After a feeble opposition to her father’s arguments and persuasions, Edith yielded her consent. An application for a divorce was made, and speedily granted.
OUT of this furnace Edith came with a new and purer spirit. She had been thrust in a shrinking and frightened girl; she came out a woman in mental stature, in feeling and self-consciousness.
The river of her life, which had cut for itself a deeper channel, lay now so far down that it was out of the sight of common observation. Even her mother failed to apprehend its drift and strength. Her father knew her better. To her mother she was reserved and distant; to her father, warm and confiding. With the former she would sit for hours without speaking unless addressed; with the latter she was pleased and social, and grew to be interested in what interested him. As mentioned, Mr. Dinneford was a man of wealth and leisure, and active in many public charities. He had come to be much concerned for the neglected and cast-off children of poor and vicious parents, thousands upon thousands of whom were going to hopeless ruin, unthought of and uncared for by Church or State, and their condition often formed the subject of his conversation as well at home as elsewhere.
Mrs. Dinneford had no sympathy with her husband in this direction. A dirty, vicious child was an offence to her, not an object of pity, and she felt more like, spurning it with her foot than touching it with her hand. But it was not so with Edith; she listened to her father, and became deeply interested in the poor, suffering, neglected little ones whose sad condition he could so vividly portray, for the public duties of charity to which he was giving a large part of his time made him familiar with much that was sad and terrible in human suffering and degradation.
One day Edith said to her father,
“I saw a sight this morning that made me sick. It has haunted me ever since. Oh, it was dreadful!”
“What was it?” asked Mr. Dinneford.
“A sick baby in the arms of a half-drunken woman. It made me shiver to look at its poor little face, wasted by hunger and sickness and purple with cold. The woman sat at the street corner begging, and the people went by, no one seeming to care for the helpless, starving baby in her arms. I saw a police-officer almost touch the woman as he passed. Why did he not arrest her?”
“That was not his business,” replied Mr. Dinneford. “So long as she did not disturb the peace, the officer had nothing to do with her.”
“Who, then, has?”
“Why, father!” exclaimed Edith. “Nobody?”
“The woman was engaged in business. She was a beggar, and the sick, half-starved baby was her capital in trade,” replied Mr. Dinneford. “That policeman had no more authority to arrest her than he had to arrest the organ-man or the peanut-vender.”