Chapter XVII.
 

The police were at fault. They found Pinky Swett, but were not able to find the baby. Careful as they were in their surveillance, she managed to keep them on the wrong track and to baffle every effort to discover what had been done with the child.

In this uncertainty months went by. Edith came up slowly from her prostrate condition, paler, sadder and quieter, living in a kind of waking dream. Her father tried to hold her back from her mission work among the poor, but she said, "I must go, father; I will die if I do not."

And so her life lost itself in charities. Now and then her mother made an effort to draw her into society. She had not yet given up her ambition, nor her hope of one day seeing her daughter take social rank among the highest, or what she esteemed the highest. But her power over Edith was entirely gone. She might as well have set herself to turn the wind from its course as to influence her in anything. It was all in vain. Edith had dropped out of society, and did not mean to go back. She had no heart for anything outside of her home, except the Christian work to which she had laid her hands.

The restless, watchful, suspicious manner exhibited for a long time by Mrs. Dinneford, and particularly noticed by Edith, gradually wore off. She grew externally more like her old self, but with something new in the expression of her face when in repose, that gave a chill to the heart of Edith whenever she saw its mysterious record, that seemed in her eyes only an imperfect effort to conceal some guilty secret.

Thus the mother and daughter, though in daily personal contact, stood far apart--were internally as distant from each other as the antipodes.

As for Mr. Dinneford, what he had seen and heard on his first visit to Briar street had aroused him to a new and deeper sense of his duty as a citizen. Against all the reluctance and protests of his natural feelings, he had compelled himself to stand face to face with the appalling degradation and crime that festered and rioted in that almost Heaven-deserted region. He had heard and read much about its evil condition; but when, under the protection of a policeman, he went from house to house, from den to den, through cellar and garret and hovel, comfortless and filthy as dog-kennels and pig-styes, and saw the sick and suffering, the utterly vile and debauched, starving babes and children with faces marred by crime, and the legion of harpies who were among them as birds of prey, he went back to his home sick at heart, and with a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness out of which he found it almost impossible to rise.

We cannot stain our pages with a description of what he saw. It is so vile and terrible, alas, so horrible, that few would credit it. The few imperfect glimpses of life in that region which we have already given are sad enough and painful enough, but they only hint at the real truth.

"What can be done?" asked Mr. Dinneford of the missionary, at their next meeting, in a voice that revealed his utter despair of a remedy. "To me it seems as if nothing but fire could purify this region."

"The causes that have produced this would soon create another as bad," was answered.

"What are the causes?"

"The primary cause," said Mr. Paulding, "is the effort of hell to establish itself on the earth for the destruction of human souls; the secondary cause lies in the indifference and supineness of the people. 'While the husband-men slept the enemy sowed tares.' Thus it was of old, and thus it is to-day. The people are sleeping or indifferent, the churches are sleeping or indifferent, while the enemy goes on sowing tares for the harvest of death."

"Well may you say the harvest of death," returned Mr. Dinneford, gloomily.

"And hell," added the missionary, with a stern emphasis. "Yes, sir, it is the harvest of death and hell that is gathered here, and such a full harvest! There is little joy in heaven over the sheaves that are garnered in this accursed region. What hope is there in fire, or any other purifying process, if the enemy be permitted to go on sowing his evil seed at will?"

"How will you prevent it?" asked Mr. Dinneford.

"Not by standing afar off and leaving the enemy in undisputed possession--not by sleeping while he sows and reaps and binds into bundles for the fires, his harvests of human souls! We must be as alert and wise and ready of hand as he; and God being our helper, we can drive him from the field!"

"You have thought over this sad problem a great deal," said Mr. Dinneford. "You have stood face to face with the enemy for years, and know his strength and his resources. Have you any well-grounded hope of ever dislodging him from this stronghold?"

"I have just said it, Mr. Dinneford. But until the churches and the people come up to the help of the Lord against the mighty, he cannot be dislodged. I am standing here, sustained in my work by a small band of earnest Christian men and women, like an almost barren rock in the midst of a down-rushing river on whose turbulent surface thousands are being swept to destruction. The few we are able to rescue are as a drop in the bucket to the number who are lost. In weakness and sorrow, almost in despair sometimes, we stand on our rock, with the cry of lost souls mingling with the cry of fiends in our ears, and wonder at the churches and the people, that they stand aloof--nay, worse, turn from us coldly often--when we press the claims of this worse than heathen people who are perishing at their very doors.

"Sir," continued the missionary, warming on his theme, "I was in a church last Sunday that cost its congregation over two hundred thousand dollars. It was an anniversary occasion, and the collections for the day were to be given to some foreign mission. How eloquently the preacher pleaded for the heathen! What vivid pictures of their moral and spiritual destitution he drew! How full of pathos he was, even to tears! And the congregation responded in a contribution of over three thousand dollars, to be sent somewhere, and to be disbursed by somebody of whom not one in a hundred of the contributors knew anything or took the trouble to inform themselves. I felt sick and oppressed at such a waste of money and Christian sympathy, when heathen more destitute and degraded than could be found in any foreign land were dying at home in thousands every year, unthought of and uncared for. I gave no amens to his prayers--I could not. They would have stuck in my throat. I said to myself, in bitterness and anger, 'How dare a watchman on the walls of Zion point to an enemy afar off, of whose movements and power and organization he knows but little, while the very gates of the city are being stormed and its walls broken down?' But you must excuse me, Mr. Dinneford. I lose my calmness sometimes when these things crowd my thoughts too strongly. I am human like the rest, and weak, and cannot stand in the midst of this terrible wickedness and suffering year after year without being stirred by it to the very inmost of my being. In my intense absorption I can see nothing else sometimes."

He paused for a little while, and then said, in a quiet, business way,

"In seeking a remedy for the condition of society found here, we must let common sense and a knowledge of human nature go hand in hand with Christian charity. To ignore any of these is to make failure certain. If the whisky-and policy-shops were all closed, the task would be easy. In a single month the transformation would be marvelous. But we cannot hope for this, at least not for a long time to come--not until politics and whisky are divorced, and not until associations of bad men cease to be strong enough in our courts to set law and justice at defiance. Our work, then, must be in the face of these baleful influences."

"Is the evil of lottery-policies so great that you class it with the curse of rum?" asked Mr. Dinneford.

"It is more concealed, but as all-pervading and almost as disastrous in its effects. The policy-shops draw from the people, especially the poor and ignorant, hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. There is no more chance of thrift for one who indulges in this sort of gambling than there is for one who indulges in drink. The vice in either case drags its subject down to want, and in most cases to crime. I could point you to women virtuous a year ago, but who now live abandoned lives; and they would tell you, if you would question them, that their way downward was through the policy-shops. To get the means of securing a hoped-for prize--of getting a hundred or two hundred dollars for every single one risked, and so rising above want or meeting some desperate exigency--virtue was sacrificed in an evil moment."

"The whisky-shops brutalize, benumb and debase or madden with cruel and murderous passions; the policy-shops, more seductive and fascinating in their allurements, lead on to as deep a gulf of moral ruin and hopeless depravity. I have seen the poor garments of a dying child sold at a pawn-shop for a mere trifle by its infatuated mother, and the money thrown away in this kind of gambling. Women sell or pawn their clothing, often sending their little children to dispose of these articles, while they remain half clad at home to await the daily drawings and receive the prize they fondly hope to obtain, but which rarely, if ever, comes.

"Children learn early to indulge this vice, and lie and steal in order to obtain money to gratify it. You would be amazed to see the scores of little boys and girls, white and black, who daily visit the policy-shops in this neighborhood to put down the pennies they have begged or received for stolen articles on some favorite numbers--quick-witted, sharp, eager little wretches, who talk the lottery slang as glibly as older customers. What hope is there in the future for these children? Will their education in the shop of a policy-dealer fit them to become honest, industrious citizens?"

All this was so new and dreadful to Mr. Dinneford that be was stunned and disheartened; and when, after an interview with the missionary that lasted over an hour, he went away, it was with a feeling of utter discouragement. He saw little hope of making head against the flood of evil that was devastating this accursed region.