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When Dennis entered Mr. Ludolph's store Christine was absent on a visit to New York. On her return she resumed her old routine. At this time she and her father were occupying a suite of rooms at a fashionable hotel. Her school-days were over, Mr. Ludolph preferring to complete her education himself in accordance with his peculiar views and tastes. She was just passing into her twentieth year, and looked upon the world from the vantage points of health, beauty, wealth, accomplishments of the highest order, and the best social standing. Assurance of a long and brilliant career possessed her mind, while pride and beauty were like a coronet upon her brow. She was the world's ideal of a queen.
And yet she was not truly happy. There was ever a vague sense of unrest and dissatisfaction at heart. She saw that her father was proud and ambitious in regard to her, but she instinctively felt that he neither loved nor trusted her to any great extent. She seemed to be living in a palace of ice, and at times felt that she was turning into ice herself; but her very humanity and womanhood, deadened and warped though they were, cried out against the cold of a life without God or love. In the depths of her soul she felt that something was wrong, but what, she could not understand. It seemed that she had everything that heart could wish, and that she ought to be satisfied.
She had at last concluded that her restlessness was the prompting of a lofty ambition, and that if she chose she could win world-wide celebrity as an artist. This, with the whole force of her strong nature, she had determined to do, and for over two years had worked with an energy akin to enthusiasm. She had resolved that painting should be the solid structure of her success, and music its ornament.
Nor were her dreams altogether chimerical, for she had remarkable talent in her chosen field of effort, and had been taught to use the brush and pencil from childhood. She could imitate with skill and taste, and express with great accuracy the musical thought of the composer; but she could not create new effects, and this had already begun to trouble her. She worked hard and patiently, determined to succeed. So great had been her application that her father saw the need of rest and change, and therefore her visit to New York. She had now returned strengthened, and eager for her former studies, and resumed them with tenfold zest.
The plan of rearranging the store on artistic principles daily grew in favor with her. It was just the exercise of taste she delighted in, and she hoped some day to indulge it on palace walls that would be her own. Her father's pride caused him to hesitate for some time, but she said: "Why, Chicago is not our home; we shall soon be thousands of miles away. You know how little we really care for the opinions of the people here: it is only our own pride and opinion that we need consult. I see nothing lowering or unfeminine in the work. I shall scarcely touch a thing myself, merely direct; for surely among all in your employ there must be one or two pairs of hands not so utterly awkward but that they can follow plain instructions. My taste shall do it all. We are both early risers, and the whole change can be made before the store is opened. Moreover," she added (with an expression indicating that she would have little difficulty in ruling her future German castle, and its lord also), "this is an affair of our own. Those you employ ought to understand by this time that it is neither wise nor safe to talk of our business outside."
After a moment's thought she concluded: "I really think that the proper arrangement of everything in the store as to light, display, and effect, so that people of taste will be pleased when they enter, would add thousands of dollars to your sales; and this rigid system of old Schwartz's, which annoys us both beyond endurance, will be broken up."
Won over by arguments that accorded with his inclinations, Mr. Ludolph gave his daughter permission to carry out the plan in her own way.
She usually accompanied her father to the store in the morning. He, after a brief glance around, would go to his private office and attend to correspondence. She would do whatever her mood prompted. Sometimes she would sit down for a half-hour before one picture; again she would examine most critically a statue or a statuette. Whenever new music was received, she looked it over and carried off such pieces as pleased her fancy.
She evidently was a privileged character, and no one save her father exercised the slightest control over her movements. She treated all the clerks, save old Schwartz, as if they were animated machines; and by a quiet order, as if she had touched a spring, would set them in motion to do her bidding. The young men in the store were of German descent, and rather heavy and undemonstrative. Mr. Schwartz's system of order and repression had pretty thoroughly quenched them. They were educated to the niches they filled, and seemed to have no thought beyond; therefore they were all unruffled at Miss Ludolph's air of absolute sovereignty. Mr. Schwartz was as obsequious as the rest, but, as second to her father in power, was permitted some slight familiarity. In fact this heavy, stolid prime-minister both amused and annoyed her, and she treated him with the caprice of a child toward an elephant --at times giving him the sugar-plum of a compliment, and oftener pricking him with the pin of some caustic remark. To him she was the perfection of womankind--her reserved, dispassionate manner, her steady, unwearied prosecution of a purpose, being just the qualities that he most honored; and he worshipped her reverently at a distance, like an old astrologer adoring some particularly bright fixed star. No whisking comets or changing satellites for old Schwartz.
As for Dennis, she treated him as she probably had treated Pat Murphy, and for several days had no occasion to notice him at all. In fact he kept out of her way, choosing at first to observe rather than be observed. She became an artistic study to him, for her every movement was grace itself, except that there was no softness or gentleness in her manner. Her face fascinated him by its beauty, though its expression troubled him--it was so unlike his mother's, so unlike what he felt a woman's ought to be. But her eager interest in that which was becoming so dear to him--art--would have covered a multitude of sins in his eyes, and with a heart abounding in faith and hope, not yet diminished by hard experience, he believed that the undeveloped angel existed within her. But he remembered her frown when she had first noticed his observation of her. The shrewd Yankee youth saw that her pride would not brook even a curious glance. But while he kept at a most respectful distance he felt that there was no such wide gulf between them as she imagined. By birth and education he was as truly entitled to her acquaintance as the young men who sometimes came into the store with her and whom she met in society. Position and wealth were alone wanting, and in spite of his hard experience and lowly work he felt that there must be some way for him, as for others, to win these.
He longed for the society of ladies, as every right-feeling young man does, and to one of his nature the grace and beauty of woman were peculiarly attractive. If, before she came, the lovely faces of the pictures had filled the place with a sort of witchery, and created about him an atmosphere in which his artist-soul was awakening into life and growth, how much more would it be true of this living vision of beauty that glided in and out every day!
"She does not notice me," he at first said to himself, "any more than do these lovely shadows upon the canvas. But why need I care? I can study both them and her, and thus educate my eye, and I hope my hand, to imitate and perhaps surpass their perfections in time."
But this cool, philosophic mood did not last long. It might answer very well in regard to the pictures on the walls, but there was a magnetism about this living, breathing woman that soon caused him to long for the privilege of being near her and speaking to her of that subject that interested them both so deeply. Though he had never seen any of her paintings to know them, he soon saw that she was no novice in such matters and that she looked at works of art with the eye of a connoisseur. In revery he had many a spirited conversation with her, and he trusted that some day his dreams would become real. He had the romantic hope that if she should discover his taste and strong love of art she might at first bestow upon him a patronizing interest which would gradually grow into respect and acknowledged equality.
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