PART 11 of 24 Parts

Saturday afternoon Virginia was just stepping out of her house to go and see Rachel and talk over her new plans, when a carriage drove up containing three of her friends. Virginia went out to the driveway and stood talking with them. They had come only to make a casual call and ask her to go with them up on the boulevard. There was to be a band concert in the park and it was a beautiful day.

"Where have you been all this time, Virginia?" asked one of the young women curiously. "We hear that you have gone into show business. Tell us about it."

Virginia was irritated, but after a moment’s hesitation she frankly told something of her experience at the Rectangle. Her friends in the carriage became 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 a really wicked place with lots to see. Virginia will act as a guide, and it will be real"—fun, she was going to say, but Virginia’s look made her substitute the word interesting.

Virginia was angry. At first she said to herself that she would not go under such circumstances. But when all the women showed such earnestness, she hesitated.

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

"Very well, I’ll go with you. But when we get to the Rectangle, you must do exactly what I tell you." And Virginia entered the carriage with her friends.

"Shouldn’t we take a policeman along?" asked one of the women with a nervous laugh. "It really isn’t safe down there, you know."

"There’s no danger," said Virginia briefly.

"Is it true that your brother Rollin has been converted?" asked one of her friends, looking at Virginia curiously. It impressed her during the drive to the Rectangle that all three of them were regarding her with close attention, as if she were peculiar.

"Yes, he certainly is."

"I understand he is going around to the clubs talking with his old friends there, preaching to them. Doesn’t that seem funny?" asked another.

Virginia did not answer. The three young women were beginning to feel sober as the carriage turned into the street leading to the Rectangle. As they neared the district they grew more and more nervous. The sights and smells and sounds that had become familiar to Virginia struck the senses of these refined, delicate society women as something horrible. As they entered into the district, the Rectangle seemed to stare with a bleary, beer-soaked countenance at this fine carriage with its load of fashionably dressed young ladies. "Slumming" had never been a fad with Raymond society, and this was perhaps the first time that the two had come together in this way. Virginia’s friends felt that instead of seeing the Rectangle they were being made the objects of curiosity. They were frightened and disgusted.

"Let’s go back. I’ve seen enough," said the one who was sitting with Virginia.

They were at that moment just opposite a notorious saloon and gambling house. The street was narrow and the sidewalk crowded. Suddenly, out of the door of the saloon a young woman reeled. She was singing, in a broken, drunken sob, "Just as I am, without one plea," and as the carriage rolled past she raised her face so that Virginia saw it clearly. It was the face of the woman who had knelt sobbing that night with Virginia kneeling beside her and praying for her.

"Stop!" cried Virginia, motioning to the driver. The carriage stopped, and in a moment she was out and had gone up to the girl and taken her by the arm.

"Loreen," she began and that was all. The girl looked into Virginia’s face, and her expression changed into a look of utter horror. The ladies in the carriage stared with astonishment. The saloon-keeper had come to the door and was standing there looking on, with his hands on his hips. Residents of the Rectangle—from its windows, its saloons, its filthy sidewalks—paused, and with undisguised wonder stared at the two women. Over the scene the warm sun of spring poured its mellow warmth. A faint breath of music from the bandstand in the central park of Raymond floated into the Rectangle. The concert had begun. Listeners would include the fashion and wealth of Raymond.

When Virginia left the carriage and went up to Loreen, she had no definite idea as to what she would do or what the result of her action would be. She simply saw a soul that had tasted the joy of a better life slipping back again into its old hell of shame and filth. And before she had touched the drunken girl’s arm, she had asked herself only one question, "What would Jesus do?"

Then she turned to her friends, "Drive on. Don’t wait for me! I am going to see my friend home."

The other women were speechless.

"Go on! I cannot go back with you," said Virginia.

The driver started the horses slowly. One of the ladies leaned a little out of the carriage.

"Can’t we—that is—do you want our help? Couldn’t you—"

"No, no!" exclaimed Virginia, "you cannot be of any help to me."

The carriage moved on and Virginia was alone with her charge.

She looked up and around. Many faces in the crowd were sympathetic. They were not all cruel or brutal. The Holy Spirit had softened a good deal of the Rectangle.

"Where does she live?" asked Virginia.

No one answered. It occurred to Virginia afterward, when she had time to think it over, that the Rectangle showed a delicacy in its sad silence that would have done credit to the boulevard.

The girl suddenly wrenched her arm from Virginia’s grasp. In doing so she nearly threw Virginia down.

"You shall not touch me," she exclaimed hoarsely. "Leave me. Let me go to hell. That’s where I belong. The devil is waiting for me. See him!" She turned and pointed with a shaking finger at the saloon-keeper. The crowd laughed.

Virginia stepped up to her and put her arm about her. "Loreen," she said firmly, "come with me. You do not belong to hell. You belong to Jesus, and He will save you. Come."

The girl suddenly burst into tears. She was only partly sobered by the shock of meeting Virginia.

Virginia looked around again. "Where does Mr. Gray live?" she asked. She knew that the evangelist boarded somewhere near that tent.

A number of voices gave the direction.

"Come, Loreen, I want you to go with me to Mr. Gray’s," she said, still keeping her hold of the swaying, trembling creature who moaned and sobbed and now clung to Virginia.

So the two moved on through the Rectangle toward the evangelist’s lodging place. The sight seemed to impress the Rectangle. It never took itself seriously when it was drunk; but this was different. Seeing Loreen stumbling through the gutter dead drunk would make the Rectangle laugh and jest. But Loreen staggering along with a young, well-dressed woman supporting her, was something else. The Rectangle viewed this with soberness and more or less wondering admiration.

When they finally reached Mr. Gray’s lodging place, the woman who answered Virginia’s knock said that both Mr. and Mrs. Gray were out somewhere and would not be back until six o’clock.

Virginia had not planned anything farther than a possible appeal to the Grays either to take charge of Loreen for a while, or find some safe place for her until she was sober. She stood now at the door somewhat at a loss to know what to do. Loreen sank down stupidly on the steps and buried her face in her arms. Virginia eyed the miserable figure of the girl with sensations she was afraid would grow into disgust.

Finally a thought possessed her that she could not escape. What was to hinder her taking Loreen home with her? Why should not this homeless, wretched creature be cared for in Virginia’s own home, instead of being consigned to strangers in some hospital or house of charity? Virginia really knew very little about such places of refuge. As a matter of fact, there were two or three such institutions in Raymond; but it is doubtful if any of them would have taken a person like Loreen in her present condition. But that was not the question with Virginia just now. "What would Jesus do with Loreen?" was what Virginia faced, and she finally answered it by touching the girl again.

"Loreen, come. You are going home with me."

Loreen staggered to her feet, and to Virginia’s surprise, made no trouble. She had expected resistance or a stubborn refusal to move. When they reached the corner and took the streetcar, it was nearly full of people going uptown. Virginia was painfully conscious of the stares that greeted her and her companion as they entered. But her thoughts were directed more and more to the approaching scene with her grandmother. What would Madame Page say?

Loreen was nearly sober now. But she was lapsing into a state of stupor. Virginia was obliged to hold fast to her arm. Several times the girl lurched heavily against her, and as the two went up the avenue people turned and gazed at them. When she mounted the steps of her handsome house, Virginia breathed a sigh of relief, even in the face of the interview with her grandmother. And when the door shut and she was in the wide hall with her homeless outcast, she felt equal to anything that might now come.

Madame Page was in the library. Hearing Virginia come in, she strode into the hall. Virginia stood there supporting Loreen, who stared at the richness and magnificence of the furnishings around her.

"Grandmother"—Virginia spoke without hesitation and very clearly—"this is Loreen. She is one of my friends from the Rectangle. She is in trouble and has no home. I am going to take care of her here for the time being."

Madame Page glanced from her granddaughter to Loreen in astonishment.

"Did you say she is one of your friends?" she asked in a cold, sarcastic voice that hurt Virginia more than anything she had yet felt.

"Yes, I said so." Virginia’s face flushed, but she recalled the phrase that Mr. Gray had used for one of his recent sermons, A friend of publicans and sinners. Surely Jesus would do as she was doing.

"Do you know what this girl is?" asked Madame Page in an angry whisper, stepping near Virginia.

"I know very well. She is an outcast. You need not tell me Grandmother. She is drunk at this minute. But she is also a child of God. I have seen her on her knees in repentance. And I have seen hell reach out its fingers after her again. By the grace of Christ, I feel that the least I can do is to rescue her from this. Grandmother, we call ourselves Christians. Here is a poor, lost creature without a home, slipping back into a life of misery, and we have more than enough. I have brought her here and I shall keep her."

Madame Page glared at Virginia and clenched her hands. All this was contrary to her social code of conduct. What would Virginia’s actions cost the family in the way of criticism and the loss of standing, and all that long list of necessary relationships which people of wealth and position must sustain to be the leaders of society? To Madame Page, society was a power to be feared and obeyed. The loss of its good will was a loss more to be dreaded than anything, except the loss of wealth itself.

Fully aroused and determined, Madame Page stood erect and sternly confronted Virginia. Meanwhile, Virginia had placed her arm about Loreen and calmly looked her grandmother in the face.

"You shall not do this, Virginia. You can send her to the asylum for helpless women. We can pay all the expenses. But we cannot afford, for the sake of our reputations, to shelter such a person here in our home."

"Grandmother, I do not wish to do anything that is displeasing to you, but I must keep Loreen here tonight and longer, if it seems best."

"Then you can answer for the consequences! I will not stay in the same house with a miserable—" Virginia stopped her before she could speak the next word.

"Grandmother, this house belongs to me. It is your home, too, as long as you choose to remain. But in this matter I must act as I fully believe Jesus would. I am willing to bear all that society may say or do. Society is not my God. By the side of this woman in need, I do not consider the verdict of society as of any value."

"I shall not remain here, then," said Madame Page. She turned suddenly and walked to the end of the hall, then stopped, turned and glared at Virginia.

"You can always remember that you have driven your grandmother out of your house in favor of a drunken woman." Then, without waiting for Virginia to reply, she turned again and went upstairs.

Virginia did not know whether her grandmother would leave the house or not. The elderly woman had abundant means of her own, was perfectly well and vigorous and capable of caring for herself. She had sisters and brothers living in the South, and was in the habit of spending several weeks each year with them. Virginia was not anxious about her welfare, as far as that went; but the interview had been a painful one. Going over it, however, she found little cause for regret. There was no question in her mind that she had done the right thing.

Retiring to her room, Virginia spent the rest of the afternoon in thought and meditation. A little before the dinner hour she went downstairs. Madame Page was not there. A few minutes later Rollin came in bringing word that his grandmother had taken the evening train for the South. She had told him her reason for going.

"Rollin," said Virginia, realizing for the first time how much her brother’s changed life meant to her, "am I wrong?"

"No, I cannot believe you are. It’s an awkward situation, of course, but if you think this poor creature owes her safety and salvation to your personal care, it is the only thing for you to do."

And so Rollin comforted Virginia and counseled with her that evening. And in watching her brother’s changed demeanor, Virginia rejoiced. Old things had passed away. Truly all things had become new through Jesus Christ.

Dr. West came that evening at Virginia’s request and examined Loreen. The best that could be given her, he reported, was quiet nursing and careful watching and personal love. So in a beautiful room, where hanging on the wall was a picture of Christ walking by the sea, the bewildered outcast began her recuperation.

In another bedroom, Virginia wondered a bit apprehensively what Jesus would have her do next.



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