Cast Adrift by T.S. Arthur
For an hour Mrs. Bray waited the reappearance of Pinky Swett, but the girl did not come back. At the end of this time a package which had been left at the door was brought to her room. It came from Mrs. Dinneford, and contained two hundred dollars. A note that accompanied the package read as follows:
"Forgive my little fault of temper. It is your interest to be my friend. The woman must not, on any account, be suffered to come near me."
Of course there was no signature. Mrs. Bray's countenance was radiant as she fingered the money.
"Good luck for me, but bad for the baby," she said, in a low, pleased murmur, talking to herself. "Poor baby! I must see better to its comfort. It deserves to be looked after. I wonder why Pinky doesn't come?"
Mrs. Bray listened, but no sound of feet from the stairs or entries, no opening or shutting of doors, broke the silence that reigned through the house.
"Pinky's getting too low down--drinks too much; can't count on her any more." Mrs. Bray went on talking to herself. "No rest; no quiet; never satisfied; for ever knocking round, and for ever getting the worst of it. She was a real nice girl once, and I always liked her. But she doesn't take any care of herself."
As Pinky went out, an hour before, she met a fresh-looking girl, not over seventeen, and evidently from the country. She was standing on the pavement, not far from the house in which Mrs. Bray lived, and had a traveling-bag in her hand. Her perplexed face and uncertain manner attracted Pinky's attention.
"Are you looking for anybody?" she asked.
"I'm trying to find a Mrs. Bray," the girl answered. "I'm a stranger from the country."
"Oh, you are?" said Pinky, drawing her veil more tightly so that her disfigured face could not be seen.
"Yes I'm from L----."
"Indeed? I used to know some people there."
"Then you've been in L----?" said the girl, with a pleased, trustful manner, as of one who had met a friend at the right time.
"Yes, I've visited there."
"Indeed? Who did you know in L----?"
"Are you acquainted with the Cartwrights?"
"I know of them. They are among our first people," returned the girl.
"I spent a week in their family a few years ago, and had a very pleasant time," said Pinky.
"Oh, I'm glad to know that," remarked the girl. "I'm a stranger here; and if I can't find Mrs. Bray, I don't see what I am to do. A lady from here who was staying at the hotel gave me at letter to Mrs. Bray. I was living at the hotel, but I didn't like it; it was too public. I told the lady that I wanted to learn a trade or get into a store, and she said the city was just the place for me, and that she would give me a letter to a particular friend, who would, on her recommendation, interest he self for me. It's somewhere along here that she lived, I'm sure;" and she took a letter from her pocket and examined the direction.
The girl was fresh and young and pretty, and had an artless, confiding manner. It was plain she knew little of the world, and nothing of its evils and dangers.
"Let me see;" and Pinky reached out her hand for the letter. She put it under her veil, and read,
"MRS. FANNY BRAY, "No. 631----street, "----
"By the hand of Miss Flora Bond."
"Flora Bond," said Pinky, in a kind, familiar tone.
"Yes, that is my name," replied the girl; "isn't this----street?"
"Yes; and there, is the number you are looking for."
"Oh, thank you! I'm so glad to find the place. I was beginning to feel scared."
"I will ring the bell for you," said Pinky, going to the door of No. 631. A servant answered the summons.
"Is Mrs. Bray at home?" inquired Pinky.
"I don't know," replied the servant, looking annoyed. "Her rooms are in the third story;" and she held the door wide open for them to enter. As they passed into the hall Pinky said to her companion,
"Just wait here a moment, and I will run up stairs and see if she is in."
The girl stood in the hall until Pinky came back.
"Not at home, I'm sorry to say."
"Oh dear! that's bad; what shall I do?" and the girl looked distressed.
"She'll be back soon, no doubt," said Pinky, in a light, assuring voice. "I'll go around with you a little and see things."
The girl looked down at her traveling-bag.
"Oh, that's nothing; I'll help you to carry it;" and Pinky took it from her hand.
"Couldn't we leave it here?" asked Flora.
"It might not be safe; servants are not always to be trusted, and Mrs. Bray's rooms are locked; we can easily carry it between us. I'm strong--got good country blood in my veins. You see I'm from the country as well as you; right glad we met. Don't know what you would have done."
And she drew the girl out, talking familiarly, as they went.
"Haven't had your dinner yet?"
"No; just arrived in the cars, and came right here."
"You must have something to eat, then. I know a nice place; often get dinner there when I'm out."
The girl did not feel wholly at ease. She had not yet been able to get sight of Pinky's closely-veiled features, and there was something in her voice that made her feel uncomfortable.
"I don't care for any dinner," she said; "I'm not hungry."
"Well, I am, then, so come. Do you like oysters?"
"Cook them splendidly. Best place in the city. And you'd like to get into a store or learn a trade?"
"What trade did you think of?"
"None in particular."
"How would you like to get into a book-bindery? I know two or three girls in binderies, and they can make from five to ten dollars a week. It's the nicest, cleanest work I know of."
"Oh, do you?" returned Flora, with newly-awakening interest.
"Yes; we'll talk it all over while we're eating dinner. This way."
And Pinky turned the corner of a small street that led away from the more crowded thoroughfare along which they had been passing.
"It's a quiet and retired place, where only the nicest kind of people go," she added. "Many working-girls and girls in stores get their dinners there. We'll meet some of them, no doubt; and if any that I know should happen in, we might hear of a good place. Just the thing, isn't it? I'm right glad I met you."
They had gone halfway down the square, when Pinky stopped before the shop of a confectioner. In the window was a display of cakes, pies and candies, and a sign with the words, "LADIES' RESTAURANT."
"This is the place," she said, and opening the door, passed in, the young stranger following.
A sign of caution, unseen by Flora, was made to a girl who stood behind the counter. Then Pinky turned, saying,
"How will you have your oysters? stewed, fried, broiled or roasted?"
"I'm not particular--any way," replied Flora.
"I like them fried. Will you have them the same way?"
Flora nodded assent.
"Let them be fried, then. Come, we'll go up stairs. Anybody there?"
"Two or three only."
"Any girls from the bindery?"
"Yes; I think so."
"Oh. I'm glad of that! Want to see some of them. Come, Miss Bond."
And Pinky, after a whispered word to the attendant, led the way to a room up stairs in which were a number of small tables. At one of these were two girls eating, at another a girl sitting by herself, and at another a young man and a girl. As Pinky and her companion entered, the inmates of the room stared at them familiarly, and then winked and leered at each other. Flora did not observe this, but she felt a sudden oppression and fear. They sat down at a table not far from one of the windows. Flora looked for the veil to be removed, so that she might see the face of her new friend. But Pinky kept it closely down.
In about ten minutes the oysters were served. Accompanying them were two glasses of some kind of liquor. Floating on one of these was a small bit of cork. Pinky took this and handed the other to her companion, saying,
"Only a weak sangaree. It will refresh you after your fatigue; and I always like something with oysters, it helps to make them lay lighter on the stomach."
Meantime, one of the girls had crossed over and spoken to Pinky. After word or two, the latter said,
"Don't you work in a bindery, Miss Peter?"
"Yes," was answered, without hesitation.
"I thought so. Let me introduce you to my friend, Miss Flora Bond. She's from the country, and wants to get into some good establishment. She talked about a store, but I think a bindery is better."
"A great deal better," was replied by Miss Peter. "I've tried them both, and wouldn't go back to a store again on any account. If I can serve your friend, I shall be most happy."
"Thank you!" returned Flora; "you are very kind."
"Not at all; I'm always glad when I can be of service to any one. You think you'd like to go into a bindery?"
"Yes. I've come to the city to get employment, and haven't much choice."
"There's no place like the city," remarked the other. "I'd die in the country--nothing going on. But you won't stagnate here. When did you arrive?"
"Have you friends here?"
"No. I brought a letter of introduction to a lady who resides in the city."
"What's her name?"
Miss Peter turned her head so that Flora could not see her face. It was plain from its expression that she knew Mrs. Bray.
"Have you seen her yet?" she asked.
"No. She was out when I called. I'm going back in a little while."
The girl sat down, and went on talking while the others were eating. Pinky had emptied her glass of sangaree before she was half through with her oysters, and kept urging Flora to drink.
"Don't be afraid of it, dear," she said, in a kind, persuasive way; "there's hardly a thimbleful of wine in the whole glass. It will soothe your nerves, and make you feel ever so much better."
There was something in the taste of the sangaree that Flora did not like--a flavor that was not of wine. But urged repeatedly by her companion, whose empty glass gave her encouragement and confidence, she sipped and drank until she had taken the whole of it. By this time she was beginning to have a sense of fullness and confusion in the head, and to feel oppressed and uncomfortable. Her appetite suddenly left her, and she laid down her knife and fork and leaned her head upon her hand.
"What's the matter?" asked Pinky.
"Nothing," answered the girl; "only my head feels a little strangely. It will pass off in a moment."
"Riding in the cars, maybe," said Pinky. "I always feel bad after being in the cars; it kind of stirs me up."
Flora sat very quietly at the table, still resting her head upon her hands. Pinky and the girl who had joined them exchanged looks of intelligence. The former had drawn her veil partly aside, yet concealing as much as possible the bruises on her face.
"My! but you're battered!" exclaimed Miss Peter, in a whisper that was unheard by Flora.
Pinky only answered by a grimace. Then she said to Flora, with well-affected concern,
"I'm afraid you are ill, dear? How do you feel?"
"I don't know," answered the poor girl, in a voice that betrayed great anxiety, if not alarm. "It came over me all at once. I'm afraid that wine was too strong; I am not used to taking anything."
"Oh dear, no! it wasn't that. I drank a glass, and don't feel it any more than if it had been water."
"Let's go," said Flora, starting up. "Mrs. Bray must be home by this time."
"All right, if you feel well enough," returned Pinky, rising at the same time.
"Oh dear! how my head swims!" exclaimed Flora, putting both hands to her temples. She stood for a few moments in an uncertain attitude, then reached out in a blind, eager way.
Pinky drew quickly to her side, and put one arm about her waist.
"Come," she said, "the air is too close for you here;" and with the assistance of the girl who had joined them, she steadied Flora down stairs.
"Doctored a little too high," whispered Miss Peter, with her mouth close to Pinky's ear.
"All right," Pinky whispered back; "they know how to do it."
At the foot of the stairs Pinky said,
"You take her out through the yard, while I pay for the oysters. I'll be with you in a moment."
Poor Flora, was already too much confused by the drugged liquor she had taken to know what they were doing with her.
Hastily paying for the oysters and liquor, Pinky was on hand in a few moments. From the back door of the house they entered a small yard, and passed from this through a gate into a narrow private alley shut in on each side by a high fence. This alley ran for a considerable distance, and had many gates opening into it from yards, hovels and rear buildings, all of the most forlorn and wretched character. It terminated in a small street.
Along this alley Pinky and the girl she had met at the restaurant supported Flora, who was fast losing strength and consciousness. When halfway down, they held a brief consultation.
"It won't do," said Pinky, "to take her through to----street. She's too far gone, and the police will be down on us and carry her off."
"Norah's got some place in there," said the other, pointing to an old wooden building close by.
"I'm out with Norah," replied Pinky, "and don't mean to have anything more to do with her."
"Where's your room?"
"That isn't the go. Don't want her there. Pat Maley's cellar is just over yonder. We can get in from the alley."
"Pat's too greedy a devil. There wouldn't be anything left of her when he got through. No, no, Pinky; I'll have nothing to do with it if she's to go into Pat Maley's cellar."
"Not much to choose between 'em," answered Pinky. "But it won't do to parley here. We must get her in somewhere."
And she pushed open a gate as she spoke. It swung back on one hinge and struck the fence with a bang, disclosing a yard that beggared description in its disorder and filth. In the back part of this yard was a one-and-a-half-story frame building, without windows, looking more like an old chicken-house or pig-stye than a place for human beings to live in. The loft over the first story was reached by ladder on the outside. Above and below the hovel was laid off in kind of stalls or bunks furnished with straw. There were about twenty of these. It was a ten-cent lodging-house, filled nightly. If this wretched hut or stye--call it what you will--had been torn down, it would not have brought ten dollars as kindling-wood. Yet its owner, a gentleman (?) living handsomely up town, received for it the annual rent of two hundred and fifty dollars. Subletted at an average of two dollars a night, it gave an income of nearly seven hundred dollars a year. It was known as the "Hawk's Nest," and no bird of prey ever had a fouler nest than this.
As the gate banged on the fence a coarse, evil-looking man, wearing a dirty Scotch cap and a red shirt, pushed his head up from the cellar of the house that fronted on the street.
"What's wanted?" he asked, in a kind of growl, his upper lip twitching and drawing up at one side in a nervous way, letting his teeth appear.
"We want to get this girl in for a little while," said Pinky. "We'll take her away when she comes round. Is anybody in there?" and she pointed to the hovel.
The man shook his head.
"How much?" asked Pinky.
"Ten cents apiece;" and he held out his hand.
Pinky gave him thirty cents. He took a key from his pocket, and opened the door that led into the lower room. The stench that came out as the door swung back was dreadful. But poor Flora Bond was by this time so relaxed in every muscle, and so dead to outward things, that it was impossible to get her any farther. So they bore her into this horrible den, and laid her down in one of the stalls on a bed of loose straw. Inside, there was nothing but these stalls and straw--not a table or chair, or any article of furniture. They filled up nearly the entire room, leaving only a narrow passage between them. The only means of ventilation was by the door.
As soon as Pinky and her companion in this terrible wickedness were alone with their victim, they searched her pocket for the key of her traveling-bag. On finding it, Pinky was going to open it, when the other said,
"Never mind about that; we can examine her baggage in safer place. Let's go for the movables."
And saying this, she fell quickly to work on the person of Flora, slipping out the ear-rings first, then removing her breast-pin and finger-rings, while Pinky unbuttoned the new gaiter boots, and drew off both boots and stockings, leaving upon the damp straw the small, bare feet, pink and soft almost as a baby's.
It did not take these harpies five minutes to possess themselves of everything but the poor girl's dress and undergarments. Cloth oversack, pocket-book, collar, linen cuffs, hat, shoes and stockings--all these were taken.
"Hallo!" cried the keeper of this foul den as the two girls hurried out with the traveling-bag and a large bundle sooner than he had expected; and he came quickly forth from the cellar in which he lived like a cruel spider and tried to intercept them, but they glided through the gate and were out of his reach before he could get near. He could follow them only with obscene invectives and horrible oaths. Well he knew what had been done--that there had been a robbery in the "Hawk's Nest," and he not in to share the booty.
Growling like a savage dog, this wretch, in whom every instinct of humanity had long since died--this human beast, who looked on innocence and helplessness as a wolf looks upon a lamb--strode across the yard and entered the den. Lying in one of the stalls upon the foul, damp straw he found Flora Bond. Cruel beast that he was, even he felt himself held back as by an invisible hand, as he looked at the pure face of the insensible girl. Rarely had his eyes rested on a countenance so full of innocence. But the wolf has no pity for the lamb, nor the hawk for the dove. The instinct of his nature quickly asserted itself.
Avarice first. From the face his eyes turned to see what had been left by the two girls. An angry imprecation fell from his lips when he saw how little remained for him. But when he lifted Flora's head and unbound her hair, a gleam of pleasure came info his foul face. It was a full suit of rich chestnut brown, nearly three feet long, and fell in thick masses over her breast and shoulders. He caught it up eagerly, drew it through his great ugly hands, and gloated over it with something of a miser's pleasure as he counts his gold. Then taking a pair of scissors from his pocket, he ran them over the girl's head with the quickness and skill of a barber, cutting close down, that he might not lose even the sixteenth part of an inch of her rich tresses. An Indian scalping his victim could not have shown more eagerness. An Indian's wild pleasure was in his face as he lifted the heavy mass of brown hair and held it above his head. It was not a trophy--not a sign of conquest and triumph over an enemy--but simply plunder, and had a market value of fifteen or twenty dollars.
The dress was next examined; it was new, but not of a costly material. Removing this, the man went out with his portion of the spoils, and locked the door, leaving the half-clothed, unconscious girl lying on the damp, filthy straw, that swarmed with vermin. It was cold as well as damp, and the chill of a bleak November day began creeping into her warm blood. But the stupefying draught had been well compounded, and held her senses locked.
Of what followed we cannot write, and we shiver as we draw a veil over scenes that should make the heart of all Christendom ache--scenes that are repeated in thousands of instances year by year in our large cities, and no hand is stretched forth to succor and no arm to save. Under the very eyes of the courts and the churches things worse than we have described--worse than the reader can imagine--are done every day. The foul dens into which crime goes freely, and into which innocence is betrayed, are known to the police, and the evil work that is done is ever before them. From one victim to another their keepers pass unquestioned, and plunder, debauch, ruin and murder with an impunity frightful to contemplate. As was said by a distinguished author, speaking of a kindred social enormity, "There is not a country throughout the earth on which a state of things like this would not bring a curse. There is no religion upon earth that it would not deny; there is no people on earth that it would not put to shame."
And we are Christians!
No. Of what followed we cannot write. Those who were near the "Hawk's Nest" heard that evening, soon after nightfall, the single wild, prolonged cry of a woman. It was so full of terror and despair that even the hardened ears that heard it felt a sudden pain. But they were used to such things in that region, and no one took the trouble to learn what it meant. Even the policeman moving on his beat stood listening for only a moment, and then passed on.
Next day, in the local columns of a city paper, appeared the following:
"FOUL PLAY.--About eleven o'clock last night the body of a beautiful young girl, who could not have been over seventeen years of age, was discovered lying on the pavement in----street. No one knew how she came there. She was quite dead when found. There was nothing by which she could be identified. All her clothes but a single undergarment had been removed, and her hair cut off close to her head. There were marks of brutal violence on her person. The body was placed in charge of the coroner, who will investigate the matter."
On the day after, this paragraph appeared:
"SUSPICION OF FOUL PLAY.--The coroner's inquest elicited nothing in regard to the young girl mentioned yesterday as having been found dead and stripped of her clothing in----street. No one was able to identify her. A foul deed at which the heart shudders has been done; but the wretches by whom it was committed have been able to cover their tracks."
And that was the last of it. The whole nation gives a shudder of fear at the announcement of an Indian massacre and outrage. But in all our large cities are savages more cruel and brutal in their instincts than the Comanches, and they torture and outrage and murder a hundred poor victims for every one that is exposed to Indian brutality, and there comes no succor. Is it from ignorance of the fact? No, no, no! There is not a Judge on the bench, not a lawyer at the bar, not a legislator at the State capital, not a mayor or police-officer, not a minister who preaches the gospel of Christ, who came to seek and to save, not an intelligent citizen, but knows of all this.
What then? Who is responsible? The whole nation arouses itself at news of an Indian assault upon some defenseless frontier settlement, and the general government sends troops to succor and to punish. But who takes note of the worse than Indian massacres going on daily and nightly in the heart of our great cities? Who hunts down and punishes the human wolves in our midst whose mouths are red with the blood of innocence? Their deeds of cruelty outnumber every year a hundred--nay, a thousand--fold the deeds of our red savages. Their haunts are known, and their work is known. They lie in wait for the unwary, they gather in the price of human souls, none hindering, at our very church doors. Is no one responsible for all this? Is there no help? Is evil stronger than good, hell stronger than heaven? Have the churches nothing to do in this matter? Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost--came to the lowliest, the poorest and the vilest, to those over whom devils had gained power, and cast out the devils. Are those who call themselves by his name diligent in the work to which he put his blessed hands? Millions of dollars go yearly into magnificent churches, but how little to the work of saving and succoring the weak, the helpless, the betrayed, the outcast and the dying, who lie uncared for at the mercy of human fiends, and often so near to the temples of God that their agonized appeals for help are drowned by the organ and choir!