And still there was no abatement of the mother’s infatuation. She was more than half insane on the subject of policy gambling, and confident of yet retrieving her fortunes.
At the time Pinky Swett and her friend in evil saw her come gliding up from the restaurant in faded mourning garments and closely veiled, she was living alone in a small, meagrely furnished room, and cooking her own food.
Everything left to her at her husband’s death was gone. She earned a dollar or two each week by making shirts and drawers for the slop-shops, spending every cent of this in policies. A few old friends who pitied her, but did not know of the vice in which she indulged, paid her rent and made occasional contributions for her support. All of these contributions, beyond the amount required for a very limited supply of food, went to the policy-shops. It was a mystery to her friends how she had managed to waste the handsome property left by her husband, but no one suspected the truth.
“WHO’S that, I wonder?” asked Nell Peter as the dark, close-veiled figure glided past them on the stairs.
“Oh, she’s a policy-drunkard,” answered Pinky, loud enough to be heard by the woman, who, as if surprised or alarmed, stopped and turned her head, her veil falling partly away, and disclosing features so pale and wasted that she looked more like a ghost than living flesh and blood. There was a strange gleam in her eyes. She paused only for an instant, but her steps were slower as she went on climbing the steep and narrow stairs that led to the policy-office.
“Good Gracious, Pinky! did you ever see such a face?” exclaimed Nell Peter. “It’s a walking ghost, I should say, and no woman at all.”
“Oh, I’ve seen lots of ’em,” answered Pinky. “She’s a policy-drunkard. Bad as drinking when it once gets hold of ’em. They tipple all the time, sell anything, beg, borrow, steal or starve themselves to get money to buy policies. She’s one of ’em that’s starving.”
By this time they had reached the policy-office. It was in a small room on the third floor of the back building, yet as well known to the police of the district as if it had been on the front street. One of these public guardians soon after his appointment through political influence, and while some wholesome sense of duty and moral responsibility yet remained, caused the “writer” in this particular office to be arrested. He thought that he had done a good thing, and looked for approval and encouragement. But to his surprise and chagrin he found that he had blundered. The case got no farther than the alderman’s. Just how it was managed he did not know, but it was managed, and the business of the office went on as before.
A little light came to him soon after, on meeting a prominent politician to whom he was chiefly indebted for his appointment. Said this individual, with a look of warning and a threat in his voice,