A Captain of Salvation

A Camptain of Salvation


John Buchan

NOR is it any matter of sorrow to us that the gods of the Pagans
are no more. For whatsoever virtue was theirs is embodied
in our most blessed faith. For whereas Apollo was the most noble of
men in appearance and seemed to his devotees the incarnation (if I may
use so sacred a word in a profane sense} of the beauty of the male, we
have learned to apprehend a higher beauty of the Spirit, as in our
blessed Saints. And whereas Jupiter was the king of the world, we
have another and more excellent King, even God the Father, the holy
Trinity. And whereas Mars was the god of war, the strongest and
most warlike of beings, we have the great soldier of our cause, even the
Captain of our Salvation. And whereas the most lovely of women
was Venus, she whom all men worshipped, to us there is one greater
and. better, beautiful alike in spirit and body, to wit our Blessed Lady.
So it is seen that whatever delights are carnal and of the flesh, such
are met by greater delights of Christ and His Church. "
—An Extract
from the writings of Donisarius, a Monk of Padua.

The Salvation Captain sat in his room at the close of a windy
March day. It had been a time of storm and sun, blustering
showers and flying scuds of wind. The spring was at the thresh-
old with its unrest and promise ; it was the season of turmoil and


144 A Captain of Salvation

disquietude in Nature, and turmoil and disquietude in those whose
ears are open to her piping. Even there, in a three-pair back, in
the odoriferous lands of Limehouse, the spring penetrated with
scarcely diminished vigour. Dust had been whistling in the
narrow streets ; the leaden sky, filled with vanishing spaces of
blue, had made the dull brick seem doubly sordid ; and the sudden
fresh gusts had caused the heavy sickening smells of stale food
and unwholesome lodging to seem by contrast more hateful than

The Captain was a man of some forty years, tall, with a face
deeply marked with weather and evil living. An air of super-
induced gravity served only to accentuate the original. His
countenance was a sort of epitome of life, full of traces of passion
and nobler impulse, with now and then a shadow of refinement
and a passing glimpse of breeding. His history had been of that
kind which we would call striking, were it not so common. A
gentleman born, a scholar after a fashion, with a full experience of
the better side of civilisation, he had begun life as well as one can
nowadays. For some time things had gone well ; then came the
utter and irretrievable ruin. A temptation which meets many
men in their career met him, and he was overthrown. His name
disappeared from the books of his clubs, people spoke of him in a
whisper, his friends were crushed with shame. As for the man
himself, he took it otherwise. He simply went under, disappeared
from the ranks of life into the seething, struggling, disordered
crowd below. He, if anything, rather enjoyed the change, for
there was in him something of that brutality which is a necessary
part of the natures of great leaders of men and great scoundrels.
The accidents of his environment had made him the latter ; he
had almost the power of proving the former, for in his masterful
brow and firm mouth there were hints of extraordinary strength.


By John Buchan 145

His history after his downfall was as picturesque a record as needs
be. Years of wandering and fighting, sin and cruelty, generosity
and meanness followed. There were few trades and few parts of
the earth in which he had not tried his luck. Then there had
come a violent change. Somewhere on the face of the globe he
had met a man and heard words ; and the direction of his life
veered round of a sudden to the opposite. Culture, family ties,
social bonds had been of no avail to wean him from his headstrong
impulses. An ignorant man, speaking plainly some strong
sentences which are unintelligible to three-fourths of the world,
had worked the change ; and spring found him already two years
a servant in that body of men and women who had first sought to
teach him the way of life.

These two years had been years of struggle, which only a man
who has lived such a life can hope to enter upon. A nature
which has run riot for two decades is not cabined and confined at
a moment s notice. He had been a wanderer like Cain, and the
very dwelling in houses had its hardships for him. But in this
matter even his former vice came to aid him. He had been
proud and self-willed before in his conflict with virtue. He would
be proud and self-willed now in his fight with evil. To his com-
rades and to himself he said that only the grace of God kept him
from wrong ; in his inmost heart he felt that the grace of God
was only an elegant name for his own pride of will.

As he sat now in that unlovely place, he felt sick of his
surroundings and unnaturally restive. The day had been a trying
one for him. In the morning he had gone West on some money-
collecting errand, one which his soul loathed, performed only as an
exercise in resignation. It was a bitter experience for him to pass
along Piccadilly in his shabby uniform, the badge in the eyes of
most people of half-crazy weakness. He had passed restaurants


146 A Captain of Salvation

and eating-houses, and his hunger had pained him, for at home he
lived on the barest. He had seen crowds of well-dressed men and
women, some of whom he dimly recognised, who had no time
even to glance at the insignificant wayfarer. Old ungodly
longings after luxury had come to disturb him. He had striven to
banish them from his mind, and had muttered to himself many
texts of Scripture and spoken many catchword prayers, for the fiend
was hard to exorcise.

The afternoon had been something worse, for he had been
deputed to go to a little meeting in Poplar, a gathering of factory-
girls and mechanics who met there to talk of the furtherance of
Christ's kingdom. On his way the spirit of spring had been at
work in him. The whistling of the wind among the crazy
chimneys, the occasional sharp gust from the river, the strong
smell of a tanyard, even the rough working-dress of the men he
passed, recalled to him the roughness and vigour of his old life. In
the forenoon his memories had been of the fashion and luxury of
his youth ; in the afternoon they were of his world-wide wander-
ings, their hardships and delights. When he came to the stuffy
upper-room where the meeting was held, his state of mind was far
from the meek resignation which he sought to cultivate. A sort
of angry unrest held him, which he struggled with till his whole
nature was in a ferment. The meeting did not tend to soothe
him. Brother followed sister in aimless remarks, seething with
false sentiment and sickly enthusiasm, till the strong man was near
to disgust. The things which he thought he loved most dearly, of
a sudden became loathsome. The hysterical fervours of the girls,
which only yesterday he would have been ready to call " love for
the Lord," seemed now perilously near absurdity. The loud
" Amens " and " Hallelujahs " of the men jarred, not on his good
taste (that had long gone under), but on his sense of the ludicrous.


By John Buchan 147

He found himself more than once admitting the unregenerate
thought, " What wretched nonsense is this ? When men are
living and dying, fighting and making love all around, when the
glorious earth is calling with a hundred voices, what fools and
children they are to babble in this way ! " But this ordeal went
by. He was able to make some conventional remarks at the end,
which his hearers treasured as " precious and true," and he left the
place with the shamefaced feeling that for the first time in his new
life he had acted a part.

It was about five in the evening ere he reached his room and
sat down to his meal. There was half a stale loaf, a pot of cheap
tea, and some of that extraordinary compound which the humorous
grocers of the East call butter. He was hungry and ate without
difficulty, but such fragments of aesthetic liking as he still
possessed rose against it. He looked around his room. The table
was common deal, supported by three legs and a bit of an old
clothes-prop. On the horsehair sofa among the dusty tidies was
his Bible, one or two publications of the Army, two bundles of the
War Cry, some hymn-books, and—strange relic of the past—a
tattered Gaboriau. On the mantelpiece was a little Burmese idol,
which acted as a watch-stand, some hideous photographs framed in
black, and a china Duke of Wellington. Near it was his bed,
ill-made and dingy, and at the bottom an old sea-trunk. On the
top lay one relic of gentility, which had escaped the wreck of his
fortunes, a silver-backed hair-brush.

The place filled him with violent repugnance. A smell of rich,
greasy fish came upstairs to his nostrils ; outside a woman was
crying ; and two children sprawled and giggled beside his door.
This certainly was a wretched hole, and his life was hard almost
beyond words. He solemnly reviewed his recent existence. On
the one side he set down the evils—bad pay, severe and painful

The Yellow Book—Vol. VIII. I


148 A Captain of Salvation

work, poor lodgings, poor food and dismal company. Something
stopped him just as he was about to set down the other. " Oh,"
he cried, " is the love of Jesus nothing that I think like that ? "
And he began to pray rapidly, " Lord, I believe, forgive my

For a little he sat in his chair looking straight before him. It
would be impossible to put down in words the peculiar hardness of
his struggle. For he had to fight with his memory and his
inclinations, both of which are to a certain extent independent of
the will ; and he did this not by sheer strength of resolution, but
by fixing his thought upon an abstraction and attempting to clothe
it in warm, lovable attributes. He thought upon the countless
mercies of God towards him, as his creed showed them ; and so
strong was the man that in a little he had gotten the victory.

By-and-by he got up and put on his overcoat, thin and patched,
and called so only by courtesy. He suddenly remembered his
work, how he was engaged that night to lead a crusade through
some of the worst streets by the river. Such a crusade was the
romantic description by certain imaginative Salvationists of a pro-
cession of some dozen men and women with tambourines and
concertinas, singing hymns, and sowing the good seed broadcast
in the shape of vociferous invitations to mercy and pardon. He
hailed it as a sort of anodyne to his pain. There was small time
for morbid recollection and introspection if one were engaged in
leading a crew of excited followers in places where they were by
no means sure of a favourable reception.

There was a noise without on the stairs, then a rap at the door,
and Brother Leather entered, whom Whitechapel and the Mile-
End Road knew for the most vigilant of soldiers and violent of

" Are you strong in the Lord, Captain ?" he asked. "For to-night


By John Buchan 149

we're goin' to the stronghold of Satan. It haint no use a invitin'
and invitin' . It haint no good 'nless you compel them to come
in. And by the 'elp of God we 'opes to do it. Sister Stokes, she
has her tamb'rine, and there's five concertinies from Gray Street,
and Brother Clover's been prayin' all day for a great outpourin'
of blessin' . 'The fields are wite unto th' 'arvest,' " he quoted.

The Captain rose hastily. " Then hadn't we better be going ? "
he said. " We're to start at seven, and it's half-past six already."

"Let's have a word of prayer fust," said the other ; and straight-
way, in defiance of all supposed rules of precedence, this strange
private soldier flopped on his knees beside the sofa and poured forth
entreaties to his Master. This done he arose, and along with the
Captain went down the dingy stairway to the door, and out into
the narrow darkening street. The newly-lit gas lamps sent a flicker
on the men's faces—the one flabby, soft and weak, but with eyes
like coals of fire ; the other as strong as steel, but listless and
uneager. As they passed, a few ragged street-boys cried the old
phrase of derision, " I love Jesus," at the sight of the caps and the
red-banded coats. Here again the one smiled as if he had heard
the highest praise, while the other glanced angrily through the
gloom as if he would fain rend the urchins, as the bears did the
children who mocked Elisha.

At last they turned down a stone-paved passage and came into
a little room lined with texts which represented the headquarters
of the Army in the district. Sitting on the benches or leaning
against the wall were a dozen or so of men and women, all wearing
the familiar badge, save one man who had come in his working
corduroys, and one girl in a black waterproof. The faces of the
men were thin and eager, telling of many sacrifices cheerfully made
for their cause, of spare dinners, and nights spent out o' bed, of
heart-searchings and painful self-communings, of fervent praying


150 A Captain of Salvation

and violent speaking. Thin were the women too, thin and weary,
with eyes in which utter lassitude strove against enthusiasm,
and backs which ached as they rested. They had come from their
labours, as seamstresses and milliners, as shop-girls and laundry-
maids, and, instead of enjoying a well-won rest, were devoting
their few hours of freedom to the furtherance of an ideal which
many clever men have derided. Verily it is well for the world
that abstract truth is not the measure of right and wrong, of joy
and sorrow.

The Captain gave a few directions to the band and then pro-
ceeded to business. They were silent men and women in private
life. The world was far too grave a matter for them to talk idly.
It was only in the streets that speech came thick and fast ; here
they were as silent as sphinxes—sphinxes a little tired, not with
sitting but with going to and fro on the earth.

" Where are we going ? " asked one woman.

The Captain considered for a minute ere he replied. " Down
by the Modern Wharves," he said, " then up Blind Street and
Gray Alley to Juke's Buildings, where we can stop and speak.
You know the place, friend Leather ? "

" Do I know my own dwellin' ? " asked the man thus addressed
in a. surprised tone. " Wy, I've lived there off an' on for twenty
year, and I could tell some tyles o' the plyce as would make yer
that keen you couldn't wait a minute but must be off doin' Christ's

" We'll be off now," said the Captain, who had no desire for his
assistant's reminiscences. " I'll go first with the flag and the rest
of you can come in rank. See that you sing out well, for the
Lord has much need of singing in these barren lands." The
desultory band clattered down the wooden stair into the street.

Once here the Captain raised the hymn. It was " Oh, haven't

I been

By John Buchan 151

I been happy since I met the Lord ? " some rhapsodical words set
to a popular music-hall air. To the chance hearer who hailed
from more civilised places the thing must have seemed little better
than a blasphemous parody. But all element of farce was absent
from the hearts of the grim-faced men and women ; and the scene
as it lay, the squalid street with its filth stirred by the March wind,
the high shifting sky overhead, the flicker and glare of the street
lamps as each gust jostled them, the irregular singing, the marching
amid the laughs or silent scorn of the bystanders—all this formed
a picture which had in it more of the elements of the tragic or the
noble than the ludicrous.

And the heart of the man at the head of the little procession
was the stage of a drama which had little of the comic about it.
The street, the open air, had inflamed again the old longings.
Something of the enthusiasm of his following had entered into his
blood ; but it was a perverted feeling, and instead of desiring
earnestly the success of his mission, he longed madly, fiercely for
forbidden things. In the short encounter in his room he had
come off the victor ; but it had only been a forced peace, and
now the adversary was at him tooth and nail once more. The
meeting with the others had roused in him a deep disgust. Heaven
above, was it possible that he, the cock of his troop, the man
whom all had respected after a fashion, as men will respect a
strong man, should be a bear-leader to fools ! The shame of it
took him of a sudden, and as he shouted the more loudly he felt
his heart growing hot within him at the thought. But, strangely
enough, his very pride came once more to help him. At the
thought, " Have I really come to care what men say and think
about me ? " the strong pride within him rose in revolt and restored v him to himself.

But the quiet was to be of short duration. A hateful, bitter


152 A Captain of Salvation

thought began to rise in him—" What am I in the world but a
man of no importance ? And I might have been—oh, I might
have been anything I chose ! I made a mess of it at the begin-
ning, but is it not possible for a man to right himself again with
the world ? Have I ever tried it ? Instead of setting manfully
to the task, I let myself drift, and this is what I have become.
And I might have been so different. I might have been back at
my old clubs with my old friends, married, maybe, to a pretty
wife, with a house near the Park, and a place in the country with
shooting and riding to hounds, and a devilish fine time of it. And
here I must go on slaving and gabbling, doing a fool's work at a
drainer's pay." Then came a burst of sharp mental anguish,
remorse, hate, evil craving. But it passed, and a flood of counter-
thoughts came to oppose it. The Captain was still unregenerate
in nature, as the phrase goes, but the leaven was working in him.
The thought of all that he had gained—God's mercy, pardon for
his sins, a sure hope of happiness hereafter, and a glorified ideal to
live by—made him stop short in his regrets.

The hymn had just dragged itself out to its quavering close.
Wheeling round, he turned a burning eye on his followers. " Let
us raise another, friends," he cried ; and began, " The Devil and
me we can't agree "—which the rest heartily joined in.

And now the little procession reached a new stage in its journey.
The narrow street had grown still more restricted. Gin palaces
poured broad splashes of garish light across the pavement. Slat-
ternly women and brutal men lined the footpath, and in the
kennels filthy little urchins grinned and quarrelled. Every now
and then some well-dressed, rakish artiste, or lady of the half-world,
pushed her way through the crowds, or a policeman, tall and silent,
stalked among the disorderly. Vanity Fair and its denizens were
everywhere,from the chattering hucksters to the leering blackguards


By John Buchan 153

and sleek traffickers in iniquity. If anything on earth can bring a
ray of decency into such a place, then in God's name let it come,
whether it be called sense or rant by stay-at-home philosophers.

The hymn-singing added one more element to the discordant
noise. But there was in it a suggestion of better things, which
was absent from the song of the streets. The obvious chords of
the music in that place acquired an adventitious beauty, just as
the song of a humble hedge-linnet is lovely amid the croaking of
ravens and hooting of owls. The people on the pavement looked
on with varying interest. To most it was an everyday exhibition
of the unaccountable. Women laughed, and shrieked coarse
railleries ; some of the men threatened, others looked on in
amused scorn ; but there was no impulse to active violence. The
thing was tolerated as yonder seller of cheap watchguards was
borne ; for it is an unwritten law in the slums, that folk may do
their own pleasure, as long as they cease from interfering offen-
sively with the enjoyment of others.

" 'Oo's the cove wi' the flag, Bill ? " asked one woman. " 'E
haint so bad as the rest. Most loikely 'e's taken up the job to
dodge the nick."

" Dodge the nick yersel' , Lizer," said the man addressed.
" Wy, it's the chap's wye o' making his livin' , a roarin' and a
preachin' like that. S'help me, I'd rather cry 'Welks' any dye
than go about wi' sich a crew."

A woman, garishly adorned, with a handsome flushed face,
looked up at the Captain.

" Why, it's Jack," she cried. " Bless me if it ain't Jack.
Jack, Jack, what are you after now, not coming to speak to me.
Don't you mind Sal, your little Sal. I'm coming to yer, I ain't
forgotten yer." And she began to push her way into mid-street.

The Captain looked to the side, and his glance rested upon her


154 A Captain of Salvation

face. It was as if the Devil and all his angels were upon him
that night. Evil memories of his past life thronged thick and fast
upon him. He had already met and resisted the world, and now
the flesh had come to torment him. But here his armour was
true and fast. This was a temptation which he had choked at
the very outset of his reformation. He looked for one moment at
her, and in the utter loathing and repugnance of that look, she
fell back ; and the next instant was left behind.

The little streets, which radiate from the wharf known as
Mordon's, are so interlaced and crooked that to find one's way in
them is more a matter of chance than good guiding even to the
initiated. The houses are small and close, the residence of the
very sweepings of the population ; the shops are ship-chandlers
and low eating-houses, pawnshops, emporia of cheap jewellery,
and remnant drapers. At this hour of the night there is a blaze
of dull gas-light on either side, and the proprietors of the places of
custom stand at their doors inviting the bystanders to inspect
their goods. This is the hotbed of legalised crime, the rendezvous
of half the wickedness of the earth. Lascars, Spaniards, French-
men jostle Irishmen, and Scotsmen, and the true-born Englishmen
in these narrow purlieus. If a man disappears utterly from view
you may be sure to find him somewhere in that network of alleys,
for there it would be hard for the law to penetrate incolis invitis.
It is a sort of Cave of Adullam on the one hand, to which the
morally halt and maimed of all nations resort ; and, on the other,
a nursery of young vice and unformed devilry. Sailors straddled
about the pavement, or stood in knots telling their tales in loud
voices and plentiful oaths ; every beershop was continually dis-
charging its stream of filthy occupants, filthy and prosperous.
The element of squalor and misery was here far less in evidence.
All the inhabitants seemed gorged and well clad, but their faces


By John Buchan 155

were stained with vice so horrible that poverty and tatters would
have been a welcome relief.

The Salvation band penetrated into this Sodom with fear in the
heart of each member. It was hard for the Gospel to strive with
such seared and branded consciences. The repulsive, self-satisfied
faces of the men, the smug countenances of the women, made
that little band seem hopeless and Quixotic in the extreme. The
Captain felt it, too ; but in him there was mingled another feeling.
He thought of himself as a combatant entering the arena. He
felt dimly that some great struggle was impending, some monstrous
temptation, some subtle wile of the Evil One. The thought made
him the more earnest. " Sing up, men," he cried, " the Devil is
strong in this place."

It was the truth, and the proof awaited him. A man stepped
out from among the bystanders and slapped his shoulder. The
Captain started and looked. It was the Devil in person.

" Hullo, Jack ! " said the new-comer. " Good God, who'd have
thought of seeing you here ? Have you gone off your head
now ? "

The Captain shivered. He knew the speaker for one of his
comrades of the old days, the most daring and jovial of them all.
The two had been hand and glove in all manner of evil. They
had loved each other like brothers, till the great change came over
the one, which fixed a gulf between them for ever.

" You don't mean to tell me you've taken up with this infernal
nonsense, Jack ? No, I won't believe it. It's just another of
your larks. You were always the one for originality."

" Go away, Hilton," said the Captain hoarsely, " go away. I've
done with you. I can't see you any more."

" What the deuce has come over you, Jack ? Not speak to
me any more ! Why, what foolery is this ? You've gone and


156 A Captain of Salvation

turned a regular old wife, bless me if you haven't. Oh, man,
give it up. It's not worth it. Don't you remember the fun
we've had in our time ? Gad, Jack, when you and I stood behind
yon big tree in Kaffraria with twenty yelling devils wanting our
blood ; don't you remember how I fell and you got over me, and,
though you were bleeding like a pig, you kept them off till the
Cape troopers came up ? And when we were lost, doing picket-
ing up in the Drakenberg, you mind how we chummed together
for our last meal ? And heavens ! it was near our last. I feel
that infernal giddiness still. And yet you tell me to go away."

" Oh, Hilton," said the Captain, " come and be one of us.
The Lord's willing to receive you, if you'll only come. I've got
the blessing, and there's one waiting for you if you'll only take

" Blessing be damned ! " said the other with a laugh. " What
do I want with your blessing when there's life and the world to
see ? What's the good of poking round here, and crying about
the love of Jesus and singing twaddle, and seeing nobody but old
wives and white-faced shopmen, when you might be out on the
open road, with the wind and the stars and the sun, and meet
with men, and have your fling like a man. Don't you remember
the days at Port Said, when the old Frenchman twanged his banjo
and the girls danced and—hang it, don't you feel the smell of the
sand and the heat in your nostrils, you old fool ? :

" Oh, my God ! " said the Captain, " I do. Go away, Hilton.
For God's sake, go away and leave me ! "

" Can't you think," went on the other, " of the long nights
when we dropped down the Irrawaddy, of the whistle of the wind
in the white sails, and the singing of the boatmen, and the sick-
suck of the alligators among the reeds ; and how we went ashore
at the little village and got arrack from the natives, and made a


By John Buchan 157

holy sight of the place in the morning ? It was worth it, though
we got the sack for it, old man."

The Captain made no answer. He was muttering some-
thing to himself. It might have been a prayer.

* And then there was that time when we were up country in
Queensland, sugar farming in the bush, thinking a billy of tea the
best thing on earth, and like to faint with the work and the heat.
But, Jove, wasn't it fine to head off the cattle when you knew you
might have a big bull's horn in your side every minute ? And then
at night to sit outside the huts and smoke pig-tail and tell stories
that would make your hair rise ! We were a queer lot, Jack, but
we were men, men, do you hear ? "

A flood of recollection came over the Captain, vehement, all-
powerful. He felt the magic of the East, the wonder of the South,
the glory of the North burning in his heart. The old wild voices
were calling him, voices of land and sea, the tongues of the moon
and the stars and the beasts of the field, the halcyon voices of
paganism and nature which are still strong in the earth. Behind
him rose the irregular notes of the hymn ; at his side was the
tempter, and in his own heart was the prince of the world, the
master of pleasure, the great juggler of pain. In that man there
was being fought the old fight, which began in the Garden, and
will never end, the struggle between the hateful right and the
delicious wrong.

" Oh man, come with me," cried Hilton, " I've got a berth down
there in a ship which sails to-morrow, and we'll go out to our old
place, where they'll be glad to get us, and we'll have a devilish good
time. I can't be staying here, with muggy stinks, and white-
faced people, and preaching and praying, and sloppy weather.
Come on, and in a month we'll be seeing the old Coal-sack above
us, and smelling the palms and the sea-water ; and then, after that,


158 A Captain of Salvation

there'll be the Bush, the pines and the gum-trees and the blue-sky,
and the hot, clear air, and rough-riding and adventure ; and by
God we'll live like gentlemen and fine fellows, and never come
back to this cursed hole any more. Come on, and leave the psalm-

A spasm of convulsive pain, of exquisite agony, of heart-break-
ing struggle came over the Captain's face, stayed a moment, and
passed. He turned round to his followers. " Sing louder, lads," he
cried, " we're fighting a good fight." And then his voice broke
down, and he stumbled blindly on, still clutching the flag.

MLA citation: Buchan, John. "A Captain of Salvation." The Yellow Book 8 (January 1896): 144-58. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2012. Web. [Date of access]. http://1890s.ca/HTML.aspx?s=YBV8_buchan_captain.html