“Have you any evidence of the fact?”
“My dear, dear child,” answered the doctor, with much feeling, “it is all wrong. Why go back over this unhappy ground? why torture yourself for nothing? Your baby died long ago, and is in heaven.”
“Would God I could believe it!” she exclaimed, in strong agitation. “If it were so, why is not the evidence set before me? I question my mother; I ask for the nurse who was with me when my baby was born, and for the nurse to whom it was given afterward, and am told that they are dead or out of the country. I ask for my baby’s grave, but it cannot be found. I have searched for it where my mother told me it was, but the grave is not there. Why all this hiding and mystery? Doctor, you said that my baby was in heaven, and I answered, ’Would God it were so!’ for I saw a baby in hell not long ago!”
The doctor was scared. He feared that Edith was losing her mind, she looked and spoke so wildly.
“A puny, half-starved, half-frozen little thing, in the arms of a drunken beggar,” she added. “And, doctor, an awful thought has haunted me ever since.”
“Hush, hush!” said the doctor, who saw what was in her mind. “You must not indulge such morbid fancies.”
“It is that I may not indulge them that I have come to you. I want certainty, Dr. Radcliffe. Somebody knows all about my baby. Who was my nurse?”
“I never saw her before the night of your baby’s birth, and have never seen her since. Your mother procured her.”
“Did you hear her name?”
“And so you cannot help me at all?” said Edith, in a disappointed voice.
“I cannot, my poor child,” answered the doctor.
All the flush and excitement died out of Edith’s face. When she arose to go, she was pale and haggard, like one exhausted by pain, and her steps uneven, like the steps of an invalid walking for the first time. Dr. Radcliffe went with her in silence to the door.
“Oh, doctor,” said Edith, in a choking voice, as she lingered a moment on the steps, “can’t you bring out of this frightful mystery something for my heart to rest upon? I want the truth. Oh, doctor, in pity help me to find the truth!”
“I am powerless to help you,” the doctor replied. “Your only hope lies in your mother. She knows all about it; I do not.”
And he turned and left her standing at the door. Slowly she descended the steps, drawing her veil as she did so about her face, and walked away more like one in a dream than conscious of the tide of life setting so strongly all about her.
MEANTIME, obeying the unwelcome summons, Mrs. Dinneford had gone to see Mrs. Bray. She found her in a small third-story room in the lower part of the city, over a mile away from her own residence. The meeting between the two women was not over-gracious, but in keeping with their relations to each other. Mrs. Dinneford was half angry and impatient; Mrs. Bray cool and self-possessed.