Chapter XIX.
 

Mr. Dinneford had become deeply interested in the work that was going on in Briar street, and made frequent visits to the mission house. Sometimes he took heart in the work, but oftener he suffered great discouragement of feeling. In one of his many conversations with Mr. Paulding he said,

"Looking as I do from the standpoint gained since I came here, I am inclined to say there is no hope. The enemy is too strong for us."

"He is very strong," returned the missionary, "but God is stronger, and our cause is his cause. We have planted his standard here in the very midst of the enemy's territory, and have not only held our ground for years, but gained some victories. If we had the people, the churches and the law-officers on our side, we could drive him out in a year. But we have no hope of this--at least not for a long time to come; and so, as wisely as we can, as earnestly as we can, and with the limited means at our control, we are fighting the foe and helping the weak, and gaining a little every year."

"And you really think there is gain?"

"I know it," answered the missionary, with a ringing confidence in his voice. "It is by comparisons that we are able to get at true results. Come with me into our school-room, next door."

They passed from the office of the mission into the street.

"These buildings," said Mr. Paulding, "erected by that true Christian charity which hopeth all things, stand upon the very site of one of the worst dens once to be found in this region. In them we have a chapel for worship, two large and well ventilated school-rooms, where from two to three hundred children that would not be admitted into any public school are taught daily, a hospital and dispensary and bathrooms. Let me show you the school. Then I will give you a measure of comparison."

Mr. Dinneford went up to the school-rooms. He found them crowded with children, under the care of female teachers, who seemed to have but little trouble in keeping them in order. Such a congregation of boys and girls Mr. Dinneford had never seen before. It made his heart ache as he looked into some of their marred and pinched, faces, most of which bore signs of pain, suffering, want and evil. It moved him to tears when he heard them sing, led by one of the teachers, a tender hymn expressive of the Lord's love for poor neglected children.

"The Lord Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost," said the missionary as they came down from the school-room, "and we are trying to do the same work. And that our labor is not all in vain will be evident when I show you what this work was in the beginning. You have seen a little of what it is now."

They went back to the office of the missionary.

"It is nearly twenty years," said Mr. Paulding, "since the organization of our mission. The question of what to do for the children became at once the absorbing one. The only building in which to open a Sunday-school that could be obtained was an old dilapidated frame house used as a receptacle for bones, rags, etc.; but so forbidding was its aspect, and so noisome the stench arising from the putrefying bones and rotting rags, that it was feared for the health of those who might occupy it. However it was agreed to try the effect of scraping, scrubbing, white-washing and a liberal use of chloride of lime. This was attended with such good effects that, notwithstanding the place was still offensive to the olfactories, the managers concluded to open in it our first Sabbath-school.

"No difficulty was experienced in gathering in a sufficient number of children to compose a school; for, excited by such a novel spectacle as a Sabbath-school in that region, they came in crowds. But such a Sabbath-school as that first one was beyond all doubt the rarest thing of the kind that any of those interested in its formation had ever witnessed. The jostling, tumbling, scratching, pinching, pulling of hair, little ones crying and larger ones punching each other's heads and swearing most profanely, altogether formed a scene of confusion and riot that disheartened the teachers in the start, and made them begin to think they had undertaken a hopeless task.

"As to the appearance of these young Ishmaelites, it was plain that they had rarely made the acquaintance of soap and water. Hands, feet and face exhibited a uniform crust of mud and filth. As it was necessary to obtain order, the superintendent, remembering that 'music hath charms to soothe the savage breast,' decided to try its effects on the untamed group before him; and giving out a line of a hymn adapted to the tune of 'Lily Dale,' he commenced to sing. The effect was instantaneous. It was like oil on troubled waters. The delighted youngsters listened to the first line, and then joined in with such hearty good-will that the old shanty rang again.

"The attempt to engage and lead them in prayer was, however, a matter of great difficulty. They seemed to regard the attitude of kneeling as very amusing, and were reluctant to commit themselves so far to the ridicule of their companions as to be caught in such a posture. After reading to them a portion of the Holy Scriptures and telling them of Jesus, they were dismissed, greatly pleased with their first visit to a Sabbath-school.

"As for ourselves, we had also received a lesson. We found--what indeed we had expected--that the poor children were very ignorant, but we also found what we did not expect--namely, such an acute intelligence and aptitude to receive instruction as admonished us of the danger of leaving them to grow up under evil influences to become master-spirits in crime and pests to society. Many of the faces that we had just seen were very expressive--indeed, painfully so. Some of them seemed to exhibit an unnatural and premature development of those passions whose absence makes childhood so attractive.

"Hunger! ay, its traces were also plainly written there. It is painful to see the marks of hunger on the human face, but to see the cheeks of childhood blanched by famine, to behold the attenuated limbs and bright wolfish eyes, ah! that is a sight.

"The organization of a day-school came next. There were hundreds of children in the district close about the mission who were wholly without instruction. They were too dirty, vicious and disorderly to be admitted into any of the public schools; and unless some special means of education were provided, they must grow up in ignorance. It was therefore resolved to open a day-school, but to find a teacher with her heart in such a work was a difficulty hard to be met; moreover, it was thought by many unsafe for a lady to remain in this locality alone, even though a suitable one should offer. But one brave and self-devoted was found, and one Sunday it was announced to the children in the Sabbath-school that a day school would be opened in the same building at nine o'clock on Monday morning.

"About thirty neglected little ones from the lanes and alleys around the mission were found at the schoolroom door at the appointed hour. But when admitted, very few of them had any idea of the purpose for which they were collected. The efforts of the teacher to seat them proved a failure. The idea among them seemed to be that each should take some part in amusing the company. One would jump from the back of a bench upon which he had been seated, while others were creeping about the floor; another, who deemed himself a proficient in turning somersaults, would be trying his skill in this way, while his neighbor, equally ambitious, would show the teacher how he could stand on his head. Occasionally they would pause and listen to the singing of a hymn or the reading of a little story; then all would be confusion again; and thus the morning wore away. The first session having closed, the teacher retired to her home, feeling that a repetition of the scenes through which she had passed could scarcely be endured.

"Two o'clock found her again at the door, and the children soon gathered around her. Upon entering the schoolroom, most of them were induced to be seated, and a hymn was sung which they had learned in the Sabbath-school. When it was finished, the question was asked, 'Shall we pray?' With one accord they answered, 'Yes.' 'And will you be quiet?' They replied in the affirmative. All were then requested to be silent and cover their faces. In this posture they remained until the prayer was closed; and after resuming their seats, for some minutes order was preserved. This was the only encouraging circumstance of the day.

"For many weeks a stranger would scarcely have recognized a school in this disorderly gathering which day after day met in the old gloomy building. Very many difficulties which we may not name were met and conquered. Fights were of common occurrence. A description of one may give the reader an idea of what came frequently under our notice.

"A rough boy about fourteen years of age, over whom some influence had been gained, was chosen monitor one morning; and as he was a leader in all the mischief, it was hoped that putting him upon his honor would assist in keeping order. Talking aloud was forbidden. For a few minutes matters went on charmingly, until some one, tired of the restraint, broke silence. The monitor, feeling the importance of his position, and knowing of but one mode of redress, instantly struck him a violent blow upon the ear, causing him to scream with pain. In a moment the school was a scene of confusion, the friends of each boy taking sides, and before the cause of trouble could be ascertained most of the boys were piled upon each other in the middle of the room, creating sounds altogether indescribable. The teacher, realizing that she was alone, and not well understanding her influence, feared for a moment to interfere; but as matters were growing worse, something must be done. She made an effort to gain the ear of the monitor, and asked why he did so. He, confident of being in the right, answered,

"'Teacher, he didn't mind you; he spoke, and I licked him; and I'll do it again if be don't mind you.'

"His services were of course no longer required, although he had done his duty according to his understanding of the case.

"Thus it was at the beginning of this work nearly twenty years ago," said the missionary. "Now we have an orderly school of over two hundred children, who, but for the opportunity here given, would grow up without even the rudiments of all education. Is not this a gain upon the enemy? Think of a school like this doing its work daily among these neglected little ones for nearly a score of years, and you will no longer feel as if nothing had been done--as if no headway had been gained. Think, too, of the Sabbath-school work in that time, and of the thousands of children who have had their memories filled with precious texts from the Bible, who have been told of the loving Saviour who came into the world and suffered and died for them, and of his tender love and perpetual care over his children, no matter how poor and vile and afar off from him they may be. It is impossible that the good seed of the word scattered here for so long a time should not have taken root in many hearts. We know that they have, and can point to scores of blessed instances--can take you to men and women, now good and virtuous people, who, but for our day-and Sabbath-schools, would, in all human probability, be now among the outcast, the vicious and the criminal.

"So much for what has been done among the children. Our work with men and women has not been so fruitful as might well be supposed, and yet great good has been accomplished even among the hardened, the desperate and the miserably vile and besotted. Bad as things are to-day--awful to see and to contemplate, shocking and disgraceful to a Christian community--they were nearly as bad again at the time this mission set up the standard of God and made battle in his name. Our work began as a simple religious movement, with street preaching."

"And with what effect?" asked Mr. Dinneford.

"With good effect, in a limited number of cases, I trust. In a degraded community like this there will always be some who had a different childhood from that of the crowds of young heathen who swarm its courts and alleys; some who in early life had religious training, and in whose memories were stored up holy things from Scripture; some who have tender and sweet recollection of a mother and home and family prayer and service in God's temples. In the hearts of such God's Spirit in moving could touch and quicken and flush with reviving life these old memories, and through them bring conviction of sin, and an intense desire to rise out of the horrible pit into which they had fallen and the clay wherein their feet were mired. Angels could come near to these by what of good and true was to be found half hidden, but not erased from their book of life, and so help in the work of their recovery and salvation.

"But, sir, beyond this class there is small hope, I fear, in preaching and praying. The great mass of these wretched beings have had little or no early religious instruction. There, are but few, if any, remains of things pure and good and holy stored away since childhood in their memories to be touched and quickened by the Spirit of God. And so we must approach them in another and more external way. We must begin with their physical evils, and lessen these as fast as possible; we must remove temptation from their doors, or get them as far as possible out of the reach of temptation, but in this work not neglecting the religious element as an agency, of untold power.

"Christ fed the hungry, and healed the sick, and clothed the naked, and had no respect unto the persons of men. And we, if we would lift up fallen humanity, must learn by his example. It is not by preaching and prayer and revival meetings that the true Christian philanthropist can hope to accomplish any great good among the people here, but by doing all in his power to change their sad external condition and raise them out of their suffering and degradation. Without some degree of external order and obedience to the laws of natural life, it is, I hold, next to impossible, to plant in the mind any seeds of spiritual truth. There is no ground there. The parable of the sower that went forth to sow illustrates this law. Only the seed that fell on good ground brought forth fruit. Our true work, then, among this heathen people, of whom the churches take so little care, is first to get the ground in order for the planting, of heavenly seed. Failing in this, our hope is small."

"This mission has changed its attitude since the beginning," said Mr. Dinneford.

"Yes. Good and earnest men wrought for years with the evil elements around them, trusting in God's Spirit to change the hearts of the vile and abandoned sinners among whom they preached and prayed. But there was little preparation of the ground, and few seeds got lodgment except in stony places, by the wayside and among thorns. Our work now is to prepare the ground, and in this work, slowly as it is progressing, we have great encouragement. Every year we can mark the signs of advancement. Every year we make some head against the enemy. Every year our hearts take courage and are refreshed by the smell of grasses and the odor of flowers and the sight of fruit-bearing plants in once barren and desolate places. The ground is surely being made ready for the sower."

"I am glad to hear you speak so encouragingly," returned Mr. Dinneford. "To me the case looked desperate--wellnigh hopeless. Anything worse than I have witnessed here seemed impossible."

"It is only by comparisons, as I said before, that we can get at the true measure of change and progress," answered the missionary. "Since we have been at work in earnest to improve the external life of this region, we have had much to encourage us. True, what we have done has made only a small impression on the evil that exists here; but the value of this impression lies in the fact that it shows what can be done with larger agencies. Double our effective force, and we can double the result. Increase it tenfold, and ten times as much can be done."

"What is your idea of this work?" said Mr. Dinneford. "In other words, what do you think the best practical way to purify this region?"

"If you draw burning brands and embers close together, your fire grows stronger; if you scatter them apart, it will go out," answered the missionary. "Moral and physical laws correspond to each other. Crowd bad men and women together, and they corrupt and deprave each other. Separate them, and you limit their evil power and make more possible for good the influence of better conditions. Let me give you an instance: A man and his wife who had lived in a wretched way in one of the poorest hovels in Briar street for two years, and who had become idle and intemperate, disappeared from among us about six months ago. None of their neighbors knew or cared much what had become of them. They had two children. Last week, as I was passing the corner of a street in the south-western part of the city in which stood a row of small new houses, a neatly-dressed woman came out of a store with a basket in her hand. I did not know her, but by the brightening look in her face I saw that she knew me.

"'Mr. Paulding,' she said, in a pleased way, holding out her hand; 'you don't know me,' she added, seeing the doubt in my face. 'I am Mrs.--.'

"'Impossible!' I could not help exclaiming.

"'But it's true, Mr. Paulding,' she averred, a glow of pleasure on her countenance. 'We've turned over a new leaf.'

"'So I should think from your appearance,' I replied. 'Where do you live?'

"'In the third house from the corner,' pointing to the neat row of small brick houses I have mentioned. 'Come and look at our new home. I want to tell you about it!'

"I was too much pleased to need a second invitation.

"'I've got as clean steps as my neighbors,' she said, with pride in her voice, 'and shades to my windows, and a bright door-knob. It wasn't so in Briar street. One had no heart there. Isn't this nice?'

"And she glanced around the little parlor we had entered.

"It was nice, compared to the dirty and disorderly place they had called their home in Briar street. The floor was covered with a new ingrain carpet. There were a small table and six cane-seat chairs in the room, shades at the windows, two or three small pictures on the walls and some trifling ornaments on the mantel. Everything was clean and the air of the room sweet.

"'This is my little Emma,' she said as a cleanly-dressed child came into the room; 'You remember she was in the school.'

"I did remember her as a ragged, dirty-faced child, forlorn and neglected, like most of the children about here. It was a wonderful transformation.

"'And now,' I said, 'tell me how all this has come about.'

"'Well, you see, Mr. Paulding,' she answered, 'there was no use in John and me trying to be anything down there. It was temptation on every hand, and we were weak and easily tempted. There was nothing to make us look up or to feel any pride. We lived like our neighbors, and you know what kind of a way that was.

"'One day John said to me, "Emma," says he, "it's awful, the way we're living; we'd better be dead." His voice was shaky-like, and it kind of made me feel bad. "I know it, John," said I, "but what can we do?" "Go 'way from here," he said. "But where?" I asked. "Anywhere. I'm not all played out yet;" and he held up his hand and shut it tight. "There's good stuff in me yet, and if you're willing to make a new start, I am." I put my hand in his, and said, "God helping me, I will try, John." He went off that very day and got a room in a decent neighborhood, and we moved in it before night. We had only one cart-load, and a wretched load of stuff it was. But I can't tell you how much better it looked when we got it into our new room, the walls of which were nicely papered, and the paint clean and white. I fixed up everything and made it as neat as possible. John was so pleased. "It feels something like old times," he said. He had been knocking about a good while, picking up odd jobs and not half working, but he took heart now, quit drinking and went to work in good earnest, and was soon making ten dollars a week, every cent of which he brought home. He now gets sixteen dollars. We haven't made a back step since. But it wouldn't have been any use trying if we'd stayed in Briar street. Pride helped us a good deal in the beginning, sir. I was ashamed not to have my children looking as clean as my neighbors, and ashamed not to keep things neat and tidy-like. I didn't care anything about it in Briar street.'

"I give you this instance, true in nearly every particular," said the missionary, "in order to show you how incurable is the evil condition of the people here; unless we can get the burning brands apart, they help to consume each other."

"But how to get them apart? that is the difficult question," said Mr. Dinneford.

"There are two ways," was replied--"by forcing the human brands apart, and by interposing incombustible things between them. As we have no authority to apply force, and no means at hand for its exercise if we had the authority, our work has been in the other direction. We have been trying to get in among these burning brands elements that would stand the fire, and, so lessen the ardor of combustion."

"How are you doing this?"

"By getting better houses for the people to live in. Improve the house, make it more sightly and convenient, and in most cases you will improve the person who lives in it. He will not kindle so easily, though he yet remain close to the burning brands."

"And are you doing this?"

"A little has been done. Two or three years ago a building association was organized by a few gentlemen of means, with a view to the purchase of property in this district and the erection of small but good houses, to be rented at moderate cost to honest and industrious people. A number of such houses have already been built, and they are now occupied by tenants of a better class, whose influence on their neighbors is becoming more and more apparent every day. Brady street--once the worst place in all this district--has changed wonderfully. There is scarcely a house in the two blocks through which it runs that does not show some improvement since the association pulled down half a dozen of its worst frame tenements and put neat brick dwellings in their places. It is no uncommon thing now to see pavement sweeping and washing in front of some of the smallest and poorest of the houses in Brady street where two years ago the dirt would stick to your feet in passing. A clean muslin half curtain, a paper shade or a pot of growing plants will meet your eyes at a window here and there as you pass along. The thieves who once harbored in this street, and hid their plunder in cellars and garrets until it could be sold or pawned, have abandoned the locality. They could not live side by side with honest industry."

"And all this change may be traced to the work of our building association, limited as are its means and half-hearted as are its operations. The worst of our population--the common herd of thieves, beggars and vile women who expose themselves shamelessly on the street--are beginning to feel less at home and more in danger of arrest and exposure. The burning brands are no longer in such close contact, and so the fires of evil are raging less fiercely. Let in the light, and the darkness flees. Establish the good, and evil shrinks away, weak and abashed."