The Saturday afternoon matinee at the Auditorium in Chicago was just over; and the usual crowd was struggling to get to its carriage before any one else. The Auditorium attendant was shouting out the numbers of different carriages and the carriage doors were slamming as the horses were driven rapidly up to the curb, held there impatiently by the drivers who had shivered long in the raw east wind, and then let go to plunge for a few minutes into the river of vehicles that tossed under the elevated railway and finally went whirling off up the avenue.
"Now then, 624!" shouted the Auditorium attendant; "624!" he repeated, and there dashed up to the curb a splendid span of black horses attached to a carriage having the monogram, "C.R.S." in gilt letters on the panel of the door.
Two girls stepped out of the crowd towards the carriage. The older one had entered and taken her seat, and the attendant was still holding the door open for the younger, who stood hesitating on the curb.
"Come, Felicia! What are you waiting for? I shall freeze to death!" called the voice from the carriage.
The girl outside of the carriage hastily unpinned a bunch of English violets from her dress and handed them to a small boy who was standing shivering on the edge of the sidewalk, almost under the horses' feet. He took them, with a look of astonishment and a "Thank ye, lady!" and instantly buried a very grimy face in the bunch of perfume. The girl stepped into the carriage, the door shut with the incisive bang peculiar to well-made carriages of this sort, and in a few moments the coachman was speeding the horses rapidly up one of the boulevards.
"You are always doing some queer thing or other, Felicia," said the older girl, as the carriage whirled on past the great residences already brilliantly lighted.
"Am I? What have I done that is queer now, Rose?" asked the other, looking up suddenly and turning her head towards her sister.
"Oh, giving those violets to that boy. He looked as if he needed a good hot supper more than a bunch of violets. It's a wonder you didn't invite him home with us. I shouldn't have been surprised if you had. You are always doing such queer things."
"Would it be queer to invite a boy like that to come to the house and get a hot supper?" Felicia asked the question softly and almost as if she were alone.
"Queer isn't just the word, of course," replied Rose indifferently. "It would be what Madam Blanc calls 'outre.' Decidedly. Therefore you will please not invite him, or others like him, to hot suppers because I suggested it. Oh, dear! I'm awfully tired!"
She yawned, and Felicia silently looked out of the window in the door.
"The concert was stupid, and the violinist was simply a bore. I don't see how you could sit so still through it all," Rose exclaimed a little impatiently.
"I liked the music," answered Felicia quietly.
"You like anything. I never saw a girl with so little critical taste."
Felicia colored slightly, but would not answer. Rose yawned again, and then hummed a fragment of a popular song. Then she exclaimed abruptly:
"I'm sick of 'most everything. I hope the 'Shadows of London' will be exciting to-night."
"The 'Shadows of Chicago!'" murmured Felicia.
"The 'Shadows of Chicago!' The 'Shadows of London,' the play, the great drama with its wonderful scenery, the sensation of New York for two months. You know we have a box with the Delanos to-night."
Felicia turned her face towards her sister. Her great eyes were very expressive and not altogether free from a sparkle of luminous heat.
"And yet we never weep over the real thing on the actual stage of life. What are the 'Shadows of London' on the stage to the shadows of London or Chicago as they really exist? Why don't we get excited over the facts as they are?"
"Because the actual people are dirty and disagreeable and it's too much bother, I suppose," replied Rose carelessly. "Felicia, you can never reform the world. What's the use? We're not to blame for the poverty and misery. There have always been rich and poor. And there always will be. We ought to be thankful we're rich."
"Suppose Christ had gone on that principle," replied Felicia, with unusual persistence. "Do you remember Dr. Bruce's sermon on that verse a few Sundays ago: 'For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich yet for our sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich'?"
"I remember it well enough," said Rose with some petulance, "and didn't Dr. Bruce go on to say that there is no blame attached to people who have wealth, if they are kind and give to the needs of the poor? And I am sure that he himself is pretty comfortably settled. He never gives up his luxuries just because some people go hungry. What good would it do if he did? I tell you, Felicia, there will always be poor and rich in spite of all we can do. Ever since Rachel Winslow has written about those queer doings in Raymond, you have upset the whole family. People can't live at that concert pitch all the time. You see if Rachel doesn't give it up soon. It's a great pity she doesn't come to Chicago and sing in the Auditorium concerts. I heard to-day that she has received an offer. I'm going to write and urge her to come. I'm just dying to hear her sing."
Felicia looked out of the window and was silent. The carriage rolled on past two blocks of magnificent private residences and turned into a wide driveway under a covered passage, and the sisters hurried into the house. It was an elegant mansion of gray stone furnished like a palace, every corner of it warm with the luxury of paintings, sculpture, art and modern refinement.
The owner of it all, Mr. Charles R. Sterling, stood before an open grate fire smoking a cigar. He had made his money in grain speculation and railroad ventures, and was reputed to be worth something over two millions. His wife was a sister of Mrs. Winslow of Raymond. She had been an invalid for several years. The two girls, Rose and Felicia, were the only children. Rose was twenty-one years old, fair, vivacious, educated in a fashionable college, just entering society and already somewhat cynical and indifferent. A very hard young lady to please, her father said sometimes playfully, sometimes sternly. Felicia was nineteen, with a tropical beauty somewhat like her cousin, Rachel Winslow, with warm, generous impulses just waking into Christian feeling, capable of all sorts of expression, a puzzle to her father, a source of irritation to her mother and a great unsurveyed territory of thought and action in herself of which she was more than dimly conscious. There was that in Felicia that would easily endure any condition in life if only the liberty to act fully on her conscientious convictions were granted her.
"Here's a letter for you, Felicia," said Mr. Sterling, handing it to her.
Felicia sat down and instantly opened the letter, saying as she did so, "It's from Rachel."
"Well, what's the latest news from Raymond?" asked Mr. Sterling, taking his cigar out of his mouth and looking at Felicia with half-shut eyes, as if he were studying her.
"Rachel says Dr. Bruce has been staying in Raymond for two Sundays and has seemed very much interested in Mr. Maxwell's pledge in the First Church."
"What does Rachel say about herself?" asked Rose, who was lying on a couch almost buried under elegant cushions.
"She is still singing at the Rectangle. Since the tent meetings closed, she sings in an old hall until the new buildings which her friend Virginia Page is putting up are completed."
"I must write Rachel to come to Chicago and visit us. She ought not to throw away her voice in that railroad town upon all those people who don't appreciate her."
Mr. Sterling lighted a new cigar and Rose exclaimed:
"Rachel is so queer. She might set Chicago wild with her voice if she sang in the Auditorium. And there she goes on throwing it away on people who don't know what they are hearing."
"Rachel won't come here unless she can do it and keep her pledge at the same time," said Felicia after a pause.
"What pledge?" Mr. Sterling asked the question and then added hastily: "Oh, I know; yes. A very peculiar thing, that. Alexander Powers used to be a friend of mine. We learned telegraphy in the same office. Made a great sensation when he resigned and handed over that evidence to the Interstate Commerce Commission. And he's back at his telegraph again. There have been queer doings in Raymond during the past year. I wonder what Dr. Bruce thinks of it on the whole. I must have a talk with him about it."
"He is at home and will preach to-morrow," said Felicia. "Perhaps he will tell us something about it."
There was silence for a minute. Then Felicia said abruptly, as if she had gone on with a spoken thought to some invisible hearer: "And what if he should propose the same pledge to the Nazareth Avenue Church?"
"Who? What are you talking about?" asked her father a little sharply.
"About Dr. Bruce. I say, what if he should propose to our church what Mr. Maxwell proposed to his, and ask for volunteers who would pledge themselves to do everything after asking the question, 'What would Jesus do?'"
"There's no danger of it," said Rose, rising suddenly from the couch as the tea-bell rang.
"It's a very impracticable movement, to my mind," said Mr. Sterling sharply.
"I understand from Rachel's letter that the Raymond church is going to make an attempt to extend the idea of the pledge to other churches. If it succeeds, it will certainly make great changes in the churches and in people's lives," said Felicia.
"Oh, well, let's have some tea first," said Rose, walking into the dining-room. Her father and Felicia followed, and the meal proceeded in silence. Mrs. Sterling had her meals served in her room. Mr. Sterling was preoccupied. He ate very little and excused himself early, and although it was Saturday night, he remarked as he went out that he should be down town on some special business.
"Don't you think father looks very much disturbed lately?" asked Felicia a little while after he had gone out.
"Oh, I don't know. I hadn't noticed anything unusual," replied Rose. After a silence she said: "Are you going to the play to- night, Felicia? Mrs. Delano will be here at half past seven. I think you ought to go. She will feel hurt if you refuse."
"I'll go. I don't care about it. I can see shadows enough without going to the play."
"That's a doleful remark for a girl nineteen years old to make," replied Rose. "But then you're queer in your ideas, anyhow, Felicia. If you are going up to see mother, tell her I'll run in after the play, if she is still awake."
Felicia went up to see her mother and remained with her until the Delano carriage came. Mrs. Sterling was worried; about her husband. She talked incessantly, and was irritated by every remark Felicia made. She would not listen to Felicia's attempts to read even a part of Rachel's letter, and when Felicia offered to stay with her for the evening, she refused the offer with a good deal of positive sharpness.