In His Steps/Chapter 16

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In His Steps by Charles Sheldon
Chapter 16

No one in all Raymond, including the Rectangle, felt Loreen's death more keenly than Virginia. It came like a distinct personal loss to her. That short week while the girl had been in her home had opened Virginia's heart to a new life. She was talking it over with Rachel the day after the funeral. Thee were sitting in the hall of the Page mansion.

"I am going to do something with my money to help those women to a better life." Virginia looked over to the end of the hall where, the day before, Loreen's body had lain. "I have decided on a good plan, as it seems to me. I have talked it over with Rollin. He will devote a large part of his money also to the same plan."

"How much money have you, Virginia, to give in this way?" asked Rachel. Once, she would never have asked such a personal question. Now, it seemed as natural to talk frankly about money as about anything else that belonged to God.

"I have available for use at least four hundred and fifty-thousand dollars. Rollin has as much more. It is one of his bitter regrets now that his extravagant habits of life before his conversion practically threw away half that father left him. We are both eager to make all the reparation in our power. 'What would Jesus do with this money?' We want to answer that question honestly and wisely. The money I shall put into the NEWS is, I am confident, in a line with His probable action. It is as necessary that we have a Christian daily paper in Raymond, especially now that we have the saloon influence to meet, as it is to have a church or a college. So I am satisfied that the five hundred thousand dollars that Mr. Norman will know how to use so well will be a powerful factor in Raymond to do as Jesus would.

"About my other plan, Rachel, I want you to work with me. Rollin and I are going to buy up a large part of the property in the Rectangle. The field where the tent now is, has been in litigation for years. We mean to secure the entire tract as soon as the courts have settled the title. For some time I have been making a special study of the various forms of college settlements and residence methods of Christian work and Institutional church work in the heart of great city slums. I do not know that I have yet been able to tell just what is the wisest and most effective kind of work that can be done in Raymond. But I do know this much. My money--I mean God's, which he wants me to use--can build wholesome lodging-houses, refuges for poor women, asylums for shop girls, safety for many and many a lost girl like Loreen. And I do not want to be simply a dispenser of this money. God help me! I do want to put myself into the problem. But you know, Rachel, I have a feeling all the time that all that limitless money and limitless personal sacrifice can possibly do, will not really lessen very much the awful condition at the Rectangle as long as the saloon is legally established there. I think that is true of any Christian work now being carried on in any great city. The saloon furnishes material to be saved faster than the settlement or residence or rescue mission work can save it."

Virginia suddenly rose and paced the hall. Rachel answered sadly, and yet with a note of hope in her voice:

"It is true. But, Virginia, what a wonderful amount of good can be done with this money! And the saloon cannot always remain here. The time must come when the Christian forces in the city will triumph."

Virginia paused near Rachel, and her pale, earnest face lighted up.

"I believe that too. The number of those who have promised to do as Jesus would is increasing. If we once have, say, five hundred such disciples in Raymond, the saloon is doomed. But now, dear, I want you to look at your part in this plan for capturing and saving the Rectangle. Your voice is a power. I have had many ideas lately. Here is one of them. You could organize among the girls a Musical Institute; give them the benefit of your training. There are some splendid voices in the rough there. Did any one ever hear such singing as that yesterday by those women? Rachel, what a beautiful opportunity! You shall have the best of material in the way of organs and orchestras that money can provide, and what cannot be done with music to win souls there into higher and purer and better living?"

Before Virginia had ceased speaking Rachel's face was perfectly transformed with the thought of her life work. It flowed into her heart and mind like a flood, and the torrent of her feeling overflowed in tears that could not be restrained. It was what she had dreamed of doing herself. It represented to her something that she felt was in keeping with a right use of her talent.

"Yes," she said, as she rose and put her arm about Virginia, while both girls in the excitement of their enthusiasm paced the hall. "Yes, I will gladly put my life into that kind of service. I do believe that Jesus would have me use my life in this way. Virginia, what miracles can we not accomplish in humanity if we have such a lever as consecrated money to move things with!"

"Add to it consecrated personal enthusiasm like yours, and it certainly can accomplish great things," said Virginia smiling. And before Rachel could reply, Rollin came in.

He hesitated a moment, and then was passing out of the hall into the library when Virginia called him back and asked some questions about his work.

Rollin came back and sat down, and together the three discussed their future plans. Rollin was apparently entirely free from embarrassment in Rachel's presence while Virginia was with them, only his manner with her was almost precise, if not cold. The past seemed to have been entirely absorbed in his wonderful conversion. He had not forgotten it, but he seemed to be completely caught up for this present time in the purpose of his new life. After a while Rollin was called out, and Rachel and Virginia began to talk of other things.

"By the way, what has become of Jasper Chase?" Virginia asked the question innocently, but Rachel flushed and Virginia added with a smile, "I suppose he is writing another book. Is he going to put you into this one, Rachel? You know I always suspected Jasper Chase of doing that very thing in his first story."

"Virginia," Rachel spoke with the frankness that had always existed between the two friends, "Jasper Chase told me the other night that he--in fact--he proposed to me--or he would, if--"

Rachel stopped and sat with her hands clasped on her lap, and there were tears in her eyes.

"Virginia, I thought a little while ago I loved him, as he said he loved me. But when he spoke, my heart felt repelled, and I said what I ought to say. I told him no. I have not seen him since. That was the night of the first conversions at the Rectangle."

"I am glad for you," said Virginia quietly.

"Why?" asked Rachel a little startled.

"Because, I have never really liked Jasper Chase. He is too cold and--I do not like to judge him, but I have always distrusted his sincerity in taking the pledge at the church with the rest."

Rachel looked at Virginia thoughtfully.

"I have never given my heart to him I am sure. He touched my emotions, and I admired his skill as a writer. I have thought at times that I cared a good deal for him. I think perhaps if he had spoken to me at any other time than the one he chose, I could easily have persuaded myself that I loved him. But not now."

Again Rachel paused suddenly, and when she looked up at Virginia again there were tears on her face. Virginia came to her and put her arm about her tenderly.

When Rachel had left the house, Virginia sat in the hall thinking over the confidence her friend had just shown her. There was something still to be told, Virginia felt sure from Rachel's manner, but she did not feel hurt that Rachel had kept back something. She was simply conscious of more on Rachel's mind than she had revealed.

Very soon Rollin came back, and he and Virginia, arm in arm as they had lately been in the habit of doing, walked up and down the long hall. It was easy for their talk to settle finally upon Rachel because of the place she was to occupy in the plans which were being made for the purchase of property at the Rectangle.

"Did you ever know of a girl of such really gifted powers in vocal music who was willing to give her life to the people as Rachel is going to do? She is going to give music lessons in the city, have private pupils to make her living, and then give the people in the Rectangle the benefit of her culture and her voice."

"It is certainly a very good example of self-sacrifice," replied Rollin a little stiffly.

Virginia looked at him a little sharply. "But don't you think it is a very unusual example? Can you imagine--" here Virginia named half a dozen famous opera singers--"doing anything of this sort?"

"No, I cannot," Rollin answered briefly. "Neither can I imagine Miss--" he spoke the name of the girl with the red parasol who had begged Virginia to take the girls to the Rectangle--" doing what you are doing, Virginia."

"Any more than I can imagine Mr.--" Virginia spoke the name of a young society leader "going about to the clubs doing your work, Rollin." The two walked on in silence for the length of the hall.

"Coming back to Rachel," began Virginia, "Rollin, why do you treat her with such a distinct, precise manner? I think, Rollin--pardon me if I hurt you--that she is annoyed by it. You need to be on easy terms. I don't think Rachel likes this change."

Rollin suddenly stopped. He seemed deeply agitated. He took his arm from Virginia's and walked alone to the end of the hall. Then he returned, with his hands behind him, and stopped near his sister and said, "Virginia, have you not learned my secret?"

Virginia looked bewildered, then over her face the unusual color crept, showing that she understood.

"I have never loved any one but Rachel Winslow." Rollin spoke calmly enough now. "That day she was here when you talked about her refusal to join the concert company, I asked her to be my wife; out there on the avenue. She refused me, as I knew she would. And she gave as her reason the fact that I had no purpose in life, which was true enough. Now that I have a purpose, now that I am a new man, don't you see, Virginia, how impossible it is for me to say anything? I owe my very conversion to Rachel's singing. And yet that night while she sang I can honestly say that, for the time being, I never thought of her voice except as God's message. I believe that all my personal love for her was for the time merged into a personal love to my God and my Saviour." Rollin was silent, then he went on with more emotion. "I still love her, Virginia. But I do not think she ever could love me." He stopped and looked his sister in the face with a sad smile.

"I don't know about that," said Virginia to herself. She was noting Rollin's handsome face, his marks of dissipation nearly all gone now, the firm lips showing manhood and courage, the clear eyes looking into hers frankly, the form strong and graceful. Rollin was a man now. Why should not Rachel come to love him in time? Surely the two were well fitted for each other, especially now that their purpose in life was moved by the same Christian force.