Cast Adrift by T.S. Arthur
"It is a splendid boy," said the nurse as she came in with the new-born baby in her arms, "and perfect as a bit of sculpture. Just look at that hand."
"Faugh!" ejaculated Mrs. Dinneford, to whom this was addressed. Her countenance expressed disgust. She turned her head away. "Hide the thing from my sight!" she added, angrily. "Cover it up! smother it if you will!"
"You are still determined?" said the nurse.
"Determined, Mrs. Bray; I am not the woman to look back when I have once resolved. You know me." Mrs. Dinneford said this passionately.
The two women were silent for a little while. Mrs. Bray, the nurse, kept her face partly turned from Mrs. Dinneford. She was a short, dry, wiry little woman, with French features, a sallow complexion and very black eyes.
The doctor looked in. Mrs. Dinneford went quickly to the door, and putting her hand on his arm, pressed him back, going out into the entry with him and closing the door behind them. They talked for a short time very earnestly.
"The whole thing is wrong," said the doctor as he turned to go, "and I will not be answerable for the consequences."
"No one will require them at your hand, Doctor Radcliffe," replied Mrs. Dinneford. "Do the best you can for Edith. As for the rest, know nothing, say nothing. You understand."
Doctor Burt Radcliffe had a large practice among rich and fashionable people. He had learned to be very considerate of their weaknesses, peculiarities and moral obliquities. His business was to doctor them when sick, to humor them when they only thought themselves sick, and to get the largest possible fees for his, services. A great deal came under his observation that he did not care to see, and of which he saw as little as possible. From policy he had learned to be reticent. He held family secrets enough to make, in the hands of a skillful writer, more than a dozen romances of the saddest and most exciting character.
Mrs. Dinneford knew him thoroughly, and just how far to trust him. "Know nothing, say nothing" was a good maxim in the case, and so she divulged only the fact that the baby was to be cast adrift. His weak remonstrance might as well not have been spoken, and he knew it.
While this brief interview was in progress, Nurse Bray sat with the baby on her lap. She had taken the soft little hands into her own; and evil and cruel though she was, an impulse of tenderness flowed into her heart from the angels who were present with the innocent child. It grew lovely in her eyes. Its helplessness stirred in her a latent instinct of protection. "No no, it must not be," she was saying to herself, when the door opened and Mrs. Dinneford came back.
Mrs. Bray did not lift her head, but sat looking down at the baby and toying with its hands.
"Pshaw!" ejaculated Mrs. Dinneford, in angry disgust, as she noticed this manifestation of interest. "Bundle the thing up and throw into that basket. Is the woman down stairs?"
"Yes," replied Mrs. Bray as she slowly drew a light blanket over the baby.
"Very well. Put it in the basket, and let her take it away."
"She is not a good woman," said the nurse, whose heart was failing her at the last moment.
"She may be the devil for all I care," returned Mrs. Dinneford.
Mrs. Bray did as she was ordered, but with an evident reluctance that irritated Mrs. Dinneford.
"Go now and bring up the woman," she said, sharply.
The woman was brought. She was past the prime of life, and had an evil face. You read in it the record of bad passions indulged and the signs of a cruel nature. She was poorly clad, and her garments unclean.
"You will take this child?" said Mrs. Dinneford abruptly, as the woman came into her presence.
"I have agreed to do so," she replied, looking toward Mrs. Bray.
"She is to have fifty dollars," said the nurse.
"And that is to be the last of it!" Mrs. Dinneford's face was pale, and she spoke in a hard, husky voice.
Opening her purse, she took from it a small roll of bills, and as she held out the money said, slowly and with a hard emphasis,
"You understand the terms. I do not know you--not even your name. I don't wish to know you. For this consideration you take the child away. That is the end of it between you and me. The child is your own as much as if he were born to you, and you can do with him as you please. And now go." Mrs. Dinneford waved her hand.
"His name?" queried the woman.
"He has no name!" Mrs. Dinneford stamped her foot in angry impatience.
The woman stooped down, and taking up the basket, tucked the covering that had been laid over the baby close about its head, so that no one could see what she carried, and went off without uttering another word.
It was some moments before either Mrs. Dinneford or the nurse spoke. Mrs. Bray was first to break silence.
"All this means a great deal more than you have counted on," she said, in a voice that betrayed some little feeling. "To throw a tender baby out like that is a hard thing. I am afraid--"
"There, there! no more of that," returned Mrs. Dinneford, impatiently. "It's ugly work, I own, but it had to be done--like cutting off a diseased limb. He will die, of course, and the sooner it is over, the better for him and every one else."
"He will have a hard struggle for life, poor little thing!" said the nurse. "I would rather see him dead."
Mrs. Dinneford, now that this wicked and cruel deed was done, felt ill at ease. She pushed the subject away, and tried to bury it out of sight as we bury the dead, but did not find the task an easy one.
What followed the birth and removal of Edith's baby up to the time of her return to reason after long struggle for life, has already been told. Her demand to have her baby--"Oh, mother, bring me my baby! I shall die if you do not!" and the answer, "Your baby is in heaven!"--sent the feeble life-currents back again upon her heart. There was another long period of oblivion, out of which she came very slowly, her mind almost as much a blank as the mind of a child.
She had to learn again the names of things, and to be taught their use. It was touching to see the untiring devotion of her father, and the pleasure he took in every new evidence of mental growth. He went over the alphabet with her, letter by letter, many times each day, encouraging her and holding her thought down to the unintelligible signs with a patient tenderness sad yet beautiful to see; and when she began to combine letters into words, and at last to put words together, his delight was unbounded.
Very slowly went on the new process of mental growth, and it was months before thought began to reach out beyond the little world that lay just around her.
Meanwhile, Edith's husband had been brought to trial for forgery, convicted and sentenced to the State's prison for a term of years. His partner came forward as the chief witness, swearing that he had believed the notes genuine, the firm having several times had the use of Mr. Dinneford's paper, drawn to the order of Granger.
Ere the day of trial came the poor young man was nearly broken-hearted. Public disgrace like this, added to the terrible private wrongs he was suffering, was more than he had the moral strength to bear. Utterly repudiated by his wife's family, and not even permitted to see Edith, he only knew that she was very ill. Of the birth of his baby he had but a vague intimation. A rumor was abroad that it had died, but he could learn nothing certain. In his distress and uncertainty he called on Dr. Radcliffe, who replied to his questions with a cold evasion. "It was put out to nurse," said the doctor, "and that is all I know about it." Beyond this he would say nothing.
Granger was not taken to the State's prison after his sentence, but to an insane asylum. Reason gave way under the terrible ordeal through which he had been made to pass.
"Mother," said Edith, one day, in a tone that caused Mrs. Dinneford's heart to leap. She was reading a child's simple story-book, and looked up as she spoke. Her eyes were wide open and full of questions.
"What, my dear?" asked Mrs. Dinneford, repressing her feelings and trying to keep her voice calm.
"There's something I can't understand, mother." She looked down at herself, then about the room. Her manner was becoming nervous.
"What can't you understand?"
Edith shut her hands over her eyes and remained very still. When she removed them, and her mother looked into her face the childlike sweetness and content were all gone, and a conscious woman was before her. The transformation was as sudden as it was marvelous.
Both remained silent for the space of nearly a minute. Mrs. Dinneford knew not what to say, and waited for some sign from her daughter.
"Where is my baby, mother?" Edith said this in a low, tremulous whisper, leaning forward as she spoke, repressed and eager.
"Have you forgotten?" asked Mrs. Dinneford, with regained composure.
"You were very ill after your baby was born; no one thought you could live; you were ill for a long time. And the baby--"
"What of the baby, mother?" asked Edith, beginning to tremble violently. Her mother, perceiving her agitation, held back the word that was on her lips.
"What of the baby, mother?" Edith repeated the question.
"It died," said Mrs. Dinneford, turning partly away. She could not look at her child and utter this cruel falsehood.
"Dead! Oh, mother, don't say that! The baby can't be dead!"
A swift flash of suspicion came into her eyes.
"I have said it, my child," was the almost stern response of Mrs. Dinneford. "The baby is dead."
A weight seemed to fall on Edith. She bent forward, crouching down until her elbows rested on her knees and her hands supported her head. Thus she sat, rocking her body with a slight motion. Mrs. Dinneford watched her without speaking.
"And what of George?" asked Edith, checking her nervous movement at last.
Her mother did not reply. Edith waited a moment, and then lifted herself erect.
"What of George?" she demanded.
"My poor child!" exclaimed Mrs. Dinneford, with a gush of genuine pity, putting her arms about Edith and drawing her head against her bosom. "It is more than you have strength to bear."
"You must tell me," the daughter said, disengaging herself. "I have asked for my husband."
"Hush! You must not utter that word again;" and Mrs. Dinneford put her fingers on Edith's lips. "The wretched man you once called by that name is a disgraced criminal. It is better that you know the worst."
When Mr. Dinneford came home, instead of the quiet, happy child he had left in the morning, he found a sad, almost broken-hearted woman, refusing to be comforted. The wonder was that under the shock of this terrible awakening, reason had not been again and hopelessly dethroned.
After a period of intense suffering, pain seemed to deaden sensibility. She grew calm and passive. And now Mrs. Dinneford set herself to the completion of the work she had begun. She had compassed the ruin of Granger in order to make a divorce possible; she had cast the baby adrift that no sign of the social disgrace might remain as an impediment to her first ambition. She would yet see her daughter in the position to which she had from the beginning resolved to lift her, cost what it might. But the task was not to be an easy one.
After a period of intense suffering, as we have said, Edith grew calm and passive. But she was never at ease with her mother, and seemed to be afraid of her. To her father she was tender and confiding. Mrs. Dinneford soon saw that if Edith's consent to a divorce from her husband was to be obtained, it must come through her father's influence; for if she but hinted at the subject, it was met with a flash of almost indignant rejection. So her first work was to bring her husband over to her side. This was not difficult, for Mr. Dinneford felt the disgrace of having for a son-in-law a condemned criminal, who was only saved from the State's prison by insanity. An insane criminal was not worthy to hold the relation of husband to his pure and lovely child.
After a feeble opposition to her father's arguments and persuasions, Edith yielded her consent. An application for a divorce was made, and speedily granted.