In His Steps
by Charles M. Sheldon
MEANWHILE, Nazareth Avenue Church was experiencing something never known before in all its history. The simple appeal on the part of its pastor to his members to do as Jesus would do had created a sensation that still continued. The result of that appeal was very much the same as in Henry Maxwell’s church in Raymond, only this church was far more aristocratic, wealthy and conventional. Nevertheless when, one Sunday morning in early summer, Dr. Bruce came into his pulpit and announced his resignation, the sensation deepened all over the city, although he had advised with his board of trustees, and the movement he intended was not a matter of surprise to them. But when it become publicly known that the Bishop had also announced his resignation and retirement from the position he had held so long, in order to go and live himself in the centre of the worst part of Chicago, the public astonishment reached its height.
“But why?” the Bishop replied to one valued friend who had almost with tears tried to dissuade him from his purpose. “Why should what Dr. Bruce and I propose to do seem so remarkable a thing, as if it were unheard of that a Doctor of Divinity and a Bishop should want to save lost souls in this particular manner? If we were to resign our charge for the purpose of going to Bombay or Hong Kong or any place in Africa, the churches and the people would exclaim at the heroism of missions. Why should it seem so great a thing if we have been led to give our lives to help rescue the heathen and the lost of our own city in the way we are going to try it? Is it then such a tremendous event that two Christian ministers should be not only willing but eager to live close to the misery of the world in order to know it and realize it? Is it such a rare thing that love of humanity should find this particular form of expression in the rescue of souls?”
And however the Bishop may have satisfied himself that there ought to be nothing so remarkable about it at all, the public continued to talk and the churches to record their astonishment that two such men, so prominent in the ministry, should leave their comfortable homes, voluntarily resign their pleasant social positions and enter upon a life of hardship, of self-denial and actual suffering. Christian America! Is it a reproach on the form of our discipleship that the exhibition of actual suffering for Jesus on the part of those who walk in His steps always provokes astonishment as at the sight of something very unusual?
Nazareth Avenue Church parted from its pastor with regret for the most part, although the regret was modified with a feeling of relief on the part of those who had refused to take the pledge. Dr. Bruce carried with him the respect of men who, entangled in business in such a way that obedience to the pledge would have ruined them, still held in their deeper, better natures a genuine admiration for courage and consistency. They had known Dr. Bruce many years as a kindly, conservative, safe man, but the thought of him in the light of sacrifice of this sort was not familiar to them. As fast as they understood it, they gave their pastor the credit of being absolutely true to his recent convictions as to what following Jesus meant. Nazareth Avenue Church never lost the impulse of that movement started by Dr. Bruce. Those who went with him in making the promise breathed into the church the very breath of divine life, and are continuing that life-giving work at this present time.
* * * * * *
It was fall again, and the city faced another hard winter. The Bishop one afternoon came out of the Settlement and walked around the block, intending to go on a visit to one of his new friends in the district. He had walked about four blocks when he was attracted by a shop that looked different from the others. The neighborhood was still quite new to him, and every day he discovered some strange spot or stumbled upon some unexpected humanity.
The place that attracted his notice was a small house close by a Chinese laundry. There were two windows in the front, very clean, and that was remarkable to begin with. Then, inside the window, was a tempting display of cookery, with prices attached to the various articles that made him wonder somewhat, for he was familiar by this time with many facts in the life of the people once unknown to him. As he stood looking at the windows, the door between them opened and Felicia Sterling came out.
“Felicia!” exclaimed the Bishop. “When did you move into my parish without my knowledge?”
“How did you find me so soon?” inquired Felicia.
“Why, don’t you know? These are the only clean windows in the block.”
“I believe they are,” replied Felicia with a laugh that did the Bishop good to hear.
“But why have you dared to come to Chicago without telling me, and how have you entered my diocese without my knowledge?” asked the Bishop. And Felicia looked so like that beautiful, clean, educated, refined world he once knew, that he might be pardoned for seeing in her something of the old Paradise. Although, to speak truth for him, he had no desire to go back to it.
“Well, dear Bishop,” said Felicia, who had always called him so, “I knew how overwhelmed you were with your work. I did not want to burden you with my plans. And besides, I am going to offer you my services. Indeed, I was just on my way to see you and ask your advice. I am settled here for the present with Mrs. Bascom, a saleswoman who rents our three rooms, and with one of Rachel’s music pupils who is being helped to a course in violin by Virginia Page. She is from the people,” continued Felicia, using the words “from the people” so gravely and unconsciously that her hearer smiled, “and I am keeping house for her and at the same time beginning an experiment in pure food for the masses. I am an expert and I have a plan I want you to admire and develop. Will you, dear Bishop?”
“Indeed I will,” he replied. The sight of Felicia and her remarkable vitality, enthusiasm and evident purpose almost bewildered him.
“Martha can help at the Settlement with her violin and I will help with my messes. You see, I thought I would get settled first and work out something, and then come with some real thing to offer. I’m able to earn my own living now.”
“You are?” the Bishop said a little incredulously. “How? Making those things?”
“Those things!” said Felicia with a show of indignation. “I would have you know, sir, that ‘those things’ are the best-cooked, purest food products in this whole city.”
“I don’t doubt it,” he replied hastily, while his eyes twinkled, “Still, ‘the proof of the pudding’ — you know the rest.”
“Come in and try some!” she exclaimed. “You poor Bishop! You look as if you hadn’t had a good meal for a month.”
She insisted on his entering the little front room where Martha, a wide-awake girl with short, curly hair, and an unmistakable air of music about her, was busy with practice.
“Go right on, Martha. This is the Bishop. You have heard me speak of him so often. Sit down there and let me give you a taste of the fleshpots of Egypt, for I believe you have been actually fasting.”
So they had an improvised lunch, and the Bishop who, to tell the truth, had not taken time for weeks to enjoy his meals, feasted on the delight of his unexpected discovery and was able to express his astonishment and gratification at the quality of the cookery.
“I thought you would at least say it is as good as the meals you used to get at the Auditorium at the big banquets,” said Felicia slyly.
“As good as! The Auditorium banquets were simply husks compared with this one, Felicia. But you must come to the Settlement. I want you to see what we are doing. And I am simply astonished to find you here earning your living this way. I begin to see what your plan is. You can be of infinite help to us. You don’t really mean that you will live here and help these people to know the value of good food?”
“Indeed I do,” she answered gravely. “That is my gospel. Shall I not follow it?”
“Aye, Aye! You’re right. Bless God for sense like yours! When I left the world,” the Bishop smiled at the phrase, “they were talking a good deal about the ‘new woman.’ If you are one of them, I am a convert right now and here.”
“Flattery! Still is there no escape from it, even in the slums of Chicago?” Felicia laughed again. And the man’s heart, heavy though it had grown during several months of vast sin-bearing, rejoiced to hear it! It sounded good. It was good. It belonged to God.
Felicia wanted to visit the Settlement, and went back with him. She was amazed at the results of what considerable money an a good deal of consecrated brains had done. As they walked through the building they talked incessantly. She was the incarnation of vital enthusiasm, and he wondered at the exhibition of it as it bubbled up and sparkled over.
They went down into the basement and the Bishop pushed open a door from behind which came the sound of a carpenter’s plane. It was a small but well equipped carpenter’s shop. A young man with a paper cap on his head and clad in blouse and overalls was whistling and driving the plane as he whistled. He looked up as the two entered, and took off his cap. As he did so, his little finger carried a small curling shaving up to his hair and it caught there.
“Miss Sterling, Mr. Stephen Clyde,” said the Bishop. “Clyde is one of our helpers here two afternoons in the week.”
Just then the bishop was called upstairs and he excused himself a moment, leaving Felicia and the young carpenter together.
“We have met before,” said Felicia looking at Clyde frankly.
“Yes, ‘back in the world,’ as the Bishop says,” replied the young man, and his fingers trembled a little as they lay on the board he had been planing.
“Yes.” Felicia hesitated. “I am very glad to see you.”
“Are you?” The flush of pleasure mounted to the young carpenter’s forehead. “You have had a great deal of trouble since — since — then,” he said, and then he was afraid he had wounded her, or called up painful memories. But she had lived over all that.
“Yes, and you also. How is it that you’re working here?”
“It is a long story, Miss Sterling. My father lost his money and I was obliged to go to work. A very good thing for me. The Bishop says I ought to be very grateful. I am. I am very happy now. I learned the trade, hoping some time to be of use, I am night clerk at one of the hotels. That Sunday morning when you took the pledge at Nazareth Avenue Church, I took it with the others.”
“Did you?” said Felicia slowly. “I am glad.”
Just then the Bishop came back, and very soon he and Felicia went away leaving the young carpenter at his work. Some one noticed that he whistled louder than ever as he planed.
“Felicia,” said the Bishop, “did you know Stephen Clyde before?”
“Yes, ‘back in the world,’ dear Bishop. He was one of my acquaintances in Nazareth Avenue Church.”
“Ah!” said the Bishop.
“We were very good friends,” added Felicia.
“But nothing more?” the Bishop ventured to ask.
Felicia’s face glowed for an instant. Then she looked her companion in the eyes frankly and answered: “Truly and truly, nothing more.”
“It would be just the way of the world for these two people to come to like each other, though,” thought the man to himself, and somehow the thought made him grave. It was almost like the old pang over Camilla. But it passed, leaving him afterwards, when Felicia had gone back, with tears in his eyes and a feeling that was almost hope that Felicia and Stephen would like each other. “After all,” he said, like the sensible, good man that he was, “is not romance a part of humanity? Love is older than I am, and wiser.”
The week following, the Bishop had an experience that belongs to this part of the Settlement history. He was coming back to the Settlement very late from some gathering of the striking tailors, and was walking along with his hands behind him, when two men jumped out from behind an old fence that shut off an abandoned factory from the street, and faced him. One of the men thrust a pistol in his face, and the other threatened him with a ragged stake that had evidently been torn from the fence.
“Hold up your hands, and be quick about it!” said the man with the pistol.
The place was solitary and the Bishop had no thought of resistance. He did as he was commanded, and the man with the stake began to go through his pockets. He was calm. His nerves did not quiver. As he stood there with his hands uplifted, an ignorant spectator might have thought that he was praying for the souls of these two men. And he was. And his prayer was singularly answered that very night.