Chapter XXIII
 

After several weeks of careful investigation and study of the conditions and needs of Boyd City, along the lines suggested by Rev. Cameron in his address before the Young People's Union, a plan to meet these conditions was at last fixed upon, the main points of which were as follows: That a society or company be organized and incorporated to furnish places of recreation and education for young men and women; the place to be fitted with gymnasium, library, reading rooms, social parlors, a large auditorium and smaller class-rooms for work along special lines. There should also be a department where men out of employment might earn something to eat and a place to sleep, by working in wood-yards, coal mines, factories, or farms connected with the institution; and a similar place for women. It also provided for a medical dispensary and hospital for the care of the sick. The whole institution was to be under the charge of some Christian man who should deliver an address on the teachings of Christ every Sunday afternoon in the large auditorium.

Besides this, Bible classes could be organized by different workers as they chose, with this restriction, that no teaching of any particular sect or denomination should be allowed, and only the life and laws of Jesus Christ should be studied. Classes in other studies, such as pertain to the welfare or the government of the people, could be organized for those who wished, all educational work being under the supervision of directors elected by the society.

Every department of the institution was to be free to the public at all hours. To make this possible, the funds of the Society would be raised from the sale of shares, for which the holder was to pay annually twenty-five dollars. Members of the Association were entitled to one vote in the society for every four shares. It was expected that the department for the needy would be self-supporting.

The purpose and plans of the society were to be fully set forth in a little pamphlet, and placed in the hands of every citizen. The people were to be urged to co-operate with the institution by refusing absolutely to give any man, able to work, either food, clothing or lodging, on the ground that he could obtain the needed help by paying for it in labor at the institution; and that they further assist the work by contributing clothing, by employing laborers, and using the products of the institution as far as possible.

The office of the Superintendent was to be in direct communication with the police station, and anyone applying for help and refusing to work, when it was offered, would be turned over to the authorities to be dealt with for vagrancy. The hope was expressed that the city would co-operate with the institution by contributing liberally for the building fund, and by using the workers in their street-cleaning department.

When the time came to hear the committee's report, the opera house was crowded as it seldom was for any political speech or theatrical display. The young people from the various societies occupied the front seats on the floor of the house; and back of them, in the dress circles and galleries, were the general public, while on the rostrum were the leading business men, bankers, merchants, and the city officials, together with the committee.

"Look there, Bill," said a saloon keeper, who had come to watch his interest, "look at that. Blast me if there aint Banker Lindsley; and see them reporters. And there's the editor of the Whistler. Say, this aint no bloody church meeting; there aint a preacher on the stage. Them fellers mean business. We've got to watch out if they keep on this tack. And would you look at the people?"

"Come on out of here," growled his companion, a gambler; "we don't want any truck with this outfit."

"I'm going to stay and see what they propose doing," said the other. "Get a grip on yourself and wait."

Just then the assembly was called to order, and the two men dropped into seats near the rear entrance.

The president stated the object of the meeting and reviewed the action of the previous one at the Zion Church, where Cameron had spoken, strongly emphasizing the fact that this was not a meeting of the young people's societies only, but that every one present was to have a share in it, and all should feel free to express themselves either by voice or ballot. "Mr. Richard Falkner, the chairman of the committee, will make the report, and at their request, will speak for a few moments on the subject."

As Dick arose from his place in the rear of the stage and stepped forward, the saloon keeper turned to his companion, and in a loud whisper said, "Say, aint he that bum printer of Udell's?"

The other nodded and then replied, as his companion began to speak again, "Shut up, let's hear what he is going to say."

As Dick came slowly forward to the front of the rostrum, and stood for a moment as though collecting himself, the audience, to a man almost, echoed the thought that the saloon keeper had so roughly expressed. "Could it be possible that this was the poor tramp who had once gone from door to door seeking a chance to earn a crust of bread?" And then as they looked at the calm, clear-cut, determined features, and the tall, well-built figure, neatly clothed in a business suit of brown, they burst into involuntary applause. A smile crept over Dick's face as he bowed his handsome head in grateful acknowledgment. And then he held up his hand for silence.

Instantly a hush fell over the audience, and in a moment they were listening, with intense interest, to the voice of the once tramp printer.

"Our president has already detailed to you an account of the meeting preceding this. You understand that I am but the mouthpiece of the council appointed at that time, and that I do but speak their will, their thoughts, their aims, as they have voiced them in our meetings."

He then told of the methods adopted by the committee, of the help they had received, and how they had at last decided upon the report which he was about to submit; then carefully detailed the plan, enlarging upon the outlines as he proceeded. Drawing upon the mass of information gathered in the few weeks, he painted the city in its true colors, as shown in the light of their investigation; and then held out the wonderful promises of the plan for the future.

As he talked, Dick forgot himself, and forgot his audience. He saw only the figure of the Christ, and heard Him say, "Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these, my Brethren, ye did it unto me." While his hearers sat lost to the surroundings under the magic spell of his eloquence; an eloquence that even his most intimate friends never dreamed that he possessed.

Charlie Bowen was enraptured. Clara Wilson wept and laughed and wept again. Uncle Bobbie could only say, "I jing," and "To-be-sure," while George Udell sat in wonder. Could this splendid man who, with his flashing eye and glowing face, with burning words and graceful gestures, was holding that immense audience subject to his will, could this be the wretched creature who once fell at his feet fainting with hunger? "Truly," he thought, "the possibilities of life are infinite. The power of the human soul cannot be measured, and no man guesses the real strength of his closest friend."

As Dick finished and turned to resume his seat by the side of Mr. Wicks, a perfect furor of applause came from the people. In vain the chairman rapped for order; they would not stop; while on the rostrum men were crowding about the young orator, standing on chairs and reaching over each other's shoulders to grasp his hand. At last, the president turned to Dick. "Mr. Falkner, can you stop them?"

Dick, with face now as pale as death, and lips trembling with emotion, came back to the front of the stage. "I thank you again and again, for your kindness and the honor you show me, but may I further trespass upon that kindness by reminding you that this matter will never be met by clapping hands or applauding voices. Too long in the past have we applauded when our hearts were touched, and allowed the sentiment to die away with the echo of our enthusiasm. Shall it be so this time? Men and women, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ who died on Calvary, what will you do for the least of these, His Brethren?"

As he again took his seat, the gambler, who with his friend had been sitting drinking in every word of Dick's speech, sprang to his feet and cried, in a loud, clear voice, "Mr. President."

Upon being recognized by the chair, who knew him and called him by name, every head turned, for all knew of Chris Chambers, the most notorious gambler in the city.

Said Chambers, "I came here to-night out of curiosity, to see if this movement in any way threatened my business as a professional gambler. I have, as most of you know, for the last five years, been conducting my place in your city, in open violation of your laws. To-night, for the first time, I see myself in the true light, and as a testimony of my good faith, and as evidence of the truth of my statement, when I say that I will never again take money from my fellow men but in honest business, I wish to make the motion that the report of this committee be accepted, that the plan be approved, and that the committee be discharged with the hearty thanks of the citizens of Boyd City."

The motion was seconded and carried. Then came the critical moment. For a full minute there was a pause. "What is the will of the meeting?" said the chairman, calmly, but with a silent prayer. There was a buzz of conversation all over the house. Every man was asking his neighbor, "What next?"

For a short time it looked as if things were at a standstill, but upon the stage men were putting their heads together, and soon Banker Lindsley shouted: "Mr. Chairman."

Instantly the people became quiet and all turned toward Boyd City's leading financier.

"I am requested to ask all those who wish to become charter members of an association as suggested in the report of the council, to meet here on the stage at once, and I move that we adjourn."

The president, after calling attention of the audience to the importance of answering Mr. Lindsley's request, immediately put the question, and the assembly was dismissed.

Among the first to push his way to the front was the stalwart form of the gambler, Chambers, and the stage was soon crowded with business men and not a few women. Mr. Lindsley looked around. "Where's Falkner?" he said. No one knew. And when Dick could not be found, Mr. Lindsley called the company to order.

The editor of the Whistler was chosen to preside, with Mr. Conklin the express agent, for secretary. Then a committee on constitution and by-laws was appointed, and the company adjourned to meet in the Commercial Club rooms the next Wednesday night.

But where was Dick? Unnoticed by the audience while their attention was diverted toward Mr. Lindsley, he had slipped from the rear of the stage and had made his way by the back stairs to the street. A half hour later, some of the people, on their way home from the meeting, noticed a tall figure, dressed in a business suit of brown, standing in the shadow of the catalpa trees on the avenue, looking upward at a church spire, built in the form of a giant hand, and at the darkened stained-glass window, in which was wrought the figure of the Christ holding a lamb in his arms. Later, they might have seen the same figure walking slowly past a beautiful residence a few blocks farther up the street, and when opposite a corner window, pausing a moment to stand with bared head, while the lips moved softly as though whispering a benediction upon one whose memory filled the place with pleasure and with pain.

About one o'clock on the following Wednesday, Uncle Bobbie Wicks dropped into the printing office. Udell had not returned from dinner. "Good afternoon, Mr. Wicks," said Dick, looking up from his work, "take a seat. You want to see a proof of those letter-heads, I suppose. Jack, take a proof of that stuff of Mr. Wicks'."

Uncle Bobbie sank, puffing, into a chair. "I jing. Wish't I didn't get so fat. Quit smokin' about a month ago. Wife, she wanted me to. To-be-sure, I don't care nothin' fer it nohow. Mighty mean habit too. Where's your pipe?"

Dick smiled. "Oh, I haven't any now."

"Uh! took to smokin' segars, I reckon."

"No," said Dick, "I don't smoke at all."

"Oh." Uncle Bobbie looked long and thoughtfully at his young friend. "To-be-sure, I don't, much.--But I told wife this mornin' I'd have to begin agin if I don't quit gettin' so plaguey fat. D' ye reckon it'd make me sick?"

Dick laughed. "You look rather fleshy," he said, encouragingly.

"Well, you're a good deal fatter yourself, than you were when I first seen you," said Uncle Bobbie, looking him over with a critical eye.

"Yes," admitted Dick, "I guess I am; these are my fat years you know. I'm getting to look at those lean ones as a very bad dream."

Dick's young helper handed them a proof-sheet, and after looking over the work for a few moments, Mr. Wicks said: "That new Association meets t'-night, don't it?" Dick nodded; and the old gentleman continued carelessly, as he arose to go, "Stop fer me when you go by, will you? An' we'll go down t'gether."

"But I'm not going," said Dick, quickly. Uncle Bobbie dropped back in his seat with a jar and grasped the arms of his chair, as though about to be thrown bodily to the ceiling. "Not goin'," he gasped; "Why, what's the matter with you?" And he glared wildly at the young man.

"Nothing particularly new is the matter," said Dick, smiling at the old gentleman's astonishment. "My reason is that I cannot become a member of the Association when it is organized, and so have no right to attend the meeting to-night. I may go in after a time, but I cannot now."

"Why not?" said Mr. Wicks, still glaring.

"Because I haven't the money."

Uncle Bobbie settled back in his chair with a sigh of relief. "Oh, is that all? To-be-sure, I thought mebbe you'd got your back up 'bout somthin'."

"Yes, that's all," said Dick quietly, and did not explain how he had spent everything in his search for the wealthy hardware merchant's daughter. But perhaps Uncle Bobbie needed no explanation.

"Well, let me tell you, you're goin' anyhow; and you're goin' t' have votin' power too. Be a pretty kettle o' fish if after that speech of your'n, you weren't in the company. Be like tryin' to make a cheese 'thout any milk."

"But I haven't the money and that's all there is about it. I will go in as soon as I can."

"Well, ye can borrow it, can't you?"

"Borrow. What security can I give?"

"Aint ye'r Christianity security enough?"

Dick laughed at him. "Is that the way men do business in Boyd City?"

"Well, ye kin laugh if you want to, but that's 'bout th' best security a feller can have in th' long run. Anyhow, it's good 'nough fer me. I'll lend you a hundred fer a year. To-be-sure," he added hastily, as he saw Dick's face, "You'll have to pay me th' same interest I can git from the other fellers. I've got th' money to loan, and its all th' same to me whether I loan it to you or some other man."

"Suppose I die, then what?" asked Dick.

"Well, if Christ goes on yer note I reckon it'll be good sometime," muttered Uncle Bobbie, half to himself, as he took a check-book from his pocket and filled it out. "I'll fix up th' papers this afternoon. Don't forget t' stop fer me."

When Dick and Uncle Bobbie reached the rooms of the Commercial Club that evening, they found them filled with a large company of interested citizens, and when the opportunity was given, over two hundred enrolled as members of the Association.

Mr. Lindsley, the banker, was elected president, with Mr. Wallace, a merchant, for vice president. Then, with great enthusiasm, the unanimous ballot of the Association was cast for Mr. Richard Falkner as secretary, while to Dick's great delight, Uncle Bobbie was given the place of treasurer.

The papers of the city gave a full and enthusiastic account of the new movement, and when the citizens saw that the Association was really a fact, with men at its head who were so well qualified to fill their respective positions, they had confidence in the plan, and began straightway to express that confidence by becoming members.

A prospectus setting forth the object of the Association, together with its plans and constitution, was gotten out by the secretary, and sent to the citizens. The papers continued to speak well of the plan, and finally, through the influence of the strong business men interested, the Commercial Club endorsed the movement, and through the influence of that body, the city appropriated five thousand dollars to the building fund, and one thousand a year, for five years.

With such backing as it now had, the Association began preparation for active work. A fine building site was purchased and Dick was sent to study different plans and institutions that were in operation for similar work in several of the large cities.

"Well, good-bye old man," said Udell, when Dick ran into the office on his way to the depot. "I can see right now that I'll lose a mighty good printer one of these days."

Dick shook his head as he grasped his employer's hand, and with hope shining in his eyes, replied: "You know why I am glad for this chance to go east again, George."

And his friend answered, "Right as usual, Dickie; God bless you. If Clara was somewhere way out there in the big world without a friend, I-I reckon I'd go too."