CHAPTER 28-UNDER THE SHADOW OF THE ALMIGHTY-- JANUARY 1856. AET. 23.

BLACK TOWN would have been the last place to include in their itinerary had they been considering personal comfort or safety. Half-way between two great cities 1{1 The Fu cities of Hu-chow near the Great Lake and Ka-shing on the Grand Canal.}and near the border of the province it was a refuge for the unruly, many of whom were salt-smugglers of desperate character. But it was close at hand, only one day's journey from Nan-zin, and it had never yet been visited by messengers of the Prince of Peace. This in itself was sufficient to take our travellers thither, and though their visit was cut short by reason of serious danger, they were enabled to learn as well as teach important lessons.

Dropping anchor on Monday, January 7, near this busy market-town (Wu-tien), they commenced work by distributing several hundreds of sheet-tracts in the outlying streets. This aroused considerable interest, and of the crowds that gathered round them Mr. Taylor was able to write : " I never spoke to more attentive audiences, nor saw such seriousness among the Chinese before."

Following the same plan as at Nan-zin, they visited the suburbs on the farther side of the town next morning, and selected a tea-shop for the purposes of a street-chapel. Not far from the boats a great concourse of people was addressed later in the day.

" The Lord graciously helped us," wrote Mr. Taylor, and we were heard with marked attention. In the evening we went to the tea-shop and found several persons waiting who had come expressly to meet us. Our lips were opened, and people listened with evident interest... . Some even seemed to believe, and nearly all approved, or seemed to approve, what we were teaching."

Encouraged by this good beginning the missionaries were looking forward to much blessing, when all unexpectedly troubles arose from which they were delivered only by a series of remarkable providences.

It began quite suddenly through the annoyance of a group of men, afterwards found to be salt-smugglers, who could not obtain all the books they wanted. Tracts and Gospels were given freely to those who could read, but, as elsewhere, they were withheld from wholly unlettered persons. This resulted in an attack upon the boats in which happily no one was injured, though one of the cabins was battered in.

As soon as quiet was somewhat restored, we all met in Mr. Burns' boat and joined in thanksgiving for our preservation, praying for the perpetrators of the mischief and that it might be over-ruled for good. After lunch we went ashore, and but a few steps from the boats addressed a large concourse of people. We were conscious of being specially helped.. Never were we heard with more attention, and not one voice was raised in sympathy with those who had molested us. In the evening the same spirit was manifested in the tea-shop, and some seemed to hear with joy the tidings of salvation through a crucified Redeemer.

Again on the following day (January ii) the Word was in power. Visited by two northern men, Mr. Taylor was greatly helped in telling them of Jesus. One did not pay much attention but the other did, asking question after question that showed the interest he was feeling. After they left him, the young missionary went on shore and in a garden full of mulberry-trees found a company of people to whom Kuei-hua had been speaking. 1-{1 Tsien and Kuei-hua, Mr. Taylor's valued helpers, had just rejoined him, having returned from their visit to the island of Hai-men. See Chap. 27. p. 341.}

" The sun was just setting," he wrote, " and supplied me with a striking simile of life.... As I spoke of the uncertainty of its duration and the nearness of the Lord's return, deep seriousness prevailed. A Buddhist priest who was present was constrained afterwards to confess that Buddhism was a system of delusions and could give no peace in death. When I engaged in prayer all were silent and impressed, and my own soul was deeply moved with the solemnity of the scene."

Trouble was at hand, however, for the salt-smugglers were intent on getting more than a few books from the foreigners. On Saturday the 12th, fifty of these desperate characters assembled in a tea-shop near the river and sent one of their number, professing to be a constable, with a written demand for ten dollars and a pound of opium. If this were forthcoming the boats would be left in peace ; if not, fifty men were determined to destroy them before morning.

The day was already drawing in, and the missionaries had gone ashore to visit the farther end of the town. Sung, the teacher, was alone with the boat-people and, like them, not a little alarmed at the turn events were taking. Having no money and of course no opium, all he could do was to go in search of his employers, giving a hint to the boatpeople to make the most of any opportunity to get away. Knowing that the missionaries had planned to preach in a tea-shop at the east end of the town, he set off on a walk of two miles or more to find them ; and the constable, quite willing to let him go alone, returned to report progress to those who had sent him.

Meanwhile Mr. Burns and Mr. Taylor had been led to change their plans. As they were going eastward it occurred to them that some interested inquirers might be expecting them at the usual meeting-place, and, under a strong impression that they should return at once, they retraced their steps to the tea-shop nearer the river. Thus Sung was not able to find them, and while he was occupied in the search the boat-people had an opportunity to move quietly away.

For the night which had been fine and clear now became intensely dark. Knowing it would be some time before Sung could return, the men who were awaiting the missionaries called for more tea, for which the foreigners were to pay to the extent of three hundred cash, and settled themselves down to smoke and play cards. Unobserved for the moment, and aided by the welcome darkness, the boats weighed anchor and moved off, one in one direction and one in another, so that if either were discovered and attacked the other might afford a refuge for the missionaries. This done the captain went ashore, and, keeping out of sight among the shadows, watched anxiously for his passengers.

And strange to say he had not long to wait. No one had come to the tea-shop to meet the missionaries, and the few people they found there were singularly inattentive. Earlier than usual Mr. Burns proposed returning to the boats, and, leaving Ts`ien and Kuei-hua to talk with any who desired it, they set out for the river, hoping to distribute their remaining tracts by the way. But the night was so dark that few people were on the streets, and for the first time since they arrived in Black Town no one followed them.

Thus when Mr. Burns' lantern appeared, the boatman found to his relief that the missionaries were alone. Going up to them he took the light and blew it out, instead of carrying it on in front as they expected. Surprised at the strangeness of his manner they would have relighted it, seeing which he removed the candle, threw it into the canal, and walked down in silence to the water's edge. Fearful lest he had lost his reason and might drown himself, Mr. Taylor ran forward to restrain him ; but with a manner that effectually silenced them the captain said that a number of men were intent on destroying the boats which had moved away to avoid them. He then cautiously led the way to where one of the boats were waiting. Before long Ts`ien and Kuei-hua were brought on board, and Sung also joining them they were able to move off in safety.

The meaning of the mystery was then explained, and with thankfulness each one of the little party realised that the Lord had been thinking upon them in that hour of danger. Sung especially was conscious of His providential care, for on reaching the place where the boats had been moored when he left them, he found a dozen or twenty men searching among the trees, and heard them asking withastonishment what could have become of the foreigners. They even inquired of him, not recognising who he was, and he was just as puzzled as they were to know where the boats could be. Happily he met one of the boatmen a little farther on, who without word or sign led him to his companions.

" After a while the boats joined company," wrote Mr. Taylor, " and rowed together quite a distance. It was already late, and to travel by night in that part of the country was not the way to avoid dangers, so the question arose as to what should be done. This we left the boat-people to decide. They had moved off of their own accord, and we felt that whatever we personally might desire, we could not constrain others to remain in a position of danger on our account. We urged them to do quickly whatever they thought of doing, as the morrow was the Lord's Day and we should not wish to travel. We also reminded them that wherever we were we must fulfil our mission, to preach the Gospel. It would make but little difference where we stayed, for even if we passed the night unperceived we were sure to be found out the following morning. Upon this the men concluded that they might as well return to the place from which we had started, a decision with which we fully agreed, and they turned back accordingly. But whether by accident or on purpose, they got into another stream, and rowed on for some time they knew not whither. At last as it was very dark they dropped anchor for the night.

We then called them all together with our native assistants and read the ninety-first Psalm...

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High

Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress

My God, in Him will I trust. . . .

Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day. . . .

Because He hath set His love upon me, therefore will I deliver him.

I will set him on high, because he hath known My name.

He shall call upon Me and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble:

I will deliver him and honour him.

With long life will I satisfy him, and show him My salvation.

Then committing ourselves to His care and keeping, Who had covered us with thick darkness and enabled us to escape the hand of violent men ... we passed the night in peace and quietness, realising in some measure the truth of that precious Word, ` He is their help and their shield.'

The following morning I was awakened about 4 A.M. by violent pain in the knee-joint. I had bruised it the day before, and severe inflammation was the result. To my great surprise I heard the rain pouring down in torrents, the weather having previously been particularly fine. On looking out we found ourselves so near our former stopping-place that had nothing happened to prevent it we should have felt it our duty to go into the town to preach as usual. But the rain was so heavy all day long that no one could leave the boats, and much inquiry about us was also prevented. We thus enjoyed a delightful day of rest, such as we had not had for some time. Had the day been fine we should most likely have been discovered even if we had not left the boats ; but as it was we were left to think with wonder and gratitude of the gracious dealings of our God, who had indeed led us apart into a desert-place to rest awhile.

Monday was a cloudless morning and Mr. Burns was preparing to go ashore when one of the assistants, who had been early to fetch some clothing left with a laundress, returned with serious tidings. In spite of the drenching rain of Sunday the salt-smugglers had been seeking them in all directions, and unless they made good their escape the boats would certainly be found and broken to pieces.

Thoroughly alarmed, the boat-people would remain no longer in the neighbourhood of Wu-tien, and Mr. Taylor being quite unable to walk, the missionaries had no choice but to leave with them. This also seemed providential, for by evening it was evident that he was really ill and must return to Shanghai for rest and treatment. They had been absent already more than a month, and much as he regretted leaving Mr. Burns to continue the work alone, he did so in the assurance that

Ill that God blesses is our good,

And unblest good is ill

And all is right that seems most wrong,

If it be His sweet will.

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