Into the heavy shadows that swathe the feet of the tall buildings in West Fourteenth Street, New York, late in the evening there slipped a dark form. It was so carefully wrapped in a black cloak that it was difficult to tell among the other shadows whether it was man or woman, and immediately it became a part of the darkness that hovered close to the entrances along the way. It slid almost imperceptibly from shadow to shadow until it crouched flatly against the wall by the steps of an open door out of which streamed a wide band of light that flung itself across the pavement.
Down the street came two girls in poke bonnets and hurried in at the open door. The figure drew back and was motionless as they passed, then with a swift furtive glance in either direction a head came cautiously out from the shadow and darted a look after the two lassies, watched till they were out of sight, and a form slid into the doorway, winding about the turning like a serpent, as if the way were well planned, and slipped out of sight in a dark corner under the stairway.
Half an hour or perhaps an hour passed, and one or two hurrying forms came in at the door and sped up the stairs from some errand of mercy; then the night watchman came and fastened the door and went away again, out somewhere through a back room.
The interloper was instantly on the alert, darting out of its hiding place, and slipping noiselessly up the stairs as quietly as the shadow it imitated; pausing to listen with anxious mien, stepping as a cloud might have stepped with no creak of stairway or sound of going at all.
Up, up, up and up again, it darted, till it came to the very top, pausing to look sharply at a gleam of light under a door of some student not yet asleep.
From under the dark cloak slid a hand with something in it. Silently it worked, swiftly, pouring a few drops here, a few drops there, of some colorless, odorless matter, smearing a spot on the stair railing, another across from it on the wall, a little on the floor beyond, a touch on the window seat at the end of the hall, some more on down the stairs.
On rubbered feet the fiend crept down; halting, listening, ever working rapidly, from floor to floor and back to the entrance way again. At last with a cautious glance around, a pause to rub a match skilfully over the woolen cloak, and to light a fuse in a hidden corner, he vanished out upon the street like the passing of a wraith, and was gone in the darkness.
Down in the dark corner the little spark brooded and smouldered. The watchman passed that way but it gave no sign. All was still in the great building, as the smouldering spark crept on and on over its little thread of existence to the climax.
But suddenly, it sprang to life! A flame leaped up like a great tongue licking its lips before the feast it was about to devour; and then it sprang as if it were human, to another spot not far away; and then to another, and on, and on up the stair rail, across to the wall, leaping, roaring, almost shouting as if in fiendish glee. It flew to the top of the house and down again in a leap and the whole building was enveloped in a sheet of flame!
Some one gave the cry of Fire! The night watchman darted to his box and sent in the alarm. Frightened girls in night attire crowded to their doors and gasping fell back for an instant in horror; then bravely obedient to their training dashed forth into the flame. Young men on other floors without a thought for themselves dropped into order automatically and worked like madmen to save everyone. The fire engines throbbed up almost immediately, but the building was doomed from the start and went like tinder. Only the fire drill in which they had constant almost daily practice saved those brave girls and boys from an awful death. Out upon the fire escapes in the bitter winter wind the girls crept down to safety, and one by one the young men followed. The young man who was fire sergeant counted his men and found them all present but one cadet. He darted back to find him, and that moment with a last roar of triumph the flames gave a final leap and the building collapsed, burying in a fiery grave two fine young heroes. Afterward they said the building had been "smeared" or it never could have gone in a breath as it did. The miracle was that no more lives were lost.
So that was how the burning of the Salvation Army Training School occurred.
The significant fact in the affair was that there had been sleeping in that building directly over the place where the fire started several of the lassies who were to sail for France in a day or two with the largest party of war workers that had yet been sent out. Their trunks were packed, and they were all ready to go. The object was all too evident.
There was also proof that the intention had been to destroy as well the great fireproof Salvation Army National Headquarters building adjoining the Training School.
A few days later a detective taking lunch in a small German restaurant on a side street overheard a conversation:
"Well, if we can't burn them out we'll blow up the building, and get that damn Commander, anyhow!"
Yet when this was told her the Commander declined the bodyguard offered her by the Civic Authorities, to go with her even to her country home and protect her while the war lasted! She is naturally a soldier.
The Commander had stayed late at the Headquarters one evening to finish some important bit of work, and had given orders that she should not be interrupted. The great building was almost empty save for the night watchman, the elevator man, and one or two others.
She was hard at work when her secretary appeared with an air of reluctance to tell her that the elevator man said there were three ladies waiting downstairs to see her on some very important business. He had told them that she could not be disturbed but they insisted that they must see her, that she would wish it if she knew their business. He had come up to find out what he should answer them.
The Commander said she knew nothing about them and could not be interrupted now. They must be told to come again the next day.
The elevator man returned in a few minutes to say that the ladies insisted, and said they had a great gift for the Salvation Army, but must see the Commander at once and alone or the gift would be lost.
Quickly interested the Commander gave orders that they should be brought up to her office, but just as they were about to enter, the secretary came in again with great excitement, begging that she would not see the visitors, as one of the men from downstairs had 'phoned up to her that he did not like the appearance of the strangers; they seemed to be trying to talk in high strained voices, and they had very large feet. Maybe they were not women at all.
The Commander laughed at the idea, but finally yielded when another of her staff entered and begged her not to see strangers alone so late at night; and the callers were informed that they would have to return in the morning if they wished an interview.
Immediately they became anything but ladylike in their manner, declaring that the Salvation Army did not deserve a gift and should have nothing from them. The elevator man's suspicions were aroused. The ladies were attired in long automobile cloaks, and close caps with large veils, and he studied them carefully as he carried them down to the street floor once more, following them to the outer door. He was surprised to find that no automobile awaited them outside. As they turned to walk down the street, he was sure he caught a glimpse of a trouser leg from beneath one of the long cloaks, and with a stride he covered the space between the door and his elevator where was a telephone, and called up the police station. In a few moments more the three "ladies" found themselves in custody, and proved to be three men well armed.
But when the Commander was told the truth about them she surprisingly said: "I'm sorry I didn't see them. I'm sure they would have done me no harm and I might have done them some good."
But if she is courageous, she is also wise as a serpent, and knows when to keep her own counsel.
During the early days of the war when there were many important matters to be decided and the Commander was needed everywhere, she came straight from a conference in Washington to a large hotel in one of the great western cities where she had an appointment to speak that night. At the revolving door of the hotel stood a portly servitor in house uniform who was most kind and noticeably attentive to her whenever she entered or went out, and was constantly giving her some pointed little attention to draw her notice. Finally, she stopped for a moment to thank him, and he immediately became most flattering, telling her he knew all about the Salvation Army, that he had a brother in its ranks, was deeply interested in their work in France, and most proud of what they were doing. He told her he had lived in Washington and said he supposed she often went there. She replied pleasantly that she had but just come from there, but some keen intuition began to warn this wise-hearted woman and when the next question, though spoken most casually, was: "Where are the Salvation Army workers now in France?" she replied evasively:
"Oh, wherever they are most needed," and passed on with a friend.
"I believe that man is a spy!" she said to her friend with conviction in her voice.
"Nonsense!" the friend replied; "you are growing nervous. That man has been in this hotel for several years."
But that very night the man, with five others, was arrested, and proved to be a spy hunting information about the location of the American troops in France.
Now these incidents do not belong in just this spot in the book, but they are placed here of intention that the reader may have a certain viewpoint from which to take the story. For well does the world of evil realize what a strong force of opponents to their dark deeds is found in this great Christian organization. Sometimes one is able the better to judge a man, his character and strength, when one knows who are his enemies.
It was the beginning of the dark days of 1917.
The Commander sat in her quiet office, that office through which, except on occasions like this when she locked the doors for a few minutes' special work, there marched an unbroken procession of men and affairs, affecting both souls and nations.
Before her on the broad desk lay the notes of a new address which she was preparing to deliver that evening, but her eyes were looking out of the wide window, across the clustering roofs of the great city to the white horizon line, and afar over the great water to the terrible scene of the Strife of Nations.
For a long time her thoughts had been turning that way, for she had many beloved comrades in that fight, both warring and ministering to the fighters, and she had often longed to go herself, had not her work held her here. But now at last the call had come! America had entered the great war, and in a few days her sons would be marching from all over the land and embarking for over the seas to fling their young lives into that inferno; and behind them would stalk, as always in the wake of War, Pain and Sorrow and Sin! Especially Sin. She shuddered as she thought of it all. The many subtle temptations to one who is lonely and in a foreign land.
Her eyes left the far horizon and hovered over the huddling roofs that represented so many hundreds of thousands of homes. So many mothers to give up their sons; so many wives to be bereft; so many men and boys to be sent forth to suffer and be tried; so many hearts already overburdened to be bowed beneath a heavier load! Oh, her people! Her beloved people, whose sorrows and burdens and sins she bore in her heart and carried to the feet of the Master every day! And now this war!
And those young men, hardly more than children, some of them! With her quick insight and deep knowledge of the world, she visualized the way of fire down which they must walk, and her soul was stricken with the thought of it! It was her work and the work of her chosen Army to help and save, but what could she do in such a momentous crisis as this? She had no money for new work. Opportunities had opened up so fast. The Treasury was already overtaxed with the needs on this side of the water. There were enterprises started that could not be given up without losing precious souls who were on the way toward becoming redeemed men and women, fit citizens of this world and the next. There was no surplus, ever! The multifarious efforts to meet the needs of the poorest of the cities' poor, alone, kept everyone on the strain. There seemed no possibility of doing more. Besides, how could they spare the workers to meet the new demand without taking them from places where they were greatly needed at home? And other perplexities darkened the way. There were those sitting in high places of authority who had strongly advised the Salvation Army to remain at home and go on with their street meetings, telling them that the battlefield was no place for them, they would only be in the way. They were not adapted to a thing like war. But well she knew the capacity of the Salvation Army to adapt itself to whatever need or circumstance presented. The same standard they had borne into the most wretched places of earth in times of peace would do in times of war.
Out there across the waters the Salvation Brothers and Sisters were ministering to the British armies at the front, and now that the American army was going, too, duty seemed very clear; the call was most imperative!
The written pages on her desk loudly demanded attention and the Commander tried to bring her thoughts back to them once more, but again and again the call sounded in her heart.
She lifted her eyes to the wall across the room from her desk where hung the life-like portrait of her Christian-Warrior father, the grand old keen-eyed, wise-hearted General, founder of the movement. Like her father she knew they must go. There was no question about it. No hindrance should stop them. They must go! The warrior blood ran in her veins. In this the world's greatest calamity they must fulfill the mission for which he lived and died.
"Go!" Those pictured eyes seemed to speak to her, just as they used to command her when he was here: "You must go and bear the standard of the Cross to the front. Those boys are going over there, many of them to die, and some are telling them that if they make the supreme sacrifice in this their country's hour of need it will be all right with them when they go into the world beyond. But when they get over there under shell fire they will know that it is not so, and they will need Christ, the only atonement for sin. You must go and take the Christ to them."
Then the Commander bowed her head, accepting the commission; and there in the quiet room perhaps the Master Himself stood beside her and gave her his charge--just as she would later charge those whom she would send across the water--telling her that He was depending upon the Salvation Army to bear His standard to the war.
Perhaps it was at this same high conference with her Lord that she settled it in her heart that Lieutenant-Colonel William S. Barker was to be the pioneer to blaze the way for the work in France.
However that may be he was an out-and-out Salvationist, of long and varied experience. He was chosen equally for his proved consecration to service, for his unselfishness, for his exceptional and remarkable natural courage by which he was afraid of nothing, and for his unwavering persistence in plans once made in spite of all difficulties. The Commander once said of him: "If you want to see him at his best you must put him face to face with a stone wall and tell him he must get on the other side of it. No matter what the cost or toil, whether hated or loved, he would get there!"
Thus carefully, prayerfully, were each one of the other workers selected; each new selection born from the struggle of her soul in prayer to God that there might be no mistakes, no unwise choices, no messengers sent forth who went for their own ends and not for the glory of God. Here lies the secret which makes the world wonder to-day why the Salvation Army workers are called "the real thing" by the soldiers. They were hand-picked by their leader on the mount, face to face with God.
She took no casual comer, even with offers of money to back them, and there were some of immense wealth who pleaded to be of the little band. She sent only those whom she knew and had tried. Many of them had been born and reared in the Salvation Army, with Christlike fathers and mothers who had made their homes a little piece of heaven below. All of them were consecrated, and none went without the urgent answering call in their own hearts.
It was early in June, 1917, when Colonel Barker sailed to France with his commission to look the field over and report upon any and every opportunity for the Salvation Army to serve the American troops.
In order to pave his way before reaching France, Colonel Barker secured a letter of introduction from Secretary-to-the-President Tumulty, to the American Ambassador in France, Honorable William G. Sharp.
In connection with this letter a curious and interesting incident occurred. When Colonel Barker entered the Secretary's office, he noticed him sitting at the other end of the room talking with a gentleman. He was about to take a seat near the door when Mr. Tumulty beckoned to him to come to the desk. When he was seated, without looking directly at the other gentleman, the Colonel began to state his mission to Mr. Tumulty. Before he had finished the stranger spoke up to Mr. Tumulty: "Give the Colonel what he wants and make it a good one!" And lo! he was not a stranger, but a man whose reform had made no small sensation in New York circles several years before, a former attorney who through his wicked life had been despaired of and forsaken by his wealthy relatives, who had sunk to the lowest depths of sin and poverty and been rescued by the Salvation Army.
Continuing to Mr. Tumulty, he said: "You know what the Salvation Army has done for me; now do what you can for the Salvation Army."
Mr. Tumulty gave him a most kind letter of introduction to the American Ambassador.
On his arrival in Liverpool Colonel Barker availed himself of the opportunity to see the very splendid work being done by the Salvation Army with the British troops, both in France and in England, visiting many Salvation Army huts and hostels. He also put the Commander's plans for France before General Bramwell Booth in London.
As early as possible Colonel Barker presented his letter of introduction to the American Ambassador, who in turn provided him with a letter of introduction to General Pershing which insured a cordial reception by him. Mr. Sharp informed Colonel Barker that he understood the policy of the American army was to grant a monopoly of all welfare work to the Y.M.C.A. He feared the Salvation Army would not be welcome, but assured him that anything he could properly do to assist the Salvation Army would be most gladly done. In this connection he stated that he had known of and been interested in the work of the Salvation Army for many years, that several men of his acquaintance had been converted through their activities and been reformed from dissolute, worthless characters to kind husbands and fathers and good business men; and that he believed in the Salvation Army work as a consequence.
On many occasions during the subsequent months, Mr. Sharp was never too busy to see the Salvation Army representatives, and has rendered valuable assistance in facilitating the forwarding of additional workers by his influence with the State Department.
It appeared that among military officers a kind feeling existed toward the Salvation Army, though it was generally thought that there was no opening for their service. Their conception of the Salvation Army was that of street corner meetings and public charity. The officers at that time could not see that the soldiers needed charity or that they would be interested in religion. They could see how a reading-room, game-room and entertainments might be helpful, but anything further than that they did not consider necessary.
Colonel Barker presented his letter of introduction to General Pershing, and on behalf of Commander Booth offered the services of the Salvation Army in any form which might be desired.
General Pershing, who received the Colonel with exceptional cordiality, suggested that he go out to the camps, look the field over, and report to him. Calling in his chief of staff he gave instructions that a side car should be placed at Colonel Barker's disposal to go out to the camps; and also that a letter of introduction to the General commanding the First Division should be given to him, asking that everything should be done to help him.
The first destination was Gondrecourt, where the First Division Headquarters was established.