manner of sin and try, if possible, to so harden my heart that I would be without feeling, and then again, I would wonder if it was possible for me to repent and find that pardon I had once enjoyed, but in these better moments the skeptical teachings that I had imbibed from my unbelieving teachers in college would rise up and chill my soul, and I would hope that after all we were all only well developed apes, hardly responsible for what we did. And thus I was tossed about twixt hopes and fears. Although I laughed loud, and recklessly, I was a very unhappy man.