By T. S. Arthur
Author Of "Three Years In A Man-Trap," "Orange Blossoms," Etc., Etc.
Philadelphia: Cincinnati: New York: Boston: Chicago, Ills.: New Castle, Pa.: San Francisco, Cal.:
TO THE READER.
IN this romance of real life, in which the truth is stranger than the fiction, I have lifted only in part the veil that hides the victims of intemperance and other terrible vices—after they have fallen to the lower deeps of degradation to be found in our large cities, where the vile and degraded herd together more like wild beasts than men and women—and told the story of sorrow, suffering, crime and debasement as they really exist in Christian America with all the earnestness and power that in me lies.
Strange and sad and terrible as are some of the scenes from which I hare drawn this veil, I have not told the half of what exists. My book, apart from the thread of fiction that runs through its pages, is but a series of photographs from real life, and is less a work of the imagination than a record of facts.
If it stirs the hearts of American readers profoundly, and so awakens the people to a sense of their duty; if it helps to inaugurate more earnest and radical modes of reform for a state of society of which a distinguished author has said, "There is not a country throughout the earth on which it would not bring a curse; there is no religion upon the earth that it would not deny; there is no people upon the earth it would not put to shame;"—then will not my work be in vain.
Sitting in our comfortable homes with well-fed, well-clothed and happy-hearted children about us—children who have our tenderest care, whose cry of pain from a pin-prick or a fall on the carpeted floor hurts us like a blow—-how few of us know or care anything about the homes in which some other children dwell, or of the hard and cruel battle for life they are doomed to fight from the very beginning!
To get out from these comfortable homes and from the midst of tenderly cared-for little ones, and stand face to face with squalor and hunger, with suffering, debasement and crime, to look upon the starved faces of children and hear their helpless cries, is what scarcely one in a thousand will do. It is too much for our sensibilities. And so we stand aloof, and the sorrow, and suffering, the debasement, the wrong and the crime, go on, and because we heed it not we vainly imagine that no responsibility lies at our door; and yet there is no man or woman who is not, according to the measure of his or her influence, responsible for the human debasement and suffering I have portrayed.
The task I set for myself has not been a pleasant one. It has hurt my sensibilities and sickened my heart many times as I stood face to face with the sad and awful degradation that exists in certain regions of our larger cities; and now that my work is done, I take a deep breath of relief. The result is in your hands, good citizen, Christian reader, earnest philanthropist! If it stirs your heart in the reading as it stirred mine in the writing, it will not die fruitless.
CHAPTER I. The unwelcome babe—The defrauded young mother—The struggle between life and death—"Your baby is in heaven"—A brief retrospect—A marriage for social position—An ambitious wife and a disappointed husband—The young daughter—The matrimonial market—The Circassian slaves of modern society—The highest bidder—Disappearance—The old sad story—Secret marriage—The letters—Disappointed ambition—Interview between the parents—The mother's purpose—"Baffled, but not defeated"—The father's surprise—The returned daughter—Forgiven—"I am not going away again, father dear"—Insecurity and distrust
CHAPTER II. The hatred of a bad woman—Mrs. Dinneford's plans for the destruction of Granger—Starting in business—Plots of Mrs. Dinneford and Freeling—The discounted notes—The trap—Granger's suspicions aroused—Forgery—Mrs. Dinneford relentless—The arrest—Fresh evidence of crime upon Granger's person—The shock to Edith—"That night her baby was born"
CHAPTER III. "It is a splendid boy"—A convenient, non-interfering family doctor—Cast adrift—Into the world in a basket, unnamed and disowned—Edith's second struggle back to life—Her mind a blank—Granger convicted of forgery—Seeks to gain knowledge of his child—The doctor's evasion and ignorance—An insane asylum instead of State's prison—Edith's slow return to intelligence—"There's something I can't understand, mother"—"Where is my baby?"—"What of George?"—No longer a child, but a broken hearted woman—The divorce
CHAPTER IV. Sympathy between father and daughter—Interest in public charities—A dreadful sight—A sick babe in the arms of a half-drunken woman—"Is there no law to meet such cases?"—-"The poor baby has no vote!"—Edith seeks for the grave of her child, but cannot find it—She questions her mother, who baffles her curiosity—Mrs. Bray's visit—Interview between Mrs. Dinneford and Mrs. Bray—"The baby isn't living?"—"Yes; I saw it day before yesterday in the arms of a beggar-woman"—Edith's suspicions aroused—Determined to discover the fate of her child—Visits the doctor—"Your baby is in heaven"—"Would to God it were so, for I saw a baby in hell not long ago!"
CHAPTER V. Mrs. Dinneford visits Mrs. Bray—"The woman to whom you gave that baby was here yesterday"—The woman must be put out of the way—Exit Mrs. Dinneford, enter Pinky Swett—"You know your fate—New Orleans and the yellow fever"—"All I want of you is to keep track of the baby"—Division of the spoils—Lucky dreams—Consultation of the dream-book for lucky figures—Sam McFaddon and his backer, who "drives in the Park and wears a two thousand dollar diamond pin"—The fate of a baby begged with—The baby must not die—The lottery-policies
CHAPTER VI. Rottenness at the heart of a great city—Pinky Swett's attempted rescue of a child from cruel beating—The fight—Pinky's arrest—Appearance of the "queen"—Pinky's release at her command—The queen's home—The screams of children being beaten—The rescue of "Flanagan's Nell"—Death the great rescuer—"They don't look after things in here as they do outside—Everybody's got the screws on, and things must break sometimes, but it isn't called murder—The coroner understands it all"
CHAPTER VII. Pinky Swett at the mercy of the crowd in the street—Taken to the nearest station-house—Mrs. Dinneford visits Mrs. Bray again—Fresh alarms—"She's got you in her power"—-"Money is of no account"—The knock at the door—Mrs. Dinneford in hiding—The visitor gone—Mrs. Bray reports the woman insatiable in her demands—Must have two hundred dollars by sundown—No way of escape except through police interference—"People who deal with the devil generally have the devil to pay"—Suspicion—A mistake—Sound of feet upon the stairs—Mrs. Dinneford again in hiding—Enter Pinky Swett—Pinky disposed of—Mrs. Dinneford again released—Mrs. Bray's strategy—"Let us be friends still, Mrs. Bray"—Mrs. Dinneford's deprecation and humiliation—Mrs. Bray's triumph
CHAPTER VIII. Mrs. Bray receives a package containing two hundred dollars—"Poor baby! I must see better to its comfort"—Pinky meets a young girl from the country—The "Ladies' Restaurant"—Fried oysters and sangaree—The "bindery" girl—"My head feels strangely"—Through the back alley—The ten-cent lodging house—Robbery—A second robbery—A veil drawn—A wild prolonged cry of a woman—The policeman listens only for a moment, and then passes on—Foul play—"In all our large cities are savages more cruel and brutal in their instincts than the Comanches"—Who is responsible?
CHAPTER IX. Valuation of the spoils—The receiver—The "policy-shop" and its customers—A victim of the lottery mania
CHAPTER X. "Policy-drunkards"—A newly-appointed policeman's blunder—The end of a "policy-drunkard"—Pinky and her friend in consultation over "a cast-off baby in Dirty alley"—"If you can't get hush-money out of its mother, you can bleed Fanny Bray"—The way to starve a baby—Pinky moves her quarters without the use of "a dozen furniture cars"—A baby's home—The baby's night nurse—The baby's supper—The baby's bed—How the baby's money is spent—Where the baby's nurse passes the night—The baby's disappearance
CHAPTER XI. Reserve between mother and daughter—Mrs. Dinneford disapproves of Edith's charitable visits—Mrs. Dinneford meets Freeling by appointment at a hotel—"There's trouble brewing"—"A letter from George Granger"—Accused of conspiracy—Possibility of Granger's pardon by the governor—An ugly business—In great peril—Freeling's threats of exposure—A hint of an alternative
CHAPTER XII. Mr. Freeling fails to appear at his place of business—Examination of his bank accounts—It is discovered that he has borrowed largely of his friends—Mrs. Dinneford has supplied him $20,000 from her private purse—Mrs. Dinneford falls sick, and temporarily loses her reason—"I told you her name was Gray—Gray, not Bray"—Half disclosures—Recovery—Mother and daughter mutually suspicious—The visitor—Mrs. Dinneford equal to the emergency—Edith thrown off the track
CHAPTER XIII. Edith is satisfied that her babe is alive—She has a desire to teach the children of the poor—"My baby may become like one of these"—She hears of a baby which has been stolen—Resolves to go and see it, and to apply to Mr. Paulding of the Briar street mission for assistance in her attempt—Mr. Paulding persuades her that it is best not to see the child, and promises that he himself will look after it—Returns home—Her father remonstrates with her, finally promises to help her
CHAPTER XIV. Mr. Dinneford sets out for the mission-house—An incident on the way—Encounters Mr. Paulding—Mr. Paulding makes his report—"The vicious mark their offspring with unmistakable signs of moral depravity; this baby has signs of a better origin"—A profitable conversation—"I think you had better act promptly"
CHAPTER XV. Mr. Dinneford with a policeman goes in quest of the baby—The baby is gone—Inquiries—Mr. Dinneford resolves to persevere—Cause of the baby's disappearance—Pinky Swett's curiosity—Change of baby's nurse—Baby's improved condition—Baby's first experience of motherly tenderness—Baby's first smile—"Such beautiful eyes"—Pinky Swett visits the St. John mission-school—Edith is not there
CHAPTER XVI. Mr. Dinneford's return, and Edith's disappointment—"It is somebody's baby, and it may be mine"—An unsuspected listener—Mrs. Dinneford acts promptly—Conference between Mrs. Dinneford and Mrs. Hoyt, alias Bray—The child must be got out of the way—"If it will not starve, it must drown"—Mrs. Dinneford sees an acquaintance as she leaves Mrs. Hoyt's, and endeavors to escape his observation—A new danger and disgrace awaiting her
CHAPTER XVII. Mental conditions of mother and daughter—Mr. Dinneford aroused to a sense of his moral responsibilities—The heathen in our midst—The united evil of policy-lotteries and whisky-shops—The education of the policy-shops
CHAPTER XVIII. News item: "A child drowned"—Another news item: Pinky Swett sentenced to prison for robbery—Baby's improved condition—Mrs. Burke's efforts to retain the baby after Pinky Swett's imprisonment—Baby Andy's rough life in the street—Mrs. Burke's death—Cast upon the world—Andy's adventures—He finds a home and a friend
CHAPTER XIX. Mr. Dinneford visits the mission-school—A comparison of the present with the past—The first mission-school—Reminiscences of the school in its early days—The zealous scholar—Good effects of the mission—"Get the burning brands apart, or interpose incombustible things between them"—An illustration—"Let in light, and the darkness flees"
CHAPTER XX. "The man awoke and felt the child against his bosom, soft and warm"—Led by a little child—"God being my helper, I will be a man again"—A new life—Meeting of an old friend—A friend in need—Food, clothes, work—A new home—God's strength our only safety
CHAPTER XXI. Intimate relations of physical and moral purity—Blind Jake—The harvest of the thieves and beggars—Inconsiderate charity—Beggary a vice—"The deserving poor are never common beggars"—"To help the evil is to hurt the good" The malignant ulcer in the body politic of our city—The breeding-places of epidemics and malignant diseases—Little Italian street musicians—The existence of slavery in our midst—Facts in regard to it
CHAPTER XXII. Edith's continued interest in the children of the poor—Christmas dinner at the mission-house—Edith perceives Andy, and feels a strange attraction toward him—Andy's disappearance after dinner—Pinky Swett has been seen dragging him away—Lost sight of
CHAPTER XXIII. Christmas dinner at Mr. Dinneford's—The dropped letter—It is missed—A scene of wild excitement—Mrs. Dinneford's sudden death—Edith reads the letter—A revelation—"Innocent!"—Edith is called to her mother—"Dead, and better so!"—Granger's innocence established—An agony of affection—No longer Granger's wife
CHAPTER XXIV. Edith's sickness—Meeting of Mrs. Bray and Pinky Swett—A trial of sharpness, in which neither gains the advantage—Mr. Dinneford receives a call from a lady—The lady, who is Mrs. Bray, offers information—Mr. Dinneford surprises her into admitting an important fact—Mrs. Bray offers to produce the child for a price—Mr. Dinneford consents to pay the price on certain stipulations—Mrs. Bray departs, promising to come again
CHAPTER XXV. Granger's pardon procured—How he receives his pardon—Mrs. Bray tries to trace Pinky home—Loses sight of her in the street—Mrs. Bray interviews a shop-woman—Pinky's destination—The child is gone
CHAPTER XXVI. Mrs. Bray does not call on Mr. Dinneford, as she promised—Peril to Andrew Hall through loss of the child—Help—Edith longs to see or write to Granger, but does not—Edith encounters Mrs. Bray in the street—"Where is my baby?"—Disappointment—How to identify the child if found
CHAPTER XXVII. No trace of Andy—Account of Andy's abduction—Andy's prison—An outlook from prison—A loose nail—The escape—The sprained ankle—The accident
CHAPTER XXVIII. Edith's visit to the children's hospital—"Oh, my baby! thank God! my baby!"—The identification
CHAPTER XXIX. Meeting of Mr. Dinneford and George Granger—"We want you to help us find your child"—"Edith's heart is calling out for you"—The meeting—The marriage benediction
A BABY had come, but he was not welcome. Could anything be sadder?
The young mother lay with her white face to the wall, still as death. A woman opened the chamber door noiselessly and came in, the faint rustle of her garments disturbing the quiet air.
A quick, eager turning of the head, a look half anxious, half fearful, and then the almost breathless question,
"Where is my baby?"
"Never mind about the baby," was answered, almost coldly; "he's well enough. I'm more concerned about you."
"Have you sent word to George?"
"George can't see you. I've said that before."
"Oh, mother! I must see my husband."
"Husband!" The tone of bitter contempt with which the word was uttered struck the daughter like a blow. She had partly risen in her excitement, but now fell back with a low moan, shutting her eyes and turning her face away. Even as she did so, a young man stepped back from the door of the elegant house in which she lay with a baffled, disappointed air. He looked pale and wretched.
"Edith!" Two hours afterward the doctor stood over the young mother, and called her name. She did not move nor reply. He laid his hand on her cheek, and almost started, then bent down and looked at her intently for a moment or two. She had fever. A serious expression came into his face, and there was cause.
The sweet rest and heavenly joy of maternity had been denied to his young patient. The new-born babe had not been suffered to lie even for one blissful moment on her bosom. Hard-hearted family pride and cruel worldliness had robbed her of the delight with which God ever seeks to dower young motherhood, and now the overtaxed body and brain had given way.
For many weeks the frail young creature struggled with delirium—struggled and overcame.
"Where is my baby?"
The first thought of returning consciousness was of her baby.
A woman who sat in a distant part of the chamber started up and crossed to the bed. She was past middle life, of medium stature, with small, clearly cut features and cold blue eyes. Her mouth was full, but very firm. Self-poise was visible even in her surprised movements. She bent over the bed and looked into Edith's wistful eyes.
"Where is my baby, mother?" Mrs. Dinneford put her fingers lightly on Edith's lips.
"You must be very quiet," she said, in a low, even voice. "The doctor forbids all excitement. You have been extremely ill."
"Can't I see my baby, mother? It won't hurt me to see my baby."
"Not now. The doctor—"
Edith half arose in bed, a look of doubt and fear coming into her face.
"I want my baby, mother," she said, interrupting her.
A hard, resolute expression came into the cold blue eyes of Mrs. Dinneford. She put her hand firmly against Edith and pressed her back upon the pillow.
"You have been very ill for nearly two months," she said, softening her voice. "No one thought you could live. Thank God! the crisis is over, but not the danger."
"Two months! Oh, mother!"
The slight flush that had come into Edith's wan face faded out, and the pallor it had hidden for a few moments became deeper. She shut her eyes and lay very still, but it was plain from the expression of her face that thought was busy.
"Not two whole months, mother?" she said, at length, in doubtful tones. "Oh no! it cannot be."
"It is just as I have said, Edith; and now, my dear child, as you value your life, keep quiet; all excitement is dangerous."
But repression was impossible. To Edith's consciousness there was no lapse of time. It seemed scarcely an hour since the birth of her baby and its removal from her sight. The inflowing tide of mother-love, the pressure and yearning sweetness of which she had begun to feel when she first called for the baby they had not permitted to rest, even for an instant, on her bosom, was now flooding her heart. Two months! If that were so, what of the baby? To be submissive was impossible.
Starting up half wildly, a vague terror in her face, she cried, piteously,
"Oh, mother, bring me my baby. I shall die if you do not!"
"Your baby is in heaven," said Mrs. Dinneford, softening her voice to a tone of tender regret.
Edith caught her breath, grew very white, and then, with a low, wailing cry that sent a shiver through Mrs. Dinneford's heart, fell back, to all appearance dead.
The mother did not call for help, but sat by the bedside of her daughter, and waited for the issue of this new struggle between life and death. There was no visible excitement, but her mouth was closely set and her cold blue eyes fixed in a kind of vacant stare.
Edith was Mrs. Dinneford's only child, and she had loved her with the strong, selfish love of a worldly and ambitious woman. In her own marriage she had not consulted her heart. Mr. Dinneford's social position and wealth were to her far more than his personal endowments. She would have rejected him without a quicker pulse-beat if these had been all he had to offer. He was disappointed, she was not. Strong, self-asserting, yet politic, Mrs Dinneford managed her good husband about as she pleased in all external matters, and left him to the free enjoyment of his personal tastes, preferences and friendships. The house they lived in, the furniture it contained, the style and equipage assumed by the family, were all of her choice, Mr. Dinneford giving merely a half-constrained or half-indifferent consent. He had learned, by painful and sometimes humiliating experience, that any contest with Mrs. Helen Dinneford upon which he might enter was sure to end in his defeat.
He was a man of fine moral and intellectual qualities. His wealth gave him leisure, and his tastes, feelings and habits of thought drew him into the society of some of the best men in the city where he lived—best in the true meaning of that word. In all enlightened social reform movements you would be sure of finding Mr. Howard Dinneford. He was an active and efficient member in many boards of public charity, and highly esteemed in them all for his enlightened philanthropy and sound judgment. Everywhere but at home he was strong and influential; there he was weak, submissive and of little account. He had long ago accepted the situation, making a virtue of necessity. A different man—one of stronger will and a more imperious spirit—would have held his own, even though it wrought bitterness and sorrow. But Mr. Dinneford's aversion to strife, and gentleness toward every one, held him away from conflict, and so his home was at least tranquil.
Mrs. Dinneford had her own way, and so long as her husband made no strong opposition to that way all was peaceful.
For Edith, their only child, who was more like her father than her mother, Mr. Dinneford had the tenderest regard. The well-springs of love, choked up so soon after his marriage, were opened freely toward his daughter, and he lived in her a new, sweet and satisfying life. The mother was often jealous of her husband's demonstrative tenderness for Edith. A yearning instinct of womanhood, long repressed by worldliness and a mean social ambition, made her crave at times the love she had cast away, and then her cup of life was very bitter. But fear of Mr. Dinneford's influence over Edith was stronger than any jealousy of his love. She had high views for her daughter. In her own marriage she had set aside all considerations but those of social rank. She had made it a stepping-stone to a higher place in society than the one to which she was born. Still, above them stood many millionaire families, living in palace-homes, and through her daughter she meant to rise into one of them. It mattered not for the personal quality of the scion of the house; he might be as coarse and common as his father before him, or weak, mean, selfish, and debased by sensual indulgence. This was of little account. To lift Edith to the higher social level was the all in all of Mrs. Dinneford's ambition.
But Mr. Dinneford taught Edith a nobler life-lesson than this, gave her better views of wedlock, pictured for her loving heart the bliss of a true marriage, sighing often as he did so, but unconsciously, at the lost fruition of his own sweet hopes. He was careful to do this only when alone with Edith, guarding his speech when Mrs. Dinneford was present. He had faith in true principles, and with these he sought to guard her life. He knew that she would be pushed forward into society, and knew but too well that one so pure and lovely in mind as well as person would become a centre of attraction, and that he, standing on the outside as it were, would have no power to save her from the saddest of all fates if she were passive and her mother resolute. Her safety must lie in herself.
Edith was brought out early. Mrs. Dinneford could not wait. At seventeen she was thrust into society, set up for sale to the highest bidder, her condition nearer that of a Circassian than a Christian maiden, with her mother as slave-dealer.
So it was and so, it is. You may see the thing every day. But it did not come out according to Mrs. Dinneford's programme. There was a highest bidder; but when he came for his slave, she was not to be found.
Well, the story is trite and brief—the old sad story. Among her suitors was a young man named Granger, and to him Edith gave her heart. But the mother rejected him with anger and scorn. He was not rich, though belonging to a family of high character, and so fell far below her requirements. Under a pressure that almost drove the girl to despair, she gave her consent to a marriage that looked more terrible than death. A month before the time fixed for, its consummation, she barred the contract by a secret union with Granger.
Edith knew her mother's character too well to hope for any reconciliation, so far as Mr. Granger was concerned. Coming in as he had done between her and the consummation of her highest ambition, she could never feel toward him anything but the most bitter hatred; and so, after remaining at home for about a week after her secret marriage, she wrote this brief letter to her mother and went away:
"My DEAR MOTHER: I do not love Spencer Wray, and would rather die than marry him, and so I have made the marriage to which my heart has never consented, an impossibility. You have left me no other alternative but this. I am the wife of George Granger, and go to cast my lot with his.
"Your loving daughter,
To her father she wrote:
"My DEAR, DEAR FATHER: If I bring sorrow to your good and loving heart by what I have done, I know that it will be tempered with joy at my escape from a union with one from whom my soul has ever turned with irrepressible dislike. Oh, my father, you can understand, if mother cannot, into what a desperate strait I have been brought. I am a deer hunted to the edge of a dizzy chasm, and I leap for life over the dark abyss, praying for strength to reach the farther edge. If I fail in the wild effort, I can only meet destruction; and I would rather be bruised to death on the jagged rocks than trust myself to the hounds and hunters. I write passionately—you will hardly recognize your quiet child; but the repressed instincts of my nature are strong, and peril and despair have broken their bonds. I did not consult you about the step I have taken, because I dared not trust you with my secret. You would have tried to hold me back from the perilous leap, fondly hoping for some other way of escape. I had resolved on putting an impassable gulf between me and danger, if I died in the attempt. I have taken the leap, and may God care for me!
"I have laid up in my heart of hearts, dearest of fathers, the precious life-truths that so often fell from your lips. Not a word that you ever said about the sacredness of marriage has been forgotten. I believe with you that it is a little less than crime to marry when no love exists—that she who does so, sells her heart's birthright for some mess of pottage, sinks down from the pure level of noble womanhood, and traffics away her person, is henceforth meaner in quality if not really vile.
"And so, my father, to save myself from such a depth of degradation and misery, I take my destiny into my own hands. I have grown very strong in my convictions and purposes in the last four weeks. My sight has become suddenly clear. I am older by many years.
"As for George Granger, all I can now say is that I love him, and believe him to be worthy of my love. I am willing to trust him, and am ready to share his lot, however humble.
"Still hold me in your heart, my precious father, as I hold you in mine.
Mr. Dinneford read this letter twice. It took him some time, his eyes were so full of tears. In view of her approaching marriage with Spencer Wray, his heart had felt very heavy. It was something lighter now. Young Granger was not the man he would have chosen for Edith, but he liked him far better than he did the other, and felt that his child was safe now.
He went to his wife's room, and found her with Edith's letter crushed in her hand. She was sitting motionless, her face pale and rigid, her eyes fixed and stony and her lips tight against her teeth. She did not seem to notice his presence until he put his hand upon her, which he did without speaking. At this she started up and looked at him with a kind of fierce intentness.
"Are you a party to this frightful things?" she demanded.
Mr. Dinneford weakly handed her the letter he had received from Edith. She read it through in half the time it had taken his tear-dimmed eyes to make out the touching sentences. After she had done so, she stood for a few moments as if surprised or baffled. Then she sat down, dropping her head, and remained for a long time without speaking.
"The bitter fruit, Mr. Dinneford," she said, at last, in a voice so strange and hard that it seemed to his ears as if another had spoken. All passion had died out of it.
He waited, but she added nothing more. After a long silence she waved her hand slightly, and without looking at her husband, said,
"I would rather be alone."
Mr. Dinneford took Edith's letter from the floor, where it had dropped from his wife's hand, and withdrew from her presence. She arose quickly as he did so, crossed the room and silently turned the key, locking herself in. Then her manner changed; she moved about the room in a half-aimless, half-conscious way, as though some purpose was beginning to take shape in her mind. Her motions had an easy, cat-like grace, in contrast with their immobility a little while before. Gradually her step became quicker, while ripples of feeling began to pass over her face, which was fast losing its pallor. Gleams of light began shooting from her eyes, that were so dull and stony when her husband found her with Edith's letter crushed in her grasp. Her hands opened and shut upon themselves nervously. This went on, the excitement of her forming purpose, whatever it was, steadily increasing, until she swept about the room like a fury, talking to herself and gesticulating as one half insane from the impelling force of an evil passion.
"Baffled, but not defeated." The excitement had died out. She spoke these words aloud, and with a bitter satisfaction in her voice, then sat down, resting her face in her hands, and remaining for a long time in deep thought.
When she met her husband, an hour afterward, there was a veil over her face, and he tried in vain to look beneath it. She was greatly changed; her countenance had a new expression—something he had never seen there before. For years she had been growing away from him; now she seemed like one removed to a great distance—to have become almost stranger. He felt half afraid of her. She did not speak of Edith, but remained cold, silent and absorbed.
Mrs. Dinneford gave no sign of what was in her heart for many weeks. The feeling of distance and strangeness perceived by her husband went on increasing, until a vague feeling of mystery and fear began to oppress him. Several times he had spoken of Edith, but his wife made no response, nor could he read in her veiled face the secret purposes she was hiding from him.
No wonder that Mr. Dinneford was greatly surprised and overjoyed, on coming home one day, to meet his daughter, to feel her arms about his neck, and to hold her tearful face on his bosom.
"And I'm not going away again, father dear," she said as she kissed him fondly. "Mother has sent for me, and George is to come. Oh, we shall be so happy, so happy!"
And father and daughter cried together, like two happy children, in very excess of gladness. They had met alone, but Mrs. Dinneford came in, her presence falling on them like a cold shadow.
"Two great babies," she said, a covert sneer in her chilling voice.
The joy went slowly out of their faces, though not out of their hearts. There it nestled, and warmed the renewing blood. But a vague, questioning fear began to creep in, a sense of insecurity, a dread of hidden danger. The daughter did not fully trust her mother, nor the husband his wife.
THE reception of young Granger was as cordial as Mrs. Dinneford chose to make it. She wanted to get near enough to study his character thoroughly, to discover its weaknesses and defects, not its better qualities, so that she might do for him the evil work that was in her heart. She hated him with a bitter hatred, and there is nothing so subtle and tireless and unrelenting as the hatred of a bad woman.
She found him weak and unwary. His kindly nature, his high sense of honor, his upright purpose, his loving devotion to Edith, were nothing in her eyes. She spurned them in her thoughts, she trampled them under her feet with scorn. But she studied his defects, and soon knew every weak point in his character. She drew him out to speak of himself, of his aims and prospects, of his friends and associates, until she understood him altogether. Then she laid her plans for his destruction.
Granger was holding a clerkship at the time of his marriage, but was anxious to get a start for himself. He had some acquaintance with a man named Lloyd Freeling, and often spoke of him in connection with business. Freeling had a store on one of the best streets, and, as represented by himself, a fine run of trade, but wanted more capital. One day he said to Granger,
"If I could find the right man with ten thousand dollars, I would take him in. We could double this business in a year."
Granger repeated the remark at home, Mrs. Dinneford listened, laid it up in her thought, and on the next day called at the store of Mr. Freeling to see what manner of man he was.
Her first impression was favorable—she liked him. On a second visit she likes him better. She was not aware that Freeling knew her; in this he had something of the advantage. A third time she dropped in, asking to see certain goods and buying a small bill, as before. This time she drew Mr. Freeling into conversation about business, and put some questions the meaning of which he understood quite as well as she did.
A woman like Mrs. Dinneford can read character almost as easily as she can read a printed page, particularly a weak or bad character. She knew perfectly, before the close of this brief interview, that Freeling was a man without principle, false and unscrupulous, and that if Granger were associated with him in business, he could, if he chose, not only involve him in transactions of a dishonest nature, but throw upon him the odium and the consequences.
"Do you think," she said to Granger, not long afterward, "that your friend, Mr. Freeling, would like to have you for a partner in business?"
The question surprised and excited him.
"I know it," he returned; "he has said so more than once."
"How much capital would he require?"
"Ten thousand dollars."
"A large sum to risk."
"Yes; but I do not think there will be any risk. The business is well established."
"What do you know about Mr. Freeling?"
"Not a great deal; but if I am any judge of character, he is fair and honorable."
Mrs. Dinneford turned her head that Granger might not see the expression of her face.
"You had better talk with Mr. Dinneford," she said.
But Mr. Dinneford did not favor it. He had seen too many young men go into business and fail.
So the matter was dropped for a little while. But Mrs. Dinneford had set her heart on the young man's destruction, and no better way of accomplishing the work presented itself than this. He must be involved in some way to hurt his good name, to blast his reputation and drive him to ruin. Weak, trusting and pliable, a specious villain in whom he had confidence might easily get him involved in transactions that were criminal under the law. She would be willing to sacrifice twice ten thousand dollars to accomplish this result.
Neither Mr. Dinneford nor Edith favored the business connection with Freeling, and said all they could against it. In weak natures we often find great pertinacity. Granger had this quality. He had set his mind on the copartnership, and saw in it a high road to fortune, and no argument of Mr. Dinneford, nor opposition of Edith, had power to change his views, or to hold him back from the arrangement favored by Mrs. Dinneford, and made possible by the capital she almost compelled her husband to supply.
In due time the change from clerk to merchant was made, and the new connection announced, under the title of "FREELING & GRANGER."
Clear seeing as evil may be in its schemes for hurting others, it is always blind to the consequent exactions upon itself; it strikes fiercely and desperately, not calculating the force of a rebound. So eager was Mrs. Dinneford to compass the ruin of Granger that she stepped beyond the limit of common prudence, and sought private interviews with Freeling, both before and after the completion of the partnership arrangement. These took place in the parlor of a fashionable hotel, where the gentleman and lady seemed to meet accidentally, and without attracting attention.
Mrs. Dinneford was very confidential in these interviews not concealing her aversion to Granger. He had come into the family, she said, as an unwelcome intruder; but now that he was there, they had to make the best of him. Not in spoken words did Mrs. Dinneford convey to Freeling the bitter hatred that was in her heart, nor in spoken words let him know that she desired the young man's utter ruin, but he understood it all before the close of their first private interview. Freeling was exceedingly deferential in the beginning and guarded in his speech. He knew by the quick intuitions of his nature that Mrs. Dinneford cherished an evil purpose, and had chosen him as the agent for its accomplishment. She was rich, and occupied a high social position, and his ready conclusion was that, be the service what it might, he could make it pay. To get such a woman in his power was worth an effort.
One morning—it was a few months after the date of the copartnership—Mrs. Dinneford received a note from Freeling. It said, briefly,
"At the usual place, 12 M. to-day. Important." There was no signature.
The sharp knitting of her brows and the nervous crumpling of the note in her hand showed that she was not pleased at the summons. She had come already to know her partner in evil too well. At 12 M. she was in the hotel parlor. Freeling was already there. They met in external cordiality, but it was very evident from the manner of Mrs. Dinneford, that she felt herself in the man's power, and had learned to be afraid of him.
"It will be impossible to get through to-morrow," he said, in a kind of imperative voice, that was half a threat, "unless we have two thousand dollars."
"I cannot ask Mr. Dinneford for anything more," Mrs. Dinneford replied; "we have already furnished ten thousand dollars beyond the original investment."
"But it is all safe enough—that is, if we do not break down just here for lack of so small a sum."
Mrs. Dinneford gave a start.
"Break down!" She repeated the words in a husky, voice, with a paling face. "What do you mean?"
"Only that in consequence of having in store a large stock of unsalable goods bought by your indiscreet son-in-law, who knows no more about business than a child, we are in a temporary strait."
"Why did you trust him to buy?" asked Mrs. Dinneford.
"I didn't trust him. He bought without consulting me," was replied, almost rudely.
"Will two thousand be the end of this thing?"
"I think so."
"You only think so?"
"I am sure of it."
"Very well; I will see what can be done. But all this must have an end, Mr. Freeling. We cannot supply any more money. You must look elsewhere if you have further need. Mr. Dinneford is getting very much annoyed and worried. You surely have other resources."
"I have drawn to the utmost on all my resources," said the man, coldly.
Mrs. Dinneford remained silent for a good while, her eyes upon the floor. Freeling watched her face intently, trying to read what was in her thoughts. At last she said, in a suggestive tone,
"There are many ways of getting money known to business-men—a little risky some of them, perhaps, but desperate cases require desperate expedients. You understand me?"
Freeling took a little time to consider before replying.
"Yes," he said, at length, speaking slowly, as one careful of his words. "But all expedients are 'risky,' as you say—some of them very risky. It takes a long, cool head to manage them safely."
"I don't know a longer or cooler head than yours," returned Mrs. Dinneford, a faint smile playing about her lips.
"Thank you for the compliment," said Freeling, his lips reflecting the smile on hers.
"You must think of some expedient." Mrs. Dinneford's manner grew impressive. She spoke with emphasis and deliberation. "Beyond the sum of two thousand dollars, which I will get for you by to-morrow, I shall not advance a single penny. You may set that down as sure. If you are not sharp enough and strong enough, with the advantage you possess, to hold your own, then you must go under; as for me, I have done all that I can or will."
Freeling saw that she was wholly in earnest, and understood what she meant by "desperate expedients." Granger was to be ruined, and she was growing impatient of delay. He had no desire to hurt the young man—he rather liked him. Up to this time he had been content with what he could draw out of Mrs. Dinneford. There was no risk in this sort of business. Moreover, he enjoyed his interviews and confidences with the elegant lady, and of late the power he seemed to be gaining over her; this power he regarded as capital laid up for another use, and at another time.
But it was plain that he had reached the end of his present financial policy, and must decide whether to adopt the new one suggested by Mrs. Dinneford or make a failure, and so get rid of his partner. The question he had to settle with himself was whether he could make more by a failure than by using Granger a while longer, and then throwing him overboard, disgraced and ruined. Selfish and unscrupulous as he was, Freeling hesitated to do this. And besides, the "desperate expedients" he would have to adopt in the new line of policy were fraught with peril to all who took part in them. He might fall into the snare set for another—might involve himself so deeply as not to find a way of escape.
"To-morrow we will talk this matter over," he said in reply to Mrs. Dinneford's last remark; "in the mean time I will examine the ground thoroughly and see how it looks."
"Don't hesitate to make any use you can of Granger," suggested the lady. "He has done his part toward getting things tangled, and must help to untangle them."
"All right, ma'am."
And they separated, Mrs. Dinneford reaching the street by one door of the hotel, and Freeling by another.
On the following day they met again, Mrs. Dinneford bringing the two thousand dollars.
"And now what next?" she asked, after handing over the money and taking the receipt of "Freeling & Granger." Her eyes had a hard glitter, and her face was almost stern in its expression. "How are you going to raise money and keep afloat?"
"Only some desperate expedient is left me now," answered Freeling, though not in the tone of a man who felt himself at bay. It was said with a wicked kind of levity.
Mrs. Dinneford looked at him keenly. She was beginning to mistrust the man. They gazed into each other's faces in silence for some moments, each trying to read what was in the other's thought. At length Freeling said,
"There is one thing more that you will have to do, Mrs. Dinneford."
"What?" she asked.
"Get your husband to draw two or three notes in Mr. Granger's favor. They should not be for less than five hundred or a thousand dollars each. The dates must be short—not over thirty or sixty days."
"It can't be done," was the emphatic answer.
"It must be done," replied Freeling; "they need not be for the business. You can manage the matter if you will; your daughter wants an India shawl, or a set of diamonds, or a new carriage—anything you choose. Mr. Dinneford hasn't the ready cash, but we can throw his notes into bank and get the money; don't you see?"
But Mrs. Dinneford didn't see.
"I don't mean," said Freeling, "that we are to use the money. Let the shawl, or the diamond, or the what-not, be bought and paid for. We get the discounts for your use, not ours."
"All very well," answered Mrs. Dinneford; "but how is that going to help you?"
"Leave that to me. You get the notes," said Freeling.
"Never walk blindfold, Mr. Freeling," replied the lady, drawing herself up, with a dignified air. "We ought to understand each other by this time. I must see beyond the mere use of these notes."
Freeling shut his mouth tightly and knit his heavy brows. Mrs. Dinneford watched him, closely.
"It's a desperate expedient," he said, at length.
"All well as far as that is concerned; but if I am to have a hand in it, I must know all about it," she replied, firmly. "As I said just now, I never walk blindfold."
Freeling leaned close to Mrs. Dinneford, and uttered a few sentences in a low tone, speaking rapidly. The color went and came in her face, but she sat motionless, and so continued for some time after he had ceased speaking.
"You will get the notes?" Freeling put the question as one who has little doubt of the answer.
"I will get them," replied Mrs. Dinneford.
"It will take time."
"We cannot wait long. If the thing is done at all, it must be done quickly. 'Strike while the iron is hot' is the best of all maxims."
"There shall be no needless delay on my part. You may trust me for that," was answered.
Within a week Mrs. Dinneford brought two notes, drawn by her husband in favor of George Granger—one for five hundred and the other for one thousand dollars. The time was short—thirty and sixty days. On this occasion she came to the store and asked for her son-in-law. The meeting between her and Freeling was reserved and formal. She expressed regret for the trouble she was giving the firm in procuring a discount for her use, and said that if she could reciprocate the favor in any way she would be happy to do so.
"The notes are drawn to your order," remarked Freeling as soon as the lady had retired. Granger endorsed them, and was about handing them to his partner, when the latter said:
"Put our name on them while you are about it." And the young man wrote also the endorsement of the firm.
After this, Mr. Freeling put the bank business into Granger's hands. Nearly all checks were drawn and all business paper endorsed by the younger partner, who became the financier of the concern, and had the management of all negotiations for money in and out of bank.
One morning, shortly after the first of Mr. Dinneford's notes was paid, Granger saw his mother-in-law come into the store. Freeling was at the counter. They talked together for some time, and then Mrs. Dinneford went out.
On the next day Granger saw Mrs. Dinneford in the store again. After she had gone away, Freeling came back, and laying a note-of-hand on his partner's desk, said, in a pleased, confidential way.
"Look at that, my friend."
Granger read the face of the note with a start of surprise. It was drawn to his order, for three thousand dollars, and bore the signature of Howard Dinneford.
"A thing that is worth having is worth asking for," said Freeling. "We obliged your mother-in-law, and now she has returned the favor. It didn't come very easily, she said, and your father-in-law isn't feeling rather comfortable about it; so she doesn't care about your speaking of it at home."
Granger was confounded.
"I can't understand it," he said.
"You can understand that we have the note, and that it has come in the nick of time," returned Freeling.
"Yes, I can see all that."
"Well, don't look a gift-horse in the mouth, but spring into the saddle and take a ride. Your mother-in-law is a trump. If she will, she will, you may depend on't."
Freeling was unusually excited. Granger looked the note over and over in a way that seemed to annoy his partner, who said, presently, with a shade of ill-nature in his voice,
"What's the matter? Isn't the signature all right?"
"That's right enough," returned the young man, after looking at it closely. "But I can't understand it."
"You will when you see the proceeds passed to our accounted in bank—ha! ha!"
Granger looked up at his partner quickly, the laugh had so strange a sound, but saw nothing new in his face.
In about a month Freeling had in his possession another note, signed by Mr. Dinneford and drawn to the order of George Granger. This one was for five thousand dollars. He handed it to his partner soon after the latter had observed Mrs. Dinneford in the store.
A little over six weeks from this time Mrs. Dinneford was in the store again. After she had gone away, Freeling handed Granger three more notes drawn by Mr. Dinneford to his order, amounting in all to fifteen thousand dollars. They were at short dates.
Granger took these notes without any remark, and was about putting them in his desk, when Freeling said,
"I think you had better offer one in the People's Bank and another in the Fourth National. They discount to-morrow."
"Our line is full in both of these banks," replied Granger.
"That may or may not be. Paper like this is not often thrown out. Call on the president of the Fourth National and the cashier of the People's Bank. Say that we particularly want the money, and would like them to see that the notes go through. Star & Giltedge can easily place the other."
Granger's manner did not altogether please his partner. The notes lay before him on his desk, and he looked at them in a kind of dazed way.
"What's the matter?" asked Freeling, rather sharply.
"Nothing," was the quiet answer.
"You saw Mrs. Dinneford in the store just now. I told her last week that I should claim another favor at her hands. She tried to beg off, but I pushed the matter hard. It must end here, she says. Mr. Dinneford won't go any farther."
"I should think not," replied Granger. "I wouldn't if I were he. The wonder to me is that he has gone so far. What about the renewal of these notes?"
"Oh, that is all arranged," returned Freeling, a little hurriedly. Granger looked at him for some moments. He was not satisfied.
"See that they go in bank," said Freeling, in a positive way.
Granger took up his pen in an abstracted manner and endorsed the notes, after which he laid them in his bank-book. An important customer coming in at the moment, Freeling went forward to see him. After Granger was left alone, he took the notes from his bank-book and examined them with great care. Suspicion was aroused. He felt sure that something was wrong. A good many things in Freeling's conduct of late had seemed strange. After thinking for a while, he determined to take the notes at once to Mr. Dinneford and ask him if all was right. As soon as his mind had reached this conclusion he hurried through the work he had on hand, and then putting his bank-book in his pocket, left the store.
On that very morning Mr. Dinneford received notice that he had a note for three thousand dollars falling due at one of the banks. He went immediately and asked to see the note. When it was shown to him, he was observed to become very pale, but he left the desk of the note-clerk without any remark, and returned home. He met his wife at the door, just coming in.
"What's the matter?" she asked, seeing how pale he was. "Not sick, I hope?"
"Worse than sick," he replied as they passed into the house together. "George has been forging my name."
"Impossible!" exclaimed Mrs. Dinneford.
"I wish it were," replied Mr. Dinneford, sadly; "but, alas! it is too true. I have just returned from the Fourth National Bank. They have a note for three thousand dollars, bearing my signature. It is drawn to the order of George Granger, and endorsed by him. The note is a forgery."
Mrs. Dinneford became almost wild with excitement. Her fair face grew purple. Her eyes shone with a fierce light.
"Have you had him arrested?" she asked.
"Oh no, no, no!" Mr. Dinneford answered. "For poor Edith's sake, if for nothing else, this dreadful business must be kept secret. I will take up the note when due, and the public need be none the wiser."
"If," said Mrs. Dinneford, "he has forged your name once, he has, in all probability, done it again and again. No, no; the thing can't be hushed up, and it must not be. Is he less a thief and a robber because he is our son-in-law? My daughter the wife of a forger! Great heavens! has it come to this Mr. Dinneford?" she added, after a pause, and with intense bitterness and rejection in her voice. "The die is cast! Never again, if I can prevent it, shall that scoundrel cross our threshold. Let the law have its course. It is a crime to conceal crime."
"It will kill our poor child!" answered Mr. Dinneford in a broken voice.
"Death is better than the degradation of living with a criminal," replied his wife. "I say it solemnly, and I mean it; the die is cast! Come what will, George Granger stands now and for ever on the outside! Go at once and give information to the bank officers. If you do not, I will."
With a heavy heart Mr. Dinneford returned to the bank and informed the president that the note in question was a forgery. He had been gone from home a little over half an hour, when Granger, who had come to ask him about the three notes given him that morning by Freeling, put his key in the door, and found, a little to his surprise, that the latch was down. He rang the bell, and in a few moments the servant appeared. Granger was about passing in, when the man said, respectfully but firmly, as he held the door partly closed,
"My orders are not to let you come in."
"Who gave you those orders?" demanded Granger, turning white.
"I wish to see Mr. Dinneford, and I must see him immediately."
"Mr. Dinneford is not at home," answered the servant.
"Shut that door instantly!"
It was the voice of Mrs. Dinneford, speaking from within. Granger heard it; in the next moment the door was shut in his face.
The young man hardly knew how he got back to the store. On his arrival he found himself under arrest, charged with forgery, and with fresh evidence of the crime on his person in the three notes received that morning from his partner, who denied all knowledge of their existence, and appeared as a witness against him at the hearing before a magistrate. Granger was held to bail to answer the charge at the next term of court.
It would have been impossible to keep all this from Edith, even if there had been a purpose to do so. Mrs. Dinneford chose to break the dreadful news at her own time and in her own way. The shock was fearful. On the night that followed her baby was born.
"IT is a splendid boy," said the nurse as she came in with the new-born baby in her arms, "and perfect as a bit of sculpture. Just look at that hand."
"Faugh!" ejaculated Mrs. Dinneford, to whom this was addressed. Her countenance expressed disgust. She turned her head away. "Hide the thing from my sight!" she added, angrily. "Cover it up! smother it if you will!"
"You are still determined?" said the nurse.
"Determined, Mrs. Bray; I am not the woman to look back when I have once resolved. You know me." Mrs. Dinneford said this passionately.
The two women were silent for a little while. Mrs. Bray, the nurse, kept her face partly turned from Mrs. Dinneford. She was a short, dry, wiry little woman, with French features, a sallow complexion and very black eyes.
The doctor looked in. Mrs. Dinneford went quickly to the door, and putting her hand on his arm, pressed him back, going out into the entry with him and closing the door behind them. They talked for a short time very earnestly.
"The whole thing is wrong," said the doctor as he turned to go, "and I will not be answerable for the consequences."
"No one will require them at your hand, Doctor Radcliffe," replied Mrs. Dinneford. "Do the best you can for Edith. As for the rest, know nothing, say nothing. You understand."
Doctor Burt Radcliffe had a large practice among rich and fashionable people. He had learned to be very considerate of their weaknesses, peculiarities and moral obliquities. His business was to doctor them when sick, to humor them when they only thought themselves sick, and to get the largest possible fees for his, services. A great deal came under his observation that he did not care to see, and of which he saw as little as possible. From policy he had learned to be reticent. He held family secrets enough to make, in the hands of a skillful writer, more than a dozen romances of the saddest and most exciting character.
Mrs. Dinneford knew him thoroughly, and just how far to trust him. "Know nothing, say nothing" was a good maxim in the case, and so she divulged only the fact that the baby was to be cast adrift. His weak remonstrance might as well not have been spoken, and he knew it.
While this brief interview was in progress, Nurse Bray sat with the baby on her lap. She had taken the soft little hands into her own; and evil and cruel though she was, an impulse of tenderness flowed into her heart from the angels who were present with the innocent child. It grew lovely in her eyes. Its helplessness stirred in her a latent instinct of protection. "No no, it must not be," she was saying to herself, when the door opened and Mrs. Dinneford came back.
Mrs. Bray did not lift her head, but sat looking down at the baby and toying with its hands.
"Pshaw!" ejaculated Mrs. Dinneford, in angry disgust, as she noticed this manifestation of interest. "Bundle the thing up and throw into that basket. Is the woman down stairs?"
"Yes," replied Mrs. Bray as she slowly drew a light blanket over the baby.
"Very well. Put it in the basket, and let her take it away."
"She is not a good woman," said the nurse, whose heart was failing her at the last moment.
"She may be the devil for all I care," returned Mrs. Dinneford.
Mrs. Bray did as she was ordered, but with an evident reluctance that irritated Mrs. Dinneford.
"Go now and bring up the woman," she said, sharply.
The woman was brought. She was past the prime of life, and had an evil face. You read in it the record of bad passions indulged and the signs of a cruel nature. She was poorly clad, and her garments unclean.
"You will take this child?" said Mrs. Dinneford abruptly, as the woman came into her presence.
"I have agreed to do so," she replied, looking toward Mrs. Bray.
"She is to have fifty dollars," said the nurse.
"And that is to be the last of it!" Mrs. Dinneford's face was pale, and she spoke in a hard, husky voice.
Opening her purse, she took from it a small roll of bills, and as she held out the money said, slowly and with a hard emphasis,
"You understand the terms. I do not know you—not even your name. I don't wish to know you. For this consideration you take the child away. That is the end of it between you and me. The child is your own as much as if he were born to you, and you can do with him as you please. And now go." Mrs. Dinneford waved her hand.
"His name?" queried the woman.
"He has no name!" Mrs. Dinneford stamped her foot in angry impatience.
The woman stooped down, and taking up the basket, tucked the covering that had been laid over the baby close about its head, so that no one could see what she carried, and went off without uttering another word.
It was some moments before either Mrs. Dinneford or the nurse spoke. Mrs. Bray was first to break silence.
"All this means a great deal more than you have counted on," she said, in a voice that betrayed some little feeling. "To throw a tender baby out like that is a hard thing. I am afraid—"
"There, there! no more of that," returned Mrs. Dinneford, impatiently. "It's ugly work, I own, but it had to be done—like cutting off a diseased limb. He will die, of course, and the sooner it is over, the better for him and every one else."
"He will have a hard struggle for life, poor little thing!" said the nurse. "I would rather see him dead."
Mrs. Dinneford, now that this wicked and cruel deed was done, felt ill at ease. She pushed the subject away, and tried to bury it out of sight as we bury the dead, but did not find the task an easy one.
What followed the birth and removal of Edith's baby up to the time of her return to reason after long struggle for life, has already been told. Her demand to have her baby—"Oh, mother, bring me my baby! I shall die if you do not!" and the answer, "Your baby is in heaven!"—sent the feeble life-currents back again upon her heart. There was another long period of oblivion, out of which she came very slowly, her mind almost as much a blank as the mind of a child.
She had to learn again the names of things, and to be taught their use. It was touching to see the untiring devotion of her father, and the pleasure he took in every new evidence of mental growth. He went over the alphabet with her, letter by letter, many times each day, encouraging her and holding her thought down to the unintelligible signs with a patient tenderness sad yet beautiful to see; and when she began to combine letters into words, and at last to put words together, his delight was unbounded.
Very slowly went on the new process of mental growth, and it was months before thought began to reach out beyond the little world that lay just around her.
Meanwhile, Edith's husband had been brought to trial for forgery, convicted and sentenced to the State's prison for a term of years. His partner came forward as the chief witness, swearing that he had believed the notes genuine, the firm having several times had the use of Mr. Dinneford's paper, drawn to the order of Granger.
Ere the day of trial came the poor young man was nearly broken-hearted. Public disgrace like this, added to the terrible private wrongs he was suffering, was more than he had the moral strength to bear. Utterly repudiated by his wife's family, and not even permitted to see Edith, he only knew that she was very ill. Of the birth of his baby he had but a vague intimation. A rumor was abroad that it had died, but he could learn nothing certain. In his distress and uncertainty he called on Dr. Radcliffe, who replied to his questions with a cold evasion. "It was put out to nurse," said the doctor, "and that is all I know about it." Beyond this he would say nothing.
Granger was not taken to the State's prison after his sentence, but to an insane asylum. Reason gave way under the terrible ordeal through which he had been made to pass.
"Mother," said Edith, one day, in a tone that caused Mrs. Dinneford's heart to leap. She was reading a child's simple story-book, and looked up as she spoke. Her eyes were wide open and full of questions.
"What, my dear?" asked Mrs. Dinneford, repressing her feelings and trying to keep her voice calm.
"There's something I can't understand, mother." She looked down at herself, then about the room. Her manner was becoming nervous.
"What can't you understand?"
Edith shut her hands over her eyes and remained very still. When she removed them, and her mother looked into her face the childlike sweetness and content were all gone, and a conscious woman was before her. The transformation was as sudden as it was marvelous.
Both remained silent for the space of nearly a minute. Mrs. Dinneford knew not what to say, and waited for some sign from her daughter.
"Where is my baby, mother?" Edith said this in a low, tremulous whisper, leaning forward as she spoke, repressed and eager.
"Have you forgotten?" asked Mrs. Dinneford, with regained composure.
"You were very ill after your baby was born; no one thought you could live; you were ill for a long time. And the baby—"
"What of the baby, mother?" asked Edith, beginning to tremble violently. Her mother, perceiving her agitation, held back the word that was on her lips.
"What of the baby, mother?" Edith repeated the question.
"It died," said Mrs. Dinneford, turning partly away. She could not look at her child and utter this cruel falsehood.
"Dead! Oh, mother, don't say that! The baby can't be dead!"
A swift flash of suspicion came into her eyes.
"I have said it, my child," was the almost stern response of Mrs. Dinneford. "The baby is dead."
A weight seemed to fall on Edith. She bent forward, crouching down until her elbows rested on her knees and her hands supported her head. Thus she sat, rocking her body with a slight motion. Mrs. Dinneford watched her without speaking.
"And what of George?" asked Edith, checking her nervous movement at last.
Her mother did not reply. Edith waited a moment, and then lifted herself erect.
"What of George?" she demanded.
"My poor child!" exclaimed Mrs. Dinneford, with a gush of genuine pity, putting her arms about Edith and drawing her head against her bosom. "It is more than you have strength to bear."
"You must tell me," the daughter said, disengaging herself. "I have asked for my husband."
"Hush! You must not utter that word again;" and Mrs. Dinneford put her fingers on Edith's lips. "The wretched man you once called by that name is a disgraced criminal. It is better that you know the worst."
When Mr. Dinneford came home, instead of the quiet, happy child he had left in the morning, he found a sad, almost broken-hearted woman, refusing to be comforted. The wonder was that under the shock of this terrible awakening, reason had not been again and hopelessly dethroned.
After a period of intense suffering, pain seemed to deaden sensibility. She grew calm and passive. And now Mrs. Dinneford set herself to the completion of the work she had begun. She had compassed the ruin of Granger in order to make a divorce possible; she had cast the baby adrift that no sign of the social disgrace might remain as an impediment to her first ambition. She would yet see her daughter in the position to which she had from the beginning resolved to lift her, cost what it might. But the task was not to be an easy one.
After a period of intense suffering, as we have said, Edith grew calm and passive. But she was never at ease with her mother, and seemed to be afraid of her. To her father she was tender and confiding. Mrs. Dinneford soon saw that if Edith's consent to a divorce from her husband was to be obtained, it must come through her father's influence; for if she but hinted at the subject, it was met with a flash of almost indignant rejection. So her first work was to bring her husband over to her side. This was not difficult, for Mr. Dinneford felt the disgrace of having for a son-in-law a condemned criminal, who was only saved from the State's prison by insanity. An insane criminal was not worthy to hold the relation of husband to his pure and lovely child.
After a feeble opposition to her father's arguments and persuasions, Edith yielded her consent. An application for a divorce was made, and speedily granted.
OUT of this furnace Edith came with a new and purer spirit. She had been thrust in a shrinking and frightened girl; she came out a woman in mental stature, in feeling and self-consciousness.
The river of her life, which had cut for itself a deeper channel, lay now so far down that it was out of the sight of common observation. Even her mother failed to apprehend its drift and strength. Her father knew her better. To her mother she was reserved and distant; to her father, warm and confiding. With the former she would sit for hours without speaking unless addressed; with the latter she was pleased and social, and grew to be interested in what interested him. As mentioned, Mr. Dinneford was a man of wealth and leisure, and active in many public charities. He had come to be much concerned for the neglected and cast-off children of poor and vicious parents, thousands upon thousands of whom were going to hopeless ruin, unthought of and uncared for by Church or State, and their condition often formed the subject of his conversation as well at home as elsewhere.
Mrs. Dinneford had no sympathy with her husband in this direction. A dirty, vicious child was an offence to her, not an object of pity, and she felt more like, spurning it with her foot than touching it with her hand. But it was not so with Edith; she listened to her father, and became deeply interested in the poor, suffering, neglected little ones whose sad condition he could so vividly portray, for the public duties of charity to which he was giving a large part of his time made him familiar with much that was sad and terrible in human suffering and degradation.
One day Edith said to her father,
"I saw a sight this morning that made me sick. It has haunted me ever since. Oh, it was dreadful!"
"What was it?" asked Mr. Dinneford.
"A sick baby in the arms of a half-drunken woman. It made me shiver to look at its poor little face, wasted by hunger and sickness and purple with cold. The woman sat at the street corner begging, and the people went by, no one seeming to care for the helpless, starving baby in her arms. I saw a police-officer almost touch the woman as he passed. Why did he not arrest her?"
"That was not his business," replied Mr. Dinneford. "So long as she did not disturb the peace, the officer had nothing to do with her."
"Who, then, has?"
"Why, father!" exclaimed Edith. "Nobody?"
"The woman was engaged in business. She was a beggar, and the sick, half-starved baby was her capital in trade," replied Mr. Dinneford. "That policeman had no more authority to arrest her than he had to arrest the organ-man or the peanut-vender."
"But somebody should see after a poor baby like that. Is there no law to meet such cases?"
"The poor baby has no vote," replied Mr. Dinneford, "and law-makers don't concern themselves much about that sort of constituency; and even if they did, the executors of law would be found indifferent. They are much more careful to protect those whose business it is to make drunken beggars like the one you saw, who, if men, can vote and give them place and power. The poor baby is far beneath their consideration."
"But not of Him," said Edith, with eyes full of tears, "who took little children in his arms and blessed them, and said, Suffer them to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven."
"Our law-makers are not, I fear, of his kingdom," answered Mr. Dinneford, gravely, "but of the kingdom of this world."
A little while after, Edith, who had remained silent and thoughtful, said, with a tremor in her voice,
"Father, did you see my baby?"
Mr. Dinneford started at so unexpected a question, surprised and disturbed. He did not reply, and Edith put the question again.
"No, my dear," he answered, with a hesitation of manner that was almost painful.
After looking into his face steadily for some moments, Edith dropped her eyes to the floor, and there was a constrained silence between them for a good while.
"You never saw it?" she queried, again lifting her eyes to her father's face. Her own was much paler than when she first put the question.
"Why?" asked Edith.
She waited for a little while, and then said,
"Why don't you answer me, father?"
"It was never brought to me."
"You were very ill, and a nurse was procured immediately."
"I was not too sick to see my baby," said Edith, with white, quivering lips. "If they had laid it in my bosom as soon as it was born, I would never have been so ill, and the baby would not have died. If—if—"
She held back what she was about saying, shutting her lips tightly. Her face remained very pale and strangely agitated. Nothing more was then said.
A day or two afterward, Edith asked her mother, with an abruptness that sent the color to her face, "Where was my baby buried?"
"In our lot at Fairview," was replied, after a moment's pause.
Edith said no more, but on that very day, regardless of a heavy rain that was falling, went out to the cemetery alone and searched in the family lot for the little mound that covered her baby—searched, but did not find it. She came back so changed in appearance that when her mother saw her she exclaimed,
"Why, Edith! Are you sick?"
"I have been looking for my baby's grave and cannot find it," she answered. "There is something wrong, mother. What was done with my baby? I must know." And she caught her mother's wrists with both of her hands in a tight grip, and sent searching glances down through her eyes.
"Your baby is dead," returned Mrs. Dinneford, speaking slowly and with a hard deliberation. "As for its grave—well, if you will drag up the miserable past, know that in my anger at your wretched mesalliance I rejected even the dead body of your miserable husband's child, and would not even suffer it to lie in our family ground. You know how bitterly I was disappointed, and I am not one of the kind that forgets or forgives easily. I may have been wrong, but it is too late now, and the past may as well be covered out of sight."
"Where, then, was my baby buried?" asked Edith, with a calm resolution of manner that was not to be denied.
"I do not know. I did not care at the time, and never asked."
"Who can tell me?"
"I don't know."
"Who took my baby to nurse?"
"I have forgotten the woman's name. All I know is that she is dead. When the child died, I sent her money, and told her to bury it decently."
"Where did she live?"
"I never knew precisely. Somewhere down town."
"Who brought her here? who recommended her?" said Edith, pushing her inquiries rapidly.
"I have forgotten that also," replied Mrs. Dinneford, maintaining her coldness of manner.
"My nurse, I presume," said Edith. "I have a faint recollection of her—a dark little woman with black eyes whom I had never seen before. What was her name?"
"Bodine," answered Mrs. Dinneford, without a moment's hesitation.
"Where does she live?"
"She went to Havana with a Cuban lady several months ago."
"Do you know the lady's name?"
"It was Casteline, I think."
Edith questioned no further. The mother and daughter were still sitting together, both deeply absorbed in thought, when a servant opened the door and said to Mrs. Dinneford,
"A lady wishes to see you."
"Didn't she give you her card?"
"Nor send up her name?"
"Go down and ask her name."
The servant left the room. On returning, she said,
"Her name is Mrs. Bray."
Mrs. Dinneford turned her face quickly, but not in time to prevent Edith from seeing by its expression that she knew her visitor, and that her call was felt to be an unwelcome one. She went from the room without speaking. On entering the parlor, Mrs. Dinneford said, in a low, hurried voice,
"I don't want you to come here, Mrs. Bray. If you wish to see me send me word, and I will call on you, but you must on no account come here."
"Why? Is anything wrong?"
"Edith isn't satisfied about the baby, has been out to Fairview looking for its grave, wants to know who her nurse was."
"What did you tell her?"
"I said that your name was Mrs. Bodine, and that you had gone to Cuba."
"Do you think she would know me?"
"Can't tell; wouldn't like to run the risk of her seeing you here. Pull down your veil. There! close. She said, a little while ago, that she had a faint recollection of you as a dark little woman with black eyes whom she had never seen before."
"Indeed!" and Mrs. Bray gathered her veil close about her face.
"The baby isn't living?" Mrs. Dinneford asked the question in a whisper.
"Oh, it can't be! Are you sure?"
"Yes; I saw it day before yesterday."
"You did! Where?"
"On the street, in the arms of a beggar-woman."
"You are deceiving me!" Mrs. Dinneford spoke with a throb of anger in her voice.
"As I live, no! Poor little thing! half starved and half frozen. It 'most made me sick."
"It's impossible! You could not know that it was Edith's baby."
"I do know," replied Mrs. Bray, in a voice that left no doubt on Mrs. Dinneford's mind.
"Was the woman the same to whom we gave the baby?"
"No; she got rid of it in less than a month."
"What did she do with it?"
"Sold it for five dollars, after she had spent all the money she received from you in drink and lottery-policies."
"Sold it for five dollars!"
"Yes, to two beggar-women, who use it every day, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon, and get drunk on the money they receive, lying all night in some miserable den."
Mrs. Dinneford gave a little shiver.
"What becomes of the baby when they are not using it?" she asked.
"They pay a woman a dollar a week to take care of it at night."
"Do you know where this woman lives?"
"Were you ever there?"
"What kind of a place is it?"
"Worse than a dog-kennel."
"What does all this mean?" demanded Mrs. Dinneford, with repressed excitement. "Why have you so kept on the track of this baby, when you knew I wished it lost sight of?"
"I had my own reasons," replied Mrs. Bray. "One doesn't know what may come of an affair like this, and it's safe to keep well up with it."
Mrs. Dinneford bit her lips till the blood almost came through. A faint rustle of garments in the hall caused her to start. An expression of alarm crossed her face.
"Go now," she said, hurriedly, to her visitor; "I will call and see you this afternoon."
Mrs. Bray quietly arose, saying, as she did so, "I shall expect you," and went away.
There was a menace in her tone as she said, "I shall expect you," that did not escape the ears of Mrs. Dinneford.
Edith was in the hall, at some distance from the parlor door. Mrs. Bray had to pass her as she went out. Edith looked at her intently.
"Who is that woman?" she asked, confronting her mother, after the visitor was gone.
"If you ask the question in a proper manner, I shall have no objection to answer," said Mrs. Dinneford, with a dignified and slightly offended air; "but my daughter is assuming rather, too much."
"Mrs. Bray, the servant said."
"No, Mrs. Gray."
"I understood her to say Mrs. Bray."
"I can't help what you understood." The mother spoke with some asperity of manner. "She calls herself Gray, but you can have it anything you please; it won't change her identity."
"What did she want?"
"To see me."
"I know." Edith was turning away with an expression on her face that Mrs. Dinneford did not like, so she said,
"She is in trouble, and wants me to help her, if you must know. She used to be a dressmaker, and worked for me before you were born; she got married, and then her troubles began. Now she is a widow with a house full of little children, and not half bread enough to feed them. I've helped her a number of times already, but I'm getting tired of it; she must look somewhere else, and I told her so."
Edith turned from her mother with an unsatisfied manner, and went up stairs. Mrs. Dinneford was surprised, not long afterward, to meet her at her chamber door, dressed to go out. This was something unusual.
"Where are you going?" she asked, not concealing her surprise.
"I have a little errand out," Edith replied.
This was not satisfactory to her mother. She asked other questions, but Edith gave only evasive answers.
On leaving the house, Edith walked quickly, like one in earnest about something; her veil was closely drawn. Only a few blocks from where she lived was the office of Dr. Radcliffe. Hither she directed her steps.
"Why, Edith, child!" exclaimed the doctor, not concealing the surprise he felt at seeing her. "Nobody sick, I hope?"
"No one," she answered.
There was a momentary pause; then Edith said, abruptly,
"Doctor, what became of my baby?"
"It died," answered Doctor Radcliffe, but not without betraying some confusion. The question had fallen upon him too suddenly.
"Did you see it after it was dead?" She spoke in a firm voice, looking him steadily in the face.
"No," he replied, after a slight hesitation.
"Then how do you know that it died?" Edith asked.
"I had your mother's word for it," said the doctor.
"What was done with my baby after it was born?"
"It was given out to nurse."
"With your consent?"
"I did not advise it. Your mother had her own views in the case. It was something over which I had no control."
"And you never saw it after it was taken away?"
"And do not really know whether it be dead or living?"
"Oh, it's dead, of course, my child. There is no doubt of that," said the doctor, with sudden earnestness of manner.
"Have you any evidence of the fact?"
"My dear, dear child," answered the doctor, with much feeling, "it is all wrong. Why go back over this unhappy ground? why torture yourself for nothing? Your baby died long ago, and is in heaven."
"Would God I could believe it!" she exclaimed, in strong agitation. "If it were so, why is not the evidence set before me? I question my mother; I ask for the nurse who was with me when my baby was born, and for the nurse to whom it was given afterward, and am told that they are dead or out of the country. I ask for my baby's grave, but it cannot be found. I have searched for it where my mother told me it was, but the grave is not there. Why all this hiding and mystery? Doctor, you said that my baby was in heaven, and I answered, 'Would God it were so!' for I saw a baby in hell not long ago!"
The doctor was scared. He feared that Edith was losing her mind, she looked and spoke so wildly.
"A puny, half-starved, half-frozen little thing, in the arms of a drunken beggar," she added. "And, doctor, an awful thought has haunted me ever since."
"Hush, hush!" said the doctor, who saw what was in her mind. "You must not indulge such morbid fancies."
"It is that I may not indulge them that I have come to you. I want certainty, Dr. Radcliffe. Somebody knows all about my baby. Who was my nurse?"
"I never saw her before the night of your baby's birth, and have never seen her since. Your mother procured her."
"Did you hear her name?"
"And so you cannot help me at all?" said Edith, in a disappointed voice.
"I cannot, my poor child," answered the doctor.
All the flush and excitement died out of Edith's face. When she arose to go, she was pale and haggard, like one exhausted by pain, and her steps uneven, like the steps of an invalid walking for the first time. Dr. Radcliffe went with her in silence to the door.
"Oh, doctor," said Edith, in a choking voice, as she lingered a moment on the steps, "can't you bring out of this frightful mystery something for my heart to rest upon? I want the truth. Oh, doctor, in pity help me to find the truth!"
"I am powerless to help you," the doctor replied. "Your only hope lies in your mother. She knows all about it; I do not."
And he turned and left her standing at the door. Slowly she descended the steps, drawing her veil as she did so about her face, and walked away more like one in a dream than conscious of the tide of life setting so strongly all about her.
MEANTIME, obeying the unwelcome summons, Mrs. Dinneford had gone to see Mrs. Bray. She found her in a small third-story room in the lower part of the city, over a mile away from her own residence. The meeting between the two women was not over-gracious, but in keeping with their relations to each other. Mrs. Dinneford was half angry and impatient; Mrs. Bray cool and self-possessed.
"And now what is it you have to say?" asked the former, almost as soon as she had entered.
"The woman to whom you gave that baby was here yesterday."
A frightened expression came into Mrs. Dinneford's face. Mrs. Bray watched her keenly as, with lips slightly apart, she waited for what more was to come.
"Unfortunately, she met me just as I was at my own door, and so found out my residence," continued Mrs. Bray. "I was in hopes I should never see her again. We shall have trouble, I'm afraid."
"In what way?"
"A bad woman who has you in her power can trouble you in many ways," answered Mrs. Bray.
"She did not know my name—you assured me of that. It was one of the stipulations."
"She does know, and your daughter's name also. And she knows where the baby is. She's deeper than I supposed. It's never safe to trust such people; they have no honor."
Fear sent all the color out of Mrs. Dinneford's face.
"What does she want?"
"She was paid liberally."
"That has nothing to do with it. These people have no honor, as I said; they will get all they can."
"How much does she want?"
"A hundred dollars; and it won't end there, I'm thinking. If she is refused, she will go to your house; she gave me that alternative—would have gone yesterday, if good luck had not thrown her in my way. I promised to call on you and see what could be done."
Mrs. Dinneford actually groaned in her fear and distress.
"Would you like to see her yourself?" coolly asked Mrs. Bray.
"Oh dear! no, no!" and the lady put up her hands in dismay.
"It might be best," said her wily companion.
"No, no, no! I will have nothing to do with her! You must keep her away from me," replied Mrs. Dinneford, with increasing agitation.
"I cannot keep her away without satisfying her demands. If you were to see her yourself, you would know just what her demands were. If you do not see her, you will only have my word for it, and I am left open to misapprehension, if not worse. I don't like to be placed in such a position."
And Mrs. Bray put on a dignified, half-injured manner.
"It's a wretched business in every way," she added, "and I'm sorry that I ever had anything to do with it. It's something dreadful, as I told you at the time, to cast a helpless baby adrift in such a way. Poor little soul! I shall never feel right about it."
"That's neither here nor there;" and Mrs. Dinneford waved her hand impatiently. "The thing now in hand is to deal with this woman."
"Yes, that's it—and as I said just now, I would rather have you deal with her yourself; you may be able to do it better than I can."
"It's no use to talk, Mrs. Bray. I will not see the woman."
"Very well; you must be your own judge in the case."
"Can't you bind her up to something, or get her out of the city? I'd pay almost anything to have her a thousand miles away. See if you can't induce her to go to New Orleans. I'll pay her passage, and give her a hundred dollars besides, if she'll go."
Mrs. Bray smiled a faint, sinister smile:
"If you could get her off there, it would be the end of her. She'd never stand the fever."
"Then get her off, cost what it may," said Mrs. Dinneford.
"She will be here in less than half an hour." Mrs. Bray looked at the face of a small cheap clock that stood on the mantel.
"She will?" Mrs. Dinneford became uneasy, and arose from her chair.
"Yes; what shall I say to her?"
"Manage her the best you can. Here are thirty dollars—all the money I have with me. Give her that, and promise more if necessary. I will see you again."
"When?" asked Mrs. Bray.
"At any time you desire."
"Then you had better come to-morrow morning. I shall not go out."
"I will be here at eleven o'clock. Induce her if possible to leave the city—to go South, so that she may never come back."
"The best I can shall be done," replied Mrs. Bray as she folded the bank-bills she had received from Mrs. Dinneford in a fond, tender sort of way and put them into her pocket.
Mrs. Dinneford retired, saying as she did so,
"I will be here in the morning."
An instant change came over the shallow face of the wiry little woman as the form of Mrs. Dinneford vanished through the door. A veil seemed to fall away from it. All its virtuous sobriety was gone, and a smile of evil satisfaction curved about her lips and danced in her keen black eyes. She stood still, listening to the retiring steps of her visitor, until she heard the street door shut. Then, with a quick, cat-like step, she crossed to the opposite side of the room, and pushed open a door that led to an adjoining chamber. A woman came forward to meet her. This woman was taller and stouter than Mrs. Bray, and had a soft, sensual face, but a resolute mouth, the under jaw slightly protruding. Her eyes were small and close together, and had that peculiar wily and alert expression you sometimes see, making you think of a serpent's eyes. She was dressed in common finery and adorned by cheap jewelry.