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is!”

Then her thoughts reverted to the artist.

“What have I done in driving him away with contempt in his heart for me? I can no more affect haughty superiority to the man who painted those pictures. Though he could not be my lover, what a friend he might have been! I fear I shall never find his equal. Oh, this world of chaos and confusion! What is right? What is best? _What is truth?_ He might have taught me. But the skilful hand that portrayed those wonderful scenes may soon turn to dust, and I shall go to my grave burdened with the thought that I have quenched the brightest genius that will ever shine upon me;” and she clasped her hands in an agony of regret.

Then came the thought of securing the pictures. Dropping a veil over her red eyes, she went down and got some large sheets of paper, and by fastening them together made a secure covering. Then she carried the light frame with the canvas to the second floor, and, summoning Ernst, started homeward with her treasure. The boy obeyed with reluctance. Since the time she had surprised him out of his secret in regard to the strawberries, he had never liked her, and now he felt that in some way she was the cause of the sickness of his dearest friend. Christine could not bear the reproach of his large, truthful eyes, and their walk was a silent one. At parting she handed him a banknote, but he shook his head.

“Have you heard from Mr. Fleet?” she asked, with a flush.

The boy’s lip quivered at the mention of that name, and he answered, hastily: “Fader wrote moder Mr. Fleet was no better. I fear he die;” and in an agony of grief he turned and ran sobbing away.

From under her veil Christine’s tears were falling fast also, and she entered her elegant home as if it had been a prison.

CHAPTER XXXIV

REGRET

The next day was the Sabbath, and a long, dreary one it was to Christine. But late in the afternoon Susie Winthrop came with a pale, troubled face.

“Oh, Christine, have you heard the news?” she exclaimed.

Christine’s heart stood still with fear, but by a great effort she said, composedly, “What news?”

“Mr. Fleet has gone home very ill; indeed, he is not expected to live.”

For a moment she did not answer, and when she did it was with a voice unnaturally hard and cold: “Have you heard what is the matter?”

Miss Winthrop wondered at her manner, but replied, “Brain fever, I am told.”

“Is he delirious?” asked Christine, in a low tone.

“Yes, all the time. Ernst, the little office-boy, told me he did not know his own mother. It seems that the boy’s father is with Mrs. Fleet, helping take care of him.”

Christine’s face was averted and so colorless that it seemed like marble.

“Oh, Christine, don’t you care?” said Susie, springing up and coming toward her.

“Why should I care?” was the quick answer.

Susie could not know that it was in reality but an incoherent cry of pain–the blind, desperate effort of pride to shield itself. But the tone checked her steps and filled her face with reproach.

“Perhaps you have more reason to care than you choose to admit,” she said, pointedly.

Christine flushed, but said, coldly: “Of course I feel an interest in the fate of Mr. Fleet, as I do in that of every passing acquaintance. I feel very sorry for him and his friends”; but never was sympathy expressed in a voice more unnaturally frigid.

Susie looked at her keenly, and again saw the tell-tale flush rising to her cheek. She was puzzled, but saw that her friend had no confidence to give, and she said, with a voice growing somewhat cold also: “Well, really, Christine, I thought you capable of seeing as much as the rest of us in such matters, but I must be mistaken, if you only recognized in Dennis Fleet a passing acquaintance. Well, if he dies I doubt if either you or I look upon his equal again. Under right influences he might have been one of the first and most useful men of his day. But they need not tell me it was overwork that killed him. I know it was trouble of some kind.”

Christine was very pale, but said nothing; and Susie, pained and mystified that the confidence of other days was refused, bade her friend a rather cold and abrupt adieu.

Left alone, Christine bowed her white face in her hands and sat so still that it seemed as if life had deserted her. In her morbid state she began to fancy herself the victim of some terrible fatality. Her heart had bounded when Susie Winthrop was announced, believing that from her she would gain sympathy; but in strange perversity she had hidden her trouble from her friend, and permitted her to go away in coldness. Christine could see as quickly and as far as any, and from the first had noted that Dennis was very interesting to her friend. Until of late she had not cared, but now for some reason the fact was not pleasing, and she felt a sudden reluctance to speak to Susie of him.

Now that she was alone a deeper sense of isolation came over her than she had ever felt before. Her one confidential friend had departed, chilled and hurt. She made friends but slowly, and, having once become estranged, from her very nature she found it almost impossible to make the first advances toward reconciliation.

Soon she heard her father’s steps, and fled to her room to nerve herself for the part she must act before him. But she was far from successful; her pale face and abstracted manner awakened his attention and his surmises as to the cause. Having an engagement out, he soon left her to welcome solitude; for when she was in trouble he was no source of help or comfort.

Monday dragged wearily to a close. She tried to work, but could not. She took up the most exciting book she could find, only to throw it down in despair. Forever before the canvas or the page would rise a pale thin face, at times stern and scornful, again full of reproach, and then of pleading.

Even at night her rest was disturbed, and in dreams she heard the mutterings of his delirium, in which he continually charged her with his death. At times she would take his picture from its place of concealment, and look at it with such feelings as would be awakened by a promise of some priceless thing now beyond reach forever. Then she would become irritated with herself, and say, angrily: “What is this man to me? Why am I worrying about one who never could be much more to me living than dead? I will forget the whole miserable affair.”

But she could not forget. Tuesday morning came, but no relief. “Whether he lives or dies he will follow me to my grave!” she cried. “From the time I first spoke to him there has seemed no escape, and in strange, unexpected ways he constantly crosses my path!”

She felt that she must have some relief from the oppression on her spirit. Suddenly she thought of Ernst, and at once went to the store and asked if he had heard anything later. He had not, but thought that his mother would receive a letter that day.

“I want to see your father’s picture, and will go home that way, if you will give me the number.”

The boy hesitated, but at last complied with her wish.

A little later Christine knocked at Mr. Bruder’s door. There was no response, though she heard a stifled sound within. After a little she knocked more loudly. Then the door slowly opened, and Mrs. Bruder stood before her. Her eyes were very red, and she held in her hand an open letter. Christine expected to find more of a lady than was apparent at first glance in the hard-working woman before her, so she said, “My good woman, will you tell Mrs. Bruder I would like to see her?”

“Dis is Mrs. Bruder,” was the answer.

Then Christine noticed the letter, and the half-effaced traces of emotion, and her heart misgave her; but she nerved herself to say, “I came to see your husband’s picture.”

“It is dere,” was the brief reply.

Christine began to expatiate on its beauty, though perhaps for the first time she looked at a fine picture without really seeing it. She was at a loss how to introduce the object of her visit, but at last said, “Your husband is away?”

“Yes.”

“He is taking care of one of my father’s–of Mr. Fleet, I am told. Have you heard from him as to Mr. Fleet’s health?”

“Dis is Miss Ludolph?”

“Yes.”

“You can no read Sherman?”

“Oh, yes, I can. German is my native tongue.”

“Strange dot him should be so.”

“Why?”

“Der Shermans haf hearts.”

Christine flushed deeply, but Mrs. Bruder without a word put her husband’s letter into her hand, and Christine read eagerly what, translated, is as follows:

“MY DEAR WIFE–Perhaps before this reaches you our best friend, our human savior, will be in heaven. There is a heaven, I believe as I never did before; and when Mrs. Fleet prays the gate seems to open, and the glory to stream right down upon us. But I fear now that not even her prayers can keep him. Only once he knew her; then he smiled and said, ‘Mother, it is all right,’ and dropped asleep. Soon fever came on again, and he is sinking fast. The doctor shakes his head and gives no hope. My heart is breaking. Marguerite, Mr. Fleet is not dying a natural death; he has been slain. I understand all his manner now, all his desperate hard work. He loved one above him in wealth–none could be above him in other respects–and that one was Miss Ludolph. I suspected it, though till delirious, he scarcely ever mentioned her name. But now I believe she played with his heart–the noblest that ever beat–and then threw it away, as if it were a toy instead of the richest offering ever made to a woman. Proud fool that she was; she has done more mischief than a thousand such frivolous lives as hers can atone for. I can write no more; my heart is breaking with grief and indignation.”

As Christine read she suffered her veil to drop over her face. When she looked up she saw that Mrs. Bruder’s gaze was fixed upon her as upon the murderer of her best friend. She drew her veil closer about her face, laid the letter down, and left the room without a word. She felt so guilty and miserable on her way home that it would scarcely have surprised her had a policeman arrested her for the crime with which her own conscience, as well as Mr. Bruder’s letter, charged her; and yet her pride revolted at it all.

“Why should this affair take so miserable a form with me?” she said. “To most it ends with a few sentimental sighs on one side, and as a good joke on the other. All seems to go wrong of late, and I am destined to have everything save happiness and the success upon which I set my heart. There is no more cruel mockery than to give one all save the very thing one wants; and, in seeking to grasp that, I have brought down upon myself this wretched, blighting experience. On this chaotic world! The idea of there being a God! Why, I could make a better world myself!” and she reached her home in such a morbid, unhappy state, that none in the great city need have envied the rich and flattered girl. Mechanically she dressed and came down to dinner.

During the afternoon Ernst, while out on an errand, had slipped home and heard the sad news. He returned to Mr. Ludolph’s office crying. To the question, “What is the matter?” he had answered, “Oh, Mr. Fleet is dying; he is dead by dis time!”

Mr. Ludolph was sadly shocked and pained, for as far as he could like anybody besides himself and daughter, he had been prepossessed in favor of his useful and intelligent clerk, and he was greatly annoyed at the thought of losing him. He returned full of the subject, and the first words with which he greeted Christine were, “Well, Fleet will hang no more pictures for you, and sing no more songs.”

She staggered into a chair and sat before him pale and panting, for she thought he meant that death had taken place.

“Why, what is the matter?” cried he.

She stared at him gaspingly, but said nothing.

“Here, drink this,” he said, hastily pouring out a glass of wine.

She took it eagerly. After a moment he said: “Christine, I do not understand all this. I was merely saying that my clerk, Mr. Fleet, was not expected–“

The point of endurance and guarded self-control was past, and she cried, half-hysterically: “Am I never to escape that man? Must every one I meet speak to me as if I had murdered him?”

Then she added, almost fiercely: “Living or dead, never speak to me of him again! I am no longer a child, but a woman, and as such I insist that his name be dropped between us forever!”

Her father gave a low exclamation of surprise, and said, “What! was he one of the victims?” (this being his term for Christine’s rejected suitors).

“No,” said she; “I am the victim. He will soon be at rest, while I shall be tormented to the grave by–” She hardly knew what to say, so mingled and chaotic were her feelings. Her hands clenched, and with a stamp of her foot she hastily left the room.

Mr. Ludolph could hardly believe his eyes. Could this passionate, thoroughly aroused woman be his cold, self-contained daughter? He could not understand, as so many cannot, that such natures when aroused are tenfold more intense than those whom little things excite. A long and peculiar train of circumstances, a morbid and overwrought physical condition, led to this outburst from Christine, which was as much a cause of surprise to herself afterward as to her father. He judged correctly that a great deal had occurred between Dennis and herself of which he had no knowledge, and again his confidence in her was thoroughly shaken.

At first he determined to question her and extort the truth. But when, an hour later, she quietly entered the parlor, he saw at a glance that the cold, proud, self-possessed woman before him would not submit to the treatment accepted by the little Christine of former days. The wily man read from her manner and the expression of her eye that he might with her consent lead, but could not command without awakening a nature as imperious as his own.

He was angry, but he had time to think. Prudence had given a decided voice in favor of caution.

He saw what she did not recognize herself, that her heart had been greatly touched, and in his secret soul he was not sorry now to believe that Dennis was dying.

“Father,” said Christine, abruptly, “how soon can we start on our eastern trip?”

“Well, if you particularly wish it,” he replied, “I can leave by the evening train to-morrow.”

“I do wish it very much,” said Christine, earnestly, “and will be ready.”

After an evening of silence and constraint they separated for the night.

Mr. Ludolph sat for a long time sipping his wine after she had gone.

“After all it will turn out for the best,” he said. “Fleet will probably die, and then will be out of the way. Or, if he lives, I can easily guard against him, and it will go no further. If she had been bewitched by a man like Mr. Mellen, the matter would have been more difficult.

“In truth,” he continued, after a little, “now that her weak woman’s heart is occupied by an impossible lover, there is no danger from possible ones;” and the man of the world went complacently to his rest, believing that what he regarded as the game of life was entirely in his own hands.

The next evening the night express bore Christine from the scene of the events she sought to escape; but she was to learn, in common with the great host of the sinning and suffering, how little change of place has to do with change of feeling. We take memory and character with us from land to land, from youth to age, from this world to the other, from time through eternity. Sad, then, is the lot of those who ever carry the elements of their own torture with them.

It was Christine’s purpose, and she had her father’s consent, to make a long visit in New York, and, in the gayety and excitement of the metropolis, to forget her late wretched experience.

As it was still early in September, they resolved to stop at West Point and participate in the gayest season of that fashionable watering-place. At this time the hotels are thronged with summer tourists returning homeward from the more northern resorts. Though the broad piazzas of Cozzens’s great hotel were crowded by the _elite_ of the city, there was a hum of admiration as Christine first made her round on her father’s arm; and in the evening, when the spacious parlor was cleared for dancing, officers from the post and civilians alike eagerly sought her hand, and hundreds of admiring eyes followed as she swept through the mazes of the dance, the embodiment of grace and beauty. She was very gay, and her repartee was often brilliant, but a close observer would have seen something forced and unnatural in all. Such an observer was her father. He saw that the sparkle of her eyes had no more heart and happiness in it than that of the diamonds on her bosom, and that with the whole strength of her resolute nature she was laboring to repel thought and memory. But, as he witnessed the admiration she excited on every side, he became more determined than ever that his fair daughter should shine a star of the first magnitude in the _salons_ of Europe. At a late hour, and wearied past the power of thought, she gladly sought refuge in the blank of sleep.

The next morning they drove out early, before the sun was high and warm. It was a glorious autumn day. Recent rains had purified the atmosphere, so that the unrivalled scenery of the Hudson stood out in clear and grand outline.

As Christine looked about her she felt a thrill of almost delight–the first sensation of the kind since that moment of exultation which Dennis had inspired, but which he had also turned to the bitterness of disaster and humiliation. She was keenly alive to beauty, and she saw it on every side. The Ludolph family had ever lived among the mountains on the Rhine, and the heart of this latest child of the race yearned over the rugged scenery before her with hereditary affection, which had grown stronger with each successive generation.

The dew, like innumerable pearls, gemmed the grass in the park-like lawn of the hotel, and the slanting rays of the sun flecked the luxuriant foliage. Never before had this passion for the beautiful in nature been so gratified, and all the artist feeling within her awoke.

On reaching the street the carriage turned southward, and, after passing the village of Highland Falls, entered on one of the most beautiful drives in America. At times the road led under overarching forest-trees, shaded and dim with that delicious twilight which only myriads of fluttering leaves can make. Again it would wind around some bold headland, and the broad expanse of the Hudson would shine out dotted with white sails. Then through a vista its waters would sparkle, suggesting an exquisite cabinet picture. On the right the thickly-wooded mountains rose like emerald walls, with here and there along their base a quiet farmhouse. With kindling eye and glowing cheeks she drank in view after view, and at last exclaimed, “If there were only a few old castles scattered among these Highlands, this would be the very perfection of scenery.”

Her father watched her closely, and with much satisfaction.

“After all, her wound is slight,” he thought, “and new scenes and circumstances will soon cause her to forget.”

Furtively, but continually, he bent his eyes upon her, as if to read her very soul. A dreamy, happy expression rested on her face, as if a scene were present to her fancy even more to her taste than the one her eyes dwelt upon. In fact she was living over that evening at Miss Winthrop’s, when Dennis had told her that she could reach truest and highest art–that she could feel–could copy anything she saw; and exhilarated by the fresh morning air, inspired by the scenery, she felt for the moment, as never before, that it might all be true.

Was he who gave those blissful assurances also exerting a subtile, unrecognized power over her? Certainly within the last few weeks she had been subject to strange moods and reveries. But the first dawning of a woman’s love is like the aurora, with its strange, fitful flashes. The phenomena have never been satisfactorily explained.

But, as Mr. Ludolph watched complacently and admiringly, her expression suddenly changed, and a frightened, guilty look came into her face. The glow upon her cheeks gave place to extreme pallor, and she glanced nervously around as if fearing something, then caught her father’s eye, and was conscious of his scrutiny. She at once became cold and self-possessed, and sat at his side pale and quiet till the ride ended. But he saw from the troubled gleam of her eyes that beneath that calm exterior were tumult and suffering. Few in this life are so guilty and wretched as not to have moments of forgetfulness, when the happier past comes back and they are oblivious of the painful present. Such a brief respite Christine enjoyed during part of her morning ride. The grand and swiftly varying scenery crowded her mind with pleasant images, which had been followed by a delicious revery. She felt herself to be a true priestess of Nature, capable of understanding and interpreting her voices and hidden meanings–of catching her evanescent beauty and fixing it on the glowing canvas. The strong consciousness of such power was indeed sweet and intoxicating. Her mind naturally reverted to him who had most clearly asserted her possession of it.

“He, too, would have equal appreciation of this scenery,” she said to herself.

Then came the sudden remembrance, shrivelling her pretty dreams as the lightning scorches and withers.

“_He–he is dead!–he must be by this time!_”

And dread and guilt and something else which she did not define, but which seemed more like a sense of great loss, lay heavy at her heart. No wonder her father was perplexed and provoked by the sad change in her face. At first he was inclined to remonstrate and put spurs to her pride. But there was a dignity about the lady at his side, even though she was his daughter, that embarrassed and restrained him. Moreover, though he understood much and suspected far more–more indeed than the truth–there was nothing acknowledged or tangible that he could lay hold of, and she meant that it should be so. For reasons she did not understand she felt a disinclination to tell her troubles to Susie Winthrop, and she was most resolute in her purpose never to permit her father to speak on the subject.

If Mr. Ludolph had been as coarse and ignorant as he was hard and selfish, he would have gone to work at the case with sledge-hammer dexterity, as many parents have done, making sad, brutal havoc in delicate womanly natures with which they were no more fit to deal than a blacksmith with hair-springs. But though he longed to speak, and bring his remorseless logic to bear, Christine’s manner raised a barrier which a man of his fine culture could not readily pass.

She joined her father at a late breakfast, smiling and brilliant, but her gayety was clearly forced. The morning was spent in sketching, she seeming to crave constant occupation or excitement.

In the afternoon father and daughter drove up the river to the military grounds to witness a drill. Mr. Ludolph did his best to rally Christine, pointing out everything of interest. First, the grand old ruin of Fort Putnam frowned down upon them. This had been the one feature wanting, and Christine felt that she could ask nothing more. Her wonder and admiration grew as the road wound along the immediate bluff and around the plain by the river fortifications. But when she stood on the piazza of the West Point Hotel, and looked up through the Highlands toward Newburgh, tears came to her eyes, and she trembled with excitement. From her recent experiences her nerves were morbidly sensitive. But her father could only look and wonder, she seemed so changed to him.

“And is the Rhine like this?” she asked.

“Well, the best I can say is, that to a German and a Ludolph it seems just as beautiful,” he replied.

“Surely,” said she, slowly and in half-soliloquy, “if one could live always amid such scenes as these, the Elysium of the gods or the heaven of the Christians would offer few temptations.”

“And among just such scenes you shall live after a short year passes,” he answered, warmly and confidently. But with anger he missed the wonted sparkle of her eyes when these cherished plans were broached.

In bitterness Christine said to herself: “A few weeks since this thought would have filled me with delight. Why does it not now?”

Silently they drove to the parade-ground. At the sally-port of the distant barracks bayonets were gleaming. There was a burst of martial music, then each class at the Academy–four companies–came out upon the grassy plain upon the double-quick. Their motions were light and swift, and yet so accurately timed that each company seemed one perfect piece of mechanism. A cadet stood at a certain point with a small color flying. Abreast of this their advance was checked as suddenly as if they had been turned to stone, and the entire corps was in line. Then followed a series of skilful manoeuvres, in which Christine was much interested, and her old eager manner returned.

“I like the army,” she exclaimed; “the precision and inflexible routine would just suit me. I wish there was war, and I a man, that I might enter into the glorious excitements.”

Luxurious Mr. Ludolph had no tastes in that direction, and, shrugging his shoulders, said: “How about the hardships, wounds, and chances of an obscure death? These are the rule in a campaign; the glorious excitements the exceptions.”

“I did not think of those,” she said, shrinking against the cushions. “Everything seems to have so many miserable drawbacks!”

The pageantry over, the driver turned and drove northward through the most superb scenery.

“Where are we going?” asked Christine.

“To the cemetery,” was the reply.

“No, no! not there!” she exclaimed, nervously.

“Nonsense! Why not?” remonstrated her father.

“I don’t wish to go there!” she cried, excitedly. “Please turn around.”

Her father reluctantly gave the order, but added, “Christine, you certainly indulge in strange moods and whims of late.”

She was silent a moment, and then she began a running fire of questions about the Academy, that left no space for explanations.

That evening she danced as resolutely as ever, and by her beauty and brilliant repartee threw around her many bewildering spells that even the veterans of the Point could scarcely resist.

But when alone in her own room she looked at her white face in the mirror, and murmured in tones full of unutterable dread and remorse, “He is dead–he must be dead by this time!”

CHAPTER XXXV

REMORSE

Christine had a peculiar experience while at West Point. She saw on every side what would have brought her the choicest enjoyment, had her mind been at rest. To her artist nature, and with her passion and power for sketching, the Highlands on the Hudson were paradise. But though she saw in profusion what once would have delighted her, and what she now felt ought to be the source of almost unmingled happiness, she was still thoroughly wretched. It was the old fable of Tantalus repeating itself. Her sin and its results had destroyed her receptive power. The world offered her pleasures on every side; she longed to enjoy them, but could not, for her heart was preoccupied–filled and overflowing with fear, remorse, and a sorrow she could not define.

A vain, shallow girl might soon have forgotten such an experience as Christine had passed through. Such a creature would have been sentimental or hysterical for a little time, according to temperament, and then with the old zest have gone to flirting with some new victim. There are belles so weak and wicked that they would rather plume themselves on the fact that one had died from love of them. But in justice to all such it should be said that they rarely have mind enough to realize the evil they do. Their vanity overshadows every other faculty, and almost destroys those sweet, pitiful, unselfish qualities which make a true woman what a true man most reverences next to God.

Christine was proud and ambitious to the last degree, but she had not this small vanity. She did not appreciate the situation fully, but she was unsparing in her self-condemnation.

If Dennis had been an ordinary man, and interested her no more than had other admirers, and had she given him no more encouragement, she would have shrugged her shoulders over the result and said she was very sorry he had made such a fool of himself.

But as she went over the past (and this now she often did), she saw that he was unusually gifted; nay, more, the picture she discovered in the loft of the store proved him possessed of genius of a high order. And such a man she had deceived, tortured, and even killed! This was the verdict of her own conscience, the assertion of his own lips. She remembered the wearing life of alternate hope and fear she had caused him. She remembered how eagerly he hung on her smiles and sugared nothings, and how her equally causeless frowns would darken all the world to him. She saw day after day how she had developed in a strong, true heart, with its native power to love unimpaired, the most intense passion, and all that her own lesser light might burn a little more brightly. Then, with her burning face buried in her hands, she would recall the bitter, shameful consummation. Worse than all, waking or sleeping, she continually saw a pale, thin face, that even in death looked upon her with unutterable reproach. In addition to the misery caused by her remorse, there was a deeper bitterness still. Within the depths of her soul a voice told her that the picture was true; that he might have awakened her, and led her out into the warmth and light of a happy life–a life which she felt ought to be possible, but which as yet had been but a vague and tantalizing dream. Now the world seemed to her utter chaos–a place of innumerable paths leading nowhere; and her own hands had broken the clew that might have brought her to something assured and satisfactory. She was very wretched, for her life seemed but a little point between disappointment on one side and the blackness of death and nothingness on the other. The very beauty of the landscapes about her often increased her pain. She felt that a few weeks ago she would have enjoyed them keenly, and found in their transference to canvas a source of unfailing pleasure. With a conscious blush she thought that if he were present to encourage, to stimulate her, by the very vitality of his earnest, loving nature, she would be in the enjoyment of paradise itself. In a word, she saw the heaven she could not enter.

To the degree that she had mind, heart, conscience, and an intense desire for true happiness, she was unhappy. Dress, dancing, the passing admiration of society, the pleasures of a merely fashionable life, seemed less and less satisfactory. She was beyond them, as children outgrow their toys, because she had a native superiority to them, and yet they seemed her best resource. She had all her old longing to pursue her art studies, and everything about her stimulated her to this, but her heart and hand appeared paralyzed. She was in just that condition, mental and moral, in which she could do nothing well.

And so the days passed in futile efforts to forget–to drown in almost reckless gayety–the voices of conscience and memory. But she only remembered all the more vividly; she only saw the miserable truth all the more clearly. She suffered more in her torturing consciousness than Dennis in his wild delirium.

After they had been at the hotel about a week, Mr. Ludolph received letters that made his speedy return necessary. On the same day the family of his old New York partner arrived at the house on their return from the Catskills. Mrs. Von Brakhiem gladly received Christine under her care, feeling that the addition of such a bright star would make her little constellation one of the most brilliant in the fashionable world.

The ladies of the house were now immersed in the excitement of an amateur concert. Mrs. Von Brakhiem, bent upon shining among the foremost, though with a borrowed lustre, assigned Christine a most prominent part. She half shrank from it, for it recalled unpleasant memories; but she could not decline without explanations, and so entered into the affair with a sort of recklessness.

The large parlors were filled with chairs, which were soon occupied, and it was evident that in point of attraction elegant toilets would vie with the music. Christine came down on her father’s arm, dressed like a princess, and, though her diamonds were few, such were their size and brilliancy that they seemed on fire. Every eye followed Mrs. Von Brakhiem’s party, and that good lady took half the admiration to herself.

A superior tenor, with an unpronounceable foreign name, had come up from New York to grace the occasion. But personally he lacked every grace himself, his fine voice being the one thing that redeemed him from utter insignificance in mind and appearance. Nevertheless he was vain beyond measure, and made the most of himself on all occasions.

The music was fine, for the amateurs, feeling that they had a critical audience, did their best. Christine chose three brilliant, difficult, but heartless pieces as her contribution to the entertainment (she would not trust herself with anything else); and with something approaching reckless gayety she sought to hide the bitterness at her heart. Her splendid voice and exquisite touch doubled the admiration her beauty and diamonds had excited, and Mrs. Von Brakhiem basked in still stronger reflected light. She took every opportunity to make it known that she was Miss Ludolph’s chaperon.

After her first effort, the “distinguished” tenor from New York opened his eyes widely at her; at her second, he put up his eyeglass in something like astonishment; and the close of her last song found him nervously rummaging a music portfolio in the corner.

But for Christine the law of association had become too strong, and the prolonged applause recalled the evening at Miss Brown’s when the same sounds had deafened her, but when turning from it all she had seen Dennis Fleet standing in rapt attention, his lips parted, his eyes glowing with such an honest admiration that even then it was worth more to her than all the clamor. Then, by the same law of association, she again saw that eager, earnest face, changed pale, dead–dead!–and she the cause. Regardless of the compliments lavished upon her, she buried her face in her hands and trembled from head to foot.

But the irrepressible tenor had found what he wanted, and now came forward asking that Miss Ludolph would sing a duet with him.

She lifted a wan and startled face. Must the torturing similarity and still more torturing contrast of the two occasions be continued? But she saw her father regarding her sternly–saw that she was becoming the subject of curious glances and whispered surmises. Her pride was aroused at once, and, goaded on by it, she said, “Oh, certainly; I am not feeling well, but it does not signify.”

“And den,” put in the tenor, “dis is von grand occazeon to _you_, for it is so unfrequent dat I find any von vorthy to sing dis style of music vith _me_.”

“What is the music?” asked Christine, coldly.

To her horror she found it the same selection from Mendelssohn that she had sung with Dennis.

“No,” she said, sharply, “I cannot sing that.”

“Pardon me, my daughter, you can sing it admirably if you choose,” interposed her father.

She turned to him imploringly, but his face was inflexible, and his eyes had an incensed look. For a moment she, too, was angry. Had he no mercy? She was about to decline coldly, but her friends were very urgent and clamorous–“Please do,” “Don’t disappoint us,” echoing on every side. The tenor was so surprised and puzzled at her insensibility to the honor he had conferred, that, to prevent a scene she could not explain, she went to the piano as if led to the stake.

But the strain was too great upon her in her suffering state. The familiar notes recalled so vividly the one who once before had sung them at her side that she turned almost expecting to see him–but saw only the vain little animated music-machine, who with many contortions was producing the harmony. “Just this mockery my life will ever be,” she thought; “all that I am, the best I can do, will always be connected with something insignificant and commonplace. The rich, impassioned voice of the _man_ who sang these words, and who might have taught me to sing the song of a new and happier life, I have silenced forever.”

The thought overpowered her. Just then her part recurred, but her voice died away in a miserable quaver, and again she buried her face in her hands. Suddenly she sprang from the piano, darted through the low-cut open window near, and a moment later ordered her startled maid from the room, turned the key, and was alone.

Her father explained coldly to the astonished audience and the half-paralyzed tenor (who still stood with his mouth open) that his daughter was not at all well that evening, and ought not to have appeared at all. This Mrs. Von Brakhiem took up and repeated with endless variations. But the evidences of sheer mental distress on the part of Christine had been too clear, and countless were the whispered surmises of the fashionable gossips in explanation.

Mrs. Von Brakhiem herself, burning with curiosity, soon retired, that she might receive from her lovely charge some gushing confidences, which she expected, as a matter of course, would be poured into what she chose to regard as her sympathizing ear. But she knocked in vain at Christine’s door.

Later Mr. Ludolph knocked. There was no answer.

“Christine!” he called.

After some delay a broken voice answered, “You cannot enter–I am not well–I have retired.”

He turned on his heel and strode away, and that night drank more brandy and water than was good for him.

As for Christine, warped and chilled though her nature had been, she was still a woman, she was still young, and, though she knew it not, she had heard the voice which had spoken her heart into life. Through a chain of circumstances for which she was partly to blame, she had been made to suffer as she had not believed was possible. The terrible words of Mr. Bruder’s letter rang continually in her ears–“Mrs. Fleet is not dying a natural death; he has been, slain.”

For many long, weary days the conviction had been growing upon her that she had indeed slain him and mortally wounded herself. Until to-night she had kept herself outwardly under restraint, but now the long pent-up feeling gave way, and she sobbed as if her heart would break–sobbed till the power to weep was gone. If now some kind, judicious friend had shown her that she was not so guilty as she deemed herself; that, however, frightful the consequences of such acts, she was really not to blame for what she did not intend and could not foresee; more than all, if she could only have known that her worst fears about Dennis were not to be realized, and that he was now recovering, she might at once have entered on a new and happier life. But there was no such friend, no such knowledge, and her wounded spirit was thrown back upon itself.

At last, robed as she had been for the evening, she fell asleep from sheer exhaustion and grief–for grief induces sleep.

The gems that shone in her dishevelled hair; that rose and fell as at long intervals her bosom heaved with convulsive sobs, like the fitful gusts of a storm that is dying away; the costly fabrics she wore–made sad mockery in their contrast with the pale, tear-stained, suffering face. The hardest heart might have pitied her–yes, even the wholly ambitious heart of her father, incensed as he was that a plebeian stranger of this land should have caused such distress.

When Christine awoke, her pride awoke also. With bitterness of spirit she recalled the events of the past evening. But a new phase of feeling now began to manifest itself.

After her passionate outburst she was much calmer. In this respect the unimpeded flow of feeling had done her good, and, as intimated, if kindness and sympathy could now have added their gentle ministrations, she might have been the better for it all her life. But, left to herself, she again yielded to the sway of her old and worst traits. Chief among these was pride; and under the influence of this passion and the acute suffering of her unsoothed, unguided spirit, she began to rebel in impotent anger. She grew hard, cynical, and reckless. Her father’s lack of sympathy and consideration alienated her heart even from him. Left literally alone in the world, her naturally reserved nature shut itself up more closely than ever. Even her only friend, Susie Winthrop, drifted away. One other, who might have been–But she could think of him only with a shudder now. All the rest seemed indifferent, or censorious, or, worse still, to be using her, like Mrs. Von Brakhiem and even her own father, as a stepping-stone to their personal ambition. Christine could not see that she was to blame for this isolation. She did not understand that cold, selfish natures, like her own and her father’s, could not surround themselves with warm, generous friends. She saw only the fact. But with flashing eyes she resolved that her heart’s secrets should not be pried into a hair-breadth further; that she would be used only so far as she chose. She would, in short, “face out” the events of the past evening simply and solely on the ground that she had not been well, and permit no questions to be asked.

Cold and self-possessed, she came down to a late breakfast. Mrs. Von Brakhiem, and others who had been introduced, joined her, but nothing could penetrate through the nice polished armor of her courteous reserve. Her father looked at her keenly, but she coolly returned his gaze.

When alone with her soon afterward, he turned and said, sharply, “What does all this mean?”

She looked around as if some one else were near.

“Were you addressing me?” she asked, coldly.

“Yes, of course I am,” said her father, impatiently.

“From your tone and manner, I supposed you must be speaking to some one else.”

“Nonsense! I was speaking to you. What does all this mean?”

She turned on him an indescribable look, and after a moment said in a slow, meaning tone, “Have you not heard my explanation, sir?”

Such was her manner, he felt he could as easily strike her as say another word.

Muttering an oath, he turned on his heel and left her to herself.

The next morning her father bade her “Good-by.” In parting he said, meaningly, “Christine, beware!”

Again she turned upon him that peculiar look, and replied in a low, firm tone: “That recommendation applies to you, also. Let us both beware, lest we repent at leisure.”

The wily man, skilled in character, was now thoroughly convinced that in his daughter he was dealing with a nature very different from his wife’s–that he was now confronted by a spirit as proud and imperious as his own. He clearly saw that force, threatening, sternness would not answer in this case, and that if he carried his points it must be through skill and cunning. By some means he must ever gain her consent and co-operation.

His manner changed. Instinctively she divined the cause; and hers did not. Therefore father and daughter parted as father and daughter ought never to part.

After his departure she was to remain at West Point till the season closed, and then accompany Mrs. Von Brakhiem to New York, where she was to make as long a visit as she chose;–and she chose to make a long one. In the scenery, and the society of the officers at West Point, and the excitements of the metropolis, she found more to occupy her thoughts than she could have done at Chicago. She went deliberately to work to kill time and snatch from it such fleeting pleasures as she might.

They stayed in the country till the pomp and glory of October began to illumine the mountains, and then (to Christine’s regret) went to the city. There she entered into every amusement and dissipation that her tastes permitted, and found much pleasure in frequent visits to the Central Park, although it seemed tame and artificial after the wild grandeur of the mountains. It was well that her nature was so high-toned that she found enjoyment in only what was refined or intellectual. Had it been otherwise she might soon have taken, in her morbid, reckless state, a path to swift and remediless ruin, as many a poor creature all at war with happiness and truth has done. And thus in a giddy whirl of excitement (Mrs. Von Brakhiem’s normal condition) the days and weeks passed, till at last, thoroughly satiated and jaded, she concluded to return home, for the sake of change and quiet, if nothing else. Mrs. Von Brakhiem parted with her regretfully. Where would she find such another ally in her determined struggle to be talked about and envied a little more than some other pushing, jostling votaries of fashion?

In languor or sleep Christine made the journey, and in the dusk of a winter’s day her father drove her to their beautiful home, which from association was now almost hateful to her. Still she was too weary to think or suffer much. They met each other very politely, and their intercourse assumed at once its wonted character of high-bred courtesy, though perhaps it was a little more void of manifested sympathy and affection than before.

Several days elapsed in languid apathy, the natural reaction of past excitement; then an event occurred which most thoroughly aroused her.

CHAPTER XXXVI

AN APPARITION

Mr. Ludolph had hoped to hear on his return that Dennis was dead. That would end all difficulties. Mr. Schwartz did not know;–he was not at last accounts. Ernst was summoned. With a bright, hopeful face he stated that his mother had just received a letter saying Dennis was a little better. He was much surprised at his employer’s heavy frown.

“He will live,” mused Mr. Ludolph; “and now shall I permit him to return to my employ, or discharge him?”

His brow contracted in lines of thought that suggested shrewdness, cunning, nothing manly, and warily he judged.

“If I do not take him, he will go to Mr. French with certainty. He had better return, for then both he and Christine will be more thoroughly under my surveillance.

“Curses on Christine’s waywardness! There may be no resisting her, and my best chance will be in managing him. This I could not do if he were in the store of my rival;” and so for unconscious Dennis this important question was decided.

At last, as we have said, his delirium ceased, and the quiet light of reason came into his eyes. He looked at his mother and smiled, but was too weak even to reach out his hand.

The doctor, coming in soon after, declared danger past, and that all depended now on good nursing. Little fear of his wanting that!

“Ah, mine Gott be praised! mine Gott be praised!” exclaimed Mr. Bruder, who had to leave the room to prevent an explosion of his grateful, happy feelings that might have proved too rude a tempest for Dennis in his weak state. He was next seen striding across the fields to a neighboring grove, ejaculating as he went. When he returned his eyes shone with a great peace and joy, and he had evidently been with Him who had cast out the demon from his heart.

Day after day Dennis rallied. Unlike poor Christine, he had beneath him the two strongest levers, love and prayer, and steadily they lifted him up to health and strength and comparative peace. At last he was able to sit up and walk about feebly, and Mr. Bruder returned rejoicing to his family. As he wrung Dennis’s hand at parting, he said, in rather a hoarse voice: “If any von tell me Gott is not goot and heareth not prayer, den I tell him he von grand heathen. Oh! but we vill velcome you soon. Ve vill haf de grandest supper, de grandest songs, de grandest–” but just here Mr. Bruder thought it prudent to pull his big fur cap over his eyes, and make a rush for the stage.

As if by tacit understanding, Christine’s name had not been mentioned during Dennis’s recovery. But one evening, after the little girls had been put to bed, and the lamp shaded, he sat in the dimly lighted room, looking fixedly for a long time at the glowing embers. His mother was moving quietly about, putting away the tea-things, clearing up after the children’s play; but as she worked she furtively watched him. At last coming to his side she pushed back the hair that seemed so dark in contrast with the thin, white face and said, gently, “You are thinking of Miss Ludolph, Dennis.”

He had some blood yet, for that was not the glow of the fire that suffused his cheek; but he only answered, quietly, “Yes, mother.”

Do you think you can forget her?”

“I don’t know.”

“Prayer is a mighty thing, my son.”

“But perhaps it is not God’s will that I should ever win her,” said Dennis, despondently.

“Then surely it is not yours, my child.”

“No, mother,” said Dennis, with bowed head and low tone, “but yet I am human and weak.”

“You would still wish that it were His will?”

“Yes; I could not help it.”

“But you would submit?”

“Yes, with His help I would,” firmly.

“That is sufficient, my boy; I have such confidence in God that I know this matter will result in a way to secure you the greatest happiness in the end.”

But after a little time he sighed, wearily, “Yet how hard it is to wait till the great plan is worked out!”

Solemnly she quoted-“God will render to every man according to his deeds. To them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life.”

Braced by the stirring words of inspiration, strengthened by his mother’s faith, he looked up after a moment and said, earnestly, “At any rate I will try to be a _man in your sense of the word_, and that is saying a great deal.”

She beamed at him through her spectacles over her knitting-needles; and he thought, as he gazed fondly at her, that in spite of her quaint, old-fashioned garb, and homely occupation, she appeared more truly a saint than any painted on cathedral windows.

He soon noticed that his mother had grown feeble, and he determined to take her with him on his return, believing that, by his care, and the wise use of tonics, he could restore her to her wonted strength. His increased salary now justified the step.

Early in November his physician said he might return to business if he would be prudent. He gladly availed himself of the permission, for he longed to be employed again.

The clerks all welcomed him warmly, for his good-nature had disarmed jealousy at his rapid rise. But in the greeting of Mr. Ludolph he missed something of the cordiality he expected.

“Perhaps she has told him,” thought he; and at once his own manner became tinged with a certain coldness and dignity. He determined that both father and daughter should think of him only with respect.

At the Bruders’ the millennium came with Dennis. Metaphorically the fatted calf was killed; their plain little room was trimmed with evergreens, and when he entered he was greeted by such a jubilant, triumphant chorus of welcomes as almost took away his breath. What little he had left was suddenly squeezed out of him; for Mrs. Bruden, dropping her frying-pan and dish-cloth, rushed upon him, exclaiming, “Ah! mine fren! mine fren! De goot Gott be praised;” and she gave him an embrace that made his bones ache.

Mr. Bruder stalked about the room repeating with explosive energy, like minute-guns, “Praise Gott! Praise Gott!” Ernst, his great eyes dimmed with happy tears, clung to Dennis’s hand, as if he would make sure, by sense of touch as well as sight, that he had regained his beloved teacher. The little Bruders were equally jubilant, though from rather mixed motives. Dennis’s arrival was very well, but they could not keep their round eyes long off the preparations for such a supper as never before had blessed their brief career.

“Truly,” thought Dennis, as he looked around upon the happy family, and contrasted its appearance with that which it had presented when he first saw it, “my small investment of kindness and effort in this case has returned large interest. I think it pays to do good.”

The evening was one of almost unmingled happiness, even to his sore, disappointed heart, and passed into memory as among the sunniest places of his life.

He found a pleasant little cottage over on the West side, part of which he rented for his mother and sisters.

With Mr. Ludolph’s permission he went after them, and installed them in it. Thus he had what he had needed all along–a home, a resting-place for body and soul, under the watchful eye of love.

About this time Dr. Arten met him, stared a moment, then clapped him on the back in his hearty way, saying, “Well, well, young man! you have cause to be thankful, and not to the doctors, either.”

“I think I am,” said Dennis, smiling.

Suddenly the doctor looked grave, and asked in a stern voice, “Are you a heathen, or a good Christian?”

“I hope not the former,” replied Dennis, a little startled.

“Then don’t go and commit suicide again. Don’t you know flesh and blood can only stand so much? When an intelligent young fellow like you goes beyond that, he is committing suicide. Bless your soul, my ambitious friend, the ten commandments ain’t all the law of God. His laws are also written all over this long body of yours, and you came near paying a pretty penalty for breaking them. You won’t get off the second time.”

“You are right, doctor; I now see that I acted very wrongly.”

“‘Bring forth fruits meet for repentance.’ I am rich enough to give sound advice,” said the brusque old physician, passing on.

“Stop a moment, doctor,” cried Dennis, “I want you to see my mother.”

“What is the matter with her? She been breaking the commandments, too?”

“Oh, no!” exclaimed Dennis. “She is not a bit of a heathen.”

“I am not so sure about that. I know many eminent saints in the church who will eat lobster salad for supper, and then send for the doctor and minister before morning. There is a precious twaddle about ‘mysterious Providence.’ Providence isn’t half so mysterious as people make out. The doctor is expected to look serious and sympathetic, and call their law-breaking and its penalty by some outlandish Latin name that no one can understand. I give ’em the square truth, and tell ’em they’ve been breaking the commandments.”

Dennis could not forbear smiling at the doctor’s rough handling of humbug, even in one of its most respectable guises. Then, remembering his mother, he added, gravely: “I am truly anxious about my mother, she has grown so feeble. I want, and yet dread, the truth.”

The bantering manner of the good old doctor changed at once, and he said, kindly, “I’ll come, my boy, within a few days, though I am nearly run off my feet.”

He went off, muttering, “Why don’t the people send for some of the youngsters that sit kicking up their heels in their offices all day?”

Dennis soon fell into the routine of work and rapidly grew stronger. But his face had acquired a gravity, a something in expression that only experience gives, which made him appear older by ten years. All trace of the boy had gone, and his countenance was now that of the man, and of one who had suffered.

As soon as he recovered sufficient strength to act with decision, he indignantly tried to banish Christine’s image from his memory. But he found this impossible. Though at times his eyes would flash, in view of her treatment, they would soon grow gentle and tender, and he found himself excusing and extenuating, by the most special pleadings, that which he had justly condemned.

One evening his mother startled him out of a long revery, in which he had almost vindicated Christine, by saying, “A very pleasant smile has been gradually dawning on your face, my son.”

“Mother,” replied he, hesitatingly, “perhaps I have judged Miss Ludolph harshly.”

“Your love, not your reason, has evidently been pleading for her.”

“Well, mother, I suppose you are right.”

“So I suppose the Divine love pleads for the weak and sinful,” said Mrs. Fleet, dreamily.

“That is a very pleasant thought, mother, for sometimes it seems that my love could make black white.”

“That the Divine love has done, but at infinite cost to itself.”

“Oh that my love at any cost to itself could lead her into the new life of the believer!” said Dennis, in a low, earnest tone.

“Your love is like the Divine in being unselfish, but remember the vital differences and take heed. God _can_ change the nature of the imperfect creature that He loves. You cannot. His love is infinite in its strength and patience. You are human. The proud, selfish, unbelieving Miss Ludolph (pardon mother’s plain words) could not make you happy. To the degree that you were loyal to God, you would be unhappy, and I should surely dread such a union. The whole tone of your moral character would have to be greatly lowered to permit even peace.”

“But, mother,” said Dennis, almost impatiently, “in view of my unconquerable love, it is nearly the same as if I were married to her now.”

“No, my son, I think not. I know your pretty theory on this subject, but it seems more pretty than true. Marriage makes a vital difference. It is the closest union that we can voluntarily form on earth, and is the emblem of the spiritual oneness of the believer’s soul with Christ. We may be led through circumstances, as you have been, to love one with whom we should not form such a union. Indeed, in the true and mystic meaning of the rite, you could not marry Christine Ludolph. The Bible declares that man and wife shall be one. Unless she changes, unless you change (and that God forbid), this could not be. You would be divided, separated in the deepest essentials of your life here, and in every respect hereafter. Again, while God loves every sinful man and woman, He does not take them to His heart till they cry out to Him for strength to abandon the destroying evil He hates. There are no unchanged, unrenewed hearts in heaven.”

“Oh, mother, how inexorable is your logic!” said Dennis, breathing heavily.

“Truth in the end is ever more merciful than falsehood,” she answered, gently.

After a little, he said, with a heavy sigh, “Mother, you are right, and I am very weak and foolish.”

She looked at him with unutterable tenderness. She could not crush out all hope, and so whispered, as before: “Prayer is mighty, my child. It is not wrong for you to love. It is your duty, as well as privilege, to pray for her. Trust your Heavenly Father, do His will, and He will solve this question in the very best way.”

Dennis turned to his mother in sudden and passionate earnestness, and said: “Your prayers are mighty, mother, I truly believe. Oh, pray for her–for my sake as well as hers. Looking from the human side, I am hopeless. It is only God’s almighty power that can make us, as you say, truly one. I fear that now she is only a heartless, fashionable girl. Yet, if she is only this, I do not see how I came to love her as I do. But my trust now is in your prayers to God.”

“And in your own also: the great Father loves you, too, my son. If He chooses that the dross in her character should be burned away, and your two lives fused, there are in His providence just the fiery trials, just the circumstances that will bring it about.” (Was she unconsciously uttering a prophecy?) “The crucible of affliction, the test of some great emergency, will often develop a seemingly weak and frivolous girl into noble life, where there is real gold of latent worth to be acted on.”

“Christine Ludolph is anything but weak and frivolous,” said he. “Her character is strong, and I think most decided in its present bent. But as you say, if the Divine Alchemist wills it, He can change even the dross to gold, and turn unbelief to faith.”

Hope, Christine! There is light coming, though as yet you cannot see it. There are angels of mercy flying toward you, though you cannot hear the rustle of their wings. The dark curtain of death and despair can never shut down upon a life linked to heaven by such true, strong prayer. And yet the logical results of wrong-doing will work themselves out, sin must be punished and faith sorely tried.

Dennis heard incidentally that Christine was absent on a visit to New York, but he knew nothing of the time of her return.

He now bent himself steadily and resolutely to the mastering of his business, and under Mr. Bruder’s direction resumed his art studies, though now in such moderation as Dr. Arten would commend.

He also entered on an artistic effort that would tax his powers and genius to the very utmost, of which more anon.

By the time Christine returned, he was quite himself again, though much paler and thinner than when he first entered the store.

After Christine had been at home nearly a week, her father, to rouse her out of her listlessness, said one morning: “We have recently received quite a remarkable painting from Europe. You will find it in the upper show-room, and had better come down to-day to see it, for it may be sold soon. I think you would like to copy one or two figures in it.”

The lassitude from her New York dissipation was passing away, and her active nature beginning to assert itself again. She started up and said, “Wait five minutes and I will get sketching materials and go down with you.”

By reason of her interdict, made at West Point, so earnestly, and indeed fiercely, and confirmed by her manner, her father had never mentioned the name of Dennis Fleet. The very fact that no one had spoken of him since that dreadful day when tidings came in on every side that he could not live was confirmation in her mind that he was dead.

She dreaded going to the store, especially for the first time, for everything would irresistibly remind her of him whom she could not think of now without a pang. But as the ordeal must come, why, the sooner it was over the better. So a few moments later her hand was on her father’s arm, and they were on their way to the Art Building as in happier days.

Mr. Ludolph went to his office, and Christine, looking neither to the right nor to the left, ascended to the upper show-room, and at once sought to engage every faculty in making the sketch her father had suggested. Since Dennis was not, as she believed, either on the earth or elsewhere, she tried to take up life again as it had been before he came, and to act as if he had never been.

Hopeless task! In that familiar place, where they had begun the rearrangement of the store, everything spoke of him. She saw his glowing cheeks; again his dark, eager eyes followed her every movement and interpreted her wishes even before she could speak. Some of the pictures on the walls his hands had handled, and in her strong fancy his lithe form seemed moving the ladder to take them down again, while she, with heart and mind at rest, looked with growing curiosity and interest on her humble helper.

What changes had occurred within a short half-year! She shuddered at the thought that one who was then so instinct with life and happiness could now be dust and nothingness, and she the cause.

Association and conscience were again too powerful. She was becoming nervous and full of a strange unrest, so she concluded to finish her sketch at another time. As she was gathering up her materials she heard some one enter the room.

She was in such a morbid, unstrung state that the least thing startled her. But imagine if you can her wonder and terror as she saw Dennis Fleet–the dead and buried, as she fully believed–enter, carrying a picture as of old, and looking as of old, save that he was paler and thinner. Was it an apparition? or, as she had read, had she dwelt so long on this trouble that her mind and imagination were becoming disordered and able to place their wild creations before her as realities?

Her sketching materials fell clattering to the floor, and after one sharp exclamation of alarm she stood as if transfixed, with parted lips and dilated eyes, panting like a frightened bird.

If a sculptor had wished to portray the form and attitude of one startled by the supernatural, never could he have found a more fitting model than Christine at this moment.

As she had been seated a little on one side Dennis had not seen her at first; but, on recognizing her so unexpectedly, he was scarcely less startled than she, and the valuable picture he was carrying nearly met sudden destruction. But he had no such reason as Christine for the continuance of his surprise, and, at once recovering himself, he set the picture against the wall.

This made the illusion still more strange and terrible to Christine. There was the dead before her, doing just as she had been imagining–just what he had done at her bidding months before.

Dennis was greatly puzzled by her look of alarm and distress. Then he thought that perhaps she feared he would break out in bitter and angry invectives again, and he advanced toward her to assure her of the contrary.

Slowly and instinctively she retreated and put up her hands with a deprecatory gesture.

“She cannot endure the sight of me,” thought he, but at once he said, with dignified courtesy: “Miss Ludolph, you have nothing to fear from me, that you should regard me in that manner. You need not shrink as if from contagion. We can treat each other as courteous strangers, at least.”

“I–I–I–thought you were dead!” she gasped, in a loud whisper.

Dennis’s cheek grew paler than it had been in all his sickness, and then as suddenly became dark with anger. His eyes were terrible in their indignation as he advanced a few paces almost fiercely. She trembled violently and shrunk further away.

“You thought I was dead?” he asked, sternly.

“Ye-e-s,” in the same unnatural whisper.

“What!” he exclaimed, in short and bitter emphasis, “do you mean to say that you never cared even to ask whether I lived or died in my long, weary illness?–that you were so supremely indifferent to my fate that you could not articulate one sentence of inquiry? Surely this is the very sublimity of heartlessness; this is to be callous beyond one’s power of imagination. It seems to me that I would feel as much interest as that in any human being I had once known. If even a dog had licked my hand in good-will, and afterward I had seen it, wounded or sick, creep off into covert, the next time I passed that way I would step aside to see whether the poor creature had lived or died. But after all the wealth of affection that I lavished upon you, after toiling and almost dying in my vain effort to touch your marble heart, you have not even the humanity to ask if I am above ground!”

The illusion had now passed from Christine’s mind, and with it her alarm. The true state of the case was rapidly dawning upon her, and she was about to speak eagerly; but in his strong indignation he continued, impetuously: “You thought I was dead! The wish probably was father to the thought. My presumption deserved no better fate. But permit me to tell you, though all unbidden, I did not die. With God’s blessing I expect to live to a good old age, and intend that but few years shall pass before my name is as well known and honored as the ancient one of Ludolph;” and he turned on his heel and strode from the room.

CHAPTER XXXVII

IF HE KNEW!

For a little time after Dennis’s angry tread died away, Christine sat almost paralyzed by surprise and deeper emotion. Her mind, though usually clear and rapid in its action, was too confused to realize the truth. Suddenly she sprang up, gathered together her sketching materials, and drawing a thick veil over her face sped through the store, through the streets, to the refuge of her own room. She must be alone.

Hastily throwing aside her wrappings, she began to walk up and down in her excitement. Her listlessness was gone now in very truth, and her eye and cheek glowed as never before. As if it had become the great vivifying principle of her own life, she kept repeating continually in a low, ecstatic tone, “He lives! he lives! he is not dead; his blood is not upon my conscience!”

At last she sat down in her luxurious chair before the window to think it all over–to commune with herself–often the habit of the reserved and solitary. From the disjointed sentences she let fall, from the reflection of her excited face in yonder glass, we gather quite correctly the workings of her mind. Her first words were, “Thank heaven! thank something or other, I have not blotted out that true, strong genius.”

Again–“What untold wretchedness I might have saved myself if I had only asked the question, in a casual way, ‘How is Mr. Fleet?’ Christine Ludolph, with all your pride and imagined superiority, you can be very foolish.

“How he hates and despises me now! little wonder!”

“But if he knew!”

“Knew what? Why could you not ask after him, as after any other sick man? You have had a score or so of offers, and did not trouble yourself as to the fate of the lovelorn swains. Seems to me your conscience has been very tender in this case. And the fact that he misjudges you, thinks you callous, heartless, and is angry, troubles you beyond measure.”

“When before were you so sensitive to the opinion of clerks and trades-people, or even the proudest suitors for your hand? But in this case you must cry out, in a tone of sentimental agony, ‘Oh, if he only knew I'”

“Knew what?”

Her face in yonder mirror has a strange, introverted expression, as if she were scanning her own soul. Her brow contracts with thought and perplexity.

Gradually a warm, beautiful light steals into her face, transforming it as from the scowl of a winter morning into a dawn of June; her eyes become gentle and tender. A rich color comes out upon her cheeks, spreads up her temples, mantles her brow, and pours a crimson torrent down her snowy neck. Suddenly she drops her burning face into her hands, and hides a vision one would gladly look longer upon. But see, even her little ears have become as red as coral.

The bleakest landscape in the world brightens into something like beauty when the sun shines upon it. So love, the richer, sweeter light of the soul, make the plainest face almost beautiful; but when it changed Christine Ludolph’s faultless, yet too cold and classical, features into those of a loving woman’s, it suggested a beauty scarcely human.

A moment later there came a faint whisper: “I fear–I almost fear I love him.” Then she lifted a startled, frightened face and looked timidly around as if, in truth, walls had ears.

Reassured by the consciousness of solitude, her head dropped on her wrist and her revery went forward. Her eyes became dreamy, and a half-smile played upon her lips as she recalled proof after proof of his affection, for she knew the cruel words of the last interview were the result of misunderstanding.

But suddenly she darted from her seat and began pacing the room in the strongest perturbation.

“Mocked again!” she cried; “the same cruel fate! my old miserable experience in a new aspect! With everything within my reach, save the one thing I want, I possess the means of all kinds of happiness except that which makes me happy. In every possible way I am pledged to a career and future in which he can take no part. Though my heart is full of the strangest, sweetest chaos, and I do not truly understand myself, yet I am satisfied that this is not a school-girl’s fancy. But my father would regard it as the old farce repeated. Already he suspects and frowns upon the matter. I should have to break with him utterly and forever. I should have to give up all my ambitious plans and towering hopes of life abroad. A plain Mrs. in this city of shops is a poor substitute for a countess’s coronet and a villa on the Rhine.”

Her cheek flushed, and her lip curled.

“That indeed would be the very extravagance of romance, and how could I, least of all, who so long have scoffed at such things, explain my action? These mushroom shopkeepers, who were all nobodies the other day, elevate their eyebrows when a merchant’s daughter marries her father’s clerk. But when would the wonder cease if a German lady of rank followed suit?

“Then again my word, my honor, every sacred pledge I could give, forbids such folly.

“Would to heaven I had never seen him, for this unfortunate fancy of mine must be crushed in its inception; strangled before it comes to master me as it has mastered him.”

After a long and weary sigh she continued: “Well, everything is favorable for a complete and final break between us. He believes me heartless and wicked to the last degree. I cannot undeceive him without showing more than he should know. I have only to avoid him, to say nothing, and we drift apart.

“If we could only have been friends he might have helped me so much! but that now is clearly impossible–yes, for both of us.

“Truly one of these American poets was right:

“‘For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these–It might have been.’

“But thanks to the immortal gods, as the pious heathen used to say, his blood is not on my hands, and this has taken a mountain off my heart. Thus relieved I can perhaps forget all the miserable business. Fate forbids that I, as it has forbidden that many another high-born woman, should marry where she might have loved.”

If Christine’s heart was wronged, her pride was highly gratified by this conclusion. Here was a new and strong resemblance between herself and the great. In mind she recalled the titled unfortunates who had “loved where they could not marry,” and with the air and feeling of a martyr to ancestral grandeur she pensively added her name to the list.

With her conscience freed from its burden of remorse, with the knowledge, so sweet to every woman, that she might accept this happiness if she would, in spite of her airs of martyrdom, the world had changed greatly for the better, and with the natural buoyancy of youth she reacted into quite a cheerful and hopeful state.

Her father noticed this on his return to dinner in the evening, and sought to learn its cause. He asked, “How did you make out with your sketch?”

“I made a beginning,” she answered, with some little color rising to her cheek.

“Perhaps you were interrupted?”

“Why did you not tell me that Mr. Fleet had recovered?” she asked, abruptly.

“Why, did you think he was dead?”

“Yes.”

Mr. Ludolph indulged in a hearty laugh (he knew the power of ridicule).

“Well, that is excellent!” he said. “You thought the callow youth had died on account of your hardness of heart; and this explains your rather peculiar moods and tenses of late. Let me assure you that a Yankee never dies from such a cause.”

Mr. Ludolph determined if possible to break down her reserve and let in the garish light, which he knew to be most fatal to all romantic fancies, that ever thrive best in the twilight of secrecy. But she was on the alert now, and in relief of mind had regained her poise and the power to mask her feeling. So she said in a tone tinged with cold indifference, “You may be right, but I had good reason to believe to the contrary, and, as I am not altogether without a conscience, you might have saved much pain by merely mentioning the fact of his recovery.”

“But you had adjured me with frightful solemnity never to mention his name again,” said her father, still laughing.

Christine colored and bit her lip. She had forgotten for the moment this awkward fact.

“I was nervous, sick, and not myself that day, and every one I met could speak of nothing but Mr. Fleet.”

“Well, really,” he said, “in the long list of the victims that you have wounded if not slain, I never supposed my clerk and quondam man-of-all-work would prove so serious a case.”

“A truce to your bantering, father! Mr. Fleet is humble only in station, not in character, not in ability. You know I have never been very tender with the ‘victims,’ as you designate them, of the Mellen stamp; but Mr. Fleet is a man, in the best sense of the word, and one that I have wronged. Now that the folly is past I may as well explain to you some things that have appeared strange. I think I can truly say that I have given those gentlemen who have honored, or rather annoyed me, by their unwished-for regard, very little encouragement. Therefore, I was not responsible for any follies they might commit. But for artistic reasons I did encourage Mr. Fleet’s infatuation. You remember how I failed in making a copy of that picture. In my determination to succeed, I hit upon the rather novel expedient of inspiring and copying the genuine thing. You know my imitative power is better than my imagination, and I thought that by often witnessing the expression of feeling and passion, I might learn to portray it without the disagreeable necessity of passing through any such experiences myself. But the experiment, as you know, did not work well. These living subjects are hard to manage, and, as I have said, I am troubled by a conscience.”

Mr. Ludolph’s eyes sparkled, and a look of genuine admiration lighted up his features.

“Brava!” he cried; “your plan was worthy of you and of your ancestry. It was a real stroke of genius. You were too tender-hearted, otherwise it would have been perfect. What are the lives of a dozen such young fellows compared with the development and perfection of such a woman as you bid fair to be?”

Christine had displayed in this transaction just the qualities that her father most admired. But even she was shocked at his callousness, and lifted a somewhat startled face to his.

“Your estimate of human life is rather low,” she said.

“Not at all. Is not one perfect plant better than a dozen imperfect ones? The gardener often pulls up the crowding and inferior ones to throw them about the roots of the strongest, that in their death and decay they may nourish it to the highest development. The application of this principle is evident. They secure most in this world who have the skill and power to grasp most.”

“But how about the rights of others? Conscious men and women are not plants.”

“Let them be on their guard then. Every one is for himself in this world. That can be plainly seen through the thin disguises that some try to assume. After all, half the people we meet are little better than summer weeds.”

Christine almost shuddered to think that the one bound to her by closest ties cherished such sentiments toward the world, and probably, to a certain extent, toward herself, but she only said, quietly: “I can hardly subscribe to your philosophy as yet, though I fear I act upon it too often. Still it does not apply to Mr. Fleet. He is gifted in no ordinary degree, and doubtless will stand high here in his own land in time. And now, as explanation has been made, with your permission we will drop this subject out of our conversation as before.”

“Well,” said Mr. Ludolph to himself, between sips of his favorite Rhine wine, “I have gained much light on the subject to-night, and I must confess that, even with my rather wide experience, the whole thing is a decided novelty. If Christine were only less troubled with conscience, over-fastidiousness, or whatever it is–if she were more moderate in her ambition as an artist, and could be satisfied with power and admiration, as other women are–what a star she might become in the fashionable world of Europe! But, for some reason, I never feel sure of her. Her spirit is so wilful and obstinate, and she seems so full of vague longing after an ideal, impossible world, that I live in constant dread that she may be led into some folly fatal to my ambition. This Fleet is a most dangerous fellow. I wish I were well rid of him; still, matters are not so bad as I feared–that is, if she told me the whole truth, which I am inclined to doubt. But I had better keep him in my employ during the few months we still remain in this land, as I can watch over him, and guard against his influence better than if he were beyond my control. But no more promotion or encouragement does he get from me.”

Janette, Christine’s French maid, passed the open door. The thought struck Mr. Ludolph that he might secure an ally in her.

The unscrupulous creature was summoned, and agreed for no very large sum to become a spy upon Christine, and report anything looking toward friendly relations with Dennis Fleet.

“The game is still in my hands,” said the wary man. “I will yet steer my richly-freighted argosy up the Rhine. Here’s to Christine, the belle of the German court!” and he filled a slender Venetian glass to the brim, drained it, and then retired.

Christine, on reaching her room, muttered to herself: “He now knows all that I mean he ever shall. We are one in our ambition, if nothing else, and therefore our relations must be to a certain degree confidential and amicable. And now forget you have a conscience, forget you have a heart, and, above all things, forget that you have ever seen or known Dennis Fleet.”

Thus the influence of a false education, a proud, selfish, ambitious life, decided her choice. She plunged as resolutely into the whirl of fashionable gayety about her as she had in the dissipations of New York, determined to forget the past, and kill the time that must intervene before she could sail away to her brilliant future in Germany.

But she gradually learned that, if conscience had robbed her of peace before, something else disturbed her now, and rendered her efforts futile. She found that there was a principle at work in her heart stronger even than her resolute will. In spite of her purpose to the contrary, she caught herself continually thinking of Dennis, and indulging in strange, delicious reveries in regard to him.

At last she ceased to shun the store as she had done at first, but with increasing frequency found some necessity for going there.

After the interview in the show-room, Dennis was driven to the bitter conclusion that Christine was utterly heartless, and cared not a jot for him. His impression was confirmed by the fact that she shunned the store, and that he soon heard of her as a belle and leader in the ultra-fashionable world. He, too, bitterly lamented that he had ever seen her, and was struggling with all the power of his will to forget her. He fiercely resolved that, since she wished him dead, she should become dead to him.

Almost immediately after his return he had discovered that the two emblematical pictures had been removed from the loft over the store. He remembered that he had spoken of them to Christine, and from Ernst he gathered that she herself had taken them away. It was possible, he believed, that she had made them the subject of ridicule. At best she must have destroyed them in order to blot out all trace of a disagreeable episode. Whatever may have been their fate, they had, as he thought, failed in their purpose, and were worthless to him, and he was far too proud to make inquiries.

As the weeks passed on, he apparently succeeded better than she. There was nothing in her character, as she then appeared, that appealed to anything gentle or generous. She seemed so proud, so strong and resolute in her choice of evil, so devoid of the true womanly nature, as he had learned to reverence it in his mother, that he could not pity, much less respect her, and even his love could scarcely survive under such circumstances.

When she began coming to the store again, though his heart beat thick and fast at her presence, he turned his back and seemed not to see her, or made some errand to a remote part of the building. At first she thought this might be accident, but she soon found it a resolute purpose to ignore her very existence. By reason of a trait peculiar to Christine, this was only the more stimulating. She craved all the more that which was seemingly denied.

Accustomed to every gratification, to see all yield to her wishes, and especially to find gentlemen almost powerless to resist her beauty, she came to regard this one stern, averted face as infinitely more attractive than all the rest in the world.

“That he so steadily avoids me proves that he is anything but indifferent,” she said to herself one day.

She condemned her visits to the store, and often reproached herself with folly in going; but a secret powerful magnetism drew her thither in spite of herself.

Dennis, too, soon noticed that she came often, and the fact awakened a faint hope within him. He learned that his love was not dead, but only chilled and chained by circumstances and his own strong will. True, apart from the fact of her coming, she gave him no encouragement. She was as distant and seemingly oblivious of his existence as he of hers, but love can gather hope from a marvellously little thing.

But one day Christine detected her father watching her movements with the keenest scrutiny, and after that she came more and more rarely. The hope that for a moment had tinged the darkness surrounding Dennis died away like the meteor’s transient light.

He went into society very little after his illness, and shunned large companies. He preferred to spend his evenings with his mother and in study. The Winthrops were gone, having removed to their old home in Boston, and he had not formed very intimate acquaintances elsewhere. Moreover, his limited circle, though of the best and most refined, was not one in which Christine often appeared.

But one evening his cheek paled and his heart fluttered as he saw her entering the parlors of a lady by whom he had been invited to meet a few friends. For some little time he studiously avoided her, but at last his hostess, with well-meant zeal, formally presented him.

They bowed very politely and very coldly. The lady surmised that Christine did not care about the acquaintance of her father’s clerk, and so brought them no more together. But Christine was pained by Dennis’s icy manner, and saw that she was thoroughly misunderstood. When asked to sing, she chose a rather significant ditty:

“Ripple, sparkle, rapid stream,
Let your dancing wavelets gleam
Quiveringly and bright;
Children think the surface glow
Reaches to the depth below,
Hidden from the light.

“Human faces often seem
Like the sparkle of the stream,
In the social glare;
Some assert, in wisdom’s guise,
(Look they not with children’s eyes?) All is surface there.”

As she rose from the piano her glance met his with something like meaning in it, he imagined. He started, flushed, and his face became full of eager questioning. But her father was on the watch also, and, placing his daughter’s hand within his arm, he led her into the front parlor, and soon after they pleaded another engagement and vanished altogether.

No chance for explanation came, and soon a new and all-absorbing anxiety filled Dennis’s heart, and the shadow of the greatest sorrow that he had yet experienced daily drew nearer.

CHAPTER XXXVIII

THE GATES OPEN

At Dennis’s request, Dr. Arten called and carefully inquired into Mrs. Fleet’s symptoms. Her son stood anxiously by awaiting the result of the examination. At last the physician said, cheerily: “There is no immediate occasion for alarm here. I am sorry to say that your mother’s lungs are far from strong, but they may carry her through many comfortable years yet. I will prescribe tonics, and you may hope for the best. But mark this well, she must avoid exposure. A severe cold might be most serious in its consequences.”

How easy to say, “Do not take cold!” How many whose lives were at stake have sought to obey the warning, but all in vain! Under Dr. Arten’s tonics, Mrs. Fleet grew stronger, and Dennis rejoiced over the improvement. But, in one of the sudden changes attendant on the breaking up of winter, the dreaded cold was taken, and it soon developed into acute pneumonia.

For a few days she was very ill, and Dennis never left her side. In the intervals of pain and fever she would smile at him and whisper: “The harbor is near. This rough weather cannot last much longer.”

“Mother, do not leave us; we cannot spare you,” ever pleaded her son.

Contrary to her expectations, however, she rallied, but continued in a very feeble state. Dennis was able to resume his duties in the store, and he hoped and tried to believe that the warm spring and summer days soon to come would renew his mother’s strength. But every day she grew feebler, and Dr. Arten shook his head.

The Bruders were very kind, and it was astonishing how much Mrs. Bruder, though burdened with her large family, found time to do. If Mrs. Fleet had been her own mother she could not have bestowed upon her more loving solicitude. Mr. Bruder was devotion itself. He removed his easel to an attic-room in Mrs. Fleet’s house; and every hour of Dennis’s absence heard him say: “Vat I do for you now? I feel no goot unless I do someding.”

Some little time after Mrs. Fleet was taken sick a mystery arose. The most exquisite flowers and fruits were left at the house from time to time, marked in a bold, manly hand, “For Mrs. Fleet.” But all efforts to discover their source failed.

The reader will guess that Christine was the donor, and Dennis hoped it–though, he admitted to himself, with little reason.

Mrs. Fleet had not much pain. She seemed gently wafted as by an ebbing tide away from time and earth, Kindly but firmly she sought to prepare Dennis’s mind for the change soon to take place. At first he could not endure its mention, but she said, earnestly: “My son, I am not dying. I am just entering on the true, real, eternal life–a life which is as much beyond this poor feeble existence as the sun is brighter than a glow-worm. I shall soon clasp my dear husband to my heart again, and, oh, ecstasy! I shall soon in reality see the Saviour whom I now see almost continually in vision.”

Then again she would turn toward her earthly treasures with unutterable yearning and tenderness.

“Oh, that I could gather you up in my arms and take you all with me!” she would often exclaim. Many times during the day she would call the little girls from their play and kiss their wondering faces.

One evening Dennis came home and found a vase of flowers with a green background of mint at his mother’s bedside. Their delicate fragrance greeted him as soon as he entered. As he sat by her side holding her hand, he said, softly: “Mother, are not these sprays of mint rather unusual in a bouquet? Has the plant any special meaning? I have noticed it before mingled with these mysterious flowers.”

She smiled and answered, “When I was a girl its language was, ‘Let us be friends again.'”

“Do you think–can it be possible that _she_ sends them?” said he, in a low, hesitating tone.

“Prayer is mighty, my son.”

“And have you been praying for her all this time, mother?”

“Yes, and will continue to do so to the last.”

“Oh, mother! I have lost hope. My heart has been full of bitterness toward her, and I have felt that God was against it all.”

“God is not against her learning to know Him, which is life. Jesus has loved her all the time, and she has wronged Him more than she has you.”

Dennis bowed his head on his mother’s hand, and she felt hot tears fall upon it. At last he murmured: “You are indeed going to heaven soon, dear mother, for your language is not of earth. When will such a spirit dwell within me?”

“Again remember your mother’s words,” she answered, gently; “prayer is mighty.”

“Mother,” said he, with a sudden earnestness, “do you think you can pray for us in heaven?”

“I know of no reason to the contrary.”

“Then I know you will, and the belief will ever be a source of hope and strength.”

Mrs. Fleet was now passing through the land of Beulah. To her strong spiritual vision, the glories of the other shore seemed present, and at times she thought that she really heard music; again it would seem as if her Saviour had entered the plain little room, as He did the humble home at Bethany.

Her thoughts ran much on Christine. One day she wrote, feebly:

“Would Miss Ludolph be willing to come and see a dying woman? ETHEL FLEET.”

Mr. Bruder carried it, but most unfortunately Christine was out, so that her maid, ever on the alert to earn the price of her treachery, received it. It was slightly sealed. She opened it, and saw from its contents that it must be given to Mr. Ludolph. He with a frown committed it to the flames.

“I have written to her,” she whispered to her son in the evening, “and think she will come to see me.”

Dennis was sleepless that night, through his hope and eager expectation. The following day, and the next passed, and she came not.

“I was right,” exclaimed he, bitterly. “She is utterly heartless. It was not she who sent the flowers. Who that is human would have refused such a request! Waste no more thought upon her, for she is unworthy, and it is all in vain.” “No!” said Mrs. Fleet in sudden energy. “It is not in vain. Have I not prayed again and again? and shall I doubt God?”

“Your faith is stronger than mine,” he answered, in deep despondency.

“God’s time is not always ours,” she answered, gently.

But an angry fire lurked in Dennis’s eyes, and he muttered to himself as he went to his room: “She has snapped the last slender cord that bound me to her. I could endure almost anything myself, but that she should refuse to visit my dying mother proves her a monster, with all her beauty.”

As he was leaving the house in the morning, his mother whispered, gently, “Who was it that said, ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do?'”

“Ah, but she does know,” said he, bitterly. “I can forgive nearly everything against myself, but not slights to you.”

“The time will come when you will forgive everything, my son.”

“Not till there is acknowledgment and sorrow for the wrong,” answered he, sternly. Then with a sudden burst of tenderness he added: “Good-by, darling mother. I will try to do anything you wish, even though it is impossible;” but his love, through Janette’s treachery, suffered the deepest wound it had yet received.

Christine of her own accord had almost decided to call upon Mrs. Fleet, but before she could carry out her purpose while hastily coming downstairs one day, she sprained her ankle, and was confined to her room some little time.

She sent Janette with orders for the flowers, who, at once surmising their destination, said to the florist that she was Miss Ludolph’s confidential maid, and would carry them to those for whom they were designed. He, thinking it “all right,” gave them to her, and she took them to a Frenchman in the same trade whom she knew, and sold them at half-price, giving him a significant sign to ask no questions. To the same market she brought the fruit; so from that time they ceased as mysteriously as they had appeared at Mrs. Fleet’s bedside.

But Dennis was so anxious, and his mother was now failing so rapidly, that he scarcely noted this fact. The warm spring days seemed rather to enervate than to strengthen her. He longed to stay with her constantly, but his daily labor was necessary to secure the comforts needful to an invalid. Every morning he bade her a most tender adieu, and during the day often sent Ernst to inquire how she was.

One evening Christine ventured to send Janette on the same errand and impatiently awaited her return. At last she came, appearing as if flushed and angry.

“Whom did you see?” asked Christine, eagerly.

“I saw Mr. Fleet himself.”

“Well, what did he say?”

“He bite his lip, frown, and say, ‘Zere is no answer,’ and turn on his heel into ze house.”

It was now Christine’s turn to be angry. “What!” she exclaimed, “does his Bible teach him to forget and forgive nothing? Can it be that he, like the rest of them, believes and acts on only such parts as are to his mood?”

“I don’t know nothing about him,” said the maid, “only I don’t want to go zere again.”

“You need not,” was the brief reply.

After a long, bitter revery, she sighed: “Ah, well, thus we drift apart. But it is just as well, for apart we must ever be.”

One morning early in May Mrs. Fleet was very weak, and Dennis left her with painful misgivings. During the morning he sent Ernst to see how she was, and he soon returned, with wild face, crying, “Come home quick!”

Breaking abruptly from his startled customer, Dennis soon reached his