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- Without a Home - 62/94 -
At last the woman became quiet, and Mildred breathed more freely, until some mysterious sounds, suggesting that her terrible neighbor was trying to open her door, awakened her fears, for even the thought of her coming any nearer made her tremble. She therefore sprang up and looked between the iron bars. At first she was perplexed by what she saw, and then her heart stood still, for she soon made out that the woman was hanging by the neck, from the highest bar of her cell door. "Help," Mildred shrieked; "quick, if you would save life."
The man by the stove sprang up and rushed forward.
"There, see--oh, be quick!"
The jailer comprehended the situation at once, unlocked the door, and cut the parts of her clothing which the woman had improvised into a halter. She soon revived, and cursed him for his interference. He now watched her carefully, paying no heed to her horrible tongue, until the crazed stage of her intoxication passed into stupor. [Footnote: The writer saw the cell in which, on the evening before, the woman described tried twice to destroy herself. He also saw the woman herself, when brought before the police justice. She had seen twenty-five years, but in evil she seemed old indeed. According to her story, she was a daughter of the uritans.] To Mildred he said, reassuringly, "Don't be afraid; you're as safe as if you were at home."
"Home, home, home!" moaned the poor girl. "Oh, what a mockery that word has become! My best hope may soon be to find one in heaven."
"A WISE JUDGE"
When the interminable night would end Mildred could not guess, for no dawning was visible from her basement cell. The woman opposite gradually became stupid and silent. Other prisoners were brought in from time to time, but they were comparatively quiet. A young girl was placed in a cell not far away, and her passionate weeping was pitiful to hear. The other prisoners were generally intoxicated or stolidly indifferent, and were soon making the night hideous with their discordant respiration.
The place had become so terrible to Mildred that she even welcomed the presence of the policeman who had arrested her, and who at last came to take her to the police court. Must she walk with him through the streets in the open light of day? She feared she would faint on what, in her weakness, would be a long journey, and her heart gave a great throb of gratitude as she saw Eoger awaiting her in the large general room, or entrance, to the station-house. Nor was her appreciation of his kindness diminished when she saw a man in attendance--evidently a waiter from a restaurant--with a plate of sandwiches and a pot of coffee. Roger came forward, eagerly grasping her hand, and there was so much solicitude and sympathy in his dark eyes that her tears began to gather, and a faint color to suffuse the pallor that at first had startled him.
"Mr. Atwood," she murmured, "you are kindness itself, and I have not deserved it. Forgive me. I will try not to fail you to-day, for your respect sustains me, and I would not lose it."
"I knew your brave spirit would second all our efforts," he said in like low tones, and with a bright, grateful look. "Here, waiter--come, Miss Jocelyn, it's by just such prosaic means that soldiers sustain the fight. You'll dine at home."
"Yes, hurry up," added the officer; "we have no time now for words or ceremony."
She ate a few mouthfuls, and drank some coffee. "I cannot take any more now," she said to Roger.
Oh, how plainly her womanly instinct divined his unbounded loyalty; and, with bitter protest at her weakness, she knew with equal certainty that she shrank from his love with her old, unconquerable repugnance. With a dissimulation which even he did not penetrate, she looked her thanks as the officer led the way to the street, and said, "Since your friends provide the carriage, you can ride, miss; only we can't part company."
She stepped into the coach, the policeman taking the opposite seat.
"Oh, God, how pale and wan she is! This will kill her," Roger groaned, as she sprang up on the box with the driver.
It was so early that few were abroad, and yet Mildred would not look up. How could she ever look up again! The leaden clouds seemed to rest upon the steeples of the churches. Churches! and such scenes as she had witnessed, and such a wrong as hers, were taking place under the shadow of their spires!
Roger had passed as sleepless a night as had fallen to Mildred's lot, and bitterly he regretted that he had been able to accomplish so little. Mr. Wentworth was out of town, and would not be back for a day or two. Then he sought the judge before whom Mildred would appear the following morning, and learned, with dismay, that he, too, had gone to a neighboring city, and would return barely in time to open court at the usual hour! He had hoped that, by telling his story beforehand, the judge would adopt his plan of discovering the real culprit. This was still his hope, for, after long thought, he determined not to employ counsel, fearing it would lead to a prolongation of the case. His strong characteristic of self-reliance led him to believe that he could manage the affair best alone, and he was confident from his own inexperience. The rain had ceased, and for hours he paced the wet pavement near the station-house, finding a kind of satisfaction in being as near as possible to the one he loved, though utterly unable to say a reassuring word.
Having learned that the prisoners might ride to court if the means were provided, he had a carriage ready long before the appointed time, and his presence did much to nerve Mildred for the ordeal she so much dreaded.
On reaching the entrance at which the prisoners were admitted, he sprang down to assist Mildred to alight; but the officer said gruffly, "Stand back, young man; you must have your say in the court-room. You are a little too officious."
"No, sir; I'm only most friendly."
"Well, well, we have our rules," and he led the trembling girl within the stony portals, and she was locked up in what is termed "the box," with the other female prisoners, who were now arriving on foot.
This was, perhaps, the worst experience she had yet endured, and she longed for the privacy of her cell again. Never before had she come in contact with such debased wrecks of humanity, and she blushed for womanhood as she cowered in the furthest corner and looked upon her companions--brutal women, with every vice stamped on their bloated features. The majority were habitual drunkards, filthy in person and foul of tongue. True to their depraved instincts, they soon began to ridicule and revile one who, by contrast, proved how fallen and degraded they were. And yet, not even from these did the girl recoil with such horror as from some brazen harpies who said words in her ear that made her hide her face with shame. The officer in charge saw that she was persecuted, and sternly interfered in her behalf, but from their hideous presence and contact she could not escape.
By some affinity not yet wholly obliterated, the girl she had heard weeping in the night shrank to her side, and her swollen eyes and forlorn appearance could not hide the fact that she was very young, and might be very pretty. Mildred knew not what to say to her, but she took her hand and held it. This silent expression of sympathy provoked another outburst of grief, and the poor young creature sobbed on Mildred's shoulder as if her heart were breaking. Mildred placed a sustaining arm around her, but her own sustaining truth and purity she could not impart.
A partition only separated her from the "box"--which was simply a large wooden pen with round iron bars facing the corridor--to which the male prisoners were brought, one after another, by the policemen who had arrested them. The arrival of the judge was somewhat delayed, and may the reader never listen to such language as profaned her ears during the long hour and a half before the opening of the court.
Fortunately her turn came rather early, and she at last was ushered to the doorway which looked upon the crowded court-room, and her heart throbbed with hope as she singled out her mother, Belle, Mrs. Wheaton, and Roger, from among long lines of curious and repulsive faces. The former kissed their hands to her, and tried to give wan, reassuring smiles, which their tears belied. Roger merely bowed gravely, and then, with an expression that was singularly alert and resolute, gave his whole attention to all that was passing. After recognizing her friends, Mildred turned to the judge, feeling that she would discover her fate in his expression and manner. Was he a kindly, sympathetic man, unhardened by the duties of his office? She could learn but little from his grave, impassive face. She soon feared that she had slight cause for hope, for after what seemed to her an absurdly brief, superficial trial, she saw two of her companions of the "box" sentenced to three months' imprisonment. The decision, which to her had such an awful import, was pronounced in an off-hand manner, and in the matter-of-fact tone with which one would dispose of bales of merchandise, and the floods of tears and passionate appeals seemingly had no more effect on the arbiter of their fates than if he had been a stony image. She could not know that they were old offenders, whose character was well known to the judge and the officers that had arrested them. Such apparent haphazard justice or injustice had a most depressing effect upon her and the weeping girl who stood a little in advance.
The next prisoner who appeared before the bar received very different treatment. He was a middle-aged man, and had the appearance and was clothed in the garb of a gentleman. With nervously trembling hands and bowed head, he stood before the judge, who eyed him keenly, after reading the charge of intoxication in the streets.
"Have you ever been arrested before?" he asked.
"No indeed, sir," was the low, emphatic reply. "Come up here; I wish to speak with you."
The officer in attendance took the half-comprehending man by the elbow and led him up within the bar before the long desk which ran
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