FOLLOWED a time when as a
green leaf tom from its bough by the storm-wind, driven across yawning
chasms and whirled through forests of fire-blackened snags, I lay flat
in the mud, kicked and trampled under beastly feet. This was in London,
I was sitting on a beer
keg one evening, when across the market square came surging the song:
“We’ll all praise the Lord
for the victories we have won.
The Salvation Army will make the devil run-”
“Make the devil run!” I
echoed to myself. “Good! I’d like to be in the fight.”
The men and women singers
came round the corner. The red and blue of their jackets caught my
fancy. They marched beneath their flag, keeping step to the drum tap and
singing to the clash of their cymbals:
“We’ll fight beneath our
banner till we die.”
That, too, caught me. I
drew near while they formed a circle and knelt down in the dust. I
wondered what they had lost.
Approaching one of the
men I jabbed my thumb into his ribs.
“What yeh lookin’ f’r?” I
“Lookin’ f’r bums like
you,” was his reply, “and we’ve got t’ git down pretty low t’ find some
I followed the soldiers
to their barracks and enjoyed their meeting.
I had attended religious
services before. While I was with the cowboys, years back, I went with
them to a little church on the edge of a settlement. As usual, from
every belt in the outfit, a sixshooter was swinging.
Something during the
service made us laugh. This, with the comments of the cowpunchers,
spoken in no still small voice, brought a tall, red-whiskered person
down the aisle.
I sat on the end of the
bench, so he collared me and he shook me, much as a dog shakes a rat.
“Git out o’ here, you!”
My companions were on
their feet instantly, guns in hand, muzzles trained on the militant
“Now, look-a-hyeah, suh,”
drawled one of the men, “we-all’s hyeah t’ see this hyeah show, en’
we-all’s a-goin’t’ stay till it’s aout.”
The churchman felt
persuaded to let us stay.
After coming into
civilisation, I had also occasionally attended divine service.
Once I followed a
well-dressed procession into a church and became deeply interested in
the doings of several young people who were cooped up in a small pen
back of the minister.
A little fellow arose
with a stick in his hand and struck at a young lady. She began to
He threatened a man with
the stick and he hollered.
The small dapper young
fellow then flourished his stick as though he meant to tackle the whole
bunch, and they all hollered at him.
Those young people
reminded me of bull-whackers I had heard on the plains, when urging the
cattle to do their best work. What they were hollering sounded very like
“whoa-haw-back! gee-e, buck!”
Not having educated ears,
I was unable to detect the music they were supposed to be making.
When I started to leave
the church, a man at the door asked me pleasantly to remain a while
“Naw, I’ve had enough.
What do yeh call it, anyway?” I asked.
“Why! church, of course,”
He eyed me curiously, as
he went on.
“Church, my dear sir, is
the place where the best people in the world go. Of course—ah—there are
He stopped hitching
along, and started in again.
“This morning when the
others go out, the good people are going to stay in, and they are going
to have a good time. I would be pleased,” he finished smoothly, “to have
The bad people went out.
The good stayed in. They
gathered up near the front of the church and sang something about sin,
death, the grave, and hell.
Then a nice-looking old
lady arose and told the others how mean she was. When she had cried a
little, she sat down.
They sang again. Tbat
song reminded me of an Indian death-song.
After it an old gentleman
with side-whiskers got up. He had the look of one who had just committed
a crime. He declared he was a worm, and tremblingly finished by
confessing that he was about the worst man that any of them had ever
laid eyes on.
I took my hat and started
I had been among some bad
people in my time. But this was the worst crowd I had ever struck.
I was greatly puzzled by
what I had seen and heard. I was bad enough, but I felt pretty sure it
would get out on me, without my telling any one about it.
In the Salvation Army
meeting I noticed that the singing was different. It had a victorious
Men and women stood up
and looked at me with eyes that had been half put out by sin. But they
exultantly declared that God had taken the badness out of them; that
once they had been blind, but He had made them see; that once they were
in the miry clay, but now He had placed their feet upon a solid rock.
And they shouted out their gladness.
I told myself that was
what I wanted—that brand of religion, instead of the kind they have in
One night I sat in the
meeting with leaden heart. I was tired, hungry, discouraged and
bitter—ready for anything, no matter what the end might be. Who cared?
I know what physical pain
is. I know the pain of heart-hunger. But the anguish that comes with the
thought that “no one cares” I have found greater by far than any other
That night as I sat in
torment, a little girl—a prattling child—came to me and timidly told me
in a whisper of Him who is the friend of sinners. To me that child’s
whisper was a shout in a silence. It was a feast in a famine. Kneeling
at my side she prayed for me. Often have I thought since then that
The-Above-Ones must have hushed their music to listen to that child’s
prayer for the good-for-nothing, outcast nobody.
That night the world
turned over, and people turned right side out.