There is a certain section of New York that is bounded upon the north by Fourteenth Street, upon the south by Delancy. Folk who dwell in it seldom stray farther west than the Bowery, rarely cross the river that flows sluggishly on its eastern border. They live their lives out, with something that might be termed a feverish stolidity, in the dim crowded flats, and upon the thronged streets.
To the people who have homes on Central Park West, to the frail winged moths who flutter up and down Broadway, this section does not exist. Its poor are not the picturesque poor of the city’s Latin quarter, its criminals seldom win to the notoriety of a front page and inch-high headlines; it almost never produces a genius for the world to smile upon—its talent does not often break away from the undefined, but none the less certain, limits of the district.
It is curious that this part of town is seldom featured in song or story, for it is certainly neither dull nor unproductive of plot. The tenements that loom, canyon-like, upon every side are filled to overflowing with human drama; and the stilted little parks are so teeming with romances, of a summer night, that only the book of the ages would be big enough to hold them—were they written out! Life beats, like some great wave, up the dim alleyways—it breaks, in a shattered tide, against rock-like doorways. The music of a street band, strangely sweet despite its shrillness, rises triumphantly above the tumult of pavement vendors, the crying of babies, the shouting of small boys, and the monotonous voices of the womenfolk.
In almost the exact center of this district is the Settlement House—a brown building that is tall and curiously friendly. Between a great hive-like dwelling place and a noisy dance-hall it stands valiantly, like the soldier of God that it is! And through its wide-open doorway come and go the girls who will gladly squander a week’s wage for a bit of satin or a velvet hat; the shabby, dull-eyed women who, two years before, were care-free girls themselves; the dreamers—and the ones who have never learned to dream. For there is something about the Settlement House—and about the tiny group of earnest people who are the heart of the Settlement House—that is like a warm hand, stretched out in welcome to the poor and the needy, to the halt in body and the maimed in soul, and to the casual passer-by.
“They’re like animals,” said the Young Doctor in the tone of one who states an indisputable fact. “Only worse!” he added.
Rose-Marie laid down the bit of roll that she had been buttering and turned reproachful eyes upon the Young Doctor.
“Oh, but they’re not,” she cried; “you don’t understand, or you wouldn’t talk that way. You don’t understand!”