Cast Adrift by T.S. Arthur
Day after day Mr. Dinneford waited for the woman who was to restore the child of Edith, but she did not come. Over a week elapsed, but she neither called nor sent him a sign or a word. He dared not speak about this to Edith. She was too weak in body and mind for any further suspense or strain.
Drew Hall had been nearly thrown down again by the events of that Christmas day. The hand of a little child was holding him fast to a better life; but when that hand was torn suddenly away from his grasp, he felt the pull of evil habits, the downward drift of old currents. His steps grew weak, his knees trembled. But God did not mean that he should be left alone. He had reached down to him through the hand of a little child, had lifted him up and led him into a way of safety; and now that this small hand, the soft, touch of which had gone to his heart and stirred him with old memories, sad and sweet and holy, had dropped away from him, and he seemed to be losing his hold of heaven, God sent him, in Mr. Dinneford, an angel with a stronger hand. There were old associations that held these men together. They had been early and attached friends, and this meeting, after many years of separation, under such strange circumstances, and with a common fear and anxiety at heart, could not but have the effect of arousing in the mind of Mr. Dinneford the deepest concern for the unhappy man. He saw the new peril into which he was thrown by the loss of Andy, and made it his first business to surround him with all possible good and strengthening influences. So the old memories awakened by the coming of Andy did not fade out and lose their power over the man. He had taken hold of the good past again, and still held to it with the tight grasp of one conscious of danger.
"We shall find the child--no fear of that," Mr. Dinneford would say to him over and over again, trying to comfort his own heart as well, as the days went by and no little Andy could be found. "The police have the girl under the sharpest surveillance, and she cannot baffle them much longer."
George Granger left the asylum with his friends, and dropped out of sight. He did not show himself in the old places nor renew old associations. He was too deeply hurt. The disaster had been too great for any attempt on his part at repairing the old dwelling-places of his life. His was not what we call a strong nature, but he was susceptible of very deep impressions. He was fine and sensitive, rather than strong. Rejected by his wife and family without a single interview with her or even an opportunity to assert his innocence, he felt the wrong so deeply that he could not get over it. His love for his wife had been profound and tender, and when it became known to him that she had accepted the appearances of guilt as conclusive, and broken with her own hands the tie that bound them, it was more than he had strength to bear, and a long time passed before he rallied from this hardest blow of all.
Edith knew that her father had seen Granger after securing his pardon, and she had learned from him only, particulars of the interview. Beyond this nothing came to her. She stilled her heart, aching with the old love that crowded all its chambers, and tried to be patient and submissive. It was very hard. But she was helpless. Sometimes, in the anguish and wild agitation of soul that seized her, she would resolve to put in a letter all she thought and felt, and have it conveyed to Granger; but fear and womanly delicacy drove her back from this. What hope had she that he would not reject her with hatred and scorn? It was a venture she dared not make, for she felt that such a rejection would kill her. But for her work among the destitute and the neglected, Edith would have shut herself up at home. Christian charity drew her forth daily, and in offices of kindness and mercy she found a peace and rest to which she would otherwise have been stranger.
She was on her way home one afternoon from a visit to the mission-school where she had first heard of the poor baby in Grubb's court. All that day thoughts of little Andy kept crowding into her mind. She could not push aside his image as she saw it on Christmas, when he sat among the children, his large eyes resting in such a wistful look upon her face. Her eyes often grew dim and her heart full as she looked upon that tender face, pictured for her as distinctly as if photographed to natural sight.
"Oh my baby, my baby!" came almost audibly from her lips, in a burst of irrepressible feeling, for ever since she had seen this child, the thought of him linked itself with that of her lost baby.
Up to this time her father had carefully concealed his interview with Mrs. Bray. He was in so much doubt as to the effect that woman's communication might produce while yet the child was missing that he deemed it best to maintain the strictest silence until it could be found.
Walking along with heart and thought where they dwelt for so large a part of her time, Edith, in turning a corner, came upon a woman who stopped at sight of her as if suddenly fastened to the ground--stopped only for an instant, like one surprised by an unexpected and unwelcome encounter, and then made a motion to pass on. But Edith, partly from memory and partly from intuition, recognized her nurse, and catching fast hold of her, said in a low imperative voice, while a look of wild excitement spread over her face,
"Where is my baby?"
The woman tried to shake her off, but Edith held her with a grasp that could not be broken.
"For Heaven's sake," exclaimed the woman "let go of me! This is the public street, and you'll have a crowd about us in a moment, and the police with them."
But Edith kept fast hold of her.
"First tell me where I can find my baby," she answered.
"Come along," said the woman, moving as she spoke in the direction Edith was going when they met. "If you want a row with the police, I don't."
Edith was close to her side, with her hand yet upon her and her voice in her ears.
"My baby! Quick! Say! Where can I find my baby?"
"What do I know of your baby? You are a fool, or mad!" answered the woman, trying to throw her off. "I don't know you."
"But I know you, Mrs. Bray," said Edith, speaking the name at a venture as the one she remembered hearing the servant give to her mother.
At this the woman's whole manner changed, and Edith saw that she was right--that this was, indeed, the accomplice of her mother.
"And now," she added, in voice grown calm and resolute, "I do not mean to let you escape until I get sure knowledge of my child. If you fly from me, I will follow and call for the police. If you have any of the instincts of a woman left, you will know that I am desperately in earnest. What is a street excitement or a temporary arrest by the police, or even a station-house exposure, to me, in comparison with the recovery of my child? Where is he?"
"I do not know," replied Mrs. Bray. "After seeing your father--"
"My father! When did you see him?" exclaimed Edith, betraying in her surprised voice the fact that Mr. Dinneford had kept so far, even from her, the secret of that brief interview to which she now referred.
"Oh, he hasn't told you! But it's no matter--he will do that in good time. After seeing your father, I made an effort to get possession of your child and restore him as I promised to do. But the woman who had him hidden somewhere managed to keep out of my way until this morning. And now she says he got off from her, climbed out of a second-story window and disappeared, no one knows where."
"This woman's name is Pinky Swett?" said Edith.
Mrs. Bray felt the hand that was still upon her arm shake as if from a violent chill.
"Do you believe what she says?--that the child has really escaped from her?"
"Where does she live?"
Mrs. Bray gave the true directions, and without hesitation.
"Is this child the one she stole from the Briar-street mission on Christmas day?" asked Edith.
"He is," answered Mrs. Bray.
"How shall I know he is mine? What proof is there that little Andy, as he is called, and my baby are the same?"
"I know him to be your child, for I have never lost sight of him," replied the woman, emphatically. "You may know him by his eyes and mouth and chin, for they are yours. Nobody can mistake the likeness. But there is another proof. When I nursed you, I saw on your arm, just above the elbow, a small raised mark of a red color, and noticed a similar one on the baby's arm. You will see it there whenever you find the child that Pinky Swett stole from the mission-house on Christmas day. Good-bye!"
And the woman, seeing that her companion was off of her guard, sprang away, and was out of sight in the crowd before Edith could rally herself and make an attempt to follow. How she got home she could hardly tell.