IT was drowsy in the little mission church, and the gentle mellifluous voice of the young preacher increased rather than dispelled the sleepy peacefulness. The church, if such it could be styled, was well filled. The people of Sanyo knew it for the coolest of retreats. They drifted aimlessly in and out of the church, making no pretense of either understanding or appreciating the proceedings. It was a curious congregation, one which, innocently enough, never thought of assisting the pastor. They came to see the white priest, not to listen to the pleading message he brought, which as yet they could not understand. His Japanese was too correct. Spoken slowly and painfully in the unfamiliar accent of the Caucasian, it was often quite unintelligible. But, as was said, the church was cool, the villagers curious, and the minister an unending source of wonder to them. If some of the congregation waited patiently throughout the length of the sermon, it was not because they deemed this the proper thing to do, but because they knew they would be treated to another form of entertainment, which they childishly enjoyed. For, after the sermon, the minister, closing the large black book before him and opening a small red one, would raise his voice, throw back his head, open his mouth, and sing aloud in a voice which had never lost its fascination for his hearers. He had done this from the first, leading an unresponsive congregation in hymns of praise; but singing to the end alone. No aiding voice took up the refrain with him nor was there even the music of an organ to bear his clear voice company. Through the opened windows the chirp of the birds floated. Sometimes a baby, grown restless, laughed and crowed aloud.
On this particular Sunday, however, the minister, who appeared unusually happy, had introduced an innovation. As its nature had been whispered about the village, the service in consequence was well attended. Behind the minister’s small sandal-wood pulpit a bench had been placed, upon which the people saw seated five of the most disreputable waifs of the town. At first they were hardly recognizable. From smudgy-faced, soiled and tattered bits of flotsam, they were transformed in garments of white—miniature surplices they were.
The minister beamed upon them. The boys looked stoically back at him. This day those in the church forgot to look about at the various objects of interest, forgot to drowse, for all eyes were intent upon that little row behind the priest. When the sermon was ended and the minister turned to the red hymn book, the boys arose to their feet, and as his baritone voice was raised, five piping and discordant minor voices joined with him.
The result of the minister’s effort for a choir was immediate. It broke up the apathy of the congregation.
Groups lingered about the mission house after the service—groups of curious child-women for the most part. The question discussed from every standpoint was the seeming elevation of these most unsavory and godless of town waifs. How could these good people guess that the young minister, restless at the seeming fruitlessness of his labors, had given of his own meagre salary to induce the hungriest of the town, for so many sen, to be respectable for one day in the week? What would not a Japanese vagabond do for a sen or a sweet potato? Submit to a bath, a robe too clean to touch and the pleasure—sometimes pain—of mimicking the voice of the white man.
The mellow tinkling of temple bells disturbed the gossips. It was the hour of noon, when the gods were good and for a little prayer would give them sweet food and excellent appetites. So straight from the temple of the white priest they dispersed, through the valley to the opposite hill, where the Shinto Temple, golden-tipped, beckoned them to the prayers they mechanically understood; a moment only in the temple, nodding heads and prostrating bodies, and after that, home and the noon-day meal. Thus every day. Only on the Sunday, since the coming of the foreign priest, they had added to the routine this weekly pilgrimage of curiosity to the white man’s temple. Strange indeed were the ways of the foreign devils!