PART 19 of 24 Parts

When Dr. Bruce and the bishop entered the Sterling mansion, everything in the usually well-appointed household was in the greatest confusion. The rooms downstairs were empty, but overhead were hurried footsteps and confused noises. One of the servants ran down the grand staircase with a look of horror on her face just as the bishop and Dr. Bruce were starting to go up.

"Miss Felicia is with Mrs. Sterling," the servant stammered in answer to a question, and then burst into tears and ran out of the room.

At the top of the staircase the two men were met by Felicia.

She walked up to Dr. Bruce at once and put both hands in his. The bishop laid his hands on her head and the three stood there a moment in perfect silence.

Bishop Hampton had known Felicia since she was a little child. He was the first to break the silence.

"The God of all mercy be with you, Felicia, in this dark hour. Your mother—"

The bishop hesitated. Out of the buried past he had, during his hurried passage from his friend’s house to this house of death, irresistibly drawn the one tender romance of his young manhood. Not even Bruce knew that. But there had been a time when the bishop had offered the incense of a singularly undivided affection to the beautiful Camilla Rolfe, and she had chosen between him and Sterling, the millionaire. The bishop carried no bitterness with this memory. But it was a memory still.

For the answer to the bishop’s unfinished query, Felicia turned and went back into her mother’s room. She had not said a word yet. But both men were struck with her wonderful calm. She returned to the hall door and beckoned to them, and the two ministers, with a feeling that they were about to behold something unusual, entered.

Rose lay face-down at the foot of the bed in a faint. Clara, the nurse, sat on the side of the bed with her head covered, sobbing. And Mrs. Sterling lay there so peaceful and still that at first the Bishop was deceived. Then, as the great truth broke upon him, the sharp agony of the old wound shot through his body. It passed and left him standing there in that chamber of death with the calmness and strength that all disciples of God have a need to possess.

The next moment the house below was in a tumult. Almost at the same time the doctor, who had been sent for at once but lived some distance away, came in together with police officers who had been summoned by the frightened servants. With them were four or five newspaper correspondents and several neighbors. Dr. Bruce and the bishop met this miscellaneous crowd at the head of the stairs and succeeded in turning away all except those whose presence was necessary.

Mr. Sterling had gone into his room that evening about nine o’clock, and that was the last seen of him until, half-an-hour later, a shot was heard in the room. A servant who was in the hall ran into the room and found his master dead on the floor, killed by his own hand. Felicia, at the time, was sitting by her mother. Rose was reading in the library. She ran upstairs, saw her father as he was being lifted upon the couch by the servants, and then ran screaming into her mother’s room, where she flung herself down on the foot of the bed in a swoon. Mrs. Sterling had first fainted at the shock, then rallied with wonderful swiftness and sent for Dr. Bruce. She had then insisted on seeing her husband.

In spite of Felicia’s protests, she had compelled Clara and the housemaid, terrified and trembling, to support her while she crossed the hall and entered the room where her husband lay. She had looked upon him with a tearless face, returned to her own room and laid down on her bed. Just as Dr. Bruce and the bishop entered the house, Mrs. Sterling had died with a prayer for forgiveness of herself and her husband on her quivering lips. Felicia was bending over her and Rose was still lying senseless at her feet.

Death had come swiftly and shockingly to the Sterling palace of luxury that Sunday night. But the full cause of the tragedy was not learned until the facts in regard to Mr. Sterling’s business affairs were finally disclosed.

Then it was discovered that for some time he had been facing financial ruin, owing to certain speculations that had in a month’s time swept away his supposed wealth. With the cunning and desperation of a man who battles for his very life, when he saw his money—all the life he ever valued—slipping from him, he had put off the evil day to the last moment.

Sunday afternoon, however, he had received news that proved to him beyond doubt the fact of his utter ruin. The very house that he called his, the chairs in which he sat, his carriage, the dishes from which he ate, had all been bought with money for which he himself had never really done an honest stroke of work.

It had all rested on a tissue of deceit and speculation that had no foundation in real values. He knew that fact better than anyone else, but had hoped, with the hope that such men always have, that the same methods that brought him the money would also prevent the loss. He had been deceived in this as many others have been. As soon as the truth that he was practically a beggar had dawned upon him, he saw no escape from suicide.

Mrs. Sterling’s death was the result of shock. She had not been taken into her husband’s confidence for years, but she knew that the sources of his wealth were precarious. Her health had been declining for several years. Mrs. Sterling illustrated the old family tradition when she was helped into the room where the body of her husband lay. But that feeble tenet could not sustain the spirit torn and weakened by long years of suffering and disappointment.

The effect of this triple blow—the death of father and mother and the loss of property—was instantly apparent in the sisters. The horror of events stupefied Rose for weeks. She did not yet seem to realize that the money that had been so large a part of her very existence was gone. Even when she was told that she and Felicia must leave the house and be dependent upon relatives and friends, she did not seem to understand what it meant.

Felicia, however, was fully conscious of the facts. She knew just what had happened and why. She was talking over her future plans with her cousin Rachel a few days after the funerals. Mrs. Winslow and Rachel had left Raymond and had come to Chicago as soon as the terrible news had reached them, and with other friends of the family they were planning for the future of Rose and Felicia.

"Felicia, you and Rose must come to Raymond with us. That is settled. Mother will not hear of any other plan at present," Rachel had said, her beautiful face glowing with love for her cousin.

"Unless I could find something to do here," answered Felicia.

She looked wistfully at Rachel and Rachel said gently, "What could you do, dear?"

"Nothing. I was never taught to do anything except a little music, and I do not know enough about it to teach it or earn my living at it. I have learned to cook a little," Felicia answered with a slight smile.

"Then you may cook for us. Mother is always having trouble with her kitchen," said Rachel, understanding well enough that Felicia needed some responsibility.

"May I? May I?" Felicia replied, as if it were to be considered seriously. "I am ready to do anything honorable to provide for my living and that of Rose."

"We will arrange the details when we get to Raymond," said Rachel.

So in a few weeks Rose and Felicia found themselves a part of the Winslow family in Raymond. It was a bitter experience for Rose, but there was nothing else for her to do, and she accepted the inevitable, brooding over the great change in her life and in many ways adding to the burden of Felicia and her cousin Rachel.

Felicia at once found herself in an atmosphere of discipleship that was like heaven to her in its revelation of companionship. Though Mrs. Winslow was not in sympathy with the course Rachel was taking, the remarkable events that had occurred since the pledge were too powerful in their results not to impress even such a woman as Mrs. Winslow.

With Rachel, Felicia found real fellowship. She soon was taking part in the new work at the Rectangle. In a short time she demonstrated her ability as a cook so clearly that Virginia suggested she take charge of the cooking class at the Rectangle.

Felicia entered upon this work with the keenest pleasure. For the first time in her life, she had the delight of doing something of value for others. Her resolve to act only after asking, "What would Jesus do?" touched her deepest nature.

Mrs. Winslow looked with astonishment upon her niece, this city-bred girl reared in the greatest luxury, now walking around in her kitchen, her arms covered with flour. Occasionally there would be a streak of it on her nose (for Felicia at first had a habit of rubbing her nose when she was trying to remember some recipe). She mixed a variety of dishes with eager interest in their results, washed up pans and kettles and scrubbed floors both in the Winslow kitchen and at the rooms of the Rectangle settlement.

At first Mrs. Winslow remonstrated, "Felicia, it is not your place to be out here doing this kind of work. I cannot allow it."

"Why, didn’t you like the muffins I made this morning?" Felicia would ask meekly, but with a hidden smile, knowing her aunt’s weakness for that kind of muffin.

"They were beautiful, Felicia. But it does not seem right for you to be doing such work for us."

"Why not? What else can I do?"

Her aunt looked at her thoughtfully, noting her remarkable beauty of face and expression.

"You do not always intend to do this sort of work, Felicia?"

"Maybe I shall. I have had a dream of opening a bakery shop in Chicago or some large city and going around to the poor families in the slum district like the Rectangle, teaching the mothers how to prepare food properly. I remember hearing Dr. Bruce say once that he believed one of the great miseries of poverty consisted in poor food. He even went so far as to say that he thought some kinds of crime could be traced to soggy biscuits and tough meat. I’m sure I would be able to make a living for Rose and myself, and at the same time help others."

Felicia pondered this dream constantly. Meanwhile, she grew into the affections of the Raymond people and the Rectangle folks, among whom she was known as the angel cook.

Three months had gone by since the Sunday morning when Dr. Bruce entered his pulpit with the message of the new discipleship. They were three months of excitement in Nazareth Avenue Church. There was the expected strong opposition from one segment of his congregation, yet the Reverend Bruce was deeply moved by an unexpected response from those men and women who, like Felicia, were hungry for something in their lives that conventional church membership and fellowship had failed to give them.

But Dr. Bruce was still restless and dissatisfied with himself when he met a second time with Bishop Hampton. The two friends seated themselves in Dr. Bruce’s study.

"Do you know why I’ve come here this evening?" the bishop asked.

Dr Bruce shook his head.

"I have come to confess that I have not yet kept my promise to walk in His steps in the way I believe I should."

Dr. Bruce had risen and was pacing his study. The bishop remained in the deep, easy chair, his hands clasped, his eyes burning with resolve.

"Edward"—Dr. Bruce spoke abruptly—"I have not yet been able to satisfy myself, either, in obeying my promise. But I have come face-to-face with the decision I feel I must make. In order to fulfill my pledge, I shall be obliged to resign from Nazareth Avenue Church."

"I knew you would," replied the bishop quietly. "And I came this evening to say that I shall be obliged to do the same with my charge."

Dr. Bruce turned to his friend in surprise, both laboring under a repressed excitement.

"Is it necessary in your case?" asked Bruce.

"Yes. Let me state my reasons. Probably they are the same as yours. In fact, I am sure they are." The bishop paused a moment, then went on with increased feeling.

"Calvin, you know how many years I have been doing the work of my position, and you know something of the responsibility and the care of it. I do not mean to say that my life has been free from burden-bearing or sorrow. But I have certainly led what the poor and desperate of this sinful city would call a very comfortable—yes, a very luxurious life. I have a beautiful house to live in, the most expensive food, clothing and physical pleasures. I have been able to go abroad at least a dozen times, and have enjoyed for years the companionship of art and letters and music and all the very best. I have never known what it meant to be without money or its equivalent. And I have been unable to silence the question of late, ‘What sacrifice have I made for the cause of Christ?’

"Paul was told what great things he must suffer for the sake of his Lord. Maxwell’s position at Raymond is well-taken when he insists that to walk in the steps of Christ means to sacrifice something. Where has my suffering come in? The petty trials and annoyances of my clerical life are not worth mentioning as sorrows or suffering. Compared with Paul or any of the Christian martyrs or early disciples, I have lived a luxurious, sinful life, full of ease and pleasure. I cannot endure this any longer. I have not been walking in His steps. Under the present system of church and social life, I see no escape from this condemnation, except to give all I can of my life personally to the actual, physical and soul needs of desperate people."

The bishop had risen now and walked over to the window. The street in front of the house was as light as day, and he looked out at the people passing, then turned, and with a passionate utterance that showed how deep the volcanic fire in him burned, he exclaimed, "Calvin, this is a terrible city in which we live. Its misery, its sin, its selfishness, appall my heart. And I have struggled for years with the sickening dread of the time when I should be forced to leave the pleasant luxury of my official position to put my life into contact with the modern paganism of this century.

"The awful working conditions of the girls in some factories, the brutal selfishness of an insolent society, fashion and wealth that ignores all the sorrows of the city, the fearful curse of liquor and gambling, the wail of the unemployed, the hatred of the Church by countless men who see in it only great piles of costly stone and upholstered furniture and who look at the minister as a luxurious idler—all this in its contrast with the easy, comfortable life I have lived fills me more and more with a sense of mingled terror and self-accusation.

"I have heard the words of Jesus many times lately: ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’ And when have I personally visited the prisoner or desperate or sinful in any way that has actually caused me suffering? Rather, I have followed the conventional, soft habits of my position and have lived in the society of the rich, refined, aristocratic members of my congregations. What have I suffered for Jesus’ sake?

"Do you know, Calvin"—he turned abruptly toward his friend—"I have been tempted of late to lash myself with a scourge. If I had lived in Martin Luther’s time, I should have bared my back to a self-inflicted torture."

Dr. Bruce was very pale. Never had he seen his friend or heard him under the influence of such passion. There was a sudden silence in the room. The bishop had sat down again and bowed his head. Dr. Bruce spoke at last.

"Edward, I do not need to say that you have expressed my feelings also. I have been in a similar position for years. My life has been one of comparative luxury. I do not, of course, mean to say that I have not had trials and discouragements and burdens in my church ministry. But I cannot say that I have sacrificed much for Jesus. That verse in Peter haunts me constantly: ‘Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.’

"I have lived in luxury," continued Dr. Bruce. "I do not know what it means to want. I also have had my leisure for travel. I have been surrounded by the soft, easy comforts of civilization. The sin and misery of this great city has beat like waves against the stone walls of my church and of the house in which I live, and I have hardly heeded them, the walls have been so thick. I have reached a point where I cannot endure this any longer.

"I am not condemning the church. I love her. I am not forsaking the church. I believe in her mission and have no desire to destroy it. Least of all, in the step I am about to take, do I desire to be charged with abandoning the Christian fellowship.

"But I feel that I must resign my place as pastor of Nazareth Avenue Church in order to satisfy myself that I am walking as I ought to walk in His steps. In this action I judge no other ministers and pass no criticism on the discipleship of others. But I feel as you do. I must come personally into a closer contact with the sin and shame and degradation of this great city. And I know that to do this I must sever my immediate connection with Nazareth Avenue Church."

Again that sudden silence fell over these two men. It was no ordinary action they were deciding. They had both reached the same conclusion by the same reasoning, and they were too thoughtful and too accustomed to the measuring of conduct to underestimate the seriousness of their position.

"What is your plan?" The bishop spoke gently, looking up with a smile that always softened his face.

"My plan," replied Dr. Bruce slowly, "is, in brief, to put myself into the center of the greatest human need I can find in this city and live there. My wife is fully in accord with me. We have already decided to find a residence in that part of the city where we can make our personal lives count for the most."

"Let me suggest a place," Bishop Hampton was on fire now. Then he unfolded a plan of such far-reaching power and possibility that Dr. Bruce, capable and experienced as he was, felt amazed at the vision of a greater soul than his own.

They sat up late and were as eager, even glad, as if they were planning a trip to some exotic land of unexplored travel. Indeed, the bishop said many times afterward that the moment his decision was reached to live the life of personal sacrifice, he suddenly felt an uplifting as if a great burden had been taken from him. He was exultant. So was Dr. Bruce from the same cause.



Make a Free Website with Yola.