There had been an enormous crowd, even greater than that of Sunday night, and everybody had been looking forward to another notable and exciting season of grace. These expectations were especially heightened when Sister Soulsby ascended the pulpit stairs and took charge of the proceedings. She deferred to Paul’s views about women preachers on Sundays, she said; but on weekdays she had just as much right to snatch brands from the burning as Paul, or Peter, or any other man. She went on like that, in a breezy, off-hand fashion which tickled the audience immensely, and led to the liveliest anticipations of what would happen when she began upon the evening’s harvest of souls.
But it was something else that happened. At a signal from Sister Soulsby the steward got up, and, in an unconcerned sort of way, went through the throng to the rear of the church, locked the doors, and put the keys in their pockets. The sister dryly explained now to the surprised congregation that there was a season for all things, and that on the present occasion they would suspend the glorious work of redeeming fallen human nature, and take up instead the equally noble task of raising some fifteen hundred dollars which the church needed in its business. The doors would only be opened again when this had been accomplished.
The brethren were much taken aback by this trick, and they permitted themselves to exchange a good many scowling and indignant glances, the while their professional visitors sang another of their delightfully novel sacred duets. Its charm of harmony for once fell upon unsympathetic ears. But then Sister Soulsby began another monologue, defending this way of collecting money, chaffing the assemblage with bright-eyed impudence on their having been trapped, and scoring, one after another, neat and jocose little personal points on local characteristics, at which everybody but the individual touched grinned broadly. She was so droll and cheeky, and withal effective in her talk, that she quite won the crowd over. She told a story about a woodchuck which fairly brought down the house.
“A man,” she began, with a quizzical twinkle in her eye, “told me once about hunting a woodchuck with a pack of dogs, and they chased it so hard that it finally escaped only by climbing a butternut-tree. ’But, my friend,’ I said to him, ’woodchucks can’t climb trees—butternut-trees or any other kind—and you know it!’ All he said in reply to me was: ‘This woodchuck had to climb a tree!’ And that’s the way with this congregation. You think you can’t raise $1,500, but you’ve got to.”