‘The Best Investment I Ever Made’ was written by A. J. Cronin. He was an English novelist who began his career as a doctor. Brought down by illness, he left his practice in England and took rest on a Scottish farm. He wrote a novel to pass time and the book was a great success. He gave up medical practice and took to writing full time. His autobiographical work titled Adventures in Two Worlds, was published in 1952. This essay is an extract from the book.
Cronin is travelling from New York on a cruise liner when he notices the eyes of a passenger watching him closely. First he pays no attention to the man, but as time passes, he feels the gaze of the man following him everywhere. Being tired, he wants to rest and is in no mood to strike up a conversation with the man. Cronin notices that the man is in his early forties, rather short of build, with a fair complexion and clear blue eyes. His dark suit gives him a serious and reserved look.
Sometime later, Cronin sees that there is a lady with the man, probably his wife. She too is quiet and restrained, dressed in a gray skirt and gray woollen cardigan. Cronin understands from his steward that they are Mr. and Mrs. John from London. She urges her husband to talk to Cronin and they both approach him.
The man introduces himself and his wife to Cronin. He says that he has been visiting the New England States, inspecting many summer camps for young people there. Cronin comes to know that the man is a solicitor by profession, but that in his free time, he had also been active in the field of youth welfare, for 15 years. He was involved in taking derelict adolescents from juvenile courts, placing them in healthy environments, healing them in mind and body, and sending them back into the world after training them in a useful craft, ready for employment, as worthy members of the society.
Cronin is impressed by the work of the man and asks him how he came into this field. The man is surprised and asks him if he does not remember him. Cronin replies in the negative and the man leans forward and tells something in the ears of Cronin. At once, Cronin remembers an incident that happened some years back.
Cronin had been a young doctor then, not very sound financially. One foggy November night, towards one o’ clock, there was a loud banging on the door. Cronin opened the door to see a sergeant of police who informed him that there was a case of suicide. Cronin got ready and went with the sergeant to the place.
There had been a seemingly lifeless body on the narrow bed of the room that they went to. Cronin took the help of the police sergeant and tried to resuscitate the patient for more than an hour. As they were about to give up, the patient woke up with a gasp. The patient who was a youth, sat up, gasping.
The youth had told the story of how he was sent to London for work in a solicitor’s office by his uncle after his parents had died. But he had joined with bad friends and began betting on horses. Soon he lost all his savings. In order to regain that money, he had decided to go for a gamble one last time. He had been foolish enough to steal a little money from his office, which he planned to repay when he won his money back. But to his horror, the gamble failed. Fearing the consequences, he decided to take his life.
The room had been silent. The police sergeant had asked the youth how much he had taken from the office. The young man had replied that he had taken seven pounds ten shillings. The three people in the room other than the youth, the sergeant, the landlady and Cronin decided to help the youth. The sergeant decided not to tell the authorities about the attempt to commit suicide. The landlady offered a month’s free board for him. Cronin had come forward to give the youth seven pounds ten shillings.
Cronin remembers all these things as he sits on the ship deck looking at the young man who had so transformed into the youth welfare director now. A singular emotion overcomes Cronin. He reflects that of all the investments that he has made in his life, here was one that he could be happy about, and not have any regrets in future. This investment might not bring Cronin any worldly profits, but he knows that on the final Day of Judgment, he would reap rewards.