Finally a thought possessed her that she could not escape. What was to hinder her from taking Loreen home with her? Why should not this homeless, wretched creature, reeking with the fumes of liquor, 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 any 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?” That was what Virginia faced, and she finally answered it by touching the girl again.
“Loreen, come. You are going home with me. We will take the car here at the corner.”
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 car it was nearly full of people going uptown. Virginia was painfully conscious of the stare that greeted her and her companion as they entered. But her thought was directed more and more to the approaching scene with her grandmother. What would Madam 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 a curious crowd of so-called civilized 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 the 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.
Madam Page was in the library. Hearing Virginia come in, she came into the hall. Virginia stood there supporting Loreen, who stared stupidly at the rich magnificence of the furnishings around her.
“Grandmother,” Virginia spoke without hesitation and very clearly, “I have brought one of my friends from the Rectangle. She is in trouble and has no home. I am going to care for her here a little while.”
Madam Page glanced from her granddaughter to Loreen in astonishment.
“Did you say she is one of your friends?” she asked in a cold, sneering voice that hurt Virginia more than anything she had yet felt.
“Yes, I said so.” Virginia’s face flushed, but she seemed to recall a verse that Mr. Gray had used for one of his recent sermons, “A friend of publicans and sinners.” Surely, Jesus would do this that she was doing.
“Do you know what this girl is?” asked Madam Page, in an angry whisper, stepping near Virginia.
“I know very well. She is an outcast. You need not tell me, grandmother. I know it even better than you do. She is drunk at this minute. But she is also a child of God. I have seen her on her knees, repentant. And I have seen hell reach out its horrible fingers after her again. And by the grace of Christ I feel that the least that I can do is to rescue her from such peril. Grandmother, we call ourselves Christians. Here is a poor, lost human creature without a home, slipping back into a life of misery and possibly eternal loss, and we have more than enough. I have brought her here, and I shall keep her.”
Madam Page glared at Virginia and clenched her hands. All this was contrary to her social code of conduct. How could society excuse familiarity with the scum of the streets? What would Virginia’s action cost the family in the way of criticism and loss of standing, and all that long list of necessary relations which people of wealth and position must sustain to the leaders of society? To Madam Page society represented more than the church or any other institution. It 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.
She stood erect and stern and confronted Virginia, fully roused and determined. Virginia 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. We cannot afford for the sake of our reputations to shelter such a person.”
“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 do not stay in the same house with a miserable–” Madam Page lost her self-control. Virginia stopped her before she could speak the next word.
“Grandmother, this house is mine. It is your home with me as long as you choose to remain. But in this matter I must act as I fully believe Jesus would in my place. I am willing to bear all that society may say or do. Society is not my God. By the side of this poor soul I do not count the verdict of society as of any value.”
“I shall not stay here, then!” said Madam Page. She turned suddenly and walked to the end of the hall. She then came back, and going up to Virginia said, with an emphasis that revealed her intensive excitement of passion: “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 called a servant and soon had Loreen cared for. She was fast lapsing into a wretched condition. During the brief scene in the hall she had clung to Virginia so hard that her arm was sore from the clutch of the girl’s fingers.
Virginia did not know whether her grandmother would leave the house or not. She 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 in the 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, as she did in her room before she went down to tea, she found little cause for regret. “What would Jesus do?” There was no question in her mind that she had done the right thing. If she had made a mistake, it was one of judgment, not of heart.