The boy’s grubby hand shot out and rested upon her sleeve.
“Come to-morrow afternoon,” he told her. “Say, yer all right!” He turned, swiftly, and ran through the crowd, and in a moment had disappeared like a small drab-coloured city chameleon.
Rose-Marie, standing by the bench, watched the place where he had disappeared. And then, all at once, she turned swiftly—just as swiftly as the boy had—and started back across the park toward the Settlement House.
“I won’t tell them!” she was saying over and over in her heart, as she went, “I won’t tell them! They wouldn’t let me go, if I did.... I won’t tell them!”
The kitten was still held tight in her arms. It rested, quite contentedly, against her blue coat. Perhaps it knew that there was a warm, friendly place—even for little frightened animals—in the Settlement House.
“There’s no place—”
When Rose-Marie paused in front of the tenement, at three o’clock on the following afternoon, she felt like a naughty little girl who is playing truant from school. When she remembered the way that she had avoided the Superintendent’s almost direct questions, she blushed with an inward sense of shame. But when she thought of the Young Doctor’s offer to go with her—“wherever she was going”—she threw back her head with a defiant little gesture. She knew well that the Young Doctor was sorry for yesterday’s quarrel—she knew that a night beside the dying Mrs. Celleni, and the wails of the Cohen baby, had temporarily softened his viewpoint upon life. And yet—he had said that they were soulless—these people that she had come to help! He would have condemned Bennie Volsky from the first—but she had detected the glimmerings of something fine in the child! No—despite his more tolerant attitude—she knew that, underneath, his convictions were unchanged. She was glad that she had gone out upon her adventure alone.
With a heart that throbbed in quick staccato beats, she mounted the steps of the tenement. Little dark-eyed children moved away from her, apparently on every side, but somehow she scarcely noticed them. The doorway yawned, like an open mouth, in front of her—and she could think of nothing else. As she went over the dark threshold she remembered stories that she had read about people who go in at tenement doorways and are never seen again. Every one has read such stories in the daily newspapers—and perhaps some of them are true!
A faint light flickered in through the doorway. It made the ascent of the first flight of creaking stairs quite easy. At least Rose-Marie could step aside from the piles of rubbish and avoid the rickety places. She wondered, as she went up, her fingers gingerly touching the dirty hand-rail, how people could exist under such wretched conditions.
The second flight was harder to manage. The light from the narrow doorway was shut off, and there were no windows. There might have been gas jets upon every landing—Rose-Marie supposed that there were—but it was mid-afternoon, and they had not yet been lighted. She groped her way up the second flight, and the third, feeling carefully along each step with her foot before she put her weight upon it.