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Lost Children
by [?]

I am not thinking now of theological dogmas or moral distinctions. I am considering the matter from the plain every-day standpoint of the police office. It is not my fault that the one thing that is lost more persistently than any other in a large city is the very thing you would imagine to be safest of all in the keeping of its owner. Nor do I pretend to explain it. It is simply one of the contradictions of metropolitan life. In twenty years’ acquaintance with the police office, I have seen money, diamonds, coffins, horses, and tubs of butter brought there and pass into the keeping of the property clerk as lost or strayed. I remember a whole front stoop, brownstone, with steps and iron railing all complete, being put up at auction, unclaimed. But these were mere representatives of a class which as a whole kept its place and the peace. The children did neither. One might have been tempted to apply the old inquiry about the pins to them but for another contradictory circumstance: rather more of them are found than lost.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children keeps the account of the surplus. It has now on its books half a score Jane Does and twice as many Richard Roes, of whom nothing more will ever be known than that they were found, which is on the whole, perhaps, best–for them certainly. The others, the lost, drift from the tenements and back, a host of thousands year by year. The two I am thinking of were of these, typical of the maelstrom.

Yette Lubinsky was three years old when she was lost from her Essex Street home, in that neighborhood where once the police commissioners thought seriously of having the children tagged with name and street number, to save trotting them back and forth between police station and Headquarters. She had gone from the tenement to the corner where her father kept a stand, to beg a penny, and nothing more was known of her. Weeks after, a neighbor identified one of her little frocks as the match of one worn by a child she had seen dragged off by a rough-looking man. But though Max Lubinsky, the pedler, and Yette’s mother camped on the steps of Police Headquarters early and late, anxiously questioning every one who went in and out about their lost child, no other word was heard of her. By and by it came to be an old story, and the two were looked upon as among the fixtures of the place. Mulberry Street has other such.

They were poor and friendless in a strange land, the very language of which was jargon to them, as theirs was to us, timid in the crush, and they were shouldered out. It was not inhumanity; at least, it was not meant to be. It was the way of the city, with every one for himself; and they accepted it, uncomplaining. So they kept their vigil on the stone steps, in storm and fair weather, every night taking turns to watch all who passed. When it was a policeman with a little child, as it was many times between sunset and sunrise, the one on the watch would start up the minute they turned the corner, and run to meet them, eagerly scanning the little face, only to return, disappointed but not cast down, to the step upon which the other slept, head upon knees, waiting the summons to wake and watch.

Their mute sorrow appealed to me, then doing night duty in the newspaper office across the way, and I tried to help them in their search for the lost Yette. They accepted my help gratefully, trustfully, but without loud demonstration. Together we searched the police records, the hospitals, the morgue, and the long register of the river’s dead. She was not there. Having made sure of this, we turned to the children’s asylums. We had a description of Yette sent to each and every one, with the minutest particulars concerning her and her disappearance, but no word came back in response. A year passed, and we were compelled at last to give over the search. It seemed as if every means of finding out what had become of the child had been exhausted, and all alike had failed.