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- Without a Home - 61/94 -

do for her all within his power. Again he had appeared in the hour of misfortune and bitter humiliation. But, inspite of her heart, she now did justice to his sturdy loyalty, and she was comforted and sustained by the thought that not quite all the world was against her. She also knew that he would relieve her mother and Belle from unendurable anxiety on account of her absence, and that he would summon Mr. Wentworth to her aid. His promise to prove her innocent had meant nothing to her more than that he would inform and rally all of her friends. That he could know anything that would throw light on the evil mystery did not seem possible. She was then too miserable and depressed to do much more than wait, in a sort of stunned torpor, for what might next occur. Mechanically she answered such questions as were put to her in order that a record of the case might be made, and then was led to the cells below. She shuddered as she saw the dimly lighted stairway, and it seemed to her morbid fancy that she was to be thrust into a subterranean dungeon. Such, in a certain sense, it was; for in some of the older station-houses the cells are located in the basement. At the end of the corridor, nearest the street, she saw several women, and, unkempt and disgusting as these station-house tramps appeared, the fact that some of her own sex were near was reassuring. A prison was to her a place full of nameless horrors, for the romances she had read in brighter days gave to it the associations of medieval dungeons. Of the prosaic character of a modern jail she knew nothing, and when she was placed within a bare cell, and the grated iron door was locked upon her, the horrible desolation of her position seemed as complete and tragic a fate as had ever overtaken the unfortunate in the cruel past. She sat down upon the grimy wooden bench, which was the only provision made for rest or comfort, and the thought of spending a lonely night in such a place was overpowering. Not that she could hope for sleep, even if there were downy pillows instead of this unredeemed couch of plank on which some beastly inebriate may have slept off his stupor the night before, but she felt weak and faint, and her overtaxed physical nature craved some support and rest.

Distress of mind, however, soon made her forget all this, as her faculties slowly rallied from the shock they had received, and she began to realize that she was charged with a crime of which it might be difficult--perhaps impossible--to prove her innocence. At best, she feared she would always be so clouded with suspicion that all would refuse to employ her, and that her blighted life and undeserved shame, added to her father's character, would drag the family down to the lowest depths. The consequences to them all, and especially to Belle, seemed so threatening and terrible that she wrung her hands and moaned aloud.

At every sound she started up, nervous and morbidly apprehensive. The grating of the key in the iron door had given her a sense of relief and refuge. The massive bars that shut her in also shut out the brutal and criminal, who were associated with a prison in her mind; the thoughts of whom had filled her very soul with terror, when she was first arrested. As it was early in the evening she happened to be the first prisoner, and she prayed that there might be no others, for the possibility that some foul, drunken man might be thrust into an adjoining cell made her flesh creep. How many long, sleepless hours must pass before morning could bring any hope of release! And yet she dreaded the coming day unspeakably, for her path to freedom lay through a police court, with all its horrible publicity. Her name might get into the papers, and proud Mrs. Arnold treasure up every scrap of such intelligence about her. The tidings of her shame might be sent to her who as Miss Wetheridge had been her friend, and even she would shrink from one around whom clung such disgraceful associations. Again and again she asked herself, How could the charge against her be met? How could the family live without her? What would become of them? Belle, alas, would be rendered utterly reckless, because hopeless. The unhappy prisoner was far beyond tears. Even her faith in God failed her, for, seemingly, He had left her the victim of cruel wrong and unredeemed misfortune. With her hot, dry eyes buried in her hands she sat motionless and despairing, and the moments passed like hours.

At this crisis in her despair Roger's note was handed to her, and it was like the north star suddenly shining out on one who is benighted and lost. It again kindled hope, without which mind and body give way in fatal dejection. She kissed the missive passionately, murmuring, with eyes heavenward, "If he can clear my name from dishonor, if he will rescue my loved ones from the poverty and shame which are now threatening such terrible evils, I will make any sacrifice that he can ask. I will crush out my old vain love, if I die in the effort. My heart shall not prove a traitor to those who are true and loyal at such a time. He can save mamma, Belle, and the children from hopeless poverty, and perhaps destruction. If he will, and it is his wish, I'll give all there is left of my unhappy self. I will be his loyal wife--would to God I could be his loving wife! Oh, would to God he had loved Belle instead of me! I could be devotion itself as his sister. But surely I can banish my old fond dream--which was never more than a dream--when one so deserving, so faithful, is willing to give me his strong, helpful hand. We are both very young; it will be years before--before--and, surely, in so long a time, I can conquer my infatuation for one who has left me all these dreary months without a word. A woman's heart cannot be proof against reason, gratitude, and the sacred duty owed to those she loves best. At any rate, mine shall not be, and if he still craves the loyalty and--and--yes, the love of one so shamed and impoverished as I am, he shall have all-ALL," and her face grew stern with her purpose of self-mastery. She forced down some of the food he sent, and drank the coffee. "I will be brave," she murmured. "I will try to second his efforts to clear my name, for death were better than shame. I shall, at least, try to deserve his respect."

Then musingly she added, "How can my friends have gained any information that would prove me innocent? Mother and Belle cannot know anything definite, nor can Mr. Wentworth. He promised in that brief whisper when he passed me in the street that he would prove it. Can he have learned anything in his strange vigilance? It seems impossible. Alas, I fear that their best hope is to show that I have hitherto borne a good character, and yet if my present home and our poverty are described, if--worse than all--papa appears in the court-room, I fear they will think the worst," and something of her old despair began to return when she heard approaching footsteps.

"Millie!" cried a loved and familiar voice. The key grated in the lock, and in another moment she was sobbing on her mother's breast, and her bruised heart was healed by the unutterable tenderness of a mother's love. It filled the dark cell with the abounding, undoubting, unquestioning spirit of unselfish devotion, which was akin to the fragrance diffused from the broken box of alabaster.

When sufficiently calm, Mildred told her mother what had happened, and she in turn whispered that Roger had strong hopes that he could prove her innocence on the following day, though how she did not know. "And yet, Millie," she concluded, "for some reason he inspires me with confidence, for while he feels so deeply, he is quiet and thoughtful about the least thing. Nothing seems to escape his mind, and he says he has some information of which he does not think it best to speak at present. He entreats you to take courage, and says that if you will 'keep up and be your brave, true self, gentle and strong,' you can do much to aid him. We will all stand by you, and Mr. Wentworth will be with us."

"Where--where is papa?" faltered Mildred, with a slight flush. "I don't know," responded the wife, with a deep sob.

"Alas, mother, it's cruel to say it, but it will be best that he should not appear at all. Keep him away if possible. I hope he may never know anything about it, unless you think this terrible result of his course may awaken him to a final struggle to do right. I would gladly suffer anything to save him."

"No, Millie, he would not be his old self if he came into court," said her mother dejectedly, "and his appearance and manner might turn the scale against you. Our best hope is to let Roger manage everything. And now, good-by, my darling. God sustain you. Do not fear anything to night. Roger says you are safe, and that his only dread is that you may become nervously prostrated, and he relies on your help to-morrow. I can't stay any longer. Oh, God, how glad I would be if I could hold you in my arms all night! Belle is strongly excited, and says she will never believe a word against you, nor will any of your true friends--alas! I wish we had more."

"Time is up," warned the doorman.

"Tell Mr. Atwood that I am deeply grateful for his aid, and more grateful for his trust," said Mildred.

"Courage, Millie; you can sustain me by keeping up yourself. You will find us in the court-room waiting for you."

With an embrace in which heart throbbed against heart they separated, and the poor girl was comforted and more hopeful in spite of herself, for while she would shrink from Roger, her confidence in his shrewdness and intelligence had made such growth that she half believed he would find some way of proving her innocent, although how he had obtained any evidence in her favor she could not imagine. The bedding brought by her mother transformed the cellbunk into a comfortable couch, and she lay down and tried to rest, so as to be ready to do her part, and her overtaxed nature soon brought something like sleep. She was startled out of her half-consciousness by a shrill cry, and sprang to her feet. There was a confused sound of steps on the stairs, and then again the same wild cry that almost made her heart stand still. A moment later two policemen appeared, dragging a woman who was resisting and shrieking with demoniacal fury.

The sight was a horrible one. The faces of the great, stalwart men were reddened by exertion, for the woman seemed to possess supernatural strength, and their familiarity with crime was not so great as to prevent strong expressions of disgust. Little wonder, for if a fiend could embody itself in a woman, this demented creature would leave nothing for the imagination. Her dress was wet, torn, and bedraggled; her long black hair hung dishevelled around a white, bloated face, from which her eyes gleamed with a fierceness like that of insanity.

With no little difficulty they thrust her into a cell opposite the one in which Mildred was incarcerated, and as one of the men turned the key upon her he said roughly, "Stay there now, you drunken she-devil, till you are sober," and breathing heavily from their efforts they left the poor wretch to the care of the jailer.

Mildred shrank away. Not for the world would she encounter the woman's frenzied eyes. Then she stopped her ears that she might not hear the horrid din and shameful language, which made the place tenfold more revolting. The man in charge of the cells sat dozing stolidly by the stove, some distance away. His repose was not to be disturbed by such familiar sounds.

Without a Home - 61/94

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