That Printer of Udell's by Harold Bell Wright
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 The hand reaching out to grasp the food was withdrawn; his pale face grew more haggard.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.