Part 2 out of 2
"I guess," she said, as she followed the Superintendent into the cozy
sitting-room, "I guess that tiredness is in the air to-day. I'm all in,
myself. A cup of chocolate and a friendly talk will be a godsend to me,
The Superintendent was laying aside her coat and her hat. She smoothed
her hair with a nervous hand, and straightened her linen collar, before
she sank into an easy chair.
"Child," she said abruptly, "_you_ shouldn't be tired--not ever! You've
got youth, and all of the world at your feet. You've got beauty, and
confidence, and faith. And I--well, I'm getting to be an old woman! I
feel sometimes as if I've been sitting on the window sill, watching life
go by, for centuries. You mustn't--" She paused, and there was a sudden
change in her voice, "You're not tiring yourself, Rose-Marie? You're not
doing more than your strength will permit? If you could have read the
letter that your aunts sent to me, when you first came to the Settlement
House! I tell you, child, I've felt my responsibility keenly! I'd no more
think of letting you brush up against the sort of facts I'm facing, than
Rose-Marie's cheeks were flushed, her eyes were bright, as she
"Somehow," she said, "I can't think that you and my aunts are quite
right about shielding me--about keeping me from brushing up against life,
and the real facts of life. It seems to me that there's only one way to
develop--really. And that way is to learn to accept things as they come;
to meet situations--no matter how appalling they may be, with one's eyes
open. If I," she was warming to her subject, "am never to tire myself
out, working for others, how am I to help them? If I am never to see
conditions as they are how am I ever to know the sort of a problem that
we, here at the Settlement House, are fighting? Dr. Blanchard wouldn't
try to treat a case if he had no knowledge of medicine--he wouldn't try
to set a broken leg if he had never studied anatomy. You wouldn't be in
charge, here, if you didn't know the district, if you didn't realize the
psychological reasons back of the things that the people of the district
say and do. Without the knowledge that you're trying to keep from me
you'd be as useless as"--she faltered--"as I am!"
The Superintendent's expression reflected all the tenderness of her
nature; the mother-instinct, which she had never known, made her smile
into the girl's serious face.
"My dear," she said, "you must not think that you're useless. You must
never think that! Look at the success you've had in your club
work--remember how the children that you teach have come to love you.
You've done more with them, because of the things that you don't know,
than I could ever do--despite the hard facts that I've had to brush up
against. Find content, dear, in being the sweet place in our garden--that
has so pitifully few flowers. Do not long for the hard, uncomfortable
places on the other side of the garden wall!"
Despite the Superintendent's expression--despite the gentle tone of her
voice, Rose-Marie felt a sudden desire to cry out against the irony of it
all. She was so tired of being classed with the flowers! "They toil not,
neither do they spin," came back to her, from a certain golden text that
she had learned, long ago, in Sunday-school. Even at the time it had
seemed to her as if the flowers enjoyed lives that were a shade too easy!
At the time it had seemed unfair that they, who were not workers, should
be beautiful--more beautiful than the ants, for instance, that
uncomplainingly toiled all day long for their existence.
"I don't want to be a flower," she exclaimed, almost fretfully, "I want
to be a worth while member of society--that's what I want! What's the use
of being a decoration in a garden! What's the use of knowing only the
sunshine? I want to know storms, too, and gales of wind. I want to share
the tempests that you go through!" She hesitated; and then--"I read a
book once," she said slowly, "I forget what it was--but I remember, in
one place, that a woman was being discussed. She was a very beautiful
elderly woman who, despite her age, had a face as unlined and calm as a
young girl's face could be. One character in the book commented upon the
woman's youth and charm, and another character agreed that she _was_
beautiful and charming, but that she'd be worth more if she had a few
lines on her face. 'She's never known tears,' the character said, 'she's
never lived _deeply_ enough to know tears! Her life has been just a
surface life. If you go down deep enough into the earth you find water,
always. If you go down deep enough into life you invariably find tears.
It's one of the unbreakable rules!'" Rose-Marie paused, for a moment, and
stole a covert glance at the Superintendent's face. "You don't want me to
be a woman whose life is only a surface life," she pleaded, "and it will
be just that if you keep me from helping, as I want to help! You don't
want me to have a perfectly unlined face when I'm eighty years old?"
All at once the Superintendent was laughing. "You child!" she exclaimed
when the first spasm of mirth had passed, "you blessed child! If you
could know how ridiculously young you looked, sitting there and talking
about lined faces--and yourself at eighty. Eighty is a long way off,
The girl joined, a trifle shamefacedly, in the older woman's laughter.
"I reckon," she agreed, "that I do take myself too seriously! But--well,
there are families that I'm just dying to help--families that I've come
in contact with through the"--again she was forced to a slight
deceit--"through the Settlement House. I'm sure that I could help them if
you'd let me visit them, in their own homes. I'm sure that I'd be able to
reform ever so many people if you'd only let me go out and find them. The
city missionary who spoke once in our church, back home, told of
wonderful things that he'd done--of lives that he'd actually made over.
Of course, I couldn't do the sort of work he did, but I'm sure--if you'd
only give me a chance--" She paused.
The Superintendent was silent for a moment. And then--
"Maybe you're right, dear," she said, "and maybe you're wrong. Maybe I am
cramping your ambitions--maybe I am hampering your mental and spiritual
growth. But then, again, maybe I'm right! And I'm inclined to think that
I am right. I'm inclined to adhere to my point, that it will be better
for you to wait, until you're older, before you go into many
tenements--before you do much reforming outside of the Settlement House.
When you're older and more experienced I'll be glad to let you do
She was interrupted by a rap upon the door. It was a gentle rap, but it
was, above all, a masculine one. There was real gladness on her face as
she rose to answer it.
"I didn't expect Billy Blanchard--he thought he had an all-night case,"
she told Rose-Marie. "How nice!"
But Rose-Marie was rising to her feet.
"I don't think that I'll stay," she said hurriedly, "I'm too tired, after
all! I think--"
The Superintendent had paused in her progress to the door. Her voice was
surprisingly firm, of a sudden; firmer than Rose-Marie had ever heard it.
"No, my dear," said the Superintendent, "you're not too tired! You just
don't want to be civil to a very fine boy--who has had a harder day than
either of us. You came to the slums, Rose-Marie, to help people--to show
that you were a Christian. I think that you can show it, to-night, by
forgetting a silly quarrel that happened weeks ago--by forgetting the
words Dr. Blanchard said that he never really meant, inside. If he
thought that these people weren't worth it, do you suppose he'd stay
here, at the Settlement House, for a mere pittance? He's had many a
chance to go to fashionable hospitals, up-town!"
Rose-Marie, bewildered, and not a little ashamed, sank back into her seat
as the Superintendent swung open the door.
The Young Doctor came in with a springing step, but there were gray lines
that spoke of extreme fatigue about his mouth, and his eyes were darkly
circled. His surprise, at the sight of Rose-Marie, was evident--though he
tried to hide it by the breeziness of his manner.
"You'll be glad to know," he told the Superintendent, "that the stork has
called on the Stefan family. It's a boy--nine pounds--with lots of dark
hair. There have been three girls, in the Stefan family," he explained to
Rose-Marie, "and so they are wild with joy at this latest addition. Papa
Stefan is strutting about like a proud turkey, with his chest out. And
Mamma Stefan is trying to sing a lullaby. I feel something like a tool in
the hand of Providence, to-night!" He threw himself upon the sofa.
There was deep, motherly affection in the Superintendent's face as she
smiled at him.
"We're all of us mental and physical wrecks this evening, Billy!" she
said. "I think that I've never been so utterly worn out before. Katie"
(Katie was the stolid maid) "is making chocolate for us!"
"Chocolate!" The Young Doctor's glance answered the affection that shone
out of the Superintendent's face--"You _are_ a dear!" He smiled at her,
and then--all at once--turned swiftly to Rose-Marie.
"Don't let's squabble to-night," he said childishly, "not about anything!
We're dog-tired, all three of us, and we're not up to even a tiny
quarrel. I'm willing to admit anything you want me to--even that I'm
wrong on a lot of subjects. And I want you to admit, yourself, that you'd
rather be here, with the two of us, than out in some den of
iniquity--reforming people. Am I right?"
Rose-Marie felt a glow of friendship toward the Young Doctor. Why
couldn't he always be like this--confiding and boyish and approachable?
She smiled at him, very sweetly, as she answered.
"You're right," she admitted. "I'm afraid that I haven't the heart to
think of reforming any one, this evening! I'm just glad--glad from the
very soul of me--to be here with you all, in the very center of
The Superintendent's face was puzzled--the Superintendent's eyes were
vague--as she asked a question.
"You said--_island_?" she questioned.
Rose-Marie laughed with a shade of embarrassment.
"I didn't really mean to say island," she explained, "but--well, you
remember what Dr. Blanchard told us, once, about the little bugs that
fastened together--first one and then another until there were billions?
And how, at last, they made an island?" She paused and, at their nods of
assent, went on. "Ever since then," she told them slowly, "I've thought
of us, here at the Settlement House, as the first little bugs--the ones
that the others must hold to. And I've felt, though many of them don't
realize it, though we hardly realize it ourselves, that we're building an
island together--_an island of faith_!"
There was silence for a moment. And then the Young Doctor spoke. His
voice was a trifle husky.
"You've made me more than a bit ashamed of myself, Miss Rose-Marie," he
said, "and I want to thank you for putting a real symbolism into my
chance words. After all"--suddenly he laughed, and then--"after all," he
said, "I wouldn't be surprised if you are right! I had a curious
experience, this afternoon, that would go to prove your theory."
The Superintendent was leaning back, shielding her eyes from the light.
"Tell us about your experience, Billy," she said.
The chocolate had come, and the Young Doctor took an appreciative sip
before he answered.
"Just as I was going out this afternoon," he said, at last, "I ran into a
dirty little boy in the hall. He was fondling a kitten--that thin gray
one that you brought to the Settlement House, Miss Rose-Marie. I asked
him what he was doing and he told me that he was hunting for a Scout Club
that he'd heard about. I"--the Young Doctor chuckled--"I engaged him in
conversation. And he told me that his ambition was to be a combination of
St. George and King Arthur and all the rest of those fellows. He said
that, some day, he wanted to be a good husband and father. When I asked
him where he got his large ambitions he told me that a lady had given
them to him."
Rose-Marie was leaning forward. "Did he tell you the lady's name?"
The Young Doctor shook his head.
"Not a thing did he tell me!" he said dramatically. "The lady's name
seemed to be something in the nature of a sacred trust to him. But his
big dark eyes were full of the spirit that she'd given him. And his funny
little crooked mouth was--" He paused, suddenly, his gaze fixed upon
Rose-Marie. "What's the matter?" he queried. "What's the matter? You look
as if somebody'd just left you a million dollars!"
Rose-Marie's face was flushed and radiant. Her eyes were deep
wells of joy.
"I have every reason in the world," she said softly, "to be happy!" And
she was too absorbed in her own thoughts to realize that a sudden cloud
had crept across the brightness of the Young Doctor's face.
ELLA MAKES A DECISION
And then the climax of Ella's life--the crash that Rose-Marie had been
expecting--happened. It happened when Ella came furiously into the Volsky
flat, early one afternoon, and--ignoring the little Lily, who sat
placidly on Rose-Marie's lap--hurried silently into her own room. Mrs.
Volsky, bending over the wash-tubs, straightened up as if she could
almost feel the electric quality of the air, as Ella passed her, but
Rose-Marie only held tighter to Lily--as if, somehow, the slim little
body gave her comfort.
"I wonder what's the matter?" she ventured, after a moment.
Mrs. Volsky, again bending over the wash-tubs, answered.
"Ella, she act so funny, lately," she told Rose-Marie, "an' there is some
feller; Bennie, he tell me that he have seen her wit' some feller! A rich
feller, maybe; maybe he puts Ella up to her funny business!"
There were sounds of activity from the inner room, as if clothing was
being torn down from hooks--as if heavy garments were being flung into
bags. Rose-Marie listened, apprehensively, to the sounds before she
"Perhaps I'd better go in and see what's the matter," she suggested.
Mrs. Volsky, looking back over her shoulder, gave a helpless little
shrug. "If you t'inks best," she said hopelessly. "But Ella--she not
never want to take any help..."
Only too well Rose-Marie knew what Mrs. Volsky meant by her twisted
sentence. Only too well she understood that Ella would never allow
herself to be biased by another's judgment,--that Ella would not allow
herself to be moved by another's plea. And yet she set Lily gently down
upon the floor and rose to her feet.
"I'll see what she's doing," she told Mrs. Volsky, and pushed open the
Despite all of the time that she had spent in the Volsky flat,
Rose-Marie had never been past the front room with its tumbled heaps of
bedding, and its dirt. She was surprised to see that the inner room,
shared by Ella and Lily, was exquisitely neat, though tiny. There were
no windows--the only light came from a rusty gas fixture--but
Rose-Marie, after months in the slums, was prepared for that. It was the
geranium, blooming on the shabby table, that caught her eye; it was the
clean hair-brush, lying on the same table, and the framed picture of a
Madonna, upon the wall, that attracted her. She spoke of them, first, to
the girl who knelt on the floor, packing a cheap suit-case--spoke of
them before she questioned gently:
"You're not going away, are you, Ella?"
Ella glanced up from her packing.
"Yes. I'm going away!" she said, shortly. And then, as if against her
will, she added:
"I got th' flower an' th' picture for Lily. Oh, sure, I know that she
can't see 'em! But I sorter feel that she knows they're here!"
Rose-Marie's voice was very soft, as she spoke again.
"I'm glad that you chose the picture you did," she said, "the picture of
the Christ Child and His Mother!"
Ella wadded a heavy dress into the suit-case.
"I don't hold much with religious pictures," she said, without looking
up; "religion never did much fer me! I only got it 'cause th' Baby had
hair like Lily's hair!"
Rose-Marie crouched down, suddenly, upon the floor beside the girl. She
laid her hand upon the suit-case.
"Where are you going, Ella?" she asked abruptly. "Where are you
going--and when will you be back?"
Ella's lips drew up into the semblance of a smile--a very bitter one--as
"It's none of yer business where I'm goin'," she said, "an' I may not
ever come back--see?"
Rose-Marie caught her breath in a kind of sob. It was as she had
"Ella," she asked slowly, "are you going alone?"
The girl's face coloured swiftly, with a glorious wave of crimson. She
tossed her head with a defiant movement.
"No, I ain't goin' alone!" she told Rose-Marie. "You kin betcha life I
ain't goin' alone!"
Rose-Marie--sitting beside her on the floor--asked God, silently, for
help before she spoke again. She felt suddenly powerless, futile.
"_Why_ are you going, dear?" she questioned, at last.
Ella dropped the shoes that she had been about to tuck into the
suit-case. Her eyes were grim.
"Because," she said, "I'm tired of all o' this," Her finger pointed in
the direction of the outer room. "I'm tired o' dirt, and drunken people,
and Jim's rotten talk. I'm tired o' meals et out o' greasy dishes, an'
cheap clothes, and jobs that I hate--an' that I can't nohow seem ter
hold! I'm tired, dog-tired, o' life. All that's ever held me in this
place is Lily. An' sometimes, when I look at her, I don't think that
she'd know the difference whether I was here 'r not!"
Rose-Marie was half sobbing in her earnestness.
"Ah, but she would know the difference," she cried. "Lily loves you with
all of her heart. And your mother is really trying to be neater, to make
a better home for you! She hasn't a pleasant time of it, either--your
mother. But she doesn't run away. She stays!"
There was scorn in the laugh that came, all at once, from Ella's twisted
mouth. Her great eyes were somberly sarcastic.
"Sure, she stays," said Ella, "'cause she ain't got enough gumption ter
be gettin' out! I know."
In her heart Rose-Marie was inclined to agree with Ella. She knew,
herself, that Mrs. Volsky would never have the courage to make any sort
of a definite decision. But she couldn't say so--not while Ella was
staring at her with that cynical expression.
"I guess," she said bravely, "that we'd better leave your mother out of
this discussion. After all, it's between you--and your conscience."
"Say," Ella's face was suddenly drawn and ugly, "say, where do you get
off to pull this conscience stuff? You've always had a nice home, an'
pretty clothes, an' clean vittles, an'--an' love! I ain't had any of it.
But," her eyes flamed, "I'm goin' to! Don't you dast ter pull this
conscience stuff on me--I've heard you profess'nal slummers talk
before--a lot o' times. What good has a conscience ever done me--huh?"
Rose-Marie had been watching the girl's face. Of a sudden she shot her
"Are you running away to be married, Ella?" she asked.
A second flush ran over Ella's face, and receded slowly--leaving it very
pale. But her head went up rather gallantly.
"No, I ain't," she retorted. "Marriage," she said the words parrot-like,
"was made fer th' sort o' folks who can't stick at nothin' unless they're
tied. I ain't one of those folks!"
Across the nearly forgotten suit-case, Rose-Marie leaned toward Ella
Volsky. Her eyes were suddenly hot with anger.
"Who gave you that sort of an argument?" she demanded. "Who has been
filling your head with lies? You never thought of that yourself, Ella--I
know you never thought of that yourself!"
Ella's eyes met Rose-Marie's angry glance. Her words, when she spoke,
came rapidly--almost tumbled over each other. It was as if some
class-resentment, long repressed, were breaking its bounds.
"How d' you know," she demanded passionately, "that I didn't think of
that myself? How do you know? You're th' only one, I s'pose," her tone
was suddenly mocking, "that knows how t' think! No"--as Rose-Marie
started to interrupt--"don't try t' pull any alibi on me! I know th' way
you Settlement House _ladies_"--she accented the word--"feel about _us_.
You have clubs for us, an' parties, an' uplift meetin's. You pray fer
us--an' with us. You tell us who t' marry, an' how t' bring up our
children, an' what butcher t' buy our meat off of. But when it comes t'
understandin' us--an' likin' us! Well, you're too good, that's all." She
paused, staring at Rose-Marie's incredulous face with insolent eyes.
"You're like all th' rest," she went on, after a moment, "just like
all th' rest. I was beginnin' t' think that you was diff'rent. You've
been so white about Bennie. An' you washed Ma's hair--I wouldn't 'a'
done that myself! But now--now it sticks out all over you; th'
I'm-better-'n-you-are stuff. I never could think of a thing, _I_
couldn't. But you--you're smart, you are. You could think--"
Rose-Marie's cheeks were flushed with a very real resentment, as she
interrupted the girl's flow of half-articulate speech.
"Ella," she said, and her words, too, came rapidly, "you know that you're
not being fair--you know it! I've never held apart from you in any way.
Oh, I realize that we've been brought up in different--surroundings. And
it's made us different from each other in the unimportant things. But
we're both girls, Ella--we're both young and we've both got all of life
before us. And so, perhaps, we can understand each other"--she was
fumbling mentally for words, in an effort to make clear her
meaning--"more than either of us realize. I wasn't, for one moment,
trying to patronize you when I said what I did. I was only wondering how
you happened to say something that I wouldn't ever dream of saying--that
no nice girl, who had a real understanding of life"--she wondered, even
as she spoke the words, what the Young Doctor would think if he could
hear them issuing from her lips--"would dream of saying. You're a nice
girl, Ella--or you wouldn't be in the same family with Bennie and Lily.
And you're a sensible girl, so you must realize how important and sacred
marriage is. Who told you that it was a mistake, Ella? Who," her childish
face was very grave, indeed, "who told you such a terrible thing?"
Ella's eyes were blazing--Rose-Marie almost thought that the girl
was going to strike her! But the blazing eyes wavered, after a
moment, and fell.
"My gentleman fren' says marriage is wrong," said Ella. "He knows a lot.
And he has _so_ much money"--she made a wide gesture with her hands--"I
can have a nice place ter live, Miss Rose-Marie, an' pretty clothes.
Lookit Ma; she's married an' she ain't got nothin'! I can have coats an'
Rose-Marie touched Ella's hand, timidly, with her cool fingers.
"But you'll have to pay for them, Ella," she said. "Think, dear; will the
coats and hats be worth the price that you'll have to pay? Will they be
worth the price of self-respect--will they be worth the price of
honourable wifehood and--motherhood? Will the pretty clothes, Ella, make
it easier for you to look into the face of some other woman--who has kept
straight? Will they?"
Ella raised her eyes and, in their suddenly vague expression, Rose-Marie
saw a glimmering of the faded, crushed mother. She hurried on.
"What kind of a chap is this gentleman friend," she raged, "to ask so
much of you, dear? Is there--is there any reason why he can't marry you?
Is he tied to some one else?"
All at once Ella was sobbing, with gusty, defiant sobs.
"Not as far as I've heard of, there ain't nobody else," she sobbed. "I
don't know much about him, Miss Rose-Marie. Jim gimme a knockdown ter
him, one night, in a dance-hall. I thought he was all right--Jim said he
was ... An' he said he loved me, an'"--wildly--"I love him, too! An' I
hate it all, here, except Lily--"
Rose-Marie, thinking rapidly, seized her advantage.
"Will going away with him," she asked steadily, "be worth never seeing
Lily again? For you wouldn't be able to see her again--you wouldn't feel
able to touch her, you know, if your hands weren't--clean. You bought
her a religious picture, Ella, and a flower. Why? Because you know, in
your heart, that she's aware of religion and beauty and sweetness! Going
away with this man, Ella, will separate you from Lily, just as
completely as an ocean--flowing between the two of you--would make a
separation! And all of your life you'll have to know that she's
suffering somewhere, perhaps; that maybe somebody's hurting her--that
her dresses are dirty and her hair isn't combed! Every time you hear a
little child crying you'll think of Lily--who can't cry aloud. Every
time a pair of blue eyes look into your face you'll think of her
eyes--that can't see. Will going away with him be worth never knowing,
Ella, whether she's alive or dead--"
Ella had stopped sobbing, but the acute misery of her face was somehow
more pitiful than tears. Rose-Marie waited, for a moment, and then--as
Ella did not speak--she got up from her place beside the suit-case, and
going to the dividing door, opened it softly.
The room was as she had left it. Mrs. Volsky was still bending above the
tubs, Lily was standing in almost the same place in which she had been
left. With hurried steps Rose-Marie crossed the room, and took the
child's slim, little hand in her own.
"Come with me, honey," she said, almost forgetting that Lily could not
hear her voice. "Come with me," and she led her gently back to the
Ella was sitting on the floor, her face still wan, her attitude
unconsciously tragic. But as the child, clinging to Rose-Marie's hand,
came over to her side, she was suddenly galvanized into action.
"Oh, darlin', darlin'," she sobbed wildly, "Ella was a-goin' ter leave
you! Ella was a-goin' away. But she isn't now--not now! Darlin'," her
arms were flung wildly about the little figure, "show, some way, that you
forgive Ella--who loves you!"
Rose-Marie was crying, quite frankly. All at once she dropped down on the
floor and put her arms about the two sisters--the big one and the little
one--and her sobs mingled with Ella's. But, curiously enough, as she
stood like a little statue between them, a sudden smile swept across the
face of Lily. She might, almost, have understood.
PA STEPS ASIDE
They wept together for a long time, Ella and Rose-Marie. And as they
cried something grew out of their common emotion. It was a something that
they both felt subconsciously--a something warm and friendly. It might
have been a new bond of affection, a new chain of love. Rose-Marie, as
she felt it, was able to say to herself--with more of tolerance than she
had ever known--
"If I had been as tempted and as unhappy as she--well, I might, perhaps,
have reacted in the same way!"
And Ella, sobbing in the arms of the girl that she had never quite
understood, was able to tell herself: "She's right--dead right! The
straight road's the only road...."
It was little Lily who created a diversion. She had been standing, very
quietly, in the shelter of their arms for some time--she had a way of
standing with an infinite patience, for hours, in one place. But
suddenly, as if drawn by some instinct, she dropped down on the floor,
beside the cheap suit-case, and her small hands, shaking with eagerness,
started to take out the clothes that had been flung into it.
It was uncanny, almost, to see the child so happily beginning to unpack
the suit-case. The sight dried Rose-Marie's tears in an almost
"Let's put away the things," she suggested shakily, to Ella. "For you
won't be going now, will you?"
The face that Ella Volsky lifted was a changed face. Her expression was a
shade more wistful, perhaps, but the somber glow had gone out of her
eyes, leaving them softer than Rose-Marie had supposed possible.
"No, Miss," she said quietly, "I won't be going--away. You're right, it
ain't worth the price!" And the incident, from that moment, was closed.
They unpacked the garments--there weren't many of them--quietly. But
Rose-Marie was very glad, deep in her soul, and she somehow felt that
Ella's mind was relieved of a tremendous strain. They didn't speak
again, but there was something in the way Ella's hand touched her
little sister's sunny hair that was more revealing than words. And
there was something in the way Rose-Marie's mouth curved blithely up
that told a whole story of satisfaction and content. It seemed as if
peace, with her white wings folded and at rest, was hovering, at last,
above the Volsky flat.
And then, all at once, the momentary lull was over. All at once the calm
was shattered as a china cup, falling from a careless hand, is broken.
There was a sudden burst of noise in the front room; of rough words; of a
woman sobbing. There was the sound of Mrs. Volsky's voice, raised in an
unwonted cry of anguish, there was a trickle of water slithering down
upon an uncarpeted floor--as if the wash-tub had been overturned.
It was the final event of an unsettling day--the last straw. Forgetting
Lily, forgetting the unpacking, Rose-Marie jumped to her feet, ran to the
door. Ella followed. They stood together on the threshold of the outer
room, and stared.
The room seemed full of people--shouting, gesticulating people. And in
the foreground was Jim--as sleek and well groomed as ever. Of all the
crowd he seemed the only one who was composed. In front of him stood Mrs.
Volsky--her face drawn and white, her hands clasped in a way that was
singularly and primitively appealing.
At first Rose-Marie thought that the commotion had to do with Jim. She
was always half expecting to hear that he had been apprehended in some
sort of mischief, that he had been accused of some crime. But she
dismissed the idea quickly--his composure was too real to be born of
bravado. It was while her brain groped for some new solution that she
became conscious of Mrs. Volsky's voice.
"Oh, he ain't," the woman was moaning, "say he ain't! My man--he could
not be so! There ain't no truth in it--there can't be no truth.... Say as
he ain't been done to so bad! Say it!"
Ella, with a movement that was all at once love-filled, stepped quickly
to her mother's side. As she faced the crowd--and Jim--her face was also
drawn; drawn and apprehensive.
"What's up?" she queried tersely of her brother. "What's up?"
The face of Jim was calm and almost smiling as he answered. Behind him
the shrill voices of the crowd sounded, like a background, to the blunt
words that he spoke.
"Pa was comin' home drunk," he told Ella, "an' he was ran inter by a
truck. He was smashed up pretty bad; dead right away, th' cop said. But
they took him ter a hospital jus' th' same. Wonder why they'd take a
stiff ter a hospital?"
Mrs. Volsky's usually colourless voice was breaking into loud, almost
weird lamentation. Ella stood speechless. But Rose-Marie, the horror of
it all striking to her very soul, spoke.
"It can't be true," she cried, starting forward and--in the excitement of
the moment--laying her hand upon Jim's perfectly tailored coat sleeve.
"It can't be true.... It's too terrible!"
Jim's laugh rang out heartlessly, eerily, upon the air.
"It ain't so terrible!" he told Rose-Marie. "Pa--he wasn't no good! He
wasn't a reg'lar feller--like me." All at once his well-manicured white
hand crept down over her hand. "_He wasn't a reg'lar feller_," he
repeated, "_like me_!"
As Rose-Marie left the Volsky flat--Ella had begged her to go; had
assured her that it would be better to leave Mrs. Volsky to her
inarticulate grief--her brain was in a whirl. Things had happened, in the
last few hours, with a kaleidoscopic rapidity--the whirl of events had
left her mind in a dazed condition. She told herself, over and over, that
Ella was saved. But she found it hard to believe that Ella would ever
find happiness, despite her salvation, in the grim tenement that was her
home. She told herself that Bennie was learning to travel the right
road--that the Scout Club would be the means of leading him to other
clubs and that the other clubs would, in time, introduce him to
Sunday-school and to the church. She told herself that Mrs. Volsky was
willing to try; very willing to try! But of what avail would be Bennie's
growing faith and idealism if he had to come, night after night, to the
home that was responsible for men like Jim--and like Pa?
Pa! Rose-Marie realized with a new sense of shock that Pa was no longer a
force to reckon with. Pa was dead--had been crushed by a truck. Never
again would he slouch drunkenly into the flat, never again would he throw
soiled clothing and broken bottles and heavy shoes into newly tidied
corners. He was dead and he had--after all--been the one link that tied
the Volskys to their dingy quarters! With Pa gone the family could seek
cleaner, sweeter rooms--rooms that would have been barred to the family
of a drunkard! With Pa gone the air would clear, magically, of some of
Rose-Marie, telling herself how much the death of Pa was going to benefit
the Volsky family, felt all at once heartless. She had been brought up in
an atmosphere where death carries sorrow with it--deep sorrow and
sanctity. She remembered the dim parlours of the little town when there
was a funeral--she remembered the singing of the village choir and the
voice of the pastor, slightly unsteady, perhaps, but very confident of
the life hereafter. She remembered the flowers, and the mourners in their
black gowns, and the pure tears of grief. She had always seen folk meet
death so--meet it rather beautifully.
But the passing of Pa! She shuddered to think of its cold cruelty--it was
rather like his life. He had been snuffed out--that was all--snuffed out!
There would be for him no dim parlour, no singing choir, no pastor with
an unsteady voice. The black-robed mourners would be absent, and so would
the flowers. His going would cause not a ripple in the life of the
community--it would bring with it better opportunities for his family,
rather than a burden of sorrow!
"I can't grieve for him!" Rose-Marie told herself desperately. "I can't
grieve for him! It's the only chance he ever gave to his
children--_dying_! Perhaps, without him, they'll be able to make
She was crossing the park--splashed with sunshine, it was. And suddenly
she remembered the first time that she had met Bennie in the park. It
seemed centuries away, that first meeting! She remembered how she had
been afraid, then, of the crowds. Now she walked through them with a
certain assurance--_she belonged_. She had come a long distance since
that first meeting with Bennie--a very long distance! She told herself
that she had proved her ability to cope with circumstance--had proved her
worth, almost. Why, now, should the Superintendent keep her always in the
shadow of the Settlement House--why should the Young Doctor laugh at her
desire to help people? She had something to show them--she could flaunt
Bennie before their eyes, she could quote the case of Ella; she could
produce Mrs. Volsky, broken of spirit but ready to do anything that she
could. And--last but not least--she would show Lily to them, Lily who had
been hidden away from the eyes of the ones who could help her--Lily who
so desperately needed help!
All at once Rose-Marie was weary of deceit. She would be glad--ever so
glad--to tell her story to the Superintendent! She was tired of going out
furtively of an afternoon to help these folk that she had come to help.
She wanted to go in an open way--with the stamp of approval upon her. The
Superintendent had said, once, that she would hardly be convincing to the
people of the slums. With the Volsky family to show, she could prove that
she had been convincing, very convincing!
With a singing heart she approached the Settlement House. With a smile on
her lips she went up the brownstone steps, pushed wide the door--which
was never locked. And then she hurried, as fast as her feet could hurry,
to the Superintendent's tiny office.
The Superintendent was in. She answered Rose-Marie's knock with a cheery
word, but, when the girl entered the room, she saw that the
Superintendent's kind eyes were troubled.
"What's the matter?" she questioned, forgetting, for a moment, the
business of which she had been so full. "What's the matter? You look ever
The Superintendent's tired face broke into a smile.
"Was I looking as woe-begone as that?" she queried. "I didn't realize
that I was. Nothing serious is the matter, dear--nothing very serious!
Only Katie's sister in the old country is ill--and Katie is going home to
stay with her. And it's just about impossible to get a good maid,
nowadays--it seems as if Katie has been with me for a lifetime. I expect
that we'll manage, somehow, but I don't just fancy cooking and sweeping,
and running the Settlement House, too!"
All at once an idea leaped, full-blown, into the brain of Rose-Marie. She
leaned forward and laid her hand upon the Superintendent's arm.
"I wonder," she asked excitedly, "if you'd consider a woman with a
family to take Katie's place? The family isn't large--just a small boy
who goes to school, and a small girl, and an older girl who is working.
There's a grown son, but he can take care of himself..." the last she
said almost under her breath. "He can take care of himself. It would be
better, for them--"
The Superintendent was eyeing Rose-Marie curiously.
"We have plenty of sleeping-rooms on the top floor," she said slowly,
"and I suppose that the older girl could help a bit, evenings. Why, yes,
perhaps a family might solve the problem--it's easier to keep a woman
with children than one who is," she laughed, "heart-whole and fancy free!
Who are they, dear, and how do you happen to know of them?"
Rose-Marie sat down, suddenly, in a chair beside the Superintendent's
desk. All at once her knees were shaky--all at once she felt strangely
"Once," she began, and her voice quivered slightly, "I met a little boy,
in the park. He was hurting a kitten. I started to scold him and then
something made me question him, instead. And I found out that he was
hurting the kitten because he didn't know any better--think of it,
_because he didn't know any better_! And so I was interested, ever so
interested. And I decided it was my duty to know something of him--to
find out what sort of an environment was responsible for him."
The Superintendent's tired face was alight She leaned forward to ask
"How long ago," she questioned, "did you meet this child, in the park?"
Rose-Marie flushed. The time, suddenly, seemed very long to her.
"It was the day that I came home bringing a little gray cat with me," she
said. "It was the day that I quarreled with Dr. Blanchard at the luncheon
table. Do you remember?"
The Superintendent smiled reminiscently. "Ah, yes, I remember!" she
said. And then--"Go on with the story, dear."
Rose-Marie went on.
"I found the place where he lived," she said hurriedly. "Yes--I know that
you wouldn't have let me go if you'd known about it! That's why I didn't
tell you. I found the place where he lived; an unspeakable tenement on an
unspeakable street. And I met, there, his family--a most remarkable
family! There was a mother, and an older sister, and an older brother,
and a drunken father, and a little crippled girl...."
And then, shaking inwardly, Rose-Marie told the story of the Volskys. She
told it well; better than she realized. For the Superintendent's eyes
never left her face and--at certain parts of the story--the
Superintendent's cheeks grew girlishly pink. She told of the saving of
Ella--she told of Bennie, explaining that he was the same child whom the
Young Doctor had met in the hall. She told of Mrs. Volsky's effort to
better herself, and of Jim's snake-like smoothness. And then she told of
Lily--Lily with her almost unearthly beauty and her piteous physical
condition. As she told of Lily the Superintendent's kind eyes filled with
tears, and her lips quivered.
"Oh," she breathed, "if only something could be done for her--if only
something could be done! Billy Blanchard must see her at once--he's done
marvellous things with the crippled children of the neighbourhood!"
With a feeling of sudden confidence Rose-Marie smiled. She realized that
she had caught the Superintendent's interest--and her sympathy. It would
be easier, now, to give the family their chance! Her voice was more calm
as she went on with the narrative. It was only when she told of the death
of Pa that her lips trembled.
"You'll think that I'm hard and callous," she said, "taking his death so
easily. But I can't help feeling that it's for the best. They could never
have broken away--not with him alive. _You_ would never have taken them
in--if he had had to be included! You couldn't have done it.... But now,"
her voice was aquiver with eagerness, "now, say that they may come! Say
that Mrs. Volsky may take Katie's place. Oh, I know that she isn't very
neat; that she doesn't cook as we would want her to. But she can learn
and, free from the influence of her husband and son, I'm sure she'll
change amazingly. Say that you'll give the family a chance!"
The Superintendent was wavering. "I'm not so sure," she began, and
hesitated. "I'm not so sure--"
Rose-Marie interrupted. Her voice was very soft.
"It will mean," she said, "that Lily will be here, under the doctor's
care. It will mean that she will get well--perhaps! For her sake give
them a chance...."
The Superintendent's eyes were fixed upon space. When she spoke, she
"Then," she said, "that was where you went every afternoon--to the
tenement. You weren't out with some man, after all?"
Rose-Marie hung her head. "I went to the tenement every afternoon," she
admitted, "to the _tenement_. Oh, I know that you're angry with me--I
know it. And I don't in the least blame you. I've been deceitful, I've
_sneaked_ away when your back was turned, I've practically told lies to
you! Don't think," her voice was all a-tremble, "don't think that I
haven't been sorry. I've been tremendously sorry ever so many times. I've
tried to tell you, too--often. And I've tried to make you think my way.
Do you remember the talk we had, that night when we were both so tired,
in your sitting-room--before Dr. Blanchard came? I was trying to scrape
up the courage to tell you, then, but you so disagreed with me that I
The Superintendent seemed scarcely to be listening. There seemed to be
something upon her mind.
"Rose-Marie," she said with a mock sternness, "you're evading my
questions. Answer me, child! Isn't there any one that you--care for?
Weren't you out with some man?"
Rose-Marie was blushing furiously.
"No," she admitted, "I wasn't out with a man. I never had any sort of a
sweetheart, not ever! I just let you all think that I was with some one
because--if I hadn't let you think that way--you might have made me stay
in. I wouldn't have made a point of deliberately telling you a
falsehood--but Dr. Blanchard gave me the idea and "--defiantly--"I just
let him think what he wanted to think!"
The Superintendent was laughing.
"What he _wanted_ to think!" she exclaimed. "Oh, Rose-Marie--you've a lot
to answer for! What he wanted to think...." Suddenly the laugh died out
of her voice, all at once she was very serious. "Perhaps," she said
slowly, "your idea about the Volsky family is a good one. We'll try it
out, dear! There was a MAN, once, Who said: 'Suffer the little children
to come--'Why, Rose-Marie, what's the matter?" For Rose-Marie, her face
hidden in the crook of her elbow, was crying like a very tired child.
It was with a light heart that Rose-Marie started back to the tenement.
The tears had cleared her soul of the months of evasion that had so
worried her--she felt suddenly free and young and happy. It was as if a
rainbow had come up, tenderly, out of a storm-tossed sky; it was as if a
star was shining, all at once, through the blackness of midnight. She
felt a glad assurance of the future--a faith in the Hand of God,
stretched out to His children. "Everything," she sing-songed, joyously,
to herself, "will come right, now. Everything will come right!"
It was strange how she suddenly loved all of the people, the almost
mongrel races of people, who thronged the streets! She smiled brightly at
a mother, pushing a baby-buggy--she thrust a coin into the withered hand
of an old beggar. On a crowded corner she paused to listen to the vague
carollings of a barrel organ, to pat the head of a frayed looking little
monkey that hopped about in time to the music. All at once she wanted to
know a dozen foreign languages so that she could tell those who passed
her by that she was their friend--_their friend!_
And yet, despite her sudden feeling of kinship to these people of the
slums, she did not loiter. For she was the bearer of a message, a message
of hope! She wished, as she sped through the crowded streets, that her
feet were winged so that she might hurry the faster! She wanted to see
the expression of bewilderment on Mrs. Volsky's face, she wanted to see a
light dawn in Ella's great eyes, she wanted to whisper a message of--of
life, almost--into Lily's tiny useless ear. And, most of all, she wanted
to feel Bennie's warm, grubby little fingers touching her hand! Jim--she
hoped that Jim would be out when she arrived. She did not want to have
Jim throw cold water upon her plans--which did not include him. Well she
knew that the arrangement would make no real difference to him--it was
not love of family that kept him from leaving the dirty, crowded little
flat. It was the protection of a family, with its pseudo-respectability,
that he wanted. It was the locked room, which no one would think of
prying into, that he desired.
She went in through the mouth-like tenement door--it was no longer
frightful to her--with a feeling of intense emotion. She climbed the
narrow stairs, all five flights of them, with never a pause for breath.
And then she was standing, once again, in front of the Volskys' door. She
Everything was apparently very still in the Volsky flat. All up and down
the hall came the usual sounds of the house; the stairs echoed with
noise. But behind the closed door silence reigned supreme. As Rose-Marie
stood there she felt a strange mental chill--the chill of her first
doubt. Perhaps the Volskys would not want to come with her to the
Settlement House, perhaps they would resent her attitude--would call it
interference. Perhaps they would tell her that they were tired of
her--and of her plans. Perhaps--But the door, swinging open, cut short
Jim stood in the doorway. He was in his shirt sleeves but--even divested
of his coat--he was still too painfully immaculate--too well groomed.
Rose-Marie, looking at him, felt a sudden primitive desire to see him
dirty and mussed up. She wished, and the wish surprised her, that she
might sometime see him with his hair rumpled, his collar torn, his eye
blackened and--she could hardly suppress a hysterical desire to laugh as
the thought struck her--his nose bleeding. Somehow his smooth, hard
neatness was more offensive to her than his mother's dirty apron--than
his small brother's frankly grimy hands. She spoke to him in a cool
little voice that belied her inward disturbance.
"Where," she questioned, "are your mother and Ella? I want to see them."
With a movement that was not ungraceful Jim flung wide the door. Indeed,
Rose-Marie told herself, as she stepped into the Volsky flat, Jim was
never ungraceful. There was something lithe and cat-like in his slightest
movement, just as there was something feline in the expression of his
eyes. Rose-Marie often felt like a small, helpless mouse when Jim was
staring at her.
"Where are your mother and Ella?" she questioned again as she stepped
into the room. "I _do_ want to see them!"
Jim was dragging forward a chair. He answered.
"Then yer'd better sit down 'n' make yourself at home," he told her, "fer
they've gone out. They're down t' th' hospital, now, takin' a last slant
at Pa. Ma's cryin' to beat th' band--you'd think that she really liked
_him_! An' Ella's cryin', too--she's fergot how he uster whip her wit' a
strap when she was a kid! An' they've took Bennie; Bennie ain't cryin'
but he's a-holdin' to Ma's hand like a baby. Oh," he laughed sneeringly,
"it's one grand little family group that they make!"
Rose-Marie sat down gingerly upon the edge of the chair. She did not
relish the prospect of spending any time alone with Jim, but a certain
feeling of pride kept her from leaving the place. She would not let Jim
know that she feared him--it would flatter him to think that he had so
much influence over her. She would stay, even though the staying made her
uneasy! But she hoped, from the bottom of her heart, that the rest of the
family would not be long at the hospital.
"When did they go out?" she questioned, trying to make her tone casual.
"Do you expect them back soon?"
Jim sat down in a chair that was near her own. He leaned forward as
"They haven't been gone so awful long," he told her. "An'--say--what's
th' difference _when_ they gets back? I never have no chance to talk wit'
you--not ever! An'," he sighed with mock tragedy, "an' I have so much t'
say t' yer! You never have a word fer me--think o' that! An' think o' all
th' time yer waste on Bennie--an' him too young t' know a pretty girl
when he sees one!"
Rose-Marie flushed and hated herself for doing it. "We'll leave
personalities out of this!" she said primly.
Jim was laughing, but there was a sinister note in his mirth.
"Not much we won't!" he told her. "I like you--see? You're th' best
lookin' girl in this neck o' woods--even if you do live at the Settlement
House! If you'd learn to dress more snappy--t' care more about hats than
yer do about Bible Classes--you'd make a big hit when yer walked out on
Delancy Street. There ain't a feller livin' as wouldn't turn t' look at
yer--not one! Say, kid," he leaned still closer, "I'm strong fer yer when
yer cheeks get all pink-like. I'm strong fer yer any time a-tall!"
Rose-Marie was more genuinely shocked than she had ever been in her life.
The flush receded slowly from her face.
"You'd like me to be more interested in clothes than in Bible Classes!"
she said slowly. "You'd like me to go parading down Delancy Street ..."
she paused, and then--"You're a fine sort of a man," she said
bitterly--"a fine sort of a man! Oh, I know. I know the sort of people
you introduce to Ella--and she's your sister. I've seen the way you look
at Lily, and she's your sister, too! You wouldn't think of making things
easier for your mother; and you'd give Bennie a push down--instead of a
boost _up_! And you scoff at your father--lying dead in his coffin!
You're a fine sort of a _man_.... I don't believe that you've a shred of
human affection in your whole make-up!"
Jim had risen slowly to his feet. There was no anger in his face--only a
huge amusement. Rose-Marie, watching his expression, knew all at once
that nothing she said would have the slightest effect upon him. His
sensibilities were too well concealed, beneath a tough veneer of conceit,
to be wounded. His soul seemed too well hidden to be reached.
"So that's what you think, is it?" he asked, and his voice was almost
silky, it was so smooth, "so that's what you think! I haven't any 'human
affection in my make-up,'" he was imitating her angry voice, "I haven't
any 'human affection'!" he laughed suddenly, and bent with a swift
movement until his face was on a level with her face. "Lot yer know about
it!" he told her and his voice thickened, all at once, "lot yer know
about it! I'm crazy about you, little kid--just crazy! Yer th' only girl
as I've ever wanted t' tie up to, get that? How'd yer like t' marry me?"
For one sickening moment Rose-Marie thought that she had
misunderstood. And then she saw his face and knew that he had been
deadly serious. Her hands fluttered up until they rested, like
frightened birds, above her heart.
There was eagerness--and a hint of something else--in Jim's voice as he
repeated his question.
"Well," he asked for the second time, "what d' yer say about it--huh?
How'd yer like ter marry me?"
Rose-Marie's fascinated eyes were on his face. At the first she had
hardly believed her ears--but her ears had evidently been functioning
properly. Jim wanted to marry her--to marry _her_! It was a possibility
that she had never dreamed of--a thought that she had never, for one
moment, entertained. Jim had always seemed so utterly of another
world--of another epoch, almost. He spoke a language that was far removed
from her language, his mind worked differently--even his emotions were
different from her emotions. He might have been living upon another
planet--so distant he had always seemed from her. _And yet he had asked
her to marry him_!
Like every other normal girl, Rose-Marie had thought ahead to the time
when she would have a home and a husband. She had dreamed of the day when
her knight would come riding--a visionary, idealized figure, always, but
a noble one! She had pictured a hearth-fire, and a blue and white kitchen
with aluminum pans and glass baking dishes. She had even wondered how
tiny fingers would feel as they curled about her hand--if a wee head
would be heavy upon her breast.
Of late her dreams, for some reason, had become a little less misty--a
little more definite. The figure of her knight had been a trifle more
clear cut--the armour of her imagination had given place to rough tweed
suits and soft felt hats. And the children had looked at her, from out of
the shadows, with wide, dark eyes--almost like real children. Her
thoughts had shaped themselves about a figure that was not the romantic
creation of girlhood--that was strong and willing and very tender. Dr.
Blanchard--had he not been mistaken upon so many subjects--would have
fitted nicely into the picture!
But Jim--of all people, _Jim!_ He was as far removed from the boundaries
of her dream as the North Pole is removed from the South. His patent
leather hair--she could not picture it against her arm--his mouth,
thin-lipped and too red.... She shuddered involuntarily, as she thought
of it and the man, bending above her, saw the shudder.
"Well," he questioned for the third time, "what about it? I'm a reg'lar
guy, ain't I? How'd you like to marry me?"
Rose-Marie moistened her lips before she answered. Her voice, when it
came, was very husky.
"Why, Jim," she said faintly, "what an idea! How did you ever come to
think of it?"
The man's face was flushed. His words tumbled, quickly, from his
"I'm crazy about yer, kid," he said, "crazy about yer! Don't think that
bein' married t' me will mean as you'll have ter live in a dump like
this-there"--the sweep of his arm was expressive--"fer yer won't! You'll
have th' grandest flat in this city--anywhere yer say'll suit me! Yer'll
have hats an' dresses, an' a car--if yer want it. Yer'll have
everything--if yer'll marry me! What d' yer say?"
Rose-Marie's face was a study of mixed emotions--consternation struggling
with incredulity for first place. The man saw the unbelief; for he
hurried on before she could speak.
"Yer think that I'm like my pa was"--he told her--"livin' on measly
wages! Well, I ain't. Some nights I make a pile that runs inter
thousands--an' it'll be all fer yer! All fer yer!"
Of a sudden, Rose-Marie spoke. She was scarcely tactful.
"How do you make all of this money, Jim?" she questioned; "do you come by
A dark wave of colour spread over the man's face--dyeing it to an
"What's it matter how I get it," he snarled, "long's I get it! What
business is it of yers how I come by my coin? I ain't stagin' a
investergation. And"--his face softened suddenly, "an' yer wouldn't
understand, anyhow! Yer only a girl--a little kid! What's it matter how I
gets th' roll--long as I'm willin' ter spend it on m' sweetie? What's it
matter?" He made a movement as if to take her into his arms--"_What's it
matter_?" he questioned again.
Like a flash Rose-Marie was upon her feet. With a swing of her body she
had evaded his arms. Her face was white and drawn, but her mind was
exceptionally active--more active than it had ever been in all of her
life. She knew that Jim was in a difficult mood--that a word, one way or
the other, would make him as easy to manage as a kitten or as relentless
as a panther, stalking his prey. She knew that it was in her power to say
the word that would calm him until the return of his mother and his
sister. And yet she found it well-nigh impossible to say that word.
"I'm tired of deceit," she told herself, as she stepped back in the
direction of the door. "I'll not say anything to him that isn't true! ...
Nothing can happen to me, anyway," she assured herself. "This is the
twentieth century, and I'm Rose-Marie Thompson. This is a civilized
country--nothing can hurt me! I'm not afraid--not while God is taking
care of me!"
Jim had straightened up. He seemed, suddenly, to tower.
"Well," he growled, "how about it? When'll we be married?"
Rose-Marie raised her head gallantly.
"We won't ever be married, Jim Volsky!" she told him, and even to her own
surprise there was not the suggestion of a quaver in her voice. "We won't
ever be married. I'm surprised at you for suggesting it!"
The man stared at her, a moment, and his eyes showed clearly that he did
not quite understand.
"Yer mean," he stammered at last, "that yer t'rowing me down?"
Rose-Marie's head was still gallantly lifted.
"I mean," she said, "that I won't marry you! Please--we'll let the matter
drop, at once!"
The man came a step nearer. The bewilderment was dying from his face.
"Not much, we won't let the matter drop!" he snarled. "What's yer reason
fer turnin' me down--huh?"
It was then that Rose-Marie made her mistake. It was then that she ceased
to be tactful. But suddenly she was tired, desperately tired, of Jim's
persistence. Suddenly she was too tired even to be afraid. The lift of
her chin was very proud--proud with some ingrained pride of race, as she
answered. Behind her stood a long line of ancestors with gentle blood,
ancestors who had known the meaning of chivalry.
Coolly she surveyed him. Dispassionately she noticed the lack of breeding
in his face, the marks of early dissipation, the lines that sin had
etched. And as she looked she laughed with just the suggestion of
hauteur. For the first time in her life Rose-Marie was experiencing a
touch of snobbishness, of class distinction.
"We won't discuss my reason," she told him slowly; "it should be quite
evident to _any one_!"
Not many weeks before, Rose-Marie had told the Young Doctor--in the
presence of the Superintendent--that she loved the people of the slums.
She had been so sure of herself then--so certain that she spoke the
truth. More recently she had assured the Superintendent that she could
cope with any situation. And that very afternoon she had told Ella that
they were alike, were just young girls--both of them--with all of life in
front of them, with the same hopes and the same fears and the same
She had believed the statement that she had made, so emphatically, to the
Young Doctor--she had believed it very strongly. She had been utterly
sure of herself when she begged the Superintendent to let her know more
of life. And, during her talk with Ella, she had felt a real kinship to
the whole of the Volsky family! But now that she had come face to face
with a crisis--now that she was meeting her big test--she knew that her
strong beliefs were weakening and that she was no longer at all sure of
herself! And as for being kin to the Volskys--the idea was quite
Always, Rose-Marie had imagined that a proposal of marriage would be
the greatest compliment that a man could pay a girl. But the proposal
of the man in front of her did not seem in the least complimentary.
She realized--with the only feeling of irony she had ever known, that
this proposal was her very first. And she was looking upon it as an
insult. With a tiny curl of her lips she raised her eyes until they
met Jim's eyes.
"It should be quite evident," she repeated, "to any one!"
Jim Volsky's face had turned to a dark mottled red. His slim, well
manicured hands were clenched at his sides.
"Y' mean," he questioned, and his voice had an ugly ring, "y' mean I
ain't good enough fer yer?"
All at once the snobbishness had slipped, like a worn coat, from the
shoulders of the girl. She was Rose-Marie Thompson again--Settlement
worker. She was no better, despite the ancestors with gentle blood,
than the man in front of her--just more fortunate. She realized that
she had been not only unkind, but foolish. She tried, hurriedly--and
with a great scare looking out of her wide eyes--to repair the mistake
that she had made.
"I don't mean that I am better than you, Jim," she said softly, "not in
the matter of family. We are all the children of God--we are all brothers
and sisters in His sight."
Jim Volsky interrupted. He came nearer to Rose-Marie--so near that only a
few inches of floor space lay between them.
"Don't yer go sayin' over Sunday-school lessons at me," he snarled. "I
know what yer meant. Yer think I ain't good enough--t' marry yer.
Well"--he laughed shortly, "well, maybe I ain't good enough--t' marry
yer! But I guess I'm good enough t' kiss yer--" All at once his hands
shot out, closed with the strength of a vise upon her arms, just above
her elbows. "I guess I'm good enough t' kiss yer!" he repeated
Rose-Marie felt cold fear creeping through her veins. There was
something clammy in Jim's touch, something more than menacing in his
eyes. She knew that her strength was nothing to be pitted against
his--she knew that in any sort of a struggle she would be easily
subdued. And yet she knew that she would rather die than feel his lips
upon hers. She felt an intense loathing for him--the loathing that some
women feel for toads and lizards.
"Jim," she said slowly and distinctly, "let go of me _this instant_!"
The man was bending closer. A thick lock of his heavy hair had shaken
down over his forehead, giving him a strangely piratical look.
"Not much I won't," he told her. "_So I ain't good enough_--"
All at once Rose-Marie felt the blindness of rage--unreasoning, deadly
anger. Only two things she knew--that she hated Jim and that she would
not let him kiss her. She spoke sudden defiant words that surprised
"No," she told him, and her voice was hysterically high, "no, you're not
good enough! You're not good enough for _any_ decent girl! You're
bad--too bad to lay your fingers upon me. You're--you're unclean! Let go
of me or I'll"--her courage was oozing rapidly away, "or I'll _scream_!"
Jim Volsky's too red lips were on a level with her own. His voice came
thickly. "Scream, if you want to, little kid!" he said. "Scream t' beat
th' band! There ain't no one t' hear yer. Ma an' Ella an' Bennie are at
the hospital--givin' Pa th' once over. An' th' folks in this house are
used t' yellin'. They'd oughter be! Scream if yer want to--but I'm
a-goin' ter have my kiss!"
Rose-Marie could feel the warmth of his breath upon her face. Knowing the
futility--the uselessness of it--she began to struggle. Desperately she
tried to twist her arms from the slim, brutal hands that held them--but
the hands did not loosen their hold. She told herself, as she struggled,
that Jim had spoken the truth--that a scream, more or less, was an
every-day occurrence in the tenement.
All at once she realized, with a dazed, sinking feeling, that the Young
Doctor had had some foundation of truth in certain of his statements.
Some of the slum people were like animals--very like animals! Jim was all
animal as he bent above her--easily holding her with his hands. Nothing
that she said could reach him--nothing. She realized why the Young Doctor
had wanted her to leave the Settlement House before any of her dreams had
been shattered, before her faith in mankind had been abused! She realized
why, at times, he had hurt her, and with the realization came the
knowledge that she wanted him, desperately, at that minute--that he, out
of all the people in the world, was the one that her heart was calling to
in her time of need. She wanted his strength, his protection.
Once before, earlier in the afternoon, she had realized that there was
much of the cat in Jim. Now she realized it again, with a new sense of
fear and dislike. For Jim was not claiming the kiss that he wanted, in a
straight-forward way--he was holding her gloatingly, as a cat tortures a
mouse. He was letting her know, without words, that she was utterly
helpless--that he could kiss her when he wanted to, and not until he
wanted to. There was something horribly playful in his attitude. She
struggled again--but more weakly, her strength was going. If there were
only somebody to help--somebody!
And then, all at once, she remembered--with a blinding sense of
relief--what she had been forgetting. She remembered that there was
Somebody--a Somebody Who is always ready to help--a Somebody who watches
over the fate of every little sparrow.
"If you hurt me," she said desperately, to Jim, "God will know! Let go of
"Yer'll scream!" he chuckled, and there was cruel mirth in the chuckle.
"Yer'll scream, an' God will take care o' yer! Well--scream! I don't
believe as God can help yer. God ain't never been in this tenement--as
far as I know!"
Despite her weight of fear and loathing, Rose-Marie was suddenly sorry
for Jim. There was something pitiful--something of which he did not
realize the pathos--in his speech. God had never been in the
tenement--_God had never been in the tenement_! All at once she realized
that Jim's wickedness, that Jim's point of view, was not wholly his
fault. Jim had not been brought up, as she had, in the clean
out-of-doors; he--like many another slum child--had grown to manhood
without his proper heritage of fresh air and sunshine. One could not
entirely blame him for thinking of his home--the only home that he had
ever known--as a Godless place. She stopped struggling and her voice was
suddenly calm and sweet as she answered Jim's statement.
"God," she said slowly, "_is_ in this tenement. God is everywhere,
Jim--everywhere! If I call on Him, He will help me!"
All at once Jim had swung her away from him, until he was holding her at
arm's length. He looked at her, from between narrowed lids, and there was
bitter sarcasm in his eyes.
"Call on Him, then," he taunted, "call on Him! Lotta good it'll do yer!"
The very tone of his voice was a sacrilege, as he said it.
Rose-Marie's eyes were blurred with tears as she spoke her answer to his
challenge. She was remembering the prayers that she had said back
home--in the little town. She was remembering how her aunts had taught
her, when she was a wee girl, to talk with God--to call upon Him in times
of deep perplexity. She had called upon Him, often, but she had never
really needed Him as she did now. "Help me, God!" she said softly, "_Help
The Volsky flat was still, for a moment. And then, with surprising
quickness, the door to the inner room swung open. Jim, who was
standing with his back to the door, did not see the tiny,
golden-haired figure that stood in the opening, but Rose-Marie caught
her breath in a kind of a sob.
"I had forgotten Lily--" she murmured, almost to herself.
Jim, hearing her words, glanced quickly back over his shoulder. And then
he laughed, and there was an added brutality in the tone of his laughter.
"Oh--Lily!" he laughed. "Lily! She won't help yer--not much! I was sort
of expectin' this God that yer talk about--" The laughter died out of his
face and he jerked her suddenly close--so close that she lay trembling in
his arms. "Lily can't hear," he exulted, "'r see, 'r speak. _I'll take my
It was then that Rose-Marie, forgetting herself in the panic of the
moment, screamed. She screamed lustily, twisting her face away from his
lips. And as she screamed Lily, as silently as a little wraith, started
across the room. She might almost have heard, so straight she came. She
might almost have known what was happening, so directly she ran to the
spot where Rose-Marie was struggling in the arms of Jim. All at once her
thin little hands had fastened themselves upon the man's trouser leg, all
at once she was pulling at him, with every bit of her feeble strength.
Rose-Marie, still struggling, felt an added weight of apprehension. Not
only her own safety was at stake--Lily, who was so weak, was in danger of
being hurt. She jerked back, with another cry.
"Oh, God help me!" she cried, "God help _us_!"
Silently, but with a curious persistence, the child clung to the man's
trouser leg. With an oath he looked back again over his shoulder.
"Leave go of me," he mouthed. "Leave go o' me--y' little brat! 'r I'll--"
And "Let go of him, Lily," sobbed Rose-Marie, forgetting that the child
could not hear. "Let go of him, or he'll hurt you!"
The child lifted her sightless blue eyes wistfully to the faces above
her--the faces that she could not see. And she clung the closer.
Jim was swearing, steadily--swearing with a dogged, horrible regularity.
Of a sudden he raised his heavy foot and kicked viciously at the child
who clung so tenaciously to his other leg. Rose-Marie, powerless to help,
closed her eyes--and opened them again almost spasmodically.
"You brute," she screamed, "_you utter brute_!"
Lily, who had never, in all of her broken little life, felt an unkind
touch, wavered, as the man's boot touched her slight body. Her sightless
eyes clouded, all at once, with tears. And then, with a sudden piercing
shriek, she crumpled up--in a white little heap--upon the floor.
AND A MIRACLE
For a moment Rose-Marie was stunned by the child's unexpected cry. She
hung speechless, filled with wonderment, in Jim's arms. And then, with a
wrench, she was free--was running across the floor to the little huddled
bundle that was Lily.
"You beast," she flung back, over her shoulder, as she ran. "You beast!
You've killed her!"
Jim did not attempt to follow--or to answer. He had wheeled about, and
his face was very pale.
"God!" he said, in a tense whisper, "_God_!" It was the first time that
the word, upon his lips, was neither mocking nor profane.
Rose-Marie, with tender hands, gathered the child up from the hard floor.
She was not thinking of the miracle that had taken place--she was not
thinking of the sound that had come, so unexpectedly, from dumb lips. She
only knew that the child was unconscious, perhaps dying. Her trembling
fingers felt of the slim wrist; felt almost with apprehension. She was
surprised to feel that the pulse was still beating, though faintly.
"Get somebody," she said, tersely, to Jim. "Get somebody who
Jim's face was still the colour of ashes. He did not stir--did not seem
to have the power to stir.
"Did yer hear her?" he mouthed thickly. "She _yelled_. I heard her. Did
Rose-Marie was holding Lily close to her breast. Her stern young eyes
looked across the drooping golden head into the scared face of the man.
"It was God, speaking through her," she said. "It was God. And you--you
had denied Him--_you beast_!"
All at once Jim was down upon the floor beside her. The mask of passion
had slipped from his face--his shoulders seemed suddenly more narrow--his
cruel hands almost futile. Rose-Marie wondered, subconsciously, how she
had ever feared him.
"She yelled," he reiterated, "_did yer hear her--_"
Rose-Marie clutched the child tighter in her arms.
"Get some one, at once," she ordered, "if you don't want her to die--if
you don't want to be a murderer!"
But Jim had not heard her voice. He was sobbing, gustily.
"I'm t'rough," he was sobbing, "t'rough! Oh--God, fergive--"
It was then that the door opened. And Rose-Marie, raising eyes abrim with
relief, saw that Ella and Mrs. Volsky and Bennie stood upon the
"What's a-matter?" questioned Mrs. Volsky--her voice sodden with grief.
"What's been a-happenin'?" But Ella ran across the space between them,
and knelt in front of Rose-Marie.
"Give 'er t' me!" she breathed fiercely; "she's my sister. Give
'er t' me!"
Silently Rose-Marie handed over the light little figure. But as Ella
pillowed the dishevelled head upon her shoulder, she spoke directly
"Run to the Settlement House, as fast as ever you can!" she told him.
"And bring Dr. Blanchard back with you. Hurry, dear--it may mean Lily's
life!" And Bennie, with his grimy face tear-streaked, was out of the door
and clattering down the stairs before she had finished.
Ella, her mouth agonized and drawn, was the first to speak after Bennie
left the room. When she did speak she asked a question.
"Who done this t' her?" she questioned. "_Who done it_?"
Rose-Marie hesitated. She could feel the eyes of Mrs. Volsky, dumb with
suffering, upon her--she could feel Jim's rat-like gaze fixed, with a
certain appeal, on her face. At last she spoke.
"Jim will tell you!" she said.
If she had expected the man to evade the issue--if she had expected a
downright falsehood from him--she was surprised. For Jim's head came up,
suddenly, and his eyes met the burning dark ones of his sister.
"I done it," he said, simply, and he scrambled up from the floor, as he
spoke. "I kicked her. She come in when I was tryin' t' kiss"--his finger
indicated Rose-Marie, "_her_. Lily got in th' way. So I kicked out
hard--then--she," he gulped back a shudder, "she _yelled_!"
Ella was suddenly galvanized into action. She was on her feet, with one
lithe, pantherlike movement--the child held tight in her arms.
"Yer kicked her," she said softly--and the gentleness of her voice was
ominous. "Yer kicked her! An' she yelled--" For the first time the full
significance of it struck her. "_She yelled_?" she questioned, whirling
to Rose-Marie; "yer don't mean as she made a _sound_?"
Rose-Marie nodded dumbly. It was Jim's voice that went on with the story.
"She ain't dead," he told Ella, piteously. "She ain't dead. An'--I
promise yer true--I'll never do such a thing again. I promise yer true!"
Ella took a step toward him. Her face was suddenly lined, and old. "If
she dies," she told him, "_if she dies_..." she hesitated, and
then--"Much yer promises mean," she shrilled, "much yer promises--"
Rose-Marie had been watching Jim's face. Almost without meaning to she
interrupted Ella's flow of speech.
"I think that he means what he says," she told Ella slowly. "I think that
he means ... what he says."
For she had seen the birth of something--_that might have been soul_--in
Jim's haggard eyes.
The child in Ella's arms stirred, weakly, and was still again. But the
movement, slight as it was, made the girl forget her brother. Her dark
head bent above the fair one.
"Honey," she whispered, "yer goin' ter get well fer Ella--ain't yer? Yer
goin' ter get well--"
The door swung open with a startling suddenness, and Rose-Marie sprang
forward, her hands outstretched. Framed in the battered wood stood
Bennie--the tears streaking his face--and behind him was the Young
Doctor. So tall he seemed, so capable, so strong, standing there, that
Rose-Marie felt as if her troubles had been lifted, magically, from her
shoulders. All at once she ceased to be afraid--ceased to question the
ways of the Almighty. All at once she felt that Lily would get
better--that the Volskys would be saved to a better life. And all at
once she knew something else. And the consciousness of it looked from
her wide eyes.
"You!" she breathed. "_You_!"
And, though she had sent for him, herself, she felt a glad sort of
surprise surging through her heart.
The Young Doctor's glance, in her direction, was eloquent. But as his
eyes saw the child in Ella's arms his expression became impersonal,
again, concentrated, and alert. With one stride he reached Ella's side,
and took the tiny figure from her arms.
"What's the matter here?" he questioned sharply.
Rose-Marie was not conscious of the words that she used as she described
Lily's accident. She glossed over Jim's part in it as lightly as
possible; she told, as quickly as she could, the history of the child.
And as she told it, the doctor's lean capable hands were passing, with
practiced skill, over the little relaxed body. When she told of the
child's deaf and dumb condition she was conscious of his absolute
attention--though he did not for a moment stop his work--when she spoke
of the scream she saw his start of surprise. But his only words were in
the nature of commands. "Bring water"--he ordered, "clean water, in a
basin. A _clean_ basin. Bring a sponge"--he corrected himself--"a clean
rag will do--only it must be _clean_"--this to Mrs. Volsky, "you
_understand?_ Where," his eyes were on Ella's face, "can we lay the
child? Is there a _clean_ bed, anywhere?"
Ella was shaking with nervousness as she opened the door of the inner
room that she and Lily shared. Mrs. Volsky, carrying the basin of water,
was sobbing. Jim, standing in the center of the room, was like a
statue--only his haunted eyes were alive. The Young Doctor, glancing from
face to face, spoke suddenly to Rose-Marie.
"I hate to ask you," he said simply, "but you seem to be the only one who
hasn't gone to pieces. Will you come in here with me?"
Rose-Marie nodded, and she spoke, very softly. "Then you think that I'll
be able--to help?" she questioned.
The Young Doctor was remembering--or forgetting--many things.
"I know that you will!" he said, and he spoke as softly as she had done.
"I know that you will!"
They went, together, with Lily, into the inner room. And as the Young
Doctor closed the door, Rose-Marie knew a very real throb of triumph. For
he had admitted that her help was to be desired--that she could really do
But, the moment that the door closed, she forgot her feeling of victory,
for, of a sudden, she saw Dr. Blanchard in a new light. She saw him lay
the little figure upon the bed--she saw him pull off his coat. And then,
while she held the basin of water, she saw him get to work. And as she
watched him her last feeling of doubt was swept away.
"He may say that he's not interested in people," she told herself
joyously, "but he is. He may think that he doesn't care for religion--but
he does. There's love of people in every move of his hands! There's
something religious in the very way his fingers touch Lily!"
Yes, she was seeing the Young Doctor in a new light. As she watched him
she knew that he had quite forgotten her presence--had quite forgotten
the little quarrels that had all but ruined their chance at friendship.
She knew that his mind was only on the child who lay so still under his
hands--she knew that all the intensity of his nature was concentrated
upon Lily. As she watched him, deftly obeying His simple directions, she
gloried in his skill--in his surety.
And then, at last, Lily opened her eyes. She might have been waking from
a deep slumber as she opened them--she might have been dreaming a
pleasant dream as she smiled faintly. Rose-Marie had a sudden feeling--a
feeling that she had experienced before--that the child was seeing
visions, with her great sightless eyes, that other, normal folk could not
see. All at once a great dread clutched at her soul.
"She's not dying--?" she whispered, gaspingly. "Her smile is so
very--wonderful. She's not dying?"
The Young Doctor turned swiftly from the bed. All at once he looked like
a knight to Rose-Marie--an armourless, modern knight who fought an
endless fight against the dragons of disease and pain.
"Bless your heart, no!" he answered. "She isn't dying! We'll bring her
around in a few minutes. And now"--a great tenderness shone out of his
eyes, "tell me all about it. You were very sketchy," his gesture
indicated the other room, "out there! How did the child really get
hurt--and how did you come to be here? How--Why, Rose-Marie....
For Rose-Marie had fainted very quietly--and for the first time in all of
her strong young life.
AND THE HAPPY ENDING
They were sitting together at the luncheon table--the Superintendent,
Rose-Marie, and the Young Doctor. The noontime sunshine slanted across
the table--dancing on the silver, touching softly Rose-Marie's curls,
finding an answering sparkle in the Young Doctor's smile. And
silence--the warm silence of happiness--lay over them all.
It was the Young Doctor who spoke first.
"Just about a month ago, it was," he said reflectively, "that I saw Lily
for the first time. And now"--he paused teasingly--"and now--"
Rose-Marie laid down the bit of roll that she was buttering. Her face was
glowing with eagerness.
"They've come to some decision," she whispered, in a question that was
little more than a breath of sound, "the doctors at the hospital have
come to some decision?"
The Superintendent was leaning forward and her kind soul shone out of her
tired eyes. "Tell us at once, Billy Blanchard!" she ordered, "_At once_!"
Quite after the maddening fashion of men the Young Doctor did not
answer--not until he had consumed, and appreciatively, the bit of roll
that he had been buttering. And then--"The other doctors agree with my
diagnosis," he told them simply. "It's an extraordinary case, they say;
but a not incurable one. The shock--when Jim kicked her--was a blessing
in disguise. Not, of course, that I'd prescribe kicks for crippled
children! But"--the term that he used was long and technical--"but such
things have happened. Not often, of course. The doctors agree with me
that, if her voice comes back--as I believe it will--there may be a very
real hope for her hearing. And her eyes "--his voice was suddenly
tender--"well--thousands of slum kiddies are blind--and thousands of them
have been cured. If Lily is, some day, a normal child--if she can some
day speak and see, and hear, it will be--"
The Superintendent's voice was soft--
"It is already a miracle!" she said simply. "It is already a miracle.
Look at Jim--working for a small salary, _and liking it_! Look at
Bennie--he was the head of his class in school, this month, he told me.
The Young Doctor interrupted.
"Ella and her mother went to church with us last Sunday," he said.
"Rose-Marie and I were starting out, together, and they asked if they
might go along. I tell you"--his eyes were looking deep, _deep_, into the
eyes of Rose-Marie and he spoke directly to her, "I tell you, dear--I've
learned a great many lessons in the last few weeks. Jim isn't the only
one--or Bennie. Lily isn't the only nearly incurable case that has found
Rose-Marie was blushing. The Superintendent, watching the waves of colour
sweep over her face, spoke suddenly--reminiscently.
"Child," she said--and laughter, tremulous laughter, was in her voice,
"your face is ever so _pink_! I believe," she was quoting, "'that you
have a best beau'!"
The Young Doctor was laughing, too. Strangely enough his laughter had
just the suggestion of a tremor in it.
"I'll say that she has!" he replied, and his words, though slangy, were
very tender. "I'll say that she has!" And then--"Are _we_ going back to
the little town, Rose-Marie," he questioned. "Are _we_ going back to the
little town to be married?"
The blush had died from Rose-Marie's face, leaving it just faintly
flushed. The eyes that she raised to the Young Doctor's eyes were like
"No," she told him, "we're not! I've thought it all out. We're going to
be married here--here in the Settlement House. I'll write for my aunts to
come on--and for my old pastor! I couldn't be married without my
aunts.... And my pastor; he christened me, and he welcomed me into the
church, and"--all at once she started up from the table, "I'm going
up-stairs to write, now," she managed. "I want to tell them that we're
going to start our home here"--her voice broke, "here, on our own
Island...." Like a flash she was out of the door.
The Young Doctor was on his feet. Luncheon was quite forgotten.
"I think," he said softly, and his face was like a light, "I think that
I'll go with her--and help her with the letter!" The door closed,
sharply, upon his hurrying back.
* * * * *
The Superintendent, left alone at the table, rang for the maid. Her voice
was carefully calm as she ordered the evening meal. But her eyes were
just a bit misty as she looked into the maid's dull face.
"Mrs. Volsky," she said suddenly, "love must have its way! And love is--"
The maid looked at her blankly. Obviously she did not understand. But,
seeing her neat apron, her clean hands, her carefully combed hair, one
could forgive her vague expression.
"What say?" she questioned.
The Superintendent laughed wearily, "Anyway," she remarked, "Ella likes
her work, doesn't she? And Jim? And Bennie is going to be a great man,
some day--isn't he? And Lily may be made well--quite well! You should be
a glad woman, Mrs. Volsky!"
Pride flamed up, suddenly, in the maid's face--blotting out the dullness.
"God," she said simply and--marvel of marvels--her usually toneless
voice was athrob with love--"God is good!" She went out, with a tray
full of dishes.
Her chin in the palm of her hand, the Superintendent stared off into
space. If she was thinking of a little blond child--lying in a hospital
bed--if she was thinking of a man with sleek hair, trying to make a new
start--if she was thinking of a girl with dark, flashing eyes, and a
small, grubby-fingered boy, her expression did not mirror her thought.
Only once she spoke, as she was folding her napkin. And then--
"They're both very young," she murmured, a shade wistfully. Perhaps she
was remembering the springtime of her own youth.