Part 1 out of 2
Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed
The Island of Faith
By MARGARET E. SANGSTER
To M's M and Chance
I. INTRODUCING--THE SETTLEMENT HOUSE
II. THE QUARREL
III. CONCERNING IDEALS
IV. THE PARK
V. ROSE-MARIE COMES TO THE RESCUE
VI. "THERE'S NO PLACE--"
VII. A LILY IN THE SLUMS
VIII. ANOTHER QUARREL
IX. AND ANOTHER
X. MRS. VOLSKY PROMISES TO TRY
XI. BENNIE COMES TO THE SETTLEMENT HOUSE
XII. AN ISLAND
XIII. ELLA MAKES A DECISION
XIV. PA STEPS ASIDE
XV. A SOLUTION
XVII. AN ANSWER
XVIII. AND A MIRACLE
XIX. AND THE HAPPY ENDING
INTRODUCING--THE SETTLEMENT HOUSE
There is a certain section of New York that is bounded upon the north by
Fourteenth Street, upon the south by Delancy. Folk who dwell in it seldom
stray farther west than the Bowery, rarely cross the river that flows
sluggishly on its eastern border. They live their lives out, with
something that might be termed a feverish stolidity, in the dim crowded
flats, and upon the thronged streets.
To the people who have homes on Central Park West, to the frail winged
moths who flutter up and down Broadway, this section does not exist. Its
poor are not the picturesque poor of the city's Latin quarter, its
criminals seldom win to the notoriety of a front page and inch-high
headlines; it almost never produces a genius for the world to smile
upon--its talent does not often break away from the undefined, but none
the less certain, limits of the district.
It is curious that this part of town is seldom featured in song or story,
for it is certainly neither dull nor unproductive of plot. The tenements
that loom, canyon-like, upon every side are filled to overflowing with
human drama; and the stilted little parks are so teeming with romances,
of a summer night, that only the book of the ages would be big enough to
hold them--were they written out! Life beats, like some great wave, up
the dim alleyways--it breaks, in a shattered tide, against rock-like
doorways. The music of a street band, strangely sweet despite its
shrillness, rises triumphantly above the tumult of pavement vendors, the
crying of babies, the shouting of small boys, and the monotonous voices
of the womenfolk.
In almost the exact center of this district is the Settlement House--a
brown building that is tall and curiously friendly. Between a great
hive-like dwelling place and a noisy dance-hall it stands valiantly, like
the soldier of God that it is! And through its wide-open doorway come and
go the girls who will gladly squander a week's wage for a bit of satin or
a velvet hat; the shabby, dull-eyed women who, two years before, were
care-free girls themselves; the dreamers--and the ones who have never
learned to dream. For there is something about the Settlement House--and
about the tiny group of earnest people who are the heart of the
Settlement House--that is like a warm hand, stretched out in welcome to
the poor and the needy, to the halt in body and the maimed in soul, and
to the casual passer-by.
"They're like animals," said the Young Doctor in the tone of one who
states an indisputable fact. "Only worse!" he added.
Rose-Marie laid down the bit of roll that she had been buttering and
turned reproachful eyes upon the Young Doctor.
"Oh, but they're not," she cried; "you don't understand, or you wouldn't
talk that way. You don't understand!"
Quite after the maddening fashion of men the doctor did not answer until
he had consumed, and appreciatively, the last of the roll he was eating.
"I've been here quite as long as you have, Miss Thompson," he remarked, a
shade too gently.
The Superintendent raised tired eyes from her plate. She was little and
slim and gray, this Superintendent; it seemed almost as though the slums
had drained from her the life and colour.
"When you've been working in this section for twenty years," she said
slowly, "you'll realize that nobody can ever understand. You'll realize
that we all have animal traits--to a certain extent. And you'll realize
that quarrelling isn't ever worth while."
"But"--Rose-Marie was inclined to argue the point--"but Dr. Blanchard
talks as if the people down here are scarcely human! And it's not right
to feel so about one's fellow-men. Dr. Blanchard acts as if the people
down here haven't _souls_!"
The Young Doctor helped himself nonchalantly to a second roll.
"There's a certain sort of a little bug that lives in the water," he
said, "and it drifts around aimlessly until it finds another little bug
that it holds on to. And then another little bug takes hold, and
another, and another. And pretty soon there are hundreds of little bugs,
and then there are thousands, and then there are millions, and then
billions, and then--"
The Superintendent interrupted wearily.
"I'd stop at the billions, if I were you," she said, "particularly as
they haven't any special bearing on the subject."
"Oh, but they _have_" said the doctor, "for, after a while, the billions
and _trillions_ of little bugs, clinging together, make an island. They
haven't souls, perhaps," he darted a triumphant glance at Rose-Marie,
"but they make an island just the same!"
He paused for a moment, as if waiting for some sort of comment. When it
did not come, he spoke again.
"The people of the slums," he said, "the people who drift into, and out
of, and around this Settlement House, are not very unlike the little
bugs. And, after all, _they do help to make the city_!"
There was a quaver in Rose-Marie's voice, and a hurt look in her eyes, as
"Yes, they are like the little bugs," she said, "in the blind way that
they hold together! But please, Dr. Blanchard, don't say they are
All at once the Young Doctor's hand was banging upon the table. All at
once his voice was vehemently raised.
"It's the difference in our point of view, Miss Thompson," he told
Rose-Marie, "and I'm afraid that I'm right and that you're--not right.
You've come from a pretty little country town where every one was fairly
comfortable and fairly prosperous. You've always been a part of a
community where people went to church and prayer-meeting and
Sunday-school. Your neighbours loved each other, and played Pollyanna
when things went wrong. And you wore white frocks and blue sashes
whenever there was a lawn party or a sociable." He paused, perhaps for
breath, and then--"I'm different," he said; "I struggled for my
education; it was always the survival of the fittest with me. I worked my
way through medical school. I had my hospital experience in Bellevue and
on the Island--most of my patients were the lowest of the low. I've tried
to cure diseased bodies--but I've left diseased minds alone. Diseased
minds have been out of my line. Perhaps that's why I've come through with
an ideal of life that's slightly different from your sunshine and apple
"Oh," Rose-Marie was half sobbing, "oh, you're so hard!"
The Young Doctor faced her suddenly and squarely. "Why did you come
here," he cried, "to the slums? Why did you come to work in a Settlement
House? What qualifications have you to be a social service worker, you
child? What do you know of the meaning of service, of life?"
Rose-Marie's voice was earnest, though shaken.
"I came," she answered, "because I love people and want to help them. I
came because I want to teach them to think beautiful thoughts, to have
beautiful ideals. I came because I want to show them the God that I
know--and try to serve--" she faltered.
The Young Doctor laughed--but not pleasantly.
"And I," he said, "came to make their bodies as healthy as possible. I
came because curing sick bodies was my job--_not because I loved people
or had any particular faith in them_. Prescribing to criminals and
near-criminals isn't a reassuring work; it doesn't give one faith in
human nature or in human souls!"
The Superintendent had been forgotten. But her tired voice rose suddenly
across the barrier of speech that had grown high and icy between the
Young Doctor and Rose-Marie.
"You both came," she said, and she spoke in the tone of a mother of
chickens who has found two young and precocious ducklings in her brood,
"you both came to help people--of that I'm sure!"
Rose-Marie started up, suddenly, from the table.
"I came," she said, as she moved toward the door that led to the hall,
"to make people better."
"And I," said the Young Doctor, moving away from the table toward the
opposite side of the room and another door, "I came to make them
healthier!" With his hand on the knob of the door he spoke to the
"I'll not be back for supper," he said shortly, "I'll be too busy.
Giovanni Celleni is out of jail again, and he's thrown his wife down a
flight of stairs. She'll probably not live. And while Minnie Cohen was
at the vaudeville show last night--developing her soul, perhaps--her
youngest baby fell against the stove. Well, it'll be better for the
baby if it does die! And there are others--" The door slammed upon his
Rose-Marie's face was white as she leaned against the dark wainscoting.
"Minnie Cohen brought the baby in last week," she shuddered, "such a dear
baby! And Mrs. Celleni--she tried so hard! Oh, it's not right--" She was
crying, rather wildly, as she went out of the room.
The Superintendent, left alone at the table, rang for the stolid maid.
Her voice was carefully calm as she gave orders for the evening meal. If
she was thinking of Giovanni Celleni, his brute face filled with
semi-madness; if she was thinking of a burned baby, sobbing alone in a
darkened tenement while its mother breathlessly watched the gay colours
and shifting scenes of a make-believe life, her expression did not
mirror her thought. Only once she spoke, as she was folding her napkin,
"They're both very young," she murmured, a shade regretfully. Perhaps she
was remembering the enthusiasm--and the intolerance--of her own youth.
"Sunshine and apple blossoms!" Rose-Marie, hurrying along the hall to her
own room, repeated the Young Doctor's words and sobbed afresh as she
repeated them. She tried to tell herself that nothing he could think
mattered much to her, but there was a certain element of truth in
everything that he had said. It was a fact that her life had been an
unclouded, peaceful one--her days had followed each other as regularly,
as innocuously, as blue china beads, strung upon a white cord, follow
Of course, she told herself, she had never known a mother; and her father
had died when she was a tiny girl. But she was forced to admit--as she
had been forced to admit many times--that she did not particularly feel
the lack of parents. Her two aunts, that she had always lived with, had
been everything to her--they had indulged her, had made her pretty
frocks, had never tried, in any way, to block the reachings of her
personality. When she had decided suddenly, fired by the convincing
address of a visiting city missionary, to leave the small town of her
birth, they had put no obstacle in her path.
"If you feel that you must go," they had told her, "you must. Maybe it is
the work that the Lord has chosen for you. We have all faith in you,
And Rose-Marie, splendid in her youth and assurance, had never known that
their pillows were damp that night--and for many another night--with the
tears that they were too brave to let her see.
They had packed her trunk, folding the white dress and the blue
sash--Rose-Marie wondered how the Young Doctor had known about the dress
and sash--in tissue paper. They had created a blue serge frock for work,
and a staunch little blue coat, and a blue tam-o'-shanter. Rose-Marie
would have been aghast to know how childish she looked in that
tam-o'-shanter! Her every-day shoes had been resoled; her white ruffled
petticoats had been lengthened. And then she had been launched, like a
slim little boat, upon the turbulent sea of the city!
Looking back, through a mist of angry tears, Rose-Marie felt her first
moment of homesickness for the friendly little town with its wide,
tree-shaded streets, its lawn parties, and its neighbours; cities, she
had discovered, discourage the art of neighbouring! She felt a pang of
emptiness--she wanted her aunts with their soft, interested eyes, and
their tender hands.
At first the city had thrilled her. But now that she had been in the
Settlement House a month, the thrill was beginning to die away. The great
buildings were still unbelievably high, the crowds of people were still a
strange and mysterious throng, the streets were as colourful as ever--but
life, nevertheless, was beginning to settle into ordinary channels.
She had thought, at the beginning of her stay there, that the Settlement
House was a hotbed of romance. Every ring of the doorbell had tingled
through her; every step in the hall had made her heart leap, with a
strange quickening movement, into her throat--every shabby man had been
to her a possible tragedy, every threadbare woman had been a case for
charity. She had fluttered from reception-hall to reading-room, and back
again--she had been alert, breathless, eager.
But, with the assignment of regular duties, some of the adventure had
been drained from life. For her these consisted of teaching a club of
girls to sew, of instructing a group of mothers in the art of making
cakes and pies and salads, and of hearing a half hundred little children
repeat their A B Cs. Only the difference in setting, only the twang of
foreign tongues, only the strange precociousness of the children, made
life at all different from the life at home. She told herself, fiercely,
that she might be a teacher in a district school--a country school--for
all the good she was accomplishing.
She had offered, so many times, to do visiting in the tenements--to call
upon families of the folk who would not come to the Settlement House.
But the Superintendent had met her, always, with a denial that was
"I have a staff of women--older women from outside--who do the visiting,"
she had said. "I'm afraid" she was eyeing Rose-Marie in the blue coat and
the blue tam-o'-shanter, "I'm afraid that you'd scarcely be--convincing.
And," she had added, "Dr. Blanchard takes care of all the detail in that
department of our work!"
Dr. Blanchard ... Rose-Marie felt the tears coming afresh at the thought
of him! She remembered how she had written home enthusiastic,
schoolgirlish letters about the handsome man who sat across the dining
table from her. It had seemed exciting, romantic, that only the three of
them really should live in the great brownstone house--the Young Doctor,
the Superintendent--who made a perfect chaperon--and herself. It had
seemed, somehow, almost providential that they should be thrown together.
Yes, Rose-Marie remembered how she had been attracted to Dr. Blanchard at
the very first--how she had found nothing wanting in his wiry strength,
his broad shoulders, his dark, direct eyes.
But she had not been in the Settlement House long before she began to
feel the clash of their natures. When she started to church service, on
her first Sunday in New York, she surprised a smile of something that
might have been cynical mirth upon his lean, square-jawed face. And when
she spoke of the daily prayers that she and her aunts had so beautifully
believed in, back in the little town, he laughed at her--not unkindly,
but with the sympathetic superiority that one feels for a too trusting
child. Rose-Marie, thinking it over, knew that she would rather meet
direct unkindness than that bland superiority!
And so--though there had never been an open quarrel until the one at the
luncheon table--Rose-Marie had learned to look to the Superintendent for
encouragement, rather than to the Young Doctor. And she had frigidly
declined his small courtesies--a visit to the movies, a walk in the park,
a 'bus ride up Fifth Avenue.
"I never went to the movies at home," she had told him. Or, "I'm too
busy, just now, to take a walk." Or, "I can't go with you to-day. I've
letters to write."
"It's a shame," she confided, on occasion, to the Superintendent, "that
Dr. Blanchard never goes to church. It's a shame that he has had so
little religious life. I gave him a book to read the other day--the
letters of an American Missionary in China--and he laughed and told me
that he couldn't waste his time. What do you think of that! But later,"
Rose-Marie's voice sank to a horrified whisper, "later, I saw him reading
a cheap novel--he had time for a cheap novel!"
The Superintendent looked down into Rose-Marie's earnest little face.
"My dear," she said gently, stifling a desire to laugh, "my dear, he's a
very busy man. He gives a great deal of himself to the people here in the
slums. The novel, to him, was just a mental relaxation."
But to the Young Doctor, later, the Superintendent spoke differently.
"Billy Blanchard," she said, and she only called him Billy Blanchard when
she wanted to scold him, "I've known you for a long time. And I'm sure
that there's no harm in you. Of course," she sighed, "I wish that you
could feel a little more in sympathy with the spiritual side of our work.
But I've argued with you, more than once, on that point!"
The doctor, who was packing medicines into his bag, looked up.
"You know, you old dear," he told her, "that I'm hopeless. I haven't had
an easy row to hoe, not ever; you wouldn't be religious yourself if you
were in my shoes! There--don't look so shocked--you've been a mother to
me in your funny, fussy way, since I came to this place! That's the main
reason, I guess, that I stick here, as I do, when I could make a lot more
money somewhere else!" He reached up to pat her thin hand, and then, "But
why are you worrying, just now, about my soul?" he questioned.
The Superintendent sighed again.
"It's the little Thompson girl," she answered; "she's so anxious to
convert people, and she's so sincere,--so very sincere. I can't help
feeling that you are a thorn in her flesh, Billy. She says that you won't
read her missionary books--"
The Young Doctor interrupted.
"She's such a pretty girl," he said quite fiercely. "Why on earth didn't
she stay at home, where she belonged! Why on earth did she pick out this
sort of work?"
The Superintendent answered.
"One never knows," she said, "why girls pick out certain kinds of work.
I've had the strangest cases come to my office--of homely girls who
wanted to be artists' models, and anemic girls who wanted to be physical
directors, and flighty girls who wanted to go to Bible School, and quiet
girls who were all set for a career on the stage. Rose-Marie Thompson is
the sort of a girl who was cut out to be a home-maker, to give happiness
to some nice, clean boy, to have a nursery full of rosy-cheeked babies.
And yet here she is, filled with a desire to rescue people, to snatch
brands from the burning. Here she is in the slums when she'd be
dramatically right in an apple orchard--at the time of year when the
trees are covered with pink and white blossoms."
The Young Doctor laughed. He so well understood the Superintendent--so
enjoyed her point of view.
"Yes," he agreed, "she'd be perfect there in an organdy frock with
the sun slanting across her face. But--well, she's just like other
girls. Tell a pretty girl that she's clever, they say, and tell a
clever girl that she's a raving, tearing beauty. That's the way for a
man to be popular!"
The Superintendent laughed quietly with him. It was a moment before she
grew sober again.
"I wonder," she said at last, "why you have never tried to be popular
with girls. You could so easily be popular. You're young and--don't try
to hush me up--good-looking. And yet--well, you're such an antagonistic
person. From the very first you've laughed at Rose-Marie--and she was
quite ready to adore you when she arrived. How do I know? Oh, I could
tell! Take the child seriously, Billy Blanchard, before she actually
begins to dislike you!"
The Young Doctor put several bottles of violently coloured pills into his
bag before he spoke.
"She dislikes me already," he said. "She's such a cool little person.
What are you trying to do, anyway? Are you trying to matchmake; to
stir up a love affair between the both of us--" suddenly he was
"I'm too busy to have a romance, you old dear," he told the
Superintendent, "far too busy. I'm as likely to fall in love, just now,
as you are!"
The woman's face was averted as she answered. But her low voice
"When I was your age, Billy," she said gently, "I _was_ in love.
That's why, perhaps, I came here. That's why, perhaps, I stayed. No,
he didn't die--he married another girl. And dreams are hard things to
forget. That's why I left the country. Maybe that's why the little
But the Young Doctor was shaking his head.
"She hasn't had any love affair," he told the Superintendent. "She's too
young and full of ideals to have anything so ordinary as a romance.
Everybody," his laugh was not too pleasant, "can have a romance! And few
people can be so filled with ideals as Miss Thompson. Oh, it's her ideals
that I can't stand! It's her impractical way of gazing at life through
pink-coloured glasses. She'll never be of any real use here in the slums.
I'm only afraid that she'll come to some harm because she's so trusting
and over-sincere. I'd hate to see her placed in direct contact with some
of the young men that I work with, for instance. You haven't--" All at
once his voice took on a new note. "You haven't let her be with any of
the boys' classes, have you? Her ideals might not stand the strain!"
The Superintendent answered.
"Ideals don't hurt any one," she said, and her voice was almost as fierce
as the doctor's. "No, I haven't given her a bit of work with the boys.
She's too young and too untouched and, as you say, too pretty. I'm
letting her spend her time with the mothers, and the young girls, and the
little tots--not even allowing her to go out alone, if I can help it.
Such innocence--" The Superintendent broke off suddenly in the middle of
the sentence. And she sighed again.
Crying helps, sometimes. When Rose-Marie, alone in her room, finally
dried away the tears that were the direct result of her quarrel with Dr.
Blanchard, there was a new resolve in her eyes--a look that had not been
there when she went, an hour before, to the luncheon table. It was the
look of one who has resolutions that cannot be shattered--dreams that are
unbreakable. She glanced at her wrist watch and there was a shade of
defiance in the very way she raised the arm that wore it.
"They make a baby of me here," she told herself, "they treat me like a
silly child. It's a wonder that they don't send a nurse-maid with me to
my classes. It's a wonder"--she was growing vehement--"that they give me
credit for enough sense to wear rubbers when it's raining! I," again she
glanced at the watch, "I haven't a single thing to do until four
o'clock--and it's only just a little after two. I'm going out--_now_. I'm
going into the streets, or into a tenement, or into a--a _dive_, if
necessary! I'm going to show them"--the plural pronoun, strangely,
referred to a certain young man--"that I can help somebody! I'm going to
She was struggling eagerly into her coat; eagerly she pulled her
tam-o'-shanter over the curls that, even in the city slums, were full of
sunshine. With her hands thrust staunchly into her pockets, she went out;
out into the jungle of streets that met, as in the center of a labyrinth,
in front of the Settlement House.
Always, when she had gone out alone, she had sought a small park not far
from her new home. It was a comfortingly green little oasis in the desert
of stone and brick--a little oasis that reminded one of the country. She
turned toward it now, quite blindly, for the streets confused her--they
always did. As the crowds closed around her she hurried vaguely, as a
swimmer hurries just before he loses his head and goes down. She caught
her breath as she went, for the crowds always made her feel
submerged--quite as the swimmer feels just before the final plunge. She
entered the park--it was scarcely more than a square of grass--with a
very definite feeling of relief, almost of rescue.
As usual, the park was crowded. But park crowds are different from street
crowds--they are crowds at rest, rather than hurrying, restless throngs.
Rose-Marie sank upon an iron bench and with wide, childishly distended
eyes surveyed the people that surged in upon her.
There was a woman with a hideous black wig--the badge of revered Jewish
motherhood--pressed down over the front of her silvered hair. Rose-Marie,
a short time ago, would have guessed her age at seventy--now she told
herself that the woman was probably forty. There was a slim,
cigarette-smoking youth with pale, shifty eyes. There was an old, old
man--white-bearded like one of the patriarchs--and there was a
dark-browed girl who held a drowsy baby to her breast. All of these and
many more--Italians, Slavs, Russians, Hungarians and an occasional
Chinaman--passed her by. It seemed to the girl that this section was a
veritable melting pot of the races--and that every example of every race
was true to type. She had seen any number of young men with shifty
eyes--she had seen many old men with white beards. She knew that other
black-wigged women lived in every tenement; that other dark-browed girls
were, at that same moment, rocking other babies. She fell to wondering,
whimsically, whether God had fashioned the people of the slums after some
half-dozen set patterns--almost as the cutter, in many an alley
sweatshop, fashions the frocks of a season.
A sharp cry broke in upon her wonderings. It was the cry of an animal in
utter pain--in blind, unreasoning agony. Rose-Marie was on her feet at
the first moment that it cut, quiveringly, through the air. With eyes
distended she whirled about to face a small boy who knelt upon the ground
behind her bench.
To Rose-Marie the details of the small boy's appearance came back, later,
with an amazing clarity. Later she could have described his dark, sullen
eyes, his mouth with its curiously grim quirk at one corner, his shock of
black hair and his ragged coat. But at the moment she had the ability to
see only one thing--the scrawny gray kitten that the boy had tied to the
iron leg of the bench; the shrinking kitten that the boy was torturing
with a cold, relentless cruelty.
It shrieked again--with an almost human cry--as she started around the
bench toward it. And the wild throbbing of her heart told her that she
was witnessing, for the first time, a phase of human nature of which she
had never dreamed.
ROSE-MARIE COMES TO THE RESCUE
Rose-Marie's hand upon the small boy's coat collar was not gentle. With
surprising strength, for she was small and slight, she jerked him aside.
"You wicked child!" she exclaimed, and the Young Doctor would have
chuckled to hear her tone. "You wicked child, what are you doing?"
Without waiting for an answer she knelt beside the pitiful little animal
that was tied to the bench, and with trembling fingers unloosed the cord
that held it, noting as she did so how its bones showed, even through its
coat of fur. When it was at liberty she gathered it close to her breast
and turned to face the boy.
He had not tried to run away. Even with the anger surging through her,
Rose-Marie admitted that the child was not--in one sense--a coward. He
had waited, brazenly perhaps, to hear what she had to say. With blazing
eyes she said it:
"Why," she questioned, and the anger that made her eyes blaze also put a
tremor into her voice, "why were you deliberately hurting this kitten?
Don't you know that kittens can feel pain just as much as you can feel
pain? Don't you know that it is wicked to make anything suffer? Why were
you so wicked?"
The boy looked up at her with sullen, dark eyes. The grim twist at one
corner of his mouth became more pronounced.
"Aw," he said gruffly, "why don't yer mind yer own business?"
If Rose-Marie's hands had been free, she would have taken the boy
suddenly and firmly by both shoulders. She felt an overwhelming desire to
shake him--to shake him until his teeth chattered. But both of her hands
were busy, soothing the gray kitten that shivered against her breast.
"I am minding my own business," she told the boy. "It's my business to
give help where it's needed, and this kitten," she cuddled it closer,
"certainly needed help! Haven't you ever been told that you should be
kind? Like," she faltered, "like Jesus was kind? He wouldn't have hurt
anything. He loved animals--and He loved boys, too. Why don't you try to
be the sort of a boy He could love? Why do you try to be bad--to do
The eyes of the child were even more sullen--the twist of his mouth was
even more grim as he listened to Rose-Marie. But when she had finished
speaking, he answered her--and still he did not try to run away.
"Wot," he questioned, almost in the words of the Young Doctor, "wot do
you know about things that's right an' things that's wrong? It ain't bad
t' hurt animals--not if they're little enough so as they ain't able t'
Rose-Marie sat down, very suddenly, upon the bench. In all of her
life--her sheltered, glad life--she had never heard such a brutal creed
spoken, and from the lips of a child! Her eyes, searching his face, saw
that he was not trying to be funny, or saucy, or smart. Curiously enough
she noted that he was quite sincere--that, to him, the torturing of a
kitten was only a part of the day with its various struggles and
amusements. When she spoke again her tone was gentle--as gentle as the
tone with which the other slum children, who came to the Settlement
House, were familiar.
"Whoever told you," she questioned, "that it's not wrong to hurt an
animal, so long as it can't fight back?"
The boy eyed her strangely. Rose-Marie could almost detect a gleam of
latent interest in his dark eyes. And then, as if he had gained a sort of
confidence in her, he answered.
"Nobody never told me," he said gruffly. "But I _know_."
The kitten against Rose-Marie's breast cried piteously. Perhaps it was
the hopelessness of the cry that made her want so desperately to make the
boy understand. Conquering the loathing she had felt toward him she
managed the ghost of a smile.
"I wish," she said, and the smile became firmer, brighter, as she said
it, "I wish that you'd sit down, here, beside me. I want to tell you
about the animals that I've had for pets--and about how they loved me. I
had a white dog once; his name was Dick. He used to go to the store for
me, he used to carry my bundles home in his mouth--and he did tricks--"
The boy had seated himself, gingerly, on the bench. He interrupted her,
and his voice was eager.
"Did yer have t' beat him," he questioned, "t' make him do the tricks?
Did he bleed when yer beat him?"
Again Rose-Marie gasped. She leaned forward until her face was on a level
with the boy's face.
"Why," she asked him, "do you think that the only way to teach an animal
is to teach him by cruelty? I taught my dog tricks by being kind and
sweet to him. Why do you talk of beatings--I couldn't hurt anything, even
if I disliked it, until it _bled_!"
The small boy drew back from Rose-Marie. His expression was vaguely
puzzled--it seemed almost as if he did not comprehend what her
"My pa beats me," he said suddenly, "always he beats me--when he's
drunk! An' sometimes he beats me when he ain't. He beats Ma, too, an'
he uster beat Jim, 'n' Ella. He don't dare beat Jim now, though"--this
proudly--"Jim's as big as he is now, an' Ella--nobody'd dast lay a
hand on Ella ..." almost as suddenly as he had started to talk, the
For the moment the episode of the kitten was a forgotten thing. There was
only pity, only a blank sort of horror, on Rose-Marie's face.
"Doesn't your father love you--any of you?" she asked.
"Naw." The boy's mouth was a straight line--a straight and very bitter
line, for such a young mouth. "Naw, he only loves his booze. He hits me
all th' time--an' he's four times as big as me! An' so I hit whoever's
smaller'n I am. An' even if they cry I don't care. I hate things that's
little--that can't take care o' themselves. Everything had oughter be
able t' take care of itself!"
"Haven't you"--again Rose-Marie asked a question--"haven't you ever loved
anything that was smaller than you are? Haven't you ever had a pet?
Haven't you ever felt that you must protect and take care of some one--or
something? Haven't you?"
All at once the boy was smiling, and the smile lit up his small, dark
face as a candle, slowly flickering, brings cheer and brightness to a
dull, lonely room.
"I love Lily," he told her. "I wouldn't let nobody touch Lily! If Pa so
much as spoke mean to her--I'd kill him. I'd kill him with a knife!"
Rose-Marie shuddered inwardly at the thought. But her voice was very even
as she spoke.
"Who is Lily?" she asked.
The boy had slid down along the bench. He was so close to her that his
shabby coat sleeve touched her blue one.
"Lily's my kid sister," he said, and, miracle of miracles, his voice held
a note of tenderness. "Say--Miss, I'm sorry I hurt th' cat."
With a sudden feeling of warmth Rose-Marie moved just a fraction of an
inch closer to the boy. She knew, somehow, that his small, curiously
abject apology was in a way related to the "kid sister"; she knew, almost
instinctively, that this Lily who could make a smile come to the dark
little face, who could make a tenderness dwell in those hard young eyes,
was the only avenue by which she could reach this strange child. She
spoke to him suddenly, impulsively.
"I'd like to see your Lily; I'd like to see her, awfully," she told
him. "Will you bring her some time to call on me? I live at the
A subtle change had come over the child's face. He slid, hurriedly, from
"Oh," he said, "yer one o' them! You sing hymns 'n' pray 'n' tell folks
t' take baths. I know. Well, I can't bring Lily t' see you--not ever!"
Rose-Marie had also risen to her feet.
"Then," she said eagerly, "let me come and see Lily. Where do you live?"
The boy's eyes had fallen. It was plain that he did not want to
answer--that he was experiencing the almost inarticulate embarrassment of
"We live," he told her at last, "in that house over there." His pointing
finger indicated the largest and grimiest of the tenements that loomed,
dark and high, above the squalor of a side street. "But you wouldn't
Rose-Marie caught her breath sharply. She was remembering how the
Superintendent had forbidden her to do visiting, how the Young Doctor
had laughed at her desire to be of service. She knew what they would say
if she told them that she was going into a tenement to see a strange
child named Lily. Perhaps that was why her voice had an excited ring as
"Yes, I would come there!" she told the boy. "Tell me what floor you live
on, and what your name is, and when it would be best for me to come?"
"My name's Bennie Volsky," the boy said slowly. "We're up five flights,
in th' back. D'yer really mean that you'll come--an' see Lily?"
Rose-Marie nodded soberly. How could the child know that her heart was
all athrob with the call of a great adventure?
"Yes, I mean it," she told him. "When shall I come?"
The boy's grubby hand shot out and rested upon her sleeve.
"Come to-morrow afternoon," he told her. "Say, yer all right!" He turned,
swiftly, and ran through the crowd, and in a moment had disappeared like
a small drab-coloured city chameleon.
Rose-Marie, standing by the bench, watched the place where he had
disappeared. And then, all at once, she turned swiftly--just as
swiftly as the boy had--and started back across the park toward the
"I won't tell them!" she was saying over and over in her heart, as she
went, "I won't tell them! They wouldn't let me go, if I did.... I won't
The kitten was still held tight in her arms. It rested, quite
contentedly, against her blue coat. Perhaps it knew that there was a
warm, friendly place--even for little frightened animals--in the
"THERE'S NO PLACE--"
When Rose-Marie paused in front of the tenement, at three o'clock on the
following afternoon, she felt like a naughty little girl who is playing
truant from school. When she remembered the way that she had avoided the
Superintendent's almost direct questions, she blushed with an inward
sense of shame. But when she thought of the Young Doctor's offer to go
with her--"wherever she was going"--she threw back her head with a
defiant little gesture. She knew well that the Young Doctor was sorry for
yesterday's quarrel--she knew that a night beside the dying Mrs. Celleni,
and the wails of the Cohen baby, had temporarily softened his viewpoint
upon life. And yet--he had said that they were soulless--these people
that she had come to help! He would have condemned Bennie Volsky from the
first--but she had detected the glimmerings of something fine in the
child! No--despite his more tolerant attitude--she knew that, underneath,
his convictions were unchanged. She was glad that she had gone out upon
her adventure alone.
With a heart that throbbed in quick staccato beats, she mounted the steps
of the tenement. Little dark-eyed children moved away from her,
apparently on every side, but somehow she scarcely noticed them. The
doorway yawned, like an open mouth, in front of her--and she could think
of nothing else. As she went over the dark threshold she remembered
stories that she had read about people who go in at tenement doorways and
are never seen again. Every one has read such stories in the daily
newspapers--and perhaps some of them are true!
A faint light flickered in through the doorway. It made the ascent of the
first flight of creaking stairs quite easy. At least Rose-Marie could
step aside from the piles of rubbish and avoid the rickety places. She
wondered, as she went up, her fingers gingerly touching the dirty
hand-rail, how people could exist under such wretched conditions.
The second flight was harder to manage. The light from the narrow doorway
was shut off, and there were no windows. There might have been gas jets
upon every landing--Rose-Marie supposed that there were--but it was
mid-afternoon, and they had not yet been lighted. She groped her way up
the second flight, and the third, feeling carefully along each step with
her foot before she put her weight upon it.
On the fourth flight she paused for a moment to catch her breath. But she
realized, as she paused, that even breathing had to be done under
difficulties in this place. There was no ventilation of any sort, so far
as she could tell--all about her floated the odours of boiled cabbage,
and fried onions, and garlic. And there were other odours, too; the
indescribable smells of soiled clothing and soap-suds and greasy dishes.
But in Rose-Marie's mind, the odours--poignant though they were--took
second place to the sounds. Never, she told herself, had she imagined
that so many different sorts of noises could exist in the same place at
one and the same time. There were the cries and sobs of little children,
the moans of sickness, the thuds of falling furniture and the crashes of
breaking crockery. There were yells of rage, and--worst of all--bursts of
appalling profanity. Rose-Marie, standing there in the darkness of the
fourth flight, heard words that she had never expected to hear--phrases
of which she had never dreamed. She shuddered as she started up the fifth
flight, and when, at last, she stood in front of the Volsky flat, she
experienced almost a feeling of relief. At least she would be shut off,
in a moment, from those alien and terrible sounds--at least, in a moment,
she would be in a _home_.
To most of us--particularly if we have grown up in an atmosphere such as
had always sheltered Rose-Marie--the very sound of the word "home" brings
a certain sense of warmth and comfort. Home stands for shelter and
protection and love. "Be it ever so humble," the old song tells us, "be
it ever so humble ..."
And Rose-Marie, knocking timidly upon the Volsky door, expected to find a
home. She expected it to be humble in the truest sense of the word--to be
ragged and poverty-stricken and mean. And yet she could not feel that it
would be utterly divorced from the ideals she had always built around her
conception of the word. She expected it to be a home because a family
lived there together--a mother, and a father, and children.
In answer to her knock the door swung open--a little way. The glow of a
dingy lamp fell about her, through the opening--she felt suddenly as if
she had been swept, willy-nilly, before the footlights of some hostile
stage. For a moment she stood blinking. And as she stood there, quite
unable to see, she heard the voice of Bennie Volsky, speaking in a
"It's you, Miss!" said the voice, and it was as full of intense
wonderment as a voice could be. "I never thought that you'd come--I
didn't think you was on th' level. So many folks say they'll do things--"
he broke off, and then--"Walk in, quiet," he told her slowly. "Don't make
any noise, if yer can help it! Pa's come home, all lit up. An' he's
asleep, in th' corner! There'll be--" he broke off--"There'll be th'
dickens t' pay, if Pa wakes up! But walk in, still-like. An' yer can see
Ma an' all, an'--_Lily_!"
Rose-Marie, whose eyes had now become accustomed to the dim light,
stepped past the boy and into the room. Her hand, in passing, touched his
arm lightly, for she knew that he was labouring under intense excitement.
She stepped into the room, on mousy-quiet feet--and then, with a quick
gasp, drew back again.
Never, in her wildest dreams of poverty, had Rose-Marie supposed that
squalor, such as she saw in the Volsky home, could exist. Never had she
supposed that a family could live in such cramped, airless quarters.
Never had she thought that filth, such as she saw in the room, was
possible. It all seemed, somehow, an unbelievably bad dream--a dream in
which she was appearing, with startling realism. Her comfortable picture
of a home was vanishing--vanishing as suddenly and completely as a soap
bubble vanishes, if pricked by a pin.
"Why--why, Bennie!" she began. But the child was not listening. He had
darted from her side and was dragging forward, by one listless,
work-coarsened hand, a pallid, drooping woman.
"Dis is my ma," he told Rose-Marie. "She didn't know yer was comin'. I
didn't tell her!"
It seemed to Rose-Marie that there was a scared sort of appeal in the
woman's eyes as they travelled, slowly, over her face. But there was
not even appeal in the tone of her voice--it was all a drab,
"Whatcha come here fer?" she questioned. "Pa, he's home. If he should ter
wake up--" She left the sentence unfinished.
Almost instinctively the eyes of Rose-Marie travelled past the figure
of Mrs. Volsky. There was nothing in that figure to hold her gaze--it
was so vague, so like a shadow of something that had been. She saw the
few broken chairs, the half-filled wash tub, the dish-pan with its
freight of soiled cups and plates. She saw the gas stove, with its
battered coffee-pot, and a mattress or two piled high with dingy
bedding. And, in one corner, she saw--with a new sense of horror--the
reclining figure of Pa.
Pa was sleeping. Sleeping heavily, with his mouth open and his tousled
head slipping to one side. One great hairy hand was clenched about an
empty bottle--one huge foot, stockingless and half out of its shoe, was
dragging limply off the heap of blankets that was his bed. A stubble of
beard made his already dark face even more sinister, his tousled hair
looked as if it had never known the refining influences of a comb or
brush. As Rose-Marie stared at him, half fascinated, he turned--with a
spasmodic, drunken movement--and flung one heavy arm above his head.
The room was not a large one. But, at that moment, it seemed appallingly
spacious to Rose-Marie. She turned, almost with a feeling of affection,
toward Bennie. At least she had seen him before. And, as if he
interpreted her feeling, Bennie spoke.
"We got two other rooms," he told her, "one that Ella an' Lily sleep in,
an' one that Jim pays fer, his own self. Ma an' Pa an' me--we sleep
_here_! Say, don't you be too scared o' Pa--he'll stay asleep fer a long
time, now. He won't wake up unless he's shook. Will he, Ma?"
Mrs. Volsky nodded her head with a worn out, apathetic movement.
Noiselessly, but with the appearance of a certain terrible effort under
the shell of quiet, she moved away across the room toward the stove.
"She's goin' t' warm up th' coffee," Bennie said. "She'll give you some,
in a minute, if yer want it!"
Rose-Marie was about to speak, about to assure Bennie that she didn't
want any of the coffee, when steps sounded on the stairs. They were
hurried steps; steps suggesting to the listener that five flights were
nothing, after all! Rose-Marie found herself turning as a hand fell
heavily upon a door-knob, and the door swung in.
A young man stood jauntily upon the threshold. Rose-Marie's first
impression of him was one of extreme, almost offensive neatness--of sleek
hair, that looked like patent leather, and of highly polished brown
shoes. She saw that his blue and white striped collar was speckless, that
his blue tie was obviously new, that his trousers were creased to an
almost dangerous edge. But it was the face of the young man from which
Rose-Marie shrank back--a clever, sharp face with narrow, horribly
speculative eyes and a thin-lipped red mouth. It was a handsome face,
The voice of Bennie broke, suddenly, across her speculations.
"Jim," he said.
Still jauntily--Rose-Marie realized that jauntiness was his keynote--the
young man entered the room. His sharp eyes travelled with lightning-like
rapidity over the place, resting a moment on the sleeping figure of Pa
before they hurried past him to Rose-Marie. He surveyed her coolly,
taking in every feature, every fold of her garments, with a studied
boldness that was somehow offensive.
"Who's she?" he questioned abruptly, of any one who cared to answer, and
one manicured finger pointed in her direction. "Where'd she come from?"
Bennie was the one who spoke. Rather gallantly he stepped in front of
"She's a friend of mine," he said; "she lives by th' Settlement House.
She come up here t' see me, 'n' Ma, 'n' Lily. You leave her be--y'
The young man laughed, and his laugh was curiously hard and dry.
"Oh, sure!" he told Bennie. "I'll leave her be! What," he turned to
Rose-Marie with an insolent smile, "what's yer name?"
Rose-Marie met his insolent gaze with a calm expression. No one would
have guessed that she was trembling inwardly.
"My name," she told him, "is Rose-Marie Thompson. I live in the
Settlement House, and I came to see your sister."
"Well," the young man's insolent gaze was still studying Rose-Marie,
"well, she'll be up soon. I passed 'er on th' stairs. But," he laughed
again, "why didn't yer come t' see me--huh?"
Rose-Marie, having no answer, turned expectantly toward the door. If this
Jim had passed his sister on the stairs, she couldn't be very far away.
As if in reply to her supposition, the door swung open again and a tall,
dark-eyed girl came into the room. Rose-Marie saw with her first swift
glance that the red upon the girl's cheeks was too high to be quite
natural--that the scarlet of her lips was over-vivid. And yet, despite
the patently artificial colouring, she realized that the girl was
beautiful with a high strung, almost thoroughbred beauty. She wondered
how this beauty had been born of the dim woman who seemed so colourless
and the sodden brute who lay snoring in the comer.
Her train of thought was broken, suddenly. For the young man was
speaking. Rose-Marie disliked, somehow, the very tone of his voice.
"Here's a girl t' see you, Ella," he said. "She's from th' Settlement
House--she says! Maybe she wants," sarcastically, "that you should join a
The girl's eyes were flashing with a dangerously hard light. She turned
angrily to Rose-Marie. But before she could say anything, the child,
Bennie, had interposed.
"She didn't come t' see _you_" he told his older sister--"she don't want
t' see you--like those other wimmen did. She come t' see _Lily_--"
He paused and Rose-Marie, who had gathered that social service workers
were not welcome visitors, went on breathlessly, from where he left off.
"I _am_ from the Settlement House," she told Ella, "and I'd like awfully
to have you join our classes. But that wasn't why I came here. Bennie
told me that he had a dear little sister. And I came to see her."
A change swept miraculously over Ella's cold face. Rose-Marie could see,
all at once, that she and her young brother were strikingly alike--that
Jim was the different one in this family.
"I'll get Lily," Ella said simply, and there was a warmth, a tenderness
in her dark eyes that had been so hard. "I didn't understand," she added,
as she went quickly past Rose-Marie and into the small inner room that
Bennie had said his sisters shared. In a moment she came out leading a
small girl by the hand.
"This is Lily!" she said softly.
Even in that dingy place--perhaps accentuated by the very dinginess of
it--Lily's blond loveliness struck Rose-Marie with a sense of shock. The
child might have been a flower--the very flower whose name she
bore--growing upon an ash heap. Her beauty made the rest of the room fade
into dim outlines--made Jim and Ella and Bennie seem heavy, and somehow
overfed. Even Pa, snoring lustily, became almost a shadow. Rose-Marie
stepped toward the child impulsively, with outflung arms.
"Oh, you dear!" she said shakily, "you dear!"
Nobody spoke. Only Ella, with gentle hands, pushed her little sister
forward. The child's great blue eyes looked past Rose-Marie, and a vague
smile quivered on her lips.
"Oh, you dear!" Rose-Marie exclaimed again, and went down on her knees on
the dirty floor--real women will always kneel before a beautiful child.
Lily might have been four years old. Her hair, drawn back from her white
little face, was the colour of pale gold, and her lips were faintly
coral. But it was her deep eyes, with their vague expression, that
clutched, somehow, at Rose-Marie's heart.
"Tell me that you're going to like me, Lily!" she almost implored. "I
love little girls."
The child did not answer--indeed, she did not seem to hear. But one thin
little hand, creeping out, touched Rose-Marie's face with a gesture that
was singularly appealing, singularly full of affection. When the fingers
touched her cheek, Rose-Marie felt a sudden suspicion, a sudden dread.
She noticed, all at once, that no one was speaking--that the room was
quite still, except for the beastial grunts of the sleeping Pa.
"Why," she asked, quite without meaning to, "why doesn't she answer me?
She isn't afraid of me, is she? Why doesn't she say something?"
It was, curiously enough, Mrs. Volsky who answered. Even her voice--that
was usually so dull and monotonous--held a certain tremor.
"Lily," she said slowly, "can't spick--'r hear.... An' she's--blind!"
A LILY IN THE SLUMS
Rose-Marie started back from the child with a sickening sense of shock.
All at once she realized the reason why Bennie's eyes grew tender at the
mention of his little sister--why Ella forgot anger and suspicion when
Lily came into the room. She understood why Mrs. Volsky's dull voice held
love and sorrow. And yet, as she looked at the small girl, it seemed
almost incredible that she should be so afflicted. Deaf and dumb and
blind! Never to hear the voices of those who loved her, never to see the
beautiful things of life, never--even--to speak! Rose-Marie choked back a
sob, and glanced across the child's cloud of pale golden hair at Ella. As
their eyes met she knew that they were, in some strange way, friends.
With a sudden, overwhelming pity, her arms reached out again to Lily. As
she gathered the child close she was surprised at the slenderness of the
tiny figure, at the neatness of the faded gingham frock that blended in
tone with the great, sightless eyes. All at once she remembered what
Bennie had said to her, the day before, in the park.
"I love Lily," he had told her, "I wouldn't let nobody hurt Lily! If any
one--even Pa, so much as spoke mean to her--I'd kill him...."
Glancing about the room, at the faces of the others, she sensed a silent
echo of Bennie's words. Mrs. Volsky, who would keep neither her flat nor
herself neat, quite evidently saw to it that Lily's little dress was
spotless. Ella, whose temper would flare up at the slightest word, cared
for the child with the tender efficiency of a professional nurse;
Bennie's face, as he looked at his tiny sister, had taken on a cherubic
softness. And Jim ... Rose-Marie glanced at Jim and was startled out of
her reflections. For Jim was not looking at Lily. His gaze was fixed upon
her own face with an intensity that frightened her. With a sudden impulse
she spoke directly to him.
"You must be very kind to this little sister of yours," she told him.
"She needs every bit of love and affection and consideration that her
family can give her!"
Jim, his gaze still upon her face, shrugged his shoulders. But before
he could answer Ella had come a step closer to Rose-Marie. Her eyes
"Jim," she said, "ain't got any love or kindness or consideration in him!
Jim thinks that Lily ain't got any more feelin's than a puppy dog--'cause
she can't answer back. Oh," in response to the question in Rose-Marie's
face, "oh, he'd never put a finger on her--not that! But he don't speak
kind to her, like we do. It's enough fer him that she can't hear th'
words he lays his tongue to. Even Pa--"
Suddenly, as if in answer to his spoken name, there came a scuffling
sound from the corner where Pa was sleeping. All at once the empty bottle
dropped from the unclenched hand, the mouth fell open in a prodigious
yawn, the eyes became wide, burned-out wells of drunkenness. And as she
watched, Rose-Marie saw the room cleared in an amazing fashion. She heard
Mrs. Volsky's terrified whisper, "He's wakin' up!" She heard Jim's harsh
laugh; she saw Ella, with a fiercely maternal sweep of her strong arms,
gather the little Lily close to her breast and dart toward the inner
room. And then, as she stood dazedly watching the mountain of sodden
flesh that was Pa rear itself to a sitting posture, and then to a
standing one, she felt a hot little hand touch her own.
"We better clear out," said the voice of Bennie. "We better clear out
pretty quick! Pa's awful bad, sometimes, when he's just wakin' up!"
With a quickness not unlike the bump at the end of a
falling-through-space dream, Rose-Marie felt herself drawn from the
room--heard the door close with a slam behind her. And then she was
hurrying after the shadowy form of Bennie, down the five rickety flights
of stairs--past the same varied odours and the same appalling sounds that
she had noticed on the way up!
When Rose-Marie came out into the sunlight of the street she glanced at
her watch and saw, with an almost overwhelming surprise, that it was only
four o'clock. It was just an hour since she had entered the cavern-like
doorway of the tenement. But in that hour she had come, for the first
time, against life in the rough. She had seen degeneracy, and poverty,
and--she was thinking of the expression in Jim's eyes--a menace that she
did not at all understand. She had seen the waste of broken middle age
and the pity of blighted childhood. She had seen fear and, if she had
stayed a few moments longer, she would have seen downright brutality. Her
hand, reaching out, clutched Bennie's hand.
"Dear," she said--and realized, from the startled expression of his eyes,
that he had not often been called "Dear,"--"is it always like that, in
Bennie looked up into her eyes. He seemed, somehow, younger than he had
appeared the day before, younger and softer.
"Yes, Miss," he told her, "it's always like that, except when it's
"And," Rose-Marie was still asking questions, "do your older sister and
brother just drift in, at any time, like that? And is your father home in
the middle of the day? Don't any of them work?"
Bennie's barriers of shyness had been burned away by the warmth of her
friendship. He was in a mood to tell anything.
"Pa, he works sometimes," he said. "An' Ella--she uster work till she had
a fight with her boss last week. An' now she says she ain't gotta work no
more 'cause there's a feller as will give her everythin' she wants, if
she says th' word! An' Jim--I ain't never seen him do nothin', but he
always has a awful lot o' money. He must do his workin' at night--after
Rose-Marie, her mind working rapidly, realized that Bennie had given
revelations of which he did not even dream. Pa--his condition was what
she had supposed it to be--but Ella was drifting toward danger-shoals
that she had never imagined! Well she knew the conditions under which a
girl of Ella's financial status stops working--she had heard many such
cases discussed, with an amazing frankness, during her short stay at the
Settlement House. And Jim--Jim with his sleek, patent-leather hair, and
his rat-like face--Jim did his work at night! Rose-Marie could not
suppress the shudder that ran over her. Quickly she changed the subject
to the one bright spot in the Volsky family--to Lily.
"Your little sister," she asked Bennie, "has she always been as she is
now? Wasn't there ever a time when she could hear, or speak, or see?"
Bennie winked back a suspicion of tears before he answered. Rose-Marie,
who found herself almost forgetting the episode of the kitten, liked him
better for the tears. "Yes, Miss," he told her, "she was born all
healthy, Ma says. But she had a sickness--when she was a baby. An' she
ain't been right since!"
They walked the rest of the way in silence--a silence of untold depth.
But it was that silent walk, Rose-Marie felt afterward, that cemented the
strange affection that had sprung suddenly into flower between them. As
they said good-bye, in front of the brownstone stoop of the Settlement
House, there was none of the usual restraint that exists between a child
and a grown-up. And when Rose-Marie asked Bennie, quite as a matter of
course, to come to some of their boys' clubs he assented in a manner as
casual as her own.
* * * * *
As she sat down to dinner, that night, Rose-Marie was beaming with
happiness and the pride of achievement. The Superintendent, tired after
the day's work, noticed her radiance with a wearily sympathetic
smile--the Young Doctor, coming in briskly from his round of calls, was
aware of her pink cheeks and her sparkling eyes. All at once he realized
that Rose-Marie was a distinct addition to the humdrum life of the place;
that she was like a sweet old-fashioned garden set down in the gardenless
slums. He started to say something of the sort before he remembered that
a quarrel lay, starkly, between them.
Rose-Marie, herself, could scarcely have told why she was so bubbling
over with gladness. When she left the tenement home of the Volskys she
had been exceedingly depressed, when she parted from Bennie at the
Settlement House steps she had been ready to cry. But the hours between
that parting and dinnertime had brought her a sort of assurance, a sort
of joyous bravery. She felt that at last she had found her true vocation,
her real place in the sun. The Volsky family presented to her a very
She glanced, covertly, at the Young Doctor. He was eating soup, and no
man is at his best while eating soup. And yet as she watched him, she
considered very seriously whether she should tell him of her adventure.
His skill might, perhaps, find some way out for Lily, who had not been
born a mute, who had come into the world with seeing eyes. Bennie had
told her that the child's condition was the result of an illness. Perhaps
the Young Doctor might be able to effect at least a partial cure. Perhaps
it was selfish of her--utterly, absurdly selfish, to keep the situation
The Superintendent's voice broke, sharply, into her reverie. It was a
pleasant voice, and yet Rose-Marie found herself resenting its
"Did you have a pleasant afternoon, dear?" the Superintendent was asking.
"I noticed that you were out for a long while, alone!"
"Why, yes," Rose-Marie faltered, as she spoke, and, to her annoyance, she
could feel the red wave of a blush creeping up over her face (Rose-Marie
had never learned to control her blushes). "Why, yes, I had a very
The Young Doctor, glancing up from his soup, felt a sudden desire to
tease. Rose-Marie, with her cheeks all flushed, made a startlingly
colourful, extremely young picture.
"You're blushing!" he told her accusingly. "You're blushing!"
Rose-Marie, feeling the blushes creep still higher, knew a rude impulse
to slap the Young Doctor. All of her desire to confide in him died away,
as suddenly as it had been born. He was the man who had said that the
people who lived in poverty are soulless. He would scoff at the Volskys,
and at her desire to help them. Worse than that--he might keep her from
seeing the Volskys again. And, in keeping her from seeing them, he would
also keep her from making Bennie into a real, wholesome boy--he would
keep her from showing Ella the dangers of the precipice that she was
skirting. Of course, he might help Lily. But, Rose-Marie told herself
that perhaps even Lily--golden-haired, angelic little Lily--might seem
soulless to him.
"I'm not blushing, Dr. Blanchard," she said shortly, and could have
bitten her tongue for saying it.
The Young Doctor laughed with a boyish vigour.
"I thought," he said annoyingly, "that you were a Christian, Miss
Rose-Marie felt a tide of quite definite anger rising in her heart.
"I am a Christian!" she retorted.
"Then," the Young Doctor was still laughing, "then you must never, never
tell untruths. You are blushing!"
The Superintendent interrupted. It had been her role, lately, to
interrupt quarrels between the two who sat on either side of her table.
"Don't tease, Billy Blanchard!" she said, sternly. "If Rose-Marie went
anywhere this afternoon, she certainly had a right to. And she also has a
right to blush. I'm glad, in these sophisticated days, to see a girl who
The Young Doctor was leaning back in his chair, surveying the pair of
them with unconcealed amusement.
"How you women do stick together!" he said. "Talk about men being
clannish! I believe," he chuckled, "from the way Miss Thompson is
blushing, that she's got a very best beau! I believe that she was out
with him, this afternoon!"
Rose-Marie, who had always been taught that deceit is wicked, felt a
sudden, unexplainable urge to be wicked! She told herself that she hated
Dr. Blanchard--she told herself that he was the most unsympathetic of
men! His eyes, fixed mirthfully upon her, brought words--that she
scarcely meant to say--to her lips.
"Well," she answered slowly and distinctly, "what if I was?"
There was silence for a moment. And then--with something of an
effort--the Superintendent spoke.
"I told you," she said, "not to bother Rose-Marie, Doctor. If Rose-Marie
was out with a young man I'm sure that she had every right to be.
Rose-Marie"--was it possible that her eyes were fixed a shade inquiringly
upon the blushing girl--"would have nothing to do with any one who had
not been approved by her aunts. And she realizes that she is, in a way,
under my care--that I am more or less responsible for her safety and
welfare. Rose-Marie is trustworthy, absolutely trustworthy. And she is
old enough to take care of herself. You must not bother her, Billy
It was a long speech for the Superintendent, and it was a kindly one. It
was also a speech to invite confidences. But--strangely
enough--Rose-Marie could not help feeling that there was a question half
concealed in the kindliness of it. She could not help feeling that the
Superintendent was just a trifle worried over the prospect of an unknown
It was her time, then, to admit that there was nobody, really--that she
had gone out on an adventure by herself, that there had been no "beau."
But the consciousness of the Young Doctor's eyes, fixed upon her face,
prohibited all speech. She could not tell him about the Volskys--neither
could she admit that no young man was interested in her. Every girl wants
to seem popular in the eyes of some member of the opposite sex--even
though that member may be an unpleasant person--whom she dislikes. And
so, with a feeling of utter meanness in her soul--with a real weight of
deceit upon her heart--she smiled into the Superintendent's anxious face.
"I do appreciate the way you feel about me," she said softly, "I do,
indeed! You may be sure that I won't do anything that either you, or my
aunts, would disapprove of!"
After all, she assured herself a trifle uncomfortably, she had in no way
told a direct falsehood. They had assumed too much and she had not
corrected their assumptions. She said fiercely, in her heart, that she
was not to blame if they insisted upon taking things for granted!
As the days crept into weeks, Rose-Marie no longer felt the dull unrest
of inaction. She was busy at the Settlement House--her clubs for mothers
and young girls, her kindergarten for the little tots, had grown
amazingly popular. And at the times when she was not busy at the
Settlement House, she had the Volsky family and their many problems to
The Volsky family--and their many problems! Rose-Marie would have found
it hard to tell which problem was the most important! Of course Lily came
first--her infirmities and her sweetness made her the central figure. But
the problem of Ella was a more vital one to watch--it was, somehow, more
immediate. Rose-Marie had found it hard to reach Ella--except when Lily
was the topic of conversation; except when Lily's welfare was to be
considered, she stayed silently in the background. But the flashings of
her great dark eyes, the quiverings of her too scarlet mouth, were
ominous. Rose-Marie could see that the untidiness of the flat, the
drunken mutterings of Pa, and her mother's carelessness and dirt had
strained Ella's resistance to the breaking point. Some day there would be
a crash and, upon that day Ella would disappear like a gorgeous butterfly
that drifts across the road, and out of sight. Rose-Marie was hoping to
push that day into the background--to make it only a dim uncertainty
rather than the sword of Damocles that it was. But she could only hope.
Bennie, too, was a problem. But it was Bennie who cheered Rose-Marie when
she felt that her efforts in behalf of Ella were failing. For Bennie's
brain was the fertile ground in which she could plant ideals, and dreams.
Bennie was young enough to change, and easily. He got into the way of
waiting for her, after his school had been dismissed, in the little park.
And there, seated close together on an iron bench, they would talk; and
Rose-Marie would tell endless stories. Most of the stories were about
knights who rode upon gallant quests, and about old-time courtesy, and
about wonderful animals. But sometimes she told him of her home in the
country--of apple trees in bloom, and frail arbutus hiding under the
snow. She told him of coasting parties, and bonfires, and trees to climb.
And he listened, star-eyed and adoring. They made a pretty picture
together--the slim, rosy-cheeked girl and the ragged little boy, with the
pale, city sunshine falling, like a mist, all about them.
Lily and Ella and Bennie--Rose-Marie loved them, all three. But Jim
Volsky was the unsolvable problem--the one that she tried to push to the
back of her mind, to avoid. Mrs. Volsky and Pa she gave up as nearly
hopeless--she kept, as much as possible, out of Pa's way, and Mrs. Volsky
could only be helped in the attaining of creature comforts--her spirit
seemed dead! But Jim insisted upon intruding upon her moments in the
flat; he monopolized conversations, and asked impertinent questions, and
stared. More than once he had offered to "walk her home" as she was
leaving; more than once he had thrust himself menacingly across her path.
But she had managed, neatly, to avoid him.
Rose-Marie was afraid of Jim. She admitted it to herself--she even
admitted, at times, that the Young Doctor might be of assistance if any
emergency should arise out of Jim's sleek persistence. She had noticed,
from the first, that the doctor was an impressive man among men--she had
seen the encouraging swell of muscles through the warm tweed of his coat
sleeve. But to have asked his help in the controlling of Jim would have
been an admission of deceit, of weakness, of failure! To prove her own
theory that the people were real, underneath--to prove that they had some
sort of a code, and worth-while impulses--she had to make the reformation
of the Volsky family her own, individual task.
Yes--Rose-Marie was busy. Almost she hated to give up moments of her time
to the letters she had to write home--to the sewing that she had to do.
She made few friends among the teachers and visitors who thronged the
Settlement House by day--she was far too tired, when night came, to meet
with the Young Doctor and the Superintendent in the cosy little
living-room. But often when her activities lasted well along into the
evening, often when her clubs gave sociables or entertainments, she was
forced to welcome the Young Doctor (the Superintendent was always
welcome); to make room for him beside her own place.
It was during one of these entertainments--her Girls' Sewing Society was
giving a party--that she and the Young Doctor had their first real talk.
Before the quarrel at the luncheon table they had had little time
together; since the quarrel the Young Doctor had seldom been able to
corner Rose-Marie. But at the entertainment they were placed, by the hand
of circumstance, upon a wooden settee in the back of the room. And there,
for the better part of two hours--while Katie Syrop declaimed poetry and
Helen Merskovsky played upon the piano, and others recited long and
monotonous dialogues--they were forced to stay.
The Young Doctor was in a chastened mood. He applauded heartily whenever
a part of the program came to a close; the comments that he made behind
his hand were neither sarcastic nor condescending. He praised the work
that Rose-Marie had done and then, while she was glowing--almost against
her will--from the warmth of that praise, he ventured a remark that had
nothing to do with the work.
"When I see you," he told her very seriously, "when I see you, sitting
here in one of our gray coloured meeting rooms, I can't help thinking how
appropriate your name is. Rose-Marie--there's a flower, isn't there,
that's named Rosemary? I like flowery names!"
Rose-Marie laughed, as lightly as she could, to cover a strange feeling
"Most people don't like them," she said--"flowery names, I mean. I don't
myself. I like names like Jane, and Anne, and Nancy. I like names like
Phyllis and Sarah. I've always felt that my first name didn't fit my last
one. Thompson," she was warming to her subject, "is such a matter-of-fact
name. There's no romance in it. But Rose-Marie--"
The Young Doctor interrupted.
"But Rose-Marie," he finished for her, "is teeming with romance! It
suggests vague perfumes, and twilight in the country, and gay little
lights shining through the dusk. It suggests poetry."
Rose-Marie had folded her hands, softly, in her lap. Her eyes were bent
"My mother," she said, and her voice was quiet and tender, "loved poetry.
I've heard how she used to read it every afternoon, in her garden. She
loved perfumes, too, and twilight in the country. My mother was the sort
of a woman who would have found the city a bit hard, I think, to live in.
Beauty meant such a lot--to her. She gave me my name because she thought,
just as you think, that it had a hint of lovely things in it. And, even
though I sometimes feel that I'd like a plainer one, I can't be sorry
that she gave it to me. For it was a part of her--a gift that was built
out of her imagination," all at once she coughed, perhaps to cover the
slight tremor in her voice, and then--
"To change the subject," she said, "I'll tell you what Rosemary really
is. You said that you thought it was a flower. It's more than a flower,"
she laughed shakily, "it's a sturdy, evergreeny sort of little shrub. It
has a clean fragrance, a trifle like mint. And it bears small blue
blossoms. Folk say that it stands for remembrance," suddenly her eyes
were down, again, upon her clasped hands. "Let's stop talking about
flowers and the country--and mothers--" she said suddenly. Her voice
broke upon the last word.
The Young Doctor's understanding glance was on the girl's down-bent face.
After a moment he spoke.
"Are you ever sorry that you left the home town, Miss Rose-Marie?" he
Rose-Marie looked at him, for a moment, to see whether he was serious.
And then, as no flicker of mirth stirred his mouth, she answered.
"Sometimes I'm homesick," she said. "Usually after the lights are out, at
night. But I'm never sorry!"
The Young Doctor was staring off into space--past the raised platform
where the girls of the club were performing.
"I wonder," he said, after a moment, "I wonder if you can imagine what it
is to have nothing in the world to be lonesome for, Miss Rose-Marie?"
Rose-Marie felt a quick wave of sympathy toward him.
"My mother and my father are dead, Dr. Blanchard--you know that," she
told him, "but my aunts have always been splendid," she added honestly,
"and I have any number of friends! No, I've never felt at all alone!"
The Young Doctor was silent for a moment. And then--
"It isn't an alone feeling that I mean," he told her, "not exactly! It's
rather an empty feeling! Like hunger, almost. You see my father and
mother are dead, too. I can't even remember them. And I never had any
aunts to be splendid to me. My childhood--even my babyhood--was spent in
an orphan asylum with a firm-fisted matron who punished me; with nobody
to give me the love I needed. I came out of it a hard man--at fourteen.
I--" he broke off, suddenly, and then--
"I don't know why I'm telling you all this," he said; "you wouldn't be in
the least interested in my school days--they were pretty drab! And you
wouldn't be interested in the scholarship that gave me my profession.
For," his tone changed slightly, "you aren't even interested in the
result--not enough to try to understand my point of view, when I attempt
to tell you, frankly, just what I think of the people down here--barring
girls like these," he pointed to the stage, "and a few others who are
working hard to make good! You act, when I say that they're like animals,
as if I'm giving you a personal insult! You think, when I suggest that
you don't go, promiscuously, into dirty tenements, that I'm trying to
curb your ambition--to spoil your chances of doing good! But I'm not,
really. I'm only endeavouring, for your own protection, to give you the
benefit of my rather bitter experience. I don't want any one so young,
and trusting and--yes, beautiful--as you are, to be forced by experience
into my point of view. We love having you here, at the Settlement House.
But I almost wish that you'd go home--back to the place and the people
that you're lonesome for--after the lights are out!"
Rose-Marie, watching the play of expression across his keen dark face,
was struck, first of all by his sincerity. It was only after a moment
that she began to feel the old resentment creeping back.
"Then," she said at last, very slowly, "then you think that I'm worthless
here? It seems to me that I can help the people more, just because I am
fresh, and untried, and not in the least bitter! It seems to me that by
direct contact with them I may be able to show them the tender, guiding
hand of God--as it has always been revealed to me. But you think that I'm
There was a burst of loud singing from the raised platform. The girls of
the sewing club loved to sing. But neither Rose-Marie nor the Young
Doctor was conscious of it.
"No," the Young Doctor answered, also very slowly, "no, I don't think
that you are worthless--not at all.-But I'm almost inclined to think that
you're _wasted_. Go home, child, go home to the little town! Go home
before the beautiful colour has worn off the edge of your dreams!"
Again Rose-Marie felt the swift burst of anger that she had felt upon
other occasions. Why did he persist in treating her like a child? But her
voice was steady as she answered.
"Well," she said, "I'm afraid that I'll have to disappoint you! For I
came here with a definite plan to carry out. And I'm going to stay here
until I've at least partly made good!"
The Young Doctor was watching her flushed face. He answered almost
"Then," he said, "I'm glad that you have a sweetheart--you didn't deny
it, you know, the other night! He'll take you away from the slums, I
reckon, before very long! He'll take you away before you've been hurt!"
Rose-Marie, looking straight ahead, did not answer. But the weight of
deceit upon her soul made her feel very wicked.
Yes, the weight of deceit upon her soul made her feel very wicked! But
later that night, after the club members had gone home, dizzy with many
honours, it was not the weight of deceit that troubled her. As she crept
into her narrow little bed she was all at once very sorry for herself;
and for a vanished dream! Dr. Blanchard could be so nice--when he wanted
to. He could be so understanding, so sympathetic! There on the bench in
the rear of the room they had been, for a moment, very close together.
She had nearly come back, during their few minutes of really intimate
conversation, to her first glowing impression of him. And then he had
changed so suddenly--had so abruptly thrust aside the little house of
friendship that they had begun to build. "If he would only let me," she
told herself, "I could teach him to like the things I like. If he would
only understand I could explain just how I feel about people. If he would
only give me a chance I could keep him from being so lonely."
Rose-Marie had known few men. The boys of her own town she scarcely
regarded as men--they were old playmates, that was all. No one stood out
from the other, they were strikingly similar. They had carried her books
to school, had shared apples with her, had played escort to
prayer-meetings and to parties. But none of them had ever stirred her
imagination as the Young Doctor stirred it.
There in the dark Rose-Marie felt herself blushing. Could it be possible
that she felt an interest in the Young Doctor, an interest that was more
than a casual interest? Could it be possible that she liked a man who
showed plainly, upon every possible occasion, that he did not like her?
Could it be possible that a person who read sensational stories, who did
not believe in the greatness of human nature, who refused to go to
church, attracted her?
Of a sudden she had flounced out of bed; had shrugged her slender little
body into a shapeless wrapper--the parting gift of a girl friend--from
which her small flushed face seemed to grow like some delicate spring
blossom. With hurried steps--she might almost have been running away from
something--she crossed the room to a small table that served as a
combination dresser and writing desk. Brushing aside her modest toilet
articles, she reached for a pad of paper and a small business-like
fountain pen. Her aunts--she wanted them, all at once, and badly. She
wished that she might talk with them--writing seemed so inadequate.
"My dears," she began, "I miss you very much. Often I'm lonely enough to
cry. Of course," she added hastily (for they must not worry), "of course,
every one is nice to me. I like every one, too. That is, except Dr.
Blanchard. I guess I told you about him; he's the resident physician.
He's awfully good looking but he's not very pleasant. I never hated any
one so--" she paused, for a moment, as a round tear splashed
devastatingly down upon the paper.
MRS. VOLSKY PROMISES TO TRY
As Lily pattered across the room, on her soft, almost noiseless little
feet, Rose-Marie stopped talking. She had been having one of her rare
conversations alone with Mrs. Volsky--a conversation that she had almost
schemed for--and yet she stopped. It struck her suddenly as strange that
Lily's presence in any place should make such a vast difference--that the
child should bring with her a healing silence and a curious tenderness.
She had felt, many times before, a slowing up in conversations--she had
seen the bitterness drain from Ella's face, the stolidness from Bennie's.
She had even seen Pa, half intoxicated, turn and go quietly from a room
that Lily was entering. And now, as she watched, she saw a spark leap
into the dullness of Mrs. Volsky's eyes.
With a gentle hand she reached out to the child, drew her close. Lily
nestled against her side with a slight smile upon her faintly coral lips,
with her blue, vacant gaze fixed upon space--or upon something that they
could not see! Rose-Marie had often felt that Lily was watching beautiful
vistas with those sightless eyes of hers; that she was hearing wonderful
sounds, with her useless little ears--sounds that normal people could not
hear. But she did not say anything of the sort to Mrs. Volsky--Mrs.
Volsky would not have been able to understand. Instead she spoke of
something else that had lain, for a long time, upon her mind.
"Has Lily ever received any medical attention?" she asked abruptly.
Mrs. Volsky's face took on lines of blankness. "What say?" she mouthed
thickly. "I don' understan'?"
Rose-Marie reconstructed her question.
"Has Lily ever been taken to a doctor?" she asked.
Mrs. Volsky answered more quickly than she usually answered questions.
"When she was first sick, years ago," she told Rose-Marie, "she had a
doctor then. He say--no help fer her. Las' year Ella, she took Lily by a
free clinic. But the doctors, there, they say Lily never get no better.
And if there comes another doctor to our door, now--" she shrugged; and
her shrug seemed to indicate the uselessness of all doctors.
Rose-Marie, with suddenly misting eyes, lifted Lily to her knee... "The
only times," she said slowly, "when I feel any doubt in my mind of the
Divine Plan--are the times when I see little children, who have never
done anything at all wicked or wrong, bearing pain and suffering and..."
she broke off.
Mrs. Volsky answered, as she almost always answered, with a
"What say?" she murmured dully.
Rose-Marie eyed her over the top of Lily's golden head. After all, she
told herself, in the case of Mrs. Volsky she could see the point of Dr.
Blanchard's assertion! She had known many animals who apparently were
quicker to reason, who apparently had more enthusiasm and ambition, than
Mrs. Volsky. She looked at the dingy apron, the unkempt hair, the sagging
flesh upon the gray cheeks. And she was conscious suddenly of a feeling
of revulsion. She fought it back savagely.
"Christ," she told herself, "never turned away from people because they
were dirty, or ugly, or stupid. Christ loved everybody--no matter how low
they were. He would have loved Mrs. Volsky."
It was curious how it gave her strength--that reflection--strength to
look straight at the woman in front of her, and to smile.
"Why," she asked, and the smile became brighter as she asked it, "why
don't you try to fix your hair more neatly, Mrs. Volsky? And why don't
you wear fresh aprons, and keep the flat cleaner? Why don't you try to
make your children's home more pleasant for them?"
Mrs. Volsky did not resent the suggestion as some other women might have
done. Mrs. Volsky had reached the point where she no longer resented
"I uster try--onct," she said tonelessly, "but it ain't no good, no more.
Ella an' Bennie an' Jim don' care. An' Pa--he musses up th' flat whenever
he comes inter it. An' Lily can't see how it looks. So what's th' use?"
It was a surprisingly long speech for Mrs. Volsky. And some of it showed
a certain reasoning power. Rose-Marie told herself, in all fairness,
that if she were Mrs. Volsky--she, too, might be inclined to ask "What's
th' use?" She leaned forward, searching desperately in her mind for
something to say.
"Do you like _me_, Mrs. Volsky?" she questioned at last, "Do you like
The woman nodded, and again the suggestion of a light flamed up in her
"Sure I like you," she said, "you are good to all of us--_an' to Lily_."
"Then," Rose-Marie's voice was quivering with eagerness, "then won't you
try--_for my sake_--to make things here," the sweep of her hand included
every corner of the ugly room, "a little better? I'll help you, very
gladly. I'll make new aprons for you, and I'll"--her brave resolution
faltered, but only for a moment--"I'll wash your hair, and take you to
the free baths with me. And then," she had a sudden inspiration, "then
Lily will love to touch you, you'll be so nice and clean! Then Lily will
be glad that she has you for a mother!"
All at once the shell of stupidity had slipped from Mrs. Volsky's bent
shoulders. All at once she was eager, breathlessly eager.
"Miss," she said, and one thin, dingy hand was laid appealingly upon
Rose-Marie's dress, "Miss, you can do wit' me as you wish to! If you
t'ink dat my bein' clean will make Lily glad"--she made a sudden
impetuous gesture with her hand--"den I will be clean! If you t'ink dat
she will like better dat I should be her mother," the word, on her lips,
was surprisingly sweet, "den I will do--_anyt'ing_!" All at once she
broke into phrases that were foreign to Rose-Marie, phrases spoken
lovingly in some almost forgotten tongue. And the girl knew that she was
quite forgotten--that the drab woman was dreaming over some youthful
hope, was voicing tenderly the promises of a long dead yesterday, and was
making an impassioned pledge to her small daughter and to the future! The
words that she spoke might be in the language of another land--but the
tone was unmistakable, was universal.
Rose-Marie, listening to her, felt a sudden desire to kneel there, on the
dirty tenement floor, and say a little prayer of thanksgiving. Once again
she had proved that she was right--and that the Young Doctor was wrong.
BENNIE COMES TO THE SETTLEMENT HOUSE
It was Bennie who came first to the Settlement House. Shyly, almost, he
slipped through the great doors--as one who seeks something that he does
not quite understand. As he came, a gray kitten, creeping out from the
shadows of the hall, rubbed affectionately against his leg. And Bennie,
half unconsciously--and with absolutely no recognition--stooped to pat
its head. Rose-Marie would have cried with joy to have seen him do it,
but Rose-Marie was in another part of the building, teaching tiny
children to embroider outlines, with gay wool, upon perforated bits of
cardboard. The Young Doctor, passing by the half-opened door of the
kindergarten room, saw her there and paused for a moment to enjoy the
sight. He thought, with a curious tightening of his lips, as he left
noiselessly, that some day Rose-Marie would be surrounded by her own
children--far away from the Settlement House. And he was surprised at the
sick feeling that the thought gave him.
"I've been rather a fool," he told himself savagely, "trying to send her
away. I've been a fool. But I'd never known anything like her--not in all
of my life! And it makes me shiver to think of what one meeting with some
unscrupulous gangster would do to her point of view. It makes me want to
fight the world when I realize how an unpleasant experience would affect
her love of people. I'd rather never see her again," he was surprised,
for a second time, at the pain that the words caused him, "than to have
her made unhappy. I hope that this man of hers is a regular fellow!"
He passed on down the hall. He walked slowly, the vision of Rose-Marie, a
dream child held close to her breast, before his eyes. That was why,
perhaps, he did not see Bennie--why he stumbled against the boy.
"Hello," he said gruffly, for his voice was just a trifle hoarse (voices
get that way sometimes, when visions _will_ stay in front of one's eyes!)
"Hello, youngster! Do you want anything? Or are you just looking around?"
Bennie straightened up. The kitten that he had been patting rubbed
reassuringly against his legs, but Bennie needed more reassurance than
the affection of a kitten can give. The kindness of Rose-Marie, the
stories that she had told him, had given him a great deal of confidence.
But he had not yet learned to stand up, fearlessly, to a big man with a
gruff voice. It is a step forward to have stopped hurting the smaller
things. But to accept a pretty lady's assurance that things larger than
you will be kind--that is almost too much to expect! Bennie answered just
a shade shrinkingly.
"Th' kids in school," he muttered, "tol' me 'bout a club they come to
here. It's a sort of a Scout Club. They wears soldier clo's. An' they
does things fer people. An' I wanter b'long," he gulped, noisily.
The Young Doctor leaned against the wall. He did not realize how tall and
strong he looked, leaning there, or he could not have smiled so
whimsically. To him the small dark boy with his earnest face, standing
beside the gray kitten, was just an interesting, rather lovable joke.
"Which do you want most," he questioned, "to wear soldier clothes, or to
do things for people?"
Bennie gulped again, and shuffled his feet. His voice came, at last,
"I sorter want to do things fer people!" he said.
More than anything else the Young Doctor hated folk, even children, who
say or do things for effect. And he knew well the lure that soldier
clothes hold for the small boy.
"Say, youngster," he inquired in a not too gentle voice, "are you
trying to bluff me? Or do you really mean what you're saying? And if
Bennie had never been a quitter. By an effort he steadied his voice.
"I mean," he said, "what I'm a-tellin' yer. I wanter be a good boy. My
pa, he drinks. He drinks like--" The word he used, in description, was
not the sort of a word that should have issued from childish lips. "An'
my big brother--he ain't like Pa, but he's a bum, too! I don't wanter be
like they are--not if I kin help it! I wanter be th' sort of a guy King
Arthur was, an' them knights of his'n. I wanter be like that there St.
George feller, as killed dragons. I wanter do real things," unconsciously
he was quoting from the gospel of Rose-Marie, "wi' my life! I wanter be a
good husban' an' father--"
All at once the Young Doctor was laughing. It was not an unkind
laugh--it gave Bennie heart to listen to it--but it was exceedingly
mirthful. Bennie could not know that the idea of himself, as a husband
and father, was sending this tall man into such spasms of merriment--he
could not know that it was rather incongruous to picture his small
grubby form in the shining armour of St. George or of King Arthur. But,
being glad that the doctor was not angry, he smiled too--his strange,
twisted little smile.
The Young Doctor stopped laughing almost as quickly as he had begun. With
something of interest in his face he surveyed the little ragged boy.
"Where," he questioned after a moment, "did you learn all of that stuff
about knights, and saints, and doing things with your life, and husbands
and fathers? Who told you about it?"
Bennie hesitated a moment. Perhaps he was wondering who had given this
stranger a right to pry into his inner shrine. Perhaps he was wondering
if Rose-Marie would like an outsider to know just what she had told him.
When he answered, his answer was evasive.
"A lady told me," he said. "A lady."
The Young Doctor was laughing again.
"And I suppose," he remarked, with an effort at solemnity, "that
gentlemen don't pass ladies' names about between 'em--I suppose that you
wouldn't tell me who this lady of yours may be, even though I'd like to
Bennie's lips closed in a hard little line that quirked up at one end. He
shook his head.
"I'd ruther not," he said very slowly. "Say--Where's th' Scout Club?"
The Young Doctor shook his head.
"It's such a strange, old-fashioned, young person!" he informed the empty
hallway. And then--"Come with me, youngster," he said kindly, "and we'll
find this very wonderful club where small boys learn about doing things
for people--and, incidentally, wear soldier clothes!"
Bennie, following stealthily behind him, felt that he had found another
friend--something like his lady, only different!
Rose-Marie was exceptionally weary that night. It had been a hard day.
All three of her classes had met, and--late in the afternoon--she had
made good her promise to wash Mrs. Volsky's hair. The task had not been a
joyous one--she felt that she could never wash hair again--not even her
own soft curls or the fine, snowy locks that crowned her aunts' stately
heads. Mrs. Volsky had once more relapsed into her shell of silence--she
had seemed more apathetic, more dull than ever. But Rose-Marie had
noticed that there were no unwashed dishes lying in the tub--that the
corners of the room had had some of the grime of months swept out of
them. When Ella Volsky came suddenly into the flat, with lips compressed,
and a high colour, Rose-Marie had been glowingly conscious of her start
of surprise. And when she had said, haltingly, in reference to the
hair--"I'll dry it for you, Miss Rose-Marie!" Rose-Marie could have wept
with happiness. It was the first time that she had ever heard Ella offer
to do anything for her mother.
Jim--coming in as she was about to leave--had added to Rose-Marie's
weariness. He had been more insistent than usual--he had commented upon
her rosy cheeks and he had made a laughing reference to her wide eyes.
And he had asked her, gruffly, why she didn't take up with some feller
like himself--a good provider, an' all, that'd doll her up the way she'd
oughter be dolled up? And when Ella had interrupted, her dark eyes
flashing, he had told her--with a burst of soul-chilling profanity--to
mind her own business.
And then Pa had come in--apparently more drunk than he had ever been. And
Rose-Marie had seen his bleary eyes pass, without a flicker of interest,
over his wife's clean apron and freshly washed hair; had seen him throw
his coat and his empty bottle into one of the newly dusted corners, had
seen his collapse into a heap in the center of the room. And, last of
all, as she had hurried away, with Jim's final insinuation ringing in her
ears, she had known the fear that all was not well with Bennie--for
Bennie came in every afternoon before she left. She could not know that
Bennie, by this time a budding Boy Scout, was learning more lessons of
the sort that she had taught him.
Yes, she was weary, in every fibre of her being, as she sat down to
supper that night. She had it quite alone in the dining-room, which, all
at once, seemed very large--for the Superintendent was sitting,
somewhere, with a dying woman, and the Young Doctor had been called out
on an emergency case. And then, still alone, she wandered into the
library of the Settlement House and picked up a book. She felt, somehow,
too tired to sleep--too utterly exhausted to lay her head upon her
pillow. It was in the library that the Superintendent, coming wearily
back from the watch with death, found her.
"My dear," said the Superintendent, and there was a sound of tears in her
usually steady voice, "my dear, I'm about all in! Yes, I know it's slang,
but I can't help it--I feel slangy! Come up to my sitting-room for a few
minutes and we'll have a cup of hot chocolate!"
Rose-Marie laid down her book with alacrity. She realized, suddenly, that
she wanted companionship of her own sort--that she longed with all of her
soul to chat with some one who did not murder the queen's English, that
she wanted to exchange commonplaces about books, and music, and beautiful
things--things that the Volskys would not understand.