A COLD wet drizzling rain was beginning to fall when Pinky Swett emerged from the house. Twilight was gathering drearily. She drew her thin shawl closely, and shivered as the east wind struck her with a chill.
At hurried walk of five or ten minutes brought her to a part of the town as little known to its citizens generally as if it were in the centre of Africa—a part of the town where vice, crime, drunkenness and beggary herd together in the closest and most shameless contact; where men and women, living in all foulness, and more like wild beasts than human beings, prey greedily upon each other, hurting, depraving and marring God’s image in all over whom they can get power or influenced—a very hell upon the earth!—at part of the town where theft and robbery and murder are plotted, and from which prisons and almshouses draw their chief population.
That such a herding together, almost in the centre of a great Christian city, of the utterly vicious and degraded, should be permitted, when every day’s police and criminal records give warning of its cost and danger, is a marvel and a reproach. Almost every other house, in portions of this locality, is a dram-shop, where the vilest liquors are sold. Policy-offices, doing business in direct violation of law, are in every street and block, their work of plunder and demoralization going on with open doors and under the very eyes of the police. Every one of them is known to these officers. But arrest is useless. A hidden and malign influence, more potent than justice, has power to protect the traffic and hold the guilty offenders harmless. Conviction is rarely, if ever, reached.
The poor wretches, depraved and plundered through drink and policy-gambling, are driven into crime. They rob and steal and debase themselves for money with which to buy rum and policies, and sooner or later the prison or death removes the greater number of them from their vile companions. But drifting toward this fatal locality under the attraction of affinity, or lured thither by harpies in search of new supplies of human victims to repair the frightful waste perpetually made, the region keeps up its dense population, and the work of destroying human souls goes on. It is an awful thing to contemplate. Thousands of men and women, boys and girls, once innocent as the babes upon whom Christ laid his hand in blessing, are drawn into this whirlpool of evil every year, and few come out except by the way of prison or death.
It was toward this locality that Pinky Swett directed her feet, after parting with Mrs. Bray. Darkness was beginning to settle down as she turned off from one of the most populous streets, crowded at the time by citizens on their way to quiet and comfortable homes, few if any of whom had ever turned aside to look upon and get knowledge of the world or crime and wretchedness so near at hand, but girdled in and concealed from common observation.