Jimmie, notorious criminal and jailbird, suddenly found that his latest exploit in shop-lifting had been a little ill-timed. At the very climax of a brilliant theft, a heavy hand gripped his shoulder. He turned a flaming face and a murderous eye upon his captor and made lightning response. Dropping his haul, he dealt the constable a gigantic blow full in the face. The man went down like a ninepin.
On a Saturday afternoon in a crowded London thoroughfare there was, however, little chance of a quick get-away for Jimmie. In a second he was surrounded, and two or three men in blue appeared from nowhere.
'Coming quietly ' had never been a characteristic of Jimmie, who was known as one of the most famous 'bashers ' of the police in the district. It was his cheerful boast that it usually took six of them to carry him away, and his customary means of conveyance to the station was the ambulance in which he was strapped down. He had no intention therefore of submitting to his fate now without kicking.
A large crowd quickly gathered to watch Jimmie's violent and single-handed battle, for here was daring sport. Yet in the crude interest which the many onlookers evidenced in the scene there was an unusual lack of sympathy with the rebel. For he was an outcast among his own. Even the low people who consorted in this populous area showed a distinct aversion to Jimmie. He had earned their disgust and contempt, had long since fallen beneath their standards of rough decency and become a parasite, a cur, the lowest of the low.
The small, blood-spattered head and the big bony shoulders towered above the crowd as Jimmie reared himself with renewed energy after a momentary flooring. His long arms struck savagely about him, his eyes flamed with drunken fury, and a stream of oaths and curses poured from his lips.
'Look out! Look out! ' The people made wild charges for the safety of the pavements as the sharp canter of the mounted patrol sounded behind them. The police had turned now to their last resort and of length Jimmie, half-murdered, his arms pinned to his sides, was tied to the saddle and so dragged to the station through the gaping crowds. It was his proudest title to fame thus far. It was followed by six months ,hard'.
Alone in his cell, painfully stiff and bruised, and with the fumes of alcohol which had burned in his brain giving place to a cold stupor, Jimmie went over the miserable retrospect of his life. He remembered the squalor and wretchedness of his early home. His mother and stepfather had been an ill-matched pair, and in their frequent quarrels Jimmie had taken a liberal share of the kicks and cuffs. Their neglect of him—body, mind and soul—had quickly taught him that any advantages that came his way he must win by his own efforts. He was always hungry. He took to petty thieving to satisfy the ceaseless demands of appetite. The strong arm of the law (too strong in those days for Jimmie) often shot out unexpectedly and, pinching him by the ear, led him off to the parents who knew well enough how to punish though not how to teach.
It became the habit of the local tradesmen to 'fetch him a crack on the head', whether guilty or not, whenever they saw him. These retributions, however, were mild compared with those that followed as the years increased his daring. From reformatory school he passed to rapidly succeeding spells of imprisonment. Out of sheer boredom he enlisted. An episode with a cocky little corporal brought Jimmie near to murder; for this he got his longest stretch ', and his ticket ' from the army.
At this stage in his miserable reflections the door of his cell swung back. Jimmie raised his battered head and bloodshot eyes to receive the prison visitor. 'Guv'nor,' he asked, ' is there anyone could help a chap to go straight? I'd like to live a better life.'
'I wish I could believe you,' was the only answer Jimmie received.
In the whole of his life but one person had given him any hope for himself. Now he called to mind the occasions when she had sought him in the public houses and at street corners. He remembered how roughly he had shaken off her appeals. The thought of her grew upon him as the days went by.
He knew exactly where he would find her, and on his release Jimmie made for the Salvation Army hall for the first time in his life. Pushing open the door, he stumbled into a back seat. He gazed over the heads of the crowded people to the platform where stood the woman Jimmie knew. Behind her was a row of her converts ', resplendent in Blood and Fire ' guernseys. She asked one of them for his testimony '. He stood up in the full glare of the gas-lights and swiftly and graphically told how he had been raised from degradation and despair. Jimmie knew well enough what his past life had been like. No one could deny the change. At his side stood the Adjutant ', her face beaming with happiness.
Jimmie looked at her. She was such a slip of a thing — hardly more than a girl, slight and very fair. Yet she knew how to handle this crowd of ex-drunkards and convicts as though they were her own children. She was the Salvation Army officer for this district and as well known in the neighbourhood as Jimmie himself. He had seen her going in and out of the haunts of the people from early morning till late at night. He had seen her enter the filthiest lodging-houses to find the objects of her tireless compassion. He had watched her praying in crowded bars. More than once he had' known her step in and settle a street-fight, regardless of her own safety. Yet she looked so frail; she had no commanding appearance, no loud voice and dictatorial manner; only a strange zeal which burned in her face and gave energy to her being. Now she was inviting them all to pray.
Jimmie stumbled to his feet. His long legs shambled down the aisle and he knelt down at the Army Penitent-form. In the silence that fell he muttered aloud : 'God, be merciful to me a sinner.'
A great peace descended on his tormented soul. Jimmie, the unloved and unguided, suddenly found a region of light and love which he had never known before. In a second the Adjutant was kneeling beside him.
'That's another jail-bird!' exulted Kate Lee in her quarters that night as, with many a prayer, she recalled to mind the increasing host of drunkards, fighters, criminals and others whom God had so marvellously changed. Most of them had sensational records, well known to Kate.
She lived in a notorious district of the western side of London. She knew the names of many of the crooks and vicious men and women of the neighbourhood, and could greet them in the street. Her slight figure, often on a bicycle, was recognized everywhere. In the midst of poverty, wretchedness and sin she moved like a cleansing flame.
Yet this young woman, fearless and powerful among the poor and depraved, in other surroundings — even among her own comrades — was often so shy as to find speech a trial.
She had been born in a humble home in North London. One day, when she was still a girl, a gust of music down the street in which she lived had brought interested faces to the windows. A procession streamed down the road, behind a leader waving an umbrella. Kate's elder sister Lucy had followed that strange company—to a Salvation Army hall. The warmth and enthusiasm of the meeting had fired her heart. The message she heard had convinced her of her need of a change of heart. Soon she had the joy of kneeling with thirteen-year-old Kate—little dreaming what a harvest was to grow from 'the fair child's conversion. When her sister first marched the streets with the rest of the Salvationists, wearing the Army bonnet, Lucy had trembled — but also rejoiced.
'I can't, but I must!' muttered sixteen-year-old Kate as she stood on the step of a Wood Green public house with a bundle of copies of The War Cry under her arm. The noise from within; the quarrelling, cursing, swearing; the thought of the crowd through which she must push her way, kept her shivering outside with her hand on the door. Once more, I must! '—and, white and shaking, she made her way in. It was always like that.
In the meetings Kate sat where she could watch the faces of the congregation. If she saw a girl of her own age, with much trepidation she made her way to her quarry when the prayer meeting began and with a trembling voice inquired about her spiritual condition.
Anxious to win others for Christ, yet always fighting a paralysing shyness, she thought out unusual ways of service in which she could be anonymous. One of these was to write, in her school-girl hand, letters addressed to postmen, and drop them in the pillar-box. Those letters must have made many a man think of his higher responsibilities.
When Kate declared that she must become a Salvation Army officer, those who knew her were rather hopeless. No one believed that a girl so delicate, so mouse-like, could ever be a leader of others. Family doctor, employer, friends—even Salvationists—shook their heads. Kate's spirit quailed before their arguments, but once again she said, 'I must!'
In those early nineties, the Salvationist cadets visiting public houses with their papers were often roughly treated. Beer would be dashed over their faces and clothes. Filthy language was poured out upon them. Often they were thrown out bodily. In the street meetings they were continually moved on by the police. Meetings in their halls were disturbed and broken up, the windows of their living quarters were smashed.
But under such conditions the Joan of Arc spirit was engendered in Kate Lee. The prospect of a lifetime of poverty and struggle could not daunt her.
Her youth and her fragile appearance were not calculated to impress anyone with her powers of leadership. For service as a Salvation Army officer she would need to be much more than an attractive, youthful enthusiast. She must know how to handle people of all types and ages, she must organize, she must grapple with financial problems, she must be a preacher, she must be able to win and care for the souls of the people. The task drew upon all her strength of body, mind and spirit, but from the beginning she knew the keen joy and the deep peace that come from dedication to a cause greater than oneself.
No general ever laid his plans for battle with greater pride and thoroughness than did Kate, when appointed to a little town in the Midlands. The mayor sat up and blinked with astonishment when one morning she arrived to introduce herself as 'the newly appointed Commanding Officer of The Salvation Army'. Staring' at the slip of a girl, he revised his opinions about these 'queer' folk.
Next Kate penetrated the police offices. She informed the guardians of the law that the worst people of the town were her especial charge and interest. Then she visited the church ministers, whom she hoped to find her ready friends.
She surveyed the town and tabulated her findings. How many public houses ? How many houses of ill- fame ? How many places of worship ? What proportion of people go to church? This was her world. Here she would find the work and the people that she wanted.
But she must have first-hand knowledge of poverty and suffering. She must know what it felt like to be wretched and outcast. During her brief annual rest she went to a shelter for women in London. Dressed in rags, she joined the crowd of women at the door. She paid her few coppers and found her bunk in the long dormitory. But the women saw through her disguise.
'She's goin' to bed wi"er do's on!' whispered one. 'Poor thing! she ain't used to this,' observed another, with pity.
All night long Kate lay awake among the troubled sleepers whose uneasy dreams reflected their wretched days. Groans and curses, singing and swearing, the weary gabblings of the fear ridden all these interpreted the language of their lives to this young woman.
As soon as it was light she escaped, shivering with cold and nausea. She tried to board a bus, but driver after driver glanced at her and drove on. When at last she managed to get into a tram, the passengers glared at her as she squeezed herself into a corner. But Kate had wrested from the experience the knowledge she wanted: henceforth she understood.
The bonds of her shyness were loosed now. When she arrived in a London district for new work she was in her element. The miserables ' were her special charge, and her means of winning them should be direct and fearless. In the crowded, filthy streets everyone came to know why she walked so fast. Watching the ceaseless tide of humanity in the Uxbridge Road, that ran like a great artery through her district, she understood what William Booth meant when he had described a similar district as 'muddy with men and women'. She noted the flotsam and jetsam cast up at the doors of gin-palaces and lodging-houses. She heard the melancholy cries of the costermongers mingle with the dull roar of the traffic. She saw the neglected children. You needed the eyes of a poet or a saint to be able to see splendour amid such dust and refuse.
'Where shall we go, Adjutant?' said her assistant as they set off to visit the public houses. 'To the respectable or the rough?'
'The rough! ' she replied without hesitation, and was off. She no longer paused with a trembling hand upon the door; she pushed her way in quickly, stopping to sing of Christ in the smoke-filled atmosphere, or kneeling on the filthy floor to pray with a drunkard, hastily scribbling in her note-book the name and address of one in special need—for an early visit. Often until midnight she continued with her weary but urgent task. The visits with which she had charged herself had often to be done at the earliest hours.
One morning at 5.30, preparing to go to work, a desperate character whom she had met in the public house the night before was surprised by a tap at the door. His wife shuffled across the room and opened it. There stood Kate and her Lieutenant. They were invited inside and tea was offered to them. They drank it strong, from gallipots, while they talked. This was the only time Kate could be sure of finding the man at home.
More than once the people of the worst quarters saw the Salvation Army march approaching with a woman of their own type at its head—dressed in dirty, torn clothes, with broken boots, and her hair pulled about her face. Arrived at the hall, with a crowd of the curious thronging in, this woman would take the platform and lead the meeting, preaching on the foul effects of sin! It was a shock to the uninitiated to discover that she was none other than the Adjutant herself, who had made herself so humiliating a spectacle in order to awaken people to their need of Christ.
Few knew how Kate needed to steel herself for this task. She gave herself no airs, but religion had refined her and given her added grace and gentleness. Only at great personal cost did she thus make a public exhibition of herself. But out of her loving self-offering came a spiritual power that enabled her marvellously to influence the crime-hardened people.
A dipsomaniac—born in drink of drunken parents — she waylaid one day on his dreary paper round. He had never known anything but drink and destitution; now, in middle life, his brain was stupefied, his body foul, his soul almost destroyed. The slum children jeered and mocked as he stumbled along the streets.
'You don't look very happy. Are you?' Kate asked him. 'Perhaps I could be of some service to you. Let me come and pay you a visit, and make friends with you. There may be many little ways in which I could help you. Let me try.' He stared at her with glazed, uncomprehending eyes, as she eagerly questioned him and searched the disfigured face. At last she succeeded in conveying her offer of friendship and help.
Accustomed to vile dwellings, even she turned aside sick and suffocated when she entered the room the man called his home. A dog sprawled on the filthy bed, guinea pigs huddled together on the floor, cats lay on the hearth, a cage of doves hung by the window, rabbit hutches gave forth a foul smell. With this menagerie lived the drink-sodden man and his wife.
Finally the old couple were persuaded to come to a Salvation Army meeting. They came again, though nothing seemed to pierce their stupefaction. Then, one night, with a number of others, they both knelt at the Penitent-form. To Kate it seemed incredible, but she prayed and watched, and at each small sign of regeneration her hope was strengthened. The people of the neighbourhood saw that the most destitute individual known to them had suddenly been changed. He had become clean, useful and happy. He was a convincing argument for Kate Lee's religion.
One day a man of most repulsive appearance was brought to the Army hall. At the age of fourteen he had left a comfortable home for the sordid life of the London streets. Between his frequent periods of imprisonment a favourite occupation was to waylay policemen at night, fell them and then, with equally cruel companions, strike and kick them.
As Kate Lee spoke in simple terms of the love of God, for the first time in his life this 'copper basher ' felt the need of love for his own barren heart. Amazingly, he allowed God to change his whole nature. Kate Lee's compassion helped him to keep straight. During the First World War, in the Dardanelles and elsewhere, he received letter after letter assuring him of her prayers.
From the slums of London Kate was transferred to a large and prosperous manufacturing town, where she found the Army hall filled with respectable folk. Her anxious inquiries soon discovered slums as evil as any she had known elsewhere. She prepared for battle.
A great meeting for drunkards was arranged. Kate had heard of one man who by sheer physical force kept order in public houses and lodging-houses. If he came he would attract a host of others. She waited for him in his own street.
From the pavements and the public houses and from the steps of the lodging-houses, people stared at the spectacle of the Adjutant in her neat bonnet in earnest conversation with Jack, the terror of the neighbourhood. He was too surprised by her friendly approach to be anything but interested. Then she told him that she had heard that the drunks of the district were exceptionally rough and violent. She aroused his chivalry. The great oaf of a man became like clay in her hands. He came. He stood at the back of the hall and kept order with immense energy until the meeting began. Then he stood silently behind the others. He listened to the testimonies of converted drunkards. Kate saw her final conquest of Jack as, at the end of the meeting, he came forward with many others to begin a new life.
In this same slum area Kate found a man who had lost his mother when only six weeks old; his father had later died a drunkard. When he was five years of age, he had been stood on a public house bench and 'filled up with beer'. He had drunk for forty years since then; he beat his wife and was a terrror to his children.
'Where's father ?' Kate would inquire of the children.
'In the "Blue Lion",' they invariably responded, and into the "Blue Lion" went Kate to talk to him. For long enough she had to pursue him, but at length his resistance was broken down and he was led to Christ. For many years he was a drummer in the Army, with Salvationist children and grandchildren.
Whilst conducting an open-air meeting in a small street in this town, Kate noticed a dejected-looking man lounging at the door of a common lodging-house. He had taken to drink early in his married life, had ruined his prospects and shattered his home. Kate's smile penetrated his misery and indifference. He followed the Army march to the hall, where he sought salvation.
Kate Lee helped him to get a home together and took delight in seeing the improvements he made week by week. His tinker's barrow soon flaunted the yellow, red and blue of the Salvation Army flag! He became a respected tradesman.
Kate searched for the lost. Picking up the newspaper at breakfast one day, looking for accounts of need, she read of a criminal committed to prison for a serious offence. With difficulty she gained permission to see him. She could talk to him only through the iron bars of a cage, in the presence of a warder. A little embarrassed, she spoke earnestly to him and prayed; the man remained mute and motionless. But after his trial the man wrote to her that he had thought of her words and, as a result, had sought the forgiveness of God. Throughout his imprisonment and long after, he wrote to her as Dear Mother!
Another criminal, whom she visited in jail and met upon his release, in gratitude for her gentle ministries gave her the loaf of bread that had been his prison dole.
Kate knew the vile depths of sin; she had no mistaken notions about converts and the great battles they needed to fight to keep their promises to God. She was moved to the deepest sympathy when one of them said in his first stumbling testimony:
'I fank Gawd He's kep' me this day wifout drink. I fank Gawd He's kep' me this day wifout smoking. I fank Gawd He's kep' me this day wifout swearing overmuch.'
She rejoiced with trembling, but the following day she was delighted to hear: 'I fank Gawd He's kep' me from swearing altogever!'
'Teddy's broke it!' was the cry that rang through the district one day. One of Kate's converts had been seen drunk in a public house. Jumping on her bicycle, the Adjutant scoured the district to find him. Discovering him at last, she brought him back to his home. When he roused from his drunken slumber, he saw that she had kindled a fire, the kettle was boiling and Kate herself was on her knees in prayer for him. In the worst stupor of sin men do not find the language of love unintelligible; Teddy did not 'break it' again.
With the publication of Harold Begbie's Broken Earthenware Kate became famous in a night. Mr. Begbie described with great vividness the lives and conditions of many of her converts and her ministries among them. Suddenly and unwillingly she was brought into the limelight. She recognized the honour as a representative one, and paid open tribute to the many other faithful Salvation Army officers doing similar work. But she could not refuse the opportunities the book brought her. She had no wish to attract attention to herself, but when invited to speak from pulpits and platforms, she freely described her work. Again and again, however, she would leave the narrative of a convert and speak directly to the hearts of her listeners, challenging them with their responsibilities and their needs.
Then her health broke, and she needed to cease the much-loved work. For a little while she helped to train others for the same vocation, but finally she knew her life was ebbing out.
In the hospital, she went over with a friend some of the names of the saved drunkards she knew, gave messages for this one and that. Then, sitting up suddenly, she said, 'Those are the people to live for!'
In a delirium she thought herself out once more among the crowds. 'Oh, the people, the people!' she moaned. 'I haven't the heart to send them away!'
So, with her heart still hungry for mankind, Kate Lee passed into the presence of God. News of her death sped quickly through the world. Newspapers in many languages gave graphic accounts of her work. Jailbirds and drunkards who had known her spoke freely and unashamedly of her loveliness.
'Ah!' exclaimed one old criminal, showing her photograph; 'if anybody goes to heaven it'll be that there little angel of God.'
She had come from a humble home; but her life and work had brought great riches into the lives of many.
Harold Begbie, when he heard of her death, paid his final tribute:
'I never looked into a human face so full of the love of God, so shining with love of humanity, as the face of this 'Angel Adjutant'......There is no hope for the world until the love that was in Kate Lee is in us.'