“What would happen to her?” demanded the wondering Bess, while Walter looked thoughtful.
“If she got into the street at all (there is always a policeman on fixed post at the corner) one of the men at the house, the butler or the footman, would drive her away.
“You notice that beggars never come through that street. They are a nuisance and wealthy people don’t want to see people in rags about their doorsteps. Even the most charitable people are that way, I guess,” added Nan.
“Your mother is so generous, Walter, that if beggars had free access to the street and the house, she could never go out of an afternoon without having to push her way through a throng of the poor and diseased to reach her carriage.”
“Oh, mercy!” cried Bess.
“I guess that is so,” admitted Walter. “You’ve got mother sized up about right.”
“I know it’s so,” said Nan, quickly. “Do you know, I think your mother, Walter, would have made a good chatelaine of a castle in medieval times. Then charitably inclined ladies were besieged by the poor and miserable at their castle gates. The good lady gave them largess as she stepped into her chariot. Their servants threw silver pennies at a distance so that the unfortunates would scramble for the coins and leave a free passage for miladi.
“In those days,” pursued Nan, quite in earnest, “great plagues used to destroy a large portion of the population—sweeping through the castles of the rich as well as the hovels of the poor. That was because the beggars hung so upon the skirts of the rich. Wealth paid for its cruelty to poverty in those days, by suffering epidemics of disease with the poor.”
“Goodness, Nan! I never thought of that,” said Walter. “What a girl you are.”
“She reads everything,” said Bess, proudly; “even statistics.”
Nan laughed heartily. “I did not get that out of a book of statistics, Bess. But that is why we have so many hospitals and institutions for housing poor and ill people. Society has had to make these provisions for the poor, to protect itself.”
“Now you sound like a regular socialist or anarchist or something,” said Bess, somewhat vaguely.
“You’d have heard it all before, if you’d listened to some of Dr. Beulah’s lectures in the classroom,” Nan said. “But we’re far off the subject of Inez. I wish we could find her; but there seems no way.”
“Oh, Nan! are you sure? Put on your thinking-cap,” begged Bess.
“I have thought,” her chum replied. “I thought of trying to trace her through the people who sell flowers to her. I asked Mrs. Beasley, and she told me that the flowers Inez sells come from the hotels and big restaurants where they have been on the tables over night. They are sorted and sold cheap to street pedlers like Inez. Hundreds of little ragamuffins buy and hawk these bouquets about the streets. The men who handle the trade would not be likely to remember one little girl.