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- That Printer of Udell's - 4/49 -
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."
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