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After the plan for the re-arrangement of the store had been determined upon, Miss Ludolph began to study its topography. She went regularly through the building, examining closely every part and space, sometimes sketching a few outlines in a little gilt book. Apparently she was seeking by her taste to make the show-rooms pictures in themselves, wherein all the parts should blend harmoniously, and create one beautiful effect. Dennis saw what was coming. The carrying-out of the plan he had heard discussed, and he wished with intense longing that he might be her assistant. But she would as soon have thought of sending for Pat Murphy. She intended to select one of the older clerks to aid her. Still Dennis hoped that by some strange and happy turn of fortune part of this work might fall to him.
Every spare moment of early morning and evening he spent in sketching and studying, but he sadly felt the need of instruction, and of money to buy materials. He was merely groping his way as best he might; and he felt that Miss Ludolph could teach him so much, if she would only condescend to the task! He was willing to be a very humble learner at first. If in some way he could only make known his readiness to pick up the crumbs of knowledge that she might be willing out of kindness to scatter in his path, he might expect something from ordinary good nature.
But a week or two passed without his receiving so much as a glance from those cold blue eyes that rested so critically on all before them; and on an unlucky day in March all hope of help from her vanished. Under the influence of spring the streets were again becoming muddy, and his duties as bootblack increased daily. He had arranged to perform this menial task in a remote corner of the store, as much out of sight as possible. The duty had become still more disagreeable since the young lady haunted the place, for he feared she would learn to associate him only with the dust-brush and blacking-brush.
Just behind where he usually stood, a good picture had been hung, under Mr. Schwartz's system, simply because it accurately fitted the space. It was in a wretched light, and could never be seen or appreciated there. Miss Ludolph in her investigations and plannings discovered this at a time most unfortunate for poor Dennis. While polishing away one morning, he suddenly became conscious that she was approaching. It seemed that she was looking directly at him, and was about to speak. His heart thumped like a trip-hammer, his cheeks burned, and a blur came over his eyes, for he was diffident in ladies' presence. Therefore he stood before her the picture of confusion, with a big boot poised in one hand, and the polishing-brush in the other. With the instincts of a gentleman, however, he made an awkward bow, feeling, though, that under the circumstances his politeness could only appear ridiculous. And he was right. It was evident from the young lady's face that her keen perception of the ridiculous was thoroughly aroused. But for the sake of her own dignity (she cared not a jot for him), she bit her lip to control her desire to laugh in his face, and said, rather sharply, "Will you stand out of my way?"
She had spoken to him.
He was so mortified and confused that in his effort to obey he partially fell over a bronze sheep, designed to ornament some pastoral scene, and the heel of Mr. Schwartz's heavy boot came down with a thump that made everything ring. There was a titter from some of the clerks. Mr. Ludolph, who was following his daughter, exclaimed, "What's the matter, Fleet? You seem rather unsteady, this morning, for a church member."
For a moment he had the general appearance usually ascribed to the sheep, his unlucky stumbling-block. But by a strong effort he recovered himself. Deigning no reply, he set his teeth, compressed his lips, picked up the boot, and polished away as before, trying to look and feel regardless of all the world. In fact there was as much pride in his face as there had ever been in hers. But, not noticing him, she said to her father: "Here is a specimen. Look where this picture is hung. In bootblack corner I should term it. It would not sell here in a thousand years, for what little light there is would be obscured much of the time by somebody's big boots and the artist in charge. It has evidently been placed here in view of one principle alone--dimensions; its length and breadth according with the space in the corner. You will see what a change I will bring about in a month or two, after my plans are matured;" and then she strolled to another part of the store. But, before leaving, Miss Ludolph happened to glance at Dennis's face, and was much struck by its expression. Surely Pat Murphy never would or could look like that. For the first time the thought entered her mind that Dennis might be of a different clay and character from Pat. But the next moment his expression of pride and offended dignity, in such close juxtaposition to the big boot he was twirling almost savagely around, again appealed to her sense of the ludicrous, and she turned away with a broad smile. Dennis, looking up, saw the smile and guessed the cause; and when, a moment after, Mr. Schwartz appeared, asking in his loud, blunt way, "My boots ready?" he felt like flinging both at his head, and leaving the store forever. Handing them to him without a word, he hastened upstairs, for he felt that he must be alone.
At first his impulse was strong to rebel--to assert that by birth and education he was a gentleman, and must be treated as such, or he would go elsewhere. But, as the tumult in his mind calmed, the case became as clear to him as a sum in addition. He had voluntarily taken Pat Murphy's place, and why should he complain at Pat's treatment? He had pledged his word that there should be no trouble from his being above his business, and he resolved to keep his word till Providence gave him better work to do. He bathed his hot face in cool water, breathed a brief prayer for strength and patience, and went back to his tasks strong and calm.
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