I now began to feel an interest in life I had never known before, and devoted myself to business with great earnestness.
Notwithstanding I had failed in the proper appreciation of my school advantages, nevertheless I passed easily as an educated man and had picked up much information in college, university, army and foreign travel, and such reading as had come to me, all of which enabled me to be quite useful to my employers who evidently thought well of me and advanced me in my work until my salary was sufficient to keep me comfortably and put by a neat little sum of savings.
The change which had come to me was quite remarkable. Next to the religion of Jesus Christ, there is nothing that will so powerfully influence a man as an ardent love for a good woman. As the time went by I received encouraging indications that my attentions and devotion to Miss Fawnsworth were genuinely appreciated, and I will not delay the reader with details of a story which is thoroughly interesting to me, of how I courted her and won the pledge of her love.
For a while my past was at times almost blotted out of my memory, and I was a happy man. My way was clear, save for a small cloud upon the horizon, which now and then swept across my sky. No man can be genuinely happy who does not believe the Bible and rest his faith in Christ. He may have pleasures, hopes, and many blessings, but he is an unanchored man, his soul is not at rest. So it was with me even in my brightest days. There was uneasiness haunting me because of the knowledge of my past life, the memory of my crime and the fear of detection.
Some people doubt the existence of a personal devil. During these days I came to be almost orthodox on the subject of a personal devil. It seemed that he whispered to me almost audibly, and told me my happiness could not last, that my crime would be found out, that Miss Fawnsworth would learn the story of my past life, that if she, the beautiful, pure Christian that she was, only knew my history and real character, she would fly from me frightened as a dove from a filthy vulture; and thus was I harassed more or less in the midst of the new joy that had come to me.
The year passed. Miss Fawnsworth extended her stay in Shanghai three months longer; three happy months; the memory of them brings to me a rift in the cloud’s that have settled about me and here in my prison, in the dark nights, lying on my cot, I love to pull down the curtain of my past life up to my meeting with her and, as far as possible, to shut out what has followed those happy months and to think, and dream, and hug to the heart of my memory those golden days.
Before Miss Fawnsworth sailed for the United States we became engaged to be married. I should have come with her, but I was under written contract to remain with my employers for some months later. My salary was now quite large and I knew that I would have great need of this money with which to set up housekeeping after my marriage. Painful as it was, we agreed that she should return home and I should remain some months yet in Shanghai.
When the sad day came I went with her down the river on the little boat, the very craft on which I had first met with her. I shall never forget her graceful form and beautiful face as she leaned on the rail of the ship after I had bidden her farewell on the deck, and looked down at me as I stood on top of our little steamer and she waved her handkerchief as the ship sailed away. I watched her from the top of our boat until the distance swallowed up the ship and it seemed that my heart sank within me.
I occupied myself with my business, found some pleasant pastime with the new acquaintances I had made, practicing the closest economy and looking forward to the happy day when I would sail away to the United States to take my beautiful bride. There were dark hours of trial and temptation and many suggestions that I would be detected if I should ever return to the United States.
The letters came and went on every ship from our American shores. Instead of relaxing, distance only intensified my ardent love and longings for the happiness I felt the future held for me. I gathered from hints in the letters that came to me that Miss Fawnsworth’s health was not good. Her brother finally confided to me that her physicians and friends at home were very uneasy about her. My anxiety was almost beyond endurance and I wrote begging her for permission to come to her at once, but she urged me to continue at my post of duty and assured me that she would soon be much better.
Her trouble developed rapidly and the physicians decided that an operation would be necessary. Of course, I knew nothing of this. The day before going upon the table she wrote me a most beautiful letter. It lies here upon my table by me tonight and long before that letter reached me in Shanghai, she was sleeping quietly in her grave and her beautiful spirit had flown away beyond the stars.
I shall not undertake to tell the reader of the disappointment, agony, and desperation that seized my heart with the grip of a demon when the sad news of her death came to me. I felt as if the great Being who knew my secret and my many sins, had intervened and caught the beautiful creature away from the eager arms of a poor wretch that were extended to embrace her. I strove hard for a short time against the waves and billows that went over me, but it was in vain. The change that had come to me for the better was not a change of my moral character so much as a change of my habits, and that upon a selfish basis. It had not been the love of Christ that had so remarkably affected me but the love of a beautiful woman. Had she lived and had our lives been united, it may be that I would have won out in the long run and it may be as the years went by the real beast that lurked in me might have broken loose and brought sorrow to her heart.
I regret to have to confess that I turned to drink to bury my sorrow and soon became unfit for business and lost my position. I recovered somewhat, steadied myself, and determined never again to go back to the awful depths of a gutter drunkard. I was restless and it seemed impossible for me to remain in any one place. I had no desire whatever to come back home, so falling in with a young fellow from Philadelphia, who was going out to India to buy goatskins, I put in what of my little savings I had not squandered and we sailed down to Hong Kong, round Singapore, up the straits and landed in Calcutta.
We traveled extensively in India buying goat skins and shipped them to the United States. The country was so intensely warm that I found I must abstain from strong drink in any considerable quantity or make a quick run to my grave; and as little promise of happiness as this life held out to me, I dared not take the leap into the uncertainties of the future.
While traveling in India I fell in with a very interesting young missionary engaged in evangelistic work; a young fellow who had come out from my own country some years before and was traveling among the English-speaking churches holding revival meetings. I spent several days in a city where he was engaged in meetings, we stopped at the same hotel, I attended his services and got deeply interested in him and his work. He was a man of culture, of unusual intelligence, and remarkably gifted for the work in which he was engaged. He spoke with great earnestness, sometimes with genuine eloquence and, in the pulpit, in the hotel, and on several long walks which we took together, I was made to feel that I had found in him the highest type of Christian I had ever met. He was fully endued with the spirit of Christ as revealed in the New Testament.
My conscience was somewhat awakened and I was thinking very seriously as I sauntered about the streets and parks and sat in my room waiting for several days to meet a native who represented a large firm engaged in our business, but unfortunately, one day I stepped into a news stand and bought one of the leading magazines from the United States, in which was a lengthy article setting forth the views of a number of leading university presidents and prominent educators who utterly repudiated the old Christian faith, speaking in contemptuous terms of the views of orthodox Christians such as the young man with whom I had been associating. It was like a blighting frost upon the tender plants that were striving to break through the hard ground of my heart into the sunlight of hope and faith, and I flung away every vestige of purpose and, as far as possible, the desire for a better life.
After some time in India, we came on through Aden, up the Red Sea to Port Said. We did some business in goatskins in Egypt and Palestine, came on through Europe, stopped for some time in Paris, where I spent most of my savings and the profits on my recent enterprises, drinking, gambling, seeing the world and plunging into it with a hollow laugh and a hardened heart.
While in Paris I engaged in some enterprises that I had never participated in before in the way of dishonest transactions, trying to reason with myself that this life was all there was for me and I ought to seek to get out of it the most possible. I barely escaped arrest in Paris for my misdemeanors, was shadowed by the police but was able to evade them and slip away for London. Strange to say this new venture in wickedness seemed to affect me as human flesh affects a man-eating tiger which, after having once tasted, he does not relish any other repast than one made up of a human being, and; I found arising in me a strange fascination in the secrecy and vigilance necessary to a criminal course. I was possessed with the desire to match my shrewdness against that of the police with the notion that I could commit almost any crime and get away without detection.
I found myself reading with great interest any account of criminal transaction, their escapes, arrests, punishments, etc., and entertained myself and my companions pointing out their mistakes and the clumsiness with which they had managed their affair, and how cleverly it might have been done. This new passion was coming to master me and, strange to say, the appetite of strong drink somewhat abated and while I drank frequently, I was able to so control myself that I rarely felt anything like intoxication.
I spent some months in London, the great rendezvous of thieves, crooks, and criminals of every kind. It was far from my mind to become a sneak thief, or to indulge in any of the worse class crimes, but I had gotten the idea that there was little or no harm in taking fine jewelry or a purse which was left lying around carelessly about a man’s premises and indulged in such things with something of the zest with which an old fisherman seeks a clear, rocky stream for bass, or an experienced hunter goes into the mountains for deer.