Read CHAPTER VI - MR. FROTHINGHAM AND THE CHOIR REHEARSAL of The First Soprano, free online book, by Mary Hitchcock, on ReadCentral.com.

Unsympathetic Nature was still in tears when the next morning broke upon Hubert’s new-found joy. But so ardent was it that no weather could dampen it. His first waking thoughts were of the marvelous treasure he had found. A new life stretched out before him. He was a new man. He had entered into a new world whose center of gravity was in heaven, “where Christ is,” and an indescribable, exultant gladness filled his soul. He had received Him, the divine Visitant from that other world, and his own soul was quickened with the life He brought. Henceforth he claimed kinship with Him and with the Father. A new motive power of living had entered into his being. He was not conscious of prayer, but it was in his heart, making response to the revelation which had come to him, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” The new realm must have its own laws of living, very contrary to those of this world, and he would know them.

First of all there was a simple, straightforward task before him and he was eager to discharge it. So after a hasty toilet he went down to the library where he rightly surmised he should find his father also an early riser and presented himself at the other side of the table before him.

“Eh! Good morning, Hubert,” said Mr. Gray, as he looked up from his reading.

“Good morning, father,” said Hubert. And he added, “I have something to tell you.”

“Really? I hope there is no ill news?” Mr. Gray’s first thought was of business, but a second glance at Hubert’s face showed there was no unpleasant message to communicate. And there was a strange expression on his son’s face. He had never seen it before not, at least, since Hubert was a boy. No, not even then. What was it?

Hubert answered his father’s questions of word and searching look.

“No, father,” he said, “it is far from ill news. It is this: I am no longer a sceptic. I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

“Eh? What? Hubert!”

The older man’s face passed in lightning changes from stages of wonder to joy, and he sprang from his chair. He grasped his son’s hand across the table.

“Hubert!” he repeated, “my dear boy!”

His voice choked on the last word. A certain strain of Scottish blood forbade a warmer demonstration, but the two men’s hand-clasp was eloquent. Presently Mr. Gray asked Hubert to be seated and tell him all about it, wondering much meanwhile at the change very often sighed for but seldom expected.

Hubert told his story as directly as possible, but minus many details of his heart struggle of which his reserved nature made it impossible to speak. But, bare of all embellishment, the story gave great joy to his father. His own example as a Christian had not been a brilliant one. His principles were just, as men count equity, and his life irreproachable by their standards. But the business man seemed often to hold the ascendency over the disciple of Jesus Christ, and Hubert had sometimes wondered cynically wherein his father differed from himself except in his attendance upon outward religious forms. But the spark of life, dull and smoldering, answered to the breath of Hubert’s good news of salvation, and he was unfeignedly glad.

They started together for the dining-room when the bell rang, but met Winifred in the hall. She had just come in from the garden, clad in rain-coat and cap, roses glowing in her cheeks from the keen, damp air, and a big bouquet of flame-colored flowers in her hands.

“We shall have sunshine without the sun,” she cried to Hubert. “These flowers have caught his color.”

“That is a parable,” he answered quickly.

“Expound it please,” she said.

Mr. Gray went on into the dining-room, and Hubert explained to Winifred her mystic text.

“These flowers,” he said, “give indisputable evidence of the sun’s existence, even though we cannot see it. They could not have their color without it. There is a sweet soul in this house who caught the beams of the Sun before I quite knew that He was, and she testified of Him, reflecting His glory when I was in great darkness. It helped me to suppose that He existed and to try to find out for myself.”

Winifred looked deeply in Hubert’s dark eyes and saw the hunger gone from them. He smiled on her.

“Hubert,” she said, “have you found Him?”

“Yes,” he said.

Her flowers fell to the floor. She threw her arms about his neck with a sob of joy.

“Oh, Hubert, I am so glad!” she cried. “I prayed ” and her voice broke.

Breakfast waited in the dining-room, but Mr. Gray improved the time by trying to explain to his wife the great change that had come to their son. She could not understand the phenomenon, and the process that led to it was exceedingly misty, but she was glad if Hubert had come to see things differently, and hoped he would join the church at once, and the reproach of his sceptical views be wiped out forever. She felt a little nervous and excited at the announcement, and wondered just what acknowledgment of it she should make. A pink flush had stolen into her fair face by the time Hubert and Winifred entered. He walked straight across the room to where she was standing and took her soft, white hand in both his.

“Has father told you my news, mother?” he asked.

“Yes, dear Hubert,” she said, and kissed him. “I am very glad. It has been a grief ” and she hesitated. She thought to say, “that you have not been with us,” but he finished the sentence for her.

“That I have not been a Christian? I know it must have been. Forgive me for all the pain it has given you. I have been wrong and blind.”

The maid peered in, and Mrs. Gray was glad of the interruption and to propose that they sit down at once. She was glad of breakfast, too. She saw no reason why the coffee should spoil, even though the son and heir of the house had just now come into an inheritance exceeding the most fabulous fortunes of earth.

The blessing was asked less formally than usual, and Mr. Gray thanked the Lord also for the Bread of Life which had visited them. Later in the course of conversation he remarked:

“By the way, you will all be interested to hear that Mr. Bond, who preached for us last Sunday, is to give a series of Bible Lectures in the Y.M.C.A. Hall, beginning in about a fortnight. Mr. Selton is bringing it about. It was through him that we had the privilege of hearing Mr. Bond last Sunday.”

“Then it was not upon Doctor Schoolman’s invitation?” queried Hubert.

“Oh, he invited him, of course, but it was at Mr. Selton’s wish. He is very influential, you know. He heard Mr. Bond when he was in New York last winter and was much interested in his teaching. So he suggested having him here for a Sunday, and himself undertook the expense.”

Fortunately for this instance Mr. Selton possessed the two qualifications, so often united in church life, of influence and wealth.

“Later,” went on Mr. Gray, “he spoke with several men, including myself, about the advisability of the Bible Lectures, having secured Mr. Bond’s consent before he left on Monday. We saw no objection. I think, myself, that we need a little stirring up now and then.”

“And the lectures are to be in the Y.M.C.A. Hall?” asked Hubert, with interest.

“Yes, that is a central point, and we wish to make them union meetings.”

“I am very glad to hear about it,” said Hubert.

The rainy day passed, its somberness meanwhile lightened by a greater glow than that of Winifred’s flame-colored flowers, and Friday came, radiant with sunshine. It was passed without special incident until evening, which was the time of the weekly choir rehearsal. Then Mr. George Frothingham called, as had become his wont, to escort Winifred to the church. That had once been Hubert’s task, and bitterly he had resented it when gradually the change came about. Now he need have no fear, for his sister was not going. She had not seen Frothingham since Sunday, and during the day had looked forward with a little unpleasant dread to the interview that must be. She imagined various ways in which she should break to him the news that she had left the choir, but none seemed satisfactory. All her little speeches left her as the time drew near.

He found her at the piano, where improvised melodies had been working off her nervous apprehension.

“Not ready?” he asked, after the usual salutations.

“I am not going.”

“Really? You are not ill, I hope?”

“Oh, no! I never was better,” confessed Winifred.

“You should go above all things to-night,” he said. “Mr. Mercer is going to give us parts of the Redemption.”

The music was certainly alluring.

“I have left the choir,” said Winifred faintly.

Mr. Frothingham never lost his easy self-poise over anything which this jestingly tolerated world offered him, but he allowed himself to be surprised now.

“You are surely not in earnest?” he said. “You of all persons! I thought you were devoted to the choir. You are not going to desert us for some other field of conquest?”

“Oh, no!” said Winifred.

“Have you quarreled with Mercer?” he persisted. “He is cranky sometimes. Shall I fight him?”

Winifred had to laugh at the thought of the handsome, immaculate young man before her in a pugilistic encounter with Mr. Mercer.

“No, you needn’t do that,” she said; and added, “you would get the worst of it, I think.”

“Oh, really! Thanks very much! Perhaps you do not know my prowess in those lines? But on the whole I should prefer a smaller man than Mercer. He shall be spared if you say so.”

“You relieve me,” said Winifred, laughing.

But how was she to explain the truth to Frothingham? It was easier to jest with him than to speak earnestly, and Winifred had an instinctive feeling, not definitely acknowledged, that to make him understand a spiritual idea would be impossible.

“But really, Winifred,” he went on, “if it is not rude to ask, I should like to know what great reason makes you desert us now in the very height of your success, and, I should think, enjoyment?”

Smiles left her face, and a flush of embarrassment deepened in her cheeks. It was very hard to speak to him of these things harder than it had been to any other.

“That is just it,” she said slowly. “It has been a success for me, artistically, and a great enjoyment. But there has been nothing in it for for Christ.” She hesitated before the sacred name. Why was it so hard to speak it before him?

He was silent. They were already by the simple mention of that name in deeper water, conversationally, than he was accustomed to. She had to go on.

“I have been convinced,” she said, “that it has all been very wrong. I have been offering to God a pretended worship, when it has really been the worship of our Art. That must be idolatry, I think. I can’t go on with it.”

Winifred stopped decisively, and Frothingham found words to reply with just a tinge of irony:

“I am afraid you are a bit too metaphysical for me, Winifred. I don’t quite understand you. Do you mean to say singing in the choir is wrong? If it is, it is a pretty common sin and quite generally approved of.”

“No, it isn’t wrong,” said Winifred desperately; “at least, it would be the loveliest thing in the world, I think, if we were all true worshipers, and meant what we sang, and sang to God. But you know it hasn’t been anything of the sort. We have sung for our own pleasure and the applause of the people.”

“And the money, some of us,” asserted Frothingham with indifferent candor. “But I don’t see why we should be troubled about it. It’s a part of the machine. It goes to make up the church worship, and a considerable part of it. I suppose they offer it to the Lord or whatever you call it whether we individual performers mean anything or not.”

Winifred thought of the prayer-wheels. Did the church turn the machine and grind out praises by proxy? How much merit did they accumulate thereby in the eyes of God who is a Spirit, and would be worshiped “in spirit and in truth”? It was very perplexing. She could not argue it all out with him, but she said:

“If the individual worshipers are insincere, I should think the total result” (she had a little of her father’s business logic) “would be insincerity.”

He smiled at her reasoning. “Let the clergy thrash that out,” he said. “When they or the church find fault it will be time enough for my conscience to twinge.”

“I think one of the clergy did find fault in the sermon Sunday morning,” ventured Winifred.

“Oh, that young fellow?” said Frothingham carelessly. “I didn’t find out what he was getting at. Doctor Schoolman always looks beatific when we sing. While he continues to beam I shall still consider that singing in the choir is about the most pious act I do.”

Mr. Frothingham was rather vain of the brevity of his list of pious deeds.

“Oh, come on, Winifred,” he continued, grasping her hand coaxingly, “don’t bother your head about such mystical things. Come on and sing. Think of the Redemption.”

She did think of it, and tears struggled to come with the thought.

“I am not going,” she said, without looking in his eyes. “Don’t ask me, George.”

“And you have no pity on poor me, going without you?”

“No,” she answered, smiling. “You will survive it.”

“Cruel lady!” he said dramatically, and bore her slender fingers to his lips.

She withdrew her hand with a slight flush, and he bethought him to look at his watch.

“Oh,” he exclaimed, “it’s late. Mercer will think he has lost me, too.”

He made hasty adieux and was off, his light, swinging step sounding pleasantly down the walk.

Winifred stood where he had left her, with a conflict of emotions in her heart. She still felt the tingle of his lips upon her hand, and still smiled at the airy nothings he said. But there was pain in the compound of her thoughts; pain at a difference between them that proclaimed its power to grow wider; pain at defeat in making a principle understood and appreciated; pain most of all from the subtle sense of something pure and sweet now sullied, as though too rude a breath had blown upon a sensitive flower, or as though pearls had been ignorantly trodden upon.

Meanwhile Frothingham, on his way to the handsome church, indulged in characteristic meditations of his own regarding Winifred’s strange freak. He heartily hoped she would get over it. It was a stupid turn for affairs to take as regarded himself; for perpetual meetings at the choir, with the pleasant walks attached, and frequent private rehearsals in the Gray drawing-room had furnished admirable facilities for the courtship of whose issue he had not a doubt. But it was far from a misfortune that could not be mended. He should miss her immensely, of course, but there were other pleasant people in the choir and he held an easy popularity among them. Then he was too well ingratiated in her favor and as a frequent guest at her house to be displaced by this matter. He should still do the attentive in every available way. But he hoped she was not getting fanatical. It would be inexpressibly stupid to have a wife over pious, with extreme views about things. He should like her to be religious up to a certain point. He thought women ought to be that. It was a good thing to have somebody in a house who knew something about those things in case of trouble. Mr. Frothingham was himself in the insurance business at the head of a prominent company’s office for that city and he was accustomed to take business-like account of life risks, and to recognize death as a hard factor to be dealt with. Just now he unconsciously erected a kind of spiritual lightning rod against his future house in the piety of its expected mistress. But he hoped she would not get too religious not enough so to interfere with the life of gayety which he expected to continue for many a year. But it did not occur to him to relinquish her even if she should begin to show symptoms of extreme views. He was rather fond of Winifred quite so, in fact; and he was not indifferent to “the old man’s ducats,” as he had confided to himself and to one or two most intimate friends. On the whole he congratulated himself on pleasant prospects ahead, and was not too much disconcerted by his own appearance alone at the rehearsal.

Winifred spent the evening rather ill at ease. Its pleasant habit was broken up. Had she been foolish? Was she not taking an unheard-of stand? Would it have been better to go along and conform her course to the popular conscience instead of her own, perhaps very silly, one? She should be laughed at, and it was miserable to be laughed at or thought eccentric. She tried to play the piano, but imagined strains from the Redemption interrupted her. She went to talk with her mother, but found her seated beside the library table with her embroidery while her father read aloud.

Mrs. Gray managed to utter an aside:

“I had forgotten, child, that you were not going to the rehearsal. How strange it seems!”

Winifred drifted away again, unable to listen to what her father was reading. Hubert was nowhere to be found. She went at last to her own room and did the best thing possible. She poured out her heart before God, telling Him with the simplicity that had characterized her first coming to Him her perplexity and unhappiness.

“I am miserable,” she said to Him. “I don’t know whether I have done right or not, and I miss the music so much. Please let me know if it is right to give it up? I do wish to worship Thee.”

No flood of revelation poured at once upon her, but she took her Bible and read. She had learned no method of study, but read where she chanced to open. The portion did not say anything about choirs or rehearsals, but it led her mind away and soothed her. And its atmosphere was so pure and fragrant that when the debated thing rose again it was instantly judged by contrast. Very different was the spiritual air of her choir experience, as in imagination she stepped back into it; and the fellowship of George Frothingham, Mr. Mercer, and the drink-sodden organist, did not seem like the communion of the saints as she found it in the Acts of the Apostles.

With the vanishing of her doubts as to the wisdom of her course came back the gentle peace that she had known for five blessed days, and its price was above all musical delights.