Read CHAPTER II - THE QUARREL of The Island of Faith, free online book, by Margaret E. Sangster, on ReadCentral.com.

“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!”

Quite after the maddening fashion of men the doctor did not answer until he had consumed, and appreciatively, the last of the roll he was eating. And then

“I’ve been here quite as long as you have, Miss Thompson,” he remarked, a shade too gently.

The Superintendent raised tired eyes from her plate. She was little and slim and gray, this Superintendent; it seemed almost as though the slums had drained from her the life and colour.

“When you’ve been working in this section for twenty years,” she said slowly, “you’ll realize that nobody can ever understand. You’ll realize that we all have animal traitsto a certain extent. And you’ll realize that quarrelling isn’t ever worth while.”

“But”Rose-Marie was inclined to argue the point“but Dr. Blanchard talks as if the people down here are scarcely human! And it’s not right to feel so about one’s fellow-men. Dr. Blanchard acts as if the people down here haven’t souls!”

The Young Doctor helped himself nonchalantly to a second roll.

“There’s a certain sort of a little bug that lives in the water,” he said, “and it drifts around aimlessly until it finds another little bug that it holds on to. And then another little bug takes hold, and another, and another. And pretty soon there are hundreds of little bugs, and then there are thousands, and then there are millions, and then billions, and then”

The Superintendent interrupted wearily.

“I’d stop at the billions, if I were you,” she said, “particularly as they haven’t any special bearing on the subject.”

“Oh, but they have” said the doctor, “for, after a while, the billions and trillions of little bugs, clinging together, make an island. They haven’t souls, perhaps,” he darted a triumphant glance at Rose-Marie, “but they make an island just the same!”

He paused for a moment, as if waiting for some sort of comment. When it did not come, he spoke again.

“The people of the slums,” he said, “the people who drift into, and out of, and around this Settlement House, are not very unlike the little bugs. And, after all, they do help to make the city!”

There was a quaver in Rose-Marie’s voice, and a hurt look in her eyes, as she answered.

“Yes, they are like the little bugs,” she said, “in the blind way that they hold together! But please, Dr. Blanchard, don’t say they are soulless. Don’t”

All at once the Young Doctor’s hand was banging upon the table. All at once his voice was vehemently raised.

“It’s the difference in our point of view, Miss Thompson,” he told Rose-Marie, “and I’m afraid that I’m right and that you’renot right. You’ve come from a pretty little country town where every one was fairly comfortable and fairly prosperous. You’ve always been a part of a community where people went to church and prayer-meeting and Sunday-school. Your neighbours loved each other, and played Pollyanna when things went wrong. And you wore white frocks and blue sashes whenever there was a lawn party or a sociable.” He paused, perhaps for breath, and then“I’m different,” he said; “I struggled for my education; it was always the survival of the fittest with me. I worked my way through medical school. I had my hospital experience in Bellevue and on the Islandmost of my patients were the lowest of the low. I’ve tried to cure diseased bodiesbut I’ve left diseased minds alone. Diseased minds have been out of my line. Perhaps that’s why I’ve come through with an ideal of life that’s slightly different from your sunshine and apple blossoms theory!”

“Oh,” Rose-Marie was half sobbing, “oh, you’re so hard!”

The Young Doctor faced her suddenly and squarely. “Why did you come here,” he cried, “to the slums? Why did you come to work in a Settlement House? What qualifications have you to be a social service worker, you child? What do you know of the meaning of service, of life?”

Rose-Marie’s voice was earnest, though shaken.

“I came,” she answered, “because I love people and want to help them. I came because I want to teach them to think beautiful thoughts, to have beautiful ideals. I came because I want to show them the God that I knowand try to serve” she faltered.

The Young Doctor laughedbut not pleasantly.

“And I,” he said, “came to make their bodies as healthy as possible. I came because curing sick bodies was my jobnot because I loved people or had any particular faith in them. Prescribing to criminals and near-criminals isn’t a reassuring work; it doesn’t give one faith in human nature or in human souls!”

The Superintendent had been forgotten. But her tired voice rose suddenly across the barrier of speech that had grown high and icy between the Young Doctor and Rose-Marie.

“You both came,” she said, and she spoke in the tone of a mother of chickens who has found two young and precocious ducklings in her brood, “you both came to help peopleof that I’m sure!”

Rose-Marie started up, suddenly, from the table.

“I came,” she said, as she moved toward the door that led to the hall, “to make people better.”

“And I,” said the Young Doctor, moving away from the table toward the opposite side of the room and another door, “I came to make them healthier!” With his hand on the knob of the door he spoke to the Superintendent.

“I’ll not be back for supper,” he said shortly, “I’ll be too busy. Giovanni Celleni is out of jail again, and he’s thrown his wife down a flight of stairs. She’ll probably not live. And while Minnie Cohen was at the vaudeville show last nightdeveloping her soul, perhapsher youngest baby fell against the stove. Well, it’ll be better for the baby if it does die! And there are others” The door slammed upon his angry back.

Rose-Marie’s face was white as she leaned against the dark wainscoting.

“Minnie Cohen brought the baby in last week,” she shuddered, “such a dear baby! And Mrs. Cellenishe tried so hard! Oh, it’s not right” She was crying, rather wildly, as she went out of the room.

The Superintendent, left alone at the table, rang for the stolid maid. Her voice was carefully calm as she gave orders for the evening meal. If she was thinking of Giovanni Celleni, his brute face filled with semi-madness; if she was thinking of a burned baby, sobbing alone in a darkened tenement while its mother breathlessly watched the gay colours and shifting scenes of a make-believe life, 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 regretfully. Perhaps she was remembering the enthusiasmand the intoleranceof her own youth.