“No, I am reasonable. I don’t expect the impossible. I am glad of every inch of ground gained. I don’t demand an acre. If one girl is rescued out of twenty——”
“But why does it need to be at all?” Jarvis interrupted her.
“Why does disease need to be? Why does unhappiness need to be, or war, or the money-lust that will one day wreck us? We only know that these things are. Our business is to set about doing what we can.”
“One girl out of twenty,” he repeated. “What becomes of the other nineteen?”
“I said I was glad of one girl in twenty. Sometimes several of the nineteen come out all right. Bedford helps a great many. They marry, they keep straight, or—they die very soon.”
“Tell me about Bedford.”
She outlined the work done in that farm home, which is such a credit to New York. She told him of the honour system, and all the modern methods employed there.
“Can you get opportunities for girls who want the chance?”
“Plenty of them. I have only to ask. When I need money, it comes. Lots of my girls are employed in uptown shops, leading good, hard-working lives.”
“Where does this money come from?”
“Private donations. That is one of my hope signs—the widespread interest in rescue work.”
“The old ones—those aged women?”
She sighed. “Yes, I know, they are terrible! There is a mighty army of them in New York. We grind them in and out of our courts, month after month. The institutions are all full. There is so much grafting that the poor-farm has been delayed, year after year, so there is no place to send them.”
“Where do they go?”
“Into East River, most of them, in the end.”
“Do you mean to say that we pay the machinery of the law to put these cases through the courts, over and over again, and then provide no place to harbour the derelicts?”
“That’s about the case,” she replied.
“How can we live and endure such things?” Jarvis demanded passionately.
“I used to feel that way about it. I used to be sick through and through with it, but I have grown to see that there is improvement, that there is a new social sense growing among us. Uptown women of leisure come to our night courts, take part in our working-girls’ strikes, and women, mind you, are always slowest to feel and react to new forces. Don’t be discouraged,” she smiled at him, stopping at the door.
“May I come and see you, some time? Are you ever free, or would that be asking too much?”
“No. Come! Come in Sunday afternoon if you like.”
She held out her hand, and he grasped it warmly.
“You’re great,” he said boyishly, at which she laughed.
“We need you young enthusiasts,” she said.
As he walked uptown to his lodgings Jarvis faced the fact that up to this present moment he had been on the wrong track. He had tried to pull from the top. That was all right, if only he also tried to push from the bottom. The world needed idealists, but not the old brand, blind to the actual, teaching out of a great ignorance. This probation officer woman, she was the modern idealist, as modern as Jesus Christ, who worked in the same spirit.