In His Steps
by Charles M. Sheldon
“If any man cometh unto me and hateth not his own father and mother and wife and children and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”
“And whosoever forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.”
WHEN Rachel Winslow and Virginia Page separated after the meeting at the First Church on Sunday they agreed to continue their conversation the next day. Virginia asked Rachel to come and lunch with her at noon, and Rachel accordingly rang the bell at the Page mansion about half-past eleven. Virginia herself met her and the two were soon talking earnestly.
“The fact is,” Rachel was saying, after they had been talking a few moments, “I cannot reconcile it with my judgment of what Christ would do. I cannot tell another person what to do, but I feel that I ought not to accept this offer.”
“What will you do then?” asked Virginia with great interest.
“I don’t know yet, but I have decided to refuse this offer.”
Rachel picked up a letter that had been lying in her lap and ran over its contents again. It was a letter from the manager of a comic opera offering her a place with a large traveling company of the season. The salary was a very large figure, and the prospect held out by the manager was flattering. He had heard Rachel sing that Sunday morning when the stranger had interrupted the service. He had been much impressed. There was money in that voice and it ought to be used in comic opera, so said the letter, and the manager wanted a reply as soon as possible.
“There’s no great virtue in saying ‘No’ to this offer when I have the other one,” Rachel went on thoughtfully. “That’s harder to decide. But I’ve about made up my mind. To tell the, truth, Virginia, I’m completely convinced in the first case that Jesus would never use any talent like a good voice just to make money. But now, take this concert offer. Here is a reputable company, to travel with an impersonator and a violinist and a male quartet, all people of good reputation. I’m asked to go as one of the company and sing leading soprano. The salary–I mentioned it, didn’t I?–is guaranteed to be $200 a month for the season. But I don’t feel satisfied that Jesus would go. What do you think?”
“You mustn’t ask me to decide for you,” replied Virginia with a sad smile. “I believe Mr. Maxwell was right when he said we must each one of us decide according to the judgment we feel for ourselves to be Christ-like. I am having a harder time than you are, dear, to decide what He would do.”
“Are you?” Rachel asked. She rose and walked over to the window and looked out. Virginia came and stood by her. The street was crowded with life and the two young women looked at it silently for a moment. Suddenly Virginia broke out as Rachel had never heard her before:
“Rachel, what does all this contrast in conditions mean to you as you ask this question of what Jesus would do? It maddens me to think that the society in which I have been brought up, the same to which we are both said to belong, is satisfied year after year to go on dressing and eating and having a good time, giving and receiving entertainments, spending its money on houses and luxuries and, occasionally, to ease its conscience, donating, without any personal sacrifice, a little money to charity. I have been educated, as you have, in one of the most expensive schools in America; launched into society as an heiress; supposed to be in a very enviable position. I’m perfectly well; I can travel or stay at home. I can do as I please. I can gratify almost any want or desire; and yet when I honestly try to imagine Jesus living the life I have lived and am expected to live, and doing for the rest of my life what thousands of other rich people do, I am under condemnation for being one of the most wicked, selfish, useless creatures in all the world. I have not looked out of this window for weeks without a feeling of horror toward myself as I see the humanity that passes by this house.”
Virginia turned away and walked up and down the room. Rachel watched her and could not repress the rising tide of her own growing definition of discipleship. Of what Christian use was her own talent of song? Was the best she could do to sell her talent for so much a month, go on a concert company’s tour, dress beautifully, enjoy the excitement of public applause and gain a reputation as a great singer? Was that what Jesus would do?
She was not morbid. She was in sound health, was conscious of her great powers as a singer, and knew that if she went out into public life she could make a great deal of money and become well known. It is doubtful if she overestimated her ability to accomplish all she thought herself capable of. And Virginia–what she had just said smote Rachel with great force because of the similar position in which the two friends found themselves.
Lunch was announced and they went out and were joined by Virginia’s grandmother, Madam Page, a handsome, stately woman of sixty-five, and Virginia’s brother Rollin, a young man who spent most of his time at one of the clubs and had no ambition for anything but a growing admiration for Rachel Winslow, and whenever she dined or lunched at the Page’s, if he knew of it he always planned to be at home.
These three made up the Page family. Virginia’s father had been a banker and grain speculator. Her mother had died ten years before, her father within the past year. The grandmother, a Southern woman in birth and training, had all the traditions and feelings that accompany the possession of wealth and social standing that have never been disturbed. She was a shrewd, careful business woman of more than average ability. The family property and wealth were invested, in large measure, under her personal care. Virginia’s portion was, without any restriction, her own. She had been trained by her father to understand the ways of the business world, and even the grandmother had been compelled to acknowledge the girl’s capacity for taking care of her own money.
Perhaps two persons could not be found anywhere less capable of understanding a girl like Virginia than Madam Page and Rollin. Rachel, who had known the family since she was a girl playmate of Virginia’s, could not help thinking of what confronted Virginia in her own home when she once decided on the course which she honestly believed Jesus would take. Today at lunch, as she recalled Virginia’s outbreak in the front room, she tried to picture the scene that would at some time occur between Madam Page and her granddaughter.
“I understand that you are going on the stage, Miss Winslow. We shall all be delighted, I’m sure,” said Rollin during the conversation, which had not been very animated.
Rachel colored and felt annoyed. “Who told you?” she asked, while Virginia, who had been very silent and reserved, suddenly roused herself and appeared ready to join in the talk.
“Oh! we hear a thing or two on the street. Besides, every one saw Crandall the manager at church two weeks ago. He doesn’t go to church to hear the preaching. In fact, I know other people who don’t either, not when there’s something better to hear.”
Rachel did not color this time, but she answered quietly, “You’re mistaken. I’m not going on the stage.”
“It’s a great pity. You’d make a hit. Everybody is talking about your singing.”
This time Rachel flushed with genuine anger. Before she could say anything, Virginia broke in: “Whom do you mean by ‘everybody?'”
“Whom? I mean all the people who hear Miss Winslow on Sundays. What other time do they hear her? It’s a great pity, I say, that the general public outside of Raymond cannot hear her voice.”
“Let us talk about something else,” said Rachel a little sharply. Madam Page glanced at her and spoke with a gentle courtesy.
“My dear, Rollin never could pay an indirect compliment. He is like his father in that. But we are all curious to know something of your plans. We claim the right from old acquaintance, you know; and Virginia has already told us of your concert company offer.”
“I supposed of course that was public property,” said Virginia, smiling across the table. “I was in the NEWS office day before yesterday.”
“Yes, yes,” replied Rachel hastily. “I understand that, Madam Page. Well, Virginia and I have been talking about it. I have decided not to accept, and that is as far as I have gone at present.”
Rachel was conscious of the fact that the conversation had, up to this point, been narrowing her hesitation concerning the concert company’s offer down to a decision that would absolutely satisfy her own judgment of Jesus’ probable action. It had been the last thing in the world, however, that she had desired, to have her decision made in any way so public as this. Somehow what Rollin Page had said and his manner in saying it had hastened her decision in the matter.
“Would you mind telling us, Rachel, your reasons for refusing the offer? It looks like a great opportunity for a young girl like you. Don’t you think the general public ought to hear you? I feel like Rollin about that. A voice like yours belongs to a larger audience than Raymond and the First Church.”
Rachel Winslow was naturally a girl of great reserve. She shrank from making her plans or her thoughts public. But with all her repression there was possible in her an occasional sudden breaking out that was simply an impulsive, thoroughly frank, truthful expression of her most inner personal feeling. She spoke now in reply to Madam Page in one of those rare moments of unreserve that added to the attractiveness of her whole character.
“I have no other reason than a conviction that Jesus Christ would do the same thing,” she said, looking into Madam Page’s eyes with a clear, earnest gaze.
Madam Page turned red and Rollin stared. Before her grandmother could say anything, Virginia spoke. Her rising color showed how she was stirred. Virginia’s pale, clear complexion was that of health, but it was generally in marked contrast with Rachel’s tropical type of beauty.
“Grandmother, you know we promised to make that the standard of our conduct for a year. Mr. Maxwell’s proposition was plain to all who heard it. We have not been able to arrive at our decisions very rapidly. The difficulty in knowing what Jesus would do has perplexed Rachel and me a good deal.”
Madam Page looked sharply at Virginia before she said anything.
“Of course I understand Mr. Maxwell’s statement. It is perfectly impracticable to put it into practice. I felt confident at the time that those who promised would find it out after a trial and abandon it as visionary and absurd. I have nothing to say about Miss Winslow’s affairs, but,” she paused and continued with a sharpness that was new to Rachel, “I hope you have no foolish notions in this matter, Virginia.”
“I have a great many notions,” replied Virginia quietly. “Whether they are foolish or not depends upon my right understanding of what He would do. As soon as I find out I shall do it.”
“Excuse me, ladies,” said Rollin, rising from the table. “The conversation is getting beyond my depth. I shall retire to the library for a cigar.”
He went out of the dining-room and there was silence for a moment. Madam Page waited until the servant had brought in something and then asked her to go out. She was angry and her anger was formidable, although checked I m some measure by the presence of Rachel.
“I am older by several years than you, young ladies,” she said, and her traditional type of bearing seemed to Rachel to rise up like a great frozen wall between her and every conception of Jesus as a sacrifice. “What you have promised, in a spirit of false emotion I presume, is impossible of performance.”
“Do you mean, grandmother, that we cannot possibly act as our Lord would? or do you mean that, if we try to, we shall offend the customs and prejudices of society?” asked Virginia.
“It is not required! It is not necessary! Besides how can you act with any–” Madam Page paused, broke off her sentence, and then turned to Rachel. “What will your mother say to your decision? My dear, is it not foolish? What do you expect to do with your voice anyway?”
“I don’t know what mother will say yet,” Rachel answered, with a great shrinking from trying to give her mother’s probable answer. If there was a woman in all Raymond with great ambitions for her daughter’s success as a singer, Mrs. Winslow was that woman.
“Oh! you will see it in a different light after wiser thought of it. My dear,” continued Madam Page rising from the table, “you will live to regret it if you do not accept the concert company’s offer or something like it.”
Rachel said something that contained a hint of the struggle she was still having. And after a little she went away, feeling that her departure was to be followed by a very painful conversation between Virginia and her grandmother. As she afterward learned, Virginia passed through a crisis of feeling during that scene with her grandmother that hastened her final decision as to the use of her money and her social position.