The Child of the State
JOSIE WELCH’S mother was a widow, who worked in a cotton factory. Josie was six years old, and her brother Tommy was eight. All this meant that Mrs. Welch rose at half-past five in the morning, lit a hasty fire in the kitchen, made some tea and drank it, set some bread and butter on the table, in cold weather arranged the fire so it would keep along till noon, and then hurried to her work, leaving the children still in bed.
An hour or two later, Tommy, who was a methodical little soul, routed his sister and himself out of bed, when, without washing, they fell upon the bread and butter and devoured it. They then dressed themselves quite leisurely, although their toilet was a meagre one and included very little in the way of ablutions. Afterwards, Tommy took some of the bread and butter and carried it into the mill to his mother, for her breakfast. At the same time he took her a tin pail, filled the night before. She warmed the contents of this on the steam-pipes in the mill, and at twelve o’clock the children came to the factory and shared with her this made-over dinner, since the brief “ nooning” did not give Mrs. Welch time to go home and warm her dinner there. A neighbor, at the widow’s request, used to go into the house in the afternoon and replenish the fire, that the place might be warm when the children came home from school. Tommy and Josie went pretty regularly to school in cold weather, because it was warmer there than at home, where the fire their mother left often went out before the neighbor came in. They could not get at the cellar, where the fuel was kept, but sometimes they picked up sticks in a grove hard by, or stole from somebody’s unguarded wood-pile, and kept up a very nice fire for themselves. However, there were not many unguarded wood-piles in that village.
The neighbors were kind, and welcomed the shivering little creatures to their own firesides, in those families whose prosperity permitted that the mother or some elder daughter should stay at home from the mill.
At night, Mrs. Welch came home, gave the children their supper, swept and cleaned, washed dishes and clothes, and cooked far into the night; and then lay down for a few hours of heavy sleep.
Tommy and Josie were as good children as could be expected under the circumstances; but Josie had, even then, a restless and nervous organization. In a happier home her peculiarities would perhaps have been carefully studied, and all this fine, nervous force might have been trained and utilized. But Josie belonged to a stratum of society far below those in which exists the practice of such study and consideration. She often ran away from home and school, and got herself into endless scrapes.
A year or two of this sort of life went by, and Mrs. Welch suddenly died. A brother of her husband’s took the children. Tommy, of course, prospered in his new home, and when he had nearly attained the age at which the law would allow him to work in the mill, being a well-grown lad, his uncle took him to the overseer, said he was old enough, and obtained employment for him.
Josie, equally of course, did not prosper in the keeping of her aunt. She did not love to tend her aunt’s babies. She hated to wash dishes, with a hatred more intense, and perhaps not really more culpable, than that which is felt for this task by some more fortunate daughters of our common race. She did not enjoy the restrictions suddenly placed about her. They irked her greatly after the free street life she had led while her mother lived.
Josie had the instincts that in higher ranks of society are called Bohemian, and for which our many-sided civilization now begins to find respectable chance for action. In the lower strata of this civilization, however, the pressure of circumstances and of life itself is so great that it bears down heavily on all such instincts, and frequently crushes and distorts them till they become impulses towards crime and outrage. The conscientious student of social life, and of the actual forces of nature and character which shape or deform social life, must often halt between two opinions, and be thankful if the horns of his dilemma are only two, as he questions whether the sovereign cure for many of the ills of humanity would be more liberty or more restraint, always meaning by restraint a control whose sources shall be inward, not outward.
It is the old problem which besets also the individual life. Are obstacles set in our way to warn us back from any special path, or that we may grow stronger by overcoming them as we go forward ? Some there are who may decide whether they will go back or go on. Men and women who, like Mrs. Welch, labor eleven hours a day. in the stifling air of a great factory, have limitations to their freedom of will. Those men must eat and sleep away most of their leisure hours. Those women must often toil on in the home after the mill work is done. They cannot spend time and money to go out in search of healthful recreation. The devil surrounds them with sensual enjoyments only. Their jaded nerves respond most readily to such, and in factory villages but little effort is made, by what calls itself Christianity, to compete with Satan in his struggles for souls, or to prove his choice of pleasures an unwise one to the multitude.
>So, in her new surroundings, Josie fared ill, and looked forward, in her childish brain, to faring worse. She had, perhaps, at best, a rather weak moral nature, and she experienced no dutiful desires to grow older, take her place in the factory, and do her part towards the support of herself and of her uncle’s numerous progeny. She ran away very frequently, and would stay away for hours and cause endless trouble. Finally, one morning she disappeared and was not found till the next day. The child had not yet got into any real harm, but she was certainly on the high road to ruin.
Her aunt, scandalized, provoked, and worn out, complained of her, had her arrested, poor little mite, taken before a magistrate, and sentenced to the Reform School. It was thus that, before she was ten years old, this unfortunate waif became the child of the State.
The institution in which Josie found herself contained generally about a hundred boys and from thirty to fifty girls, from seven or eight, years old to twenty. The girls were sent there for all offenses, short of flagrant crime, which girls can commit. There was very little effort made at this time to classify or separate the older and more depraved inmates from those childish sinners who had drifted thither from sheer ill luck rather than through any fault of their own. At a later period, it became the custom, in that State, to send to an institution designed more especially for such characters all girls over sixteen, arrested for certain vices. When Josie Welch entered the Reform School, such offenders, if under twenty, were often confined there, to spread the contagion of their own polluted lives among the younger children. Yet among these little ones, even, were sometimes to be found strange and abnormal tendencies to evil, developed, generally, by an utterly uncared-for childhood.
Josie was but an innocent, excitable, restless child, with no moral training, when she was dropped into this hot-bed of vice. What were the means which the State provided to cure these soulsick little children? An account of the daily routine of the school will suffice to tell the story of several years of Josie’s life.
The girls rose at five. Their sleeping accommodations were pretty good, since never more than two occupied a room together, and in some eases separate apartments were provided. Nothing can be said in praise of the arrangements for bathing.
At half past five the girls went to school, sleepy and hungry. In the summer it was not so bad, with the dawning light shining through the eastern windows and waking them up; but in winter doors and windows were shut, because the room was never very warm at that hour, the atmosphere was both chilly and close, and the children were stupid with sleepiness. At seven, the girls went to breakfast. At eight, they began to work. The older ones did the housework. One or two servants were employed in the immediate family of the superintendent, but all the rest of the work in that immense establishment, except, of course, the actual care of the part of the house which was occupied by the boys, was done by the girls. The little children and such of the larger ones as were not needed in the other household departments sewed and knit.
Since girls who have spent their minority in a Reform School are just the ones whom families are naturally and often rightly unwilling to take into service, the State kindly teaches these girls to do nothing well but domestic labor; the sewing and knitting which they learn being too coarse to serve as a resource to them in the struggle for a living which awaits them. The boys in the Reform School which we are describing are taught a trade. The girls are only qualified to do housework; but at the expiration of their term it is difficult for them to obtain places in families, and they are generally so demoralized that they cannot safely be admitted to households where there are children.
To return to the daily routine. The girls had a short recess in the forenoon, just long enough for them to move about a little, or, if they wished, to run out-ofdoors. At noon they had dinner, and then began work again, which lasted till four, when they had supper. At five, they went into school and remained there till seven; and then were sent to bed. Thus, all their schooling came between supper and breakfast, and left time for a full day’s work besides.
Josie did not learn much at school. She hated it, and she hated the long whitewashed corridors, and the little cooped-up yard where all the drying of clothes for the whole establishment was done, so that the girls could seldom move freely about in it.
The boys had a large play ground. Josie could see it through a knot-hole she discovered in the fence. This knothole was her own peculiar property, her one great possession and secret. She told none of the other girls about it. She seldom looked through it lest they should see her. It was half hidden by one of the posts to the fence. The poor child had a great pride in this little secret of hers, and never dreamed what a fatal thing this knot-hole, with its outlook on forbidden grounds, was yet to be.
Josie hated the slow pace at which she always felt obliged to walk about the house and yard. The girls never ran there. The boys, on the other side of the fence, ran and tumbled each other about and shouted; but the girls, on their side, were always silent and slow of motion and sad of face, except when they quarreled among themselves. Even Josie, young as she was, felt, that a doom was on them all, and could perceive the settled hopelessness which brooded over the faces of all the girls, whether they were otherwise bright or stupid.
One day a lady came to visit the school, and brought a dainty little girl with her. As they stood in the hall, Josie came in from recess.
The two children stared, open-eyed, at each other. The fair, curled darling of her mother looked at the close-cropped head, the dark, wild eyes, the sulky mouth, of the child of the State. Then, with a little pout of aversion and fear, the golden-haired one turned away, and an angry look came into Josie’s face.
The mother, bending over her darling, coaxed and murmured to her a moment, till the little one turned back, with a sweet smile ran towards Josie, and pushed into her hand a tiny china doll, new that day and not yet dressed.
Josie took it awkwardly, but looked her wonder and delight, till the matron who stood near bade her thank the lady and the little girl; at which Josie, overcome with bashfulness, fled away to the sewing-room, tightly clutching her doll.
The matron would have followed and forced her to return, had not the lady mother interposed a smiling plea for the childish terror she well understood. Nevertheless, Josie was held for several days in high disgrace, and was frequently reminded of her bad manners “to that kind lady and sweet little girl.” She was rather sorry when she reflected on her behavior, but she consoled herself by petting and playing with her doll, and teaching to it the polite methods of action in which she herself had failed.
She was very much afraid that the doll would take cold, as it had no clothes, and she tore off a strip from her only flannel petticoat to wrap it in. She was very happy when, soon after this, the day came for sorting over the rags of the household.
Through the year, all the rags which accumulated in the establishment were stuffed into great bags kept in the attic. Once a year these bags were brought down into the room which served as sewing and school rcom for the girls. They were emptied on the floor, and the girls were set to picking them over and sorting out the woolen and cotton pieces.
The regular daily routine was broken on this occasion, and the girls enjoyed the work hugely. Smiles lit up their heavy faces, and a visitor on that day might have been beguiled into a belief that the inmates of this Reform School were tolerably happy.
Josie’s vagabond instincts reveled in this companionship of rags. She made precious discoveries in these motley heaps, such discoveries as can be made only by the eyes of childhood.
Here she found a bit of bright, new calico. How it contrasted with her own dingy, oft-washed, and faded gown! “What tales it seemed to tell the child, whispering of possible luxury and of new dresses! — forever unattainable for her. Now she came across a tiny bit of red silk, and now a faded blue necktie was discerned among the rough débris of half a dozen gray cloth jackets, such as the boys wore.
Josie’s soul burned within her. Her little heart throbbed with longing. She thought of her gownless doll, and she grew bold. She went up to the matron in charge, and asked her if she might have some of these little pieces for herself. Fortunately, the matron knew not that the child had torn her petticoat, and was so touched by this seeming honesty that she gave permission, but told the little girl to bring for her inspection all the coveted pieces. Poor Josie brought so many that the matron, fearful of giving her too great happiness, was forced to tell her to choose six pieces from all, and put the rest in the common stock.
Such a time as the little girl had to choose! But at last she heaved a great sigh of mingled satisfaction and regret that the pleasant but puzzling task of choice was over. As she did so she heard some one speak to her, and looking up she saw with affright the superintendent of the school standing by her. He was an immense man, with an oily smile which played over a cruel mouth. Josie’s fears were assuaged a little when she perceived that the voice which had addressed her came not from him, but from the lips of a lady by his side, — a lady with a tender face and sweet, deep eyes.
She bent over the startled child, and asked her gently what she meant to do with those pieces. Josie stammered something about dressing her doll. The lady smiled pleasantly, but the matron drawing near said that Josie would have to pay more attention to her sewing in the school before she would be able to sew very well for herself. Josie shrank away and sat down by a heap of rags, and turned it over with her little hands.
The lady looked at the soft, wild eyes of the child till a moist tenderness came into her own, and turning suddenly away she walked out into the corridor, and stood gazing out of the window over the yard, where the girls could not play because it was filled with clothes hung out to dry.
The superintendent followed her, and coming up said blandly, “ Yon have now seen the whole of the institution, Mrs. Keyes.”
“Yes,” she answered,absently; then, after a moment’s pause, she spoke quickly: “ And I have seen many others like it. I have spent ten years studying the classes from which our reform schools, our houses of correction, and our jails are filled, and this is my conviction: that you take the children who are the worst born and bred in the world, and put them under circumstances which would render desperate, and consequently depraved, the best natures you could find. Your system is a failure, and you know it is.”
The eyes of the superintendent contracted savagely for an instant. Then he said, as mildly as ever, “ On the contrary, madam, a large proportion of the boys who leave this school go to earning their living honestly, and lead respectable lives.”
“ And the girls? ”
“ Oh, the girls! Well—the girls are a great deal worse. Women always are worse than men, you know, when they are bad. There’s a peculiar devil in women, somehow, begging your pardon.”
“ You mean that you do not reform the girls,” said the lady, curtly.
“ No; there is no possibility of reforming the girls. It is merely a house of correction for them, and serves a very good purpose in keeping them out of mischief for a few years, at least.”
“ And you only reform more boys than girls,” said Mrs. Keyes, with some indignant passion in her voice, “ because you don’t undertake to cure the girls of the same faults, and it is no matter, when they go out into the world, whether they have or acquire vices or not. No, there is another reason why you reform more boys. You treat them better, with more respect, and thus you inculcate self-respect in them. You teach them a useful trade. You give them a decent yard to play in. You give them good seats at chapel. But what do you give to the girls to reform them? Vacant minds, a dismal present, and despair for the future. There’s a peculiar devil in women, is there? You remember what the Bible says. You may sweep that chamber empty of devils as many times as you please, and they will come back, if you put nothing else in the place. Take that child, in there, who had the rags for her doll. Anybody can see what a nervous, impressible, restless creature she is. If she is chained down to this life of hopeless monotony, without change and without chance, of course her feverish feelings will find an outlet in some wrong way.”
The superintendent’s face had grown black with anger as the lady went vehemently on, unheeding his wrath, and he spoke quickly and irritably: “ They find it now. She’s one of the worst and most unmanageable children we have in the school.”
“I don’t doubt it. What was she sent here for? ”
“ For running away from home.”
“ Poor little thing! Mr. Brewster, why shouldn't you take these girls out, one or two at a time, once in a while, to walk, as a reward of good behavior? You’d see if they wouldn’t try to earn the privilege.”
Whether the superintendent’s anger would, at this juncture, have overcome his politeness, it is impossible to say, for just then he was called away by one of the officers to attend to some new guests, and Mrs. Keyes, meanwhile, having finished her visit, went her way sorrowfully and indignantly.
When the superintendent had finished with the later visitors he returned to the sewing - room and ordered Josie to put her cherished rags among the others. The child, in a furious passion, refused to do so. The matron interposed, rather fearfully. Mr. Brewster seized what pieces he could discover on the struggling girl’s person, threw them into the general heap, and then dragged Josie away to one of the dormitories, where she was locked up for the rest of the day. She had, however, saved the blue necktie and a couple of bits of calico; and after she had regained her freedom she clothed her doll with these.
A few days later the torn state of her petticoat was discovered, and the missing fragment of flannel was traced to her doll’s wardrobe. Josie managed to secrete and save the doll in the storm that followed, but she herself suffered fresh disgrace and punishment. Her character seemed somewhat altered after this, and marks of desperation showed in her moods.
After Josie had been in the Reform School a year or two, she was taken out by a farmer’s wife to help take care of the babies of the family. She could be returned at any time when Mrs. Faber saw fit. It was a happy, healthful season in Josie’s life. She went to school part of the time, she tended the baby, she washed the dishes, and she rambled over the farm so much that she did not care to run away. But after a year and a half of this pleasant life, Mrs. Faber’s oldest daughter came home from school to stay, and the mother had no more need of the services of the little alien.
The next place to which she was sent was in the city, and she did not do well there. At Mrs. Faber’s she had been treated as a child of the house might have been. Here she was only a servant, and one to be specially watched and suspected, because she came from the Reform School. She soon merited all this suspicion, and in six months she was returned to the school with a character which caused the superintendent and teachers to watch her in their turn.
When she was fifteen she was once more launched out in life. Again she had a place on a farm. It was one of those sterile, hilly farms which abound in New England, where rocky pastures afford a scanty sustenance to the few cattle or sheep who wander among their gray, stony hillocks, and where huckleberry bushes grow in rampant profusion. There were old orchards scattered over this farm, where gnarled and aged appletrees sprouted innumerable new shoots, which no careful hand ever pruned away. They were dark, twisted, uncanny trees, that in the spring-time of “ apple years ” burst forth into strange beauty, when rose-tinted blossoms covered every living twig and branch, and threw into dark shadow the dead, massive limbs that coiled about among the flowers, themselves ungarnished by green leaf, pink bud, or full white bloom.
But it was not in the beauty of the spring-time that Josie came to the farm. It was in the autumn, when golden-rod waved in every nook and cranny of the stony fields, and lined the wild, wandering roads with glory. Far round the farm stretched blue hills drenched deep with color in the autumnal haze, and the roads that traversed the valley and climbed the distant slopes seemed to lead straight up to heaven.
Josie was driven to the farm-house in the market-wagon in which Mr. Jacobs had come to the school for her. She got down at the door of the house and meekly followed her new master into the kitchen.
Mrs. Jacobs stood by the stove, frying doughnuts, and just as she turned round to look Josie over, the door from the woodshed beyond the kitchen opened, and a tall young fellow came in. His eyes fell on Josie, and she returned his glance boldly for a moment; then her lids drooped shyly, and she stood staring at the floor, while Mrs. Jacobs, the farmer, and the young man all brutally inspected her. Alas! Josie had not been educated in a school of refinement, and Charley Manton’s rude gaze charmed while it abashed her.
What need to tell the story of the weeks that followed ? Flossy Jacobs, a colorless blonde, was in love with Charley Manton, and had fancied her passion returned — as probably it was — till this girl from the Reform School crossed their path.
Charley was a minister’s son, an orphan, now working for his board on Mr. Jacobs’s farm. He was only eighteen, but he had lived a long life already; familiar with vice, he still paused on the threshold of crime. Some sudden fancy, perhaps for Flossy Jacobs’s blue eyes, had prompted him to spend these weeks of the harvest season in honest labor; but be had begun to tire of it, and he had wild visions of an adventurous career in California or Mexico, upon which he meant soon to enter. He was cruelly selfish, but he possessed all the charm which sometimes belongs to strong, heartless natures.
I never saw Josie Welch but once, and it was about this time. She was hardly full grown then, but she had a lithe, graceful form, masses of dark, waving hair, good features and complexion, cheeks and chin rounded, and lips a little full. Out from this immature, girlish face looked the saddest, softest, wildest dark eyes I ever saw. They haunted me for years. They have followed me ever since, seeming to beseech me to give language to their dumbness and tell their story. They seemed to understand so little, to want so much; but when I came to know the whole of Josie’s life, they took upon themselves a new character, and to my imagination there was something awful and accusing in their remembered gaze. I could not put the memory of them away from me, and I learned, at last, that they were not meant to be forgotten.
Flossy Jacobs hated Josie, and in a few weeks this unfortunate girl was sent back to the Reform School. The morning the wretched outcast was to go, Flossy kept persistently by her side, to prevent the possibility of any sentimental leave - taking with Charley Manton. This young man, however, marched boldly up, where the two girls stood, at last, in the doorway, waiting for the farmer to come and unhitch the horse and drive Josie away over the wild roads, where the golden-rod had faded and fallen before the first frosts of winter.
Josie shivered with the cold and with the passion of pain and hatred in her tortured heart. Charley turned to Flossy and said, roughly, “ Go in and get your blanket shawl, and lend it to Josie for the ride. She can send it back in the wagon. You’ve made a pretty mess, you have, but you need n’t kill her with the cold. Go in, I say.”
There was a blaze that boded evil in his eyes, and Flossy dared not, for her life, disobey him. He took Josie’s hand and laughed a little bitterly. “You poor little wretch! ” he said; “ no more good times for you. Run away, if you get a chance, and I ’ll take you to Mexico with me.” Then he stooped and kissed her, and, as he lifted his head, he saw Flossy’s angry eyes behind Josie, as she came along the entry with the shawl. He stepped forward to take the wrap, when she threw it at him in a fury. He laughed as he caught it, and took her firmly by the wrist.
“ Mind what you say and do,” he said in a fierce whisper. “ I’ve stood all I will stand. There ’s two can play at telling. And your pa and your ma might not like all they ’d hear.”
Flossy turned away cowed, and Charley wrapped Josie up, half tenderly, and helped her ostentatiously into the wagon when the farmer came.
It is, perhaps, unnecessary to add that when Mr. Jacobs returned that night from the city, he informed Charley that his services were no longer needed on the farm.
Josie went back to be watched and suspected, and to hate the whitewashed walls and the long corridors and the monotonous daily routine, the silent meals, the morning and the evening schools, the sense of suffocation everywhere, as she had never hated them before.
She was desperate, and yet she was nearer salvation than ever before in her life. Her love purified her, as love must purify. She had not been a bad girl, hitherto, but she had grown up among girls many of whom were of bad lives and vicious propensities. She had listened to their talk, she had laughed at their jokes, and had been contaminated by them. Now she shrank from their coarseness. She had read some pure stories of love and marriage while at Mr. Jacobs’s. All the passion and all the purity of which she had read now filled her heart. She formed to herself an ideal that she would gladly be like for Charley Manton’s sake. She believed he would marry her if he could, if she were free to go out to him in that wide, beautiful world of which, since her childhood, she had had such few glimpses. She would have given her life for him. She wanted at least to give him a pure heart. He was a minister’s son, she knew; she had wild, foolish notions that he belonged to some half princely race; so high above her, alas, seemed any respectability of blood and breeding. She felt that she must strain every nerve to be worthy of him.
It would, perhaps, have been a wiser effort of the conscience if she had tried to attain this worthiness by a strict compliance with the rules of the institution of which she was a member, and by a faithful service therein. But, possibly because her moral nature was weak, it never occurred to Josie that the Reform School really had any claim on her obedience or her loyal devotion. Certainly she never yielded any which she could avoid. She simply hated it all,—the routine, the superintendent, the teachers, the girls and their coarseness.
Many a night, when things had gone more wrong than usual through the day, when her unsubdued temper had shown itself in sulky looks, in muttered words, and impatient flashes of those dark eyes, when the matrons had been cross, when the washing — for Josie worked now in the laundry — had made her back ache intolerably, and when “marks” had crowded against her record, the unhappy child cried away long hours before she slept, smothering her sobs in the bedclothes, so that her room mate should never guess her trouble.
The chapel of the school was a long, pleasant room, with a low platform at one end, having the speaker’s desk on it. The boys, during services, sat in settees on the floor, facing this platform. Behind them, at the extreme end of the hall, was an elevated gallery shut off by a wooden fence rising some three or four feet. Into this pen the girls were marshaled on Sundays. The boys came into the hall first, from their part of the house, and took their seats on the floor, directly before the speaker. After they were seated, the door from the other side of the house, which led into the gallery, was opened, and the girls filed in. They were forbidden to look at the boys as they entered. When they sat down, those in the front rows could see the speaker over the fence if they took pains to look, but he could see little of them but the tops of their heads? The speakers who came there were sometimes ministers, sometimes gentlemen from the city, who were interested in the school or in the classes of juvenile offenders from whose ranks it was recruited. They generally addressed their remarks to the boys. It was difficult for them to realize that those half-unseen girls thus set aside behind that wooden fence made part of their audience. They encouraged the boys to do well, and promised them an honorable future if they did. These gentlemen were usually too well informed to hold out to these boys the possibility of possessing the presidential office; still, the careers of Abraham Lincoln and Henry Wilson were sometimes too tempting to be wholly ignored. There was not much said to the girls. It was difficult for the most sanguine believer in the reformation wrought in the school, or the most hopeful observer of social phenomena, to picture any very bright future as attainable by these pariahs. Sometimes the speaker would remember that half-hidden audience behind the fence, and amid his exhortations to the boys would helplessly add, “ and girls,” and feel that his duty was done. The girls, in a vague way, knew and felt all these things. They rather liked the singing, but otherwise cared very little for the chapel services. One reason they liked the singing was that then they stood up and could look round among the boys,—though, of course, they were forbidden to, —and could even sometimes make stealthy signals to them. Whether those boys and girls could ever have been taught to behave quite properly in each other’s presence may be a question; but certain it is that in the institution described here the only effort made was to keep the sexes apart, and no attempt whatever was put forth to teach them how to behave when they did come in contact.
It was thus, one Sunday morning, that, standing up to sing, Josie Welch saw Charley Manton in the chapel below her. His face was turned from her, of course. She saw only the back of his head and his broad shoulders, but she knew him. She felt a great dizzy throb. She grew faint and white, but happily there was no one near who cared enough for her to notice her agitation. She watched him as a drowning man might watch a nearing sail. She looked at him as the rich man in hell might have looked into heaven when its gates opened before him, and heaven, safety, hope and happiness, all grew possible to her. She sang no more that day. She only looked. Even when they sat down again, and she could see him no more, she kept her eyes turned towards the part of the hall where he sat. She fancied the face she had not seen. She dreamed a thousand dreams in the short half hour before the service was over. Afterwards she began to wonder how Charley Manton, a minister’s son, her imagined prince, came to be in the Reform School.
The facts were very simple. He had come to the city and eked out his living for some time by his wits, till he was finally arrested for some petty larceny. The judge before whom he was brought remembered his father, and sent him to the Reform School, although he was older than most boys when first condemned there. The judge hoped thereby to save his old friend’s son from the disgrace of imprisonment in jail, and perhaps to break up in its beginning the career of crime on which the youth seemed about to enter.
Charley doubtless remembered that Josie was an inmate of this house, when he came there, but he made no effort to renew his acquaintance with her.
Josie, on her part, had recourse to the knot-hole she had found when a child. She spent all the minutes she could snatch from the vigilance of the teachers and the coarse observation of the girls staring through that hole into the boys’ yard, hoping to see Charley pass. Several days elapsed before she saw him. When she did it was at a most favorable moment. He was absolutely alone on his side of the fence, and she on hers, and he was passing very near her. She put her lips to the hole and softly called, “Charley!” He heard her, sent his quick eyes roving round the yard, and in an instant spied the tiny opening. He went up to it.
“ Who are you ? ” he said.
“ Oh, don’t you know me? I’m Josie.”
“ Yes, I thought so. Well, I don’t see as I can shake hands with you or kiss you through this fence; but never mind; I’m glad to hear you, since I can’t see you. I’ve been expecting you to make some demonstration.”
Josie trembled at the sound of his voice. They whispered a moment more, and made some arrangement for talking there occasionally, and for slipping letters through when they dared not speak to each other. Then each turned back to the house, which, of course, they entered at different sides. Josie went to her work in the laundry, as happy a girl as ever lived.
Two weeks after this, the superintendent passed Charley Manton as at noon time he stood slouching in the door of the workshop. Mr. Brewster, though a very large man, had a soft, noiseless step, and for once Charley’s vigilant senses were off their guard. The young man held a bit of paper in his hand, and was reading it, while a smile half-pleased, half-scornful, curved his handsome lips. The superintendent stepped suddenly up behind him and snatched the paper from him.
Charley turned with the spring of a tiger and with a loud oath; but when he saw who it was he stopped and stood still. The rage in the boy’s eyes was matched by the triumphant and mocking glare in the master’s orbs. Charley did not speak while the superintendent glanced rapidly over the paper. It was a letter signed “ Josie.”
“ Oh, yes,” exclaimed Mr. Brewster. “ Josie Welch! I knew that girl was up to something by her looks, and I’ve been on the watch for her. I heard you were at Mr. Jacobs’s farm with her last fall, and I suspected her excitement was about you. Making love to her, are you? What do you want to do it for? It’s pretty business for you.”
“Oh, she does well enough to pass away the time here,” answered Charley, with the look of a devil in his young face. “ If I were out of here, I would n’t take her to wipe my shoes.”
The superintendent smiled appreciatingly, pocketed the letter, and left Charley, who, as soon as he found himself alone, gave a long, sharp whistle, and said in a low tone, “ So, you think that’s up, do you, sir? We’ll see.”
This is a literal copy of Josie’s letter, spelling, capital letters, and all, and it may serve to show the extent of the education likely to be acquired in the Reform School:—
DEER CHARLEY, — I got the pictures safe, thank you dont come heer never enny more. i shall cry all nite if i dont get letters or see you thru the hole but it is nt safe, i know the super is looking out for us. I can feel myself get red whenever i see him. I dont care what he does to me if he finds out but he would flog you dredfully and i dont want to get you in enny truble. i love you all the same deer Charley, so no more at present from JOSIE.
With this epistle in his pocket, the superintendent marched directly to the laundry, and waited a few minutes till the girls came in with the matron to begin their afternoon work. Josie started guiltily when she saw Mr. Brewster, but proceeded quietly to the ironing-table, where she took out one of his shirts and began to press it. He loitered about the room a moment, spoke to one or two of the other girls, and exchanged a few words with the matron, and then said suddenly, in a loud, clear voice, “ Josie Welch, come here with me.”
She set down her iron, threw one frightened glance at the matron, turned violently red, then grew white as a corpse, placed one hand on the ironingboard and steadied herself a second, and then followed him without a word.
He led her through one or two entries to a large empty room, sometimes used to store wood. Like the laundry they had just left it was in the basement, and it had whitewashed walls and a stone floor. When they had entered the room he locked both the doors leading from it, and then looked at the girl with cruel steadiness and said, “ I want you to give me the letter you have had from Charley Manton.”
“ I have not had any letter.”
“Oh,” he sneered, “perhaps you don’t know who Charley Manton is! ”
“ I knew somebody named that when I was out on trial.”
“You didn’t know he was in the school? ”
“ No, sir,”
“Well, he is. Birds of a feather flock together, you know. And I want the letter he’s sent you.”
“ He has n’t sent me none.”
“ And you have n’t seen him or spoken to him since he’s been here? ”
“ Are you sure?”
“ Before God, I have n’t! ” cried Josie. Her face was dogged and hopeless, but determined.
The superintendent drew from under his coat a rattan, and struck her three or four times. She winced horribly, and grew whiter still with pain and fear, but she did not cry out. Then he crunched his teeth, and brought his lower jaw forward, while a murderous look came into his eyes, and catching her hand he said, “I know you’ve got a letter from Charley Manton. I’ve got your letter to him in my pocket. If you don’t give me the one you have, I’ll get a larger rattan and flog you till you do.”
She put her hand in her bosom and drew out a little package. He seized it from her, and turned it over contemptuously. There were three or four little colored prints wrapped in a bit of white paper, but no writing anywhere. If Josie had any letters from Charley she had hidden them. The superintendent tore the pictures, which were innocent enough, into pieces, and stuffed the bits into his pocket. Josie could willingly have murdered him that moment, and she looked so.
“You needn’t make a fool of yourself over that fellow,” said he, meeting her furious dark eyes with his own. “He doesn’t care anything about you; he told me so. He said if he were out of this place, he would n’t take you to wipe his shoes.”
“ I don’t believe,” answered the girl, “ that he said any such thing.”
Mr. Brewster stared at her for a moment, and he picked up the rattan which had dropped on the floor; but then he gave a short laugh, and said, “ Go back to your work now, and mind what you do after this.”
A few days later, the judge who had sentenced Charley Manton to the Reform School prevailed on the authorities to consent that he should go out on trial, with far less restriction placed about him than was usual in the chses of inmates of the Reform School sent out before the expiration of their term of sentence. But the influence of Charley’s friends and the fact that he was of such good family operated powerfully in his favor. He was put at work in a machine-shop, a few miles from the city, and he boarded in a respectable family.
Josie, disgraced and suspected, remained in the school, undergoing many physical hardships and a mental torture which strained her nerves to their utmost, till at last an outbreak came.
It was a chilly morning in March, when Josie took down to the laundry a plant which Charley Manton had given her at the farm, the fall before. The pot which contained it was too small for it, and she delayed her work a few minutes to transplant it into a little box she had found in the yard. The laundry matron came in just then, and, happening to feel cross herself, as she passed Josie she caught the plant from the girl’s hand, and flung it into the stove. Josie gave a cry like that of some wild beast in pain, and darting forward seized it from the flames, put it back in the box and smoothed the earth around its roots, her hands trembling with excitement. The matron pushed her aside, took box and plant, opened the window, and tossed them out into the frosty air. “ Go to work, Josie Welch! ” she said.
Josie stood still one second, then, panting and struggling as with some unseen evil spirit, she rained forth curses. She grew dark in the face, her breath came hard, and she sprang furiously at the matron, who darted aside and called out, “Susy Jones, go for Mr. Brewster!” Then Josie burst into a peal of laughter more horrible than her ravings; scream followed scream, after her laughter died away; she made no further attack on the matron.
“ Susy,” cried that woman again, as she saw the other girls, Susy among them, standing motionless around.
Josie’s own cries brought the superintendent there. He came up to her and attempted to take her arm. She dashed herself on him, like a wild cat. He seized a basin that stood near a tub of cold water, and filling it again and again threw the chilly flood over her. She broke loose from his grasp. He pursued and caught her, dragged her back to the tub, and poured the water over her while she gasped and struggled. Choked and breathless, her sight growing dim, a horrible agony in all her frame, she groped in blind fury, while the icy water still dashed relentlessly over her, until she caught hold of the basin and threw her whole weight upon it, to drag it from her tormentor. He pulled it back and hit her under the chin with such force that she nearly bit her tongue off. Her mouth filled with blood, which poured out and stained his hands. He saw his advantage over the dizzy, half - stunned girl, and followed it up. Josie fell reeling to the floor. He said, afterwards, that she fell down herself. The frightened girls who witnessed the scene always said he struck her again with the basin and knocked her down.
They took her to her room and locked her up for three days. For a week she could not talk, because of the blood which poured into her mouth, and she was able to eat only enough to keep her alive.
One day before she was released from her room, two of the matrons came in and told her to sit down, for they were going to cut her hair off. She looked imploringly at them, and saw that entreaty and protest would be alike vain. She submitted, and they sheared her beautiful dark hair short, and then made a clumsy attempt to shingle it. No reason was assigned for this act, but Josie supposed it was intended for punishment. She wept bitterly at first for the loss of her lovely hair, but her shorn head soon suggested to her a daring idea.
She went hack to her work in the laundry, and began to secrete occasional articles of male clothing. She had ripped open the mattress of her bed and she hid them in that. One day she found a large heap of clothing brought into the sewing-room to be mended. She was alone, and she stole from the pile a pair of trousers. She coveted a jacket, but dared not take that also, lest she should be discovered.
It happened that she had then a room by herself. She rose at twelve o’clock that night, dressed herself rapidly, and stood in the starlight at last, in shirt and trousers, looking like a delicate, pretty boy. She took the sheets from her bed and tossed them through the transom over the locked door of her chamber. She stuffed her shoes into her shirt, climbed out herself, and glided like a shadow past the doors of the other dormitories, and reached the window at the end of the corridor. She pushed up the sash and looked out. Fifteen feet below was the roof of the front porch.
She looked down till she felt dizzy, then took the sheets, tied them securely together, fastened one end to the blind, and, without stopping to think, swung herself out. The blind creaked horribly. She dropped close by the window of the superintendent’s room, and, as she gathered herself up, she heard sounds within as of some one stirring in sleep, — waking, perhaps, at the noise she had made!
She stood up, and stared with her beautiful wild eyes into his room. A low light burned there, and she saw him tossing on his bed. What kept him from fully waking, God only knows. Perhaps it would have been better, even, for hapless Josie, if he had awakened.
She threw her arm up as she turned away, and in a low murmur called down a dreadful curse upon the sleeper’s head. She went to the edge of the piazza and again looked down. The pillars that supported the roof of the porch were too large for her to clasp. The sheets dangled helplessly in front of that window behind her. She saw, at last, the pipe — a large, strong one — which drained the eaves. It ran down by the column. She swung herself over, and clinging desperately to the pipe, and bracing herself against the pillar, after some dizzy, desperate struggles she found herself on the ground in the front yard. She easily made her escape from this small inclosure; climbing a low fence, and dropping into the street, she ran out into the free, horrible darkness of the night.
The gray, chilly dawn was close at hand when, shivering and faint, Josie crouched by the roadside, in the suburbs of a large manufacturing town, in the neighborhood of the city she had left. After a night of terror and excitement, the early morning often brings to jaded nerves and brain a peculiar sense of suffering and discouragement. Josie felt that the broadening light was creeping on solely to discover her to all the hounding police, who would be, she knew, on her track that day; she was bitterly cold, and, covering her face with her hands, she crept yet closer to the fence, and sobbed and cried. Her hour of heroism was over, and the hour of despair had struck. Just then she heard a quick step sounding near her, and, starting up, she saw Charley Manton. She flung herself toward him with a cry of unutterablegladness.
“ Hulloa!” he exclaimed. “ What’s all this?”
“ Oh, Charley!” sobbing wildly and clinging to him.
“ Well, this is a pretty piece of work. You’ve run away, I suppose. Plucky, on my word, and you’ve turned into a boy.” He pushed her off half roughly, so he could look at her. “ Well, you don’t act much like a boy. You need n’t flatter yourself. You’d better get into petticoats again. Your disguise is not a success. You poor little fool! ”
“ I want to go somewhere and get work, where they can’t find me,” sobbed she, with a desperate effort to assert a maidenly pride, and act as if she did not mean to throw herself wholly on his protection. Poor child, where had she learned maidenliness, among the bold young boys and girls at the Reform School!
“ How can you get work till you’ve got a dress? It’s no use for you to try to get a place as a boy. You couldn't deceive anybody twenty-four hours.”
“ I ’ll go to my uncle,” she said.
“Do you know where he is? And do you think your aunt will be glad to see you back again? Have they taken much pains about you these six years? ”
“ I’ve got a brother.”
“ Yes, I know it. He did work here. He enlisted in the navy a month ago, and his ship has sailed.”
“ You know that? Then,” she cried, “ yon know where my uncle is ? ”
“ Your uncle, Josie, is dead. Your aunt has married again.”
“Why didn’t you tell me this before ? ”
“ Oh,” he laughed, “ I wanted to see what, your ideas of action were.”
“ Oh, Charley, what can I do? ”
“ Why, I guess we can manage you. Come with me; I ’ll take care of you.”
She drew back a little, and said, “ I don’t want to go with you unless ” —
“ Unless what? ”
“You know what,” she stammered. “ I ain’t a bad girl. You know I ain’t, Charley. You would n’t have liked me if I had been.”
“ Well, is it going to make you a bad girl to no with me? Come, don’t be too stuck-up.”
“ I 'd rather get work.”
“ Try it, and see if you can. You ’re a Reform School girl. That’s enough against you.”
“ They won’t ask where I ’m from, at a factory.”
“ And you understand factory work? ”
“ No, but I can learn.”
“Do you mean to ask for a girl’s work, or a boy’s? ”
Josie was silent. Why had she not brought her dress with her from the Reform School ? It might have saved her now.
“ You know,” went on Charley, “ that if you ’re found out you ’ll be taken back to the school, and you know what ’ll happen to you then; and you’ll be found out, as sure as you try for work.”
“Oh,” said Josie shuddering, “the superintendent has used me awful.”
“I don’t doubt it, the old brute! Come with me, and I 'll fix it. Why shouldn’t you come with me? Ain’t I your best friend ? ”
His eyes were magnetic as he fixed them on her, and this faint touch of tenderness in his speech set her to sobbing afresh. In a moment, she raised her head, fixed on him her lovely eyes, from which looked forth a soul’s last appeal, and with a sweet, steady sadness she said, “ Will you marry me, Charley?”
He laughed: “ Oh, may be so. Come on, there’s a good girl. Hurry up, midget. There’ll be a million people in the street in a few minutes! The whole town is waking up. There 'll be a devil of a row if you ’re caught here.”
She heaved a long, shivering sigh, and followed him.
Seven years afterwards, Mrs. Faber visited the house of correction. It was Sunday, and the inmates were assembled in the chapel, — vagrants, drunkards, prostitutes, men and women out of whom debauchery seemed to have stamped the last spark of divinity, almost of humanity. The good country woman shuddered as she glanced around. She had come to see the institution from mere curiosity, but that feeling shrank back abashed before the horrible reality of what she saw. As she looked around she perceived, at last, among the women, a girl in whose face was something strangely familiar. Those dusky eyes seemed to start up from some cloudy past and stare at her through clearing mists. Mrs. Faber beckoned to one of the officials, who came to her during some pause in the services.
“What is that girl’s name?” she asked, “ the dark one who sits third on the second seat from the front. The one with a scarlet ribbon at her throat.”
“ Oh, Josie Burns she calls herself. I don’t suppose it is her real name.”
“ Do you know anything about her? ”
“ Not much. She grew up in the Reform School at —, she says. She’s rather refined and gentle in her ways, except, when she’s angry. She has a quick temper, and I guess she’s quite a desperate character. She says she has one or two children, and sometimes she says she ’s had to live as she has to support them, but I presume that’s all lies. You can’t tell much by what any of these women say.”
“ What will become of her children, if she has any ? ”
“ It’s rather sad to think of, but the girls will grow up like her, probably, and the boys will become thieves and tramps, most likely. Such women are the mothers of criminals.”
“ Is she here for long? ”
“Six months, and she’s been here three. It ’s quite a story. She threw herself under the railroad train as it was coming out of the station, and was just pulled off the track in time to save her, and then, as there did n’t seem to be anything else to do with her, she was sent here.”
“ And where can her children be? ”
“ I don’t believe she has any; but she says she had got them places, and thought she 'd take herself out of the way. Do you know her? ”
“ She reminds me of a little girl I took once from that Reform School, but it’s not the same name.”
“ I dare say it is she. They change their names a dozen times, and sometimes they really get married besides.”
“ I should like to speak to her after the services are over. ”
“ Oh, certainly.”
As the women were about to leave the chapel, Mrs. Faber went up to the one who had roused her interest, and said to her simply, “ Are n’t you Josie Welch?”
“ Yes,” answered the girl, “ and you are Mrs. Faber, that I used to live with. I had a very good time at your house, and you were very kind to me.”
“ Oh, Josie,” said Mrs. Faber, half crying, “ I am so sorry to see you here. Such a nice little girl as you were.”
No tears stood in Josie’s hopeless eyes, even when she saw the kindly drops in the other’s eyes.
“ Thank you,” she said. “ It would have been better for me if I could have stayed with you always.”
“ I wish you had,” sobbed Mrs. Faber. Josie smiled slowly; it was so many ages too late for such a wish!
“ Oh, Josie! ” cried Mrs. Faber, after a moment more, “ they tell me you threw yourself under the train. How could you ? ’ ’
“ I was drunk,” answered the girl in a hard, cold voice, “ and I thought, besides, if I did so, may be Charley Manton would hear of it some day.”
S. A. L. E. M.