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Tahan
Chapter XXXVII I Meet the Salvation Army


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, Canada.

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 asked.

“Lookin’ f’r bums like you,” was his reply, “and we’ve got t’ git down pretty low t’ find some o’ yeh.”

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!” he hissed.

My companions were on their feet instantly, guns in hand, muzzles trained on the militant churchman.

“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 scream.

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 longer.

“Naw, I’ve had enough. What do yeh call it, anyway?” I asked.

“Why! church, of course,” he replied.

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 others—ah—who—well—ah-”

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 you remain.”

I stayed.

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 out.

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 ring.

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 church.

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 suffering.

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.


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