I was sitting at my breakfast-table one Sunday morning, when I was called to my door by the ringing of the bell. There stood a boy about fourteen years of age, poorly clad, but tidied up as best he could. He was leaning on crutches; for one leg was off at the knee.
In a voice trembling with emotion, and with tears coursing down his cheeks, he said: “Mr. Hoagland, I am Freddy Brown. I have come to see if you will go to the jail and talk and pray with my father. He is to be hanged tomorrow for the murder of my mother. My father was a good man, but whisky did it. I have three little sisters younger than myself. We are very, very poor, and have no friends. We live in a dark and dingy room. I do the best I can to support my sisters by selling papers, blacking boots, and doing odd jobs; but Mr. Hoagland, we are very poor. Will you come and be with us when father’s body is brought home? The governor says we may have his body after he is hanged.”
I was deeply moved to pity. I promised, and made haste to the jail, where I found his father.
He acknowledged that he must have murdered his wife, for the circumstances pointed that way, but he had not the slightest remembrance of the deed. He said he was crazed with drink, or he never would have committed the crime. He said: “My wife was a good and faithful mother to my little children. Never did I dream that my hand could be guilty of such a crime.”
The man could bravely face the penalty of the law for his deed, but he broke down and cried as if his heart would break when he thought of leaving his children in a destitute and friendless condition. I read and prayed with him, and left him to his fate.
The next morning I made my way to the miserable quarters of the children. I found three little girls upon a bed of straw in one corner of the room. They were clad in rags. They would have been beautiful girls had they had the proper care. They were expecting the body of their dead father, and between their cries and sobs they would say, “Papa was good, but whisky did it.”
In a little time two strong officers came bearing the body of the dead father in a rude pine box. They set it down on two old rickety stools. The cries of the children were so heartrending that the officers could not endure it, and made haste out of the room.
In a moment the manly boy nerved himself, and said, “Come, sisters, kiss papa’s face before it is cold.” They gathered about his face and smoothed it down with kisses, and between their sobs cried out: “Papa was good, but whisky did it! Papa was good, but whisky did it!”
I raised my heart to God and said, “O God, did I fight to save a country that would derive a revenue from a traffic that would make a scene like this possible?”