[Frontispice illustration: "Come on, Smoke, we've gotter go now."]
THAT PRINTER OF UDELL'S
A STORY OF THE MIDDLE WEST
BY HAROLD BELL WRIGHT
TO THAT FRIEND WHOSE LIFE HAS TAUGHT ME MANY BEAUTIFUL TRUTHS; WHOSE WORDS HAVE STRENGTHENED AND ENCOURAGED ME TO LIVE MORE TRUE TO MY GOD, MY FELLOWS AND MYSELF; WHO HOPED FOR ME WHEN OTHERS LOST HOPE; WHO BELIEVED IN ME WHEN OTHERS COULD NOT; WHO SAW GOOD WHEN OTHERS LOOKED FOR EVIL; TO THAT FRIEND, WHOEVER HE IS, WHEREVER HE MAY BE, I AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATE THIS STORY.
H. B. W.
"And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me."
"O God, take ker' o' Dick!—He'll sure have a tough time when I'm gone,—an' I'm er' goin'—mighty fast I reckon.—I know I aint done much ter brag on,—Lord,—but I aint had nary show.—I allus 'low'd ter do ye better,—but hit's jes' kept me scratchin'—ter do fer me an' Dick,—an' somehow I aint had time—ter sarve—ye like I ought.—An' my man he's most ways—no 'count an' triflin',—Lord,—'cepten when he likers up,—an' then,—you know how he uses me an' Dick.—But Dick, he aint no ways ter blame—fer what his dad an' mammy is,—an' I ax ye—fair,—o Lord,—take ker o' him—fer—Jesus' sake—Amen."
"Dick!—O Dick,—whar are ye honey?"
A hollow-cheeked wisp of a boy arose from the dark corner where he had been crouching like a frightened animal, and with cautious steps drew near the bed. Timidly he touched the wasted hand that lay upon the dirty coverlid.
"What ye want, maw?"
The woman hushed her moaning and turned her face, upon which the shadow was already fallen, toward the boy. "I'm er goin'—mighty fast,—Dicky," she said, in a voice that was scarcely audible. "Whar's yer paw?"
Bending closer to the face upon the pillow, the lad pointed with trembling finger toward the other end of the cabin and whispered, while his eyes grew big with fear, "Sh—, he's full ergin. Bin down ter th' stillhouse all evenin'—Don't stir him, maw, er we'll git licked some more. Tell me what ye want."
But his only answer was that broken prayer as the sufferer turned to the wail again. "O Lord, take ker o'—"
A stick of wood in the fire-place burned in two and fell with a soft thud on the ashes; a lean hound crept stealthily to the boy's side and thrust a cold muzzle against his ragged jacket; in the cupboard a mouse rustled over the rude dishes and among the scanty handful of provisions.
Then, cursing foully in his sleep, the drunkard stirred uneasily and the dog slunk beneath the bed, while the boy stood shaking with fear until all was still again. Reaching out, he touched once more that clammy hand upon the dirty coverlid. No movement answered to his touch. Reaching farther, he cautiously laid his fingers upon the ashy-colored temple, awkwardly brushing back a thin lock of the tangled hair. The face, like the hand, was cold. With a look of awe and horror in his eyes, the child caught his parent by the shoulder and shook the lifeless form while he tried again and again to make her hear his whispered words.
"Maw! Maw! Wake up; hit'l be day purty soon an' we can go and git some greens; an' I'll take the gig an' kill some fish fer you; the's a big channel cat in the hole jes' above the riffles; I seed 'im ter day when I crost in the john boat. Say Maw, I done set a dead fall yester'd', d' reckon I'll ketch anythin'? Wish't it 'ud be a coon, don't you?—Maw! O Maw, the meal's most gone. I only made a little pone las' night; thar's some left fer you. Shant I fix ye some 'fore dad wakes up?"
But there was no answer to his pleading, and, ceasing his efforts, the lad sank on his knees by the rude bed, not daring even to give open expression to his grief lest he arouse the drunken sleeper by the fireplace. For a long time he knelt there, clasping the cold hand of his lifeless mother, until the lean hound crept again to his side, and thrusting that cold muzzle against his cheek, licked the salt tears, that fell so hot.
At last, just as the first flush of day stained the eastern sky, and the light tipped the old pine tree on the hill with glory, the boy rose to his feet. Placing his hand on the head of his only comforter, he whispered, "Come on, Smoke, we've gotter go now." And together boy and dog crept softly across the room and stole out of the cabin door—out of the cabin door, into the beautiful light of the new day. And the drunken brute still slept on the floor by the open fire-place, but the fire was dead upon the hearth.
"He can't hurt maw any more, Smoke," said the lad, when the two were at a safe distance. "No, he sure can't lick her agin, an' me an' you kin rustle fer ourselves, I reckon."
* * * * *
Sixteen years later, in the early gray of another morning, a young man crawled from beneath a stack of straw on the outskirts of Boyd City, a busy, bustling mining town of some fifteen thousand people, in one of the middle western states, many miles from the rude cabin that stood beneath the hill.
The night before, he had approached the town from the east, along the road that leads past Mount Olive, and hungry, cold and weary, had sought shelter of the friendly stack, much preferring a bed of straw and the companionship of cattle to any lodging place he might find in the city, less clean and among a ruder company.
It was early March and the smoke from a nearby block of smelters was lost in a chilling mist, while a raw wind made the young man shiver as he stood picking the bits of straw from his clothing. When he had brushed his garments as best he could and had stretched his numb and stiffened limbs, he looked long and thoughtfully at the city lying half hidden in its shroud of gray.
"I wonder"—he began, talking to himself and thinking grimly of the fifteen cents in his right-hand pants pocket—"I wonder if—"
"Mornin' pard," said a voice at his elbow. "Ruther late when ye got in las' night, warn't it?"
The young man jumped, and turning faced a genuine specimen of the genus hobo. "Did you sleep in this straw-stack last night?" he ejaculated, after carefully taking the ragged fellow's measure with a practiced eye.
"Sure; this here's the hotel whar I put up—slept in the room jes' acrost the hall from your'n.—Whar ye goin' ter eat?"—with a hungry look.
"Don't know. Did you have any supper last night?"
"Nope, supper was done et when I got in."
"I didn't have nothin' fer dinner neither," continued the tramp, "an' I'm er gettin' powerful weak."
The other thought of his fifteen cents. "Where are you going?" he said shortly.
The ragged one jerked his thumb toward the city. "Hear'd as how thar's a right smart o' work yonder and I'm on the hunt fer a job."
"What do you do?"
"Tendin' mason's my strong-holt. I've done most ever'thing though; used ter work on a farm, and puttered round a saw-mill some in the Arkansaw pineries. Aim ter strike a job at somethin' and go back thar where I know folks. Nobody won't give a feller nuthin' in this yer God-fer-saken country; haint asked me ter set down fer a month. Back home they're allus glad ter have a man eat with 'em. I'll sure be all right thar."
The fellow's voice dropped to the pitiful, pleading, insinuating whine of the professional tramp.
The young man stood looking at him. Good-for-nothing was written in every line of the shiftless, shambling figure, and pictured in every rag of the fluttering raiment, and yet—the fellow really was hungry,—and again came the thought of that fifteen cents. The young man was hungry himself; had been hungry many a time in the past, and downright, gnawing, helpless hunger is a great leveler of mankind; in fact, it is just about the only real bond of fellowship between men. "Come on," he said at last, "I've got fifteen cents; I reckon we can find something to eat." And the two set out toward the city together.
Passing a deserted mining shaft and crossing the railroad, they entered the southern portion of the town, and continued west until they reached the main street, where they stopped at a little grocery store on the corner. The one with the fifteen cents invested two-thirds of his capital in crackers and cheese, his companion reminding the grocer meanwhile that he might throw in a little extra, "seein' as how they were the first customers that mornin'." The merchant, good-naturedly did so, and then turned to answer the other's question about work.
"What can you do?"
"I'm a printer by trade, but will do anything."
"How does it happen you are out of work?"
"I was thrown out by the Kansas City strike and have been unable to find a place since."
"Is he looking for work too?" with a glance that made his customer's face flush, and a nod toward the fellow from Arkansas, who sat on a box near the stove rapidly making away with more than his half of the breakfast.
The other shrugged his shoulders, "We woke up in the same straw-stack this morning and he was hungry, that's all."
"Well," returned the store-keeper, as he dropped the lid of the cracker box with a bang, "You'll not be bothered with him long if you are really hunting a job."
"You put me on the track of a job and I'll show you whether I mean business or not," was the quick reply. To which the grocer made answer as he turned to his task of dusting the shelves: "There's lots of work in Boyd City and lots of men to do it."
The stranger had walked but a little way down the street when a voice close behind him said, "I'm erbliged ter ye for the feed, pard; reckon I'll shove erlong now."
He stopped and the other continued: "Don't much like the looks of this yer' place no how, an' a feller w'at jes' come by, he said as how thar war heaps o' work in Jonesville, forty miles below. Reckon I'll shove erlong. Aint got the price of er drink hev' ye? Can't ye set 'em up jest fer old times' sake ye know?" and a cunning gleam crept into the bloodshot eyes of the vagabond.
The other started as he looked keenly at the bloated features of the creature before him, and there was a note of mingled fear and defiance in his voice as he said, "What do you mean? What do you know about old times?"
The tramp shuffled uneasily, but replied with a knowing leer, "Aint ye Dicky Falkner what used ter live cross the river from Jimpson's still-house?"
"Well, what of it?" The note of defiance was stronger.
"Oh nuthin, only I'm Jake Tompkins, that used ter work fer Jimpson at the still. Me 'n yer daddy war pards; I used ter set 'em up ter him heap o' times."
"Yes," replied Dick bitterly, "I know you now. You gave my father whiskey and then laughed when he went home drunk and drove my mother from the cabin to spend the night in the brush. You know it killed her."
"Yer maw allus was weakly-like," faltered the other; "she'd no call ter hitch up with Bill Falkner no how; she ort ter took a man with book larnin' like her daddy, ole Jedge White. It allus made yer paw mad 'cause she knowed more'n him. But Bill lowed he'd tame her an' he shor' tried hit on. Too bad she went an' died, but she ort ter knowed a man o' Bill's spirit would a took his licker when he wanted hit. I recollect ye used ter take a right smart lot yerself fer a kid."
The defiance in the young man's voice gave way to a note of hopeless despair. "Yes," he said, "you and dad made me drink the stuff before I was old enough to know what it would do for me." Then, with a bitter oath, he continued, half to himself, "What difference does it make anyway. Every time I try to break loose something reaches out and pulls me down again. I thought I was free this time sure and here comes this thing. I might as well go to the devil and done with it. Why shouldn't I drink if I want to; whose business is it but my own?" He looked around for the familiar sign of a saloon.
"That's the talk," exclaimed the other with a swagger. "That's how yer paw used ter put it. Your maw warn't much good no how, with her finicky notions 'bout eddicati'n an' sech. A little pone and baken with plenty good ol' red eye's good 'nough fer us. Yer maw she—"
But he never finished, for Dick caught him by the throat with his left hand, the other clenched ready to strike. The tramp shrank back in a frightened, cowering heap.
"You beast," cried the young man with another oath. "If you dare to take my mother's name in your foul mouth again I'll kill you with my bare hands."
"I didn't go fer to do hit. 'Fore God I didn't go ter. Lemme go Dicky; me'n yer daddy war pards. Lemme go. Yer paw an' me won't bother ye no more Dicky; he can't; he's dead."
"Dead!" Dick released his grasp and the other sprang to a safe distance.—"Dead!" He gazed at the quaking wretch before him in amazement.
The tramp nodded sullenly, feeling at his throat. "Yep, dead," he said hoarsely. "Me an' him war bummin' a freight out o' St. Louie, an' he slipped. I know he war killed 'cause I saw 'em pick him up; six cars went over him an' they kept me in hock fer two months."
Dick sat down on the curbing and buried his face in his hands. "Dead—Dead"—he softly repeated to himself. "Dad is dead—killed by the cars in St. Louis.—Dead—Dead—"
Then all the past life came back to him with a rush: the cabin home across the river from the distillery; the still-house itself, with the rough men who gathered there; the neighboring shanties with their sickly, sad-faced women, and dirty, quarreling children; the store and blacksmith shop at the crossroads in the pinery seven miles away. He saw the river flowing sluggishly at times between banks of drooping willows and tall marsh grass, as though smitten with the fatal spirit of the place, then breaking into hurried movement over pebbly shoals as though trying to escape to some healthier climate; the hill where stood the old pine tree; the cave beneath the great rock by the spring; and the persimmon grove in the bottoms. Then once more he suffered with his mother, from his drunken father's rage and every detail of that awful night in the brush, with the long days and nights of sickness that followed before her death, came back so vividly that he wept again with his face in his hands as he had cried by the rude bedside in the cabin sixteen years ago. Then came the years when he had wandered from his early home and had learned to know life in the great cities. What a life he had found it. He shuddered as it all came back to him now. The many times when inspired by the memory of his mother, he had tried to break away from the evil, degrading things that were in and about him, and the many times he had been dragged back by the training and memory of his father; the gambling, the fighting, the drinking, the periods of hard work, the struggle to master his trade, and the reckless wasting of wages in times of wild despair again. And now his father was dead—dead—he shuddered. There was nothing to bind him to the past now; he was free.
"Can't ye give me that drink, Dicky? Jest one little horn. It'll do us both good, an' then I'll shove erlong; jes fer old times' sake, ye know."
The voice of the tramp broke in upon his thoughts. For a moment longer he sat there; then started to his feet, a new light in his eye; a new ring in his voice.
"No, Jake," he said slowly; "I wouldn't if I could now. I'm done with the old times forever." He threw up his head and stood proudly erect while the tramp gazed in awe at something in his face he had never seen before.
"I have only five cents in the world," continued Dick. "Here, take it. You'll be hungry again soon and—and—Good bye, Jake—Good bye—" He turned and walked swiftly away while the other stood staring in astonishment and wonder, first at the coin in his hand, then at the retreating figure. Then with an exclamation, the ragged fellow wheeled and started in the opposite direction toward the railroad yards, to catch a south-bound freight.
Dick had walked scarcely a block when a lean hound came trotting across the street. "Dear old Smoke," he said to himself, his mind going back to the companion of his early struggle—"Dear old Smoke." Then as the half-starved creature came timidly to his side and looked up at him with pleading eyes, he remembered his share of the breakfast, still untouched, in his pocket. "You look like an old friend of mine," he continued, as he stooped to pat the bony head, "a friend who is never hungry now—, but you're hungry aren't you?" A low whine answered him. "Yes, you're hungry all right." And the next moment a wagging tail was eloquently giving thanks for the rest of the crackers and cheese.
The factories and mills of the city gave forth their early greeting, while the sun tried in vain to drive away the chilly mist. Men with dinner buckets on their arms went hurrying along at call of the whistles, shop-keepers were sweeping, dusting and arranging their goods, a street-car full of miners passed, with clanging gong; and the fire department horses, out for their morning exercise, clattered down the street. Amid the busy scene walked Dick, without work, without money, without friends, but with a new purpose in his heart that was more than meat or drink. A new feeling of freedom and power made him lift his head and move with a firm and steady step.
All that morning he sought for employment, inquiring at the stores and shops, but receiving little or no encouragement. Toward noon, while waiting for an opportunity to interview the proprietor of a store, he picked up a daily paper that was lying on the counter, and turning to the "want" column, read an advertisement for a man to do general work about the barn and yard. When he had received the usual answer to his request for work, he went at once to the address given in the paper.
"Is Mr. Goodrich in?" he asked of the young man who came forward with a look of inquiry on his face.
"What do you want?" was the curt reply.
"I want to see Mr. Goodrich," came the answer in tones even sharper, and the young man conducted him to the door of the office.
"Well," said a portly middle-aged gentleman, when he had finished dictating a letter to the young lady seated at the typewriter, "What do you want?"
"I came in answer to your ad in this morning's Whistler," answered Dick.
"Umph—Where did you work last?"
"At Kansas City. I'm a printer by trade, but willing to do anything until I get a start."
"Why aren't you working at your trade?"
"I was thrown out by the strike and have been unable to find anything since."
A look of anger and scorn swept over the merchant's face. "So you're one of that lot, are you? Why don't you fellows learn to take what you can get? Look there." He pointed to a pile of pamphlets lying on the table. "Just came in to-day; they cost me fifty per cent more than I ever paid before, just because you cattle can't be satisfied; and now you want me to give you a place. If I had my way, I'd give you, and such as you, work on the rock pile." And he wheeled his chair toward his desk again.
"But," said Dick, "I'm hungry—I must do something—I'm not a beggar—I'll earn every cent you pay me."
"I tell you no," shouted the other. "I won't have men about me who look above their position," and he picked up his pen.
"But, Sir," said Dick again, "what am I to do?"
"I don't care what you do," returned the other. "There is a stone-yard here for such as you."
"Sir," answered Dick, standing very straight, his face as pale as death. "Sir, you will yet learn that it does matter very much what such fellows as I do, and some day you will be glad to apologize for your words this morning. I am no more worthy to work on the rock pile than yourself. As a man, I am every bit your equal, and will live to prove it. Good morning, Sir." And he marched out of the office like a soldier on parade, leaving the young lady at the typewriter motionless with amazement, and her employer dumb with rage.
What induced him to utter such words Dick could not say; he only knew that they were true, and they seemed somehow to be forced from him; though in spite of his just anger he laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation before he was fairly away from the building.
The factory whistles blew for dinner, but there was no dinner for Dick; they blew again for work at one o'clock, but still there was nothing for Dick to do. All that afternoon he continued his search with the same result—We don't need you. Some, it is true, were kind in their answers. One old gentleman, a real estate man, Dick felt sure was about to help him, but he was called away on business, and the poor fellow went on his weary search again.
Then the whistles blew for six o'clock, and the workmen, their faces stained with the marks of toil, hurried along the streets toward home; clerks and business men crowded the restaurants and lunch counters, the street cars were filled with shoppers going to their evening meal. Through hungry eyes, Dick watched the throng, wondering what each worked at during the day and what they would have for supper.
The sun went behind a bank of dull, lead-colored clouds and the wind sprang up again, so sharp and cold that the citizens turned up the collars of their coats and drew their wraps about them, while Dick sought shelter from the chilly blast in an open hallway. Suddenly a policeman appeared before him.
"What are you doing here?"
"Nothing," answered Dick.
"Wal, ye'd better be doing something. I've had my eye on you all the afternoon. I'll run ye in if I ketch ye hanging round any more. Get a move on now." And Dick stepped out on the sidewalk once more to face the bitter wind.
Walking as rapidly as possible, he made his way north on Broadway, past the big hotel, all aglow with light and warmth, past the vacant lots and the bicycle factory, until he reached the ruins of an old smelter just beyond the Missouri Pacific tracks. He had noticed the place earlier in the day as he passed it on his way to the brickyard. Groping about over the fallen walls of the furnace, stumbling over scraps of iron and broken timbers in the dusk, he searched for a corner that would in some measure protect him from the wind. It grew dark very fast, and soon he tripped and fell against an old boiler lying upturned in the ruin. Throwing out his hand to save himself, by chance, he caught the door of the firebox, and in a moment more was inside, crouching in the accumulated dirt, iron rust and ashes. At least the wind could not get at him here; and leaning his back against the iron wall of his strange bed-room, tired and hungry, he fell asleep.
The next morning Dick crawled from his rude lodging place stiff and sore, and after making his toilet as best he could, started again on his search for employment. It was nearly noon when he met a man who in answer to his inquiry said: "I'm out of a job myself, stranger, but I've got a little money left; you look hungry."
Dick admitted that he had had no breakfast.
"Tell you what I'll do," said the other. "I ain't got much, but we can go to a joint I know of where they set up a big free lunch. I'll pay for the beer and you can wade into the lunch."
Poor Dick, weak from hunger, chilled with the March winds, tired and discouraged, he forgot his resolve of the day before and followed his would-be benefactor. It was not far and they soon stood in a well-warmed saloon. The grateful heat, the polished furniture, the rows of bottles and glasses, the clean-looking, white-jacketed and aproned bar-tender, and the merry air of those whom he served, were all wonderfully attractive to the poor shivering wanderer from out in the cold. And then there was the long table well loaded with strong, hot food. The starving fellow started toward it eagerly, with outstretched hand. "Two beers here," cried his companion.
Then Dick remembered his purpose. The hand reaching out to grasp the food was withdrawn; his pale face grew more haggard. "My God!" he thought, "what can I do. I must have food."
He saw the bartender take two large glasses from the shelf. His whole physical being plead with him, demanding food and drink, and shaking like a leaf he gazed about him with the air of a hunted thing.
He saw one of the glasses in the hand of the man in the white jacket and apron filling with the amber liquid. A moment more and—"Stop!" he cried, rushing toward the one who held the glasses. "Stop! it's a mistake. I don't drink."
The man paused and looked around with an evil leer, one glass still unfilled in his hand. Then with a brutal oath, "What are ye in here for then?"
Dick trembled. "I—I—was cold and hungry—" his eyes sought the food on the table—"and—and—this gentleman asked me to come. He's not to blame; he thought I wanted a drink."
His new-found friend looked at him with a puzzled expression. "Oh take a glass, stranger. You need it; and then help yourself to the lunch."
Dick shook his head; he could not speak.
"Look here!" broke in the bartender, with another string of vile language, as he quickly filled the empty glass and set it on the counter before Dick. "You drink this er git out. That there lunch is fer our customers and we aint got no room fer temperance cranks er bums. Which'll it be? Talk quick."
Dick's eyes went from the food to the liquor; then to the saloon man's hard face, while a strange hush fell over those who witnessed the scene. Slowly the stranger swept the room with a pleading glance, but met only curious indifference on every side. Again he turned to the food and liquor, and put out his hand. A light of triumph flashed in the eyes of the man behind the bar, but the hand was withdrawn and Dick backed slowly toward the door. "I won't," he said, between his clenched teeth, then to his would-be friend, "Thank you for your good intention."
The silence in the room was broken by a shout of harsh laughter as the bartender raised the glass of beer he had drawn for Dick and mockingly drank him good luck as the poor fellow stepped through the doorway leaving warmth and food behind.
All that day Dick continued his search for work. Night came on again and he found himself wandering, half dazed, in the more aristocratic portion of the city. He was too tired to go to the old smelter again. He could not think clearly and muttered and mumbled to himself as he stumbled aimlessly along.
The door of a cottage opened, letting out a flood of light, and a woman's voice called, "Dick, Oh Dick, come home now; supper is waiting." And a lad of ten, playing in the neighboring yard with his young companion, answered with a shout as he bounded across the lawn. Through the windows our Dick caught a glimpse of the cosy home: father, mother, two sisters, bright pictures, books, and a table set with snowy linen, shining silver and sparkling glass.
Later, strange voices seemed to call him, and several times he paused to listen. Then someone in the distance seemed to say, "Move on; Move on." The words echoed and re-echoed through his tired brain. "Move on; Move on," the weary, monotonous strain continued as he dragged his heavy feet along the pavement. "Move on; Move on;" the words seemed repeated just ahead. Who was it? What did they want, and why couldn't they let him rest? He drew near a large building with beautiful stained glass windows, through which the light streamed brilliantly. In the center was a picture of the Christ, holding in his arms a lamb, and beneath, the inscription, "I came to seek and to save that which was lost."
"Move on; Move on;" the words seemed shrieked in his ears now, and looking up he saw a steeple in the form of a giant hand, pointing toward the stormy sky. "Why of course,"—he laughed with mirthless lips,—"of course,—it's a church. What a fool—I ought to have come here long ago.—This is Thursday night and that voice is the bell calling people to Prayer Meeting."
"I'll be all right now," he continued to himself as he leaned against a tree near the building. "I ought to have remembered the church before.—I've set up their notices many a time; they always say 'Everybody welcome.' Christians won't let me starve—they'll help me earn something to eat.—I'm not a beggar—not me," and he tried to straighten his tired figure. "All I want is a chance."
By this time, well-dressed people were passing where Dick stood muttering to himself, and entering the open door of the church. Then the organ began to play, and arousing himself by a supreme effort of his will, Dick followed them into the building.
The organ now filled the air with its sweetly solemn tones. The bell with its harsh command to move on was forgotten; and as Dick sank on a cushioned seat near the door, his heart was filled with restful thoughts. He saw visions of a Gracious Being who cared for all mankind, and who had been all this time waiting to help him. Had he not heard his mother pray, years ago in the cabin, "O Lord take care o' Dick!—" How foolish he had been to forget—he ought to have remembered,—but he would never forget again,—never.
The music and the singing stopped. The pastor arose and read the lesson, calling particular attention to the words recorded in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Then after a long prayer and another song, the man of God spoke a few words about the Christian's joy and duty in helping the needy; that the least of these, meant those who needed help, no matter what their positions in life; and that whosoever gave aid to one in the name of Christ, glorified the Master's name and helped to enthrone him in the hearts of men.
"The least of these," whispered Dick to himself, then unconsciously uttering his thoughts in the dialect of his childhood—"that's me shor'; I don't reckon I kin be much less'n I am right now." And as one after another of the Christians arose and testified to the joy they found in doing Christ's work, and told of experiences where they had been blessed by being permitted to help some poor one, his heart warmed within him, and, in his own way, he thanked God that he had been led to such a place and to such people.
With another song, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow," the congregation was dismissed and began slowly passing from the building, exchanging greetings, with more or less warmth, and remarking what a helpful meeting they had had, and how much it had been enjoyed.
Dick stood near the door, hat in hand, patiently waiting. One by one the members passed him; two or three said "Good Evening;" one shook him by the hand; but something in their faces as they looked at his clothing checked the words that rose to his lips, and the poor fellow waited, his story untold. At last the minister came down the aisle, and greeting Dick, was about to pass out with the others; this was too much, and in a choked voice the young man said, "Sir, may I speak to you a moment?"
"If you'll be brief," replied the preacher, glancing at his watch. "I have an engagement soon."
Dick told his story in a few words. "I'm not begging, Sir," he added. "I thought some of the church members might have work that I could do, or might know where I could find employment."
The minister seemed a little embarrassed; then beckoning to a few who still remained, "Brother Godfrey, here's a man who wants work; do you know of anything?"
"Um, I'm sorry, but I do not," promptly replied the good deacon. "What can you do?" turning to Dick. He made the usual answer and the officer of the church said again, "Find it rather hard to strike anything in Boyd City I fear; so many tramps, you know. Been out of work long?"
"Yes sir, and out of food too."
"Too bad; too bad," said the deacon. And "Too bad; too bad," echoed the preacher, and the other followers of the meek and lowly Jesus. "If we hear of anything we'll let you know. Where are you stopping?"
"On the street," replied Dick, "when I am not moved on by the police."
"Um—Well—we'll leave word here at the church with the janitor if we learn of anything."
"Are you a Christian?" asked one good old mother in Israel.
"No," stammered poor confused Dick; "I guess not."
"Do you drink?"
"Well, don't get discouraged; look to God; he can help you; and we'll all pray for you. Come and hear our Brother French preach; I am sure you will find the light. He is the best preacher in the city. Everybody says so. Good-night."
The others had already gone. The sexton was turning out the lights, and a moment later Dick found himself once more on the street, looking with a grim smile on his hunger-pinched features, at the figure of the Christ, wrought in the costly stained glass window. "One of the least of these," he muttered hoarsely to himself. Then the figure and the inscription slowly faded, as one by one the lights went out, until at last it vanished and he seemed to hear his mother's voice: "I ax ye fair—O Lord—take ker o' Dick—fer Jesus sake—Amen."
The door shut with a bang. A key grated in the heavy lock that guarded the treasures of the church; and the footsteps of the church's humblest servant died away in the distance, as Dick turned to move on again.
The city rumbled on with its business and its pleasure, its merriment and crime. Guardians of the law protected the citizens by seeing to it that no ill-dressed persons sat too long upon the depot benches, sheltered themselves from the bitter wind in the open hall-way, or looked too hungrily in at the bakery windows.
On the avenue the homes grew hushed and still, with now and then a gleam of light from some library or sitting-room window, accompanied by the tones of a piano or guitar,—or sound of laughing voices. And the house of God stood silent, dark and cold, with the figure of the Christ upon the window and the spire, like a giant hand, pointing upward.
"I declare to goodness, if that ain't the third tramp I've chased away from this house to-day! I'll have father get a dog if this keeps up. They do pester a body pretty nigh to death." Mrs. Wilson slammed the kitchen door and returned to her dish-washing. "The ide' of givin' good victuals to them that's able to work—not much I won't—Let 'em do like I do." And the good lady plied her dish-cloth with such energy that her daughter hastily removed the clean plates and saucers from the table to avoid the necessity of drying them again.
"But this man wanted work, didn't he mother?" asked Clara, "And I heard you tell father at dinner that you wanted someone to fix the cowshed and clean up the back yard."
"There you go again," angrily snapped the older woman, resting her wet hands upon her hips and pausing in her labor, the better to emphasize her words; "Allus a criticisin' and a findin' fault—Since you took up with that plagy church there aint been nothin' right."
"Forgive me mother, I didn't think," said the daughter, looking into the wrathful black eyes of her parent.
"Didn't think," whined the woman, "You never think of nothin' but your blamed Young Folks' Society or Sunday School. Your mother an' father and home aint good enough fer your saintship now-a-days. I wish to goodness you'd never heard tell of that preacher; the whole set's a batch of stingy hypocrites." She turned to her dish-washing again with a splash. "An' there's George Udell, he aint going to keep hanging around forever, I can tell you; there's too many that'ud jump at his offer, fer him to allus be a dancin' after you; an' when you git through with your foolishness, you'll find him married and settled down with some other girl, an' what me and your father'll do when we git too old to work, the Lord only knows. If you had half sense you'd take him too quick."
Clara made no reply, but finishing her work in silence, hung up her apron and left the kitchen.
Later, when Mrs. Wilson went into the pleasant little sitting-room, where the flowers in the window would bloom, and the pet canary would sing in spite of the habitual crossness of the mistress of the house, she found her daughter attired for the street.
"Where are you going now?" she asked; "Some more foolishness, I'll be bound; you just take them things off and stay to home; this here weather aint fit fer you to be trapsin round in. You'll catch your death of cold; then I'll have to take care of you. I do believe, Clara Wilson, you are the most ungratefulest girl I ever see."
"But mother, I just must go to the printing office this afternoon. Our society meets to-morrow night and I must look after the printing of the constitution and by-laws."
"What office you goin' to?" asked the mother sharply.
"Why, George's, of course," said Clara; "You know I wouldn't go anywhere else."
"Oh well, get along then; I guess the weather won't hurt you; its clearin' off a little anyway. I'll fix up a bit and you can bring George home to supper." And the old lady grew quite cheerful as she watched the sturdy figure of her daughter making her way down the board walk and through the front gate.
George Udell was a thriving job printer in Boyd City, and stood high in favor of the public generally, and of the Wilson family in particular, as might be gathered from the conversation of Clara's mother. "I tell you," she said, in her high-pitched tones, "George Udell is good enough fer any gal. He don't put on as much style as some, an' aint much of a church man; but when it comes to makin' money he's all there, an' that's the main thing now-a-days."
As for Clara, she was not insensible to the good points in Mr. Udell's character, of which money-making was by no means the most important, for she had known him ever since the time, when as a long, lank, awkward boy, he had brought her picture cards and bits of bright-colored printing. She was a wee bit of a girl then, but somehow, her heart told her that her friend was more honest than most boys, and, as she grew older, in spite of her religious convictions, she had never been forced to change her mind.
But George Udell was not a Christian. Some said he was an infidel; at least he was not a member of any church; and when approached on the subject, always insisted that he did not know what he believed; and that he doubted very much if many church members knew more of their beliefs. Furthermore; he had been heard upon several occasions to make slighting remarks about the church, contrasting its present standing and work with the law of love and helpfulness as laid down by the Master they professed to follow.
True, no one had ever heard him say that he did not believe in Christ or God. But what of that? Had he not said that he did not believe in the church? And was not that enough to mark him as an infidel?
Clara, in spite of her home training, was, as has been shown, a strong church member, a zealous Christian, and an earnest worker for the cause of Christ. Being a practical girl, she admitted that there were many faults in the church of today; and that Christians did not always live up to their professions. But, bless you, you could not expect people to be perfect; and the faults that existed in the church were there because all churches were not the same, which really means, you of course understand-"all churches are not of my denomination." And so, in spite of her regard for the printer, she could not bring herself to link her destiny with one whose eternal future was so insecure, and whose life did not chord with that which was to her, the one great keynote of the universe, the church. And then, too, does not the good book say: "Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers." What could that mean if not, "Do not marry an infidel?"
While Clara was thinking of all these things and making her way through the mud of Boyd City streets, Udell, at the printing office, was having a particularly trying time. To begin with, his one printer had gone off on a spree the Saturday before and failed to return. Then several rush jobs had come in; he had tried in vain to get help; the boy had come late to the office, and, altogether it seemed as though everything had happened that could happen to make things uncomfortable.
Clara arrived on the scene just when the confusion was at its height; the room was littered with scraps of paper and inky cloths; the famous printer's towel was lying on the desk; the stove, with its hearth piled full of ashes, emitted smoke and coal gas freely; and the printer was emptying the vials of his wrath upon the public in general, because all wanted their printing done at the same instant; while the boy, with a comical look of fear upon his ink-stained face, was dodging here and there, striving as best he could to avoid the threatening disaster.
The young girl's coming was like a burst of sunlight. In an instant the storm was past. The boy's face resumed at once its usual expression of lofty indifference; the fire burned freely in the stove; the towel was whisked into its proper corner; and she was greeted with the first smile that had shown on the printer's face that day. "You're just in time," he cried gaily, as he seated her in the cleanest corner of the office.
"I should think so," she answered, smiling, and glancing curiously about the room; "looks as though you wanted a woman here."
"I do," declared George. "I've always wanted a woman; haven't I told you that often enough?"
"For shame, George Udell. I came here on business," Clara answered with glowing cheeks.
"Well, that's mighty important business for me," Udell answered. "You see—" but Clara interrupted him.
"What's the matter here anyway?" she asked.
"Oh—nothing; only my man is off on a drunken spree, and everybody wants their stuff at the same time. I worked until two o'clock last night; that's why I wasn't at your house; and I must work tonight too. I'm—Yes, there's another;" as the telephone rang. "Hello!—Yes, this is Udell's job office—We have the matter set up and will send you proof as soon as possible—I'm sorry, but we are doing the best we can—Yes—all right—I'll get at it right away—three o'clock—can't possibly get it out before"—bang! He hung up the receiver.
"I tell you this is making me thin. If you had half the influence at headquarters that you profess to have, I wish you'd pray them to send me a printer."
"Why don't you get help?"
"Get help?—Get nothing! I tell you I've prayed, and threatened, and bribed, and promised, as well as the best prayer-meeting church member you've got, and I can't get the sign of an answer. Reckon the wire must be down," he added, a queer shadow of a smile twitching up the corners of his mouth; "Y-e-s," as the phone rang again. "I wish that wire was down."
The girl noted the worn look on his rugged face, and when he had hung up the receiver again, said: "I wish I could help you, George."
"You can, Clara,—you know you can," he answered quickly. "You can give me more help than the ghost of Franklin himself. I don't mind the hard work, and the worry wouldn't amount to anything if only—if only—" he stopped, as Clara shook her head.
"George, you know I have told you again and again—"
"But Clara," he broke in,—"I wouldn't in any way interfere with your church work. I'd even go with you every Sunday, and you could pay the preacher as much as you liked. Don't you see, dear, it couldn't possibly make any difference?"
"You don't understand, George," she answered, "and I can't make you see it; there's no use talking, I can't, until you change your ideas about—"
The door opened and a weary, hungry, unshaven face looked in.—The door opened wider and a figure came shuffling timidly toward the man and girl.
"What do you want?" said Udell, gruffly, a little put out at such an interruption.
"Are you the foreman of this office?" said the newcomer.
"Yes, I'm the boss."
"Do you need any help? I'm a printer."
"You a printer?" exclaimed Udell. "What's the matter?—No,"—he interrupted himself.-"Never mind what the matter is. I don't care if you're wanted for horse stealing. Can you go to work now?" The man nodded. Udell showed him to a case and placed copy before him. "There you are, and the faster you work the better I'll pay you."
Again the other nodded, and without a word caught up a stick and reached for the type.
George turned back to Clara who had risen. "Don't go yet," he said.
"Oh, yes, I must; I have been here too long now; you have so much to do; I only wanted to get that society printing." George handed her the package. "Who is he?" she whispered, with a look toward the newcomer.
"Don't know; some bum I suppose; looks like he had been on a big spree. I only hope I can keep him sober long enough to help me over this rush."
"You're wrong there," said the girl, moving toward the door, "He asked for work at our house early this morning; that man is no drunkard, neither is he a common tramp."
"How do you know?"
"Same as I know you, by the looks," laughed Clara. "Go talk to him and find out. You see your prayer was answered, even if you did pray like a church member. Who knows, perhaps the wire is not down after all," and she was gone.
The printer turned to his work again with a lighter heart for this bit of brightness. Somehow he felt that things would come out all right some day, and he would do the best he could to be patient; and, for Clara's sake, while he could not be all she wished, he would make of himself all that he could.
For a while, he was very busy with some work in the rear of the office; then remembering Clara's strange words about the tramp, he went over to the case where the new man sat perched upon his high stool. The stranger was working rapidly and doing good work. George noticed though, that the hand which held the stick trembled; and that sometimes a letter dropped from the nervous fingers. "What's the matter?" he asked, eyeing him keenly.
The man, without lifting his head, muttered, "Nothing."
"Are you sick?"
A shake of the head was the only answer.
"No." This time the head was lifted and two keen gray eyes, filled with mingled suffering and anger, looked full in the boss's face. "I've been without work for some time and am hungry, that's all." The head bent again over the case and the trembling fingers reached for the type.
"Hungry!—Good God, man!" exclaimed Udell. "Why didn't you say so?"—and turning quickly to the boy he said, "Here, skip down to that restaurant and bring a big hot lunch. Tell 'em to get a hustle on too."
The boy fled and George continued talking to himself; "Hungry—and I thought he had been on a spree. I ought to have known better than that. I've been hungry myself—Clara's right; he is no bum printer. Great shade of the immortal Benjamin F! but he's plucky though—and proud—you could see that by the look in his eye when I asked him if he'd been drunk—poor fellow—knows his business too—just the man I've been looking for, I'll bet—Huh—wonder if the wire is down." And then as the boy returned with the basket of hot eatables, he called cheerily, "Here you are; come and fill up; no hungry man in this establishment, rush or no rush." He was answered by a clatter as half a stick full of type dropped from the trembling hand of the stranger. "Thank you," the poor fellow tried to say, as he staggered toward the kind-hearted infidel, and then, as he fell, Dick's outstretched fingers just touched Udell's feet.
It was a strange coincidence that the Rev. James Cameron should have preached his sermon on "The Church of the Future," the Sunday following the incidents which have been related in the preceding chapters. If he had only known, Rev. Cameron might have found a splendid illustration, very much to the point, in the story of Dick Falkner's coming to Boyd City and his search for employment. But the minister knew nothing of Dick or his trouble. He had no particular incident in mind; but simply desired to see a more practical working of Christianity. In other words, he wished to see Christians doing the things that Christ did, and using, in matters of the church, the same business sense which they brought to bear upon their own affairs. He thought of the poverty, squalor and wretchedness of some for whom Christ died, and of the costly luxuries of the church into whose hands the Master had given the care of these. He thought of the doors to places of sin, swinging wide before the young, while the doors of the church were often closed against them. He thought of the secret societies and orders, doing the work that the church was meant to do, and of the honest, moral men, who refused to identify themselves with the church, though professing belief in Jesus Christ; and, thinking of these things and more like them, he was forced to say that the church must change her methods; that she must talk less and do more; that she must rest her claims to the love of mankind where Christ rested his; upon the works that He did.
He saw that the church was proving false to the Christ; that her service was a service of the lips only; that her worship was form and ceremony—not of the heart—a hollow mockery. He saw that she was not touching the great problems of life; and that, while men were dying for want of spiritual bread, she was offering them only the stones of ecclesiastical pride and denominational egotism. He saw all this, and yet,—because he was a strong man—remained full of love for Christ and taught that those things were not Christianity but the lack of it; and placed the blame where it justly belonged, upon the teaching and doctrines of men, and not upon the principles of Christ; but upon the shepherds, who fattened themselves, while the starving sheep grew thin and lean; and not upon Him who came to seek and save that which was lost.
Adam Goodrich walked out of the church with his aristocratic nose elevated even beyond its usual angle. He was so offended by the plebeian tastes of his pastor that he almost failed to notice Banker Lindsley who passed him in the vestibule.
"Fine discourse—fine discourse, Mr. Goodrich."
"Uh—" grunted Adam, tossing his head.
"Just the kind of sermon we need;" went on Mr. Lindsley, who was not a church member. "Practical and fearless; I'm glad to have heard him. I shall come again;" and he hurried out of the house.
It was not often that a sermon was honored by being discussed at the Goodrich table; nor indeed, that any topic of religion was mentioned; but Adam could not contain himself after the unheard of things which his pastor had preached that morning. "It's a pity that Cameron hasn't better judgment," he declared, in a voice that showed very plainly the state of his mind. "He could easily make his church the first church in the city if he would only let well enough alone and not be all the time stirring things up. He is a good speaker, carries himself like an aristocrat, and comes from a good family; but he is forever saying things that jar the best people. He might be drawing half as much again salary if only he would work to get those people who are worth something into the church, instead of spending all his time with the common herd."
"Perhaps he thinks the common herd worth saving too," suggested Miss Amy, a beautiful girl of nineteen, with dark hair and eyes.
"What do you know about it?" replied the father. "You're getting your head full of those silly Young People's Society notions, and your friends will drop you if you don't pay more attention to your social duties. The common classes are all right of course, but they can't expect to associate with us. Cameron has his mission schools; why isn't that enough? And he makes three times as many calls on South Broadway and over by the Shops, as he does on our street."
"Perhaps he thinks, 'they that are whole have no need of a physician,'" again suggested the young lady.
"Amy," said Mrs. Goodrich, "how often have I told you that it's not the thing to be always repeating the Bible. No one does it now. Why will you make yourself so common?"
"You agree with Cameron perfectly, mother," put in Frank, the only son; "he said this morning that no one used their Bibles now-a-days."
"It's not necessary to be always throwing your religion at people's heads," answered the father, "and as for Cameron's new-fangled notion about the church being more helpful to those who need help, he'll find out that it won't work. We are the ones who pay his salary, and if he can't preach the things we want to hear, he'll find himself going hungry, or forced to dig along with those he is so worried about. I don't find anything in the Bible that tells me to associate with every low-down person in the city, and I guess I'm as good a Christian as anyone in the church."
"Brother Cameron said that helping people and associating with them were two different things," said Amy.
"Well, it means the same, anyway, in the eyes of the world," retorted the father.
"Fancy," said Frank, "my going down the street with that tramp who called at the office last week. According to Cameron, you ought to have invited him home and asked him to stay with us until he found a job, I suppose. Amy would have liked to meet him, and to make his visit with us pleasant. He was not bad-looking, barring his clothes and a few whiskers."
"Who was that, Mr. Goodrich?" inquired the wife.
"Oh, an impudent fellow that Frank let into the office the other day; he claimed that he was a printer and wanted work; said that he was thrown out of employment by the Kansas City strike; anyone could see that he was a fraud through and through, just Cameron's kind. If I had my way I would give him work that he wouldn't want. Such people are getting altogether too numerous, and there will be no room for a respectable man if this thing keeps up. I don't know what we'll come to if we have many such sermons as that this morning; they want the earth now."
"They'd get Heaven too if Cameron had his way," put in Frank again. "Won't it be fine when the church becomes a home for every wandering Willie who happens along?"
"Did not Christ intend His church to be a home for the homeless?" asked the sister.
"Amy," interrupted Mrs. Goodrich, "you are getting too many of those fanciful notions; you will learn in time that the church is meant to go to on Sundays, and that people who know what is demanded of them by the best society, leave socials, aids, missions, and such things to the lower classes."
"Yes," answered Frank, as he arose to leave the table—"and don't go looking up that bum printer to teach him the way of the Lord."
The reader must not think that the Goodrichs were unworthy members of the church; their names were all on the roll of membership, and Frank and Amy were also active members of the Young People's Societies. Beside this, Adam contributed liberally (in his own eyes at least) to the support of the gospel; and gave, now and then, goodly sums set opposite his name on subscription lists, for various charitable purposes; although he was very careful, withal, that his gifts to God never crippled his business interests, and managed, in religious matters, to make a little go a long way.
The pastor of the Jerusalem Church, having been called to attend a funeral, was not present at the meeting of the Boyd City Ministerial Association, following his sermon, and the field was left open for his brethren, who assembled in the lecture room of the Zion Church on Monday morning. After the Association had been called to order by the president, the reports of the work given by the various pastors had been heard, and some unfinished business transacted, good old Father Beason arose, and, in his calm, impassioned manner, addressed the Chair.
"Brethren," he said, "I don't know how you all feel about it, but I would like to know what the Association thinks about Brother Cameron's sermon yesterday. Now, I don't want to be misunderstood, Brethren; I haven't a particle of fault to find with Brother Cameron. I love him as a man; I admire him as a preacher; and I believe that whatever he has said he meant for the best. But, Brother Cameron is a young man yet, and I have heard a good deal of talk about the things he said Sabbath morning; and I would just like to know what you Brethren think about it. Have any of you heard anything?" Six reverend heads nodded that they had, and the speaker continued:
"Well, I thought probably you would hear something, and with no harm meant toward our Brother, I would like to have you express yourselves. I have been in the ministry nearly forty years now, and I have never heard such things as people say he said. And, Brethren, I'm awfully afraid that there is a good deal of truth in it all—a good deal of truth in it all;" and slowly shaking his head the old man took his seat.
The Rev. Jeremiah Wilks was on his feet instantly, and, speaking in a somewhat loud and nervous manner, said: "Mr. Chairman, I was coming down town early this morning, after some thread and ribbons and things for my wife, and Sister Thurston, who runs that little store on Third Street—you know she's a member of my church, you know—and always gives me things lots cheaper than I can get them anywhere else, because she's a member of my church, you know—she says to me that Brother Cameron said that the average church of to-day was the biggest fraud on earth. Now she was there and heard him. I don't know of course, whether he really said that or not; that is, I mean, you know,—I don't know whether he meant it that way or not. But I've heard him say myself, that he didn't think the church was doing all she might along some lines. I don't know whether he means all the churches or only his own. My people gave fifteen dollars for foreign missions last year, and the Ladies' Aid paid fifty dollars on my salary. Besides that, they bought me a new overcoat last winter, and it will last me through next winter too. They paid eighteen dollars for that, I'm told; and of course they got it cheap because it was for me, you know. And we gave a pound social to Sister Grady, whose husband died some time ago, you know. It took almost all her money to pay funeral expenses—She's a member of my church you know; so was he, poor man; he's gone now. I'm sure I don't know about Brother Cameron's church; we're doing all we can; and I don't think it's right for him to talk against the work of the Lord." The reverend gentleman resumed his seat with the satisfied air of a school boy who has just succeeded in hitting a hornet's nest, and devoutly wishes that someone would come along to share the fun.
Little Hugh Cockrell arose, and, crossing his hands, meekly spoke: "Now, Brethren, I don't think we ought to be hasty in regard to this matter. I would advise caution. We must give the subject due and careful consideration. We all respect and love Brother Cameron. Let us not be hasty in condemning him. You know the Scriptures say, Judge not, and I believe we ought to be careful. We don't know what Cameron meant exactly. Brethren, let us try to find out. I know I have heard a great many things, and some of my members say that he spoke rather slightingly of the ministry as a whole, and seemed to think that the church was not practical enough, and my wife is a good deal hurt about some things that he said about the clergy. But, let's be careful. I don't want to believe that our Brother would cast a slur in any way upon us or the church. Let's be cautious and work in a Christianlike manner; find out by talking with people on the street and in their homes, what he said, and above all, don't let Cameron know how we feel. We ought not to be hasty, Brethren, about judging our Brother."
There were nods of approval as the minister took his seat, for he was much admired in the Association because of his piety, and much respected for his judgment. All knew that nothing could possibly harm them if they followed Rev. Cockrell's advice.
Then the Rev. Dr. Frederick Hartzell reared his stoop-shouldered, narrow-chested, but commanding figure, and, in a most impressive and scholarly manner addressed the Association.
"Of course I don't know anything about this matter, Brethren; it's all news to me. I am so confined by my studies that I go on the street very little, and, when I do go out, my mind is so full of the deep things of the Scriptures, that I find it hard to retain anything that has to do with the commonplace in life; and in-as-much as the reverend gentleman failed to consult me as to his sermon, which I understand he calls The Church of the Future, I am unable to say at present whether his position is orthodox or not. But Brethren, of one thing I am sure, and I don't care what Cameron or any other man thinks; the orthodox church of to-day is the power of God unto salvation. God intended that we ministers should be His representatives on earth, and as such, we ought to have a keen appreciation of the grandeur and nobility of our calling. After years of study on the part of myself, and after much consultation with other eminent men, I give it as my opinion that the church of the future will be the same as the church of the past. All denominations—that is, all evangelical denominations, are built upon a rock. Upon this rock I will build my church, Matthew 16-18. Brethren, we are secure; even the gates of Hades cannot prevail against us; and it is proven by the scholarship of the world, that we shall be the same in the future as we have been in the past. Rev. Cameron, whatever may be his opinions, cannot harm so glorious an institution. Why, Brethren, we represent the brains and culture of the world. Look at our schools and seminaries; we must be right. No change can possibly come; no change is needed. As to the gentleman's remarks about the ministry; if he made any, I don't think his opinion matters much anyhow, I understand that he is not a graduate of any regular theological institution; and I'm sure that he cannot harm my reputation in the least."
Secure in the impregnable position of his own learning and in the scholarship of his church; amid a hush of profound awe and admiration, the learned gentleman took his seat.
Rev. Hartzell's speech practically finished the discussion of the sermon by the Association. Indeed, the Rev. Frederick nearly always finished whatever discussion he took part in. One or two of the remaining preachers tried to speak, but subsided as soon as they caught the eye of the scholar fixed upon them, and the Association was adjourned, with a prayer by the president that they might always be able to conduct the Master's business in a manner well pleasing in his sight; and that they might have strength to always grapple boldly with questions concerning the church, ever proving true to the principles of the Christ, and following in His footsteps.
While the members of the Ministerial Association were engaged in discussing Rev. Cameron's much-abused sermon, the printer, George Udell, dropped in at the office of Mr. Wicks, to make the final payment on a piece of property which he had purchased some months before. Mr. Wicks, or as he was more often called, Uncle Bobbie, was an old resident of the county, an elder in the Jerusalem Church, and Rev. Cameron's right-hand man.
"Well," he said, as he handed George the proper papers, "that place is your'n, young man, what are ye goin' to do with it?"
"Oh I don't know," replied Udell, "it's handy to have round; good building spot, isn't it?"
"You bet it is," returned the other. "There aint no better in Boyd City, an' I reckon I know. Ye must be goin' to get a wife, talking about buildin'?"
Udell shook his head. "Well, ye ought to. Let's see—this is the third piece of property I've sold ye, aint it?—all of 'em good investments too—You're gettin' a mighty good start fer a young man. Don't it make ye think of the Being what's back of all these blessin's? Strikes me ye'r too blame good a man to be livin' without any religion. George, why don't you go to church anyway? Don't ye know you ought to?"
"Why don't I go to church," said Udell thoughtfully; "Well, Mr. Wicks, I'll tell you why I don't go to church. Just because I've got too much to do. I make my own way in the world and it takes all the business sense I have to do it. The dreamy, visionary, speculative sort of things I hear at meeting may be all right for a fellow's soul, but they don't help him much in taking care of his body, and I can't afford to fill my mind with such stuff. I am living this side of the grave. Of course I like to hear a good talker, and I enjoy the music, but their everlasting pretending to be what they are not, is what gets me. You take this town right here now," he continued, pushing his hat back from his forehead; "we've got ten or twelve churches and as many preachers; they all say that they are following Christ, and profess to exist for the good of men and the glory of God. And what are they actually doing to make this place better? There's not a spot in this city, outside a saloon, where a man can spend an hour when he's not at work; and not a sign of a place where a fellow down on his luck can stay all night. Only last week, a clean honest young printer, who was out of money through no fault of his own, struck me for a job, and before night fainted from hunger; and yet, the preachers say that Christ told us to feed the hungry, and that if we didn't it counted against us as though we had let him starve. According to their own teaching, what show have these churches in Boyd City when they spend every cent they can rake and scrape to keep their old machines running and can't feed even one hungry man? Your church members are all right on the believe, trust, hope, pray and preach, but they're not so much on the do. And I've noticed it's the do that counts in this life. Why, their very idea of Heaven is that it's a loafing place, where you get more than you ask for or have any right to expect."
"Gettin' a little excited, ain't ye?" smiled Uncle Bobbie, though there was a tear twinkling in his sharp old eyes.
"Yes I am," retorted the other. "It's enough to excite anyone who has a heart to feel and eyes to see the misery in this old world, and then to be asked eternally, 'Why don't you go to church?' Why look at 'em; they even let their own preachers starve when they get too old to work. Societies and lodges don't do that. I don't mean to step on your toes though," he added hastily. "You know that, Uncle Bobbie. You've proven yourself a Christian to me in ways I'll never forget. My old mother was a member of the church and they let her go hungry, when I was too little to take care of her; and if it hadn't been for you she would have died then. But you fed her, and if there's a Heaven, she's there, and you'll be there too. But what makes me mad is, that these fellows who never do anything, are just as sure of it as you who do so much."
"Ah, George," said Wicks; "that help I give your maw warn't nothin'. Do you think I'd see her suffer? Why, I knowed her when she was a girl."
"I know, Uncle Bobbie, but that isn't the question. Why, don't the church do some of the things they are always talking about?"
"Do infidels do any more?" asked Mr. Wicks.
"No, they don't," answered George, "but they don't thank God that Jesus Christ was crucified, so that they might get to Heaven, either."
"Thar's one fellow that I didn't feed," said the old man, after a long pause. "That same printer called here and I didn't give him nothin' to do. I've thought of it many a time since though, and asked the Lord to forgive me for sech carelessness. And so he's got a job with you, has he? Well, I'm mighty glad. But say, George, were you at our church yesterday?"
"No," answered Udell, "Why?"
"Oh, nothin'; only I thought from the way you've been preachin' Cameron's sermon, that you'd heard him give it, that's all."
"There's only one girl in this world for me," whistled Dick, as he made a form ready for the press. Only in his own mind he rendered it, "There's not one girl in this world for me;" and from Dick's point of view his version was the better one. Thus far in his life there had come no woman's influence; no loving touch of a girlish hand to help in moulding his character; no sweet voice bidding him do right; no soft eyes to look praise or blame. He had only the memory of his mother.
It was less than a week ago that the poor outcast had fainted from lack of food, but he had already become a fixture in the office. George Udell confided to Miss Wilson that he did not know how he could get along without him, and that he was, by long odds, the best hand he had ever had. He was quick and sure in his work, and as George put it, "You don't have to furnish him a map when you tell him to do anything." With three good meals a day and a comfortable cot in the office for the night, with the privilege of spending his evenings by the fire, and the assurance that there was work for him for many weeks ahead, it was no wonder that Dick whistled as he bent over the stone. Locking up the form, he carried it to the press and was fixing the guide pins, when the door opened and a young lady came in.
Dick's whistle stopped instantly and his face flushed like a school girl as he gave her a chair and went to call Udell, who was in the other room trying to convince the boy that the stove needed a bucket of coal.
"Faith," said Dick to himself, as he went back to the press, "If there is one girl in this world for me I hope she looks like that one. What a lovely voice," he added, as he carefully examined the first impression; "and a heavenly smile;" as he finished his work and went back to the composing case; "and what eyes,"—he turned sideways to empty his stick—"And what hair;" trying to read his copy—"a perfect form;" reaching for the type again. "I wonder who—"
"Dick!" shouted Udell. Crash went the overturned stool, and, "Yes Sir," answered the young man, with a very red face, struggling to his feet.
A merry light danced in the brown eyes, though the girlish countenance was serious enough.
Udell looked at his assistant in mingled wonder and amusement. "What's the matter, Dick?" he asked, as the latter came toward him.
"Nothing, Sir—I only—I was—" he looked around in confusion at the overturned stool, and the type on the floor.
"Yes, I see you were," said his employer with a chuckle. "Miss Goodrich, this is Mr. Falkner; perhaps he can help us out of our difficulty. Mr. Falkner is just from Kansas City," he added, "and is up in all the latest things in printing."
"Oh yes," and Amy's eyes showed their interest. "You see, Mr. Falkner, we are trying to select a cover design for this little book. Mr. Udell has suggested several, but we cannot come to any decision as to just the proper one. Which would you choose?"
Dick's embarrassment left him at once when a matter of work was to be considered. "This would be my choice," he said, selecting a design.
"I like that too," said the young lady; "but you see it is not just what I want;" and she looked not a little worried, for above all things, Miss Goodrich liked things just as she liked them; and besides, this was such an important matter.
"I'll tell you what," said Dick. "If you'll let me, and Mr. Udell does not object, I'll set up a cover for you to-night after supper."
"O, indeed, you must not think of it," said Amy.
"But I would enjoy it," he answered.
"You need to rest after your day's work," she replied; "and besides, it would be so much trouble for you to come way down here in the night. No, you need not mind; this will do very well."
"But we often work after hours, and I—I—do not live far from here," said Dick.
"What do you think, Mr. Udell?"
"I am sure, Miss Goodrich, that Mr. Falkner would enjoy the work, for we printers have a good bit of pride in that kind of thing you know, and, as he says, we often work after supper. I think you might let him do it, without too great a feeling of obligation."
After some further talk, the matter was finally settled as he had suggested, and Dick went back to his work; as he picked up his overturned stool, he heard the door close and then Udell stood beside him, with a broad grin on his face.
"Well, I'll be shot," ejaculated the printer, "I've seen fellows take a tumble before, but hang me if I ever saw a man so completely kerflummuxed. Great shade of the immortal Benjamin F—! But you were a sight—must be you're not used to the ladies. Seemed all right though when you got your legs under you and your mouth agoing. What in time ailed you anyway?"
"Who is she?" asked Dick, ignoring the other's laughter, and dodging his question.
"Who is she? Why I introduced you to her, man; her name is Amy Goodrich. Her daddy is that old duffer who keeps the hardware store, and is so eminently respectable that you can't get near him unless you have a pedigree and a bank account. Amy is the only daughter, but she has a brother though who takes after the old man. The girl takes after herself I reckon." Dick made no reply and Udell continued: "The whole family are members of the swellest church in the city, but the girl is the only one who works at it much. She teaches in the Mission Sunday School; leads in the Young People's Society and all that. I don't imagine the old folks like it though; too common you know." And he went off to look after the boy again, who was slowly but painfully running off the bill-heads that Dick had fixed on the press.
"What's the matter with him, George?" asked that individual, leaning wearily against the machine; "Did he faint agin, or was he havin' a fit?"
"You shut up and get that job off sometime this week," answered Udell, as he jerked the lever of the electric motor four notches to the right.
Just before the whistles blew for dinner, he again went back to Dick and stood looking over his shoulder at a bad bit of copy the latter was trying to decipher. "Well, what do you think about it?" he asked.
"She's divine," answered Dick absently, as he carefully placed a capital A upside down.
George threw back his head and roared; "Well, you've got it sure," he said, when he could speak.
"Got what?" asked Dick in wonder.
"Oh, nothing," replied the other, going off with another shout. "But look here;" he said, after a moment; very serious this time; "Let me give you a piece of good advice, my friend; don't you go to thinking about that girl too much."
"What girl? Whose thinking about her? You need have no fears on that score," said Dick, a little sharply.
"Oh, you needn't get mad about it, a fellow can't help but think a chap is hit when he falls down, can he?" And with another laugh, George removed his apron and left for dinner.
"Yes, it did look bad;" said Dick to himself, as he dried his hands on the office towel; "but I never saw such eyes; and she's as good as she looks too; but Adam Goodrich's daughter, Whew—" And he whistled softly to himself as he thought of his first meeting with the wealthy hardware merchant.
That evening while Miss Goodrich was entertaining a few of her friends at her beautiful home on the avenue, and while Udell, with Clara Wilson, was calling on old Mother Gray, whose husband had been injured in the mines, Dick worked alone in the printing office. The little book, as Amy called it, was a pamphlet issued by the literary club of which she was the secretary, and never since the time when he set his first line of type, had Dick been so bothered over a bit of printing. The sweet brown eyes and smiling lips of the young woman were constantly coming between him and his work, and he paused often to carry on an imaginary conversation with her. Sometimes he told her funny incidents from his adventurous past and heard her laugh in keen appreciation. Then they talked of more earnest things and her face grew grave and thoughtful. Again he told her all his plans and ambitions, and saw her eyes light with sympathy as she gladly promised her helpful friendship. Then, inspired by her interest, he grew bolder, and forgetting the task before him altogether, fought life's battles in the light of her smiles, conquering every difficulty, and winning for himself a place and name among men. And then, as he laid his trophies at her feet, her father, the wealthy merchant, appeared, and Dick walked the floor in a blind rage.
But he managed to finish his work at last, and about three o'clock, tumbled on to his cot in the stock room, where he spent the rest of the night trying to rescue Amy from her father, who assumed the shape of a hardware dragon, with gold eyes, and had imprisoned the young lady in a log cabin near the river, beneath a hill upon which grew a pine tree tipped with fire, while a lean hound sat at the water's edge and howled.
Uncle Bobbie Wicks pulled down the top of his desk and heard the lock click with a long sigh of satisfaction, for a glance at his large, old-fashioned hunting-case watch told him that it was nearly eleven o'clock. It was a dismal, dreary, rainy night; just the sort of a night to make a man thank God that he had a home; and those who had homes to go to were already there, except a few business men, who like Mr. Wicks, were obliged to be out on work of especial importance.
Locking the rear door of the office and getting hastily into his rain coat, the old gentleman took his hat and umbrella from the rack and stepped out into the storm. As he was trudging along through the wet, his mind still on business, a gleam of light from the window of Udell's printing office caught his eye. "Hello!" he said to himself; "George is working late tonight; guess I'll run in and see if he's got that last batch of bill-heads fixed yet; we'll need 'em tomorrow morning. Howdy, George," he said, a few seconds later; and then stopped, for it was not Udell, but Dick, who was bending over the stone; and in place of working with the type, he was playing a game of solitaire, while he pulled away at an old corn-cob pipe.
"Good evening," said the young man, pausing in his amusement, "What can I do for you?"
"I see ye got a job," said Uncle Bobbie.
"Yes," Dick replied, as he shuffled the cards; "and a very good one too."
"Huh! looks like ye weren't overworked just now."
"Oh, this is out of hours; we quit at six, you know."
"Strikes me ye might find somethin' better to do than foolin' with them dirty pasteboards, if 'tis out of hours;" said Mr. Wicks, pointedly.
"They are rather soiled," remarked Dick, critically examining the queen of hearts; and then he continued, in a matter-of-fact tone, "you see I found them back of the coal box; some fellow had thrown them away, I guess. Lucky for me that he did."
"Lucky for you? Is that the best you can do with your time?"
"Perhaps you would suggest some more elevating amusement," smiled Dick.
"Well, why don't you read somethin'?"
The young man waved his pipe toward a lot of month-old papers and printers journals—"My dear sir, I have gone through that pile three times and have exhausted every almanac in this establishment."
"Visit some of your friends."
"Not one in the city except Udell," answered the other, "and if I had—" he glanced down at his worn clothing.
Mr. Wicks tried again; "Well, go somewhere."
"Where?" asked Dick. "There is only one place open to me —the saloon—I haven't money enough for that, and if I had, I wouldn't spend it there now. I might go to some respectable gambling den, I suppose, but there's the money question again, and my foolish pride, so I play solitaire. I know I am in good company at least, if the sport isn't quite so exciting."
Uncle Bobbie was silent. The rain swished against the windows and roared on the tin roof of the building; the last car of the evening, with one lone passenger, scurried along Broadway, its lights brightly reflected on the wet pavement; a cab rumbled toward the hotel, the sound of the horses' feet dull and muffled in the mist; and a solitary policeman, wrapped in his rubber coat, made his way along the almost deserted street. As Uncle Bobbie stood listening to the lonely sounds and looking at the young man, with his corn-cob pipe and pack of dirty cards, he thought of his own cheery fireside and of his waiting wife. "To-be-sure," he said at last, carefully placing his umbrella in a corner near the door, and as carefully removing his coat and hat; "To-be-sure, I quit smokin' sometime ago—'bout a month, I reckon—used to smoke pretty nigh all the time, but wife she wanted me to quit—I don't know as there is any use in it." A long pause followed, as he drew a chair to the stove and seated himself. "To-be-sure, I don't know as there's any great harm in it either." There was another pause, while Dick also placed his chair near the stove—"and I git so plaguey fat every time I quit."
Dick tilted back and lazily blew a soft cloud into the air. Uncle Bobbie arose and placed the coal bucket between them. "Told mother last night I was gettin' too fat again—but it made me sick last time I tried it—I wonder if it would make me sick now."—A longer pause than usual followed—then: "It's really dangerous for me to get so fat, and smokin' 's the only thing that keeps it down. D'ye reckon it would make me sick again?" He drew a cigar from his pocket, almost as big as a cannon fire-cracker and fully as dangerous. "I got this t'day. Looks like a pretty good one. It didn't use to make me sick 'fore I quit the last time." Dick handed him a match and two minutes later the big cigar was burning as freely as its nature would permit.
"What an awful wasteful habit it is to-be-sure, ain't it?" went on the old gentleman between vigorous puffs. "Just think, there's school books, and Bibles and baby clothes and medicine for the sick, and food for the hungry, and houses and stores, and farms, and cattle, all a' goin' up in that smoke;" he pointed with his cigar to the blue cloud that hung between them. "If I had half the money church members burn, I could take care of every old worn-out preacher in the world, and have a good bit left over for the poor children. I wisht I was as young as you be; I'd quit it fer good; but it sure does take a hold on an old feller like me."
Dick's face grew thoughtful. "I never looked at it in that way before," he said, as he took his pipe from his mouth; "It's a big comfort to a chap who is all alone, though I suppose it does get a strong hold on a man who has used it most of his life; and a fellow could do a lot of good with the money it costs him." He arose to his feet and went to the window, where he stood for a moment looking out into the rain. Presently he came back to his chair again; "Look out," cried Uncle Bobbie, as Dick took his seat, "You've dropped your pipe into the coal bucket."