That Printer of Udell's by Harold Bell Wright
In the little country village of Anderson, where the southern branch of the "Memphis" joins the main line, a group of excited citizens were standing in front of the doctor's office. "You're right sure it's small-pox, are you, Doc?"
"There's no doubt of it," answered the physician.
"Who is he?"
"He won't tell his name, but Jack Lane says it's Frank Goodrich. He came in day before yesterday on the 'Memphis,' from Boyd City, where they have just lost a case or two of the worst form."
An angry murmur arose from the little group of men. "What you goin' to do, Doc?" asked the spokesman.
"I've sent to Pleasantville for that nigger who has had the disease, and he'll be in as soon as he can get here. We must find some place out of town for the fellow to stay, and let old Jake take care of him."
Jim Boles spoke up. "Thar's a cabin on my west forty, that's in purty good shape. A couple of us could fix her up in an hour or two; it's way back from the road, a good bit over a mile I reckon --in heavy timber too."
"I know the place," said another. "We run a fox past there last winter, and found him denned in that ledge of rocks 'bout half a quarter on yon side."
"That's it," said another. "It's sure out of the way all right."
"Well," said the doctor, "three or four of you go over there and fix up the cabin as comfortable as possible, and I'll have the negro take him out as soon as he comes."
The cabin, which was built by some early settler, had long ago been abandoned, and was partly fallen into decay. Tall weeds grew up through the ruins where the pole stable had stood; the roof and one side of the smoke-house had fallen in; and the chinking had crumbled from between the logs of the house; while the yard was overgrown with brush and a tangle of last season's dead grass and leaves, now wet and sodden with the late heavy rain. Deep timber hid the place from view, and a hundred yards in front of the hovel a spring bubbled from beneath a ledge of rock, sending a tiny stream trickling away through the forest.
Jim Boles and his helpers had just finished patching up the cabin roof and floor, after first building a huge fire in the long unused fireplace, when they heard the rattle of a wagon, and between the trees, caught a glimpse of a scrawny old horse, harnessed with bits of strap and string, to a rickety wagon, that seemed about to fall to pieces at every turn of the wheel. Upon the board, used for a seat, sat an old negro, urging his steed through the patches of light and shadow with many a jerk of the rope lines, accompanied by an occasional whack from the long slender pole. Behind the negro was a long object wrapped in blankets and comforters.
"Hullo!" shouted the colored man, catching sight of the cabin and the men. "Am dis yar de horspital fer de small-pox diseases? Dey dun tol' me ter foller de road; but fo' Gawd, all de's yar roads look erlike ter me in dis yer place. Nevah seed sich er lonsom ol' hole in all ma' bo'n days. Reckon dars any hants in dat air ol' shack?"
"No, this cabin is all right," shouted one of the men; "but you stay where you are till we get away." And they began gathering up their tools and garments.
"All right, sah; all right, sah," grinned the negro. "You'uns jes clar out ob de way fer de amblance am er comin'. We dun got de right ob way dis trip, shor'."
And so Frank Goodrich was established in the old log house, with the colored man to nurse him. A place was fixed upon where the doctor and citizens would leave such things as were needed, and Jake could go and get them.
Three days passed, and then by bribes and threats and prayers, Frank persuaded the negro to walk to Pleasantville in the night and post a letter to Rev. Cameron, begging the minister to come to him, telling him only that he was in trouble and warning him to keep his journey secret.
What fiend prompted young Goodrich to take such a course cannot be imagined. But let us, in charity, try to think that he was driven to it by the fright and horrors of his condition.
Mrs. Cameron was away in the far east visiting her parents, and when the minister received the letter, he made hurried preparations, and telling Dick that he might be gone several days, left the city that evening. At a little way-station named in the letter, he found the negro, with his poor old horse and rickety wagon waiting him.
"Is you de parson?" asked the colored man.
"Yes, I am a minister," Cameron answered, wondering much at the appearance of the darkey and his strange turn-out. And as he climbed up to the board seat, he questioned his guide rather sharply, but the only answer he could get was: "Mistah Goodrich dun tol' me ter hol' ma tongue er he'd hant me, an' I'm shor goin' t' do hit. Golly, dis yere chile don't want no ghostes chasin' ob him 'roun'. No sah. I'se done fotch yo' t' Mistah Goodrich en he kin tell yo' what he's er mind ter."
Needless to say, all this did not add to Cameron's peace of mind, and the moments seemed hours as the poor old horse stumbled on through the darkness of the night. At last they entered the timber, and how the negro ever guided his crippled steed past the trees and fallen logs and rocks was a mystery; but he did; and at last they saw the light of the cabin.
"Dar's de place, sah. Dis yere's de horspital. We dun got yere at las'." And the colored Jehu brought the horse to a stand-still near the tumbled down smoke-house.
"Go right in, s'ah; go right in. Nobody dar but Mistah Goodrich. I put eway ol' Mose." And he began fumbling at the ropes and strings that made the harness.
Cameron, burning with impatience and curiosity, stepped to the door of the cabin and pushed it open. By the dim light of a dirty kerosene lantern, he could see nothing at first; but a moaning voice from one end of the room, drew his attention in the right direction. "Is that you, Brother Cameron?"
He stepped to the side of the cot. "Why Frank, what are you doing here; and what is the matter?"
"I'm sick," answered the young man, in a feeble voice. "I wanted to see you so bad. I'm awful glad you came."
"But why are you here in this miserable place? I do not understand."
"Small-pox," muttered the sick man. "Folks in town are afraid. The nigger takes care of me. He has had it."
The minister involuntarily started back.
"Oh Brother Cameron, don't leave me here alone," cried Frank. "I can't die like this."
For one brief moment Cameron trembled. He saw his danger and the trap into which he had fallen. He thought of his work and of his wife, and took one step toward the door; then stopped.
"Oh, I can't die alone," said the voice again.
Then with a prayer to his God for help, the minister made up his mind.
"Why of course I'll not leave you, Frank," he said cheerily, resuming his seat. "You know that surely."
And so this man of God wrote his friends in the city that he would be detained a few days, and stayed by the side of the wretched sufferer in the old cabin in the lonely woods.
The disease was not slow in its work, and before many hours had passed, it was clear to Cameron that the end was approaching. Frank also realized that death was not far distant, and his awful fear was pitiful.
"Brother Cameron," he whispered hoarsely, as he held his pastor's hand, while the old negro crouched by the fire-place smoking his cob pipe. "I must tell you--I've lived an awful life--people think that I'm a Christian--but I've lived a lie--"
Then with a look that made Cameron shudder, and in a voice strong with terror, he screamed, "O God, I shall go to Hell. I shall go to Hell. Save me, Brother Cameron, save me. I always said that you were a good fellow. Why do you let me die here like a dog? Don't you know that I want to live? Here you cursed nigger, go fetch a doctor. I'll haunt you if you don't. Do as I say."
The colored man chattering in fright, dropped his pipe in the ashes, and half rose as though to leave the room, but sank back again with his eyes fixed on Rev. Cameron, who was bending forward, his hand on the forehead of the dying man.
"God knows all, Frank," said the minister.
"Yes," muttered the other, "God knows all--all--all." Then in a scream of anguish again, "He has been watching me all the time. He has seen me everywhere I went. He is here now. Look! don't you see his eyes? Look! Brother Cameron; look you nigger!--Look there--" He pointed to one corner of the cabin. "Oh, see those awful eyes, watching--watching--I have fooled men but I couldn't fool God. Don't. Don't.--Oh, Christ, I want to live. Save me--save me--" And he prayed and plead for Jesus to heal him. "You know you could if you wanted to," he shouted, profanely; as though the Saviour of men was present in the flesh. Then to Cameron again, "I must get out of here. Don't you hear them coming? Let me go I say," as the minister held him back on the bed. "Let me go. Don't you know that I can't look God in the face? I tell you, I'm afraid."
For a moment he struggled feebly and then sank back exhausted; but soon began to talk again; and the minister heard with horror the dark secrets of his life.
Suddenly he ceased muttering, and with wide-open eyes, stared into the darkness. "Look there, Brother Cameron," he cried, hoarse with emotion. "Amy; don't you see her? She disgraced the family you know; ran away with that low-down printer. But see! Look! Who is that with her? Oh God, it's Kate--Kate--Yes, Kate, I'll marry you. It can't be wrong, you know, for you love me. Only we must not marry now for father would--Look Cameron--" His voice rose in a scream of fear. "She's got smallpox. Drive her out, you nigger; take her away to that cabin in the woods where you kept me. Sh'-- Don't tell anyone, Cameron, but she wants me to go with her. She's come to get me. And there's--there's--My God, look--Yes--Yes-- Kate, I'm coming--" And he sank back on the bed again.
The negro was on his knees trying to mumble a prayer, while the minister sat with bowed head. The lantern cast flickering shadows in the corners of the room, and the firelight danced and fell. A water bug crawled over the floor; a spider dropped from the rude rafters; and from without came the sound of the wind among the bare branches of the trees, and the old horse feeding on the dead grass and mouldy leaves about the cabin.
Suddenly the sick man spoke once more. "No sir, I will never disgrace you. I am as proud of our family as yourself. I am--home --day--" The sentence trailed off into a few unintelligible words in which only "Mother" and "Amy" could be distinguished. And then, with a last look about the cabin, from eyes in which anguish and awful fear was pictured, he gasped and was gone.
The next day, the old negro dug a grave not far from the house, and at evening, when the sun was casting the last long shadows through the trees, the colored man and the minister lowered the body of the rich man's son, with the help of the rope lines from the old harness, to its last resting place.
A few moments later, the darkey came around to the front of the house.
"Ready to go, sah?"
"Go where?" asked Cameron.
"Why, go home ob course. I reckoned you'd be mighty glad ter get away from dis yer place."
"I'm not going anywhere," the minister answered. "You may unhitch the horse again."
The old man did as he was told; then scratching his woolly head, said to himself, "I golly. Neber thought ob dat. I'll sure hab ter take care ob him next."
In the days which followed, Cameron wrote long letters to his wife, preparing her, with many loving words, for what was, in all probability, sure to come before she could reach home again. He also prepared an article for the Whistler, telling of Frank's death, but omitting all that would tend to injure the young man's character. To Adam Goodrich only, he wrote the awful truth. Other letters containing requests in regard to his business affairs, he addressed to Dick Falkner and Uncle Bobbie Wicks, and one to the President of the Association, in which he made several recommendations in regard to the work. All of these, except the one to his wife, he placed in the hands of the negro to be mailed after his death, if such should be the end.
Then when the symptoms of the dread disease appeared, he calmly and coolly began his fight for life. But his efforts were of no avail; and one night, just before the break of day, he called the old colored man to his bedside and whispered, with a smile, "It's almost over, Uncle Jake; my Master bids me come up higher. Good-bye; you have been very kind to me, and the good Father will not forget you." And so talking calmly of the Master's goodness and love, he fell asleep, and the old negro sat with a look of awe and reverence on his dusky face, as the glorious sunlight filled the cabin and the chorus of the birds greeted the coming of the day.
Much that passed in the weeks following, cannot be written here. Mrs. Cameron's grief and anguish were too keen, too sacred, to be rendered in unsympathetic print. But sustained by that power which had ennobled the life of her husband, and kept by the promises of the faith that had strengthened him, she went on doing her part in the Master's work, waiting in loving patience the call that would unite them again.
A month after the news of Cameron's death reached Boyd City, the president of the Association called on Dick and spent an hour with him talking of the work. Before leaving, he said: "Mr. Falkner, in Rev. Cameron's letter to me, he strongly recommended that you be called to take the place left vacant as director of the Association. With your consent, I will announce that recommendation at our next meeting. But first, I would like to know what answer you would give."
Dick asked for a week to think over the matter, which was granted. And during that time he consulted Elder Wicks.
Uncle Bobbie only said, as he grasped his young friend by the hand, "Behold, I have set before you an open door." And Dick bowed his head in silent assent.
The same day, late in the afternoon, George Udell was bending over some work that he was obliged to finish before going home. His helper had gone to supper, and the boy, a new one in the office, was cleaning up preparatory to closing for the night. "Don't clean that press, Jim," said the printer, suddenly.
"What's the matter; don't you know that it's time to quit?" asked the tired youngster, a note of anxiety in his voice.
"You can quit," replied George, "but I am going to run off some of this stuff before I go." And he proceeded to lock up the form.
With a look of supreme disgust on his ink-stained countenance, the other removed his apron and vanished, as though fearing his employer might change his mind. At the foot of the stairs, the apprentice met Clara Wilson. "He's up there," he said with a grin, and hurried on out of the building, while the young lady passed slowly to the upper floor. The stamping of the press filled the room, and the printer, his eyes on his work, did not hear the door close behind the girl; and only when she stood at his elbow did he look up. The machine made three impressions on one sheet before he came to his senses; then he turned to the young lady inquiringly.
"I--I--thought I'd stop and ask you to come over to the house this evening; Mother wants to see you."
"Hum--m--m, anything important?" asked George, leaning against the press. "You see I'm pretty busy now." He shut off the power and stepped across the room as the phone rang. "Hello--Yes, this is Udell's--I'm sorry, but it will be impossible--We close at six you know. Come over first thing in the morning--Can't do it; it's past six now, and I have an important engagement to-night. All right. Good-bye."
"Oh, if you have an engagement I will go," said Clara, moving toward the door.
"You needn't be in a hurry," said George, with one of his queer smiles. "My engagement has been put off so many times it won't hurt to delay it a few minutes longer. And besides," he added, "the other party has done all the putting off so far, and I rather enjoy the novelty."
The young lady blushed and hung her head, and then--but there--what right have we to look? It is enough for us to know that Udell's engagement was put off no longer, and that he spent the evening at the Wilson home, where the heart of Clara's mother was made glad by the announcement she had long wished to hear.
"Law sakes," snapped the old lady; "I do hope you'll be happy. Goodness knows you ought to be; you've waited long enough." And for just that once, all parties interested were agreed.
Charlie Bowen is in an eastern college fitting himself for the ministry. His expenses are paid by Mr. Wicks. "To-be-sure," said Uncle Bobbie, "I reckon a feller might as well invest in young men as any other kind o' stock, an' the church needs preachers who know a little about the business of this world, as well as the world what's comin'. I don't know how my business will get along without the boy though, but I reckon if we look after Christ's interests he won't let us go broke. To-be-sure, college only puts the trimmins' on, but if you've got a Christian business man, what's all man to begin with, they sure do put him in shape; an' I reckon the best 'aint none too good for God. But after all, it's mighty comfortin' for such old, uneducated sticks as me to know that 'taint the trimmings the good Father looks at. Ye can't tell a preacher by the long words in his sermon, no more 'n you can tell a church by the length of its steeple."
Five years later, two traveling men, aboard the incoming "Frisco" passenger, were discussing the business outlook, when one pointed out of the window to the smoke-shrouded city. "That town is a wonder to me," he said.
"Why?" asked his fellow-drummer, who was making his first trip over that part of the road. "What's the matter with it? Isn't it a good business town?"
"Good business town," ejaculated the other, "I should say it was. There's not a better in this section of the country. But it's the change in the character of the place that gets me. Five years ago, there wasn't a tougher city in the whole west. Every other door on Broadway was a joint, and now--"
"Oh yes, I've heard that," interrupted the other, with a half sneer; "struck by a church revival or something, wasn't they? And built some sort of a Salvation Army Rescuing Home or Mission?"
"I'm not sure about the church revival," returned the other slowly, "though they do say there are more church members there now than in any other city of its size in the country. But I'm sure of one thing; they were struck by good, common-sense business Christianity. As for the Rescue Home, I suppose you can call it that if you want to; but it's the finest block in the business portion of the city; and almost every man you meet owns a share in it. But here we are; you can see for yourself; only take my advice, and if you want to do business in Boyd City, don't try to sneer at the churches, or laugh at their Association."
And indeed the traveling man might well wonder at the change a few years had brought to this city in the great coal fields of the middle west. In place of the saloons that once lined the east side of Broadway and the principal streets leading to it, there were substantial buildings and respectable business firms. The gambling dens and brothels had been forced to close their doors, and their occupants driven to seek other fields for their degrading profession. Cheap variety and vulgar burlesque troops had the city listed as no good, and passed it by, while the best of musicians and lecturers were always sure of crowded houses. The churches, of all denominations, had been forced to increase their seating capacity; and the attendance at High School and Business College had enlarged four-fold; the city streets and public buildings, the lawns and fences even, by their clean and well-kept appearance, showed an honest pride, and a purpose above mere existence. But a stranger would notice, first of all, the absence of loafers on the street corners, and the bright, interested expressions and manners of the young men whom he chanced to meet.
And does this all seem strange to you, reader, as to our friend, the traveling man? Believe me, there is no mystery about it. It is just the change that comes to the individual who applies Christ's teaching to his daily life. High purpose, noble activity, virtue, honesty and cleanliness. God has but one law for the corporation and the individual, and the teaching that will transform the life of a citizen will change the life of a city if only it be applied.
The reading-room and institution established by the young people of the Jerusalem Church had accomplished its mission, and was absorbed into the larger one established by the citizens, where boys and girls, men and women, could hear good music, uplifting talk, and helpful entertainment; where good citizenship, good health, good morals, were all taught in the name of Jesus. The institution was free in every department; visitors were restricted only by wholesome rules that in themselves were educational. Co-operating with the city officials, it separated the vicious from the unfortunate, and removed not only the influence of evil, but the last excuse for it, by making virtue a pleasure, and tempting the public to live wholesomely. And as the traveling man testified, it paid from a business standpoint; or as Uncle Bobbie Wicks tells his customers from other towns, "Folks come to Boyd City to live 'cause they 'aint 'fraid to have their boys 'n girls walk down the street alone." And after all, that's about the best recommendation a place can have. And perhaps the happiest couple in all that happy, prosperous city, as well as the best-loved of her citizens, is the young manager of the Association, Mr. Richard Falkner, and his beautiful wife, Amy.
But Dick will soon leave his present position to enter a field of wider usefulness at the National Capitol. For the people declared, at the last election, that their choice for representative was "That Printer of Udell's." And before they leave for their Washington home, Dick and Amy will pay still another visit to a lonely spot near the little village of Anderson. There, where the oaks and hickorys cast their flickering shadows on the fallen leaves and bushes, and the striped ground-squirrel has his home in the rocks; where the redbird whistles to his mate, and at night, the sly fox creeps forth to roam at will; where nature, with vine of the wild grape, has builded a fantastic arbor, and the atmosphere is sweet with woodland flowers and blossoms, not far from the ruins of an old cabin, they will kneel before two rough mounds of earth, each marked with a simple headstone, one bearing no inscription save the name and date; the other this: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto Me."