Sinners [Part One]

Author
Illustrator
Publisher
Date
1920
Page Range
13, 15, 118, 120
Document Type
Genre
Exhibit
Work
13

Sinners

The story of a Salvation Army Motherhood

By Onoto Watanna
Illustrated by L. A. C. Panton
Hetty’s baby was born in the Salvation Army Rescue Home of Calgary, Alberta. Dire necessity had driven the girl to this last resort, of what she termed lost souls, but when the first days of agony and humiliation had passed, Hetty still lay with her face turned stonily to the wall. She kept up this ostentatious pose of defiance and scorn for a longer period than most girls of her type, for she prided herself upon being above the common girls who go wrong. She, so Hetty believed was merely an accident and it was one of the ironies of fate that found her here with this despised human driftwood of a Salvation Army Rescue Home. The sights and sounds, the rows of beds, the sobbing or shameless girls, coming and going, the uncontrolled loudly expressed grief of the miserable mothers who gave up their babies for adoption, filled Hetty with aversion. She said to herself that only uncivilized and low people abandoned themselves to noisy grief. It was like washing one’s dirty linen in public. She was an English girl, proud of her ability to demonstrate reserve even in misery and shame. There was nothing primitive in her.
And so, with hard eyes staring at the bleak wall, and back turned to other inmates of the ward, Hetty sought to work out her poor little philosophy of pride. She believed she was immune from such weaknesses as tears. She had seen soldiers grit their teeth and bear the bitterest pain. She too, had been a soldier, and she would take her punishment like a man.
But the baby had upset all of her calculations. She had expected to hate it and indeed her first act upon entering the home was to register upon the records that her child would be free for adoption. Now its warm, helpless little body filled her with a wild clamor of foreign impulses and demands provocative of such passionate tears that she bit her lips till they bled and hid her face in the pillow to fight back the stifling sobs that sought for an outlet.
Before the world—the world as contributed by the nurses and Salvation officers and the many young mothers in the ward with her, Hetty still kept up a bold face, but when the nurse, a smiling young Salvation Army lieutenant would bring her baby to be nursed Hetty, as soon as the woman’s back was turned would drop her pose of indifference and slip her arm under the little body and draw her baby close to her breast, resting her cheek against the dear, soft, tiny head. When no one was looking, she rose upon her elbow, eagerly to study the tiny face, and it seemed to her that her baby was the prettiest, the sweetest and the cleverest in the world. Every little twitch of its face she imagined to be a smile, and a cry or murmur wrung her heart and caused it strange agitation.
There were girls in that Salvation home from all classes of society. A few indeed were from the very lowest strata—street waifs, tarnished outcasts from life’s deep gutter, brazen or maudlin according to their natures. There were shop girls and factory girls, and girls from the stage; there were girls from respectable homes and one tragically young child from a High School. A sad, sad flock of sinners, indeed, these young creatures who had passed through the agony of child bearing, but were denied the compensating comfort of love and home and a mate to share with them the pride and joy of parenthood. Yet trouble sits but lightly on young hearts. These girls had their little jokes and even celebrations, and there was something approaching real fun and joy in showing and comparing and exclaiming over each others’ babies. Merry young laughter rang out through the room when the nick-names applied by them to the babies struck their fancy or sense of humor. One of the girls had started the habit of nicknaming the babies—Salvation names, and it was considered great sport to name a baby according to some characteristic peculiar to him.
Thus Prince was named because of his royal bearing and the lordliness of his demanding cry. He was the child of the half breed Indian girl, who had drifted down from the Sarcee Reserve to the gay city of Calgary. Proud of her white blood, she had sought kinship among her father’s people. Now she was to return to the Reserve with this tiny hostage as an emblem of her hunt. Her cheeks were sunk in, her chest had narrowed; she coughed incessantly. She was suspected of T.B. that sickness once peculiar to the white race and which brings death to the Indian when it touches him. Little proud Ivy, as was her name, was going back to her mother’s people to end her days. She had that far, far away longing look of one who see across the horizon and sense a glimpse of that other land to which sooner or later we are all destined to drift.
Flirt was the name applied to the wandering eyed laughing baby of a street waif, who calmly proclaimed her ignorance as to who was the father of her child.
Bubbles was the child of the swollen eyed girl, whose tears had never ceased to flow since the day she entered the Refuge. Growing, kicking and bubbling, little cared happy Bubbles for the tragedy of his life.
Squalls was destined to find a home in a millionaire’s mansion, and himself to become a leader of men. He was the child of a still-faced young person, who made no secret of her indifference to her child, and awaited with evident impatience the time when she might set out again into the world freed of the unwelcome encumbrance.
There was the Brat, the Cop, Bawls Dr. Pills, Chinky, Blacky and other appropriate and often ingenious names, but of all the babies in the Refuge, she who came to occupy the very center of that sad stage and queened it over all was little Bootie, baby language for Beauty, the child of Hetty. From the top of her head, already like her mother’s a mass of shining ringlets, her bright blue eyes, and sweet cooing mouth and rosy cheeks down to her tiny perfect feet. Hetty’s baby was a morsel of loveliness and charm. She was the pride of the Refuge, and indeed there was something pathetic in the pride of those girls in the beauty of this baby born in a Salvation Army Rescue Home. Bootie’s career in the home had been one of conquest, even the smartly stepping Captain Boyce, who had met Hetty’s assumed defiance by quietly ignoring her, capitulated before the smiling blue eyes of Hetty’s baby.
Captain Boyce was in charge of the Refuge. Under her sheltering wing and into her capable hands came all of these poor broken pieces of human flotsam and jetsam that were cast up from the sick sea of passion and love. She would have preferred to be likened to a shepherd who gathers in her ninety and nine lost lambs, but indeed one could not but think of her as some divine Beach Comber, bent on saving and sorting out the poor human wreckage that had been beaten upon the rocks of life. She was a big, bonny Scotch woman, or rather girl, for she was but twenty-eight years old. A trained nurse by profession, after her conversion, she had gone into the army, and her full time and services were devoted gratis, to the cause of caring for the wayward girls of the Home. But her activities did not cease here, for Captain Boyce followed the career, and indeed endeavored to act as a sort of guiding 15Providence to all of her girls even after they left the home. Her eyes were a clear blue, with a penetrating light that seemed to search to the depths of her pitiful wards. There was something peculiarly pure and unswervingly true about her direct gaze. She was fresh and clean looking, radiating health physically, mentally and morally.
She had retained her plain white dress and apron of the graduate nurse, and only her blue and scarlet cape and bonnet revealed her as of the Army, and the straps on the shoulder of her cape showed that she had risen to the rank of Captain. Her somewhat high cheeked bones were rosy and ruddy, and her smooth brown hair was swept back crisply from a wide white foreheads. Her hands had that long white look one associates with strength and capability. There was nothing flabby or soft about their clasp, and many a girl had clung to those hands in the hour of her direct need and found strength and courage.
Though she cherished and comforted her charges and wards, Captain Boyce was no sentimental guardian. It was by no means a humble Salvation Lassy, but a cool and often belligerent warder who faced the applicants who came to the Refuge bent upon securing the unfortunate young mothers as cheap help, or for the purpose of adopting the fatherless babes. Searching questions must be answered, the best credentials and proof of character furnished before Captain Boyce resigned one of her charged into the hands of soliciting strangers.
Nor was she soft in her attitude towards her sinners;1 she took them in and sheltered and forgave them their sins, but she held up before each girl a stern and ruthless ideal of future conduct. She had a loud, inexhaustible vocabulary of whipping words, and these she fired at her weeping young sinners, and in the manner of the old time preacher, who thundered of damnatic fire and hell, so this Salvation captain with one hand dealt punishment and with the other comforted and saved.
When Hetty 2had turned her face to the wall; when she had refused to speak to other girls; when she had answered all of the Captain’s questions with defiant monosyllables; when for days on end she had kept to her attitude of indifference to fellowship or sympathy. Captain Boyce quietly ignored her, but her clear blue eye had singled out Hetty as one destined for especial scourging, and she did not fail to note that first suggestion of a smile that came to lighten the girl’s woeful young face when they told her the name they had given to her child. A few days after that Judge Emily Lawson came down to the Refuge bringing with her a ranchman and his wife, who, recently bereaved of their own baby sought to soften their hurt by adopting another woman’s child.
Now Hetty had determined from the first to wash her hands of her infant. In the long days of anguished waiting that had preceded the advent of Bootie, Hetty, like many another girl of her position, had planned a hundred different schemes by which to be rid in her child. Indeed she knew that it would be impossible for her to reinstate herself in her own little world or return to her work—she was a stenographer in a large law firm—unless she could find a home for her child. She had used up her scant savings before coming to the Refuge by a prolonged vacation, supposedly in Banff, where she told her employers and associates she had relatives. That her vacation had in reality been spent in a dim hall room of a house on the north side of Calgary was immaterial: she had saved her face in the office, and could probably get her position back, but that hall room had nevertheless cost her the last of her small hoard and the openly hostile attitude of her landlady in the latter days had been the spur which had driven her to the extremity of the Salvation Army. The relatives in Banff were a myth. Poor Hetty had, in fact, no relatives in Canada. She had been one of the army of W.A.A.C. girls that England had sent out to Canada. In Montreal, club women had taken the girls in hand, and those who were not jealously grabbed up for household service were disposed in the various cities. Hetty, who prior to her work had been at a commercial school, was sent out to Alberta, where a position was found for her in the law office of a well-known senator at Ottawa, who maintained his law firm in his native city of Calgary. She, who had passed through the war morally unscathed, Fell in the hysteric joy days that followed the armistic. Of the man, father of Bootie, the less said the better. To the weak, deluded and so lonely girl—stranger in a land thousands of miles from her own home and people, who thought of her vaguely as in exile in the vicinity of the North Pole, he had appeared as the magnificent adventure of her life. In the long stifling months that followed the exalted period of blind delirium of supposed love, Hetty still cherished a wild passion for the man who had ruined her. For his sake, because she feared it would mean the loss of the last pinch of sentiment he had for her, she was prepared to sacrifice her child. She had an ignorant girl’s exaggerated notion that the mere knowledge of the existence of her baby would mean the end of things between her and her lover. Bootie was her badge of shame. That oft repeated and favorite axiom of many such as Hetty that the sin lies in being found out, appealed to the girls as aptly fitting her case. She had been very, very careful. No one knew a thing about Bootie—not even the man himself and he least of all must know. She still desperately clung to the hope that he would keep his promise and marry her. Marriage to Hetty, spelled salvation.
Now, suddenly, Hetty 3 found herself fronted with the actual question of the disposition of her baby. The ranch people who had come to the Refuge with the woman judge, had gone through the nursery, and like everyone else who had seen little Bootie, they had fallen captive to the baby’s beauty and charm. They wanted Hetty’s baby. Already it was in the hungry arms of the mother who had lost her own.
I think Hetty recognized from the first that sooner or later she would capitulate to the Salvation Captain, for there was always an element of fear in her too hostile attitude toward Captain Boyce. Now when the latter approached her in the ward, where she sat mending sheets and pillow cases, Hetty affected at first not to see her, and her slightly turned face stiffened and reddened when Captain Boyce addressed her. She kept her head down while the Captain spoke, but when the full import of the words began to dawn upon her, her face flashed up with that look of awakening fear.
You listed Booties for adoption, and I have been making inquiries for you, and now Judge Lawson has brought some good people to the Home who—
Hetty 4 began to think of that night when the loud sobbing of the Swedish girl in the bed next to her had irritated and terrified her. The Swedish girl’s baby had been put out for adoption on that day, and inconsolable, she had cried all of that night. Hetty had covered her ears with her hands, but she could not shut out the low animal cries of the Swedish mother, and there pierced through her memory certain words heard of long ago, as it seemed, in some small English Sunday School. The voice of Rachel crying for her children will not be comforted. She was seized with a fit of uncontrollable superstitious terror, for the first time she awoke to the poignant realization of what the loss of her child was to mean to her. Her own Calvary was at hand.
Strangely enough, the white face that imagined was so composed, that she flashed up Captain Boyce bore a tragic resemblance to that red, swollen mask of the Swedish mother, for in both their eyes was the same terror of the mother thing at bay. But Hetty was of more valiant flesh than Elsie. She went down smiling, if that twisted mockery of a smile might be called such.
Is there any hurry Captain? she inquired with exaggerated politeness. Her eyes were blinking, though she tried to hold them wide open. There were no inclination for tears, but she found that she had suddenly gone quite blind. Though she was staring, wide-eyed at the Captain, Hetty saw nothing in the world but her own baby’s face, and it floated before her like a spirit’s. Nevertheless she kept up her pose of calmness. You see, I am not awfully strong yet, and I thought maybe if you didn’t mind, I’d like to stay here another month. I can afford to pay a little, or I am willing to work for my board—just as you say.
Stay as long as you wish, said the Captain gravely. She removed her gaze from the girl’s straining face, and looked far out before her, clearing her husky throat and commanding the tremble that 118came to her voice despite her self control.
But now—about Bootie. You know, sooner or later, she is to be placed for adoption. You so asked when you entered here. We have it on the records, and have been making diligent inquiries in your behalf. Now we always find it best when a child is to be adopted, to get a home and parents for it just as soon as possible. In fact the longer you—we—put off, the harder it is to part with the child. So, after careful search, we have been successful, and a good home is offered to Bootie. Judge Lawson is here now, and we must get the formalities over with.
Formalities repeated Hetty. She had had that word in dictation many times in the law office.
Yes, you know you sign certain papers before a judge, renouncing your claim to your child. Then it is in a position to be adopted legally, and receive all the benefit of care and property of the people who take it; in fact, is regarded, legally as their own child. Now, as I know how hard it is for my girls to go to court, I have Judge Lawson—a very fine woman, and one you can trust absolutely—come here personally once a month, or when some special case is to be settled. And she is here to-day; so, if you are ready, my dear, we will have the matter of Bootie cleared up without further delay.
Matter of Bootie repeated Hetty dully.
Nevertheless she was surprised at her own apparent composure—or what she took to be composure. Actually she was able to stand on her feet and follow Captain Boyce across the ward and into the office. The woman judge was sitting at a table, but she looked up as Hetty followed Captain Boyce into the room, and her penetrating glance fixed the girl searchingly. Things began to spin round and round about Hetty. She had seen that woman judge before. Yes—it was in the law office where she had worked. She was a friend of Hetty’s employers. She knew—Panic seized upon Hetty. A wild impulse to run away, to hide her face overwhelmed the miserable girl. Suppose this judge should go back to her office and tell them all about her—Hetty. Suppose he should find out that—5
But the woman judge gave no sign of recognition. She had turned back to the table, and now Hetty, sitting opposite a paper they had placed before her. The long index finger of the woman judge was pointing to the line where Hetty was to sign. This was the formality. She heard the voice of the judge saying or reading something to her, but things were spinning around so swiftly now and there was such a buzzing in Hetty’s ears that she comprehended nothing save that she was to put her name upon that paper. She wrote slowly, carefully in that round, childish hand prized by the law office. She stopped to blot her name, and then her chair scraped back, and Hetty stood on her feet again. All she thought of just then was that it was strange the old weakness in her knees that had been there when first she had arisen after her illness was back again. She put out her hands as if to feel her way and she swayed from side to side as she found her way to the door.
Damn the man, say I! He should be bung!
Said the Captain:
Hetty’s crucifixion will be her salvation. She will ‘go and sin no more.’
Now for two days and a night Hetty lay in bed, her face turned stonily to that wall, rejected all food, speaking to no one, hearing and heeding not the words of commiseration and sympathy. Her breasts ached and burned fiercely, for there were no hungry baby lips to relieve the pressure. Not alone the mother’s breasts, but every inch of the mother’s body, and the heart within, was aching and crying aloud for her child; yet hating the world and herself, damning even her God, Hetty crouched up against the wall.
In the middle of the second night, the ward was startled by the piercing cry of Hetty. The night nurse, a Salvation Army lieutenant, hurried across the dormitory in her felt slippers, and sought to hush the alarm that the girl’s wild outcry had raised, but like a lot of children, all of the girls were crying in sympathy with Hetty. She had sprung out of her bed, and like one entirely out of her senses the crazed child plunged across the room in the direction of the nursery. With her hands striking the door flatly, she broke her through, till she came to the crib where little Bootie had slept. Here a small black head—the child of a mulatto, made a dark patch upon 120the white pillow. Hetty broke into laughter, desperate, wild laughter. She swayed back and forth, her terrible laughter wrenching hysterically from her tossed back head. A woman in white opened the door of the office, and hurried across the ward. Hetty saw her, and clapping her hand to her mouth, she stifled back her laughter. Like a drowning person who grasps after straws, Hetty dimly saw in the Salvation Captain the emblem of hope. She sprang to meet her, dropped on her knees before her, her frantic arms clasped about and her hands tearing and clutching at the Salvation Captains knees.
Oh Captain, Captain, I’ve changed my mind. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. Give me my baby!
Now Hetty, Hetty, this won’t do at all. Come with me dear—this way—this way.
There were in the captain’s office at the end of the hall, Hetty was on the sofa doubled forward, even her bare little feet twitching and showing the anguish that wracked her from head to foot. Well that Salvation captain knew the precious value of tears, and she prayed that they might come to bring relief to the tortured young creature before her; but only the dry gasping tearless sobs were wrenched from the heart of Hetty.
Hetty, God sees you. He knows your heart is tender, and He pities you. In His great goodness He is going to bless your dear little baby by giving her a good home and people to love and care for her.
But captain d-dear, I w-want my own baby. I didn’t know what I was doing when I s-s-signed those f-f-f-formalities, and I want my baby, my little, little b-baby! You wouldn’t be so hard to take her from me, w-would you? She’s all, all I’ve got in all this r-r-rotten world!
No Hetty dear, I’d be the last to take your baby from you, but you know, you asked us to find a home for her, and the kind people came, and I believe it is God’s way of solving the problem for you and Bootie.
B-but I d-don’t want it solved. I can solve my own problems, and I don’t want any help from God. I d-don’t believe in God anyhow! And if He is a God, He is a cruel God!
Hetty! That is blasphemy!
I don’t care what it is. He didn’t help me before. He won’t help me now. he made the baby come when I didn’t want it, and th-then when it came and I wanted it, He took it away from me. But you won’t be so cruel, will you. You’ll give me my baby back. I am sure you will. You look so g-good and k-kind. You cant refuse me. Oh, say that you will—that you will! Oh, oh, what am I do to, what am I to do?
Pray to God to forgive you those wicked words—to forgive you for your sins.
I can’t pray. I’m all frozen up in here. and even if I did pray, no one would hear me.
Cry, then, poor lamb, cry! God will see your tears and know them for prayers.
There was a long silence and then from those wild staring out eyes the great drops began to fall down the girl’s thin little face. Back and forth she rocked and she thrust out her arms with an eloquent motion and cried:
My arms are empty! My arms are empty! Oh my God!
In the silence that again fell after that utterance fell the compassionate voice of her friend, the Salvation captain.
Hetty, it’s not as if anything bad had happened to Bootie. Suppose she had died, like the child of the dear woman who has taken little Bootie. Suppose you had kept her, and she had to suffer for your sins, or grew up to do as you have done and—
No, no—never, never that cried Hetty.
—but your own example, Hetty.
Oh captain, I wasn’t so bad as you think. J-just a foolish little flapper, vain, silly and weak—I wanted to dance and drink and have pretty c-clothes, and he was—he was the big boss of the office—away above me, you understand, and I got dazzled, and he was always after me, and I thought—he told me so many times Captain—that he loved me.
Oh Hetty dear, that is not love! Love cherishes; not destroys.
I believe you now. I trust you. I feel that you will help me. You’ll get me my baby back. I am sure you will? You will find a way somehow. I can see how kind you are, and if you’ll only give me back Bootie, I’ll be so good you won’t recognize me. I’ll do anything in the world you ask me to. I’ll—I’ll go out in the streets with the Army. Yes, I will captain, though I used to laugh at the Salvation lassies. I thought them jokes. But now the laugh is on me. They can laugh at me.
Oh Hetty, my dear, we are not in the world to laugh at each other, but to help each other, though I’m not going to preach to you now. I’d gladly give you back Bootie if I could, and if you really wanted me to; but after I’ve told you about the people she has gone to, I know you will see it is for her best good, and I know you will think of Bootie first. You are not a selfish girl, and you will think of your child’s future happiness before your own. Now lie down there like a good little girl! There right on that pillow. There, I’ll tuck the cover in about you, and if you’ll keep real quiet, I’ll tell you what I know of the people who have Bootie.
She is a ranchman’s wife, Hetty, a very fine little woman. We investigated them thoroughly, and they have a beautiful home, a ranch of thousands of acres, with big modern buildings and a great many people working for them. Their ranch is right in the foothills of the Rocky mountains, so that they have something beautiful to look at all the time, and you know the poets tell us mountains inspire us to noble thoughts and deeds, so our Bootie will grow up in a clean, fine, beautiful atmosphere. Now won’t be great for her development? Than this little woman, who loves her already, has had a great grief and loss. Her own baby has just died, so you see Bootie is going to be doubly loved, both for herself and the dead baby. Now isn’t it better for her to have a fine home and care and be brought up properly, than to remain with you, and perhaps have to pass through a hand to mouth existence; maybe subjected to poverty and hardship and shame, you have so much to be thankful for Hetty. All babies do not find good homes, but Booties was so pretty. No one could resist her; everyone wanted her that saw her.
A smile that was strangely pitiful and beautiful lit up Hetty’s wan face.
Ah, she whispered, wasn’t she the prettiest baby ever. Why no one could have believed she was only two months old. Oh her dear little face and her smile—she smiled the very first week, and she knew me so soon and—Oh my little baby—Oh my baby—my—
Cry it out Hetty dear. You’ve needed to cry for so long now. one cannot carry a cup brimful.
Hetty’s head had fallen forward. Her hair was bobbed like a child’s, in the prevalent mode, but it curled in ringlets about her forehead and cheeks and neck. She was pretty as her baby and almost as helpless. The captain’s voice above her was beginning to sound very far away now to Hetty. It seemed almost as if someone was speaking to her in a dream, and assuring her that some day perhaps Bootie would be with her again. It was against the rules to give the names and addresses of the people who took the babies, but Captain was sure that when Hetty had proven herself a true repentant the people who had taken her baby would let her come to their home to see little Bootie. With this promise, Hetty’s fingers closed spasmodically upon Captain Boyce’s hands and then relaxed their tension. There was complete silence in the room, and Hetty’s curls almost hid her face. One arm was thrown up childishly to ward off the light. Hetty, the sinner, slept.
And the Salvation captain, softly releasing her hand from that of the girl lowered the light, and withdrew to her desk. She opened a well worn book. Lovingly thumbing the pages she came to the passage she sought, and almost unconsciously she read the words aloud:
Let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone at her.

Notes

1
No final quotation mark in original.
2
Hettie in original.
3
Hettie
4
Hettie
5
Extra final quotation mark in original.

People Mentioned

Winnifred Eaton

  • Born: August 21, 1875
  • Died: April 08, 1954
See the Biographical Timeline for biographical information on Winnifred Eaton.

Pseudonym used in this text

Mary Chapman

Mary Chapman is the Director of The Winnifred Eaton Archive, a Professor of English, and Academic Director of the Public Humanities Hub at University of British Columbia. She is the author of the award-winning monograph Making Noise, Making News: Suffrage Print Culture and US Modernism (Oxford UP) and of numerous articles about American literature and women writers. She has also edited Becoming Sui Sin Far: Early Fiction, Journalism and Travel Writing by Edith Maude Eaton (McGill-Queen’s UP) and published essays on the Eaton sisters in American Quarterly, MELUS, Legacy, Canadian Literature, and American Periodicals. Her current research project is a microhistory of the Eaton family. For more information, see http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/mchapman/.

Joey Takeda

Joey Takeda is the Technical Director of The Winnifred Eaton Archive and the User Interface Developer at the Digital Humanities Innovation Lab (Simon Fraser University). He is also an M.A. student in English at the University of British Columbia where his research focuses on Indigenous and diasporic Canadian literature; he is currently completing a digital edition of His Royal Nibs.

Organizations Mentioned

New Magazine

Short-lived Toronto-based magazine published by Periodical Press of Canada Ltd.; inaugural issue’s managing editor was Theodore H. Rand-McNally. Only the first issue was ever published; the magazine was intended to be For Canada – By Canada – About Canada.

Published