In His Steps/Chapter 11

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In His Steps by Charles Sheldon
Chapter 11

DONALD MARSH, President of Lincoln College, walked home with Mr. Maxwell.

"I have reached one conclusion, Maxwell," said Marsh, speaking slowly. "I have found my cross and it is a heavy one, but I shall never be satisfied until I take it up and carry it." Maxwell was silent and the President went on.

"Your sermon today made clear to me what I have long been feeling I ought to do. 'What would Jesus do in my place?' I have asked the question repeatedly since I made my promise. I have tried to satisfy myself that He would simply go on as I have done, attending to the duties of my college work, teaching the classes in Ethics and Philosophy. But I have not been able to avoid the feeling that He would do something more. That something is what I do not want to do. It will cause me genuine suffering to do it. I dread it with all my soul. You may be able to guess what it is."

"Yes, I think I know. It is my cross too. I would almost rather do any thing else."

Donald Marsh looked surprised, then relieved. Then he spoke sadly but with great conviction: "Maxwell, you and I belong to a class of professional men who have always avoided the duties of citizenship. We have lived in a little world of literature and scholarly seclusion, doing work we have enjoyed and shrinking from the disagreeable duties that belong to the life of the citizen. I confess with shame that I have purposely avoided the responsibility that I owe to this city personally. I understand that our city officials are a corrupt, unprincipled set of men, controlled in large part by the whiskey element and thoroughly selfish so far as the affairs of city government are concerned. Yet all these years I, with nearly every teacher in the college, have been satisfied to let other men run the municipality and have lived in a little world of my own, out of touch and sympathy with the real world of the people. 'What would Jesus do?' I have even tried to avoid an honest answer. I can no longer do so. My plain duty is to take a personal part in this coming election, go to the primaries, throw the weight of my influence, whatever it is, toward the nomination and election of good men, and plunge into the very depths of the entire horrible whirlpool of deceit, bribery, political trickery and saloonism as it exists in Raymond today. I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon any time than do this. I dread it because I hate the touch of the whole matter. I would give almost any thing to be able to say, 'I do not believe Jesus would do anything of the sort.' But I am more and more persuaded that He would. This is where the suffering comes for me. It would not hurt me half so much to lose my position or my home. I loathe the contact with this municipal problem. I would so much prefer to remain quietly in my scholastic life with my classes in Ethics and Philosophy. But the call has come to me so plainly that I cannot escape. 'Donald Marsh, follow me. Do your duty as a citizen of Raymond at the point where your citizenship will cost you something. Help to cleanse this municipal stable, even if you do have to soil your aristocratic feelings a little.' Maxwell, this is my cross, I must take it up or deny my Lord."

"You have spoken for me also," replied Maxwell with a sad smile. "Why should I, simply because I am a minister, shelter myself behind my refined, sensitive feelings, and like a coward refuse to touch, except in a sermon possibly, the duty of citizenship? I am unused to the ways of the political life of the city. I have never taken an active part in any nomination of good men. There are hundreds of ministers like me. As a class we do not practice in the municipal life the duties and privileges we preach from the pulpit. 'What would Jesus do?' I am now at a point where, like you, I am driven to answer the question one way. My duty is plain. I must suffer. All my parish work, all my little trials or self-sacrifices are as nothing to me compared with the breaking into my scholarly, intellectual, self-contained habits, of this open, coarse, public fight for a clean city life. I could go and live at the Rectangle the rest of my life and work in the slums for a bare living, and I could enjoy it more than the thought of plunging into a fight for the reform of this whiskey-ridden city. It would cost me less. But, like you, I have been unable to shake off my responsibility. The answer to the question 'What would Jesus do?' in this case leaves me no peace except when I say, Jesus would have me act the part of a Christian citizen. Marsh, as you say, we professional men, ministers, professors, artists, literary men, scholars, have almost invariably been political cowards. We have avoided the sacred duties of citizenship either ignorantly or selfishly. Certainly Jesus in our age would not do that. We can do no less than take up this cross, and follow Him."

The two men walked on in silence for a while. Finally President Marsh said: "We do not need to act alone in this matter. With all the men who have made the promise we certainly can have companionship, and strength even, of numbers. Let us organize the Christian forces of Raymond for the battle against rum and corruption. We certainly ought to enter the primaries with a force that will be able to do more than enter a protest. It is a fact that the saloon element is cowardly and easily frightened in spite of its lawlessness and corruption. Let us plan a campaign that will mean something because it is organized righteousness. Jesus would use great wisdom in this matter. He would employ means. He would make large plans. Let us do so. If we bear this cross let us do it bravely, like men."

They talked over the matter a long time and met again the next day in Maxwell's study to develop plans. The city primaries were called for Friday. Rumors of strange and unknown events to the average citizen were current that week in political circles throughout Raymond. The Crawford system of balloting for nominations was not in use in the state, and the primary was called for a public meeting at the court house.

The citizens of Raymond will never forget that meeting. It was so unlike any political meeting ever held in Raymond before, that there was no attempt at comparison. The special officers to be nominated were mayor, city council, chief of police, city clerk and city treasurer.

The evening NEWS in its Saturday edition gave a full account of the primaries, and in the editorial columns Edward Norman spoke with a directness and conviction that the Christian people of Raymond were learning to respect deeply, because it was so evidently sincere and unselfish. A part of that editorial is also a part of this history. We quote the following:

"It is safe to say that never before in the history of Raymond was there a primary like the one in the court house last night. It was, first of all, a complete surprise to the city politicians who have been in the habit of carrying on the affairs of the city as if they owned them, and every one else was simply a tool or a cipher. The overwhelming surprise of the wire pullers last night consisted in the fact that a large number of the citizens of Raymond who have heretofore taken no part in the city's affairs, entered the primary and controlled it, nominating some of the best men for all the offices to be filled at the coming election.

"It was a tremendous lesson in good citizenship. President Marsh of Lincoln College, who never before entered a city primary, and whose face was not even known to the ward politicians, made one of the best speeches ever made in Raymond. It was almost ludicrous to see the faces of the men who for years have done as they pleased, when President Marsh rose to speak. Many of them asked, 'Who is he?' The consternation deepened as the primary proceeded and it became evident that the oldtime ring of city rulers was outnumbered. Rev. Henry Maxwell of the First Church, Milton Wright, Alexander Powers, Professors Brown, Willard and Park of Lincoln College, Dr. West, Rev. George Main of the Pilgrim Church, Dean Ward of the Holy Trinity, and scores of well-known business men and professional men, most of them church members, were present, and it did not take long to see that they had all come with the one direct and definite purpose of nominating the best men possible. Most of those men had never before been seen in a primary. They were complete strangers to the politicians. But they had evidently profited by the politician's methods and were able by organized and united effort to nominate the entire ticket.

"As soon as it became plain that the primary was out of their control the regular ring withdrew in disgust and nominated another ticket. The NEWS simply calls the attention of all decent citizens to the fact that this last ticket contains the names of whiskey men, and the line is sharply and distinctly drawn between the saloon and corrupt management such as we have known for years, and a clean, honest, capable, business-like city administration, such as every good citizen ought to want. It is not necessary to remind the people of Raymond that the question of local option comes up at the election. That will be the most important question on the ticket. The crisis of our city affairs has been reached. The issue is squarely before us. Shall we continue the rule of rum and boodle and shameless incompetency, or shall we, as President Marsh said in his noble speech, rise as good citizens and begin a new order of things, cleansing our city of the worst enemy known to municipal honesty, and doing what lies in our power to do with the ballot to purify our civic life?

"The NEWS is positively and without reservation on the side of the new movement. We shall henceforth do all in our power to drive out the saloon and destroy its political strength. We shall advocate the election of the men nominated by the majority of citizens met in the first primary and we call upon all Christians, church members, lovers of right, purity, temperance, and the home, to stand by President Marsh and the rest of the citizens who have thus begun a long-needed reform in our city."

President Marsh read this editorial and thanked God for Edward Norman. At the same time he understood well enough that every other paper in Raymond was on the other side. He did not underestimate the importance and seriousness of the fight which was only just begun. It was no secret that the NEWS had lost enormously since it had been governed by the standard of "What would Jesus do?" And the question was, Would the Christian people of Raymond stand by it? Would they make it possible for Norman to conduct a daily Christian paper? Or would the desire for what is called news in the way of crime, scandal, political partisanship of the regular sort, and a dislike to champion so remarkable a reform in journalism, influence them to drop the paper and refuse to give it their financial support? That was, in fact, the question Edward Norman was asking even while he wrote that Saturday editorial. He knew well enough that his actions expressed in that editorial would cost him very heavily from the hands of many business men in Raymond. And still, as he drove his pen over the paper, he asked another question, "What would Jesus do?" That question had become a part of this whole life now. It was greater than any other.

But for the first time in its history Raymond had seen the professional men, the teachers, the college professors, the doctors, the ministers, take political action and put themselves definitely and sharply in public antagonism to the evil forces that had so long controlled the machine of municipal government. The fact itself was astounding. President Marsh acknowledged to himself with a feeling of humiliation, that never before had he known what civic righteousness could accomplish. From that Friday night's work he dated for himself and his college a new definition of the worn phrase "the scholar in politics." Education for him and those who were under his influence ever after meant some element of suffering. Sacrifice must now enter into the factor of development.

At the Rectangle that week the tide of spiritual life rose high, and as yet showed no signs of flowing back. Rachel and Virginia went every night. Virginia was rapidly reaching a conclusion with respect to a large part of her money. She had talked it over with Rachel and they had been able to agree that if Jesus had a vast amount of money at His disposal He might do with some of it as Virginia planned. At any rate they felt that whatever He might do in such case would have as large an element of variety in it as the differences in persons and circumstances. There could be no one fixed Christian way of using money. The rule that regulated its use was unselfish utility.

But meanwhile the glory of the Spirit's power possessed all their best thought. Night after night that week witnessed miracles as great as walking on the sea or feeding the multitude with a few loaves and fishes. For what greater miracle is there than a regenerate humanity? The transformation of these coarse, brutal, sottish lives into praying, rapturous lovers of Christ, struck Rachel and Virginia every time with the feeling that people may have had when they saw Lazarus walk out of the tomb. It was an experience full of profound excitement for them.

Rollin Page came to all the meetings. There was no doubt of the change that had come over him. Rachel had not yet spoken much with him. He was wonderfully quiet. It seemed as if he was thinking all the time. Certainly he was not the same person. He talked more with Gray than with any one else. He did not avoid Rachel, but he seemed to shrink from any appearance of seeming to renew the acquaintance with her. Rachel found it even difficult to express to him her pleasure at the new life he had begun to know. He seemed to be waiting to adjust himself to his previous relations before this new life began. He had not forgotten those relations. But he was not yet able to fit his consciousness into new ones.

The end of the week found the Rectangle struggling hard between two mighty opposing forces. The Holy Spirit was battling with all His supernatural strength against the saloon devil which had so long held a jealous grasp on its slaves. If the Christian people of Raymond once could realize what the contest meant to the souls newly awakened to a purer life it did not seem possible that the election could result in the old system of license. But that remained yet to be seen. The horror of the daily surroundings of many of the converts was slowly burning its way into the knowledge of Virginia and Rachel, and every night as they went uptown to their luxurious homes they carried heavy hearts.

"A good many of these poor creatures will go back again," Gray would say with sadness too deep for tears. "The environment does have a good deal to do with the character. It does not stand to reason that these people can always resist the sight and smell of the devilish drink about them. O Lord, how long shall Christian people continue to support by their silence and their ballots the greatest form of slavery known in America?"

He asked the question, and did not have much hope of an immediate answer. There was a ray of hope in the action of Friday night's primary, but what the result would be he did not dare to anticipate. The whiskey forces were organized, alert, aggressive, roused into unusual hatred by the events of the last week at the tent and in the city. Would the Christian forces act as a unit against the saloon? Or would they be divided on account of their business interests or because they were not in the habit of acting all together as the whiskey power always did? That remained to be seen. Meanwhile the saloon reared itself about the Rectangle like some deadly viper hissing and coiling, ready to strike its poison into any unguarded part.

Saturday afternoon as Virginia was just stepping out of her house to go and see Rachel to talk over her new plans, a carriage drove up containing three of her fashionable friends. Virginia went out to the drive-way and stood there talking with them. They had not come to make a formal call but wanted Virginia to go driving with them up on the boulevard. There was a band concert in the park. The day was too pleasant to be spent indoors.

"Where have you been all this time, Virginia?" asked one of the girls, tapping her playfully on the shoulder with a red silk parasol. "We hear that you have gone into the show business. Tell us about it."

Virginia colored, but after a moment's hesitation she frankly told something of her experience at the Rectangle. The girls in the carriage began to be really interested.

"I tell you, girls, let's go 'slumming' with Virginia this afternoon instead of going to the band concert. I've never been down to the Rectangle. I've heard it's an awful wicked place and lots to see. Virginia will act as guide, and it would be"--"real fun" she was going to say, but Virginia's look made her substitute the word "interesting."

Virginia was angry. At first thought she said to herself she would never go under such circumstances. The other girls seemed to be of the same mind with the speaker. They chimed in with earnestness and asked Virginia to take them down there.

Suddenly she saw in the idle curiosity of the girls an opportunity. They had never seen the sin and misery of Raymond. Why should they not see it, even if their motive in going down there was simply to pass away an afternoon.