At first respectable Darlington held aloof. Then the emissaries of respectability ventured down, in sheer curiosity, to see what was going on. They returned puzzled. Nothing was going on. No dancing, no extravagance, no tomfoolery, no sensationalism. The two girls, Captain Rose and Lieutenant Annie—one two-and-twenty, the other eighteen—conducted a religious service, not unlike an early Methodist meeting, with hearty responses, lively singing, and simple gospel addresses, brief and to the point. The penitents' form and the after prayer-meeting, in which the lasses, going from seat to seat, personally addressed everyone who remained as to their spiritual welfare, were the only features in which it differed from an ordinary mission revival service. But the odd miraculous thing that bothered Darlington was the effect which it had. All the riff-raff of the town went to the Livingstone Hall, and many of them never returned the same men.
At last I went to see the girls who had turned Darlington upside down. I was amazed. I found two delicate girls—one hardly able to write a letter; the other not yet nineteen—ministering to a crowded congregation which they had themselves collected out of the street, and building up an aggressive church-militant out of the human refuse which other churches regarded with blank despair. They had to provide for maintaining services regularly every week-night and nearly all Sunday, in the largest hall in the town; they had to raise funds to pay the rent, meet the gas bill, clean the hall, repair broken windows and broken forms, and provide themselves with food and lodging. And they did it. The town was suffering severely from a depression in the iron trade, and the regular churches could with difficulty meet their liabilities. But these girls raised a new cause out of the ground, in the poorest part of the town, and made it self-supporting by the coppers of their collection. Judged by the most material standard, this was a great result. In the first six months a thousand persons had been down to the penitent form and a corps or a church was formed of nearly two hundred members, each of whom was privileged to speak, to pray, to sing, to visit, to march in procession, to take a collection, or to do anything that wanted doing. "It will not last," said many, and dismissed the miracle as though it were less miraculous because it was not capable of endless repetition. I sat next a young mechanic one night in the meeting, and asked him what he thought about the business.
"Dunno," he said, "they're a queer lot." "Done any good?" "Mebbe. There's Knacker Jack— I know him." "Well, has it not been good for his wife and bairns?" "Dunno. But I work at the same place as he does, and it has been good for his hosses. He used to strike 'em and knock 'em about dreadful. But since the lasses got hold of him he's never laid his hand on 'em."
Even suppose that it did not last, and that the converts only stood so long and then fell away; then, for as long as they stand, a great and beneficent change has been effected, in which all surroundings share—from the police to the horses.
It was my first personal experience of the Salvation Army and its methods. Born and bred among the quieter Congregationalists, I had some prejudice against noisy services, but here was a stubborn fact which I could not get over. There was the palpable, unmistakable result, material and moral, which before July, 1879, would have been declared utterly impossible—a miracle not to be wrought by man, no, not if all the churches and chapels in Darlington had combined to hold services in the Livingstone Hall. And the only visible means by which this result was brought about, was these two girls, neither of them well educated, both delicate, and without any friends or material resources whatever.
The first letter I ever wrote to headquarters was a brief note to the General complaining of the cruelty of sending two young women—one of whom seemed threatened with consumption—to undertake such exhausting work. I added, what I fully believed, that if they broke down and died he deserved to be indicted for manslaughter. The General's reply was characteristic: "You would never do for a general," he said, "a general must not be afraid to spend his soldiers in order to carry positions."