Cast Adrift by T.S. Arthur
The two girls, on leaving the "Hawk's Nest" with their plunder, did not pass from the narrow private alley into the small street at its termination, but hurried along the way they had come, and re-entered the restaurant by means of the gate opening into the yard. Through the back door they gained a small, dark room, from which a narrow stairway led to the second and third stories of the rear building. They seemed to be entirely familiar with the place.
On reaching the third story, Pinky gave two quick raps and then a single rap on a closed door. No movement being heard within, she rapped again, reversing the order--that is, giving one distinct rap, and then two in quick succession. At this the door came slowly open, and the two girls passed in with their bundle of clothing and the traveling-bag.
The occupant of this room was a small, thin, well-dressed man, with cold, restless gray eyes and the air of one who was alert and suspicious. His hair was streaked with gray, as were also his full beard and moustache. A diamond pin of considerable value was in his shirt bosom. The room contained but few articles. There was a worn and faded carpet on the floor, a writing-table and two or three chairs, and a small bookcase with a few books, but no evidence whatever of business--not a box or bundle or article of merchandise was to be seen.
As the two girls entered he, shut the door noiselessly, and turned the key inside. Then his manner changed; his eyes lighted, and there was an expression of interest in his face. He looked toward the bag and bundle.
Pinky sat down upon the floor and hurriedly unlocked the traveling-bag. Thrusting in her hand, she drew out first a muslin nightgown and threw it down, then a light shawl, a new barege dress, a pair of slippers, collars, cuffs, ribbons and a variety of underclothing, and last of all a small Bible and a prayer-book. These latter she tossed from her with a low derisive laugh, which was echoed by her companion, Miss Peter.
The bundle was next opened, and the cloth sacque, the hat, the boots and stockings and the collar and cuffs thrown upon the floor with the contents of the bag.
"How much?" asked Pinky, glancing up at the man.
They were the first words that had been spoken. At this the man knit his brows in an earnest way, and looked business. He lifted each article from the floor, examined it carefully and seemed to be making a close estimate of its value. The traveling-bag was new, and had cost probably five dollars. The cloth sacque could not have been made for less than twelve dollars. A fair valuation of the whole would have been near forty dollars.
"How much?" repeated Pinky, an impatient quiver in her voice.
"Six dollars," replied the man.
"Six devils!" exclaimed Pinky, in a loud, angry voice.
"Six devils! you old swindler!" chimed in Miss Peter.
"You can take them away. Just as you like," returned the man, with cool indifference. "Perhaps the police will give you more. It's the best I can do."
"But see here, Jerkin," said Pinky: "that sacque is worth twice the money."
"Not to me. I haven't a store up town. I can't offer it for sale in the open market. Don't you understand?"
"Say ten dollars."
"Here's a breast-pin and a pair of ear-rings," said Miss Peter; "we'll throw them in;" and she handed Jerkin, as he was called, the bits of jewelry she had taken from the person of Flora Bond. He looked at them almost contemptuously as he replied,
"Wouldn't give you a dollar for the set."
"Say eight dollars for the whole," urged Pinky.
"Six fifty, and not a cent more," answered Jerkin.
"Hand over, then, you old cormorant!" returned the girl, fretfully. "It's a shame to swindle us in this way."
The man took out his pocket-book and paid the money, giving half to each of the girls.
"It's just a swindle!" repeated Pinky. "You're an old hard-fisted money-grubber, and no better than a robber. Three dollars and a quarter for all that work! It doesn't pay for the trouble. We ought to have had ten apiece."
"You can make it ten or twenty, or maybe a hundred, if you will," said Jerkin, with a knowing twinkle in his eyes. He gave his thumb a little movement over his shoulder as he spoke.
"That's so!" exclaimed Pinky, her manner undergoing a change, and her face growing bright--at least as much of it as could brighten. "Look here, Nell," speaking to Miss Peter, and drawing a piece of paper from her pocket, "I've got ten rows here. Fanny Bray gave me five dollars to go a half on each row. Meant to have gone to Sam McFaddon's last night, but got into a muss with old Sal and Norah, and was locked up."
"They make ten hits up there to one at Sam McFaddon's," said Jerkin, again twitching his thumb over his shoulder. "It's the luckiest office I ever heard of. Two or three hits every day for a week past--got a lucky streak, somehow. If you go in anywhere, take my advice and go in there," lifting his hand and twitching his thumb upward and over his shoulder again.
The two girls passed from the room, and the door was shut and locked inside. No sooner had they done so than Jerkin made a new examination of the articles, and after satisfying himself as to their value proceeded to put them out of sight. Lifting aside a screen that covered the fireplace, he removed from the chimney back, just above the line of sight, a few loose bricks, and through the hole thus made thrust the articles he had bought, letting them drop into a fireplace on the other side.
On leaving the room of this professional receiver of stolen goods, Pinky and her friend descended to the second story, and by a door which had been cut through into the adjoining property passed to the rear building of the house next door. They found themselves on a landing, or little square hall, with a stairway passing down to the lower story and another leading to the room above. A number of persons were going up and coming down--a forlorn set, for the most part, of all sexes, ages and colors. Those who were going up appeared eager and hopeful, while those who were coming down looked disappointed, sorrowful, angry or desperate. There was a "policy shop" in one of the rooms above, and these were some of its miserable customers. It was the hour when the morning drawings of the lotteries were received at the office, or "shop," and the poor infatuated dupes who had bet on their favorite "rows" were crowding in to learn the result.
Poor old men and women in scant or wretched clothing, young girls with faces marred by evil, blotched and bloated creatures of both sexes, with little that was human in their countenances, except the bare features, boys and girls not yet in their teens, but old in vice and crime, and drunkards with shaking nerves,--all these were going up in hope and coming down in disappointment. Here and there was one of a different quality, a scantily-dressed woman with a thin, wasted face and hollow eyes, who had been fighting the wolf and keeping fast hold of her integrity, or a tender, innocent-looking girl, the messenger of a weak and shiftless mother, or a pale, bright-eyed boy whose much-worn but clean and well-kept garments gave sad evidence of a home out of which prop and stay had been removed. The strong and the weak, the pure and the defiled, were there. A poor washerwoman who in a moment of weakness has pawned the garments entrusted to her care, that she might venture upon a "row" of which she had dreamed, comes shrinking down with a pale, frightened face, and the bitterness of despair in her heart. She has lost. What then? She has no friend from whom she can borrow enough money to redeem the clothing, and if it is not taken home she may be arrested as a thief and sent to prison. She goes away, and temptation lies close at her feet. It is her extremity and the evil one's opportunity. So far she has kept herself pure, but the disgrace of a public prosecution and a sentence to prison are terrible things to contemplate. She is in peril of her soul. God help her!
Who is this dressed in rusty black garments and closely veiled, who comes up from the restaurant, one of the convenient and unsuspected entrances to this robber's den?--for a "policy-shop" is simply a robbery shop, and is so regarded by the law, which sets a penalty upon the "writer" and the "backer" as upon other criminals. But who is this veiled woman in faded mourning garments who comes gliding as noiselessly as a ghost out from one of the rooms of the restaurant, and along the narrow entry leading to the stairway, now so thronged with visitors? Every day she comes and goes, no one seeing her face, and every day, with rare exceptions, her step is slower and her form visibly more shrunken when she goes out than when she comes in. She is a broken-down gentlewoman, the widow of an officer, who left her at his death a moderate fortune, and quite sufficient for the comfortable maintenance of herself and two nearly grown-up daughters. But she had lived at the South, and there acquired a taste for lottery gambling. During her husband's lifetime she wasted considerable money in lottery tickets, once or twice drawing small prizes, but like all lottery dupes spending a hundred dollars for one gained. The thing had become a sort of mania with her. She thought so much of prizes and drawn numbers through the day that she dreamed of them all night. She had a memorandum-book in which were all the combinations she had ever heard of as taking prizes. It contained page after page of lucky numbers and fancy "rows," and was oftener in her hand than any other book.
There being no public sale of lottery tickets in Northern cities, this weak and infatuated woman found out where some of the "policy-shops" were kept, and instead of buying tickets, as before, risked her money on numbers that might or might not come out of the wheel in lotteries said to be drawn in certain Southern States, but chiefly in Kentucky. The numbers rarely if ever came out. The chances were too remote. After her husband's death she began fretting over the smallness of her income. It was not sufficient to give her daughters the advantages she desired them to have, and she knew of but one way to increase it. That way was through the policy-shops. So she gave her whole mind to this business, with as much earnestness and self-absorption as a merchant gives himself to trade. She had a dream-book, gotten up especially for policy buyers, and consulted it as regularly as a merchant does his price-current or a broker the sales of stock. Every day she bet on some "row" or series of "rows," rarely venturing less than five dollars, and sometimes, when she felt more than usually confident, laying down a twenty-dollar bill, for the "hit" when made gave from fifty to two hundred dollars for each dollar put down, varying according to the nature of the combinations. So the more faith a policy buyer had in his "row," the larger the venture he would feel inclined to make.
Usually it went all one way with the infatuated lady. Day after day she ventured, and day after day she lost, until from hundreds the sums she was spending had aggregated themselves into thousands. She changed from one policy-shop to another, hoping for better luck. It was her business to find them out, and this she was able to do by questioning some of those whom she met at the shops. One of these was in a building on a principal street, the second story of which was occupied by a milliner. It was visited mostly by ladies, who could pass in from the street, no one suspecting their errand. Another was in the attic of a house in which were many offices and places of business, with people going in and coming out all the while, none but the initiated being in the secret; while another was to be found in the rear of a photograph gallery. Every day and often twice a day, as punctually as any man of business, did this lady make her calls at one and another of these policy-offices to get the drawings or make new ventures. At remote intervals she would make a "hit;" once she drew twenty dollars, and once fifty. But for these small gains she had paid thousands of dollars.
After a "hit" the betting on numbers would be bolder. Once she selected what was known as a "lucky row," and determined to double on it until it came out a prize. She began by putting down fifty cents. On the next day she put down a dollar upon the same combination, losing, of course, Two dollars were ventured on the next day; and so she went on doubling, until, in her desperate infatuation, she doubled for the ninth time, putting down two hundred and fifty-six dollars.
If successful now, she would draw over twenty-five thousand dollars. There was no sleep for the poor lady during the night that followed. She walked the floor of her chamber in a state of intense nervous excitement, sometimes in a condition of high hope and confidence and sometimes haunted by demons of despair. She sold five shares of stock on which she had been receiving an annual dividend of ten per cent., in order to get funds for this desperate gambling venture, in which over five hundred dollars had now been absorbed.
Pale and nervous, she made her appearance at the breakfast-table on the next morning, unable to take a mouthful of food. It was in vain that her anxious daughters urged her to eat.
A little after twelve o'clock she was at the policy-office. The drawn numbers for the morning were already in. Her combination was 4, 10, 40. With an eagerness that could not be repressed, she caught up the slip of paper containing the thirteen numbers out of seventy-five, which purported to have been drawn that morning somewhere in "Kentucky," and reported by telegraph--caught it up with hands that shook so violently that she could not read the figures. She had to lay the piece of paper down upon the little counter before which she stood, in order that it might be still, so that she could read her fate.
The first drawn number was 4. What a wild leap her heart gave! The next was 24; the next 8; the next 70; the next 41, and the next 39. Her heart grew almost still; the pressure as of a great hand was on her bosom. 10 came next. Two numbers of her row were out. A quiver of excitement ran through her frame. She caught up the paper, but it shook as before, so that she could not see the figures. Dashing it back upon the counter, and holding it down almost violently, she bent over, with eyes starting from their sockets, and read the line of figures to the end, then sank over upon the counter with a groan, and lay there half fainting and too weak to lift herself up. If the 40 had been there, she would have made a hit of twenty-five thousand dollars. But the 40 was not there, and this made all the difference.
"Once more," said the policy-dealer, in a tone of encouragement, as he bent over the miserable woman. Yesterday, 4 came out; to-day, 4, 10; tomorrow will be the lucky chance; 4, 10, 40 will surely be drawn. I never knew this order to fail. If it had been 10 first, and then 4, 10, or 10, 4, I would not advise you to go on. But 4, 10, 40 will be drawn to-morrow as sure as fate."
"What numbers did you say? 4, 10, 40?" asked an old man, ragged and bloated, who came shuffling in as the last remarks was made.
"Yes," answered the dealer. "This lady has been doubling, and as the chances go, her row is certain to make a hit to-morrow."
"Ha! What's the row? 4, 10, 40?"
The old man fumbled in his pocket, and brought out ten cents.
"I'll go that on the row. Give me a piece."
The dealer took a narrow slip of paper and wrote on it the date, the sum risked and the combination of figures, and handed it to the old man, saying,
"Come here to-morrow; and if the bottom of the world doesn't drop out, you'll find ten dollars waiting for you."
Two or three others were in by this time, eager to look over the list of drawn numbers and to make new bets.
"Glory!" cried one of them, a vile-looking young woman, and she commenced dancing about the room.
All was excitement now. "A hit! a hit!" was cried. "How much? how much?" and they gathered to the little counter and desk of the policy-dealer.
"1, 2, 3," cried the girl, dancing about and waving her little slip of paper over her head. "I knew it would come--dreamed of them numbers three nights hand running! Hand over the money, old chap! Fifteen dollars for fifteen cents! That's the go!"
The policy-dealer took the girl's "piece," and after comparing it with the record of drawn numbers, said, in a pleased voice,
"All right! A hit, sure enough. You're in luck to-day."
The girl took the money, that was promptly paid down, and as she counted it over the dealer remarked,
"There's a doubling game going on, and it's to be up to-morrow, sure."
"What's the row?" inquired the girl.
"4, 10, 40," said the dealer.
"Then count me in;" and she laid down five dollars on the counter.
"Take my advice and go ten," urged the policy-dealer.
"No, thank you! shouldn't know what to do with more than five hundred dollars. I'll only go five dollars this time."
The "writer," as a policy-seller is called, took the money and gave the usual written slip of paper containing the selected numbers; loudly proclaiming her good luck, the girl then went away. She was an accomplice to whom a "piece" had been secretly given after the drawn numbers were in.
Of course this hit was the sensation of the day among the policy-buyers at that office, and brought in large gains.
The wretched woman who had just seen five hundred dollars vanish into nothing instead of becoming, as under the wand of an enchanter, a great heap of gold, listened in a kind of maze to what passed around her--listened and let the tempter get to her ear again. She went away, stooping in her gait as one bearing a heavy burden. Before an hour had passed hope had lifted her again into confidence. She had to make but one venture more to double on the risk of the day previous, and secure a fortune that would make both herself and daughters independent for life.
Another sale of good stocks, another gambling venture and another loss, swelling the aggregate in this wild and hopeless "doubling" experiment to over a thousand dollars.
But she was not cured. As regularly as a drunkard goes to the bar went she to the policy-shops, every day her fortune growing less. Poverty began to pinch. The house in which she lived with her daughters was sold, and the unhappy family shrunk into a single room in a third-rate boarding-house. But their income soon became insufficient to meet the weekly demand for board. Long before this the daughters had sought for something to do by which to earn a little money. Pride struggled hard with them, but necessity was stronger than pride.
We finish the story in a few words. In a moment of weakness, with want and hard work staring her in the face, one of the daughters married a man who broke her heart and buried her in less than two years. The other, a weak and sickly girl, got a situation as day governess in the family of an old friend of her father's, where she was kindly treated, but she lived only a short time after her sister's death.
And still there was no abatement of the mother's infatuation. She was more than half insane on the subject of policy gambling, and confident of yet retrieving her fortunes.
At the time Pinky Swett and her friend in evil saw her come gliding up from the restaurant in faded mourning garments and closely veiled, she was living alone in a small, meagrely furnished room, and cooking her own food.
Everything left to her at her husband's death was gone. She earned a dollar or two each week by making shirts and drawers for the slop-shops, spending every cent of this in policies. A few old friends who pitied her, but did not know of the vice in which she indulged, paid her rent and made occasional contributions for her support. All of these contributions, beyond the amount required for a very limited supply of food, went to the policy-shops. It was a mystery to her friends how she had managed to waste the handsome property left by her husband, but no one suspected the truth.