MISS BEVINS, the Girls’ Worker, had told them they must not come to the Settlement House in the evening. They were too young to go home alone after dark, she had said. How could she know then that the Gabloinskas spent all their evenings on the streets of the city? Had she been so informed, she might have considered the Settlement House a far better place to spend time than the street-car station or the bowling alley or even the foul-smelling shack which they ironically called home. But these things she did not know; so she was firm in her insistence that they stay away from evening functions. Instead she urged them to come to Girl Scout meeting, because she recognized their need. It was not the filthy faded rags covering their lank bodies that convinced her; it was rather their barren-eyed lack of expression which experience had taught her is the sign of a starved spirit.
And they did come — Leotta with her broad smile that never faded, and Sophie with her arm up over her face. They were so nearly the same size that no one could have guessed which was twelve and which thirteen. They looked enough alike to be twins, but Sophie had the better features. Under a faded bush of unkempt hair she had a face that was almost beautiful, if one could forget the lustreless eyes. But a childish habit of shyness made her keep one arm across her face while she twisted her body from side to side in a way that was comical to see in a longlegged girl of twelve. On the other hand Leotta, without seeming bold, was far from timid. She could talk for monotonous hours without saying anything. She stood now, smiling expectantly, for she had thrust a halfdead carnation into Miss Bevins’s hand.
‘Why — thank you,’ said the surprised Miss Bevins. ‘ Wherever did you get this?’ she asked, trying not to appear too curious.
‘Der was a funeral.’ To Leotta this explanation seemed complete.
‘Someone in your family?’ Miss Bevins was prepared to be sympathetic.
Sophie, behind her arm, became impatient with such density of understanding. ‘No, on de porch dey put dem,’ she said.
‘Oh — oh.’ Miss Bevins laid aside the flower, sat down very deliberately, and did her duty by the Gabloinskas in the matter of stealing funeral flowers. Neither girl spoke. No impression seemed to be made. When asked to say they would do no such thing again, Leotta promised glibly, but Sophie hid her face.
Scout meeting was a revelation to the Gabloinskas. Immoderate surprise and unbelief took possession of their features. They played the games as in a dream. In patrols they looked from one girl to another in bewilderment. When it came to learning Scout laws, they said they did not want to ‘ learn notin’ ’ and went home before the end of the hour.
The next meeting was to be held at the cabin out in the country. Miss Bevins told the Gabloinskas they need not bring any food. She wanted to have them come. She was full of faith that association with her other splendid girls would teach them standards they had never known.
They came, Leotta with some green onions from the garden, Sophie emptyhanded. All day Miss Bevins was nearly distracted with the Gabloinskas. They hung upon her arms wherever she moved, and shouted silly remarks to one another. The other girls were growing impatient. Everyone was glad when evening came and the cars arrived to take most of the girls back to town. A few were to remain for the night, and the Gabloinskas begged to stay. Miss Bevins said ‘No’ very firmly.
They had scarcely gone when one of the girls missed a dime she had laid on the table. No one had seen it. But Miss Bevins knew that the Gabloinskas had been last in the cabin, and she pursed her lips. The next morning several girls had no fruit for breakfast. Oranges and bananas were generally missing. Miss Bevins remembered having asked the Gabloinskas yesterday where they had got their bananas, and Sophie had said that Alice gave them the fruit.
Miss Bevins took herself to task. She must protect her other girls, all of whom she could trust implicitly, from perhaps more serious losses. She must be firm with the Gabloinskas next time she saw them. And she was. They came in, as they frequently did, off the street, and she was round with them. She tried to tell them how wrong it is to steal, and she ended by telling them that they must not come again unless they intended to learn all a Girl Scout should know and unless they could be trusted like the other girls. They made no comments, but Sophie kept her face hidden.
A little later Leotta said, ‘Some person stoled our dog. We could n’t find him er notin’. Dat’s bad, ain’t it, Miss Bevins, to steal our dog?’
‘Say “nothing,”’ said Miss Bevins.
‘That’s better. Now always try to say “nothing.”’
‘I don’ like to. Notin’ is better. I say notin’.’
Miss Bevins wondered. Was improvement possible? These girls, with their seven younger brothers and sisters raised like rats on the city streets, had already grown too old, perhaps, to be changed. Miss Bevins was not easily discouraged, but it was spring and she was tired.
At the next few meetings some strange things happened. Leotta brought a penny to Miss Bevins. ‘I found dis in de hall,’ she said. Miss Bevins showed her pleasure. Again and again Leotta brought handkerchiefs, purses, and other small articles forgotten by the Scouts. Miss Bevins felt encouraged.
Then one day an imported scarf disappeared, and its owner felt sure that Leotta had taken it. Miss Bevins, though incredulous, talked to Leotta and insisted that the scarf be returned. And it was, the very next day. Leotta seemed to expect praise instead of the reproof she received. She left the room crestfallen.
Another day, after the Gabloinskas had been in her office, Miss Bevins missed a dollar bill from her purse. Much questioning brought no confession. Leotta denied and denied. Sophie hid her face in her hands and refused to talk. When urged too far, she cried. Miss Bevins looked Leotta straight in the eyes and asked her again, for, after all, it was Leotta who had taken the scarf.
Leotta said, ‘I hain’t took notin’ from nobody.’
Miss Bevins was puzzled. What was she to do with such impossible children? Strangely enough, they had taken her at her word about the Scout work, and in a remarkably short time they had passed the requirements. To be sure, Leotta had confided to her that she made Sophie learn the laws. She had kept her awake at night by pinching her until she could say them!
Camp time was drawing near. There was less money for scholarships than usual, because the depression was being felt. The money would have to be used judiciously. What about the Gabloinskas? Goodness knows they needed camp — the food, the discipline, the associations, everything. Miss Bevins doled out the scholarships to deserving girls until there was but one left. What about the Gabloinskas? After long thought, she decided. She talked to them both, told them she had one scholarship to give and that she was going to give it to Sophie. For the first time Leotta’s smile faded. She looked dizzy for just an instant. Then she smiled again. Miss Bevins explained that she dare not send to camp a person she could not trust. It would not be fair to the other girls.
A week later she got together some respectable-looking clothes for both girls, but there were camp clothes for Sophie. Miss Bevins and Leotta waved good-bye to the car that carried Sophie to camp.
Every few days Leotta would come into the office to chat, about how many chickens the rats had caught, or her latest fighting adventure, or the accident she had seen. Gradually she learned to avoid the subjects about which Miss Bevins scowled. One day she called her father a liar. Miss Bevins explained that liar is a bad name to call anyone. ‘A liar,’ she said, ‘is a bad person. To lie is as bad as to steal.’
‘Bad as steal?’ Leotta looked surprised.
‘Yes, as bad as stealing.’ And Miss Bevins turned again to the work on her desk.
When one day Miss Bevins happened to say that she was going away for the summer and would not be at the Settlement House for several months, she was amazed to see sudden tears in Leotta’s eyes.
‘You won’t miss me long,’ she said heartlessly. When Leotta left the room that day, she squeezed Miss Bevins’s hand and covered it with wet kisses.
Miss Bevins was at summer school when she received a letter addressed in a peculiar scrawl. It said: —
Der Miss Bevis I rote to tell you. I am a lier. I not nowed it was bad as steal. Sophie she took Scarf an doller an lots of tings, she wout not give me doller for you. I was sad now. I not want be bad as steal. I want be good for you. dis nise paper Sophie she take it at camp an dis pensel. She have good time. I love you I love you I love you Leotta.
Miss Bevins’s fellow students noticed that she shut herself in her room that day and missed her classes and kept her door closed for a long time.