Read CHAPTER IV - ADELE of The First Soprano, free online book, by Mary Hitchcock, on ReadCentral.com.

Winifred awoke Tuesday morning with melody in her heart. She moved about her room with the exhilaration of a fresh joy in living. She took her Bible, which still wore the genteel, unsullied dress of a stranger, and turned to the place she wished to read. She had not got beyond the text of Sunday:

“The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshiper shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.”

She pondered the text. “Shall worship the Father,” she mused. “Oh, how sweet! That august One whom I feared is ‘the Father.’ He loves me!”

She went with her book to the open window and stood, a fair priestess in her white morning dress, and looked out over a portion of her Father’s wide domain. Oh, how warm and bright the sunlight that lit all things with glory! How fair were the distant hills beyond the city, with their varied dress of wood and meadow! In the garden below, how each group of flowers and the green sward answered with joy to the caress of the sun. How exultantly the lilies stood, and she could catch the incense from the bed of tiny clustering flowers nearest her window. She lifted her face toward the sky of melting summer blue, and sang softly:

“Holy, holy, holy; Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy name,
in earth and sky and sea;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty;
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!”

She looked again at the words whose entrance had given light, and read farther: “For the Father seeketh such to worship Him.”

“He has been seeking me!” she cried, and some glimmering apprehension of the great love of the Father which seeks the fellowship of sincere and simple children, made her bosom heave and her eyes fill with tears, “He loves me,” she repeated as before, and her heart nestled itself in the great truth like a bird that has found its nest.

Presently she looked again from her window and saw Hubert walking in the garden.

“Dear Hubert!” she said to herself. “I wish he knew.”

With an impulse she laid her book hastily down and ran down the stairs and into the garden. She flew noiselessly across the soft grass and surprised Hubert from behind, clasping his arm with a cheerful “Good morning!”

He looked down on her glowing face and kissed it.

“How bright you look,” he said. “Were you up with the birds? I heard you singing your matins with them.”

“Did you hear me?” said Winifred, with a blush at being overheard.

“Yes. What makes you so happy, Winnie?”

“Oh, Hubert,” she cried, and she clasped his arm more tightly, “My heart is almost breaking with joy! I think I have begun to know God!”

He looked at her with a surprised hunger in his dark eyes.

“And do you find the knowledge such a joy?” he asked, with deep sadness in his own voice.

“Oh, yes, Hubert,” she said. “He is so good!”

Later in the day a small breeze swept in the front door of the Gray Mansion, past the maid, up the stairway, and to the door of Winifred’s little sitting-room. It came with the person of Miss Adele Forrester.

“Hello,” said a bright voice. “Anybody here?”

Winifred rose from her quaint little window-seat with an expression of pleasure.

“Oh, Adele! I am so glad to see you.”

The two young ladies kissed each other and sat down to talk with the easy familiarity of old friends.

“Dear!” cried exclamatory Miss Forrester. “I am out of breath! I have raced so! I left home an hour ago, but was beguiled by some fascinating bargains in Butterworth’s windows. Do see that love of a thing for ninety-eight cents. Did you ever see such a bargain? I wouldn’t let them send it for I wanted you to see it.”

The fascinating trifle was admired, and then Miss Forrester flew at the chief matter of her visit enthusiastically.

“Do you know what is in the wind, Winifred? Professor Black, who leads the choir in the Linden Street church, is going to get up a comic opera with a cast from the various choirs, and I am invited. We are to go to Northville and give it in the little one-horse theater there. Won’t it be gay? We shall astonish the natives of that small town! Have you had your invitation?”

Winifred shook her head.

“How calm you are. I am very much excited about it already. You know I like that sort of thing. It isn’t decided what we shall give, but probably Pinafore, or Patience, or some old thing. They won’t care at Northville. Do say what you think of it, Winifred? Don’t be so unecstatic.”

Winifred smiled, not very merrily. “I can’t get ecstatic,” she said. “I shall not be in it.”

“You will not be in it!” Adele cried. “Oh, why not?” coaxingly. “Doesn’t your father approve of it? or your mother? of going off like that, I mean? It will be perfectly proper. We shall be chaperoned.”

“Oh, that’s not it,” said Winifred. “I have left the choir.”

Adele opened her bright eyes wide in astonishment.

“Left the choir!” she exclaimed under her breath, and then leaned back in her chair with a gesture of comical despair of expressing herself.

Winifred could not help laughing at her friend’s dismay. She said nothing and Adele soon recovered herself.

“A little tiff with the leader or somebody?” she queried. “Such things are not unknown to us. I am prepared to take your part, Winnie, right or wrong. But you don’t mean you’ve left for good? Oh, come and sing with us at St. John’s that would be lovely!”

Winifred girded herself mentally for her task. She and lively Miss Forrester had never discussed spiritual things together. They spoke freely of their choirs and of church, but that never seemed dissonant with the most frivolous social things. Now as Winifred thought of the real Holy Place and the worship there “in spirit and in truth,” it seemed difficult to speak of it. She began bravely, and began at the beginning, with Mr. Bond’s sermon. She rehearsed many of the things that he said, and told frankly of her own conviction of the truth and how it troubled her. Adele listened gravely and with a sympathetic moisture in her eyes as Winifred told, with little hitches in her voice and evident effort at self-control, of her determination to leave the theater of her unreal worship, and then of the way she had found into the real presence of God and of His forgiveness. She paused here, and Adele put her arms impulsively about her and kissed her.

“Winnie,” she said, “you know I always loved you. I love you better than ever now.”

Then they both cried, though they could not have explained to each other why. Adele was the first to recover herself.

“I am such a goose,” she said. “I always cry. But now, Winnie,” she added, “are you not going to keep on singing, only ’in spirit and in truth,’ as you say?”

“I hope I shall keep on singing,” said Winifred, slowly, “but I dare not trust myself, just now anyhow, to go on with the choir. I am so used to singing for applause” and she blushed at the remembrance of such a motive in the house of the Lord “or for music’s sake, I am afraid I should find myself doing so still. I mean to worship God truly,” and a look of determination settled the sensitive face into resolute lines; “and I shall try to do that which will help me most to that end. It seems to me now that that will be to join the others unobserved. Perhaps I shall see it differently some day, but now I feel it safer to put my poor, vain, little self as far out of sight as possible and try to think of God.”

“You are a dear, honest little thing!” cried Adele affectionately. Then she added very seriously, “but it almost seems to me that if your objections are right they might apply to the whole system.”

Winifred looked perplexed. She had dimly thought of that. The word “system” recalled Mr. Bond’s phrase, “an organized system of unreality,” which she had turned over in her mind a number of times. Would he call the choir that? She thought of the leader, who professed nothing as a Christian; of the organist, who, she must admit, was a drunkard; of George Frothingham with his careless indifference; and of herself of two days ago. Perhaps there were others very likely there were who sang with grace in their hearts unto the Lord, but it certainly looked as though that were no object in their selection. But she thought of Doctor Schoolman, who raised no objections and always sat with such an expression of bland repose while they sang. She thought of the elders her own father among them and, indeed, of common consent everywhere in all the churches; at least, all she knew. Who was she, who was only “just beginning to worship,” that she should entertain ideas contrary to them all?

“I don’t know,” she said hesitatingly to Adele, “I hope you will not think my ideas revolutionary. I can’t judge for others others so much wiser than I. But, for myself, I think I see the way I ought to take.” And so she settled the matter for herself, on her own convictions.

“Perhaps you are right,” Adele said.

She could not speak further of the opera which seemed awkwardly out of place in the light of what Winifred had said. After a pause she said:

“I’m afraid we are all hypocrites more or less, but it is a wonder we had not thought of it before. But, do you know, I’ve sometimes thought it rather queer that Mr. Francis should sing in our choir? He is a confessed infidel. I do not believe our rector knows it. I do not think he would allow it. Mr. Francis just drifted into the choir when we needed a basso very much. But, when you think of it, isn’t it blasphemy to take the name of the Lord, whom he professes not to believe in, so solemnly upon his lips in church?”

Winifred consented that so it seemed to her.

Then a sudden recollection amused Miss Forrester. “Speaking of worshipers,” she said, “now there is my precious Cousin Dick. How do you think he occupied himself in the midst of Morning Prayer a couple of Sundays ago? The rogue! I certainly was keeping the run of the service, but it was edifying to see his head bowed so devoutly until he passed a slip of paper over to me. What do you think was on it? Not a suddenly inspired hymn, but some doggerel lines about

“’A certain young woman
Who sang high soprano.’

“I looked daggers at him, but of course he saw I wanted to laugh. Then he looked such a picture of rapt piety! Oh, he is a case!” And Adele gave way to the laughter she had smothered in church.

Winifred smiled, too, as she thought of the irrepressibly merry youth. But her pleasure was not as unmixed as it would have been three days before. Henceforth, any jest to be quite enjoyed must be free from taint of irreverence toward holy things. She had “begun to know God,” and the knowledge gave a sensitiveness to the honor of His name and the things of His house.

Adele recovered from her mirth and resumed the subject seriously.

“I am afraid we are sorry worshipers, when you come to look at it,” she said. “If our office is really such a sacred one and I see it must be, if we take it seriously why, then, we ought to be pretty good people; earnest, and reverent, and all that, I mean. But it doesn’t seem to be our distinguishing trait,” and she smiled. “Not mine, at least. I ought not to generalize too much. I am sure there are persons in our choirs who live beautiful, devoted lives; but the lot I fraternize with mostly are not likely to go to the stake just yet for their piety. What awfully jolly dances the Emmanuel church choir gave last winter! I was invited two or three times and went. But you know it has struck me once or twice as a little odd that we church singers, as such, should go into that sort of thing. If some of us should stray into it individually it’s nothing remarkable, I suppose. But isn’t it a bit queer that, as a company, we should lead off in those things? I suppose,” with a twinkle of malicious enjoyment in her eyes, “our Emmanuel church neighbors could not find vent for their joy in the Lord in Hosannas on Sunday, and had to work it off at their heels on week days.”

Adele enjoyed her own satire, but Winifred was too repentant to laugh.

“Oh, Adele,” she said, “it is dreadful that there has been no ’joy in the Lord’ about it. At least, I never knew it in the choir. Christ was never the center of our thoughts” (she was thinking of Mr. Bond’s sermon), “the object of devotion. If we worshiped anybody or anything outside of ourselves it was Music.”

“Orpheus?” suggested Adele.

“Yes,” said Winifred, “we were pagans, I suppose. But oh, Adele, God is so good to forgive! It seems as though He were not looking at it at all as if it had never been.”

Adele looked at her friend narrowly. “Winnie,” she said at length, solemnly, “I know what has happened. You are converted.”

Winifred opened her eyes in surprise. She had not thought to so define her new experience. Adele went on:

“We don’t talk much about it in our church, you know. But I used to go sometimes with old Auntie Bloom she was so blind she couldn’t see the sidewalk to a little Methodist church of some sort, Free, or Reformed, or something, and they made a great deal of that. Auntie Bloom used to get rather excited over it herself sometimes when she ‘testified.’ I used to duck my head when she waved her arms about. ‘A new creature!’ she used to shout. ‘There’s nothing like being a new creature!’” And Adele quoted the old lady with good-natured mimicry.

Winifred’s face glowed. “No,” she said, “there’s nothing like it! if that is what has happened to me.”

Adele looked at the happy face covetously. “You look as though it were good, Winnie,” she said, and added meditatively: “I think it is all true about it. But you know, Winnie, when I was confirmed I really meant to be good. It was so solemn, and I thought I never should forget that dear old bishop’s hand on my head. But I haven’t turned out much of a saint, you know, dear.”

“I never thought you were wicked, Adele,” said Winifred.

“Well, I never robbed a bank,” said Adele, “but there’s no question about my being ‘this worldly’ enough.”

Winifred did not know just how to answer this. It seemed a charge that would cover both their previous lives. In a moment’s silence a sweet-toned clock on the mantel softly struck a half hour.

“Oh, I must be gone!” cried Miss Forrester, “and we haven’t talked about half ”

“Do stay to lunch,” interrupted Winifred.

“Impossible, dear. I am due at home half an hour ago!” and she laughed at the discrepancy between her appointment and appearance. “Good-by, Winnie.” And she was off.

The two, very opposite in temperament, were very warm friends. Winifred saw beneath a light exterior a quantity of good, sound sense and a warm heart. She was a frequent guest at their house. Mrs. Gray liked her, though deploring her occasional indulgence in slang. Mr. Gray enjoyed her racy conversation, and Hubert professed a dislike of her volatile qualities. This last fact grieved Winifred, who liked her friend to be appreciated.

“She has a rather frivolous exterior,” she once explained to Hubert, “but she is really very sensible.”

“One would like to hear from the sensible interior occasionally,” he replied, and Winifred withdrew from the defense. She was the more grieved by his indifference to her friend because, with her quick intuition, she had half guessed at a secret liking in Adele for her cynical brother.

To-day at luncheon Winifred ventured to offer him the information:

“Adele Forrester was in to see me this morning.”

“I heard her giggle,” he replied laconically, and Winifred subsided into silence.