That Printer of Udell's by Harold Bell Wright
Charlie Bowen ran into the printing office one day on his way home to dinner. "Dick," he said, "it's time you got out of this. I want you to put on your best bib and tucker to-night and go with me to meet some young people."
Dick carefully spread a pile of letterheads on the drying rack; then shutting off the power, stood watching the machine as its movements grew slower and slower. "Young people," he thought; "the Young People's Society of the Jerusalem Church. I saw the announcement in to-day's Independent. Church members--she'll be there, and I'll have the joy of seeing how near I can come to the candle without getting my wings singed. Well, I suppose a fellow can't stay in the dark all the time," he said aloud, as he turned from the now motionless press.
"Of course not," cried Charlie. "You've hidden yourself long enough. It will do you a world of good to get out; and, beside, I always do feel like a sneak when I'm having a good time and you're moping up here in this dirty old place."
Dick looked around. "I've moped in worse places," he said. "But I'll go with you to-night and be as giddy as you please. I'll whisper pretty nothings to the female lambkins and exchange commonplace lies with the young gentlemen, and then--why then--we'll come away again and straightway forget what manner of things we said and did, and they won't count when we meet on the street before folks."
"That's all right," returned the other. "You just come anyway and see how badly you're mistaken. I'll call for you at seven-thirty sharp." And he left him cleaning up for his mid-day lunch.
When Charlie returned to the office that evening he found Dick dressed ready to go, and a strange contrast the latter presented to the poorly-clad, half-starved tramp who had walked into Boyd City only a few weeks before. Some thought of this flashed through Dick's mind as he read the admiration in his friend's face, and his own eyes glowed with pleasure. Then a shadow swiftly came, but only for a moment. He was determined to forget, for one evening at least. "Come on," he cried gaily, squaring his shoulders as though looking forward to a battle, "my soul seemeth anxious for the fray."
Charlie laughed as he answered, "I only hope that you'll come off whole. There will be some mighty nice girls there to-night. Look out you don't get your everlasting."
When the two young men reached the home of Helen Mayfield, where the social was to be held, they were met at the door by Miss Clara Wilson, who was Chairman of the reception committee.
"Glory," whispered that young lady to herself. "Here comes Charlie Bowen with that tramp printer of George's. Wish George could see him now." But not a hint of her thought found expression in her face, and the cordial, whole-hearted way in which she offered her hand in greeting, carried the conviction that no matter what might be his reception from others, this, at least, was genuine.
The guests gathered quickly, and soon there was a house full of laughing, chattering, joking young people; and Dick, true to his promise, laughed and chattered with the rest.
"Who is that tall, handsome man with the dark hair, talking to those girls with Nellie Graham and Will Clifton?" whispered Amy Goodrich to Miss Wilson, who had been asking her why Frank was not at the gathering.
"Haven't you met him yet?" answered Clara, secretly amused, for George had told her of the incident at the office. "That's Mr. Falkner, from Kansas City. Come, you must meet him. Mr. Falkner," she said, skillfully breaking up the group, "I wish to present you to a very dear friend. Miss Goodrich, Mr. Falkner." Poor Dick felt the room spin round and everybody looking at him, as he mumbled over some nonsense about the great honor and happiness of having met Miss Goodrich before.
Amy looked at him in astonishment. "I think you are mistaken, Mr. Falkner," she said. "I do not remember having met you. Where was it; here in town?"
With a mighty effort, Dick caught hold of himself, as it were, and gazed around with an air of defiance. To his amazement, no one was paying the least attention to him. Only his fair partner was looking up into his face with mingled amusement, wonder and admiration written on her features.
"In California; I think it was year before last," he said glibly.
Amy laughed--"But I never was in California in my life, so you must be mistaken." Then, as Dick swept the room with another anxious glance: "What is the matter, Mr. Falkner; are you looking for someone?"
"I was wondering where Charlie Bowen went to," he answered desperately. "I didn't know but what he would want me to turn the ice-cream freezer or something."
[Illustration: "Mr. Falkner, I wish to present you to a very dear friend."]
Miss Goodrich laughed again. "You're the funniest man," she said, and something in her voice or manner brought Dick to his senses with a jar.
"Well," he said, with a smile, "if I am mistaken I am very sorry, I assure you."
"About the ice cream?"
"No, about having met you before."
"Oh, sorry that you thought you had met me?"
Dick protested to some length with much unnecessary earnestness, and at last suggested that they find seats. Miss Goodrich agreed, and leading the way to an adjoining room, discovered a cushioned corner near the window. "Do you know," she said, when they were seated, "I, too, feel as you do?"
"About the ice-cream?" retorted Dick.
"No," she laughed, "about having met you before."
"Indeed, I am glad."
"Yes, that you feel as I do."
"Truly," she said, ignoring his reply, "you do remind me of someone I have seen somewhere. Oh, I know; it's that tramp printer of Mr. Udell's, I--Why, what is the matter, Mr. Falkner? Are you sick? Let me call someone."
"No, no," gasped Dick. "I'll be all right in a moment. It's my heart. Please don't worry." He caught up a basket of pictures. "Here, let's look at these. I find nothing that has a more quieting effect than the things one finds on the center tables of our American homes."
Amy looked uneasy but began turning over the pictures in the basket. There were some commonplace photos of commonplace people, a number of homemade kodaks, one or two stray views of Yellowstone Park, the big trees of California, Niagara Falls, and several groups that were supposed to be amusing. "Oh, here's a picture of that printer," she cried, picking up one which showed the interior of an old-fashioned printing office, with a Washington hand-press and a shock-headed printer's devil sitting on a high stool, his face and shirt-front bespattered with ink. "That looks just like him. Why,--why, Mr. Falkner, you've torn that picture! What will Helen Mayfield say?"
"Awfully sorry," said Dick, "I'll find her another. It was very awkward of me, I am sure." Then in desperation, "But tell me more about this printer of whom I remind you; what was his name?"
"Oh, I don't know that," replied Amy, "but he was very kind to me and sat up at night to design a cover for a little booklet I was having printed. I never saw him to thank him though, for he was out when I called the next day. I heard that Mr. Udell had a tramp working for him and I suppose it was he, for he acted very strangely--he may have been drinking. It is too bad for he must have been a splendid workman. There ought to be one of those books here," and she began turning over the things on the table. "Yes, here it is." And she handed Dick the pamphlet that had caused him so much trouble that night in the office.
It is hard to say where the matter would have ended had not Miss Jameson, another member of the social committee, appeared just then, and ordered them to the parlor, where Amy was wanted to play.
After the company had listened to several instrumental pieces and one or two solos by different girls, one of the young men asked, "Don't you sing, Mr. Falkner?"
"Of course he does," and all began calling for a song.
A sudden thought struck Dick, and stepping quickly to the piano, he played his own accompaniment and sang, in a rich baritone voice, a street song:
"They tell me go work for a living, And not round the country to stamp; And then when I ask for employment, They say there's no work for a tramp."
The song was by no means a classic one, but the manner in which Dick rendered it made it seem so, and as he sang:
"There's many a true heart beating, Beneath the old coat of a tramp."
A strange hush fell over the little audience, and when the song was finished a subdued murmur of applause filled the room, while eager voices called for more. Dick responded with another selection and then declaring that he had done his share, left the instrument and seated himself by Charlie's side.
"Good, old man," said that young gentleman, in a whisper, "but where in the world did you learn all that?"
"Dance hall and variety," whispered Dick. "Never thought I'd air that accomplishment at a church social."
Charlie's reply was lost in a call to the dining room, where light refreshments were served to the hungry young people by waiters from among their number; then turn about, and the waiters were waited upon; and through it all ran the laugh and jest of happy young folks, who thoroughly enjoyed each other's company, and who for one evening met on common ground. After supper, came games and more music, while a few of the more earnest ones, in an out-of-the-way corner, discussed the reading room and planned for its future. Then came a call for everyone to sing, and with Amy at the piano, they sang song after song until it was time to go. Then the bustle of leave-taking--good nights--lovely time--my house next month--and Dick found himself walking downtown, arm in arm with his friend. "Well," said the latter, "how about it?"
"Thank you for a pleasant evening," replied Dick. "But say, those folks don't know me, do they?"
"Some of them do; some don't. What does it matter?"
"Well, tell me, did those who know how I came to town, know that I would be there tonight?"
"No, sir," said Charlie, emphatically. "What do you take me for, Dick?"
"Forgive me," said Dick. "I ought to have known better, only you see my experience with church people, and--well--I'm a bit sore I guess. I couldn't believe there were any like those. I didn't know, that's all," and with a "good-night," he turned down the street toward his humble lodging place, while Charlie went on toward home.
"Yes, that's all," said the latter to himself. "Dick didn't know; and that's what's the matter with hundreds of fellows just like him; they don't know what real Christianity is like; they see so much of the sham; but he'll find out though, or I'm mistaken. My, what a worker he would make, with his experience and talents, if only once he got started right. He just made that old street song burn its way into the heart, and I felt like I wanted to be a brother to every poor, homeless chap in the world."
Meanwhile, Dick had reached the office, and throwing off his coat, laid aside his collar, tie and cuffs. Then seating himself in the rickety old chair, he tilted back as far as possible and fixed his feet as high as he could get them, against the big Prouty press. Five--ten--fifteen-minutes went by, Dick sat without moving a muscle. The clanging bell of the eleven-thirty train on the "Memphis" pulling into the depot, sounded plainly in his ear, but still he sat immovable. A night-hawk cab rattled over the brick pavement, and a drunkard yelled beneath the window; still Dick held his place. So still that a little mouse that lived in one corner of the office, crept stealthily out, and glancing curiously with his bead-like eyes, at the motionless figure, ran, with many a pause, to the very legs of Dick's chair. Crash--as Dick's feet struck the floor. The shaky old piece of furniture almost fell in ruins and the poor frightened mouse fled to cover. Kicking the chair to one side, the young fellow walked to the window and stood with his hands in his pockets, looking into the night. Then, in sullen tones, he addressed the lamp that twinkled in the bakery across the way: "I'm a fool. I know I'm a fool; a great big fool. I ought to have told her who I was. I ought to get out a poster and label myself dangerous, so people would know they were talking to a tramp. Oh, but when she finds out, as she must--and her father--." Here Dick's imagination failed him, and he laughed again and again in spite of himself, as he thought of the tramp who had applied to Adam Goodrich for work, chatting with his beautiful daughter as an equal. "Whew--but there'll be a hot time in the camp of the enemy when they learn the truth," and he took himself off to bed.