“Good idea,” announced Walter. “It won’t hurt you to give it to charity, Sis.”
“All right,” sighed Grace. “If you really all say so. But there is such a pretty tie down the street at Libby’s.”
“And you’ve a million ties, more or less,” declared Bess. “Of course we’ll take it from her, Walter. Come on, now! I’m ready.”
Under Walter’s piloting the chums reached the street and number Inez had given Nan. It was a cheap and dirty tenement house. A woman told them to go up one flight and knock on the first door at the rear on that landing.
They did this, Walter insisting upon keeping near the girls. A red-faced, bare-armed woman, blowsy and smelling strongly of soapsuds, came to the door and jerked it open.
“Well?” she demanded, in a loud voice.
Bess was immediately tongue-tied; so Nan asked:
“Is Inez at home?”
“And who be you that wants Inez—the little bothersome tyke that she is?”
“We are two of her friends,” Nan explained briefly. It was plain that the woman was not in a good temper, and Nan was quite sure she had been drinking.
“And plenty of fine friends she has,” broke out the woman, complainingly. “While I’m that poor and overrun with children, that I kin scarce get bite nor sup for ’em. And she’ll go and spend her money on cakes and ice-cream because it’s my Mamie’s birthday, instead of bringing it all home, as I told her she should! The little tyke! I’ll l’arn her!”
“I am sorry if Inez has disobeyed you,” said Nan, breaking in on what seemed to promise to be an unending complaint. “Isn’t she here—or can you tell us where to find her?”
“I’ll say ‘no’ to them two questions immediate!” exclaimed the woman, crossly. “I beat her as she deserved, and took away the money she had saved back to buy more flowers with; and I put her basket in the stove.”
“Oh!” gasped Bess.
“And what is it to you, Miss?” demanded the woman, threateningly.
“It was cruel to beat her,” declared Bess, bravely, but unwisely.
“Is that so? is that so?” cried the virago, advancing on Bess with the evident purpose of using her broad, parboiled palm on the visitor, just as she would use it on one of her own children. “I’ll l’arn ye not to come here with your impudence!”
But Walter stepped in her way, covering Bess’ frightened retreat. Walter was a good-sized boy.
“Hold on,” he said, good-naturedly. “We won’t quarrel about it. Just tell us where the child is to be found.”
“I ain’t seen her for four days and nights, that I haven’t,” declared the woman.
That was all there was to be got out of her. Nan and her friends went away, much troubled. They went again to Mother Beasley’s to inquire, with like result. When they told that kind but careworn woman what the child’s aunt had said, she shook her head and spoke lugubriously.