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A short story by R. M. Ballantyne

"Rescue The Perishing"

Title:     "Rescue The Perishing"
Author: R. M. Ballantyne [More Titles by Ballantyne]

Proverbial philosophy asserts that the iron should be struck when it is hot. I sympathise with proverbial philosophy in this case, but that teacher says nothing whatever about striking the iron when it is cold; and experience--at least that of blacksmiths--goes to prove that cold iron may be struck till heat is evolved, and, once heated, who knows what intensity of incandescence may be attained?

I will try it. My hammer may not be a large one. A sledge-hammer it certainly is not. Such as it is I wield it under the impulse of great heat within me, and will direct my blows at the presumably cold iron around. I say presumably,--because if you, good reader, have not been subjected to the same influences with myself you cannot reasonably be expected to be even warm--much less white-hot.

The cause of all this heat was Dr Barnardo's splendid meeting held recently in the Royal Albert Hall. I came home from that meeting incandescent--throwing off sparks of enthusiasm, and eagerly clutching at every cold or lukewarm creature that came in my way with a view to expend on it some of my surplus heat!

The great Albert Hall filled is enough of itself to arouse enthusiasm, whatever the object of the gathering may be. Ten thousand human beings, more or less, swarming on the floor, clustering on the walls, rising tier above tier, until in dim distance the pigmy throng seems soaring up into the very heavens, is a tremendous, a solemn, a heart-stirring sight, suggestive--I write with reverence--of the Judgment Day. And when such an assembly is convened for the purpose of considering matters of urgent importance, matters affecting the well-being of multitudes, matters of life and death which call for instant and vigorous action, then the enthusiasm is naturally intensified and needs but little hammering to rouse it to the fiercest glow.

It was no ordinary gathering this--no mere "annual meeting" of a grand society. It was indeed that, but a great deal more. There was a "noble chairman," of course, and an address, and several speeches by eminent men; but I should suppose that one-half of the audience could not well see the features of the speakers or hear their words. These were relatively insignificant matters.

The business of the evening was to present to the people a great Object Lesson, and the only figure on the platform that bulked large--at least in my esteem--was that of Dr Barnardo himself, and a magical master of the ceremonies did the doctor prove himself to be.

Being unable to induce the "West End" to visit the "East End," he had simply cut several enormous slices out of the slums and set them down in the Royal Albert Hall for inspection.

The display was set forth interestingly and with emphasis, insomuch that things almost spoke for themselves, and wherein they failed to do so the Doctor supplemented in a satisfactorily sonorous voice.

One of the slum-slices was a large one. It consisted of thirteen hundred children--boys and girls--in bright, light, smart dresses, who clustered on the orchestra and around the great organ, like flowers in June. Looking at their clean, wholesome faces, neat attire, and orderly demeanour, I thought, "Is it possible that these are the sweepings of the streets?" The question was tellingly answered later on; but here it may be stated that this beautiful band of 1300 was only a slice--a sample--of the Doctor's large family, which at present numbers nearly 3500. (It now, in 1893, numbers nearly 5000.)

It was grand to hear them sing! The great organ itself had to sing small beside them, for wood and metal can never hope to equal the living human voice, even though it be but a voice from the slums. Not only hymns but humorous songs they sang, and heroic. A telling effect was produced while singing one of the latter by the sudden display of 1300 Union Jacks, each the size of a 'kerchief, which the singers waved in time to the chorus. It seemed as though a stiff breeze had swept over the flower-bed and kissed the national flag in passing.

Another surprise of this kind was given during the stirring song of _The Fire Brigade_, when 1300 bits of gold and silver paper, waved to and fro, seemed to fill the orchestra with flashing fire.

But much of this was for show, to tickle our eyes and ears and prepare the way, as it were, for the grave and stern realities yet to come.

There was a mighty platform covered with crimson cloth in the centre of the hall in front of the orchestra. On it were several mysterious objects covered with sheets. At a signal--a whistle--given by the Doctor, a band of sturdy boys, clad in their work-a-day uniform, scampered down the central passage of the hall, jumped on the platform, flung off the sheets, and discovered carpenters' benches, saws, hammers, wood--in short, all the appliances with which they carry on the various trades at their "Home" in the East End. In a few seconds, as if by magic, the platform was a workshop in full swing--hammering, sawing, chiselling, wood-chopping, clattering, and indescribable din, which was enhanced, but not drowned, by the applause of the astonished audience. The little fellows worked as though life depended on their activity, for the space, it seemed to me, of half a minute. Then the shrill whistle sounded again, and the work ceased, as if the springs of life had been suddenly cut off. Dead silence ensued; each worker remaining in the attitude in which he had been petrified--a group of artisan statuary in colour!

The Doctor was thus enabled quietly to explain that the display represented only a very few of the trades taught and carried on by his rescued boys at Stepney Causeway.

At another signal the splendidly drilled young fellows scampered off, carrying not only their tools, but their benches, tables, stools, and even debris along with them, and, disappearing in less than a couple of minutes, left not a chip or shaving behind.

It would take a good many pages of close writing to give anything like a detailed account of all that I saw. I must pass over much in order to emphasise one or two very telling incidents. The Doctor presented a sample of all his wares. One of these was a very touching sample-- namely, a band of cripples, who made their way slowly on crutches down the passage to the platform--for it is one of the noteworthy points in this Mission that no destitute boy is turned away, whether he be well or ill, crippled or sound. So, also, there was a small procession of neat, pleasant-looking nurses, each leading one or more mites of forsaken humanity from "Babies' Castle."

But it seemed to me that the kernel of the nut had been reached, and the foundation of the God-like Mission laid bare for our inspection, when the raw material was led forth. We had got accustomed by that time to turn an expectant gaze at a far distant door when the Doctor's voice ceased or his whistle sounded. Presently a solitary nurse with the neat familiar white cap and apron appeared at the door leading two little creatures by the hand. A hush--a distinct though indescribable sensation--as of profound pity and pathos,--passed over the vast assembly as a little boy and girl direct from the slums were led forward. The nurse had to walk slowly to accommodate her pace to theirs. Half naked, ragged, dirty, unkempt, bereft of their natural guardians, or forsaken by them--helpless, yet left to help themselves almost before they could walk! Forward they came to the central platform, casting timid, wondering glances around at the mighty host of well-to-do beings, not one of whom, perhaps, ever knew what it is to hunger for a whole day and lie down at night with a door-step for a pillow. Oh, it was pitiful! the Doctor advanced to these forlorn ones and took them by the hands with inexpressible tenderness, and then, facing the assembly, broke the silence and presented the human material which it was, under God, his mission in life to rescue.

Then turning abruptly to the flower-bed in the orchestra, he signalled with his finger. A flower that might well have been styled a rosebud--a neat little girl in pink with a natty straw hat--tripped lightly down and stood on the platform beside the poor waifs. Looking up once more to the entranced audience and pointing to the children, the Doctor said--

"Such as these are, she was but a few months ago, and such as she is now they will soon become, with God's blessing."

I may not quote the words correctly, but that is my recollection of the substance.

The Doctor was not content, however, to show us the foundation and progress of his work. He showed us the work, as it were, completed, in the form of a band of sturdy young men in their working costume, ready to start as rescued, trained, useful, earnest labourers for the fields of Manitoba--young men who all had once been lost waifs and strays.

Still further, he, as it were, put the copestone on his glorious work by presenting a band of men and women--"old boys and girls"--who had been tested by rough contact with the world and its temptations, and had come off victorious "by keeping their situations with credit" for periods varying from one to nine years--kept by the power of Christ!

When I saw the little waifs and looked up at the bands of happy children before me, and thought of the thousands more in the "Homes," and of the multitudes which have passed through these Homes in years gone by; the gladness and the great boon to humanity which must have resulted, and of the terrible crime and degradation that might have been--my heart offered the prayer, which at that moment my voice could not have uttered--"God bless and prosper Dr Barnardo and his work!"

I hear a voice from the "Back of Beyont," or some such far off locality--a timid voice, perhaps that of a juvenile who knows little, and can scarce be expected to care much, about London--asking "Who is Dr Barnardo?"

For the sake of that innocent one I reply that he is a Scavenger--the chief of London Scavengers! He and his subordinates sweep up the human rubbish of the slums and shoot it into a receptacle at 18 Stepney Causeway, where they manipulate and wash it, and subject it to a variety of processes which result, with God's blessing, in the recovery of innumerable jewels of inestimable value. I say inestimable, because men have not yet found a method of fixing the exact value of human souls and rescued lives. The "rubbish" which is gathered consists of destitute children. The Assistant Scavengers are men and women who love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ.

[The end]
R. M. Ballantyne's short story: "Rescue The Perishing"