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He pretended to be perfectly aghast at Dennis’s onslaught on the buckwheat cakes, and rolled up his eyes despairingly as each new plate was emptied.

Having finished, Dennis gave him a nod, and said, “Wait till dinner-time.”

“Ah! dere vill be von famine,” said the German, in a tone of anguish, wringing his hands.

Having procured the needful implement, Dennis started out, and, though there was considerable competition, found plenty to do, and shovelled away with little cessation till one o’clock. Then, counting his gains, he found that he had paid for his shovel, secured breakfast and dinner, and had a balance on hand of two dollars and fifty cents, and he had nearly half a day yet before him. He felt rich–nay, more than that, he felt like a man who, sinking in a shoreless ocean, suddenly catches a plank that bears him up until land appears in the distance.

“This is what comes of asking God to help a fellow,” said he to himself. “Strange, too, that He should answer my prayer in part before I asked, by causing that queer jumble of good and evil, Bill Cronk, to suggest to me this way of turning an honest penny. I wish Bill was as good a friend to himself as he is to others. I fear that he will go to the dogs. Bless me! the gnawings of hunger are bad enough, but what must be those of conscience? I think I can astonish my German friend to-day as never before;” and, shouldering his shovel, he walked back to dinner, feeling like a prince bearing aloft the insignia of his power.

When he entered the bar and lunch room, he saw that something was wrong. The landlord met him, instead of his jolly, satirical friend.

Now the owner of the place was a wizen-faced, dried-up old anatomy, who seemed utterly exhaling away in tobacco smoke, while his assistant was becoming spherical under the expansive power of lager. It was his custom to sit up and smoke most of the night, and therefore he was down late in the morning. When he appeared his assistant told him of the bargain he had made with Dennis as a good joke. But old Hans hadn’t any faculty for jokes. Dollars and cents and his big meerschaum made up the two elements of his life. The thought of losing zwei shillings or zwei cents by Dennis, or any one else, caused him anguish, and instead of laughing, his fun-loving assistant was aghast at seeing him fall into a passion.

“You be von big fule. Vat for we keep mens here who haf no money? You should gleared him off, instead of making pargains for him to eat us out of der house.”

“We haf his trunk,” said Jacob, for that was his name.

“Nothin’ in it,” growled Hans, yet somewhat mollified by this fact. When Dennis appeared, he put the case without any circumlocution: “I makes my livin’ by keepin’ dis house. I can no make my livin’ unless efrypodies bays me. I haf reason to dink dot you haf no moneys. Vat ish de druf? ‘Gause if you haf none, you can no longer stay here.”

“Have I not paid for everything I have had so far?” said Dennis.

“Dot is not der question. Haf you got any moneys?”

“What is your bill in advance up to Monday morning?”

“Zwei dollar and a quarter, if you dake preakfast.” “Deduct breakfast and dinner to-day for clearing off the sidewalk.”

“Dot ish too much; you did it in half-hour.”

“Well, it would have taken you three. But a bargain is a bargain, the world over. Did not you promise it?”–to Jacob.

“Yah! und you shall haf him, too, if I be der loser. Yahcob Bunk ish not der man to go pack on his vort.”

“Vel, den,” said old Hans, “von dollar sheventy-five to Monday morning.”

“There’s the money; now let me have my dinner, for I am in a hurry.”

At the sight of money Hans at once became the most obsequious of hosts, and so would remain while it lasted. But Dennis saw that the moment it was gone his purchased courtesy would change, and he trembled at his narrow escape from being thrust out into the wintry streets, friendless, penniless, to beg or starve–equally hard alternatives to his mind.

“Come, Yahcob, thou snail, give der shentlemans his dinner,” said Hans.

Jacob, who had been looking on with heavy, stolid face, now brightened up on seeing that all was right, and gave Dennis a double portion of the steaming pot-pie, and a huge mug of coffee. When Dennis had finished these and crowned his repast with a big dumpling, Jacob came to him with a face as long and serious as his harvest moon of a visage could be made, and said: “Dere ish nodding more in Chicago; you haf gleaned it out. Ve must vait dill der evenin’ drain gomes pefore ve haf supper.”

“That will be time enough for me,” said Dennis, laughing–for he could laugh to-day at little things–and started off again with his shovel.

CHAPTER IX

LAND AT LAST

During the latter part of a busy afternoon, Dennis came to a spacious, elegant store before which the snow lay untouched save as trodden by passers-by. Over the high arched doorway was the legend in gilt letters, “Art Building”; and as far as a mere warehouse for beautiful things could deserve the title, this place did, for it was crowded with engravings, paintings, bronzes, statuary, and every variety of ornament. With delighted eyes and lingering steps he had passed slowly through this store a few days previous in his search, but had received the usual cool negative. He had gone reluctantly out into the cold street again as Adam went out of Paradise.

A large florid-looking man with a light curling mustache now stood in the doorway. His appearance was unmistakably that of a German of the highest and most cultivated type. And yet, when he spoke, his English was so good that you detected only a foreign accent. Strong vexation was stamped upon his face as he looked at the snowy, untidy sidewalk.

“Mr. Schwartz,” he asked of one of his clerks, “was Pat here this morning?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Was he perfectly straight?”

“I cannot say that he was, sir.”

“He is off on a spree again. Send him to me the moment he returns.”

“Shall I clear your sidewalk?” said Dennis, stepping up and touching his hat respectfully.

“Yes,” said the gentleman, scarcely looking at him; “and when you have finished come to the office for your money;” and then he walked back into the store with a frowning brow.

Though Dennis was now pretty thoroughly fatigued with the hard day’s work, he entered on this task with a good will as the closing labor of the day, hoping, from the wide space to be cleared, to receive proportionate recompense. And yet his despatch was not so great as usual, for in spite of himself his eyes were continually wandering to the large show-windows, from which smiled down upon him summer landscapes, and lovely faces that seemed all the more beautiful in contrast with the bleak and darkening street.

He was rudely startled from one of his stolen glances at a sweet, girlish face that seemed peering archly at him from a corner. His ears were assailed by the loud tones and strong brogue of “Pat,” returning thus late to his neglected duties.

“Bad luck to yez! what yez doin’ here?”

“Clearing the sidewalk,” said Dennis, laconically.

“Give me that shovel, or I’ll knock bloody blazes out of yez.”

Dennis at once stood on the defensive, and raised his tool threateningly. At the same time seeing a policeman, he called out, “Will you please cause this drunken fellow to move on?”

The officer was about to comply, when the Irishman, with a snort like that of a mad bull, rushed to the door of the art building, wrenched it open, and, leaving it so, tore down the long store, crying, “Misther Ludolph! Misther Ludolph! here’s a bloody spalpane a-doin’ my work.”

He had scarcely got half-way to the office before there was a crash followed by a general commotion.

Pat, in his blind rage, and with steps uncertain from the effects of whiskey, had struck a valuable marble, and it lay broken on the floor. This catastrophe sobered him, and he stood looking in dismay at the destruction he had wrought. His employer, the gentleman whom Dennis had seen at the door, now appeared upon the scene in a towering passion, and scrupled not to heap maledictions upon the head of the unfortunate Hibernian.

“What do you mean by rushing through the store in this mad style?” he demanded.

“There’s an impudent fellow outside a-doin’ my work,” said Pat.

“Why didn’t you do it yourself, instead of going off to the gin-mills this morning? Didn’t I warn you? Didn’t I tell you your last spree should be the last in my employ? Now begone, you drunken idiot! and if you ever show your face on these premises again I’ll have you arrested and compel payment for this marble, and it will take every cent you have in the world, and more too.”

“Ah! Misther Ludolph, if ye’ll only give me one more–“

“I tell you be off! or I will call the policeman at once.”

“But Bridget and the childer will starve.”

“What are Bridget and the children to me? If you won’t take care of them, you can’t expect other people to. Begone!” said his employer, advancing threateningly and stamping his foot.

Pat looked around in vain for help: the clerks were but fainter echoes of their master.

Seeing his case to be hopeless, he turned about then hurried away, his big red face distorted by many contending emotions. Nor did he stop until he reached one of the fatal “gin-mills,” where he soon drowned memory and trouble in huge potations of the fiery element that was destroying him and bringing wretchedness to “Bridget and the childer.”

Again Dennis had a lesson on drinking for the effects.

He rapidly completed his work and entered the store. A clerk handed him fifty cents.

“May I see Mr. Ludolph a moment?” he asked.

“Yes,” replied the clerk, “he is in the inner office there; but I guess you won’t find him very smooth this evening,” looking at the same time suggestively toward the broken marble.

But Mr. Ludolph was not in as bad a humor as was imagined. This thrifty Teuton had not lost much by the mishap of the afternoon, for a month or two of wages was due Pat, and this kept back would pay in the main for the injury he had done. His whole soul being bent on the acquirement of money, for reasons that will be explained further on, his momentary passion soon passed away when he found he had sustained no material injury. To Dennis’s knock he responded in his usual tone, “Come in!” and Dennis stood in a warm, lighted, cosey office, where the object of his quest sat writing rapidly with his back to the door. Dennis waited respectfully till the facile pen glided through the sentence, and then Mr. Ludolph looked up. Dennis’s bearing and appearance were so unmistakably those of a gentleman that Mr. Ludolph, not recognizing him as the person who had cleared his sidewalk, rose courteously and said, “Did you wish to see me?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Dennis; “I understand that you dismissed a person in your employ this afternoon. I would respectfully apply for his place, if it is not promised.”

The gentleman smiled and said: “You are mistaken, I think. I discharged a drunken Irishman, who had been porter and man-of-all-work about the store, this afternoon; but I have no place vacant, young sir, that you would care to fill.”

“If you think me competent to fill the position of porter and your man-of-all-work, I would be very glad to obtain it; that is, if it will support me and those dependent on me.”

The merchant muttered to himself, “I thought he was a gentleman.”

Then, as this was a business matter of some importance, he caused Dennis to stand full in the light, while he withdrew somewhat in the shadow, and gave it his attention with characteristic shrewdness and caution.

“You seem rather above the situation you ask for,” he said.

“I am not above it in circumstances,” said Dennis, “and it certainly is better than shovelling snow all day.”

“Are you the man that just cleaned my sidewalk?”

“I am, sir.”

“You must be aware that your general appearance is very different from that of the man discharged to-day, and from those seeking the menial place in question. Can you explain this fact satisfactorily?”

“I can readily explain it, and I hope satisfactorily. At any rate I shall be perfectly open;” and Dennis told him briefly, but plainly, just how he was situated.

As the keen man of the world watched with the closest scrutiny the honest young face, he believed every word. Accustomed to deal with all classes of men from childhood, he had learned to read them as the open page of a book.

He asked coolly, however, “Have you no recommendations?”

Dennis produced the ministerial letter, which Mr. Ludolph glanced at with good-natured contempt.

“This is all right,” he said; “superstition is an excellent thing for some minds. I managed Pat a year through his priest, and then he got beyond the priest and me too.”

This undisguised contempt of all that he held sacred, and the classing of true faith with gross superstition, pained Dennis; and his face showed it, though he said nothing.

“There,” said the gentleman, “I did not mean to hurt your feelings, but to the educated in our land these things seem very childish.”

“I should serve you none the worse,” said Dennis, with quiet dignity, “if I believed that the duty I owed to you I owed also to God.”

Mr. Ludolph looked as if a new idea had struck him, smiled, and said: “Most people’s religion, as far as my experience has gone, is not of this practical kind. But I believe that I can trust you, and your face and story are worth much more to me than this letter. A scamp might possess that as well as an honest youth like you. Now, as to terms: I will give you forty dollars a month for the first two months, and then, if you develop and take well to the work, I will give you sixty.”

Dennis thought that this, with close economy, would enable him to live and support his mother and sisters, and he accepted the terms.

“Moreover, to show the advantage of telling a straightforward story, you may sleep in the store: the building will be safer for having some one in it. I will pay you at the end of every week as long as you suit, so that you can commence sending something to your mother immediately. You see that I take an interest in you,” said the shrewd man, “and expect you to take an interest in my business, and work for me as for yourself.”

Simple, honest Dennis could not see that Mr. Ludolph cared infinitely more for himself than for all the world combined, and made it his life-study to get the most out of it with the least cost to himself. Under the words that seemed so kind and considerate, the young man’s heart swelled with the strong and grateful purpose to spare himself in no way in the service of such an employer. The wily man saw this, and smiled to himself over the credulity of mankind.

“Have you enough to last till next Saturday night?” he asked.

“I will make it last,” said Dennis, sturdily.

“That is right,” said Mr. Ludolph. “Stand on your own feet if you can. I never give any more help than will barely enable a man to help himself”–a maxim which had the advantage not only of being sound, but of according exactly with his disposition.

After a moment’s thought, Mr. Ludolph spoke in a tone so sharp, and a manner so stern, that Dennis was startled.

“Mark me, young man, I wish a plain understanding in one respect: you take Pat’s place, and I expect you to do Pat’s work. I wish no trouble to arise from your being above your business.”

“You will have none,” said Dennis, quietly and firmly.

“All right, then. Mr. Schwartz will show you about closing up the store. Be here early Monday morning, and remember that all depends upon yourself.”

In the depths of his grateful heart Dennis felt how much the success of that day and every day of life depended on God.

Mr. Ludolph put on his coat and gloves and went out with Dennis into the store.

“Gentlemen,” said he to his clerks, “this young man, Dennis Fleet by name, will take the place of Pat Murphy, discharged to-day. Mr. Schwartz, will you show him what it is necessary to do to-night? He will be here on Monday morning at the usual time for opening the store, and after that will sleep in the building.”

The clerks looked at him for a moment, as they might at a new piece of furniture, or a labor-saving machine, and then coolly finished their duties, and followed their employer. Mr. Schwartz showed him about closing the store, taking care of the furnace, etc., and Dennis saw that his place was no sinecure. Still it was not work, but its lack, that he dreaded, and his movements were so eager and earnest that a faint expression of surprise and curiosity tinged the broad, stolid face of Mr. Schwartz; but he only buttoned his coat to the chin and muttered, “New broom,” and went his way homeward, leaving Dennis to go his.

CHAPTER X

THE NEW BROOM

The following Sabbath was a bright winter day without, but bright summer in Dennis’s heart. He inquired his way to a neighboring church, and every word of prayer, praise, and truth fell on a glad, grateful spirit. Returning, he wrote a long letter to his mother, telling her all he had passed through, especially dwelling on the truth he had discovered of God’s wish to make this life happy and successful, as well as the life beyond.

In closing, he wrote: “Here I am, Dennis Fleet, who a few days since thought the world scarcely large enough for what I meant to do, standing contentedly and gratefully in Pat Murphy’s shoes. I will not conceal from you, speaking figuratively (the fates forbid that it should be literally true), that I hope to outgrow them, and arrive at something better before many months pass. In the meantime I am indeed thankful for the means of winning honest bread for us all. It is quite a come-down from the classics and law to the position of porter and man of-all-work in a picture and music store, but if God means me to rise He can lead me upward from my lowly standpoint as well as from the most favored that I could have chosen for myself. I have learned that if I will _trust Him_ and do present duty thoroughly, He will not forget me.”

On Monday morning, half an hour before the specified time, Dennis stood at the store. Impatiently he walked up and down before what would become the scene of joys and sorrows such as he had never before experienced. But we will not anticipate.

In due time Mr. Schwartz appeared. He gave Dennis a cool nod, and said, “Glad to see you so prompt,” then muttered again to himself, “New broom.”

In Mr. Schwartz’s slow, plodding soul the fire of enthusiasm had never burned. He was eminently conservative, and looked with wary suspicion on anything that appeared like earnestness. In the midst of a driving, bustling Western city, he stuck in the mud of his German phlegm, like a snag in the swift current of the Mississippi. Yet Mr. Ludolph found him a most valuable assistant. He kept things straight. Under his minute supervision everything had to be right on Saturday night as well as on Monday morning, on the 31st of December as well as on the 1st of January. He was one who through life would be satisfied with a subordinate position, conscious of the lack of enterprise needful to push his own way in the world. His painstaking, methodical spirit was just the kind to pervade a large warehouse like that he had in charge, and prevent loss and confusion in the multiplicity of objects it contained. Pat’s careless Irish ways had vexed his soul beyond words, and now Dennis’s eager manner suggested a hare-brained Yankee youth who would raise a dust for a week and then be off at something else. He was therefore cool and curt, seeking by frostiness of manner to nip the budding enthusiasm that annoyed him.

Dennis heeded him not, but bent every faculty to the mastery of the duties required of him. He was to mop out the store with damp cloths, so as to raise no dust, to look after the furnace and graduate the heat throughout the building, to receive boxes, to assist in packing and unpacking pianos and other musical instruments that occupied part of the upper floors, and to make himself generally useful. So far from being an easy position, it was one that required great strength and despatch, and these had been Pat’s qualities save when drink got the better of him. For one of his age, Dennis was very strong, and his experience in helping his mother in household duties had made him quick and dexterous, where most young men would have been awkward and slow. After a day or two Mr. Schwartz relaxed his grimness somewhat, for if Dennis worked eagerly he also worked well for a beginner. Still it would require several years of well-doing to satisfy old Schwartz that all was right. But Mr. Ludolph, with his quick insight into character, watched this “new broom” a few days, and then congratulated himself on gaining another decided help toward the object nearest his heart.

The other clerks were of German descent, and under Mr. Schwartz’s rigid system each one filled his appropriate niche, and performed carefully the duties assigned.

Even to Dennis’s uncultivated eye there was an inartistic formality about the whole establishment. His sense of this was at first but a feeling–a vague impression that grew upon him without his quite knowing why. He soon discovered, however, that everything was arranged squarely, according to system, order, and not with a view of placing in the best lights and shadows the beautiful things to be sold. He saw that Mr. Ludolph was annoyed by the same defect. One bright day, when everything stood out with glaring distinctness, he seemed provoked beyond measure by this inartistic rigidity, and stormed through the store at a great rate.

“This art building and everybody and everything in it look as if they had swallowed a ramrod,” snarled he. “Mr. Schwartz, can’t you teach the young men to throw a little ease and grace into the arrangement of the articles under their charge?”

Mr. Schwartz looked at him with a blank, impassive face, and his employer felt that he might as well ask an elephant to teach dancing.

Turning suddenly on a stolid youth, he exclaimed, “By the gods! if you have not arranged all the statuettes on your counter in straight lines, and half of them with their backs toward the door at which our customers enter! Here, gather round me while I give you some ideas of arrangement.”

The clerks gathered around him, while with hands of skill and taste he placed everything artistically. The effect of a little transposition was marvellous, and Mr. Schwartz acknowledged that the groups looked doubly pretty and inviting. Dennis stood at a respectful distance, but was a close observer. He was the only one who gained much benefit from the lesson, because the only one capable of receiving it. With quick, appreciative eye he saw the grouping needful to produce the desired effect.

As Mr. Ludolph looked up he caught Dennis’s intelligent gaze.

“That is right, Fleet,” he said; “you learn, too, if you can, and when you are dusting around see if you cannot combine a little order and grace.”

From that day forward the hand and taste of Dennis Fleet gradually, and almost imperceptibly at first, gave a new aspect and created a new atmosphere in the “Art Building.” But at first he was kept busy enough at his humble routine duties. Every one felt and expressed a little surprise at his getting into harness so quickly, but Mr. Schwartz’s influence was not conducive to conversation or emotions, however faint. All went forward quietly and orderly, like well-oiled machinery. Customers received every attention, and though many no doubt had the undefined feeling that something was wrong in the arrangement of the store, each found an abundance of beautiful things suited to his taste and purse, and so trade was good, even though the holiday season was over.

As for Dennis, he was to a certain extent in Paradise. Nature had given him a deep, earnest love of the beautiful, and a keen perception of it.

Though his days were busy indeed, he found time gradually to study every pretty thing in the store. Though much was mystery to him as yet, he felt that he had crossed the threshold of a beautiful world–the world of art. When a boy in New England he had taken drawing-lessons, and had shown remarkable aptness. While at college, also, he had given some attention to drawing and coloring, but circumstances had prevented him from following the bent of his taste. Now the passion awoke with tenfold force, and he had not been in his place a week before he began to make sketches of little things that pleased him. Some of the pictures and bronzes became almost dear because of the pleasure and inspiration that they occasioned, and at their sale his feeling was akin to regret. Early in the morning, when refreshed and brightened by the night’s rest, he would walk through the store as through fairy-land, and, forgetting that he was a humble servitor, would feel as if all were his. But in fact was not his possession truer than that of many whose palace walls glow with every rich gem of art, and yet whose eyes are blind and their hearts dull to the beauty they have paid for?

A few days after his arrival, a little incident occurred that was hard and practical enough, and might justly cause him to feel that he occupied a humble place, not only in the world of art, but in the world in general. There had been a day of rain, slush, and mud. One of the younger clerks had been sent out on an errand, and came in well splashed. Drawing off his boots, he threw them to Dennis, saying: “Here you, Fleet! black my boots as quick as you can. I must go out again.”

Dennis reddened, and for a moment drew himself up as if he had been struck. The young man saw it and said, in a loud, coarse tone that could be heard by several customers: “Vat! you above your biz? I thought it vould be so.”

Dennis acted with decision. He meant to have the matter settled at once. Picking up the muddy boots, he marched straight into Mr. Ludolph’s office. That gentleman looked up, impatient at interruption, and saw his man-of-all-work standing before him with the splashed boots dangling in his hands.

“‘Well, what is it?” asked he, sharply.

“Mr. Berder threw me those boots and told me to black them. Is this a part of my duty here?” said Dennis, in a firm, quiet tone.

“Curse it all!” said Mr. Ludolph, with much irritation; “I thought there would be trouble with your uppishness.”

“There shall be no trouble whatever,” said Dennis; “but I prefer to take my orders from you, and not from Mr. Berder. If you say this is expected, the disagreeable task shall be done as well as I can do it.”

Mr. Ludolph looked sharply at the young man for a moment and hesitated. In his heart he felt that he was speaking to a gentleman, and that it was not the thing to ask of him such menial work. But his irritation and desire to crush out anything like insubordination prevailed. Still, rather than directly order it, he appealed to the custom of the past, and stepping to the door of the office he called: “Mr. Schwartz, come here! Did Pat black the shoes of the _gentlemen_ of this store?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You took Pat Murphy’s place, did you not?”

“Yes, sir,” said Dennis.

“It seems to me, then, that this settles the question,” said Mr. Ludolph, coolly, turning to his writing; but he furtively and carefully watched Dennis’s course.

Determined to show that he was not above his business, that he accepted the bitter with the sweet, Dennis went upstairs to his room, got blacking and brush, and taking his station in a corner where Mr. Ludolph could plainly see him through the glass doors of his office, he polished away as vigorously as if that were his only calling. Mr. Ludolph looked and smiled. His was a nature that could be pleased with a small triumph like this. But the other clerks, seeing Mr. Berder’s success, and determining to do their part, also, in taking Dennis, “down a peg,” as they expressed it, brought their boots, too, and Mr. Berder came with his again in the afternoon. Dennis cleaned and polished away in full view of Mr. Ludolph, who began to realize with vexation that his man-of-all-work would have little time for the duties of the store if he were installed general bootblack of the establishment. But, after this, cold and snow kept the streets dry and clean for some time, and the matter passed on without further notice. Boots were seldom brought to him, and when they were, they were cleaned without a word. In the meantime, his ability and faithfulness in the discharge of his regular duties, and in some slight degree his taste and judgment, began to be recognized, and Mr. Ludolph congratulated himself that in giving Dennis Pat Murphy’s place he had made a decided change for the better.

CHAPTER XI

TOO MUCH ALIKE

One of the duties that Dennis enjoyed most was the opening of new goods. With the curiosity and pleasure of a child he would unpack the treasures of art consigned to his employer, and when a number of boxes were left at the front door he was eager to see their contents. During his first three weeks at the store, there had not been many such arrivals of goods and pictures. But now new things were coming in; and, above all, Mr. Ludolph was daily expecting pictures imported directly from Europe.

One afternoon early in February a large flat box was brought to the store. Mr. Ludolph examined its marks, smiled, and told Dennis to open it with great care, cutting every nail with a chisel. There was little need of cautioning him, for he would have bruised his right hand rather than mar one line of beauty.

The “Art Building” contained two or three small showrooms, where the more valuable pictures could be exhibited in a good light. Into one of these the large box was carried, and most carefully opened. The two clerks who were helping Dennis laughed at his eager interest, and called him under their breath a “green ‘un.” Mr. Schwartz looked upon him as a mild sort of lunatic. But Mr. Ludolph, who stood near, to see if the picture was safe and right, watched him with some curiosity. His manner was certainly very different from Pat Murphy’s at such a time, and his interest both amused and pleased his employer.

When at last the picture was lifted from the box and placed on a large easel, all exclaimed at its beauty save Dennis. On looking at him, they saw that his eyes had filled with tears, and his lips were quivering so that he could not have spoken.

“Is she a relation of yours?” asked Mr. Schwartz, in a matter-of-fact tone.

A loud laugh followed this sally from such an unusual source. Dennis turned on his heel, left the room, and busied himself with duties in a distant part of the store the rest of the day. It seemed to him that they were like savages bartering away gold and pearls, whose value they could not understand; much less could they realize his possession of a nature of exquisite sensibility to beauty.

When all were gone he returned to the room, and sat down before the picture in rapt attention. It was indeed a fine work of art, finished in that painstaking manner characteristic of the Germans.

The painting was a winter scene in Germany. In the far background rose wooded and snow-clad hills. Nearer in the perspective was a bold bluff, surmounted by a half-ruined castle. At the base of the bluff flowed a river, now a smooth glare of ice, and in the distance figures were wheeling about upon skates. In the immediate foreground were two persons. One was a lovely young girl, dressed in black velvet trimmed with ermine. The basque fitted closely to her person, revealing its graceful outlines, and was evidently adapted to the active sport in which she was engaged. While the rich warm blood mantled her cheeks, the snow was not whiter than her temples and brow. Down her shoulders flowed a profusion of wavy hair, scattered threads of which glistened like gold in the slanting rays of the sun. Her eyes, of a deep violet, were turned, in sympathy with the scorn of the full, smiling mouth, upon the figure of a young man kneeling before her, making awkward attempts to fasten her skate to the trim little foot. It was evident that the favor was too much for him, and that his fluttering heart made his hands trembling and unskilful. But the expression of the maiden’s face clearly indicated that her heart was as cold toward him as the ice on which he kneeled.

The extreme beauty of the picture and its exquisite finish fascinated Dennis, while the girl’s face jarred upon his feelings like a musical discord. After gazing fixedly for a long time, he said, “What possessed the man to paint such a lovely face and make its expression only that of scorn, pride, and heartless merriment?”

All the long night the face haunted and troubled him. He saw it in his dreams. It had for him a strong interest that he could not understand–that strange fascination which a very beautiful thing that has been marred and wronged has for some natures. So powerful was this impression upon his sensitive nature that he caught himself saying, as of a living being, “Oh, that I could give to that face the expression God meant it to have!”

And then he laughed at his own folly. His watchfulness caused him to oversleep the next morning, and he was later than usual in getting through the routine duties of the store. At length, about nine o’clock, dusty and begrimed from mopping, feeding the furnace, etc., he stood with duster and brush in hand before the painting that had so disturbed his rest. He was in his shirt-sleeves, and in careful economy had a large coarse apron of ticking girded about his person. His black, dishevelled locks looked like an inverted crow’s nest, and altogether he was unpresentable, appearing more like the presiding divinity of a dust-heap than of an “Art Building.”

After gazing a few moments on the scornful, beautiful face that might have obtained its haughty patrician lineaments from the old barons of the ruined castle just above, he seemed to grow conscious of this himself, and shrunk behind the picture half ashamed, as if the fair girl could see him.

While engaged in cleaning off some stains and marks upon the frame, he did not hear a light footstep in the room. Finishing his task, he stepped out from behind the picture with the purpose of leaving the apartment, when a vision met his gaze which startled him to that degree that he dropped his brush and duster upon the floor, and stood transfixed. There before him, in flesh and blood it seemed, stood the lady of the picture–the same dress, the same beautiful blond face, and, above all, the same expression. He was made conscious of his absurd position by a suppressed titter from the clerks at the door, and a broad laugh from Mr. Ludolph. The beautiful face turned toward him for a moment, and he felt himself looked over from head to foot. At first there was an expression of vexation at the interruption, and then, as if from the ludicrousness of his appearance, the old laughing, scornful look returned. Casting a quick, furtive glance at the picture, which seemed to satisfy him, Dennis, with hot cheeks, gathered up his tools and beat a hasty retreat. As he passed out, Mr. Ludolph asked, good naturedly, “Why, Fleet, what is the matter?”

“Indeed, sir, I hardly know,” answered the bewildered youth, “but it seems to me that I have lost my wits since that picture came. For a moment I thought that the lady on the canvas had stepped out upon the floor.”

“Now that you speak of it,” exclaimed Mr. Ludolph, advancing into the room, “there is a striking resemblance.”

“Nonsense! father,” Dennis heard the young lady say; “you are too old to flatter. As for that hare-brained youth of the dust-brush, he looked as if he might have the failing of poor Pat, and not always be able to see straight.”

At this Dennis’s cheeks grew hotter still, while a low laugh from one or two of the clerks near showed that they were enjoying his embarrassment.

Dennis hastened away to his room, and it was well that he did not hear the conversation that followed.

“Oh, no!” responded Mr. Ludolph, “that is not Dennis’s failing. He is a member of a church in ‘good and regular standing.’ He will be one of the ‘pillars’ by and by.”

“You are always having a fling at superstition and the superstitious,” said his daughter, laughingly. “Is that the reason you installed him in Pat’s place?”

“Can you doubt it, my dear?” replied her father, in mock solemnity.

“Well,” said she, “I think your new factotum fails decidedly in good manners, if nothing else. He stared most impudently at me when he came out from behind the picture. I should have reprimanded him myself if I had not been so full of laughter at his ridiculous appearance.”

“That’s the joke of it. It was as good as a play to see him. I never saw a man more startled and confused. He evidently thought for a moment, as he said, that the girl in the painting had stepped out upon the floor, and that you were she.”

“How absurd!” exclaimed his daughter.

“Yes; and now that I think of it, he glanced from you to the picture, to satisfy himself that his senses were not deceiving him, before he started to come away.”

“I cannot see any special resemblance,” she replied, at the same time inwardly pleased that she should be thought like the beautiful creature on the canvas.

“But there is a strong resemblance,” persisted her father, “especially in general effect. I will prove it to you. There is old Schwartz; he is not troubled with imagination, but sees things just as they are. He would look at you, my dainty daughter, as if you were a bale of wool, and judge as composedly and accurately.”

“I fear, my father,” replied she, smilingly, “that you have conspired with him to pull the entire bale over my eyes. But let him come.”

By this time Dennis had returned, and commenced dusting some pictures near the entrance, where he could see and hear. He felt impelled by a curiosity that he could not resist. Moreover he had a little natural vanity in wishing to show that he was not such a guy, after all. It was hard for him to remember that he stood in Pat Murphy’s position. What difference did it make to the lady whether such as he was a fright or not?

Mr. Schwartz entered, and at Mr. Ludolph’s bidding looked at the living and the painted girl. In his slow, sententious tones, one could not help feeling that he was telling just how things appeared to him. The young lady stood beside the painting and unconsciously assumed the expression of her fair shadow. Indeed it seemed an expression but too habitual to her face.

“Yes,” he said, “there is a decided resemblance–close in dress–close in complexion–color of hair much the same–eyes much alike–Miss Ludolph not quite so tall,” etc. Then with an awkward attempt at a compliment, like an elephant trying to execute a quickstep, he continued:

“If I may be permitted to be so bold as to speak–express an opinion–I should beg leave to say that Miss Ludolph favors herself–more favored–is better-looking,” he blurted out at last, backing out of the door at the same time, with his brow bathed in perspiration from the throes of this great and unwonted effort at gallantry.

“Bah!” said Dennis to himself, “the old mole left out the very chief thing in tracing the likeness–the expression! See her now as she listens to his awkward attempt at compliment. She is looking at him with the same scornful, laughing face that the girl in the picture wears toward the bungling admirer at her feet. He is right in one thing though, she is better-looking.”

But the moment Mr. Schwartz’s bulky figure vanished from the doorway, Miss Ludolph caught the critical, intelligent gaze of Dennis Fleet, and the expression of her face changed instantly to a frown. But, to do her justice, it was more in vexation with herself than with him. Her innate delicacy of feeling showed her that it looked like small vanity to be standing there while comparisons like the above were instituted. Her manner at once became cold, observant, and thoroughly self-possessed. She stepped out into the store, and by a few keen, critical glances seemed to take in its whole effect. Again disapprobation clouded her fair brow, and she pronounced audibly but one word–“Stiff.”

Then she passed into her father’s private office.

CHAPTER XII

BLUE BLOOD

Dennis’s mind was a chaos of conflicting feelings. The picture had deeply interested him, and so did the beautiful girl that it by strange coincidence so strongly resembled. It could not be otherwise with one of his beauty-loving nature. And yet the impression made by the face in the painting–of something wrong, discordant–was felt more decidedly in respect to the living face.

But before he had time to realize what had just passed the lady and her father appeared at the door of the office, and he heard the latter say: “I know you are right, my dear. It’s all wrong. The arrangement of the store is as stiff and methodical as if we were engaged in selling mathematical instruments. But I have not time to attend to the matter, and there is not one in the store that has the least idea of artistic combination, unless it is Fleet. I have noticed some encouraging symptoms in him.”

“What! he of the duster and mop? I fear our case is desperate, then, if he is our best hope.”

Dennis’s cheeks were burning again; but, turning his back, he rubbed away harder than ever at a Greek god that he was polishing. But they gave him no thought. Speaking with a sudden animation the young lady said, “Father, I have a great mind to try it myself–that is, if you are willing.”

“But, my daughter, I could not permit you to be engaged in any such employment before our customers.”

“Certainly not! I would come early in the morning, before art-customers are stirring. I really should enjoy the task greatly, if I had any one to help me who could in some faint degree comprehend the effects I wished to produce. The long spring mornings soon to come would be just the time for it. To what better use could I put my taste and knowledge of art than in helping you and furthering our plan for life?”

Mr. Ludolph hesitated between his pride and his strong desire to gain the advantages which the acceptance of this offer would secure. Finally he said: “We will think about it. I am expecting a great many new and beautiful things early in the spring, and no doubt it would be well then to rearrange the store completely, and break up the rigid system into which we have fallen. In the meantime I appreciate your offer, and thank you warmly.”

Dennis’s heart leaped within him at the thought of instruction from such a teacher, and he longed to offer his services. But he rightly judged that the proposal would be regarded as an impertinence at that time. The successor of Pat Murphy was not expected to know anything of art, or have any appreciation of it. So he bent his head lower, but gave Jupiter Olympus such a rubbing down as the god had deserved long ago. In a moment more Miss Ludolph passed him on her way out of the store, noticing him no more than she did his dust-brush.

Mr. Ludolph was the younger son of a noble but impoverished German family, and was intensely proud of his patrician blood. His parents, knowing that he would have to make his own way in the world, had sent him, while a mere boy, to this country, and placed him in charge of a distant relative, who was engaged in the picture-trade in New York. He had here learned to speak English in his youth with the fluency and accuracy of a native, but had never become Americanized, so much family pride had he inherited, and $o strongly did he cling to the traditions of his own land.

He showed great business ability in his chosen calling, especially displaying remarkable judgment in the selection of works of art. So unusual was his skill in this direction, that when twenty-one years old he was sent abroad to purchase pictures. For several years he travelled through Europe. He became quite cosmopolitan in character, and for a time enjoyed life abundantly. His very business brought him in contact with artists and men of culture, while his taste and love of beauty were daily gratified. He had abundant means, and money could open many doors of pleasure to one who, like him, was in vigorous health and untroubled by a conscience. Moreover, he was able to spend much time in his beloved Germany, and while there the great ambition of his life entered his heart. His elder brother, who was living inexclusive pride and narrow economy on the ancient but diminished ancestral estate, ever received him graciously. This brother had married, but had not been blessed or cursed with children, for the German baron, with his limited finances, could never decide in what light to regard them. Too poor to mingle with his equals, too proud to stoop to those whom he regarded as inferiors, he had lived much alone, and grown narrower and more bigoted in his family pride day by day. Indeed, that he was Baron Ludolph, was the one great fact of his life. He spent hours in conning over yellow, musty records of the ancient grandeur of his house, and would gloat over heroic deeds of ancestors he never thought of imitating. In brief, he was like a small barnacle on an old and water-logged ship, that once had made many a gallant and prosperous voyage richly freighted, but now had drifted into shallow water and was falling to decay. He made a suggestion, however, to his younger brother, that wakened the ambition of the latter’s stronger nature, and set him about what became his controlling purpose, his life-work.

“Make a fortune in America,” said his brother, “and come back and restore the ancient wealth and glory of your family.”

The seed fell into receptive soil, and from that day the art and pleasure loving citizen of the world became an earnest man with a purpose. But as he chose his purpose mainly from selfish motives it did not become an ennobling one. He now gave double attention to business and practical economy. He at once formed the project of starting in business for himself, and of putting the large profits resulting from his judicious selection of pictures into his own pocket. He made the most careful arrangements, and secured agencies that he could trust in the purchase of pictures after he should return to the United States.

During his stay in Paris, on his way back, an event occurred that had a most untoward influence on his plans and hopes. He fell desperately in love with a beautiful French woman. Like himself, she was poor, but of patrician blood, and was very fascinating. She attracted him by her extreme beauty and brilliancy. She was very shrewd, and could seem anything she chose, being a perfect actress in the false, hollow life of the world. In accordance with Parisian ideas, she wanted a husband to pay her bills, to be a sort of protector and base of general operations. Here was a man who promised well, fine-looking, and, if not rich, capable of making large sums of money.

She insinuated herself into his confidence, and appeared to share his enthusiasm for the darling project of his life. He felt that, with such a beautiful and sympathetic woman to spur him on and share his success, earth would be a Paradise indeed; and she assured him, in many delicate and bewitching ways, that it would. In brief, he married her; and then learned, in bitterness, anger, and disgust, that she had totally deceived him. To his passionate love she returned indifference; to his desire for economy, unbounded extravagance, contracting debts which he must pay to avoid disgrace. She showed an utter unwillingness to leave the gayety of Paris, laughing in his face at his plan of life, and assuring him that she would never live in so stupid a place as Germany. His love died hard. He made every appeal to her that affection prompted. He tried entreaty, tenderness, coldness, anger, but all in vain. Selfish to the core, loving him not, utterly unscrupulous, she trod upon his quivering heart as recklessly as upon the stones of the street. Soon he saw that, in spite of his vigilance, he was in danger of being betrayed in all respects. Then he grew hard and fierce. The whole of his strong German nature was aroused. In a tone and manner that startled and frightened her, he said: “_We_ sail for New York in three days. Be ready. If you prove unfaithful to me–if you seek to desert me, I will _kill_ you. I swear it–not by God, for I don’t believe in Him. If He existed, such creatures as you would not. But I swear it by my family pride and name, which are dearer to me than life, if you leave a stain upon them you shall _die_. You need not seek to escape me. I would follow you through the world. I would kill you on the crowded street–anywhere, even though I died myself the next moment. And now look well to your steps.”

The glitter of his eye was as cold and remorseless as the sheen of steel. She saw that he meant and would do just what he said.

The woman had one good point–at least, it turned out to be such in this case. She was a coward naturally, and her bad life made her dread nothing so much as death. Her former flippant indifference to his remonstrances now changed into abject fear. He saw her weak side, learned his power, and from that time forward kept her within bounds by a judicious system of terrorism.

He took her to New York and commanded her to appear the charming woman she could if she chose. She obeyed, and rather enjoyed the excitement and deceit. His friends were delighted with her, but he received their congratulations with a grim, quiet smile. At times, though, when she was entertaining them with all grace, beauty, and sweetness, the thought of what she was seemed only a horrid dream. But he had merely to catch her eye, with its gleam of fear and hate, to know the truth.

He felt that he could not trust to the continuance of her good behavior, and was anxious to get away among strangers as soon as possible. He therefore closed his business relations in New York. Though she had crippled him greatly by her extravagance, he had been able to bring out a fair stock of good pictures, and a large number of articles of virtue, selected with his usual taste. The old firm, finding that they could not keep him, offered all the goods he wanted on commission. So
in a few weeks he started for Chicago, the most promising city of the West, as he believed, and established himself there in a modest way. Still the chances were even against him, for he had involved himself heavily, and drawn to the utmost on his credit in starting. If he could not sell largely the first year, he was a broken man. For months the balance wavered, and he lived with financial ruin on one side, and domestic ruin on the other. But, with a heart of ice and nerves of steel, he kept his hand on the helm.

His beautiful collection, though in an unpretentious store, at last attracted attention, and after some little time it became _the_ thing in the fashionable world to go there, and from that time forward his fortune was made.

When his wife became a mother, there was a faint hope in Mr. Ludolph’s heart that this event might awaken the woman within her, if aught of the true woman existed. He tried to treat her with more kindness, but found it would not answer. She mistook it for weakness on his part. From first to last she acted in the most heartless manner, and treated the child with shameless neglect. This banished from her husband even the shadow of regard, and he cursed her to her face. Thenceforth will and ambition controlled his life and hers, and with an iron hand he held her in check. She saw that she was in the power of a desperate man, who would sacrifice her in a moment if she thwarted him. Through cowardly fear she remained his reluctant but abject slave, pricking him with the pins and needles of petty annoyances, when she would have pierced him to the heart had she dared. This monstrous state of affairs could not last forever, and, had not death terminated the unnatural relation, some terrible catastrophe would no doubt have occurred. Having contracted a western fever, she soon became delirious, and passed away in this unconscious state, to the intense joy and relief of her husband.

But the child lived, thrived, and developed into the graceful girl whose beauty surpassed, as we have seen, even the painter’s ideal. Her father at first cared little for the infant, but secured it every attention. As it developed into a pretty girl, however, with winning ways, and rich promise, he gradually associated her with his hopes and plans, till at last she became an essential part of his ambition.

His plan now was briefly this: He would entangle himself with no alliances or intimate associations in America, nor would he permit his daughter to do so. His only object in staying here was the accumulation of a large fortune, and to this for a few years he would bend every energy of mind and body. As soon as he felt that he had sufficient means to live in such style as befitted the ancient and honorable name of his family, he would return to Germany, buy all he could of the ancestral estate that from time to time had been parted with, and restore his house to its former grandeur. He himself would then seek a marriage connection that would strengthen his social position, while his daughter also should make a brilliant alliance with some member of the nobility. Mr. Ludolph was a handsome, well-preserved man; he had been most successful in business, and was now more rapidly than ever accumulating that which is truly a power with Europeans of blue blood, as with democratic Americans. Moreover, his daughter’s beauty promised to be such that, when enhanced by every worldly advantage, it might well command attention in the highest circles. He sought with scrupulous care to give her just the education that would enable her to shine as a star among the high-born. Art, music, and knowledge of literature, especially the German, were the main things to which her attention was directed, and in her father, with his richly stored mind, faultless taste, and cultured voice, she had an instructor such as rarely falls to the lot of the most favored.

When Christine Ludolph was about sixteen years of age, events occurred which might have greatly marred her father’s plans. She secretly formed a most unfortunate attachment, which came near resulting in a clandestine marriage. Although the world would have judged her harshly, and the marriage could only have been exceedingly disastrous to her future life, the motherless girl was not very much to blame. Even among the mature there is a proverbial blindness in these matters. She was immature, misled by her imagination, and the victim of uncurbed romantic fancies. But, after all, the chief incentive to her folly was a natural craving for the love and sympathy which she had never found in her own home. To her chilled young heart these gifts were so sweet and satisfying that she was in no mood to criticise the donor, even had her knowledge of the world enabled her to do so. Thus far, in his care of Christine, Mr. Ludolph had conformed to the foreign ideas of seclusion and repression, and the poor girl, unguided, unguarded by kind womanly counsel, was utterly unsophisticated, and she might have easily become the prey of the unscrupulous man whose chief incentive had been her father’s wealth. Mr. Ludolph fortunately discovered the state of affairs in time to prevent gossip. Under his remorseless logic, bitter satire, and ridicule her young dream was torn to shreds. The man whom she had surrounded with a halo of romance was shown to be worthless and commonplace. Her idol had chiefly been a creature of the imagination, and when the bald, repulsive truth concerning him had been proved to her in such a way that she could not escape conviction, she was equally disgusted with him and herself.

For some weeks Mr. Ludolph treated his daughter with cold distrust. “She will be like her mother, I suppose,” he thought. “Already she has begun to deceive me and to imperil everything by her folly;” and his heart was full of bitterness toward his child. Thus the poor girl dwelt in a chilled and blighting atmosphere at a time when she most sorely needed kindness and wise guidance.

She was very unhappy, for she saw that her father had lost all confidence in her. She fairly turned sick when she thought of the past. She had lived in the world of romance and mystery; she had loved with all her girlish power; and, however wrongly and unjustly, by the inevitable laws of association she connected the words “love” and “romance” with one whom she now detested and loathed. Within a week after her miserable experience she became as utter a sceptic in regard to human love, and happiness flowing from it, as her father had taught her to be respecting God and the joy of believing. Though seemingly a fair young girl, her father had made her worse than a pagan. She believed in nothing save art and her father’s wisdom. He seemed to embody the culture and worldly philosophy that now became, in her judgment, the only things worth living for. To gain his confidence became her great desire. But this had received a severe shock. Mr. Ludolph had lost all faith in everything save money and his own will. Religion was to him a gross superstition, and woman’s virtue and truth, poetic fictions.

He watched Christine narrowly, and said just enough to draw out the workings of her mind. He then decided to tell his plan for life, and give her strong additional motives for doing his will. The picture he portrayed of the future dazzled her proud, ambitious spirit, and opened to her fancy what then seemed the only path to happiness. She entered into his projects with honest enthusiasm, and bound herself by the most solemn promises to aid in carrying them out. But in bitterness he remembered one who had promised with seeming enthusiasm before, and he distrusted his daughter, watching her with lynx-eyed vigilance.

But gradually he began to believe in her somewhat, as he saw her looking forward with increasing eagerness to the heaven of German fashionable life, wherein she, rich, admired, allied by marriage to some powerful noble family, should shine a queen in the world of art.

“I have joined her aspirations to mine,” he said, in self-gratulation. “I have blended our ambitions and sources of hope and enjoyment, and that is better than all her promises.”

When Dennis saw first the face that was so beautiful and yet so marred by pride and selfishness, Christine was about nineteen years old, and yet as mature in some respects as a woman of thirty. She had the perfect self-possession that familiarity with the best society gives. Mr. Ludolph was now too shrewd to seek safety in seclusion. He went with his daughter into the highest circles of the city, and Christine had crowds of admirers and many offers. All this she enjoyed, but took it coolly as her right, with the air of a Greek goddess accepting the incense that rose in her temple. She was too proud and refined to flirt in the ordinary sense of the word, and no one could complain that she gave much encouragement. But this state of things was all the more stimulating, and each one believed, with confidence in his peculiar attractions, that he might succeed where all others had failed. Miss Ludolph’s admirers were unaware that they had a rival in some as yet unknown German nobleman. At last it passed into a proverb that the beautiful and brilliant girl who was so free and courtly in society was as cold and unsusceptible as one of her father’s statues.

Thus it would seem that when circumstances brought the threads of these two lives near each other, Dennis’s and Christine’s, the most impassable barriers rose between them, and that the threads could never be woven together, or the lives blended. She was the daughter of the wealthy, aristocratic Mr. Ludolph; he was her father’s porter.

Next to the love of art, pride and worldly ambition were her strongest characteristics. She was an unbeliever in God and religion, not from conviction, but from training. She knew very little about either, and what light she had came to her through false mediums. She did not even believe in that which in many young hearts is religion’s shadow, love and romance, nor did her father take a more worldly and practical view of life than she.

In marked contrast we have seen the character of Dennis Fleet, drawing its inspiration from such different sources.

Could two human beings be more widely separated–separated in that which divides more surely than continents and seas?

Could Dennis have seen her warped, deformed moral nature, as clearly as her beautiful face and form, he would have shrunk from her; but while recognizing defects, he shared the common delusion, that the lovely outward form and face must enshrine much that is noble and ready to blossom into good, if the right motives can be presented.

As for Christine, she had one chance for life, one chance for heaven. She was _young_. Her nature had not so hardened and crystallized in evil as to be beyond new and happier influences.

CHAPTER XIII

VERY COLD

When Dennis entered Mr. Ludolph’s store Christine was absent on a visit to New York. On her return she resumed her old routine. At this time she and her father were occupying a suite of rooms at a fashionable hotel. Her school-days were over, Mr. Ludolph preferring to complete her education himself in accordance with his peculiar views and tastes. She was just passing into her twentieth year, and looked upon the world from the vantage points of health, beauty, wealth, accomplishments of the highest order, and the best social standing. Assurance of a long and brilliant career possessed her mind, while pride and beauty were like a coronet upon her brow. She was the world’s ideal of a queen.

And yet she was not truly happy. There was ever a vague sense of unrest and dissatisfaction at heart. She saw that her father was proud and ambitious in regard to her, but she instinctively felt that he neither loved nor trusted her to any great extent. She seemed to be living in a palace of ice, and at times felt that she was turning into ice herself; but her very humanity and womanhood, deadened and warped though they were, cried out against the _cold_ of a life without God or love. In the depths of her soul she felt that something was wrong, but what, she could not understand. It seemed that she had everything that heart could wish, and that she ought to be satisfied.

She had at last concluded that her restlessness was the prompting of a lofty ambition, and that if she chose she could win world-wide celebrity as an artist. This, with the whole force of her strong nature, she had determined to do, and for over two years had worked with an energy akin to enthusiasm. She had resolved that painting should be the solid structure of her success, and music its ornament.

Nor were her dreams altogether chimerical, for she had remarkable talent in her chosen field of effort, and had been taught to use the brush and pencil from childhood. She could imitate with skill and taste, and express with great accuracy the musical thought of the composer; but she could not create new effects, and this had already begun to trouble her. She worked hard and patiently, determined to succeed. So great had been her application that her father saw the need of rest and change, and therefore her visit to New York. She had now returned strengthened, and eager for her former studies, and resumed them with tenfold zest.

The plan of rearranging the store on artistic principles daily grew in favor with her. It was just the exercise of taste she delighted in, and she hoped some day to indulge it on palace walls that would be her own. Her father’s pride caused him to hesitate for some time, but she said: “Why, Chicago is not our home; we shall soon be thousands of miles away. You know how little we really care for the opinions of the people here: it is only our own pride and opinion that we need consult. I see nothing lowering or unfeminine in the work. I shall scarcely touch a thing myself, merely direct; for surely among all in your employ there must be one or two pairs of hands not so utterly awkward but that they can follow plain instructions. My taste shall do it all. We are both early risers, and the whole change can be made before the store is opened. Moreover,” she added (with an expression indicating that she would have little difficulty in ruling her future German castle, and its lord also), “this is an affair of our own. Those you employ ought to understand by this time that it is neither wise nor safe to talk of our business outside.”

After a moment’s thought she concluded: “I really think that the proper arrangement of everything in the store as to light, display, and effect, so that people of taste will be pleased when they enter, would add thousands of dollars to your sales; and this rigid system of old Schwartz’s, which annoys us both beyond endurance, will be broken up.”

Won over by arguments that accorded with his inclinations, Mr. Ludolph gave his daughter permission to carry out the plan in her own way.

She usually accompanied her father to the store in the morning. He, after a brief glance around, would go to his private office and attend to correspondence. She would do whatever her mood prompted. Sometimes she would sit down for a half-hour before one picture; again she would examine most critically a statue or a statuette. Whenever new music was received, she looked it over and carried off such pieces as pleased her fancy.

She evidently was a privileged character, and no one save her father exercised the slightest control over her movements. She treated all the clerks, save old Schwartz, as if they were animated machines; and by a quiet order, as if she had touched a spring, would set them in motion to do her bidding. The young men in the store were of German descent, and rather heavy and undemonstrative. Mr. Schwartz’s system of order and repression had pretty thoroughly quenched them. They were educated to the niches they filled, and seemed to have no thought beyond; therefore they were all unruffled at Miss Ludolph’s air of absolute sovereignty. Mr. Schwartz was as obsequious as the rest, but, as second to her father in power, was permitted some slight familiarity. In fact this heavy, stolid prime-minister both amused and annoyed her, and she treated him with the caprice of a child toward an elephant –at times giving him the sugar-plum of a compliment, and oftener pricking him with the pin of some caustic remark. To him she was the perfection of womankind–her reserved, dispassionate manner, her steady, unwearied prosecution of a purpose, being just the qualities that he most honored; and he worshipped her reverently at a distance, like an old astrologer adoring some particularly bright fixed star. No whisking comets or changing satellites for old Schwartz.

As for Dennis, she treated him as she probably had treated Pat Murphy, and for several days had no occasion to notice him at all. In fact he kept out of her way, choosing at first to observe rather than be observed. She became an artistic study to him, for her every movement was grace itself, except that there was no softness or gentleness in her manner. Her face fascinated him by its beauty, though its expression troubled him–it was so unlike his mother’s, so unlike what he felt a woman’s ought to be. But her eager interest in that which was becoming so dear to him–art–would have covered a multitude of sins in his eyes, and with a heart abounding in faith and hope, not yet diminished by hard experience, he believed that the undeveloped angel existed within her. But he remembered her frown when she had first noticed his observation of her. The shrewd Yankee youth saw that her pride would not brook even a curious glance. But while he kept at a most respectful distance he felt that there was no such wide gulf between them as she imagined. By birth and education he was as truly entitled to her acquaintance as the young men who sometimes came into the store with her and whom she met in society. Position and wealth were alone wanting, and in spite of his hard experience and lowly work he felt that there must be some way for him, as for others, to win these.

He longed for the society of ladies, as every right-feeling young man does, and to one of his nature the grace and beauty of woman were peculiarly attractive. If, before she came, the lovely faces of the pictures had filled the place with a sort of witchery, and created about him an atmosphere in which his artist-soul was awakening into life and growth, how much more would it be true of this living vision of beauty that glided in and out every day!

“She does not notice me,” he at first said to himself, “any more than do these lovely shadows upon the canvas. But why need I care? I can study both them and her, and thus educate my eye, and I hope my hand, to imitate and perhaps surpass their perfections in time.”

But this cool, philosophic mood did not last long. It might answer very well in regard to the pictures on the walls, but there was a magnetism about this living, breathing woman that soon caused him to long for the privilege of being near her and speaking to her of that subject that interested them both so deeply. Though he had never seen any of her paintings to know them, he soon saw that she was no novice in such matters and that she looked at works of art with the eye of a connoisseur. In revery he had many a spirited conversation with her, and he trusted that some day his dreams would become real. He had the romantic hope that if she should discover his taste and strong love of art she might at first bestow upon him a patronizing interest which would gradually grow into respect and acknowledged equality.

CHAPTER XIV

SHE SPEAKS TO HIM

After the plan for the re-arrangement of the store had been determined upon, Miss Ludolph began to study its topography. She went regularly through the building, examining closely every part and space, sometimes sketching a few outlines in a little gilt book. Apparently she was seeking by her taste to make the show-rooms pictures in themselves, wherein all the parts should blend harmoniously, and create one beautiful effect. Dennis saw what was coming. The carrying-out of the plan he had heard discussed, and he wished with intense longing that he might be her assistant. But she would as soon have thought of sending for Pat Murphy. She intended to select one of the older clerks to aid her. Still Dennis hoped that by some strange and happy turn of fortune part of this work might fall to him.

Every spare moment of early morning and evening he spent in sketching and studying, but he sadly felt the need of instruction, and of money to buy materials. He was merely groping his way as best he might; and he felt that Miss Ludolph could teach him so much, if she would only condescend to the task! He was willing to be a very humble learner at first. If in some way he could only make known his readiness to pick up the crumbs of knowledge that she might be willing out of kindness to scatter in his path, he might expect something from ordinary good nature.

But a week or two passed without his receiving so much as a glance from those cold blue eyes that rested so critically on all before them; and on an unlucky day in March all hope of help from her vanished. Under the influence of spring the streets were again becoming muddy, and his duties as bootblack increased daily. He had arranged to perform this menial task in a remote corner of the store, as much out of sight as possible. The duty had become still more disagreeable since the young lady haunted the place, for he feared she would learn to associate him only with the dust-brush and blacking-brush.

Just behind where he usually stood, a good picture had been hung, under Mr. Schwartz’s system, simply because it accurately fitted the space. It was in a wretched light, and could never be seen or appreciated there. Miss Ludolph in her investigations and plannings discovered this at a time most unfortunate for poor Dennis. While polishing away one morning, he suddenly became conscious that she was approaching. It seemed that she was looking directly at him, and was about to speak. His heart thumped like a trip-hammer, his cheeks burned, and a blur came over his eyes, for he was diffident in ladies’ presence. Therefore he stood before her the picture of confusion, with a big boot poised in one hand, and the polishing-brush in the other. With the instincts of a gentleman, however, he made an awkward bow, feeling, though, that under the circumstances his politeness could only appear ridiculous. And he was right. It was evident from the young lady’s face that her keen perception of the ridiculous was thoroughly aroused. But for the sake of her own dignity (she cared not a jot for him), she bit her lip to control her desire to laugh in his face, and said, rather sharply, “Will you stand out of my way?”

_She had spoken to him._

He was so mortified and confused that in his effort to obey he partially fell over a bronze sheep, designed to ornament some pastoral scene, and the heel of Mr. Schwartz’s heavy boot came down with a thump that made everything ring. There was a titter from some of the clerks. Mr. Ludolph, who was following his daughter, exclaimed, “What’s the matter, Fleet? You seem rather unsteady, this morning, for a church member.”

For a moment he had the general appearance usually ascribed to the sheep, his unlucky stumbling-block. But by a strong effort he recovered himself. Deigning no reply, he set his teeth, compressed his lips, picked up the boot, and polished away as before, trying to look and feel regardless of all the world. In fact there was as much pride in his face as there had ever been in hers. But, not noticing him, she said to her father: “Here is a specimen. Look where this picture is hung. In bootblack corner I should term it. It would not sell here in a thousand years, for what little light there is would be obscured much of the time by somebody’s big boots and the artist in charge. It has evidently been placed here in view of one principle alone–dimensions; its length and breadth according with the space in the corner. You will see what a change I will bring about in a month or two, after my plans are matured;” and then she strolled to another part of the store. But, before leaving, Miss Ludolph happened to glance at Dennis’s face, and was much struck by its expression. Surely Pat Murphy never would or could look like that. For the first time the thought entered her mind that Dennis might be of a different clay and character from Pat. But the next moment his expression of pride and offended dignity, in such close juxtaposition to the big boot he was twirling almost savagely around, again appealed to her sense of the ludicrous, and she turned away with a broad smile. Dennis, looking up, saw the smile and guessed the cause; and when, a moment after, Mr. Schwartz appeared, asking in his loud, blunt way, “My boots ready?” he felt like flinging both at his head, and leaving the store forever. Handing them to him without a word, he hastened upstairs, for he felt that he must be alone.

At first his impulse was strong to rebel–to assert that by birth and education he was a gentleman, and must be treated as such, or he would go elsewhere. But, as the tumult in his mind calmed, the case became as clear to him as a sum in addition. He had voluntarily taken Pat Murphy’s place, and why should he complain at Pat’s treatment? He had pledged his word that there should be no trouble from his being above his business, and he resolved to keep his word till Providence gave him better work to do. He bathed his hot face in cool water, breathed a brief prayer for strength and patience, and went back to his tasks strong and calm.

CHAPTER XV

PROMOTED

Late in the afternoon of the same day (which was Saturday), as Mr. Ludolph was passing out of the store on his way home, he noticed the table that he had arranged artistically some little time before as a lesson to his clerks. Gradually it had fallen back into its old straight lines and rigid appearance. He seemed greatly annoyed.

“What is the use of re-arranging the store?” he muttered. “They will have it all back again on the general principle of a ramrod in a little while. But we have put our hands to this work, and it shall be carried through, even if I discharge half of these wooden-heads.”

Then calling the clerk in charge, he said, “Look here, Mr. Berder, I grouped the articles on this counter for you once, did I not?” “Yes, sir.”

“Let me find them Monday morning just as I arranged them on that occasion.”

The young man looked as blank and dismayed as if he had been ordered to swallow them all before Monday morning.

He went to work and jumbled them up as if that were grouping them, and then asked one or two of the other clerks what they thought of it. They shook their heads, and said it looked worse than before.

“I vill study over him all day to-morrow, and den vill come early Monday and fix him;” and the perplexed youth took himself off.

Dennis felt almost sure that he could arrange it as Mr. Ludolph had done, or with something of the same effect, but did not like to offer his services, not knowing how they would be received, for Mr. Berder had taken special delight in snubbing him.

After the duties of the store were over, Dennis wrote to his mother a warm, bright, filial letter, portraying the scene of the day in its comic light, making all manner of fun of himself, that he might hide the fact that he had suffered. But he did not hide it, as a return letter proved, for it was full of sympathy and indignation that _her_ son should be so treated, but also full of praise for his Christian manliness and patience.

“And now, my son,” she wrote, “let me tell you of at least two results of your steady, faithful performance of your present humble duties. The money you send so regularly is more than sufficient for our simple wants. We have every comfort, and I am laying something by for sickness and trouble, for both are pretty sure to come before long in this world. In the second place, you have given me that which is far better than money–comfort and strength. I feel more and more that we can lean upon you as our earthly support, and not find you a ‘broken reed.’ While so many sons are breaking their mothers’ hearts, you are filling mine with hope and joy. I am no prophetess, my son, but from the sure word of God I predict for you much happiness and prosperity for thus cheering and providing for your widowed mother. Mark my words. God has tried you and not found you wanting. He will soon give you better work to do–work more in keeping With your character and ability.”

This prediction was fulfilled before Dennis received the letter containing it, and it happened on this wise.

Early on Monday morning Mr. Berder appeared and attempted the hopeless task of grouping the articles on his table in accordance with Mr. Ludolph’s orders. After an hour’s work he exclaimed in despair, “I cannot do him to save my life.”

Dennis at a distance, with a half-amused, half-pitying face, had watched Mr. Berder’s wonderful combinations, and when Rip Van Winkle was placed between two togated Roman senators, and Ichabod Crane arranged as if making love to a Greek goddess, he came near laughing outright. But when Mr. Berder spoke he approached and said, kindly and respectfully, “Will you let me try to help you?”

“Yes,” said Mr. Berder; “you cannot make dings vorse.” Acting upon this ungracious permission, Dennis folded his arms and studied the table for five minutes.

“Come,” said Mr. Berder, “standing dere and looking so vise as an owl von’t help matters. Mr. Ludolph vill be here soon.”

“I am not losing time,” said Dennis; and a moment proved he was not, for, having formed a general plan of arrangement, he went rapidly to work, and in a quarter of an hour could challenge Mr. Ludolph or any other critic to find serious fault.

“There! I could do better if I had more time, but I must go to my sweeping and dusting, or Mr. Schwartz will be down on me, and he is pretty heavy, you know. I never saw such a man–he can see a grain of dust half across the store.”

Mr. Berder had looked at Dennis’s quick, skilful motions in blank amazement, and then broke out into an unwonted panegyric for him: “I say, Vleet, dot’s capital! Where you learn him?” Then in a paroxysm of generosity he added, “Dere’s a quarter for you.”

“No, I thank you,” said Dennis, “I did not do it for money.”

“Vat did der fool do it for, den, I’d like to know?” muttered Mr. Berder, the philosophy of bid life resuming its former control. “Saved a quarter, anyhow, and, vat’s more, know vere to go next dime der old man comes down on me.”

A little after nine Mr. and Miss Ludolph came in, and paused at the table. Dennis, unnoticed, stood behind Benjamin Franklin and Joan of Arc, placed lovingly together on another counter, face to face, as if in mutual admiration, and from his hiding-place watched the scene before him with intense anxiety. One thought only filled his mind–Would they approve or condemn his taste? for he had arranged the table on a plan of his own. His heart gave a glad bound when Mr. Ludolph said: “Why, Berder, this is excellent. To be sure you have taken your own method, and followed your own taste, but I find no fault with that, when you produce an effect like this.”

“I declare, father,” chimed in Miss Ludolph, “this table pleases me greatly. It is a little oasis in this great desert of a store. Mr. Berder, I compliment you on your taste. You shall help me rearrange, artistically, everything in the building.”

Dennis, in his agitation, came near precipitating Benjamin Franklin into the arms of Joan of Arc, a position scarcely in keeping with either character.

“Yes, Christine, that is true,” continued Mr. Ludolph, “Mr. Berder will be just the one to help you, and I am glad you have found one competent. By all the furies! just compare this table with the one next to it, where the Past, Present, and Future have not the slightest regard for each other, and satyrs and angels, philosophers and bandits, are mixed up about as closely as in real life. Here, Berder, try you hand at this counter also; and you, young men, gather round and see the difference when _art_, instead of mathematics, rules the world of art. If this thing goes on, we shall have the golden age back again in the store.”

Mr. Berder, though somewhat confused, had received all his compliments with bows and smiles. But Dennis, after his thrill of joy at having pleased Mr. and Miss Ludolph’s fastidious taste, felt himself reddening with honest indignation that Mr. Berder should carry off all his laurels before his face. But he resolved to say nothing, knowing that time would right him. When Mr. Ludolph asked the young men to step forward, he came with the others.

“That’s right, Fleet,” said Mr. Ludolph, again, “you can get a useful hint, too, like enough.”

“Nonsense, father,” said Miss Ludolph, in a tone not so low but that Dennis heard it; “why spoil a good sweeper and duster by putting uppish notions in his head? He keeps the store cleaner than any man you ever had, and I don’t soil my dresses as I used to.”

Dennis’s color heightened a little, and his lips closed more firmly, but he gave no other sign that he heard this limitation of his hope and ambition. But it cut him rather deep. The best he could ever do, then, in her view, was to keep her dresses from being soiled.

In the meantime Mr. Berder had shown great embarrassment at Mr. Ludolph’s unexpected request. After a few moments of awkward hesitation he stammered out that he could do it better alone. The suspicion of keen Mr. Ludolph was at once aroused and he persisted: “Oh, come, Mr. Berder, we don’t expect you to do your best in a moment, but a person of your taste can certainly make a great change for the better in the table before you.”

In sheer desperation the entrapped youth attempted the task, but he had not bungled five minutes before Mr. Ludolph said, sharply, “Mr. Berder, you did not arrange this table.”

“Vell,” whined Mr. Berder, “I didn’t say dot I did.”

“You caused me to believe that you did,” said Mr. Ludolph, his brow growing dark. “Now, one question, and I wish the truth: Who did arrange this table?”

“Vleet, dere, helped me,” gasped Mr. Berder.

“_Helped_ you? Mr. Fleet, step forward, if you please, for I intend to have the truth of this matter. How much help did Mr. Berder give you in arranging this table?”

“None, sir,” said Dennis, looking straight into Mr. Ludolph’s eyes.

All looked with great surprise at Dennis, especially Miss Ludolph, who regarded him most curiously. “How different he appears from Pat Murphy!” she again thought.

“Some one has told a lie, now,” said Mr. Ludolph, sternly. “Mr. Fleet, I shall put you to the same test that Berder failed in. Arrange that counter sufficiently well to prove that it was your hands that arranged this.”

Dennis stepped forward promptly, but with a pale face and compressed lips. Feeling that both honor and success were at stake, he grouped and combined everything as before, as far as the articles would permit, having no time to originate a new plan. As he worked, the clerks gazed in open astonishment, Mr. Ludolph looked significantly at his daughter, while she watched him with something of the same wonder which we have when one of the lower animals shows human sagacity and skill.

Mr. Ludolph was Napoleonic in other respects than his ambition and selfishness. He was shrewd enough to “promote on the field for meritorious services.” Therefore, as Dennis’s task approached completion, he said: “That will do, Mr. Fleet, you can finish the work at your leisure. Mr. Berder, you are discharged from this day for deception. I would have borne with your incompetency if you had been truthful. But I never trust any one who has deceived me once,” he said, so sternly that even Christine’s cheek paled. “Mr. Schwartz will settle with you, and let me never see or hear from you again. Mr. Fleet, I promote you to Mr. Berder’s counter and pay.”

Thus this man of the world, without a thought of pity, mercy, or kindly feeling in either case, gave one of his clerks a new impetus toward the devil, and another an important lift toward better things, and then went his way, congratulating himself that all things had worked together for his good, that morning, though where he would find another Dennis Fleet to fill Pat’s place, again vacant, he did not know.

But Miss Ludolph looked at Dennis somewhat kindly, and with a little honest admiration in her face. He was very different from what she had as a matter of course supposed him to be, and had just done in a quiet, manly way a thing most pleasing to her, so she said with a smile that seemed perfectly heavenly to him, “_You_ are above blacking boots, sir.”

CHAPTER XVI

JUST IN TIME

At the close of the day on which Dennis received his promotion, and his horizon was widened so unexpectedly, Mr. Ludolph, in passing out, noticed him engaged as usual on one of Pat Murphy’s old tasks. He stopped and spoke kindly, “Well, Fleet, where am I going to find a man to fill your place made vacant to-day?”

“Would you be willing to listen to a suggestion from me?”

“Certainly.”

“If a young boy was employed to black boots, run errands, and attend to minor matters, I think that by industry I might for a while fill both positions. In a short time the furnace will require no further attention. I am a very early riser, and think that by a little good management I can keep the store in order and still be on hand to attend to my counter when customers are about.”

Mr. Ludolph was much pleased with the proposition, and said, promptly, “You may try it, Fleet, and I will pay you accordingly. Do you know of a boy who will answer?”

“I think I do, sir. There is a German lad in my mission class who has interested me very much. His father is really a superior artist, but is throwing himself away with drink, and his mother is engaged in an almost hopeless effort to support the family. They have seen much better days, and their life seems very hard in contrast with the past.”

“Can we trust such a boy? Their very necessities may lead to theft.”

“They are not of the thieving sort, sir. I am satisfied that they would all starve rather than touch a penny that did not belong to them.”

“Very well, then, let him come and see me; but I will hold you responsible for him.”

Mr. Ludolph, being in a good humor, was disposed to banter Dennis, so he added: “Do you find time to be a missionary, also? Are you not in danger of becoming a ‘Jack at all trades’?”

“I am not entitled to the first character, and hope to shun the latter. I merely teach a dozen boys in a mission school on Sundays.”

“When you ought to be taking a good long nap, or a row on the lake for fresh air and recreation.”

“I should be dishonest if I spent my Sabbaths in that way.”

“How so?”

“I should give the lie to my profession and belief. I must drop the name of Christian when I live for myself.”

“And if you should drop it, do you think you would be much the loser?”

“Yes, sir,” said Dennis, with quiet emphasis.

“You are expecting great reward, in some sort of Paradise, for your mission work, etc.?”

“Nothing done for God is forgotten or unrewarded.”

“Believing that, it seems to me that you are looking after self-interest as much as the rest of us,” said his employer, with a shrewd smile.

Looking straight into Mr. Ludolph’s eyes, Dennis said, earnestly: “Without boasting, I think that I can say that I try to serve you faithfully. If you could see my heart, I am sure you would find that gratitude for your kindness is a part of my motive, as well as my wages. In the same manner, while I do not lose sight of the rich rewards God promises and daily gives for the little I can do for Him, I am certain that I can do much out of simple gratitude and love, and ask no reward.”

“Ignorance is certainly bliss in your case, young man. Stick to your harmless superstition as long as you can.”

And he walked away, muttering: “Delusion, delusion! I have not said a word or done a thing for him in which I had not in view my interests only, and yet the poor young fool sees in the main disinterested kindness. Little trouble have the wily priests in imposing on such victims, and so they get their hard-earned wages and set them propagating the delusion in mission schools, when mind and body need change and rest. Suppose there is a Supreme Being in the universe, what a monstrous absurdity to imagine that He would trouble Himself to reward this Yankee youth for teaching a dozen ragamuffins in a tenement-house mission school!”

Thus Mr. Ludolph’s soliloquy proved that his own pride and selfishness had destroyed the faculty by which he could see God. The blind are not more oblivious to color than he was to those divine qualities which are designed to win and enchain the heart. A man may sadly mutilate his own soul.

At a dainty dinner-table Mr. Ludolph and his daughter discussed the events of the day.

“I am glad,” said the latter, “that he is willing to fill Pat’s place, for he keeps everything so clean. A dusty, slovenly store is my abomination. Then it shows that he has no silly, uppish notions so common to these Americans.” (Though born here, Miss Ludolph never thought herself other than a German lady of rank.) “But I do not wish to see him blacking boots again. Yet he is an odd genius. How comical he looked bowing to me with one of Mr. Schwartz’s big boots describing a graceful curve on a level with his head. Let old Schwartz black his own boots. He ought to as a punishment for carrying around so much leather. This Fleet must have seen better days. He is like all Yankees, however, sharp after the dollar, though he seems more willing to work for it than most of them.”

“I’ll wager you a pair of gloves,” said her father, “that they get a good percentage of it down at the mission school. He is just the subject for a cunning priest, because he sincerely believes in their foolery. He belongs to a tribe now nearly extinct, I imagine–the martyrs, who in old-fashioned times died for all sorts of delusions.”

“How time mellows and changes everything! There is something heroic and worthy of art in the ancient martyrdoms, while nothing is more repulsive than modern fanaticism. It is a shame, though, that this young man, with mother and sisters to support, should be robbed of his hard earnings as was Pat Murphy by his priest, and I will try to open his eyes some day.”

“I predict for you no success.”

“Why so?–he seems intelligent.”

“I have not studied character all my life in vain. He would regard you, my fair daughter, as the devil in the form of an angel of light tempting him.”

“He had better not be so plain-spoken as yourself.”

“Oh, no need of Fleet’s speaking; his face is like the page of an open book.”

“Indeed! a face like a sign-board is a most unfortunate one, I should think.”

“Most fortunate for us. I wish I could read every one as I can Fleet.”

“You trust no one, I believe, father.”

“I believe what I see and know.”

“I wish I had your power of seeing and knowing. But how did he get his artistic knowledge and taste?”

“That I have not inquired into fully, as yet. I think he has an unusual native aptness for these things, and gains hints and instruction where others would see nothing. And, as you say, in the better days past he may have had some advantages.”

“Well,” said she, caressing the greyhound beside her, “if Wolf here should go to the piano and execute an opera, I should not be more astonished than I was this morning.”

And then their conversation glided off on other topics.

After dessert, Mr. Ludolph lighted a cigar and sat down to the evening paper, while his daughter evoked from the piano true after-dinner music–light, brilliant, mirth-inspiring. Then both adjourned to their private billiard-room.

The scene of our story now changes from Mr. Ludolph’s luxurious apartments in one of the most fashionable hotels in the city to a forlorn attic in De Koven Street. It is the scene of a struggle as desperate, as heroic, against as tremendous odds, as was ever carried on in the days of the Crusades. But as the foremost figure in this long, weary conflict was not an armed and panoplied knight, but merely a poor German woman, only God and the angels took much interest in it. Still upon this evening she was almost vanquished. She seemed to have but one vantage-point left on earth. For a wonder, her husband was comparatively sober, and sat brooding with his head in his hands over the stove where a fire was slowly dying out. The last coal they had was fast turning to ashes. From a cradle came a low, wailing cry. It was that of hunger. On an old chest in a dusky corner sat a boy about thirteen. Though all else was in shadow, his large eyes shone with unnatural brightness, and followed his mother’s feeble efforts at the washtub with that expression of premature sadness so pathetic in childhood. Under a rickety deal table three other and smaller children were devouring some crusts of bread in a ravenous way, like half-famished young animals. In a few moments they came out and clamored for more, addressing–not their father; no intuitive turning to him for support–but the poor, over-tasked mother. The boy came out of his corner and tried to draw them off and interest them in something else, but they were like a pack of hungry little wolves. The boy’s face was almost as sharp and famine-pinched as his mother’s, but he seemed to have lost all thought of himself in his sorrowful regard for her. As the younger children clamored and dragged upon her, the point of endurance was passed, and the poor woman gave way. With a despairing cry she sank upon a chair and covered her face with her apron.

“Oh, mine Gott, Oh, mine Gott,” she cried, “I can do not von more stroke if ve all die.”

In a moment her son had his arms around her neck, and said: “Oh, moder, don’t cry, don’t cry. Mr. Fleet said God would surely help us in time of trouble if we would only ask Him.”

“I’ve ask Him, and ask Him, but der help don’t come. I can do no more;” and a tempest of despairing sobs shook her gaunt frame.

The boy seemed to have got past tears, and just fixed his large eyes, full of reproach and sorrow, on his father.

The man rose and turned his bloodshot eyes slowly around the room. The whole scene, with its meaning, seemed to dawn upon him. His mind was not so clouded by the fumes of liquor but that he could comprehend the supreme misery of the situation. He heard his children crying–fairly howling for bread. He saw the wife he had sworn to love and honor, where she had fallen in her unequal conflict, brave, but overpowered. He remembered the wealthy burgher’s blooming, courted daughter, whom he had lured away to marry him, a poor artist. He remembered how, in spite of her father’s commands and her mother’s tears, she had left home and luxury to follow him throughout the world because of her faith in him and love for him–how under her inspiration he had risen to great promise as an artist, till fame and fortune became almost a certainty, and then, under the debasing influence of his terrible appetite, he had dragged her down and down, till now he saw her–prematurely old, broken in health, broken in heart–fall helplessly before the hard drudgery that she no longer had strength to perform. With a sickening horror he remembered that he had taken even the pittance she had wrung from that washtub, to feed, not his children, but his accursed appetite for drink. Even his purple, bloated face grew livid as all the past rushed upon him, and despair laid an icy hand upon his heart.

A desperate purpose formed itself within his mind.

Turning to the wall where hung a noble picture, a lovely landscape, whose rich coloring, warm sunlight, and rural peace formed a sharp, strange contrast with the meagre, famine-stricken apartment, he was about to take it down from its fastening when his hand was arrested by a word–“Father!”

He turned, and saw his son looking at him with his great eyes full of horror and alarm, as if he were committing a murder.

“I tell you I must, and I vill,” said he, savagely.

His wife looked up, sprang to his side, and with her hands upon his arm, said, “No, Berthold, you must not, you shall not sell dot picture.”

He silently pointed to his children crying for bread.

“Take der dress off my back to sell, but not dot picture. Ve may as vell die before him goes, for we certainly vill after. Dot is de only ding left of der happy past. Dot, in Gott’s hands, is my only hope for der future. Dot picture dells you vat you vas, vat you might be still if you vould only let drink alone. Many’s der veary day, many’s der long night, I’ve prayed dot dot picture vould vin you back to your former self, ven tears and sufferings vere in vain. Leave him, and some day he vill tell you so plain vat you are, and vot you can be, dot you break der horrid spell dot chains you, and your artist-soul come again. Leave him, our only hope, and sole bar against despair and death. I vill go and beg a dousand times before dot picture’s sold; for if he goes, your artist-soul no more come back, and you’re lost, and ve all are lost.”

The man hesitated. His good angel was pleading with him, but in vain.

Stamping his foot with rage and despair, he shouted, hoarsely, “It is too late I am lost now.”

And he tore the picture from its fastening. His wife sank back against the wall with a groan as if her very soul were departing.

But before his rash steps could leave the desolation he had made, he was confronted by the tall form of Dennis Fleet.

The man stared at him for a moment as if he had been an apparition, and then said, in a hard tone, “Let me pass!”

Dennis had knocked for some time, but such was the excitement within no one had regarded the sound. He had, therefore, heard the wife’s appeal and its answer, and from what he knew of the family from his mission scholar, the boy Ernst, comprehended the situation in the main. When, therefore, matters reached the crisis, he opened the door and met the infatuated man as he was about to throw away the last relic of his former self and happier life. With great tact he appeared as if he knew nothing, and quietly taking a chair he sat down with his back against the door, thus barring egress. In a pleasant, affable tone, he said: “Mr. Bruder, I came to see you on a little business to-night. As I was in something of a hurry, and no one appeared to hear my knock, I took the liberty of coming in.”

The hungry little ones looked at him with their round eyes of childish curiosity, and for a time ceased their clamors. The wife sank into a chair and bowed her head in her hands with the indifference of despair. Hope had gone. A gleam of joy lighted up Ernst’s pale face at the sight of his beloved teacher, and he stepped over to his mother and commenced whispering in her ear, but she heeded him not. The man’s face wore a sullen, dangerous, yet irresolute expression. It was evident that he half believed that Dennis was knowingly trying to thwart him, and such was his mad frenzy that he was ready for any desperate deed.

CHAPTER XVII

RESCUED

In a tone of suppressed excitement, which he tried in vain to render steady, Mr. Bruder said: “You haf der advantage of me, sir. I know not your name. Vat is more, I am not fit for bissiness dis night. Indeed, I haf important bissiness elsewhere. You must excuse me,” he added, sternly, advancing toward the door with the picture.

“Pardon me, Mr. Bruder,” said Dennis, politely. “I throw myself entirely on your courtesy, and must ask as a very great favor that you will not take away that picture till I see it, for that, in part, is what I came for. I am in the picture trade myself, and think I am a tolerably fair judge of paintings. I heard accidentally you had a fine one, and from the glimpse I catch of it, I think I have not been misinformed. If it is for sale, perhaps I can do as well by you as any one else. I am employed in Mr. Ludolph’s great store, the ‘Art Building.’ You