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Several hours were measured off by the clock of a neighboring steeple before Dennis's excited mind was sufficiently calm to permit sleep, and even then he often started up from some fantastic dream in which the Bruders and Mr. and Miss Ludolph acted strange parts. At last he seemed to hear exquisite music. As the song rose and fell, it thrilled him with delight. Suddenly it appeared to break into a thousand pieces, and fall scattering on the ground, like a broken string of pearls, and this musical trash, as it were, awoke him. The sun was shining brightly into the room, and all the air seemed vibrating with sweet sounds. He started up and realized that he had greatly overslept. Much vexed, he began to dress in haste, when he was startled by a brilliant prelude on the piano, and a voice of wonderful power and sweetness struck into an air that he had never heard before. Soon the whole building was resonant with music, and Dennis stood spellbound till the strange, rich sounds died away, as before, in a few instrumental notes that had seemed in his dream like the song breaking into glittering fragments.
"It must be Miss Ludolph," thought Dennis. "And can she sing like that? What an angel true faith would make of her! Oh, how could I oversleep so!" And he dressed in breathless haste. In going down to the second floor, he found a piano open and new music upon it, which Miss Ludolph had evidently been trying; but she was not there. Yet a peculiar delicate perfume which the young lady always used pervaded the place, even as her song had seemed to pulsate through the air after it had ceased. She could not be far off. Stepping to a picture show-room over the front door, Dennis found her sitting quietly before a large painting, sketching one of the figures in it.
"I learned from my father that you were a very early riser," she said, looking up for a moment, and then resuming her work. "I fear there is some mistake about it. If we are ever to get through rearranging the store you will have to curtail your morning naps."
"I most sincerely beg your pardon. I never overslept so before. But I was out late last night, and passed through a most painful scene, that so disturbed me that I could not sleep till nearly morning, and I find to my great vexation that I have overslept. I promise you it shall not happen again."
"I am not sure of that, if you are out late in Chicago, and passing through painful scenes. I should say that this city was a peculiarly bad place for a young man to be out late in."
"It was an experience wholly unexpected to me, and I hope it may never occur again. It was a scene of trouble that I had no hand in making, but which even humanity would not permit me to leave at once."
"Not a scene of measles or smallpox, I hope. I am told that your mission people are indulging in these things most of the time. You have not been exposed to any contagious disease?"
"I assure you I have not."
"Very well; be ready to assist me to-morrow morning, for we have no slight task before us, and I wish to complete it as soon as possible. I shall be here at half-past six, and do not promise to sing you awake every morning. Were you not a little startled to hear such unwonted sounds echoing through the prosaic old store?"
"I was indeed. At first I could not believe that it was a human voice."
"That is rather an equivocal compliment."
"I did not mean to speak in compliment at all, but to say in all sincerity that I have seldom heard such heavenly music."
"Perhaps you have never heard very much of any kind, or else your imagination overshadows your other faculties. In fact I think it does, for did you not at first regard me as a painted lady who had stepped from the canvas to the floor?"
"I confess that I was greatly confused and startled."
"In what respect did you see such a close resemblance?"
"Are you not able to tell?" asked she.
"Yes," said Dennis, with heightened color, "but I do not like to say."
"But I wish you to say," said she, with a slightly imperious tone.
"Well, then, since you wish me to speak frankly, it was your expression. As you stood by the picture you unconsciously assumed the look and manner of the painted girl. And all the evening and morning I had been troubling over the picture and wondering how an artist could paint so lovely a face, and make it express only scorn and pride. It seemed to me that such a face ought to have been put to nobler uses."
Miss Ludolph bit her lip and looked a little annoyed, but turning to Dennis she said, with some curiosity: "You are not a bit like the man who preceded you. How did you come to take his place?"
"I am poor, and will gratefully do any honest work rather than beg or starve."
"I wish all the poor were of the same mind, but, from the way they drag on us who have something to give, I think the rule is usually the other way. Very well, that will answer; since you have asked papa to let you continue to do Pat's duties, you had better be about them, though it is not so late as you think;" and she turned to her sketching in such a way as to quietly dismiss him.
She evidently regarded him with some interest and curiosity, as a unique specimen of the genus homo, and, looking upon him as a humble dependant, was inclined to speak to him freely and draw him out for her amusement.
On going downstairs he saw that Mr. Ludolph was writing in his office. He was an early riser, and sometimes, entering the side door by a pass key before the store was opened, would secure an extra hour for business. He shook his head at Dennis, but said nothing.
By movements wonderfully quick and dexterous Dennis went through his wonted tasks, and at eight o'clock, the usual hour, the store was ready for opening.
Mr. Ludolph often caught glimpses of him as he darted to and fro, his cheeks glowing, and every act suggesting superabundant life.
He sighed and said: "After all, that young fellow is to be envied. He is getting more out of existence than most of us. He enjoys everything, and does even hard work with a zest that makes it play. There will be no keeping him down, for he seems possessed by the concentrated vim of this driving Yankee nation. Then he has a world of delusions besides that seem grand realities. Well, it is a sad thing to grow old and wise."
Indeed it is, in Mr. Ludolph's style.
When Dennis opened the front door, there was Ernst cowering in the March winds, and fairly trembling in the flutter of his hopes and fears. Dennis gave him a hearty grasp of the hand and drew him in, saying, "Don't be afraid; I'll take care of you."
The boy's heart clung to him as the vine tendril clasps the oak, and, upheld by Dennis's strength, he entered what was to him wonderland indeed.
Mr. Ludolph looked him over as he and his daughter passed out on their return to breakfast, and said, "He will answer if he is strong enough."
He saw nothing in that child's face to fear.
Dennis assured him with a significant glance, which Mr. Ludolph understood as referring to better fare, that "he would grow strong fast now."
Miss Ludolph was at once interested in the boy's pale face and large, spiritual eyes; and she resolved to sketch them before good living had destroyed the artistic effect.
Under kindly instruction, the boy took readily to his duties, and promised soon to become very helpful. At noon Dennis took him out to lunch, and the poor, half-starved lad feasted as he had not for many a long day.
The afternoon mail brought Dennis his mother's letter, and he wondered that her prediction should be fulfilled even before it reached him, and thus again his faith was strengthened. He smiled and said to himself, "Mother lives so near the heavenly land that she seems to get the news thence before any one else."
During the day a lady who was talking to Mr. Ludolph turned and said to Dennis: "How prettily you have arranged this table! Let me see; I think I will take that little group of bronzes. They make a very nice effect together."
Dennis, with his heart swelling that he had arrived at the dignity of salesman, with much politeness, which evidently pleased the lady, assured her that they would be sent promptly to her address.
Mr. Ludolph looked on as if all was a matter of course while she was present, but afterward said: "You are on the right track, Fleet. You now see the practical result of a little thought and grace in arrangement. In matters of art, people will pay almost as much for these as for the things themselves. The lady would not have bought those bronzes under Berder's system. When things are grouped rightly, people see just what they want, and buy the effect as well as the articles;" and with this judicious praise Mr. Ludolph passed on, better pleased with himself even than with Dennis.
But, as old Bill Cronk had intimated, such a peck of oats was almost too much for Dennis, and he felt that he was in danger of becoming too highly elated.
After closing the store, he wrote a brief but graphic letter to his mother, describing his promotion, and expressing much sympathy for poor Berder. Regarding himself as on the crest of prosperity's wave, he felt a strong commiseration for every degree and condition of troubled humanity, and even could sigh over unlucky Berder's deserved tribulations.
About eight o'clock he started to see his new friends in De Koven Street, and take his lesson in drawing. They welcomed him warmly, for they evidently looked upon him as the one who might save them from the engulfing waves of misfortune and evil.
The children were very different from the clamorous little wolves of the night before. No longer hungry, they were happy in the corner, with some rude playthings, talking and cooing together like a flock of young birds. Ernst was washing the tea-things, while his mother cared for the baby, recalling to Dennis, with a rush of tender memories, his mother and his boyhood tasks. Mr. Bruder still sat in the dusky corner. The day had been a hard one for him. Having nothing to do in the present, he had lived the miserable past over and over again. At times his strength almost gave way, but his wife would say, "Be patient! your friend Mr. Fleet will be in soon."
From a few hints of what had passed, Dennis saw the trouble at once. Mr. Bruder must have occupation. After a few kindly generalities, they two got together, as congenial spirits, before the rescued picture; and soon both were absorbed in the mysteries of the divine art.
As the wife looked at the kindling, interested face of her husband, she murmured to herself over and over again, like the sweet refrain of a song, "His artist-soul haf come back; it truly haf."
The lesson that night could be no more than a talk on general principles and rules. But Mr. Bruder soon found that he had an apt scholar, and Dennis's enthusiasm kindled his own flagging zeal, and the artist-soul awakening within him, as his wife believed, longed to express itself as of old in glowing colors.
Moreover, his ambition was renewed in this promising pupil. Naturally generous, and understanding his noble profession, he felt his poor benumbed heart stir and glow at the thought of aiding this eager aspirant to become what he had hoped to be. He might live again in the richer and better-guided genius of his scholar.
"I will send you by Ernst in the morning some sketching paper, materials, and canvas, and you can prepare some studies for me. I will let him bring some drawings and colorings that I have made of late in odd moments, and you can see about how advanced I am, and what faults I have fallen into while groping my own way. And I am going to send you some canvas, also, for I am quite sure that if you paint a picture Mr. Ludolph will buy it."
The man's face brightened visibly at this.
"Will you let your friend make a suggestion?" continued Dennis.
"You can command me," said Mr. Bruder, with emphasis.
"No; friends never do that; but I would like to suggest that at first you take some simple subject, that you can soon finish, and leave efforts that require more time for the future. That picture there shows what you can do, and you need to work now more from the commercial standpoint than the artist's."
After a moment's thought, the man said, "You are right. As I look around dis room, and see our needs, I see dat you are right. Do' I meant to attempt someding difficult, to show Mr. Ludolph vat I could do."
"That will all come in good time; and now, my friend, good-night."
The next day was far more tolerable for poor Bruder, because he was occupied, and he found it much easier to resist the clamors of appetite.
Dennis's sketches interested him greatly, for, though they showed the natural defects of one who had received little instruction, both power and originality were manifest in their execution.
"He, too, can be an artist, if he vill," was his emphatic comment, after looking them over.
He prepared one study, to be continued under his own eye, and another for Dennis to work at alone. Afterward he sat down to something for himself. He thought a few moments, and then outlined rapidly as his subject the figure of a man dashing a wineglass to the ground.
As he worked, his wife smiled encouragement to him as of old, and often looked upward in thankfulness to Heaven.
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