In His Steps/Chapter 7
RACHEL was glad to escape and be by herself. A plan was slowly forming in her mind, and she wanted to be alone and think it out carefully. But before she had walked two blocks she was annoyed to find Rollin Page walking beside her.
"Sorry to disturb your thoughts, Miss Winslow, but I happened to be going your way and had an idea you might not object. In fact, I've been walking here for a whole block and you haven't objected."
"I did not see you," said Rachel briefly.
"I wouldn't mind that if you only thought of me once in a while," said Rollin suddenly. He took one last nervous puff on his cigar, tossed it into the street and walked along with a pale look on his face.
Rachel was surprised, but not startled. She had known Rollin as a boy, and there had been a time when they had used each other's first name familiarly. Lately, however, something in Rachel's manner had put an end to that. She was used to his direct attempts at compliments and was sometimes amused by them. Today she honestly wished him anywhere else.
"Do you ever think of me, Miss Winslow?" asked Rollin after a pause.
"Oh, yes, quite often!" said Rachel with a smile.
"Are you thinking of me now?"
"Yes. That is--yes--I am."
"Do you want me to be absolutely truthful?"
"Then I was thinking that I wished you were not here." Rollin bit his lip and looked gloomy.
"Now look here, Rachel--oh, I know that's forbidden, but I've got to speak some time!--you know how I feel. What makes you treat me so? You used to like me a little, you know."
"Did I? Of course we used to get on very well as boy and girl. But we are older now."
Rachel still spoke in the light, easy way she had used since her first annoyance at seeing him. She was still somewhat preoccupied with her plan which had been disturbed by Rollin's sudden appearance.
They walked along in silence a little way. The avenue was full of people. Among the persons passing was Jasper Chase. He saw Rachel and Rollin and bowed as they went by. Rollin was watching Rachel closely.
"I wish I was Jasper Chase. Maybe I would stand some chance then," he said moodily.
Rachel colored in spite of herself. She did not say anything and quickened her pace a little. Rollin seemed determined to say something, and Rachel seemed helpless to prevent him. After all, she thought, he might as well know the truth one time as another.
"You know well enough, Rachel, how I feel toward you. Isn't there any hope? I could make you happy. I've loved you a good many years--"
"Why, how old do you think I am?" broke in Rachel with a nervous laugh. She was shaken out of her usual poise of manner.
"You know what I mean," went on Rollin doggedly. "And you have no right to laugh at me just because I want you to marry me."
"I'm not! But it is useless for you to speak, Rollin," said Rachel after a little hesitation, and then using his name in such a frank, simple way that he could attach no meaning to it beyond the familiarity of the old family acquaintance. "It is impossible." She was still a little agitated by the fact of receiving a proposal of marriage on the avenue. But the noise on the street and sidewalk made the conversation as private as if they were in the house.
"Would that is--do you think--if you gave me time I would."
"No!" said Rachel. She spoke firmly; perhaps, she thought afterward, although she did not mean to, she spoke harshly.
They walked on for some time without a word. They were nearing Rachel's home and she was anxious to end the scene.
As they turned off the avenue into one of the quieter streets Rollin spoke suddenly and with more manliness than he had yet shown. There was a distinct note of dignity in his voice that was new to Rachel.
"Miss Winslow, I ask you to be my wife. Is there any hope for me that you will ever consent?"
"None in the least." Rachel spoke decidedly.
"Will you tell me why?" He asked the question as if he had a right to a truthful answer.
"Because I do not feel toward you as a woman ought to feel toward the man she marries."
"In other words, you do not love me?"
"I do not and I cannot."
"Why?" That was another question, and Rachel was a little surprised that he should ask it.
"Because--" she hesitated for fear she might say too much in an attempt to speak the exact truth.
"Tell me just why. You can't hurt me more than you have already."
"Well, I do not and I cannot love you because you have no purpose in life. What do you ever do to make the world better? You spend your time in club life, in amusements, in travel, in luxury. What is there in such a life to attract a woman?"
"Not much, I guess," said Rollin with a bitter laugh. "Still, I don't know that I'm any worse than the rest of the men around me. I'm not so bad as some. I'm glad to know your reasons."
He suddenly stopped, took off his hat, bowed gravely and turned back. Rachel went on home and hurried into her room, disturbed in many ways by the event which had so unexpectedly thrust itself into her experience.
When she had time to think it all over she found herself condemned by the very judgment she had passed on Rollin Page. What purpose had she in life? She had been abroad and studied music with one of the famous teachers of Europe. She had come home to Raymond and had been singing in the First Church choir now for a year. She was well paid. Up to that Sunday two weeks ago she had been quite satisfied with herself and with her position. She had shared her mother's ambition, and anticipated growing triumphs in the musical world. What possible career was before her except the regular career of every singer?
She asked the question again and, in the light of her recent reply to Rollin, asked again, if she had any very great purpose in life herself. What would Jesus do? There was a fortune in her voice. She knew it, not necessarily as a matter of personal pride or professional egotism, but simply as a fact. And she was obliged to acknowledge that until two weeks ago she had purposed to use her voice to make money and win admiration and applause. Was that a much higher purpose, after all, than Rollin Page lived for?
She sat in her room a long time and finally went downstairs, resolved to have a frank talk with her mother about the concert company's offer and the new plan which was gradually shaping in her mind. She had already had one talk with her mother and knew that she expected Rachel to accept the offer and enter on a successful career as a public singer.
"Mother," Rachel said, coming at once to the point, much as she dreaded the interview, "I have decided not to go out with the company. I have a good reason for it."
Mrs. Winslow was a large, handsome woman, fond of much company, ambitious for distinction in society and devoted, according to her definitions of success, to the success of her children. Her youngest boy, Louis, two years younger than Rachel, was ready to graduate from a military academy in the summer. Meanwhile she and Rachel were at home together. Rachel's father, like Virginia's, had died while the family was abroad. Like Virginia she found herself, under her present rule of conduct, in complete antagonism with her own immediate home circle. Mrs. Winslow waited for Rachel to go on.
"You know the promise I made two weeks ago, mother?"
"Mr. Maxwell's promise?"
"No, mine. You know what it was, do you not, mother?"
"I suppose I do. Of course all the church members mean to imitate Christ and follow Him, as far as is consistent with our present day surroundings. But what has that to do with your decision in the concert company matter?"
"It has everything to do with it. After asking, 'What would Jesus do?' and going to the source of authority for wisdom, I have been obliged to say that I do not believe He would, in my case, make that use of my voice."
"Why? Is there anything wrong about such a career?"
"No, I don't know that I can say there is."
"Do you presume to sit in judgment on other people who go out to sing in this way? Do you presume to say they are doing what Christ would not do?"
"Mother, I wish you to understand me. I judge no one else; I condemn no other professional singer. I simply decide my own course. As I look at it, I have a conviction that Jesus would do something else."
"What else?" Mrs. Winslow had not yet lost her temper. She did not understand the situation nor Rachel in the midst of it, but she was anxious that her daughter's course should be as distinguished as her natural gifts promised. And she felt confident that when the present unusual religious excitement in the First Church had passed away Rachel would go on with her public life according to the wishes of the family. She was totally unprepared for Rachel's next remark.
"What? Something that will serve mankind where it most needs the service of song. Mother, I have made up my mind to use my voice in some way so as to satisfy my own soul that I am doing something better than pleasing fashionable audiences, or making money, or even gratifying my own love of singing. I am going to do something that will satisfy me when I ask: 'What would Jesus do?' I am not satisfied, and cannot be, when I think of myself as singing myself into the career of a concert company performer."
Rachel spoke with a vigor and earnestness that surprised her mother. But Mrs. Winslow was angry now; and she never tried to conceal her feelings.
"It is simply absurd! Rachel, you are a fanatic! What can you do?"
"The world has been served by men and women who have given it other things that were gifts. Why should I, because I am blessed with a natural gift, at once proceed to put a market price on it and make all the money I can out of it? You know, mother, that you have taught me to think of a musical career always in the light of financial and social success. I have been unable, since I made my promise two weeks ago, to imagine Jesus joining a concert company to do what I should do and live the life I should have to live if I joined it."
Mrs. Winslow rose and then sat down again. With a great effort she composed herself.
"What do you intend to do then? You have not answered my question."
"I shall continue to sing for the time being in the church. I am pledged to sing there through the spring. During the week I am going to sing at the White Cross meetings, down in the Rectangle."
"What! Rachel Winslow! Do you know what you are saying? Do you know what sort of people those are down there?"
Rachel almost quailed before her mother. For a moment she shrank back and was silent. Then she spoke firmly: "I know very well. That is the reason I am going. Mr. and Mrs. Gray have been working there several weeks. I learned only this morning that they want singers from the churches to help them in their meetings. They use a tent. It is in a part of the city where Christian work is most needed. I shall offer them my help. Mother!" Rachel cried out with the first passionate utterance she had yet used, "I want to do something that will cost me something in the way of sacrifice. I know you will not understand me. But I am hungry to suffer for something. What have we done all our lives for the suffering, sinning side of Raymond? How much have we denied ourselves or given of our personal ease and pleasure to bless the place in which we live or imitate the life of the Savior of the world? Are we always to go on doing as society selfishly dictates, moving on its little narrow round of pleasures and entertainments, and never knowing the pain of things that cost?"
"Are you preaching at me?" asked Mrs. Winslow slowly. Rachel rose, and understood her mother's words.
"No. I am preaching at myself," she replied gently. She paused a moment as if she thought her mother would say something more, and then went out of the room. When she reached her own room she felt that so far as her own mother was concerned she could expect no sympathy, nor even a fair understanding from her.
She kneeled. It is safe to say that within the two weeks since Henry Maxwell's church had faced that shabby figure with the faded hat more members of his parish had been driven to their knees in prayer than during all the previous term of his pastorate.
She rose, and her face was wet with tears. She sat thoughtfully a little while and then wrote a note to Virginia Page. She sent it to her by a messenger and then went downstairs and told her mother that she and Virginia were going down to the Rectangle that evening to see Mr. and Mrs. Gray, the evangelists.
"Virginia's uncle, Dr. West, will go with us, if she goes. I have asked her to call him up by telephone and go with us. The Doctor is a friend of the Grays, and attended some of their meetings last winter."
Mrs. Winslow did not say anything. Her manner showed her complete disapproval of Rachel's course, and Rachel felt her unspoken bitterness.
About seven o'clock the Doctor and Virginia appeared, and together the three started for the scene of the White Cross meetings.
The Rectangle was the most notorious district in Raymond. It was on the territory close by the railroad shops and the packing houses. The great slum and tenement district of Raymond congested its worst and most wretched elements about the Rectangle. This was a barren field used in the summer by circus companies and wandering showmen. It was shut in by rows of saloons, gambling hells and cheap, dirty boarding and lodging houses.
The First Church of Raymond had never touched the Rectangle problem. It was too dirty, too coarse, too sinful, too awful for close contact. Let us be honest. There had been an attempt to cleanse this sore spot by sending down an occasional committee of singers or Sunday-school teachers or gospel visitors from various churches. But the First Church of Raymond, as an institution, had never really done anything to make the Rectangle any less a stronghold of the devil as the years went by.
Into this heart of the coarse part of the sin of Raymond the traveling evangelist and his brave little wife had pitched a good-sized tent and begun meetings. It was the spring of the year and the evenings were beginning to be pleasant. The evangelists had asked for the help of Christian people, and had received more than the usual amount of encouragement. But they felt a great need of more and better music. During the meetings on the Sunday just gone the assistant at the organ had been taken ill. The volunteers from the city were few and the voices were of ordinary quality.
"There will be a small meeting tonight, John," said his wife, as they entered the tent a little after seven o'clock and began to arrange the chairs and light up.
"Yes, I fear so." Mr. Gray was a small, energetic man, with a pleasant voice and the courage of a high-born fighter. He had already made friends in the neighborhood and one of his converts, a heavy-faced man who had just come in, began to help in the arranging of seats.
It was after eight o'clock when Alexander Powers opened the door of his office and started for home. He was going to take a car at the corner of the Rectangle. But he was roused by a voice coming from the tent.
It was the voice of Rachel Winslow. It struck through his consciousness of struggle over his own question that had sent him into the Divine Presence for an answer. He had not yet reached a conclusion. He was tortured with uncertainty. His whole previous course of action as a railroad man was the poorest possible preparation for anything sacrificial. And he could not yet say what he would do in the matter.
Hark! What was she singing? How did Rachel Winslow happen to be down here? Several windows near by went up. Some men quarreling near a saloon stopped and listened. Other figures were walking rapidly in the direction of the Rectangle and the tent. Surely Rachel Winslow had never sung like that in the First Church. It was a marvelous voice. What was it she was singing? Again Alexander Powers, Superintendent of the machine shops, paused and listened,
"Where He leads me I will follow, Where He leads me I will follow, Where He leads me I will follow, I'll go with Him, with Him. All the way!"
The brutal, coarse, impure life of the Rectangle stirred itself into new life as the song, as pure as the surroundings were vile, floated out and into saloon and den and foul lodging. Some one stumbled hastily by Alexander Powers and said in answer to a question: "De tent's beginning to run over tonight. That's what the talent calls music, eh?"