JAC Online

The Major's Night Shirt
by Colonel Edward H. Joy

This is a selection from the unpublished manuscript,
'Our Fathers Have Told Us',
some early-day stories from The Salvation Army

The Major read and re-read the letter, and then put it aside for further consideration.  He was not sure whether he could undertake the proposition which it contained.  Opposition to The Army in those days in that particular Province of Canada was already running fiercely, and he had no wish to stir up fresh trouble.  Yet the letter said, “I am sure you are the people who can help her,” and he had enough of the indomitable courage of our pioneers to regard that as a challenge not to be disregarded.

Those were the days when our people were hated and despised beyond all present-day conception, when, without any desire or purpose of our own, racial and religious dislike was poured upon us in copious streams, and the Major knew that his acceptance of the suggested task would involve a battle with extreme opposition.  So he pigeon-holed the letter, and there it stayed, untouched for some days, but not unheeded.

The note told him of a young girl, fatherless and motherless, in lonely circumstances, prevented from communicating with her friends, in a town of alien religion and speech, tormented and tempted by the man and woman in whose keeping she was.  “What can you do for her, sir?  I am sure you are the people to help her.”  The words thumped themselves into the Major’s brain.

He took out the letter again; in the meantime he had prayed about it.  “You are the people!”  It irked him beyond all else that such a belief should be misplaced.  “So we are!” he declared, as he banged his fist against the desk.  “So we are!”  (it was in the days before such calls and errands had become commonplace among us)

So off up the river he went.  He had no worked out plan in his mind as to how he would get in touch with his quarry.  All he knew as her name and address, and all the recommendation or material was a photograph, which the aunt had enclosed in her letter, of the girl’s dead mother.  He was quite sure that open and above-board enquiries would meet with dead-head replies, and as for appearing in Salvation Army uniform, that was out of the question. 

When he arrived at the little up-stream riverside town he found the whole place was ‘en fete’ for the local regatta; everybody who was anybody, and the rest of the population seemed to be enjoying themselves at the sports.  Only a few stragglers were on the streets, stores were closed, and houses deserted, - he might have burgled almost any of them with impunity.

He found the house of the address and strolled past it once or twice, wondering whether the object of his search was within, or whether she was with the revelers at the other end of the town, at the waterside.  Presently, to his huge delight, and perhaps in answer to his unuttered prayers for guidance, a young woman came out of the house, a little child in her care, and walked across the road.

The Major stepped up to her and said, “Are you so-and-so?”  At first affrighted at the abrupt question of the big, burly stranger, she hesitated, but eventually answered, “Yes.”  “Do you know who this is?”, showing her the old-fashioned photo of her mother.  “Oh, that’s my mother!  Why do you ask?  Who are you?”

“I’ve come to help you.  I am ‘Salvation Army’,” (not that this meant much to the girl)  “And we are always trying to help people who are in trouble.  I’ve come to get you away to your auntie.  I have a letter from her.  Will you come away with me?”

“Oh, yes, I’ll come!  Oh, I am so glad!  I am frightened of that man; he is so wicked.  Take me away! – But they will come after me.  They will find me, like they did before.  What shall I do?”

He excited replies were a sufficient evidence of her situation to show the Major that he had come on no wild-goose chase, here was one for him to help.  “Take no notice now,” said he, “but meet me at the Fountain at eight o’clock, and I’ll be all ready for you.  Don’t forget – eight o’clock at the Fountain!”

Precisely at eight o'clock he was at the appointed rendezvous, and from where he stood he again saw the young woman of his search – poor, tempted, haunted creature – looking from the upper room of the house, waiting for the signal which was to tell her that the hour of her escape was at hand.  They met at the Fountain, but immediately her deliverer saw she was in no trim for the long journey before them.  Clad in the scantiest of indoor clothing – her outdoor garments securely locked away from her – certainly she could not travel thus.  What was to be done?

The Major was a man of resource, and so off down the street he went, looking for a store where he might find some women’s clothing.  At length he espied a milliner’s window, and displayed therein was a gorgeous ‘merry widow’ hat – all brim and flounces.  “Just the ticket!” said he, and after some knocking aroused the little French milliner, and returned to the waiting girl with this, his solitary purchase.  “For my young sister,” he had said.

But that had, broad of brim and extravagant of trimming, was, in itself, a very inadequate disguise; a ragged old shirt-waist did not go well with such splendour.  And no other shop was open at that hour.

“Say!” said he, an inspiration seizing him, “Here’s the very thing,” and out of his case he pulled his long down-to-the-toes night-shirt.  A special going-out-to-a-billet affair, resplendent with stitcher and the like, the work of his loving wife’s hands.  “Just the very thing,” said he.  “Get it on and let’s have a look at you.”  Fortunately the evening dark was coming on, and they were in a secluded corner of the dark garden.

Entering into the spirit of the adventure, the girl pulled the night-shirt over her head, and tucked it up around her waist, tying it with one of the Major’s shoelaces, and transformed it into a passable imitation of a fashionable dress of the period.  “My, but you look smart!” exclaimed the Major; nobody would recognize you.  Now, then, here’s for the boat; she’s about due!”

But the boat was an hour late.  “And, say, I never knew an hour so long in my life,” said the Major, and then, towards the end of the hour there arose on the air a ringing of bells and shrieking of sirens.  “What is that?” exclaimed the Major, “There’s a mighty big fire somewhere!” 

“No, it’s not a fire,” cried the girl, “It means they’re after me; they’ve found I’ve gone.  It’s what they did last time I ran away.  They’ll call the whole town after me; They don’t mean to let me go!”

A policeman passed muttering something about ‘a girl in da river’, but he saw nothing answering to the description of the girl for whom he was searching in the gorgeously dressed lady leaning on the army of her stalwart friend.  Quite natural that they should be enjoying the cool breeze after the hot day’s revel.

The boat hove into sight, and, talking as gaily as they could, the Salvationist and his capture made their way up the gang-way, past the scrutinizing police and others, - past the very man and woman from whom they were escaping, and presently, to the Major’s intense relief (his sigh was nigh as loud as a steam-whistle), they were heading downstream for the next chapter of the story.

Handing the girl over to the care of the stewardess, a well-disposed body he discovered, he made himself comfortable for the night.

The next morning, true enough, the story was in the riverside papers – telegraphed along the river by the enraged pursuers, enraged and frightened for fear the girl’s body might be recovered from the water, or that she had actually escaped and might tell of the treatment she had received.  But the Major was equal to the emergency, even though discovery would certainly have laid him open to a charge of kidnapping a girl for whom he had no responsibility.  With The Army in the present state of public opinion the authorities would have no compunction about dealing harshly with him, and handing the girl back to her oppressors.

But, so far, his plans had succeeded – if plans they can be called – and he was not going to let his enemies have the last laugh over him.  “Girl drowned!” said some of the papers.  “Girl kidnapped by strange man!” said other glaring head-lines.  Police and other zealous individuals were staring hard at every shore-going passenger, but when the Major engaged them in excited enquiries as to the missing girl, nobody noticed the gaily dressed woman who pushed her way through the crowd and then waited for him in a quiet nook on the quay. 

A telegram to the anxious relatives, and a few days of kindness in the home of the Major and his motherly wife, and then the arrival of a rejoicing woman, ends this part of the story, but in the sequel you would read of a happy girl, freed from the horror and degradation of her former position, growing up to a joyful Salvationism in the distant city to which she had been taken, and writing hopefully of the happy time when she would be an Officer in our ranks.

“But,” said the Major, “when my missus was making up that fine night-shirt for me, she never knew what a smart ‘bobby-dazzler’ or a blouse and skirt it would make, and that it was to mean the safety of that poor child!”

The Major has long since joined the ‘fighting hosts of God’, but this story as told me by one of his then-colleagues has all the thrill of a full-blooded escape yarn.  What do you say?








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