I know I should not think too constantly about it. I try not to, but I cannot shake off the shock, the horror of Etta’s death. Selwyn inclosed the note she wrote him in the letter he sent me just before leaving with Harrie for the West, but he did not come to see me before he left.
When I try to sleep the words of Etta’s note pass before me like frightened children, crying—crying, and then again these children sing a dreary chant, and still again the chant becomes a chorus which repeats itself until I am unnerved; and they seem to be calling me, these little children, and begging me to help make clean and safe the paths that they must tread. I am just one woman. What can I do?
I knew Etta was dead before Selwyn received her note. Mrs. Banch, the woman who kept the child for her, came running to Mrs. Mundy the day after Etta had been to see me, and incoherently, sobbingly, with hands twisting under her apron, she told us of finding Etta, with the baby in her arms, lying on her bed, as she thought, asleep. But she was not asleep. She was dead.
“She had done it as deliberate as getting ready to go on a long journey,” the woman had sobbed. “Everything was fixed and in its place, and after bathing and dressing the baby in a clean gown, she wrote on a piece of paper that all of its clothes were for my little girl, and that she wouldn’t do what she was doing if there was any other way.”
With a fresh outburst of tears, the woman handed me a half-sheet of note-paper. “Bury us as we are,” it read. “I am taking the baby with me.—Etta.”
“We will come with you.” Mrs. Mundy, who had gotten out her hat and coat to go to see Etta before Mrs. Banch came in, hurriedly put them on, while I went for mine, and together we followed the woman to the small and shabby house in the upper part of which Etta had been living for some weeks past; the lower part being occupied by an old shoemaker and his wife who had been kind to her; and as we entered the room where the little mother and her baby lay I did not try to keep them back—the tears that were too late.
“Last night I was standing in the door when she came by with a letter in her hand.” As Mrs. Banch talked, she was still quivering from the shock of her discovery, and her words came brokenly. “On her way back from mailing it I asked her to come in and set with me, but she wouldn’t do it; she said she was going to take the baby with her to spend the night, as she didn’t want to be by herself; and, going up-stairs, she wrapped her up good and took her away with her. I don’t know why, but I felt worried all last night, and this morning I couldn’t get down to nothing ’til I ran around to see how she was and how the baby was, and when I went up in her room—” The woman’s work-worn hands were pressed to her breast. “God—this world is a hard place for girls who sin! It don’t seem to matter about men, but women—” Presently she raised her head and looked at us. “I never seen a human being what had her spirit for enduring. She paid her price without whining, but something must have happened what she couldn’t stand. She had a heart if she was—if she was—”