Cast Adrift by T.S. Arthur
Mrs. Hoyt, alias Bray, found Pinky Swett, but she did not find the poor cast-off baby. Pinky had resolved to make it her own capital in trade. She parleyed and trifled with Mrs. Hoyt week after week, and each did her best to get down to the other's secret, but in vain. Mutually baffled, they parted at last in bitter anger.
One day, about two months after the interview between Mrs. Dinneford and Mrs. Hoyt described in another chapter, the former received in an envelope a paragraph cut from a newspaper. It read as follows:
"A CHILD DROWNED.--A sad accident occurred yesterday on board the steamer Fawn as she was going down the river. A woman was standing with a child in her arms near the railing on the lower deck forward. Suddenly the child gave a spring, and was out of her arms in a moment. She caught after it frantically, but in vain. Every effort was made to recover the child, but all proved fruitless. It did not rise to the surface of the water."
Mrs. Dinneford read the paragraph twice, and then tore it into little bits. Her mouth set itself sternly. A long sigh of relief came up from her chest. After awhile the hard lines began slowly to disappear, giving place to a look of satisfaction and comfort.
"Out of my way at last," she staid, rising and beginning to move about the room. But the expression of relief and confidence which had come into her face soon died out. The evil counselors that lead the soul into sin become its tormentors after the sin is committed, and torture it with fears. So tortured they this guilty and wretched woman at every opportunity. They led her on step by step to do evil, and then crowded her mind with suggestions of perils and consequences the bare thought of which filled her with terror.
It was only a few weeks after this that Mrs. Dinneford, while looking over a morning paper, saw in the court record the name of Pinky Swett. This girl had been tried for robbing a man of his pocket-book, containing five hundred dollars, found guilty, and sentenced to prison for a term of two years.
"Good again!" exclaimed Mrs. Dinneford, with satisfaction. "The wheel turns."
After that she gradually rose above the doubts and dread of exposure that haunted her continually, and set herself to work to draw her daughter back again into society. But she found her influence over Edith entirely gone. Indeed, Edith stood so far away from her that she seemed more like a stranger than a child.
Two or three times had Pinky Swett gone to the mission sewing-school in order to get a sight of Edith. Her purpose was to follow her home, and so find out her name and were she lived. With this knowledge in her possession, she meant to visit Mrs. Bray, and by a sudden or casual mention by name of Edith as the child's mother throw her off her guard, and lead her to betray the fact if it were really so. But Edith was sick at home, and did not go to the school. After a few weeks the little girl who was to identify Edith as the person who had shown so much interest in the baby was taken away from Grubb's court by her mother, and nobody could tell where to find her. So, Pinky had to abandon her efforts in this direction, and Edith, when she was strong enough to go back to the sewing-school, missed the child, from whom she was hoping to hear something that might give a clue to where the poor waif had been taken.
Up to the time of her arrest and imprisonment, Pinky had faithfully paid the child's board, and looked in now and then upon the woman who had it in charge, to see that it was properly cared for. How marvelously the baby had improved in these two or three months! The shrunken limb's were rounded into beautiful symmetry, and the pinched face looked full and rosy. The large brown eyes, in which you once saw only fear or a mystery of suffering, were full of a happy light, and the voice rang out often in merry child-laughter. The baby had learned to walk, and was daily growing more and more lovable.
But after Pinky's imprisonment there was a change. The woman--Mrs. Burke by name--in whose care the child had been placed could not afford to keep him for nothing. The two dollars week received for his board added just enough to her income to enable her to remain at home. But failing to receive this, she must go out for day's work in families at least twice in every week.
What, then, was to be done with little Andy, as the baby was called? At first Mrs. Burke thought of getting him into one of the homes for friendless children, but the pleasant child had crept into her affections, and she could not bear the thought of giving him up. His presence stirred in her heart old and tender things long buried out of sight, and set the past, with its better and purer memories, side by side with the present. She had been many times a mother, but her children were all dead but one, and she--Alas! the thought of her, whenever it came, made her heart heavy and sad.
"I will keep him a while and see, how it comes out," she said, on getting the promise of a neighbor to let Andy play with her children and keep an eye on him whenever she was out. He had grown strong, and could toddle about and take care of himself wonderfully well for a child of his age.
And now began a new life for the baby--a life in which he must look out for himself and hold his own in a hand-to-hand struggle. He had no rights that the herd of children among whom he was thrown felt bound to respect; and if he were not able to maintain his rights, he must go down helplessly, and he did go down daily, often hourly. But he had will and vital force, and these brought him always to his feet again, and with strength increased rather than lost. On the days that Mrs. Burke went out he lived for most of the time in the little street, playing with the children that swarmed its pavements, often dragged from before wheels or horses' hoofs by a friendly hand, or lifted from some gutter in which he had fallen, dripping with mud.
When Mrs. Burke came home on the evening of her first day out, the baby was a sight to see. His clothes were stiff with dirt, his shoes and stockings wet, and his face more like that of a chimney-sweep than anything else. But this was not all; there was a great lump as large as a pigeon's egg on the back of his head, a black-and-blue spot on his forehead and a bad cut on his upper lip. His joy at seeing her and the tearful cry he gave as he threw his arm's about her neck quite overcame Mrs. Burke, and caused her eyes to grow dim. She was angry at the plight in which she found him, and said some hard things to the woman who had promised to look after the child, at which the latter grew angry in turn, and told her to stay at home and take care of the brat herself, or put him in one of the homes.
The fresh care and anxiety felt by Mrs. Burke drew little Andy nearer and made her reject more decidedly the thought of giving him up. She remained at home on the day following, but did not find it so easy as before to keep the baby quiet. He had got a taste of the free, wild life of the street, of its companionship and excitement, and fretted to go out. Toward evening she put by her work and went on the pavement with Andy. It was swarming with children. At the sight of them he began to scream with pleasure. Pulling his hand free from that of Mrs. Burke, he ran in among them, and in a moment after was tumbled over on the pavement. His head got a hard knock, but he didn't seem to mind it, for he scrambled to his feet and commenced tossing his hands about, laughing and crying out as wildly as the rest. In a little while, over he was knocked again, and as he fell one of the children stepped on his hand and hurt him so that he screamed with pain. Mrs. Burke caught him in her arms; but when he found that she was going to take him in the house he stopped crying and struggled to get down. He was willing to take the knocks and falls. The pleasure of this free life among children was more to him than any of the suffering it brought.
On the next day Mrs. Burke had to go out again. Another neighbor promised to look after Andy. When she returned at night, she found things worse, if anything, than before. The child was dirtier, if that were possible, and there were two great lumps on his head, instead of one. He had been knocked down by a horse in the street, escaping death by one of the narrowest of chances, and had been discovered and removed from a ladder up which he had climbed a distance of twenty feet.
What help was there? None that Mrs. Burke knew, except to give up the child, and she was not unselfish enough for this. The thought of sending him away was always attended with pain. It would take the light out of her poor lonely life, into which he had brought a few stray sunbeams.
She could not, she would not, give him up. He must take his chances. Ah, but they were hard chances! Children mature fast under the stimulus of street-training. Andy had a large brain and an active, nervous organization. Life in the open air gave vigor and hardness to his body. As the months went by he learned self-reliance, caution, self-protection, and took a good many lessons in the art of aggression. A rapidly-growing child needs a large amount of nutritious food to supply waste and furnish material for the daily-increasing bodily structure. Andy did not get this. At two years of age he had lost all the roundness of babyhood. His limbs were slender, his body thin and his face colorless and hungry-looking.
About this time--that is, when Andy was two years old--Mrs. Burke took sick and died. She had been failing for several months, and unable to earn sufficient even to pay her rent. But for the help of neighbors and an occasional supply of food or fuel from some public charity, she would have starved. At her death Andy had no home and no one to care for him. One pitying neighbor after another would take him in at night, or let him share a meal with her children, but beyond this he was utterly cast out and friendless. It was summer-time when Mrs. Burke died, and the poor waif was spared for a time the suffering of cold.
Now and then a mother's heart would be touched, and after a half-reluctantly given supper and a place where he might sleep for the night would mend and wash his soiled clothes and dry them by the fire, ready for morning. The pleased look that she saw in his large, sad eyes--for they had grown wistful and sad since the only one he had known as a mother died--was always her reward, and something not to be put out of her memory. Many of the children took kindly to Andy, and often supplied him with food.
"Andy is so hungry, mamma; can't I take him something to eat?" rarely failed to bring the needed bread for the poor little cast-adrift. And if he was discovered now and then sound asleep in bed with some pitying child who had taken him in stealthily after dark, few were hard-hearted enough to push him into the street, or make him go down and sleep on the kitchen floor. Yet this was not unfrequently done. Poverty is sometimes very cruel, yet often tender and compassionate.
One day, a few months after Mrs. Burke's death, Andy, who was beginning to drift farther and farther away from the little street, yet always managing to get back into it as darkness came on, that he might lay his tired body in some friendly place, got lost in strange localities. He had wandered about for many hours, sitting now on some step or cellar-door or horse-block, watching the children at play and sometimes joining in their sports, when they would let him, with the spontaneous abandon of a puppy or a kitten, and now enjoying some street-show or attractive shop-window. There was nothing of the air of a lost child about him. For all that his manner betrayed, his home might have been in the nearest court or alley. So, he wandered along from street to street without attracting the special notice of any--a bare-headed, bare-footed, dirty, half-clad atom of humanity not three years old.
Hungry, tired and cold, for the summer was gone and mid-autumn had brought its chilly nights, Andy found himself, as darkness fell, in a vile, narrow court, among some children as forlorn and dirty as himself. It was Grubb's court--his old home--though in his memory there was of course no record of the place.
Too tired and hungry for play, Andy was sitting on the step of a wretched hovel, when the door opened and a woman called sharply the names of her two children. They answered a little way off. "Come in this minute, and get your suppers," she called again, and turning back without noticing Andy, left the door open for her children. The poor cast-adrift looked in and saw light and food and comfort--a home that made him heartsick with longing, mean and disordered and miserable as it would have appeared to your eyes and mine, reader. The two children, coming at their mother's call, found him standing just on the threshold gazing in wistfully; and as they entered, he, drawn by their attraction, went in also. Then, turning toward her children, the mother saw Andy.
"Out of this!" she cried, in quick anger, raising her hand and moving hastily toward the child. "Off home with you!"
Andy might well be frightened at the terrible face and threatening words of this woman, and he was frightened. But he did not turn and fly, as she meant that he should. He had learned, young as he was, that if he were driven off by every rebuff, he would starve. It was only through importunity and perseverance that he lived. So he held his ground, his large, clear eyes fixed steadily on the woman's face as she advanced upon him. Something in those eyes and in the firmly-set mouth checked the woman's purpose if she had meant violence, but she thrust him out into the damp street, nevertheless, though not roughly, and shut the door against him.
Andy did not cry; poor little baby that he was, he had long since learned that for him crying did no good. It brought him nothing. Just across the street a door stood open. As a stray kitten creeps in through an open door, so crept he through this one, hoping for shelter and a place of rest.
"Who're you?" growled the rough but not unkindly voice of a man, coming from the darkness. At the same moment a light gleamed out from a match, and then the steadier flame of a candle lit up the small room, not more than eight or nine feet square, and containing little that could be called furniture. The floor was bare. In one corner were some old bits of carpet and a blanket. A small table, a couple of chairs with the backs broken off and a few pans and dishes made up the inventory of household goods.
As the light made all things clear in this poor room, Andy saw the bloodshot eyes, and grizzly face of a man, not far past middle life.
"Who are you, little one?" he growled again as the light gave him a view of Andy's face. This growl had in it a tone of kindness and welcome to the ears of Andy who came forward, saying,
"Indeed! You're Andy, are you?" and he reached out one of his hands.
"Yes; I'm Andy," returned the child, fixing his eyes with a look so deep and searching on the man's face that they held him as by a kind of fascination.
"Well, Andy, where did you come from?" asked the man.
"Don't know," was answered.
Andy shook his head.
"Where do you live?"
"Don't live nowhere," returned the child; "and I'm hungry."
"Hungry?" The man let the hand he was still holding drop, and getting up quickly, took some bread from a closet and set it on the old table.
Andy did not wait for an invitation, but seized upon the bread and commenced eating almost ravenously. As he did so the man fumbled in his pockets. There were a few pennies there. He felt them over, counting them with his fingers, and evidently in some debate with himself. At last, as he closed the debate, he said, with a kind of compelled utterance,
"I say, young one, wouldn't you like some milk with your bread?"
"Milk! oh my I oh goody! yes," answered the child, a gleam of pleasure coming into his face.
"Then you shall have some;" and catching up a broken mug, the man went out. In a minute or two he returned with a pint of milk, into which he broke a piece of bread, and then sat watching Andy as he filled himself with the most delicious food he had tasted for weeks, his marred face beaming with a higher satisfaction than he had known for a long time.
"Is it good?" asked the man.
"I bet you!" was the cheery answer.
"Well, you're a little brick," laughed the man as he stroked Andy's head. "And you don't live anywhere?"
"Is your mother dead?"
"And your father?"
"Hain't got no father."
"Would you like to live here?"
Andy looked toward the empty bowl from which he had made such a satisfying meal, and said,
"It will hold us both. You're not very big;" and as he said this the man drew his arm about the boy in a fond sort of way.
"I guess you're tired," he added, for Andy, now that an arm was drawn around him, leaned against it heavily.
"Yes, I'm tired," said the child.
"And sleepy too, poor little fellow! It isn't much of a bed I can give you, but it's better than a door-step or a rubbish corner."
Then he doubled the only blanket he had, and made as soft a bed as possible. On this he laid Andy, who was fast asleep almost as soon as down.
"Poor little chap!" said the man, in a tender, half-broken voice, as he stood over the sleeping child, candle in hand. "Poor little chap!"
The sight troubled him. He turned with a quick, disturbed movement and put the candle down. The light streaming upward into his face showed the countenance of a man so degraded by intemperance that everything attractive had died out of it. His clothes were scanty, worn almost to tatters, and soiled with the slime and dirt of many an ash-heap or gutter where he had slept off his almost daily fits of drunkenness. There was an air of irresolution about him, and a strong play of feeling in his marred, repulsive face, as he stood by the table on which he had set the candle. One hand was in his pocket, fumbling over the few pennies yet remaining there.
As if drawn by an attraction he could not resist, his eyes kept turning to the spot where Andy lay sleeping. Once, as they came back, they rested on the mug from which the child had taken his supper of bread and milk.
"Poor little fellow!" came from his lips, in a tone of pity.
Then he sat down by the table and leaned his head on his hand. His face was toward the corner of the room where the child lay. He still fumbled the small coins in his pocket, but after a while his fingers ceased to play with them, then his hand was slowly withdrawn from the pocket, a deep sigh accompanying the act.
After the lapse of several minutes he took up the candle, and going over to the bed, crouched down and let the light fall on Andy's face. The large forehead, soiled as it was, looked white to the man's eyes, and the brown matted hair, as he drew it through his fingers, was soft and beautiful. Memory had taken him back for years, and he was looking at the fair forehead and touching the soft brown hair of another baby. His eyes grew dim. He set the candle upon the floor, and putting his hands over his face, sobbed two or three times.
When this paroxysm of feeling went off, he got up with a steadier air, and set the light back upon the table. The conflict going on in his mind was not quite over, but another look at Andy settled the question. Stooping with a hurried movement, he blew out the candle, then groped his way over to the bed, and lying down, took the child in his arms and drew him close to his breast. So the morning found them both asleep.