Cast Adrift by T.S. Arthur
Meantime, obeying the unwelcome summons, Mrs. Dinneford had gone to see Mrs. Bray. She found her in a small third-story room in the lower part of the city, over a mile away from her own residence. The meeting between the two women was not over-gracious, but in keeping with their relations to each other. Mrs. Dinneford was half angry and impatient; Mrs. Bray cool and self-possessed.
"And now what is it you have to say?" asked the former, almost as soon as she had entered.
"The woman to whom you gave that baby was here yesterday."
A frightened expression came into Mrs. Dinneford's face. Mrs. Bray watched her keenly as, with lips slightly apart, she waited for what more was to come.
"Unfortunately, she met me just as I was at my own door, and so found out my residence," continued Mrs. Bray. "I was in hopes I should never see her again. We shall have trouble, I'm afraid."
"In what way?"
"A bad woman who has you in her power can trouble you in many ways," answered Mrs. Bray.
"She did not know my name--you assured me of that. It was one of the stipulations."
"She does know, and your daughter's name also. And she knows where the baby is. She's deeper than I supposed. It's never safe to trust such people; they have no honor."
Fear sent all the color out of Mrs. Dinneford's face.
"What does she want?"
"She was paid liberally."
"That has nothing to do with it. These people have no honor, as I said; they will get all they can."
"How much does she want?"
"A hundred dollars; and it won't end there, I'm thinking. If she is refused, she will go to your house; she gave me that alternative--would have gone yesterday, if good luck had not thrown her in my way. I promised to call on you and see what could be done."
Mrs. Dinneford actually groaned in her fear and distress.
"Would you like to see her yourself?" coolly asked Mrs. Bray.
"Oh dear! no, no!" and the lady put up her hands in dismay.
"It might be best," said her wily companion.
"No, no, no! I will have nothing to do with her! You must keep her away from me," replied Mrs. Dinneford, with increasing agitation.
"I cannot keep her away without satisfying her demands. If you were to see her yourself, you would know just what her demands were. If you do not see her, you will only have my word for it, and I am left open to misapprehension, if not worse. I don't like to be placed in such a position."
And Mrs. Bray put on a dignified, half-injured manner.
"It's a wretched business in every way," she added, "and I'm sorry that I ever had anything to do with it. It's something dreadful, as I told you at the time, to cast a helpless baby adrift in such a way. Poor little soul! I shall never feel right about it."
"That's neither here nor there;" and Mrs. Dinneford waved her hand impatiently. "The thing now in hand is to deal with this woman."
"Yes, that's it--and as I said just now, I would rather have you deal with her yourself; you may be able to do it better than I can."
"It's no use to talk, Mrs. Bray. I will not see the woman."
"Very well; you must be your own judge in the case."
"Can't you bind her up to something, or get her out of the city? I'd pay almost anything to have her a thousand miles away. See if you can't induce her to go to New Orleans. I'll pay her passage, and give her a hundred dollars besides, if she'll go."
Mrs. Bray smiled a faint, sinister smile:
"If you could get her off there, it would be the end of her. She'd never stand the fever."
"Then get her off, cost what it may," said Mrs. Dinneford.
"She will be here in less than half an hour." Mrs. Bray looked at the face of a small cheap clock that stood on the mantel.
"She will?" Mrs. Dinneford became uneasy, and arose from her chair.
"Yes; what shall I say to her?"
"Manage her the best you can. Here are thirty dollars--all the money I have with me. Give her that, and promise more if necessary. I will see you again."
"When?" asked Mrs. Bray.
"At any time you desire."
"Then you had better come to-morrow morning. I shall not go out."
"I will be here at eleven o'clock. Induce her if possible to leave the city--to go South, so that she may never come back."
"The best I can shall be done," replied Mrs. Bray as she folded the bank-bills she had received from Mrs. Dinneford in a fond, tender sort of way and put them into her pocket.
Mrs. Dinneford retired, saying as she did so,
"I will be here in the morning."
An instant change came over the shallow face of the wiry little woman as the form of Mrs. Dinneford vanished through the door. A veil seemed to fall away from it. All its virtuous sobriety was gone, and a smile of evil satisfaction curved about her lips and danced in her keen black eyes. She stood still, listening to the retiring steps of her visitor, until she heard the street door shut. Then, with a quick, cat-like step, she crossed to the opposite side of the room, and pushed open a door that led to an adjoining chamber. A woman came forward to meet her. This woman was taller and stouter than Mrs. Bray, and had a soft, sensual face, but a resolute mouth, the under jaw slightly protruding. Her eyes were small and close together, and had that peculiar wily and alert expression you sometimes see, making you think of a serpent's eyes. She was dressed in common finery and adorned by cheap jewelry.
"What do you think of that, Pinky Swett?" exclaimed Mrs. Bray, in a voice of exultation. "Got her all right, haven't I?"
"Well, you have!" answered the woman, shaking all over with unrestrained laughter. "The fattest pigeon I've happened to see for a month of Sundays. Is she very rich?"
"Her husband is, and that's all the same. And now, Pinky"--Mrs. Bray assumed a mock gravity of tone and manner--"you know your fate--New Orleans and the yellow fever. You must pack right off. Passage free and a hundred dollars for funeral expenses. Nice wet graves down there--keep off the fire;" and she gave a low chuckle.
"Oh yes; all settled. When does the next steamer sail?" and Pinky almost screamed with merriment. She had been drinking.
"H-u-s-h! h-u-s-h! None of that here, Pinky. The people down stairs are good Methodists, and think me a saint."
"You a saint? Oh dear!" and she shook with repressed enjoyment.
After this the two women grew serious, and put their heads together for business.
"Who is this woman, Fan? What's her name, and where does she live?" asked Pinky Swett.
"That's my secret, Pinky," replied Mrs. Bray, "and I can't let it go; it wouldn't be safe. You get a little off the handle sometimes, and don't know what you say--might let the cat out of the bag. Sally Long took the baby away, and she died two months ago; so I'm the only one now in the secret. All I want of you is to keep track of the baby. Here is a five-dollar bill; I can't trust you with more at a time. I know your weakness, Pinky;" and she touched her under the chin in a familiar, patronizing way.
Pinky wasn't satisfied with this, and growled a little, just showing her teeth like an unquiet dog.
"Give me ten," she said; "the woman gave you thirty. I heard her say so. And she's going to bring you seventy to-morrow."
"You'll only waste it, Pinky," remonstrated Mrs. Bray. "It will all be gone before morning."
"Fan," said the woman, leaning toward Mrs. Bray and speaking in a low, confidential tone, "I dreamed of a cow last night, and that's good luck, you know. Tom Oaks made a splendid hit last Saturday--drew twenty dollars--and Sue Minty got ten. They're all buzzing about it down in our street, and going to Sam McFaddon's office in a stream."
"Do they have good luck at Sam McFaddon's?" asked Mrs. Bray, with considerable interest in her manner.
"It's the luckiest place that I know. Never dreamed of a cow or a hen that I didn't make a hit, and I dreamed of a cow last night. She was giving such a splendid pail of milk, full to the brim, just as old Spot and Brindle used to give. You remember our Spot and Brindle, Fan?"
"Oh yes." There was a falling inflection in Mrs. Bray's voice, as if the reference had sent her thoughts away back to other and more innocent days.
The two women sat silent for some moments after that; and when Pinky spoke, which she did first, it was in lower and softer tones:
"I don't like to think much about them old times, Fan; do you? I might have done better. But it's no use grizzling about it now. What's done's done, and can't be helped. Water doesn't run up hill again after it's once run down. I've got going, and can't stop, you see. There's nothing to catch at that won't break as soon as you touch it. So I mean to be jolly as I move along."
"Laughing is better than crying at any time," returned Mrs. Bray; "here are five more;" and she handed Pinky Swett another bank-bill. "I'm going to try my luck. Put half a dollar on ten different rows, and we'll go shares on what is drawn. I dreamed the other night that I saw a flock of sheep, and that's good luck, isn't it?"
Pinky thrust her hand into her pocket and drew out a worn and soiled dream-book.
"A flock of sheep; let me see;" and she commenced turning over the leaves. "Sheep; here it is: 'To see them is a sign of sorrow--11, 20, 40, 48. To be surrounded by many sheep denotes good luck--2, 11, 55.' That's your row; put down 2, 11, 55. We'll try that. Next put down 41 11, 44--that's the lucky row when you dream of a cow."
As Pinky leaned toward her friend she dropped her parasol.
"That's for luck, maybe," she said, with a brightening face. "Let's see what it says about a parasol;" and she turned over her dream-book.
"For a maiden to dream she loses her parasol shows that her sweetheart is false and will never marry her--5, 51, 56."
"But you didn't dream about a parasol, Pinky."
"That's no matter; it's just as good as a dream. 5, 51, 56 is the row. Put that down for the second, Fan."
As Mrs. Bray was writing out these numbers the clock on the mantel struck five.
"8, 12, 60," said Pinky, turning to the clock; "that's the clock row."
And Mrs. Bray put down these figures also.
"That's three rows," said Pinky, "and we want ten." She arose, as she spoke, and going to the front window, looked down upon the street.
"There's an organ-grinder; it's the first thing I saw;" and she came back fingering the leaves of her dream-book. "Put down 40, 50, 26."
Mrs. Bray wrote the numbers on her slip of paper.
"It's November; let's find the November row." Pinky consulted her book again. "Signifies you will have trouble through life--7, 9, 63. That's true as preaching; I was born in November, and I've had it all trouble. How many rows does that make?"
"Then we will cut cards for the rest;" and Pinky drew a soiled pack from her pocket, shuffled the cards and let her friends cut them.
"Ten of diamonds;" she referred to the dream-book. "10, 13, 31; put that down."
The cards were shuffled and cut again.
"Six of clubs--6, 35, 39."
Again they were cut and shuffled. This time the knave of clubs was turned up.
"That's 17, 19, 28," said Pinky, reading from her book.
The next cut gave the ace of clubs, and the policy numbers were 18, 63, 75.
"Once more, and the ten rows will be full;" and the cards were cut again.
"Five of hearts--5, 12, 60;" and the ten rows were complete.
"There's luck there, Fan; sure to make a hit," said Pinky, with almost childish confidence, as she gazed at the ten rows of figures. 'One of 'em can't help coming out right, and that would be fifty dollars--twenty-five for me and twenty-five for you; two rows would give a hundred dollars, and the whole ten a thousand. Think of that, Fan! five hundred dollars apiece."
"It would break Sam McFaddon, I'm afraid," remarked Mrs. Bray.
"Sam's got nothing to do with it," returned Pinky.
"Who has, then?"
"Oh, I found it all out--I know how it's done. Sam's got a backer--a man that puts up the money. Sam only sells for his backer. When there's a hit, the backer pays."
"Who's Sam's backer, as you call him?"
"Couldn't get him to tell; tried him hard, but he was close as an oyster. Drives in the Park and wears a two thousand dollar diamond pin; he let that out. So he's good for the hits. Sam always puts the money down, fair and square."
"Very well; you get the policy, and do it right off, Pinky, or the money'll slip through your fingers."
"All right," answered Pinky as she folded the slip of paper containing the lucky rows. "Never you fear. I'll be at Sam McFaddon's in ten minutes after I leave here."
"And be sure," said Mrs. Bray, "to look after the baby to-night, and see that it doesn't perish with cold; the air's getting sharp."
"It ought to have something warmer than cotton rags on its poor little body," returned Pinky. "Can't you get it some flannel? It will die if you don't."
"I sent it a warm petticoat last week," said Mrs. Bray.
"Yes; I bought one at a Jew shop, and had it sent to the woman."
"Was it a nice warm one?"
Pinky drew a sigh. "I saw the poor baby last night; hadn't anything on but dirty cotton rags. It was lying asleep in a cold cellar on a little heap of straw. The woman had given it something, I guess, by the way it slept. The petticoat had gone, most likely, to Sam McFaddon's. She spends everything she can lay her hands on in policies and whisky."
"She's paid a dollar a week for taking care of the baby at night and on Sundays," said Mrs. Bray.
"It wouldn't help the baby any if she got ten dollars," returned Pinky. "It ought to be taken away from her."
"But who's to do that? Sally Long sold it to the two beggar women, and they board it out. I have no right to interfere; they own the baby, and can do as they please with it."
"It could be got to the almshouse," said Pinky; "it would be a thousand times better off."
"It mustn't go to the almshouse," replied Mrs. Bray; "I might lose track of it, and that would never do."
"You'll lose track of it for good and all before long, if you don't get it out of them women's bands. No baby can hold out being begged with long; it's too hard on the little things. For you know how it is, Fan; they must keep 'em half starved and as sick as they will bear without dying right off, so as to make 'em look pitiful. You can't do much at begging with a fat, hearty-looking baby."
"What's to be done about it?" asked Mrs. Bray. "I don't want that baby to die."
"Would its mother know it if she saw it?" asked Pinky.
"No; for she never set eyes on it."
"Then, if it dies, get another baby, and keep track of that. You can steal one from a drunken mother any night in the week. I'll do it for you. One baby is as good as another."
"It will be safer to have the real one," replied Mrs. Bray. "And now, Pinky that you have put this thing into my head, I guess I'll commission you to get the baby away from that woman."
"But what are we to do with it? I can't have it here."
"Of course you can't. But that's easily managed, if your're willing to pay for it."
"Pay for it?"
"Yes; if it isn't begged with, and made to pay its way and earn something into the bargain, it's got to be a dead weight on somebody. So you see how it is, Fan. Now, if you'll take a fool's advice, you'll let 'it go to the almshouse, or let it alone to die and get out of its misery as soon as possible. You can find another baby that will do just as well, if you should ever need one."
"How much would it cost, do you think, to have it boarded with some one who wouldn't abuse it? She might beg with it herself, or hire it out two or three times a week. I guess it would stand that."
"Beggars don't belong to the merciful kind," answered Pinky; "there's no trusting any of them. A baby in their hands is never safe. I've seen 'em brought in at night more dead than alive, and tossed on a dirty rag-heap to die before morning. I'm always glad when they're out of their misery, poor things! The fact is, Fan, if you expect that baby to live, you've got to take it clean out of the hands of beggars."
"What could I get it boarded for outright?" asked Mrs. Bray.
"For 'most anything, 'cording to how it's done. But why not, while you're about it, bleed the old lady, its grandmother, a little deeper, and take a few drops for the baby?"
"Guess you're kind o' right about that, Fan; anyhow, we'll make a start on it. You find another place for the brat."
"'Greed; when shall I do it?"
"The sooner, the better. It might die of cold any night in that horrible den. Ugh!"
"I've been in worse places. Bedlow street is full of them, and so is Briar street and Dirty alley. You don't know anything about it."
"Maybe not, and maybe I don't care to know. At present I want to settle about this baby. You'll find another place for it?"
"And then steal it from the woman who has it now?"
"Yes; no trouble in the world. She's drunk every night," answered Pinky Swett, rising to go.
"You'll see me to-morrow?" said Mrs. Bray.
"And you won't forget about the policies?"
"Not I. We shall make a grand hit, or I'm a fool. Day-day!" Pinky waved her hand gayly, and then retired.