But what was worse, the unfortunate Sparser had already been charged with larceny and homicide, and wishing, no doubt, to minimize his own share in this grave catastrophe, had not only revealed the names of all who were with him in the car – the youths in particular and their hotel address – but had charged that they along with him were equally guilty, since they had urged him to make speed at the time and against his will – a claim which was true enough, as Clyde knew. And Mr. Squires, on being interviewed at the hotel, had furnished the police and the newspapers with the names of their parents and their home addresses.
This last was the sharpest blow of all. For there followed disturbing pictures of how their respective parents or relatives had taken it on being informed of their sins. Mrs. Ratterer, Tom’s mother, had cried and declared her boy was a good boy, and had not meant to do any harm, she was sure. And Mrs. Hegglund – Oscar’s devoted but aged mother – had said that there was not a more honest or generous soul and that he must have been drinking. And at his own home – The Star had described his mother as standing, pale, very startled and very distressed, clasping and unclasping her hands and looking as though she were scarcely able to grasp what was meant, unwilling to believe that her son had been one of the party and assuring all that he would most certainly return soon and explain all, and that there must be some mistake.
However, he had not returned. Nor had he heard anything more after that. For, owing to his fear of the police, as well as of his mother – her sorrowful, hopeless eyes, he had not written for months, and then a letter to his mother only to say that he was well and that she must not worry. He gave neither name nor address. Later, after that he had wandered on, essaying one small job and another, in St. Louis, Peoria, Chicago, Milwaukee – dishwashing in a restaurant, soda-clerking in a small outlying drug-store, attempting to learn to be a shoe clerk, a grocer’s clerk, and what not; and being discharged and laid off and quitting because he did not like it. He had sent her ten dollars once – another time five, having, as he felt, that much to spare. After nearly a year and a half he had decided that the search must have lessened, his own part in the crime being forgotten, possibly, or by then not deemed sufficiently important to pursue – and when he was once more making a moderate living as the driver of a delivery wagon in Chicago, a job that paid him fifteen dollars a week, he resolved that he would write his mother, because now he could say that he had a decent place and had conducted himself respectably for a long time, although not under his own name.
And so at that time, living in a hall bedroom on the West Side of Chicago – Paulina Street – he had written his mother the following letter:
Are you still in Kansas City? I wish you would write and tell me. I would so like to hear from you again and to write you again, too, if you really want me to. Honestly I do, Ma. I have been so lonely here. Only be careful and don’t let any one know where I am yet. It won’t do any good and might do a lot of harm just when I am trying so hard to get a start again. I didn’t do anything wrong that time, myself. Really I didn’t, although the papers said so – just went along. But I was afraid they would punish me for something that I didn’t do. I just couldn’t come back then. I wasn’t to blame and then I was afraid of what you and father might think. But they invited me, Ma. I didn’t tell him to go any faster or to take that car like he said. He took it himself and invited me and the others to go along. Maybe we were all to blame for running down that little girl, but we didn’t mean to. None of us. And I have been so terribly sorry ever since. Think of all the trouble I have caused you! And just at the time when you most needed me. Gee! Mother, I hope you can forgive me. Can you?
I keep wondering how you are. And Esta and Julia and Frank and Father. I wish I knew where you are and what you are doing. You know how I feel about you, don’t you, Ma? I’ve got a lot more sense now, anyhow, I see things different than I used to. I want to do something in this world. I want to be successful. I have only a fair place now, not as good as I had in K. C., but fair, and not in the same line. But I want something better, though I don’t want to go back in the hotel business either if I can help it. It’s not so very good for a young man like me – too high-flying, I guess. You see I know a lot more than I did back there. They like me all right where I am, but I got to get on in this world. Besides I am not really making more than my expenses here now, just my room and board and clothes but I am trying to save a little in order to get into some line where I can work up and learn something. A person has to have a line of some kind these days. I see that now.
Won’t you write me and tell me how you all are and what you are doing? I’d like to know. Give my love to Frank and Julia and Father and Esta, if they are all still there. I love you just the same and I guess you care for me a little, anyhow, don’t you? I won’t sign my real name, because it may be dangerous yet (I haven’t been using it since I left K. C.) But I’ll give you my other one, which I’m going to leave off pretty soon and take up my old one. Wish I could do it now, but I’m afraid to yet. You can address me, if you will, as
General Delivery, Chicago
I’ll call for it in a few days. I sign this way so as not to cause you or me any more trouble, see? But as soon as I feel more sure that this other thing has blown over, I’ll use my own name again sure.
He drew a line where his real name should be and underneath wrote “you know” and mailed the letter.
Following that, because his mother had been anxious about him all this time and wondering where he was, he soon received a letter, postmarked Denver, which surprised him very much, for he had expected to hear from her as still in Kansas City.
I was surprised and so glad to get my boy’s letter and to know that you were alive and safe. I had hoped and prayed that you would return to the straight and narrow path – the only path that will ever lead you to success and happiness of any kind, and that God would let me hear from you as safe and well and working somewhere and doing well. And now he has rewarded my prayers. I knew he would. Blessed be His holy name.
Not that I blame you altogether for all that terrible trouble you got into and bringing so much suffering and disgrace on yourself and us – for well I know how the devil tempts and pursues all of us mortals and particularly just such a child as you. Oh, my son, if you only knew how you must be on your guard to avoid these pitfalls. And you have such a long road ahead of you. Will you be ever watchful and try always to cling to the teachings of our Saviour that your mother has always tried to impress upon the minds and hearts of all you dear children? Will you stop and listen to the voice of our Lord that is ever with us, guiding our footsteps safely up the rocky path that leads to a heaven more beautiful than we can ever imagine here? Promise me, my child, that you will hold fast to all your early teachings and always bear in mind that “right is might,” and my boy, never, never, take a drink of any kind no matter who offers it to you. There is where the devil reigns in all his glory and is ever ready to triumph over the weak one. Remember always what I have told you so often “Strong drink is raging and wine is a mocker,” and it is my earnest prayer that these words will ring in your ears every time you are tempted – for I am sure now that that was perhaps the real cause of that terrible accident.
I suffered terribly over that, Clyde, and just at the time when I had such a dreadful ordeal to face with Esta.