An Outcast/Chapter XXIII
The city clock strikes one as Mrs. Swiggs, nervous and weary, enters the House of the Foreign Missions. Into a comfortably-furnished room on the right, she is ushered by a man meekly dressed, and whose countenance wears an expression of melancholy. Maps and drawings of Palestine, Hindostan, and sundry other fields of missionary labor, hang here and there upon the walls. These are alternated with nicely-framed engravings and lithographs of Mission establishments in the East, all located in some pretty grove, and invested with a warmth and cheerfulness that cannot fail to make a few years' residence in them rather desirable than otherwise. These in turn are relieved with portraits of distinguished missionaries. Earnest-faced busts, in plaster, stand prominently about the room, periodicals and papers are piled on little shelves, and bright bookcases are filled with reports and various documents concerning the society, all bound so exactly. The good-natured man of the kind face sits in refreshing ease behind a little desk; the wise-looking lean man, in the spectacles, is just in front of him, buried in ponderous folios of reports. In the centre of the room stands a highly-polished mahogany table, at which Brother Spyke is seated, his elbow rested, and his head leaning thoughtfully in his hand. The rotund figure and energetic face of Sister Slocum is seen, whisking about conspicuously among a bevy of sleek but rather lean gentlemen, studious of countenance, and in modest cloth. For each she has something cheerful to impart; each in his turn has some compliment to bestow upon her. Several nicely-dressed, but rather meek-looking ladies, two or three accompanied by their knitting work, have arranged themselves on a settee in front of the wise man in the spectacles.
Scarcely has the representative of our chivalry entered the room when Sister Slocum, with all the ardor of a lover of seventeen, runs to her with open arms, embraces her, and kisses her with an affection truly grateful. Choking to relate her curious adventure, she is suddenly heaped with adulations, told how the time of her coming was looked to, as an event of no common occurrence—how Brothers Sharp, Spyke, and Phills, expressed apprehensions for her safety this morning, each in turn offering in the kindest manner to get a carriage and go in pursuit. The good-natured fat man gets down from his high seat, and receives her with pious congratulations; the man in the spectacles looks askant, and advances with extended hand. To use a convenient phrase, she is received with open arms; and so meek and good is the aspect, that she finds her thoughts transported to an higher, a region where only is bliss. Provided with a seat in a conspicuous place, she is told to consider herself the guest of the society. Sundry ovations, Sister Slocum gives her to understand, will be made in her honor, ere long. The fact must here be disclosed that Sister Slocum had prepared the minds of those present for the reception of an embodiment of perfect generosity.
No sooner has Lady Swiggs time to breathe freely, than she changes the wondrous kind aspect of the assembly, and sends it into a paroxysm of fright, by relating her curious adventure among the denizens of the Points. Brother Spyke nearly makes up his mind to faint; the good-natured fat man turns pale; the wise man in the spectacles is seen to tremble; the neatly-attired females, so pious-demeanored, express their horror of such a place; and Sister Slocum stands aghast. "Oh! dear, Sister Swiggs," she says, "your escape from such a vile place is truly marvellous! Thank God you are with us once more." The good-natured fat man says, "A horrible world, truly!" and sighs. Brother Spyke shrugs his shoulders, adding, "No respectable person here ever thinks of going into such a place; the people there are so corrupt." Brother Sharp says he shudders at the very thought of such a place. He has heard much said of the dark deeds nightly committed in it—of the stubborn vileness of the dwellers therein. God knows he never wants to descend into it. "Truly," Brother Phills interposes, "I walked through it once, and beheld with mine eyes such sights, such human deformity! O, God! Since then, I am content to go to my home through Broadway. I never forget to shudder when I look into the vile place from a distance, nevertheless." Brother Phills says this after the manner of a philosopher, fretting his fingers, and contorting his comely face the while. Sister Slocum, having recovered somewhat from the shock (the shock had no permanent effect on any of them), hopes Sister Swiggs did not lend an ear to their false pleadings, nor distribute charity among the vile wretches. "Such would be like scattering chaff to the winds," a dozen voices chime in. "Indeed!" Lady Swiggs ejaculates, giving her head a toss, in token of her satisfaction, "not a shilling, except to the miserable wretch who showed me the way out. And he seemed harmless enough. I never met a more melancholy object, never!" Brother Spyke raises his eyes imploringly, and says he harbors no ill-will against these vile people, but melancholy is an art with them—they make it a study. They affect it while picking one's pocket.
The body now resolves itself into working order. Brother Spyke offers up a prayer. He thanks kind Providence for the happy escape of Sister Swiggs—this generous woman whose kindness of heart has brought her here—from among the hardened wretches who inhabit that slough of despair, so terrible in all its aspects, and so disgraceful to a great and prosperous city. He thanks Him who blessed him with the light of learning—who endowed him with vigor and resolution—and told him to go forth in armor, beating down Satan, and raising up the heathen world. A mustering of spectacles follows. Sister Slocum draws from her bosom a copy of the report the wise man in the spectacles rises to read. A fashionable gold chain and gold-framed eye-glass is called to her aid; and with a massive pencil of gold, she dots and points certain items of dollars and cents her keen eye rests upon every now and then.
The wise man in the spectacles rises, having exchanged glances with Sister Slocum, and commences reading a very long, and in nowise lean report. The anxious gentlemen draw up their chairs, and turn attentive ears. For nearly an hour, he buzzes and bores the contents of this report into their ears, takes sundry sips of water, and informs those present, and the world in general, that nearly forty thousand dollars have recently been consumed for missionary labor. The school at Corsica, the missions at Canton, Ningpo, Pu-kong, Cassaba, Abheokuta, and sundry other places, the names of which could not, by any possibility, aid the reader in discovering their location—all, were doing as well as could be expected, under the circumstances. After many years labor, and a considerable expenditure of money, they were encouraged to go forward, inasmuch as the children of the school at Corsica were beginning to learn to read. At Casaba, Droneyo, the native scholar, had, after many years' teaching, been made conscious of the sin of idol-worship, and had given his solemn promise to relinquish it as soon as he could propitiate two favorite gods bequeathed to him by his great uncle. The furnace of "Satanic cruelty" had been broken down at Dahomey. Brother Smash had, after several years' labor, and much expense—after having broken down his health, and the health of many others—penetrated the dark regions of Arabia, and there found the very seat of Satanic power. It was firmly pegged to Paganism and Mahomedan darkness! This news the world was expected to hail with consternation. Not one word is lisped about that terrible devil holding his court of beggary and crime in the Points. He had all his furnaces in full blast there; his victims were legion! No Brother Spyke is found to venture in and drag him down. The region of the Seven Churches offers inducements more congenial. Bound about them all is shady groves, gentle breezes, and rural habitations; in the Points the very air is thick with pestilence!
A pause follows the reading. The wise man in the spectacles—his voice soft and persuasive, and his aspect meekness itself—would like to know if any one present be inclined to offer a remark. General satisfaction prevails. Brother Sharp moves, and Brother Phills seconds, that the report be accepted. The report is accepted without a dissenting voice. A second paper is handed him by Sister Slocum, whose countenance is seen to flash bright with smiles. Then there follows the proclaiming of the fact of funds, to the amount of three thousand six hundred dollars, having been subscribed, and now ready to be appropriated to getting Brother Syngleton Spyke off to Antioch. A din of satisfaction follows; every face is radiant with joy. Sister Swiggs twitches her head, begins to finger her pocket, and finally readjusts her spectacles. Having worked her countenance into a good staring condition, she sets her eyes fixedly upon Brother Spyke, who rises, saying he has a few words to offer.
The object of his mission to Antioch, so important at this moment, he would not have misunderstood. Turks, Greeks, Jews, Arabs, Armenians, and Kurds, and Yesedees—yes, brethren, Yesedees! inhabit this part of Assyria, which opens up an extensive field of missionary labor, even yet. Much had been done by the ancient Greeks for the people who roamed in these Eastern wilds—much remained for us to do; for it was yet a dark spot on the missionary map. Thousands of these poor souls were without the saving knowledge of the Gospel. He could not shrink from a duty so demanding—wringing his very heart with its pleadings! Giving the light of the Gospel to these vicious Arabs and Kurds was the end and aim of his mission. (A motion of satisfaction was here perceptible.) And while there, he would teach the Jews a just sense of their Lord's design—which was the subjugation of the heathen world. Inward light was very good, old prophecies were very grand; but Judaism was made of stubborn metal, had no missionary element in it, and could only be forced to accept light through strong and energetic movement. He had read with throbbing heart how Rome, while in her greatness, protected those Christian pilgrims who went forth into the East, to do battle with the enemy. Would not America imitate Rome, that mighty mother of Republics? A deeper responsibility rested on her at this moment. Rome, then, was semi-barbarous; America, now, was Christianized and civilized. Hence she would be held more accountable for the dissemination of light.
In those days the wandering Christian Jews undertook to instruct the polished Greeks—why could not Americans at this day inculcate the doctrines of Jesus to these educated heathen? It was a bold and daring experiment, but he was willing to try it. The Allwise worked his wonders in a mysterious way. In this irrelevant and somewhat mystical style, Brother Spyke continues nearly an hour, sending his audience into a highly-edified state. We have said mystical, for, indeed, none but those in the secret could have divined, from Brother Spyke's logic, what was the precise nature of his mission. His speech was very like a country parson's model sermon; one text was selected, and a dozen or more (all different) preached from; while fifty things were said no one could understand.
Brother Spyke sits down—Sister Slocum rises. "Our dear and very generous guest now present," she says, addressing the good-natured fat man in the chair, as Lady Swiggs bows, "moved by the goodness that is in her, and conscious of the terrible condition of the heathen world, has come nobly to our aid. Like a true Christian she has crossed the sea, and is here. Not only is she here, but ready to give her mite toward getting Brother Spyke off to Antioch. Another donation she proposes giving the 'Tract Society,' an excellent institution, in high favor at the South. Indeed I may add, that it never has offended against its social—"
Sister Slocum hesitates. Social slavery will not sound just right, she says to her herself. She must have a term more musical, and less grating to the ear. A smile flashes across her countenance, her gold-framed eye-glasses vibrate in her fingers: "Well! I was going to say, their social arrangements," she pursues.
The assembly is suddenly thrown into a fit of excitement. Lady Swiggs is seen trembling from head to foot, her yellow complexion changing to pale white, her features contorting as with pain, and her hand clutching at her pocket. "O heavens!" she sighs, "all is gone, gone, gone: how vain and uncertain are the things here below." She drops, fainting, into the arms of Sister Slocum, who has overset the wise man in the spectacles, in her haste to catch the prostrate form. On a bench the august body is laid. Fans, water, camphor, hartshorn, and numerous other restoratives are brought into use. Persons get in each other's way, run every way but the right way, causing, as is common in such cases, very unnecessary alarm. The stately representative of the great Swiggs family lies motionless. Like the last of our chivalry, she has nothing left her but a name.
A dash or two of cold water, and the application of a little hartshorn, and that sympathy so necessary to the fainting of distinguished people—proves all-efficient. A slight heaving of the bosom is detected, the hands—they have been well chaffed—quiver and move slowly, her face resumes its color. She opens her eyes, lays her hand solicitously on Sister Slocum's arm: "It must be the will of Heaven," she lisps, motioning her head, regretfully; "it cannot now be undone—"
"Sister! sister! sister!" interrupts Sister Slocum, grasping her hand, and looking inquiringly in the face of the recovering woman, "is it an affection of the heart?—where is the pain?—what has befallen you? We are all so sorry!"
"It was there, there, there! But it is gone now." Regaining her consciousness, she lays her hand nervously upon her pocket, and pursues: "Oh! yes, sister, it was there when I entered that vile place, as you call it. What am I to do? The loss of the money does not so much trouble my mind. Oh! dear, no. It is the thought of going home deprived of the means of aiding these noble institutions."
Had Lady Swiggs inquired into the character of the purchaser of old Dolly she might now have become conscious of the fact, that whatever comes of evil seldom does good. The money she had so struggled to get together to aid her in maintaining her hypocrisy, was the result of crime. Perhaps it were better the wretch purloined it, than that the fair name of a noble institution be stained with its acceptance. Atonement is too often sought to be purchased with the gold got of infamy.
The cause of this fainting being traced to Lady Swiggs' pocket book instead of her heart, the whole scene changes. Sister Slocum becomes as one dumb, the good fat man is seized with a nervous fit, the man in the spectacles hangs his head, and runs his fingers through his crispy hair, as Brother Spyke elongates his lean body, and is seen going into a melancholy mood, the others gathering round with serious faces. Lady Swiggs commences describing with great minuteness the appearance of Mr. Tom Toddleworth. That he is the person who carried off the money, every one is certain. "He is the man!" responds a dozen voices. And as many more volunteer to go in search of Mr. Detective Fitzgerald. Brother Spyke pricks up his courage, and proceeds to initiate his missionary labors by consulting Mr. Detective Fitzgerald, with whom he starts off in pursuit of Mr. Tom Toddleworth.