Wednesday, 17 April, 1907
It's almost midnight and I should be bleary after the day we've had, but sleep is impossible. My brother suggested I jot these events into my diary before I forget them; he keeps insisting this is the beginning of a whole new better life, as if we'll someday look back on these days with fondness, wanting to remember how it all began. Either he or I is as daft as a brush, for I can only brood about the life that used to be.
Even now I can picture the entire incident with a realism it didn't possess the first time around. The outcome never occurred to me beforehand, and when the motorcar exploded it was so unexpected it seemed like an hallucination. It's my punishment to remember it, I suppose, reliving it eternally without any hope of reprieve.
It's probably unwise to commit these thoughts to paper, as it'll serve as nothing less than a full confession of my crime should this journal fall into the wrong hands, but I must purge myself of these memories somehow.
It all began last Monday, 8 April, when I chanced to meet Ian at the sheep cote near the market in town. I'd not expected to encounter him that day, for Dad had sent me on an errand in the centre of town and Ian lives on the outskirts. He told me he was only there to get a glimpse of the baronet from the Privy Counsellor's office and his family as they drove around the countryside in an open automobile. Husband and wife and two young children. I must admit, as I'd never laid eyes on an automobile before I was quite curious to see the strange machine.
It wasn't a quarter of an hour before the contraption appeared with a terrible pop, bang and wheezing sound. It moved little faster than Tom Applebee's old mare, and seemed about as comfortable as sitting in a hay baler. Ian laughed, then got an idea.
"Let's toss a firecracker into their motorcar and give them what for. What do you say?"
"I don't know, Ian. Why should we give them what for? What have they done to us?" I asked.
He called me a clot and said, "Until everyone can ride around in an automobile, why should they have a grand outing at our expense? It's time for an end to the privileged classes. Let's shake ‘em up and let them know they're not going to have a jolly time when the rest of us have to work 16-hour days for chickenfeed. C'mon, it's just a little whizzbang. Here."
"This doesn't look like a little whizzbang to me. Looks bigger than a cannon cracker."
I was too blinking stupid to realise it was dynamite.
"It's only a little whizzbang," Ian insisted and pressed it into my hand. "It's made of sawdust." I had little reason to know then that dynamite is made with sawdust, too. "Go ahead. You like a laugh, don't you? I promise no one will be harmed. It's just a silly firecracker. Go on, you have the surest arm. Are you a chicken? Bwawk, bwawk, bwawk!"
"Stop that. Here, you take it. If it's no big deal, then YOU toss it into the car."
"Bwawk, bwawk, bwawk! Teddy's a chicken!"
"Fine. I'm a chicken. But if you're not, then you do it. Stop handing it to me."
"Bwawk! Chicken! Let's pop you in the oven right now. I get a drumstick!"
"Shut up, Ian!"
"Bwawk, bwawk, bwawk!"
"Fine; if it'll shut your beak, then give me the bloody cracker."
Against my better judgment, I finally agreed to toss the firecracker into the auto from the bushes once the car came close enough. I could hear it chugging up the lane, the objectionable sound even louder in the silence since no one else was out on the road that day. I remember the children giggling in the back seat as the motorcar plodded nearer; the family seemed to be having a grand day of it. This roman candle would dampen their enthusiasm; even though it was only a toy it would remind them there was discontent in the world. For one fleeting instant they'd panic, then discover it was a prank before resuming their merriment, albeit with somewhat more reserve. I regretted even depriving them of that much, but I knew if I didn't follow through on my promise, Ian would never stop ribbing me over it. The car nobbled toward us, so the time was now. I'd no choice but to stub out the gaiety of this innocent little family and ruin their happy outing. It felt terrible to play such a cruel trick, but at least it was only that and no one would be harmed.
Only it wasn't a toy. I lobbed the stick into the automobile, and I remember the woman asking, "What was that?" in a rather unconcerned voice. But the only answer was a deafening explosion, and then what was left of the auto careened into the livery stable, the frame burning as the petrol tank ignited.
"Holy Father in Heaven! Ian, look at that; the car blew up! We have to do something!"
"What is there to do? No one could survive a fire like that. They must be dead. C'mon, Teddy, we have to get out of here before anyone comes."
"Huh?" I mumbled, and tried to shake off my stupor. There was something to be done here — there had to be, but alas... all was done. The car doors were too hot to touch, but a simple glance into the open vehicle revealed no one was alive. I could scarcely believe I was the cause of such horror, but as people rushed out of their homes and shops to investigate this most shocking situation, they almost seemed to view us as heroes for trying to open the car doors to offer assistance: the crowning insult to the dead in this sad episode.
A bucket brigade from the pond was promptly formed but to no avail, and it seemed to take forever for the fire wagon to arrive. The blaze finally petered out on its own, but we were long gone by then. There was nothing left for us to do, and there could certainly be no evidence of our involvement remaining in the vehicle. The two of us wandered away after many others had already left. For a good ways down the old road we walked in silence, each pondering in his heart the gravity of the situation, or so I thought, when Ian suddenly burst out laughing. What he found amusing in such a traumatising event I hadn't the foggiest, for my mind was reeling on the tragedy of those little lives cut short. Whilst I didn't get a good look at the children, it seemed to me they were each no more than six or seven years old.
Ian found the entire incident entertaining, however, especially the fact that we could commit such slaughter and not be caught. I was aghast.
"How can you laugh about this? We should go to the constable immediately and tell him it was all a horrible mistake."
Ian grew livid then. "Are you barmy? We'll end up in gaol for the rest of our lives. Is that what you want? Do you know what it's like in prison?"
He proceeded to tell me, describing it as a place where the police are free to torture you with impunity, cut off your legs or dislocate your limbs, disfigure you with the iron boot or thumbscrews or pitch caps or flogging. I don't know how he knew all this or how true it is, but he scared the deuce out of me.
It also troubles me to wonder just where Ian got that firecracker. Did he know what it was? That would make him an intentional murderer, not an accidental one like me.
What do you do when you don't know what to do? I've always been taught that you talk to your parents when a problem is too big to handle. I decided then and there to tell my father the truth of the whole matter. His reaction was much like mine — very troubled and disgusted. It was decided that I should leave England at once and seek employment with his brother in America. If the authorities should somehow come into evidence about the attack and pursue me, it would be harder for them to collar me abroad.
Clarence thought this the most exciting proposition he'd ever heard. "I'll go with you! We'll change our names," he'd suggested. "New names, new country, new lives!" He'd always hated how hard we had to work on the farm, and Dad said he was just trying to get out of ploughing.
But Mum didn't want me travelling alone, and said she was glad Clarence wanted to go. "You look out for your brother, Theo. You know what a hooligan he is. And please write to us every day, especially if you need anything. We'll scrape the money together somehow. You know how I worry."
We packed immediately and went to Liverpool to buy tickets for the next steamer to New York. I never got to say goodbye to Honoria, and Heaven only knows what she thinks of my sudden disappearance.
So my punishment for this monstrous crime is separation from my family — the thing I hold most dear. I destroyed a happy family, and now I've been severed from my own. I just wish it didn't mean punishing them as well, for I fear they will miss me almost as much as I miss them. Although the homesickness is overwhelming, I must endure it until God in His infinite mercy sees fit to return me to the ones I love most in this wretched world. Till then, I'm grateful we can take refuge in this theater with dear Uncle Bertram.
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