CHAPTER I. "Cast thy bread upon the waters."
The room was very full. Children, large and small, boys and girls, and some looking almost old enough to be called men and women, filled the seats. The scholars had just finished singing their best-loved hymn, "Happy Land;" and the superintendent was walking up and down the room, spying out classes here and there which were without teachers, and supplying them from the visitors' seat, which was up by the desk.
The long seat near the door was filled this morning by half a dozen dirty, ragged, barefooted boys; their teacher's seat was vacant, and those boys looked, every one, as though they had come thither just to have a grand frolic.
Oh, such bright, cunning, wicked faces as they had!
Their torn pants and jackets, their matted hair, even the very twinkle in their eyes, showed that they were the "Mission Class."
That is, the class which somebody had gathered from the little black, comfortless-looking houses which thronged a narrow back street of that village, and coaxed to come to the Sabbath school,—to this large, light, pleasant room, where the sun shone in upon little girls in white dresses, with blue and pink ribbons fluttering from their shoulders; and upon little boys, whose snowy linen collars and dainty knots of black ribbon had evidently been arranged by careful hands that very morning.
But those boys in the corner kicked their bare heels together, pulled each other's hair, or laughed in each other's faces in the greatest good humour.
The superintendent stopped before them.
"Well, boys, good morning; glad to see you all here. Where's your teacher?"
"Hain't got none!" answered one,
"Gone to Guinea!" said another.
"She was afraid of us," explained a third. "Tip, here, put his foot through one of her lace flounces last Sunday. Tip's the worst boy we've got, anyhow."
The boys all seemed to think this was very funny, for they laughed so loudly that the little girls at their right looked over to see what was the matter.
Tip ran his fingers through his uncombed hair, and laughed with the rest.
"Well," said the superintendent, "I'm going to get you a teacher,—one you will like, I guess. I shall expect you to treat her well."
There was just one person left on the visitors' seat,—a young lady who looked shy and quiet.
"Oh, Mr. Parker," she said, when the superintendent told her what he wanted, "I can't take that class; I've watched those boys ever since they came in,—they look mischievous enough for anything, and act as they look."
"Then shall we leave them with nothing but mischief to take up their attention?"
"No, but—they really ought to have a better teacher than I,—some one who knows how to interest them."
"But, Miss Perry, the choice lies between you and no one."
And, while she still hesitated and looked distressed, Mr. Parker bent forward a little, and said softly,—
"'Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these My brethren, ye did it not to Me.'"
The lady rose quickly, and gathered her mantle about her....