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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCast Adrift - Chapter XVI
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Cast Adrift - Chapter XVI Post by :nameuser Category :Long Stories Author :T. S. Arthur Date :March 2011 Read :1602

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Cast Adrift - Chapter XVI

CHAPTER XVI. Mr. Dinneford's return, and Edith's disappointment--"It
is somebody's baby, and it may be mine"--An unsuspected
listener--Mrs. Dinneford acts promptly--Conference between Mrs.
Dinneford and Mrs. Hoyt, _alias Bray--The child must be got out of
the way--"If it will not starve, it must drown"--Mrs. Dinneford sees
an acquaintance as she leaves Mrs. Hoyt's, and endeavors to escape
his observation--A new danger and disgrace awaiting her


_IT was past midday when Mr. Dinneford returned home after his
fruitless search. Edith, who had been waiting for hours in restless
suspense, heard his step in the hall, and ran down to meet him.

"Did you see the baby?"' she asked, trying to keep her agitation
down.

Mr. Dinneford only shook his head,

"Why, not, father?" Her voice choked.

"It could not be found."

"You saw Mr. Paulding?"

"Yes."

"Didn't he find the baby?"

"Oh yes. But when I went to Grubb's court this morning, it was not
there, and no one could or would give any information about it. As
the missionary feared, those having possession of the baby had taken
alarm and removed it to another place. But I have seen the mayor and
some of the police, and got them interested. It will not be possible
to hide the child for any length of time."

"You said that Mr. Paulding saw it?"

"Yes."

"What did he say?" Edith's voice trembled as she asked the question.

"He thinks there is something wrong."

"Did he tell you how the baby looked?"

"He said that it had large, beautiful brown eyes."

Edith clasped her hands, and drew them tightly against her bosom.

"Oh, father! if it should be my baby!"

"My dear, dear child," said Mr. Dinneford, putting his arms about
Edith and holding her tightly, "you torture yourself with a wild
dream. The thing is impossible."

"It is somebody's baby," sobbed Edith, her face on her father's
breast, "and it may be mine. Who knows?"

"We will do our best to find it," returned Mr. Dinneford, "and then
do what Christian charity demands. I am in earnest so far, and will
leave nothing undone, you may rest assured. The police have the
mayor's instructions to find the baby and give it into my care, and
I do not think we shall have long to wait."

An ear they thought not of, heard all this. Mrs. Dinneford's
suspicions had been aroused by many things in Edith's manner and
conduct of late, and she had watched her every look and word and
movement with a keenness of observation that let nothing escape.
Careful as her husband and daughter were in their interviews, it was
impossible to conceal anything from eyes that never failed in
watchfulness. An unguarded word here, a look of mutual intelligence
there, a sudden silence when she appeared, an unusual soberness of
demeanor and evident absorbed interest in something they were
careful to conceal, had the effect to quicken all Mrs. Dinneford's
alarms and suspicions.

She had seen from the top of the stairs a brief but excited
interview pass between Edith and her father as the latter stood in
the vestibule that morning, and she had noticed the almost wild look
on her daughter's face as she hastened back along the hall and ran
up to her room. Here she stayed alone for over an hour, and then
came down to the parlor, where she remained restless, moving about
or standing by the window for a greater part of the morning.

There was something more than usual on hand. Guilt in its guesses
came near the truth. What could all this mean, if it had not
something to do with the cast-off baby? Certainty at last came. She
was in the dining-room when Edith ran down to meet her father in the
hall, and slipped noiselessly and unobserved into one of the
parlors, where, concealed by a curtain, she heard everything that
passed between her husband and daughter.

Still as death she stood, holding down the strong pulses of her
heart. From the hall Edith and her father turned into one of the
parlors--the same in which Mrs. Dinneford was concealed behind the
curtain--and sat down.

"It had large brown eyes?" said Edith, a yearning tenderness in her
voice.

"Yes, and a finely-formed bead, showing good parentage," returned
the father.

"Didn't you find out who the women were--the two bad women the
little girl told me about? If we had their names, the police could
find them. The little girl's mother must know who they are."

"We have the name of one of them," said Mr. Dinneford. "She is
called Pinky Swett, and it can't be long before the police are on
her track. She is said to be a desperate character. Nothing more can
be done now; we must wait until the police work up the affair. I
will call at the mayor's office in the morning and find out what has
been done."

Mrs. Dinneford heard no more. The bell rang, and her husband and
daughter left the parlor and went up stairs. The moment they were
beyond observation she glided noiselessly through the hall, and
reached her chamber without being noticed. Soon afterward she came
down dressed for visiting, and went out hastily, her veil closely
drawn. Her manner was hurried. Descending the steps, she stood for a
single moment, as if hesitating which way to go, and then moved off
rapidly. Soon she had passed out of the fashionable neighborhood in
which she lived. After this she walked more slowly, and with the air
of one whose mind was in doubt or hesitation. Once she stopped, and
turning about, slowly retraced her steps for the distance of a
square. Then she wheeled around, as if from some new and strong
resolve, and went on again. At last she paused before a
respectable-looking house of moderate size in a neighborhood remote
from the busier and more thronged parts of the city. The shutters
were all bowed down to the parlor, and the house had a quiet,
unobtrusive look. Mrs. Dinneford gave a quick, anxious glance up and
down the street, and then hurriedly ascended the steps and rang the
bell.

"Is Mrs. Hoyt in?" she asked of a stupid-looking girl who came to
the door.

"Yes, ma'am," was answered.

"Tell her a lady wants to see her;" and she passed into the
plainly-furnished parlor. There were no pictures on the walls nor
ornaments on the mantel-piece, nor any evidence of taste--nothing
home-like--in the shadowed room, the atmosphere of which was close
and heavy. She waited here for a few moments, when there was a
rustle of garments and the sound of light, quick feet on the stairs.
A small, dark-eyed, sallow-faced woman entered the parlor.

"Mrs. Bray--no, Mrs. Hoyt."

"Mrs. Dinneford;" and the two women stood face to face for a few
moments, each regarding the other keenly.

"Mrs. Hoyt--don't forget," said the former, with a warning emphasis
in her voice. "Mrs. Bray is dead."

In her heart Mrs. Dinneford wished that it were indeed so.

"Anything wrong?" asked the black-eyed little woman.

"Do you know a Pinky Swett?" asked Mrs. Dinneford, abruptly.

Mrs. Hoyt--so we must now call her--betrayed surprise at this
question, and was about answering "No," but checked herself and gave
a half-hesitating "Yes," adding the question, "What about her?"

Before Mrs. Dinneford could reply, however, Mrs. Hoyt took hold of
her arm and said, "Come up to my room. Walls have ears sometimes,
and I will not answer for these."

Mrs. Dinneford went with her up stairs to a chamber in the rear part
of the building.

"We shall be out of earshot here," said Mrs. Hoyt as she closed the
door, locking it at the same time. "And now tell me what's up, and
what about Pinky Swett."

"You know her?"

"Yes, slightly."

"More than slightly, I guess."

Mrs. Hoyt's eyes flashed impatiently. Mrs. Dinneford saw it, and
took warning.

"She's got that cursed baby."

"How do you know?"

"No matter how I know. It's enough that I know. Who is she?"

"That question may be hard to answer. About all I know of her is
that she came from the country a few years ago, and has been
drifting about here ever since."

"What is she doing with that baby? and how did she get hold of it?"

"Questions more easily asked than answered."

"Pshaw! I don't want any beating about the bush, Mrs. Bray."

"Mrs. Hoyt," said the person addressed.

"Oh, well, Mrs. Hoyt, then. We ought to understand each other by
this time."

"I guess we do;" and the little woman arched her brows.

"I don't want any beating about the bush," resumed Mrs. Dinneford.
"I am here on business."

"Very well; let's to business, then;" and Mrs. Hoyt leaned back in
her chair.

"Edith knows that this woman has the baby," said Mrs. Dinneford.

"What!" and Mrs. Hoyt started to her feet.

"The mayor has been seen, and the police are after her."

"How do you know?"

"Enough that I know. And now, Mrs. Hoyt, this thing must come to an
end, and there is not an instant to be lost. Has Pinky Swett, as she
is called, been told where the baby came from?"

"Not by me."

"By anybody?"

"That is more than I can say."

"What has become of the woman I gave it to?"

"She's about somewhere."

"When did you see her?"

Mrs. Hoyt pretended to think for some moments, and then replied:

"Not for a month or two."

"Had she the baby then?"

"No; she was rid of it long before that."

"Did she know this Pinky Swett?"

"Yes."

"Curse the brat! If I'd thought all this trouble was to come, I'd
have smothered it before it was half an hour old."

"Risky business," remarked Mrs. Hoyt.

"Safer than to have let it live," said Mrs. Dinneford, a hard, evil
expression settling around her mouth. "And now I want the thing
done. You understand. Find this Pinky Swett. The police are after
her, and may be ahead of you. I am desperate, you see. Anything but
the discovery and possession of this child by Edith. It must be got
out of the way. If it will not starve, it must drown."

Mrs. Dinneford's face was distorted by the strength of her evil
passions. Her eyes were full of fire, flashing now, and now glaring
like those of a wild animal.

"It might fall out of a window," said Mrs. Hoyt, in a low, even
voice, and with a faint smile on her lips. "Children fall out of
windows sometimes."

"But don't always get killed," answered Mrs. Dinneford, coldly.

"Or, it might drop from somebody's arms into the river--off the deck
of a ferryboat, I mean," added Mrs. Hoyt.

"That's better. But I don't care how it's done, so it's done."

"Accidents are safer," said Mrs. Hoyt.

"I guess you're right about that. Let it be an accident, then."

It was half an hour from the time Mrs. Dinneford entered this house
before she came away. As she passed from the door, closely veiled, a
gentleman whom she knew very well was going by on the opposite side
of the street. From something in his manner she felt sure that he
had recognized her, and that the recognition had caused him no
little surprise. Looking back two or three times as she hurried
homeward, she saw, to her consternation, that he was following her,
evidently with the purpose of making sure of her identity.

To throw this man off of her track was Mrs. Dinneford's next
concern. This she did by taking a street-car that was going in a
direction opposite to the part of the town in which she lived, and
riding for a distance of over a mile. An hour afterward she came
back to her own neighborhood, but not without a feeling of
uneasiness. Just as she was passing up to the door of her residence
a gentleman came hurriedly around the nearest corner. She recognized
him at a glance. It seemed as if the servant would never answer her
ring. On he came, until the sound of his steps was in her ears. He
was scarcely ten paces distant when the door opened and she passed
in. When she gained her room, she sat down faint and trembling. Here
was a new element in the danger and disgrace that were digging her
steps so closely.

As we have seen, Edith did not make her appearance at the mission
sewing-school on the following Thursday, nor did she go there for
many weeks afterward. The wild hope that had taken her to Briar
street, the nervous strain and agitation attendant on that visit,
and the reaction occasioned by her father's failure to get
possession of the baby, were too much for her strength, and an utter
prostration of mind and body was the consequence. There was no fever
nor sign of any active disease--only weakness, Nature's enforced
quietude, that life and reason might be saved.

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