Chapter XXV.
 

Nothing of all this was communicated to Edith. After a few weeks of prostration strength came slowly back to mind and body, and with returning strength her interest in her old work revived. Her feet went down again into lowly ways, and her hands took hold of suffering.

Immediately on receipt of Freeling's letter and affidavit, Mr. Dinneford had taken steps to procure a pardon for George Granger. It came within a few days after the application was made, and the young man was taken from the asylum where he had been for three years.

Mr. Dinneford went to him with Freeling's affidavit and the pardon, and placing them in his hands, watched him closely to see the effect they would produce. He found him greatly changed in appearance, looking older by many years. His manner was quiet, as that of one who had learned submission after long suffering. But his eyes were clear and steady, and without sign of mental aberration. He read Freeling's affidavit first, folded it in an absent kind of way, as if he were dreaming, reopened and read it through again. Then Mr. Dinneford saw a strong shiver pass over him; he became pale and slightly convulsed. His face sunk in his hands, and he sat for a while struggling with emotions that he found it almost impossible to hold back.

When he looked up, the wild struggle was over.

"It is too late," he said.

"No, George, it is never too late," replied Mr. Dinneford. "You have suffered a cruel wrong, but in the future there are for you, I doubt not, many compensations."

He shook his head in a dreary way, murmuring,

"I have lost too much."

"Nothing that may not be restored. And in all you have not lost a good conscience."

"No, thank God!" answered the young man, with a sudden flush in his face. "But for that anchor to my soul, I should have long ago drifted out to sea a helpless wreck. No thank God! I have not lost a good conscience."

"You have not yet read the other paper," said Mr. Dinneford. "It is your pardon."

"Pardon!" An indignant flash came into Granger's eyes. "Oh, sir, that hurts too deeply. Pardon! I am not a criminal."

"Falsely so regarded in the eyes of the law, but now proved to be innocent, and so expressed by the governor. It is not a pardon in any sense of remission, but a declaration of innocence and sorrow for the undeserved wrongs you have suffered."

"It is well," he answered, gloomily--"the best that can be done; and I should be thankful."

"You cannot be more deeply thankful than I am, George." Mr. Dinneford spoke with much feeling. "Let us bury this dreadful past out of our sight, and trust in God for a better future. You are free again, and your innocence shall, so far as I have power to do it, be made as clear as noonday. You are at liberty to depart from here at once. Will you go with me now?"

Granger lifted a half-surprised look to Mr. Dinneford's face.

"Thank you," he replied, after a few moments' thought. "I shall never forget your kindness, but I prefer remaining here for a few days, until I can confer with my friends and make some decision as to the future."

Granger's manner grew reserved, almost embarrassed. Mr. Dinneford was not wrong in his impression of the cause. How could he help thinking of Edith, who, turning against him with the rest, had accepted the theory of guilt and pronounced her sentence upon him, hardest of all to bear? So it appeared to him, for he had nothing but the hard fact before him that she had applied for and obtained a divorce.

Yes, it was the thought of Edith that drew Granger back and covered him with reserve. What more could Mr. Dinneford say? He had not considered all the hearings of this unhappy case; but now that he remembered the divorce, he began to see, how full of embarrassment it was, and how delicate the relation he bore to this unhappy victim of his wife's dreadful crime.

What could he say for Edith? Nothing! He knew that her heart had never turned itself away from this man, though she had, under a pressure she was not strong enough to resist, turned her back upon him and cast aside his dishonored name, thus testifying to the world that she believed him base and criminal. If he should speak of her, would not the young man answer with indignant scorn?

"Give me the address of your friends, and I will call upon them immediately," said Mr. Dinneford, replying, after a long silence, to Granger's last remark. "I am here to repair, to any extent that in me lies the frightful wrongs you have suffered. I shall make your cause my own, and never rest until every false tarnish shall be wiped from your name. In honor and conscience I am bound to this."

Looking at the young man intently, he saw a grateful response in the warmer color that broke into his face and in the moisture that filled his eyes.

"I would be base if I were not thankful, Mr. Dinneford," Granger replied. "But you cannot put yourself in my place, cannot know what I have suffered, cannot comprehend the sense of wrong and cruel rejection that has filled my soul with the very gall of bitterness. To be cast out utterly, suddenly and without warning from heaven into hell, and for no evil thought or act! Ah, sir! you do not understand."

"It was a frightful ordeal, George," answered Mr. Dinneford, laying his hand on Granger with the tenderness of a father. "But, thank God! it is over. You have stood the terrible heat, and now, coming out of the furnace, I shall see to it that not even the smell of fire remain upon your garments."

Still the young man could not be moved from his purpose to remain at the asylum until he had seen and conferred with his friends, in whose hands Mr. Dinneford placed the governor's pardon and the affidavit of Lloyd Freeling setting forth his innocence.

Mrs. Bray did not call on Mr. Dinneford, as she had promised. She had quarreled with Pinky Swett, as the reader will remember, and in a fit of blind anger thrust her from the room. But in the next moment she remembered that she did not know where the girl lived, and if she lost sight of her now, might not again come across her for weeks or months. So putting on her hat and cloak hurriedly, she waited until she heard Pinky going down stairs, and then came out noiselessly, and followed her into the street. She had to be quick in her movements, for Pinky, hot with anger, was dashing off at a rapid speed. For three or four blocks Mrs. Bray kept her in view; but there being only a few persons in the street, she had to remain at a considerable distance behind, so as not to attract her attention. Suddenly, she lost sight of Pinky. She had looked back on hearing a noise in the street; turning again, she could see nothing of the girl. Hurrying forward to the corner which Pinky had in all probability turned, Mrs. Bray looked eagerly up and down, but to her disappointment Pinky was not in sight.

"Somewhere here. I thought it was farther off," said Mrs. Bray to herself. "It's too bad that I should have lost sight of her."

She stood irresolute for a little while, then walked down one of the blocks and back on the other side. Halfway down, a small street or alley divided the block.

"It's in there, no doubt," said Mrs. Bray, speaking to herself again. On the corner was a small shop in which notions and trimmings were sold. Going into this, she asked for some trifling articles, and while looking over them drew the woman who kept the shop into conversation.

"What kind of people live in this little street?" she inquired, in a half-careless tone.

The woman smiled as she answered, with a slight toss of the head,

"Oh, all kinds."

"Good, bad and indifferent?"

"Yes, white sheep and black."

"So I thought. The black sheep will get in. You can't keep 'em out."

"No, and 'tisn't much use trying," answered the shop-keeper, with a levity of manner not unmarked by Mrs. Bray, who said,

"The black sheep have to live as well as the white ones."

"Just so. You hit the nail there."

"And I suppose you find their money as good as that of the whitest?"

"Oh yes."

"And quite as freely spent?"

"As to that," answered the woman, who was inclined to be talkative and gossipy, "we make more out of the black sheep than out of the white ones. They don't higgle so about prices. Not that we have two prices, but you see they don't try to beat us down, and never stop to worry about the cost of a thing if they happen to fancy it. They look and buy, and there's the end of it."

"I understand," remarked Mrs. Bray, with a familiar nod. "It may be wicked to say so; but if I kept a store like this, I'd rather have the sinners for customers than the saints."

She had taken a seat at the counter; and now, leaning forward upon her arms and looking at the shop-woman in a pleasant, half-confidential way, said,

"You know everybody about here?"

"Pretty much."

"The black sheep as well as the white?"

"As customers."

"Of course; that's all I mean," was returned. "I'd be sorry if you knew them in any other way--some of them, at least." Then, after a pause, "Do you know a girl they call Pinky?"

"I may know her, but not by that name. What kind of a looking person is she?"

"A tall, bold-faced, dashing, dare-devil sort of a girl, with a snaky look in her eyes. She wears a pink hat with a white feather."

"Yes, I think I have seen some one like that, but she's not been around here long."

"When did you see her last?"

"If it's the same one you mean, I saw her go by here not ten minutes ago. She lives somewhere down the alley."

"Do you know the house?"

"I do not; but it can be found, no doubt. You called her Pinky."

"Yes. Her name is Pinky Swett."

"O-h! o-h!" ejaculated the shop-woman, lifting her eyebrows in a surprised way. "Why, that's the girl the police were after. They said she'd run off with somebody's child."

"Did they arrest her?" asked Mrs. Bray, repressing, as far as possible, all excitement.

"They took her off once or twice, I believe, but didn't make anything out of her. At any rate, the child was not found. It belonged, they said, to a rich up-town family that the girl was trying to black-mail. But I don't see how that could be."

"The child isn't about here?"

"Oh dear, no! If it was, it would have been found long before this, for the police are hunting around sharp. If it's all as they say, she's got it hid somewhere else."

While Mrs. Bray talked with the shop-woman, Pinky, who had made a hurried call at her room, only a hundred yards away, was going as fast as a street-car could take her to a distant part of the city. On leaving the car at the corner of a narrow, half-deserted street, in which the only sign of life was a child or two at play in the snow and a couple of goats lying on a cellar-door, she walked for half the distance of a block, and then turned into a court lined on both sides with small, ill-conditioned houses, not half of them tenanted. Snow and ice blocked the little road-way, except where a narrow path had been cut along close to the houses.

Without knocking, Pinky entered one of these poor tenements. As she pushed open the door, a woman who was crouching down before a small stove, on which something was cooking, started up with a look of surprise that changed to one of anxiety and fear the moment she recognized her visitor.

"Is Andy all right?" cried Pinky, alarm in her face.

The woman tried to stammer out something, but did not make herself understood. At this, Pinky, into whose eyes flashed a fierce light, caught her by the wrists in a grip that almost crushed the bones.

"Out with it! where is Andy?"

Still the frightened woman could not speak.

"If that child isn't here, I'll murder you!" said Pinky, now white with anger, tightening her grasp.

At this, with a desperate effort, the woman flung her off, and catching up a long wooden bench, raised it over her head.

"If there's to be any murder going on," she said, recovering her powers of speech, "I'll take the first hand! As for the troublesome brat, he's gone. Got out of the window and climbed down the spout. Wonder he wasn't killed. Did fall--I don't know how far--and must have hurt himself, for I heard a noise as if something heavy had dropped in the yard, but thought it was next door. Half an hour afterward, in going up stairs and opening the door of the room where I kept him locked in, I found it empty and the window open. That's the whole story. I ran out and looked everywhere, but he was off. And now, if the murder is to come, I'm going to be in first."

And she still kept the long wooden bench poised above her head.

Pinky saw a dangerous look in the woman's eyes.

"Put that thing down," she cried, "and don't be a fool. Let me see;" and she darted past the woman and ran up stairs. She found the window of Andy's prison open and the print of his little fingers on the snow-covered sill outside, where he had held on before dropping to the ground, a distance of many feet. There was no doubt now in her mind as to the truth of the woman's story. The child had made his escape.

"Have you been into all the neighbors' houses?" asked Pinky as she came down hastily.

"Into some, but not all," she replied.

"How long is it since he got away?"

"More than two hours."

"And you've been sticking down here, instead of ransacking every hole and corner in the neighborhood. I can hardly keep my hands off of you."

The woman was on the alert. Pinky saw this, and did not attempt to put her threat into execution. After pouring out her wrath in a flood of angry invectives, she went out and began a thorough search of the neighborhood, going into every house for a distance of three or four blocks in all directions. But she could neither find the child nor get the smallest trace of him. He had dropped out of sight, so far as she was concerned, as completely as if he had fallen into the sea.