Chapter XXVII.
 

For weeks the search for Andy was kept up with unremitting vigilance, but no word of him came to the anxious searchers. A few days after the meeting with Mrs. Bray, the police report mentioned the arrest of both Pinky Swett and Mrs. Bray, alias Hoyt, alias Jewett, charged with stealing a diamond ring of considerable value from a jewelry store. They were sent to prison, in default of bail, to await trial. Mr. Dinneford immediately went to the prison and had an interview with the two women, who could give him no information about Andy beyond what Mrs. Bray had already communicated in her hurried talk with Edith. Pinky could get no trace of him after he had escaped. Mr. Dinneford did not leave the two women until he had drawn from them a minute and circumstantial account of all they knew of Edith's child from the time it was cast adrift. When he left them, he had no doubt as to its identity with Andy. There was no missing link in the chain of evidence.

The new life that had opened to little Andy since the dreary night on which, like a stray kitten, he had crept into Andrew Hall's miserable hovel, had been very pleasant. To be loved and caressed was a strange and sweet experience. Poor little heart! It fluttered in wild terror, like a tiny bird in the talons of a hawk, when Pinky Swett swooped down and struck her foul talons into the frightened child and bore him off.

"If you scream, I'll choke you to death!" she said, stooping to his ear, as she hurried him from the mission-house. Scared into silence, Andy did not cry out, and the arm that grasped and dragged him away was so strong that he felt resistance to be hopeless. Passing from Briar street, Pinky hurried on for a distance of a block, when she signaled a street-car. As she lifted Andy upon the platform, she gave him another whispered threat:

"Mind! if you cry, I'll kill you!"

There were but few persons in the car, and Pinky carried the child to the upper end and sat him down with his face turned forward to the window, so as to keep it as much out of observation as possible. He sat motionless, stunned with surprise and fear. Pinky kept her eyes upon him. His hands were laid across his breast and held against it tightly. They had not gone far before Pinky saw great tear-drops falling upon the little hands.

"Stop crying!" she whispered, close to his ear; "I won't have it! You're not going to be killed."

Andy tried to keep back the tears, but in spite of all he could do they kept blinding his eyes and falling over his hands.

"What's the matter with your little boy?" asked a sympathetic, motherly woman who had noticed the child's distress.

"Cross, that's all." Pinky threw out the sentence in at snappish, mind-your-own-business tone.

The motherly woman, who had leaned forward, a look of kindly interest on her face, drew back, chilled by this repulse, but kept her eyes upon the child, greatly to Pinky's annoyance. After riding for half a mile, Pinky got out and took another car. Andy was passive. He had ceased crying, and was endeavoring to get back some of the old spirit of brave endurance. He was beginning to feel like one who had awakened from a beautiful dream in which dear ideals had almost reached fruition, to the painful facts of a hard and suffering life, and was gathering up his patience and strength to meet them. He sat motionless by the side of Pinky, with his eyes cast down, his chin on his breast and his lips shut closely together.

Another ride of nearly half a mile, when Pinky left the car and struck away from the common thoroughfare into a narrow alley, down which she walked for a short distance, and then disappeared in one of the small houses. No one happened to observe her entrance. Through a narrow passage and stairway she reached a second-story room. Taking a key from her pocket, she unlocked the door and went in. There was a fire in a small stove, and the room was comfortable. Locking the door on the inside she said to Andy, in a voice changed and kinder,

"My! your hands are as red as beets. Go up to the stove and warm yourself."

Andy obeyed, spreading out his little hands, and catching the grateful warmth, every now and then looking up into Pinky's face, and trying with a shrewder insight than is usually given to a child of his age to read the character and purposes it half concealed and half made known.

"Now, Andy," said Pinky, in a mild but very decided way--"your name's Andy?"

"Yes, ma'am," answered the child, fixing his large, intelligent eyes on her face.

"Well, Andy, if you'll be a good and quiet boy, you needn't be afraid of anything--you won't get hurt. But if you make a fuss, I'll throw you at once right out of the window."

Pinky frowned and looked so wicked as she uttered the last sentence that Andy was frightened. It seemed as if a devouring beast glared at him out of her eyes. She saw the effect of her threat, and was satisfied.

The short afternoon soon passed away. The girl did not leave the room, nor talk with the child except in very low tones, so as not to attract the attention of any one in the house. As the day waned snow began to fall, and by the time night set in it was coming down thick and fast. As soon as it was fairly dark, Pinky wrapped a shawl about Andy, pinning it closely, so as to protect him from the cold, and quietly left the house. He made no resistance. A car was taken, in which they rode for a long distance, until they were on the outskirts of the city. The snow had already fallen to a depth of two or three inches, and the storm was increasing. When she left the car in that remote neighborhood, not a person was to be seen on the street. Catching Andy into her arms, Pinky ran with him for the distance of half a block, and then turned into a close alley with small houses on each side. At the lower end she stopped before one of these houses, and without knocking pushed open the door.

"Who's that?" cried a voice from an upper room, the stairway to which led up from the room below.

"It's me. Come down, and be quiet," answered Pinky, in a warning voice.

A woman, old and gray, with all the signs of a bad life on her wrinkled face, came hastily down stairs and confronted Pinky.

"What now? What's brought you here?" she demanded, in no friendly tones.

"There, there, Mother Peter! smooth down your feathers. I've got something for you to do, and it will pay," answered Pinky, who had shut the outside door and slipped the bolt.

At this, the manner of Mother Peter, as Pinky had called her, softened, and she said,

"What's up? What deviltry are you after now, you huzzy?"

Without replying to this, Pinky began shaking the snow from Andy and unwinding the shawl with which she had bound him up. After he was free from his outside wrappings, she said, looking toward the woman,

"Now, isn't he a nice little chap? Did you ever see such eyes?"

The worn face of the woman softened as she turned toward the beautiful child, but not with pity. To that feeling she had long been a stranger.

"I want you to keep him for a few days," said Pinky, speaking in the woman's ears. "I'll tell you more about it after he's in bed and asleep."

"He's to be kept shut up out of sight, mind," was Pinky's injunction, in the conference that followed. "Not a living soul in the neighborhood must know he's in the house, for the police will be sharp after him. I'll pay you five dollars a week, and put it down in advance. Give him plenty to eat, and be as good to him as you can, for you see it's a fat job, and I'll make it fatter for you if all comes out right."

The woman was not slow to promise all that Pinky demanded. The house in which she lived had three rooms, one below and two smaller ones above. From the room below a stove-pipe went up through the floor into a sheet-iron drum in the small back chamber, and kept it partially heated. It was arranged that Andy should be made a close prisoner in this room, and kept quiet by fear. It had only one window, looking out upon the yard, and there was no shed or porch over the door leading into the yard below upon which he could climb out and make his escape. In order to have things wholly secure the two women, after Andy was asleep, pasted paper over the panes of glass in the lower sash, so that no one could see his face at the window, and fastened the sash down by putting a nail into a gimlet-hole at the top.

"I guess thatt will fix him," said Pinky, in a tone of satisfaction. "All you've got to do now is to see that he doesn't make a noise."

On the next morning Andy was awake by day-dawn. At first he did not know where he was, but he kept very still, looking around the small room and trying to make out what it all meant. Soon it came to him, and a vague terror filled his heart. By his side lay the woman into whose hands Pinky had given him. She was fast asleep, and her face, as he gazed in fear upon it, was even more repulsive than it had looked on the night before. His first impulse, after comprehending his situation, was to escape if possible. Softly and silently he crept out of bed, and made his way to the door. It was fastened. He drew the bolt back, when it struck the guard with a sharp click. In an instant the old woman was sitting up in bed and glaring at him.

"You imp of Satan!" she cried, springing after him with a singular agility for one of her age, and catching him by the arm with a vice-like grip that bruised the tender flesh and left it marked for weeks, drew him back from the door and flung him upon the bed.

"Stay there till I tell you to get up," she added, with a cruel threat in her voice. "And mind you, there's to be no fooling with me."

The frightened child crept under the bed-clothes, and hid his face beneath them. Mother Peter did not lie down again, but commenced dressing herself, muttering and grumbling as she did so.

"Keep where you are till I come back," she said to Andy, with the same cruel threat in her voice. Going out, she bolted the door on the other side. It was nearly half an hour before the woman returned, bringing a plate containing two or three slices of bread and butter and a cup of milk.

"Now get up and dress yourself," was her sharply-spoken salutation to Andy as she came into the room. "And you're to be just as still as a mouse, mind. There's your breakfast." She set the plate on a table and went out, bolting, as before, the door on the other side. Andy did not see her again for over an hour. Left entirely alone in his prison, his restless spirit chafed for freedom. He moved about the apartment, examining everything it contained with the closest scrutiny, yet without making any noise, for the woman's threat, accompanied as it had been with such a wicked look, was not forgotten. He had seen in that look a cruel spirit of which he was afraid. Two or three times he thought he heard a step and a movement in the adjoining chamber, and waited, almost holding his breath, with his eyes upon the door, expecting every moment to see the scowling face of his jailer. But no hand touched the door.

Tired at last with everything in the room, he went to the window and sought to look out, as he had already done many times. He could not understand why this window, was so different from any he had ever seen, and puzzled over it in his weak, childish way. As he moved from pane to pane, trying to see through, he caught a glimpse of something outside, but it was gone in a moment. He stepped back, then came up quickly to the glass, all the dull quietude of manner leaving him. As he did so a glimpse of the outside world came again, and now he saw a little hole in the paper not larger than a pin's head. To scrape at this was a simple instinct. In a moment he saw it enlarging, as the paper peeled off from the glass. Scraping away with his finger-nail, the glass was soon cleared of paper for the space of an inch in diameter, and through this opening he stood gazing out upon the yards, below, and the houses that came up to them from a neighboring street. There was a woman in one of these yards, and she looked up toward the window where Andy stood, curiously.

"You imp of Satan!" were the terrible words that fell upon his ears at this juncture, and he felt himself caught up as by a vulture. He knew the cruel voice and the grip of the cruel hands that had already left their marks in his tender flesh. Mother Peter, her face red with passion and her eyes slowing like coals of fire, held him high in the air, and shook him with savage violence. She did not strike, but continued shaking him until the sudden heat of her passion had a little cooled.

"Didn't I tell you not to meddle with anything in this room?" and with another bruising grip of Andy's arms, she threw him roughly upon the floor.

The little hole in the paper was then repaired by pasting another piece of paper over it, after which Andy was left alone, but with a threat from Mother Peter that if he touched the window again she would beat the life out of him. She had no more trouble with him that day. Every half hour or so she would come up stairs noiselessly, and listen at the door, or break in upon the child suddenly and without warning. But she did not find him again at the window. The restlessness at first exhibited had died out, and he sat or lay upon the floor in a kind of dull, despairing stupor. So that day passed.

On the second day of Andy's imprisonment he distinctly heard the old woman go out at the street door and lock it after her. He listened for a long time, but could hear no sound in the house. A feeling of relief and a sense of safety came over him. He had not been so long in his prison alone without the minutest examination of every part, and it had not escaped his notice that the panes of glass in the upper sash of the window were not covered with paper, as were those below. But for the fear of one of Mother Peter's noiseless pouncings in upon him, he would long since have climbed upon the sill and taken a look through the upper sash. He waited now for full half an hour to be sure that his jailer had left the house, and then, climbing to the window-sill with the agility of a squirrel, held on to the edge of the lower sash and looked out through the clear glass above. Dreary and unsightly as was all that lay under his gaze, it was beautiful in the eyes of the child. His little heart swelled and glowed; he longed, as a prisoner, for freedom. As he stood there he saw that a nail held down the lower sash, which he had so often tried, but in vain, to lift. Putting his finger on this nail, he felt it move. It had been placed loosely in a gimlet-hole, and could be drawn out easily. For a little while he stood there, taking out and putting in the nail. While doing this he thought he heard a sound below, and instantly dropped noiselessly from the window. He had scarcely done so when the door of his room opened and Mother Peter came in. She looked at him sharply, and then retired without speaking.

All the next day Andy listened after Mother Peter, waiting to hear her go out. But she did not leave the house until after he was asleep in the evening.

On the next day, after waiting until almost noon, the child's impatience of confinement grew so strong that he could no longer defer his meditated escape from the window, for ever since he had looked over the sash and discovered how it was fastened down, his mind had been running on this thing. He had noticed that Mother Peter's visits to his room were made after about equal intervals of time, and that after she gave him his dinner she did not come up stairs again for at least an hour. This had been brought, and he was again alone.

For nearly five minutes after the woman went out, he sat by the untasted food, his head bent toward the door, listening. Then he got up quietly, climbed upon the window-sill and pulled the nail out. Dropping back upon the floor noiselessly, he pushed his hands upward against the sash, and it rose easily. Like an animal held in unwilling confinement, he did not stop to think of any danger that might lie in the way of escape when opportunity for escape offered. The fear behind was worse than any imagined fear that could lie beyond. Pushing up the sash, Andy, without looking down from the window, threw himself across the sill and dropped his body over, supporting himself with his hands on the snow-encrusted ledge for a moment, and then letting himself fall to the ground, a distance of nearly ten feet. He felt his breath go as he swept through the air, and lost his senses for an instant or two.

Stunned by the fall, he did not rise for several minutes. Then he got up with a slow, heavy motion and looked about him anxiously. He was in a yard from which there was no egress except by way of the house. It was bitter cold, and he had on nothing but the clothing worn in the room from which he had just escaped. His head was bare.

The dread of being found here by Mother Peter soon lifted him above physical impediment or suffering. Through a hole in the fence he saw an alley-way; and by the aid of an old barrel that stood in the yard, he climbed to the top of the fence and let himself down on the other side, falling a few feet. A sharp pain was felt in one of his ankles as his feet touched the ground. He had sprained it in his leap from the window, and now felt the first pangs attendant on the injury.

Limping along, he followed the narrow alley-way, and in a little while came out upon a street some distance from the one in which Mother Peter lived. There were very few people abroad, and no one noticed or spoke to him as he went creeping along, every step sending a pain from the hurt ankle to his heart. Faint with suffering and chilled to numbness, Andy stumbled and fell as he tried, in crossing a street, to escape from a sleigh that turned a corner suddenly. It was too late for the driver to rein up his horse. One foot struck the child, throwing him out of the track of the sleigh. He was insensible when taken up, bleeding and apparently dead. A few people came out of the small houses in the neighborhood, attracted by the accident, but no one knew the child or offered to take him in.

There were two ladies in the sleigh, and both were greatly pained and troubled. After a hurried consultation, one of them reached out her hands for the child, and as she received and covered him with the buffalo-robe said something to the driver, who turned his horse's head and drove off at a rapid speed.