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The Island of Faith, Page 2

Margaret E. Sangster



  "Sunshine and apple blossoms!" Rose-Marie, hurrying along the hall to herown room, repeated the Young Doctor's words and sobbed afresh as sherepeated them. She tried to tell herself that nothing he could thinkmattered much to her, but there was a certain element of truth ineverything that he had said. It was a fact that her life had been anunclouded, peaceful one--her days had followed each other as regularly,as innocuously, as blue china beads, strung upon a white cord, followeach other.

  Of course, she told herself, she had never known a mother; and her fatherhad died when she was a tiny girl. But she was forced to admit--as shehad been forced to admit many times--that she did not particularly feelthe lack of parents. Her two aunts, that she had always lived with, hadbeen everything to her--they had indulged her, had made her prettyfrocks, had never tried, in any way, to block the reachings of herpersonality. When she had decided suddenly, fired by the convincingaddress of a visiting city missionary, to leave the small town of herbirth, they had put no obstacle in her path.

  "If you feel that you must go," they had told her, "you must. Maybe it isthe work that the Lord has chosen for you. We have all faith in you,Rose-Marie!"

  And Rose-Marie, splendid in her youth and assurance, had never known thattheir pillows were damp that night--and for many another night--with thetears that they were too brave to let her see.

  They had packed her trunk, folding the white dress and the bluesash--Rose-Marie wondered how the Young Doctor had known about the dressand 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-Mariewould have been aghast to know how childish she looked in thattam-o'-shanter! Her every-day shoes had been resoled; her white ruffledpetticoats had been lengthened. And then she had been launched, like aslim little boat, upon the turbulent sea of the city!

  Looking back, through a mist of angry tears, Rose-Marie felt her firstmoment of homesickness for the friendly little town with its wide,tree-shaded streets, its lawn parties, and its neighbours; cities, shehad discovered, discourage the art of neighbouring! She felt a pang ofemptiness--she wanted her aunts with their soft, interested eyes, andtheir tender hands.

  At first the city had thrilled her. But now that she had been in theSettlement House a month, the thrill was beginning to die away. The greatbuildings were still unbelievably high, the crowds of people were still astrange and mysterious throng, the streets were as colourful as ever--butlife, nevertheless, was beginning to settle into ordinary channels.

  She had thought, at the beginning of her stay there, that the SettlementHouse was a hotbed of romance. Every ring of the doorbell had tingledthrough her; every step in the hall had made her heart leap, with astrange quickening movement, into her throat--every shabby man had beento her a possible tragedy, every threadbare woman had been a case forcharity. She had fluttered from reception-hall to reading-room, and backagain--she had been alert, breathless, eager.

  But, with the assignment of regular duties, some of the adventure hadbeen drained from life. For her these consisted of teaching a club ofgirls to sew, of instructing a group of mothers in the art of makingcakes and pies and salads, and of hearing a half hundred little childrenrepeat their A B Cs. Only the difference in setting, only the twang offoreign tongues, only the strange precociousness of the children, madelife 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--forall the good she was accomplishing.

  She had offered, so many times, to do visiting in the tenements--to callupon families of the folk who would not come to the Settlement House.But the Superintendent had met her, always, with a denial that waswearily firm.

  "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 andthe 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 thatdepartment of our work!"

  Dr. Blanchard ... Rose-Marie felt the tears coming afresh at the thoughtof him! She remembered how she had written home enthusiastic,schoolgirlish letters about the handsome man who sat across the diningtable from her. It had seemed exciting, romantic, that only the three ofthem really should live in the great brownstone house--the Young Doctor,the Superintendent--who made a perfect chaperon--and herself. It hadseemed, somehow, almost providential that they should be thrown together.Yes, Rose-Marie remembered how she had been attracted to Dr. Blanchard atthe 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 tofeel the clash of their natures. When she started to church service, onher first Sunday in New York, she surprised a smile of something thatmight have been cynical mirth upon his lean, square-jawed face. And whenshe spoke of the daily prayers that she and her aunts had so beautifullybelieved in, back in the little town, he laughed at her--not unkindly,but with the sympathetic superiority that one feels for a too trustingchild. Rose-Marie, thinking it over, knew that she would rather meetdirect unkindness than that bland superiority!

  And so--though there had never been an open quarrel until the one at theluncheon table--Rose-Marie had learned to look to the Superintendent forencouragement, rather than to the Young Doctor. And she had frigidlydeclined 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 toobusy, just now, to take a walk." Or, "I can't go with you to-day. I'veletters to write."

  "It's a shame," she confided, on occasion, to the Superintendent, "thatDr. Blanchard never goes to church. It's a shame that he has had solittle religious life. I gave him a book to read the other day--theletters of an American Missionary in China--and he laughed and told methat 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 readinga 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 avery busy man. He gives a great deal of himself to the people here in theslums. 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 whenshe wanted to scold him, "I've known you for a long time. And I'm surethat there's no harm in you. Of course," she sighed, "I wish that youcould 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 hadan easy row to hoe, not ever; you wouldn't be religious yourself if youwere in my shoes! There--don't look so shocked--you've been a mother tome in your funny, fussy way, since I came to this place! That's the mainreason, I guess, that I stick here, as I do, when I could make a lot moremoney somewhere else!" He reached up to pat her thin hand, and then, "Butwhy 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 toconvert people, and she's so sincere,--so very sincere. I can't helpfeeling that you are a thorn in her flesh, Billy. She says that you won'tread her missionary books--"

  The Young Doctor interrupted.

  "She's such a pretty girl," he said quite fiercely. "Why on earth didn'tshe stay at home, where she belonged! Why on earth did she pick out thissort 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 whowanted to be artists' model
s, and anemic girls who wanted to be physicaldirectors, and flighty girls who wanted to go to Bible School, and quietgirls who were all set for a career on the stage. Rose-Marie Thompson isthe sort of a girl who was cut out to be a home-maker, to give happinessto 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 snatchbrands from the burning. Here she is in the slums when she'd bedramatically right in an apple orchard--at the time of year when thetrees are covered with pink and white blossoms."

  The Young Doctor laughed. He so well understood the Superintendent--soenjoyed her point of view.

  "Yes," he agreed, "she'd be perfect there in an organdy frock withthe sun slanting across her face. But--well, she's just like othergirls. Tell a pretty girl that she's clever, they say, and tell aclever girl that she's a raving, tearing beauty. That's the way for aman to be popular!"

  The Superintendent laughed quietly with him. It was a moment before shegrew sober again.

  "I wonder," she said at last, "why you have never tried to be popularwith girls. You could so easily be popular. You're young and--don't tryto hush me up--good-looking. And yet--well, you're such an antagonisticperson. From the very first you've laughed at Rose-Marie--and she wasquite ready to adore you when she arrived. How do I know? Oh, I couldtell! Take the child seriously, Billy Blanchard, before she actuallybegins to dislike you!"

  The Young Doctor put several bottles of violently coloured pills into hisbag 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; tostir up a love affair between the both of us--" suddenly he waslaughing again.

  "I'm too busy to have a romance, you old dear," he told theSuperintendent, "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 voicewas steady.

  "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 toforget. That's why I left the country. Maybe that's why the littleThompson girl--"

  But the Young Doctor was shaking his head.

  "She hasn't had any love affair," he told the Superintendent. "She's tooyoung and full of ideals to have anything so ordinary as a romance.Everybody," his laugh was not too pleasant, "can have a romance! And fewpeople can be so filled with ideals as Miss Thompson. Oh, it's her idealsthat I can't stand! It's her impractical way of gazing at life throughpink-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 trustingand over-sincere. I'd hate to see her placed in direct contact with someof the young men that I work with, for instance. You haven't--" All atonce his voice took on a new note. "You haven't let her be with any ofthe 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 fierceas 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'mletting her spend her time with the mothers, and the young girls, and thelittle tots--not even allowing her to go out alone, if I can help it.Such innocence--" The Superintendent broke off suddenly in the middle ofthe sentence. And she sighed again.