ON the next morning, after some persuasion, Edith consented to postpone her visit to Grubb’s court until after her father had seen Mr. Paulding, the missionary.
“Let me go first and gain what information I can,” he urged. “It may save you a fruitless errand.”
It was not without a feeling of almost unconquerable repugnance that Mr. Dinneford took his way to the mission-house, in Briar street. His tastes, his habits and his naturally kind and sensitive feelings all made him shrink from personal contact with suffering and degradation. He gave much time and care to the good work of helping the poor and the wretched, but did his work in boards and on committees, rather than in the presence of the needy and suffering. He was not one of those who would pass over to the other side and leave a wounded traveler to perish, but he would avoid the road to Jericho, if he thought it likely any such painful incident would meet him in the way and shock his fine sensibilities. He was willing to work for the downcast, the wronged, the suffering and the vile, but preferred doing so at a distance, and not in immediate contact. Thus it happened that, although one of the managers of the Briar street mission and familiar with its work in a general way, he had never been at the mission-house—had never, in fact, set his foot within the morally plague-stricken district in which it stood. He had often been urged to go, but could not overcome his reluctance to meet humanity face to face in its sadder and more degraded aspects.
Now a necessity was upon him, and he had to go. It was about ten o’clock in the morning when, at almost a single step, he passed from what seemed paradise to purgatory, the sudden contrast was so great. There were but few persons in the little street; where the mission was situated at that early hour, and most of these were children—poor, half-clothed, dirty, wan-faced, keen-eyed and alert bits of humanity, older by far than their natural years, few of them possessing any higher sense of right and wrong than young savages. The night’s late orgies or crimes had left most of their elders in a heavy morning sleep, from which they did not usually awaken before midday. Here and there one and another came creeping out, impelled by a thirst no water could quench. Now it was a bloated, wild-eyed man, dirty and forlorn beyond description, shambling into sight, but disappearing in a moment or two in one of the dram-shops, whose name was legion, and now it was a woman with the angel all gone out of her face, barefooted, blotched, coarse, red-eyed, bruised and awfully disfigured by her vicious, drunken life. Her steps too made haste to the dram-shop.