That Printer of Udell's by Harold Bell Wright
Amy was kindly received by Madam when she reached her house after that terrible night on the streets of Cleveland, and under the woman's skillful treatment, rapidly regained her strength and beauty. Never doubting that Whitley had made it impossible for her ever to return to Boyd City, she felt that she was dead to the kindly world she had once known, and looked upon the life she was entering as her only refuge from the cruel world she had learned to know. Several of the girls proved very pleasant and sympathetic companions. Little by little she grew accustomed to her surroundings and learned to look upon the life they led from their point of view; and when the time came for her to join the company in the parlor she accepted her lot with calm resignation.
When she had carefully dressed in a silken evening gown provided by Madam, she made her way alone down to the wine rooms. The scene that met her eye was beautiful and fascinating. The apartment was large and brilliantly lighted; the furniture, appointments and pictures were of the finest, with rare bits of statuary half-hidden in banks of choicest flowers. Upon the floor were carpets and rugs, in which the foot sank as in beds of moss; and luxurious chairs and couches invited the visitor to ease and indolence. From behind silken curtains came soft strains of music, and deft waiters glided here and there, bearing trays of expensive wines and liquors.
Seated at the card tables, drinking, laughing and playing, were the wealthy patrons of the place, and mingling with them, the girls, all of exceptional grace and beauty, dressed in glittering evening costume; but not one eclipsed the radiant creature who stood with flushed cheeks and shining eyes hesitating on the threshold.
Madam, moving here and there among her guests, saw Amy as she stood in the doorway, and went to her at once. Leading the girl to a little alcove at one end of the room, she presented her to a middle-aged man who was seated by himself and seemed to be waiting for someone. Amy did not know that he was waiting for her. As the three stood there chatting, a servant came quietly to Madam's side and whispered in her jeweled ear.
"Certainly," she answered, "Tell them to come in." Then turning, she stepped to a table and rapping with her fan to attract attention, cried, "The Salvation Army people want to hold a prayer meeting here, what do you say?"
There was a babble of voices, shrieks of feminine laughter, and an oath or two from the men. Some shouted, "Let them come." Others protested until Madam stopped the clamor by saying sharply: "Of course they shall come in. You know it is my custom never to refuse these people. I respect and admire them. They believe in their own teaching and live what they preach; and I want it understood that they shall not be insulted in this house. Jake--" A huge ex-prize fighter stepped into the room from a side door. "You all know Jake, gentlemen," continued Madam, with a smile; "and if you are not acquainted with him you can easily obtain an introduction by making some slighting remark, or offering an insult to these Salvation Soldiers. Here they come; remember."
As the little band of men and women filed slowly in, everybody rose at a sign from Madam, and gathered about the soldiers, who took their position in the center of the room; all except the girl in the alcove, who turned her back to the group and stood partly screened by the lace drapery of the archway.
The visitors opened their service with a song, rendered with much good taste and feeling. Not loud and martial as on the street, but soft, low and pleading. Many eyes glistened and many lips trembled when the song came to a close; and as the singers dropped to their knees, not a few heads involuntarily bowed.
One after another, the little band prayed, pleading with God to be kind and merciful to the erring; asking the Father, in the name of Jesus, to pity and forgive. Truly it was a picture of great contrasts--of brightest lights and deepest shadows--almost as when the Son of God prayed for his enemies, and wept because they were his enemies.
Three out of the six had offered their prayers and the fourth began to speak: "Our Father and our God,"--At the first word, uttered in a clear, manly, but subdued tone, the girl behind the curtain started violently; and as the prayer continued slowly, in that voice so full of manly truth and vigor, she raised her head and the rich blood colored neck and cheek. Little by little the hard look in her eyes gave way to mingled wonder, doubt and awe; then the blood fled back to the trembling heart again, leaving her face as white as the marble figure near which she stood; and then, as though compelled by a power superior to her own will, she turned slowly, and stepped from her hiding place into full view. As if stricken dumb, she stood until the prayer was finished. The captain gave the signal and the little company rose to their feet.
"O God!" The young soldier who had prayed last, sprang forward; but he was not quick enough, for before he could cross the room, with a moan of unutterable anguish, the girl sank to the floor.
"God help us, she's dead," cried Dick. And dropping on one knee, he supported the senseless girl in his arms.
All was confusion in an instant. Men and women crowded about their companion, and the Salvationists looked at one another in pity, surprise and wonder. Then Madam spoke: "Girls be quiet. Gentlemen make way. Amy is not dead. Bring her in here." The stalwart prize-fighter touched Dick on the shoulder and the latter, with the lovely form still in his arms, followed as in a dream, to Madam's own private apartments. A doctor came, in answer to a hurried call, and after no little effort the color slowly returned to the cheeks and the long, dark lashes began to tremble.
The physician turned to Dick. "Leave us now; she must not see you at first."
Dick looked at Madam. "May I have a few words privately with you?"
The woman nodded; and with the Army captain, they retired to another room, leaving Amy in charge of the doctor and one of the Salvation lassies.
Then Dick told Madam and the captain the whole story of Amy's life and home, how she had gone away because of her father's mistake, how Whitley had deceived her, and how they had searched for her in vain. Then as he told of the mother's broken health, and the sorrowing friends, though he made no mention of himself, they could not but read as he spoke of others, something of his own trouble.
Tears gathered in Madam's eyes, and when the tale was finished, she said: "Somehow I have always felt that Amy would never remain with us." And then she told of the poor girl's bitter experience alone in the great city, and how as a last resort, she had accepted her present situation. "She is more refined and gentle than the others," continued Madam, "and in my heart, I have always hoped that she would leave here. But what could she do? She had no friends; and we can't afford to have any feelings in this wretched business. Oh sir, this life is a very Hell on earth, and bad as I am, I would never lay a straw in any girl's way who wanted to get out of it. I am glad, glad, that you came in time. You know, captain, that I have never opposed your work; and have seen you take several girls from my place without protest. But I can't be expected to look after them myself."
They discussed the situation for some time, and finally Madam said again, "Mr.--; I don't know your name, and I don't want to; you wear that uniform and that's enough for me--just let Amy remain here for a day or two. One of the Salvation girls will stay with her, and can do more for her than you. She shall have my own room and no one shall see her. Then when she is strong enough, you may come and take her if she will go; and I am sure she will. She will be as safe here as in her father's home."
The captain nodded. "Madam has passed her word, sir," he said. "You come with me and arrange for the future while your friend is getting strong again. Our Sarah will remain with her and keep us posted."
Dick yielded; and after hearing from the doctor that Amy was resting easier, they bade Madam goodnight and passed out into the room where again the music played, jewels sparkled, wine flowed, and the careless laugh and jest were heard.
With a shudder of horror Dick muttered, "My God, Amy in such a place." And yet--another thought flashed through his mind, that brought a flush of shame to his cheek. "But Amy--" And again the strong man trembled, weeping like a child.
Never, though he lived to be an old man, could Dick look back upon that night and the days following, without turning pale. How he lived through it he never knew. Perhaps it was because he had suffered so much in his checkered career that he was enabled to bear that which otherwise would have been impossible. And the consciousness of the great change in his own life led him to hope for Amy, when others would have given up in despair.
On his tour of study and investigation for the Association, he had presented his letters to the Salvation Army people, and had been warmly welcomed by them, as is everyone who manifests a desire to help humanity. Every kindness and courtesy was shown him, and at the invitation of the captain, he had gone with them on one of their regular rescue trips. He had donned the uniform of the Army, for greater convenience and safety; for the blue and red of these soldiers of the cross is received and honored in places where no ordinary church member, whatever be his professed purpose, would be admitted.
While Dick and his friends planned for Amy's future, Sarah, the Salvation girl, remained by her bedside caring for her as a sister. Not one hint of reproach or censure fell from her lips; only words of loving kindness, of hope and courage. At first the poor girl refused to listen, but sobbing wildly, cried that her life was ruined, that she could only go on as she had started, and begged that they leave her alone in her disgrace and sin.
But Sarah herself could say, "I know sister, I have been through it all; and if Jesus could save me he can save you too." So at last love and hope conquered; and as soon as she was strong enough, she left the place and went with Sarah to the latter's humble home. There Dick called to see her.
"Mr. Falkner," she said, sadly, after the pain and embarrassment of the first meeting had passed off a little. "I do not understand; what makes you do these things?"
And Dick answered, "Did I not tell you once that nothing could make me change; that nothing you could do would make me less your friend? You might, for the time being, make it impossible for me to help you, but the desire, the wish, was there just the same, and sought only an opportunity to express itself. And besides this," he added gently, "you know I'm a Christian now."
Amy hung her head. "Yes," she said slowly, "you are a Christian. These Salvation soldiers are Christians too; and I--I--am--oh, Mr. Falkner, help me now. Be indeed my friend. Tell me what to do. I cannot go back home like this. I do believe in Christ and that He sent you to me. I'm so tired of this world, for I know the awfulness of it now; and these good people have taught me that one can live close to Christ, even in the most unfavorable circumstances."
Dick told her of their plan; how his friend, the captain, had arranged for her to live with his brother on a farm in northern Missouri, and that they only wanted her consent to start at once. Would she go?
"But how can I? I have no money, and I have never been taught to work."
"Miss Goodrich," answered Dick, "can you not trust me?"
Amy was silent.
"You must let me help you in this. Thank God, I can do it now. Prove to me that you are still my friend, by letting me make this investment for Christ. Will you?"
The next day they bade good-bye to the sturdy soldiers of the cross who had been so true to them, and started on their westward journey.
Dick saw Amy safe in her new home, and then with a promise that she would write to him regularly, and an agreement that he would send her letters and papers addressed to the people with whom she lived, he left her; satisfied that she was in kind hands, and that a new life was open before her.
But when Dick was once more aboard the train, alone with his thoughts, without the anxiety for Amy's immediate welfare upon his mind, the struggle of his life began. He loved Amy dearly; had loved her almost from the moment she came into George Udell's printing office three years ago; loved her in spite of the difference in their position, when he was only a tramp and she was the favored daughter of wealth; when he was an unbeliever and she was a worker in the church; loved her when he saw her losing her hold on the higher life and drifting with the current; loved her when she left home, and as he thought, honor behind. And he was forced to confess, in his own heart, that he loved her yet, in spite of the fact that their positions were reversed; that he was an honored gentleman, respected and trusted by all, while she, in the eyes of the world, was a fallen woman with no friend but himself.
But what of the future? Dick's dreams had always been that he would win such a position in the world as would enable him, with confidence, to ask her to share his life. But always there had been the feeling that he never could be worthy. And with the dark picture of his own past before him, he knew he had no right to think of her as his wife. But now there was no question as to his position. But what of hers? Could he think of taking for a wife, one whom he had seen in that house at Cleveland? On the one hand, his love plead for her; on the other, the horror of her life argued against it. Again his sense of justice plead, and his own life came before him like a horrid vision as it had done that morning when he learned of his father's death. He saw his childhood home, smelt the odor of the fragrant pines upon the hills, and heard the murmur of the river running past the cabin. Again he heard his drunken father cursing in his sleep, and caught the whisper of his mother's dying prayer; and again he crept stealthily out of the cabin into the glory of the morning, with a lean hound his only companion.
Slowly and painfully he traced his way along the road of memory, recalling every place where he had advanced; every place where he had fallen; going step by step from the innocence of boyhood to the awful knowledge of the man of the world. He had fought, had fallen, had conquered and risen again; always advancing toward the light, but always bearing on his garment the smell of the fire, and upon his hands the stain of the pitch. And now, because he was safe at last and could look back upon those things, should he condemn another? Would not Amy also conquer, and when she had conquered, by what right could he demand in her that which he had not in himself? Christ would as freely welcome her as He had welcomed him. Christianity held out as many glorious hopes for her as for him. Her past might be past as well as his. Why should he not shut the door upon it forever, and live only in the present and future? And then his mind fell to picturing what that future, with Amy by his side, might be. They were equals now, before God and their own consciences. What should he care for the world?
And so the fight went on in the battle-ground of his inner life, until the whistle blew a long blast for the station, and looking from the window of the car, he saw the smelter smoke and dust of Boyd City.