(continued from April 13, 2009)
The young woman stepped into the ring of lamplight. Howarth remembered where he had seen her before: sleeping in the Depot as if waiting to catch a train. She would have been thrown out if she’d tried to beg for a few coins. "I just need a little food, sir. Can you help me?”
She was tracing-paper pale, a good Madonna. She wore no gloves, no shawl on her head. Her curly hair floated against the night sky. She wore broken-down old black shoes, but her eyes and lips were young.
“Miss, I do not live in town. I can give you a few coins, but that is all I can do. Perhaps I can help you to a women’s home? There is one not far from here.”
“Oh, no, sir, they don’t want me.”
“They will take anyone in need, miss.”
She thought about it for a few moments, biting her lower lip. She rubbed her eyes with a small hand and replied, “All right, sir, will you show me where it is?”
Howarth immediately felt he might have made a mistake. Maybe she was just the lure for a thug. He’d been taken in by this girl twice now, captivated by her in the Depot and here, on Second Avenue.
“Miss, let me flag down a hansom. There are still a few out.” He turned back, not finding a cab. The girl was gone. “Miss?” he called, and then louder, “MISS?” There was no sign of her. He began to look in doorways. Perhaps she was too shy to go with him. Perhaps she returned to her confederates. He did not want to get mixed up in that, and he had to get to his friend’s house.
A policeman saw Howarth standing on the corner. “Sir, may I help you?” Howarth mentioned the girl. “Who?” said the policeman. Howarth described her. The policeman turned pale. “You saw her here?” he asked. “Yes, just here, a moment ago. But earlier today, I’m sure I saw her in the Depot. I even started to sketch her.”
The policeman flagged down a hansom and put Howarth into it. “Go straight to your friend and stay there until morning,” the policeman ordered. “You shouldn’t be walking alone at night. Go home!”
Howarth thanked the patrolman and soon arrived at his friend's house. “Frank!” Silas cried. “Where have you been? I was expecting you hours ago!” They sat in the parlor sipping hot cider as Howarth told Silas about his day. “That’s enough commotion for a whole week,” Silas said. Howarth finally got around to his Madonna on Second Avenue. Silas sucked in his breath. “You haven’t read the New York papers lately, have you?”
(to be continued)