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In a tone of suppressed excitement, which he tried in vain to render steady, Mr. Bruder said: "You haf der advantage of me, sir. I know not your name. Vat is more, I am not fit for bissiness dis night. Indeed, I haf important bissiness elsewhere. You must excuse me," he added, sternly, advancing toward the door with the picture.
"Pardon me, Mr. Bruder," said Dennis, politely. "I throw myself entirely on your courtesy, and must ask as a very great favor that you will not take away that picture till I see it, for that, in part, is what I came for. I am in the picture trade myself, and think I am a tolerably fair judge of paintings. I heard accidentally you had a fine one, and from the glimpse I catch of it, I think I have not been misinformed. If it is for sale, perhaps I can do as well by you as any one else. I am employed in Mr. Ludolph's great store, the 'Art Building.' You probably know all about the place."
"Yes, I know him," said the man, calming down somewhat.
"And now, sir," said Dennis, with a gentle, winning courtesy impossible to resist, "will you do me the favor of showing me your picture?"
He treated poor Bruder as a gentleman, and he, having really been one, was naturally inclined to return like courtesy. Therefore he said, "Oh, certainly, since you vish to see him. I suppose I might as vell sell him to you as any von else."
Mr. Bruder was a man of violent impulses, and his mad excitement was fast leaving him under Dennis's cool, business-like manner. To gain time was now the great desideratum.
The picture having been replaced upon the wall, Mr. Bruder held the lamp so as to throw upon it as good a light as possible.
Dennis folded his arms calmly and commenced its study. He had meant to act a part---to pretend deep interest and desire for long critical study---that he might secure more time, but in a few moments he became honestly absorbed in the beautiful and exquisitely finished landscape.
The poor man watched him keenly. Old associations and feelings, seemingly long dead, awoke. As he saw Dennis manifest every mark of true and growing appreciation, he perceived that his picture was being studied by a discriminating person. Then his artist-nature began to quicken into life again. His eyes glowed, and glanced rapidly from Dennis to the painting, back and forth, following up the judgment on each and every part which he saw written in the young man's face. As he watched, something like hope and exultation began to light up his sullen, heavy features; thought and feeling began to spiritualize and ennoble what but a little before had been so coarse and repulsive.
Ernst was looking at Dennis in rapt awe, as at a messenger from heaven.
The poor wife, who had listened in a dull apathy to the conversation, raised her head in sudden and intelligent interest when the picture was replaced upon the wall. It seemed that her every hope was bound up in that. As she saw Dennis and her husband standing before it---as she saw the face of the latter begin to assume something of its former look---her whole soul came into her great blue eyes, and she watched as if more than life were at stake.
If that meagre apartment, with its inmates, their contrasts of character, their expressive faces, could have then been portrayed, it would have made a picture with power to move the coldest heart.
At last Dennis drew a long breath, turned and gave his hand to the man, saying with hearty emphasis, "Mr. Bruder, you are an artist."
The poor man lifted his face to heaven with the same expression of joy and gratitude that had rested on it long, long years ago, when his first real work of merit had received similar praise.
His wife saw and remembered it, and, with an ecstatic cry that thrilled Dennis's soul, exclaimed, "Ah! mine Gott be praised! mine Gott be praised! his artist-soul come back!" and she threw herself on her husband's neck, and clung to him with hysteric energy. The man melted completely, and bowed his head upon his wife's shoulder, while his whole frame shook with sobs.
"I will be back in half an hour," said Dennis, hastily, brushing tears from his own eyes. "Come with me, Ernst."
At the foot of the stairs Dennis said: "Take this money, Ernst, and buy bread, butter, tea, milk, and coal, also a nice large steak, for I am going to take supper with you to-night. I will stay here and watch, for your father must not be permitted to go out."
"Oh, Gott bless you! Gott bless you!" said the boy, and he hurried away to do his errand.
Dennis walked up and down before the door on guard. Ernst soon returned, and carried the welcome food upstairs. After a little time he stole down again and said: "Father's quiet and queer like. Mother has given the children a good supper and put them to bed. Better come now."
"In a few moments more; you go back and sit down quietly and say nothing."
After a little Dennis went up and knocked at the door. Mrs. Bruder opened it, and held out her hand. Her quivering lips refused to speak, but her eyes filled with grateful tears. The children were tucked away in bed. Ernst crouched by the fire, eating some bread and butter, for he was cold and half-famished. Mr. Bruder sat in the dusky corner with his head in his hands, the picture of dejection. But, as Dennis entered, he rose and came forward. He tried to speak, but for a moment could not. At last he said, hoarsely: "Mr. Vleet, you haf done me and mine a great kindness. No matter vat the result is, I dank you as I never danked any living being. I believe Gott sent you, but I fear too late. You see before you a miserable wreck. For months and years I haf been a brute, a devil. Dot picture dere show you vat I vas, vat I might haf been. You see vat I am," he added, with an expression of intense loathing. "I see him all to-night as if written in letters of fire, and if dere is a vorse hell dan der von I feel vithin my soul, Gott only knows how I am to endure him."
"Mr. Bruder, you say I have done you a favor."
"Gott knows you haf."
"I want you to do me one in return. I want you to let me be your friend," said Dennis, holding out his hand.
The man trembled, hesitated; at last he said, brokenly, "I am not fit--to touch--your hand."
"Mr. Bruder," said Dennis, gently, "I hope that I am a Christian."
"Still more, den, I am unfit efer to be in your presence."
"What! am I greater than my Master? Did not Christ take the hand of every poor, struggling man on earth that would let Him? Come, Mr. Bruder, if you have any real gratitude for the little I have done to show my interest in you and yours, grant me my request."
"Do you really mean him?" he gasped. "Do you really vant to be drunken old Berthold Bruder's friend?"
"God is my witness, I do," said Dennis, still holding out his hand.
The poor fellow drew a few short, heavy breaths, and then grasped Dennis's hand, and clung to it with the force of a drowning man. "Oh!" said he, after a few moments of deep emotion, "I feel dot I haf a plank under me now."
"God grant that yon may soon feel that you are on the Rock Christ Jesus," said Dennis, solemnly.
Fearing the reaction of too great and prolonged emotion, Dennis now did everything in his power to calm and quiet his new-found friends. He told them that he boarded at a restaurant, and he asked if he might take supper with them.
"Him is yours already," said Mr. Bruder.
"No, it isn't," said Dennis--"not after I have given it to you. But I want to talk to you about several matters, for I think you can be of great service to me;" and he told them of his experience during the day; that he had been promoted, and that he wanted Ernst to come and aid him in his duties. Then he touched on the matter nearest his heart --his own wish to be an artist, his need of instruction--and told how by his increase of pay he had now the means of taking lessons, while still able to support his mother and sisters.
"And now, Mr. Bruder, I feel that I have been very fortunate in making your acquaintance. You have the touch and tone that I should be overjoyed to acquire. Will you give me lessons?"
"Yes, morning, noon, and night, vithout von shent of pay."
"That will not do. I'll not take one on those terms."
"I vill do vatever you want me to," said the man, simply, "I vish I could be led and vatched over as a little child."
Dennis saw his pathetic self-distrust, and it touched him deeply.
"As your friend," he said, with emphasis, "I will not advise you to do anything that I would not do myself."
So they arranged that Ernst should go to the store in the morning, and that Dennis should come three nights in the week for lessons.
All made a hearty supper save Mr. Bruder. He had reached that desperate stage when his diseased stomach craved drink only. But a strong cup of tea, and some bread that he washed down with it, heartened him a little, and it was evident that he felt better. The light of a faint hope was dawning in his face.
Dennis knew something of the physical as well as moral Struggle before the poor man, and knew that after all it was exceedingly problematical whether he could be saved. Before he went away he told Mrs. Bruder to make her husband some very strong coffee in the morning, and to let him drink it through the day. As for Bruder, he had resolved to die rather than touch another drop of liquor.
But how many poor victims of appetite have been haunted to the grave by such resolves--shattered and gone almost as soon as made!
After a long, earnest talk, in which much of the past was revealed on both sides, Dennis drew a small Testament from is pocket and said: "Mr. Bruder, I wish to direct your thoughts to a better Friend than I am or can be. Will you let me read you something about Him?"
"Yes, and dank you. But choose someding strong--suited to me."
Dennis read something strong--the story of the Demoniac of Gadara, and left him "sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind."
"Mr. Bruder, permit me as your friend to say that I think that is the only safe place for you. Your better self, your true manhood, has been overpowered by the demon of intemperance. I do not undervalue human will and purpose, but I think you need a divine, all-powerful Deliverer."
"I know you are right," said Mr. Bruder. "I haf resolved ofer and ofer again, only to do vorse, and sink deeper at der next temptation, till at last I gave up trying. Unless I am sustained by some strength greater dan mine, I haf no hope. I feel dot your human sympathy and kindness vill be a great help to me, and somehow I dake him as an earnest dot Gott vil be kind to me too."
"Oh, Mr. Fleet!" he continued, as Dennis rose to go, "how much I owe to you! I vas in hell on earth ven you came. I vould haf been in hell beneath before morning. I proposed, from the proceeds of dot picture, to indulge in von more delirium, and den seek to quench all in der vaters of der lake."
Dennis shuddered, but said: "And I believe that God purposes that you should have a good life here, and a happy life in heaven. Co-work with Him."
"If He vill help me, I'll try," said the man, humbly. "Good-night, and Gott bless you;" and he almost crushed Dennis's hand.
As the young man turned to Mrs. Bruder, he was much struck by her appearance: she was very pale, and a wonderful light shone from her eyes. She took his hand in both of hers, and looked at him for a moment with an expression he could never forget, and then slowly pointed heavenward without a word.
Dennis hastened away, much overcome by his own feelings. But the silent, deserted streets seemed luminous, such was the joy of his heart.
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