Time went on; and the thief, apparently reformed by a change of relation to society, continued in his post of responsibility. How it was, the benefactor could not make out; but his affairs gradually became less prosperous. He made investigations into his business, but was unable to find anything wrong.
“Are you aware that your clerk is a purchaser of property to a considerable extent?” said a mercantile friend to him one day.
“My clerk! It cannot be. His income is only five hundred dollars a year.”
“He bought a piece of property for five thousand last week.”
“I know it to be true. Are you aware that he was once a convict in the State’s Prison?”
“Oh yes. I took him from prison myself, and gave him a chance for his life. I do not believe in hunting men down for a single crime, the result of circumstances rather than a bad heart.”
“A truly honest man, let me tell you,” replied the merchant, “will be honest in any and all circumstances. And a rogue will be a rogue, place him where you will. The evil is radical, and must be cured radically. Your reformed thief has robbed you, without doubt.”
“I have reason to fear that he has been most ungrateful,” replied the kind-hearted man, who, with the harmlessness of the dove, did not unite the wisdom of the serpent.
And so it proved. His clerk had robbed him of over twenty thousand dollars in less than five years, and so sapped the foundations of his prosperity, that he recovered with great difficulty.
“You told me, when in prison,” said the wronged merchant to his clerk, “that circumstances made you what you were. This you cannot say now.”
“I can,” was the reply. “Circumstances made me poor, and I desired to be rich. The means of attaining wealth were placed in my hands, and I used them. Is it strange that I should have done so? It is this social inequality that makes crime. Your own doctrine, and I subscribe to it fully.”
“Ungrateful wretch!” said the merchant, indignantly, “it is the evil of your own heart that prompts to crime. You would be a thief and a robber if you possessed millions.”
And he again handed him over to the law, and let the prison walls protect society from his depredations.
No, it is not true that in external circumstances lie the origins of evil. God tempts no man by these. In the very extremes of poverty we see examples of honesty; and among the wealthiest, find those who covet their neighbour’s goods, and gain dishonest possession thereof. Reformers must seek to elevate the personal character, if they would regenerate society. To accomplish the desired good by a different external arrangement, is hopeless; for in the heart of man lies the evil,—there is the fountain from which flow forth the bitter and blighting waters of crime.