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Our story passes rapidly over the scenes and events of the summer and fall of '71. Another heavy blow fell upon Dennis in the loss of his old friend and instructor, Mr. Bruder.
By prayer and effort, his own and others, he was saved morally and spiritually, but he had been greatly shattered by past excess. He was attacked by typhoid fever, and after a few days' illness died. Recovery from this disease depends largely upon strength and purity of constitution. But every one of the innumerable glasses of liquor that poor Bruder had swallowed had helped to rob him of these, and so there was no power to resist.
Under her husband's improved finances, Mrs. Bruder had removed to comfortable lodgings in Harrison Street, and these she determined to keep if possible, dreading for the sake of her children the influences of a crowded tenement house. Dennis stood by her, a stanch and helpful friend; Ernst was earning a good little sum weekly, and by her needle and washtub the patient woman continued the hard battle of life with fair prospects of success.
Dennis's studio was on the south side, at the top of a tall building overlooking the lake. Even before the early summer sun rose above the shining waves he was at his easel, and so accomplished what is a fair day's work before many of his profession had left their beds. Though he worked hard and long, he still worked judiciously. Bent upon accomplishing what was almost impossible within the limited time remaining, he determined that, with all his labor, Dr. Arten should never charge him with suicidal tendencies again. Therefore he trained himself mentally and morally for his struggle as the athlete trains himself physically.
He believed in the truth, too little recognized among brain-workers, that men can develop themselves into splendid mental conditions, wherein they can accomplish almost double their ordinary amount of labor.
The year allotted to the competitors for the prize to be given in October was all too short for such a work as he had attempted, and through his own, his mother's, and Mr. Bruder's illness, he had lost a third of the time, but in the careful and skilful manner indicated he was trying to make it up. He had a long conversation with shrewd old Dr. Arten, who began to take a decided interest in him. He also read several books on hygiene. Thus he worked under the guidance of reason, science, Christian principle, instead of mere impulse, as is too often the case with genius.
In the absorption of his task he withdrew utterly from society, and, with the exception of his mission class, Christian worship on the Sabbath, and attendance on a little prayer-meeting in a neglected quarter during the week, he permitted no other demands upon his time and thoughts.
His pictures had sold for sufficient to provide for his sisters and enable him to live, with close economy, till after the prize was given, and then, if he did not gain it (of which he was not at all sure), his painting would sell for enough to meet future needs.
And so we leave him for a time earnestly at work. He was like a ship that had been driven hither and thither, tempest-tossed and in danger. At last, under a clear sky and in smooth water, it finds its true bearings, and steadily pursues its homeward voyage.
The Christine whom he had first learned to love in happy unconsciousness, while they arranged the store together, became a glorified, artistic ideal. The Christine whom he had learned to know as false and heartless was now to him a strange, fascinating, unwomanly creature, beautiful only as the Sirens were beautiful, that he might wreck himself body and soul before her unpitying eyes. He sought to banish all thought of her.
Christine returned about midsummer. She was compelled to note, as she neared her native city, that of all the objects it contained Dennis Fleet was uppermost in her thoughts. She longed to go to the store and see him once more, even though it should be only at a distance, with not even the shadow of recognition between them. She condemned it all as folly, and worse than vain, but that made no difference to her heart, which would have its way.
Almost trembling with excitement she entered the Art Building the next day, and glanced around with a timidity that was in marked contrast to her usual cold and critical regard. But, as the reader knows, Dennis Fleet was not to be seen. From time to time she went again, but neither he nor Ernst appeared. She feared that for some reason he had gone, and determined to learn the truth. Throwing off the strange timidity and restraint that ever embarrassed her where he was concerned, she said to Mr. Schwartz one day: "I don't like the way that picture is hung. Where is Mr. Fleet? I believe he has charge of that department."
"Why, bless you! Miss Ludolph," replied Mr. Schwartz, with a look of surprise, "Mr. Ludolph discharged him over two months ago."
"Discharged him! what for?"
"For being away too much, I heard," said old Schwartz, with a shrug indicating that that might be the reason and might not.
Christine came to the store but rarely thereafter, for it had lost its chief element of interest. That evening she said to her father, "You have discharged Mr. Fleet?"
"Yes," was the brief answer.
"May I ask the reason?"
"He was away too much."
"That is not the real reason," she said, turning suddenly upon him. "Father, what is the use of treating me as a child? What is the use of trying to lock things up and keep them from me? I intend to go to Germany with you this fall, and that is sufficient."
With a courtly smile Mr. Ludolph replied, "And I have lived long enough, my daughter, to know that what people intend, and what they do are two very different things."
She flushed angrily and said: "It was most unjust to discharge him as you did. Do you not remember that he offered his mother's services as nurse when I was dreading the smallpox?"
"You are astonishingly grateful in this case," said her father, with a meaning that Christine understood too well; "but, if you will read the records of the Ludolph race, you will find that its representatives have often been compelled to do things somewhat arbitrarily. Since you have been gone, I have received letters announcing the death of my brother and his wife. I am now Baron Ludolph!"
But Christine was too angry and too deeply wounded to note this information, which at one time would have elated her beyond measure. She coldly said, "It is a pity that noblemen are compelled to aught but noble deeds"; and, with this parting arrow, she left him.
Even her father winced, and then with a heavy frown said, "It is well that this Yankee youth has vanished; still, the utmost vigilance is required."
Again he saw the treacherous maid and promised increased reward if she would be watchful, and inform him of every movement of Christine.
In the unobtrusive ways that her sensitive pride permitted, Christine tried to find out what had become of Dennis, but vainly. She offered her maid a large reward if she would discover him, but she had been promised a larger sum not to find him, and so did not. The impression was given that he had left the city, and Christine feared, with a sickening dread, that she would never see him again. But one evening Mr. Cornell stated a fact in a casual way that startled both Mr. and Miss Ludolph.
He was calling at their house, and they were discussing the coming exhibition of the pictures which would compete for the prize.
"By the way, your former clerk and porter is among the competitors; at least he entered the lists last spring, but I have lost sight of him since. I imagine he has given it up, and betaken himself to tasks more within the range of his ability."
The eyes of father and daughter met, but she turned to Mr. Cornell, and said, coolly, though with a face somewhat flushed, "And has Chicago so much artistic talent that a real genius has no chance here?"
"I was not aware that Mr. Fleet was a genius," answered Mr. Cornell.
"I think that he will satisfy you on that point, and that you will hear from him before the exhibition takes place."
Mr. Ludolph hastily changed the subject, but he had forebodings as to the future.
Christine went to her room, and thought for a long time; suddenly she arose, exclaiming, "He told me his story once on canvas; I will now tell him mine."
She at once stretched the canvas on a frame for a small picture, and placed it on an easel, that she might commence with dawn of day.
During the following weeks she worked scarcely less earnestly and patiently than Dennis. The door was locked when she painted, and before she left the studio the picture was hidden.
She meant to send it anonymously, so that not even her father should know its authorship. She hoped that Dennis would recognize it.
When she was in the street her eyes began to have an eager, wistful look, as if she was seeking some one. She often went to galleries, and other resorts of artists, but in vain, for she never met him, though at times the distance between them was less than between Evangeline and her lover, when she heard the dip of his oar in her dream. Though she knew that if she met him she would probably give not one encouraging glance, yet the instinct of her heart was just as strong.
Mr. Ludolph told the maid that she must find out what Christine was painting, and she tried to that degree that she wakened suspicion.
On one occasion Christine turned suddenly on her, and said: "What do you mean? If I find you false--if I have even good reason to suspect you--I will turn you into the street, though it be at midnight!"
And the maid learned, as did Mr. Ludolph, that she was not dealing with a child.
During Monday, October 2, Dennis was employed all the long day in giving the finishing touches to his picture. It was not worked up as finely as he could have wished; time did not permit this. But he had brought out his thought vividly, and his drawings were full of power. On the following Saturday the prize would be given.
In the evening he walked out for air and exercise. As he was passing one of the large hotels, he heard his name called. Turning, he saw on the steps, radiant with welcome, his old friend, Susie Winthrop. Her hand was on the arm of a tall gentleman, who seemed to have eyes for her only. But in her old impulsive way she ran down the steps, and gave Dennis a grasp of the hand that did his lonely heart good. Then, leading him to the scholarly-looking gentleman, who was gazing through his glasses in mild surprise, she said: "Professor Leonard, my husband, Mr. Fleet. This is the Dennis Fleet I have told you about so often."
"Oh-h," said the professor, in prolonged accents, while a genial light shone through his gold spectacles. "Mr. Fleet, we are old acquaintances, though we have never met before. If I were a jealous man, you are the only one I should fear."
"And we mean to make you wofully jealous to-night, for I intend to have Mr. Fleet dine with us and spend the evening. Wo, I will take no excuse, no denial. This infatuated man will do whatever I bid him, and he is a sort of Greek athlete. If you do not come right along I shall command him to lay violent hands on you and drag you ignominiously in."
Dennis was only too glad to accept, but merely wished to make a better toilet.
"I have just come from my studio," he said.
"And you wish to go and divest yourself of all artistic flavor and become commonplace. Do you imagine I will permit it? No! so march in as my captive. Who ever heard of disputing the will of a bride? This man" (pointing up to the tall professor) "never dreams of it."
Dennis learned that she was on her wedding trip, and saw that she was happily married, and proud of her professor, as he of her.
With feminine tact she drew his story from him, and yet it was but a meagre, partial story, like the play of Hamlet with Hamlet left out, for he tried to be wholly silent on his love and disappointment. But in no respect did he deceive Mrs. Leonard. Her husband went away for a little time. In his absence she asked, abruptly, "Have you seen Miss Ludolph lately?"
"No!" said Dennis, with a tell-tale flush. Seeing her look of sympathy, and knowing her to be such a true friend, the impulsive young man gave his confidence almost before he knew it. She was just the one to inspire trust, and he was very lonely, having had no one to whom he could speak his deeper feelings since his mother died.
"Miss Ludolph wronged me in a way that a man finds it hard to forget or forgive," he said, in a low, bitter tone; "but I should have tried to do both had she not treated my mother most inhumanly;" and he told his story over again with Hamlet in.
Mrs. Leonard listened with breathless interest, and then said: "She is a strange girl, and that plan of making you her unconscious model is just like her, though it was both cruel and wicked. And yet Mr. Fleet, with shame for my sex I admit it, how many would have flirted with you to the same degree from mere vanity and love of excitement! I have seen Miss Ludolph, and I cannot understand her. We are no longer the friends we once were, but I cannot think her utterly heartless. She is bent upon becoming a great artist at any cost, and I sometimes think she would sacrifice herself as readily as any one else for this purpose. She looks to me as if she had suffered, and she has lost much of her old haughty, cold manner, save when something calls it out. Even in the drawing-room she was abstracted, as if her thoughts were far away. You are a man of honor, and it is due that you should know the following facts. Indeed I do not think that they are a secret any longer, and at any rate they will soon be known. If Mr. Ludolph were in Germany he would be a noble. It is his intention to go there this fall, and take his wealth and Christine with him, and assert his ancestral titles and position. Christine could not marry in this land without incurring her father's curse, and I think she has no disposition to do that--her ambition is fully in accord with his."
"Yes," said Dennis, bitterly, "and where other women have hearts, she has ambition only."
The professor returned and the subject was dropped.
Dennis said, on taking his leave: "I did not expect to show any one my picture till it was placed on exhibition with the others, but, if you care to see it, you may to-morrow. Perhaps you can make some suggestions that will help me."
They eagerly accepted the invitation, and came the following morning. Dennis watched them with much solicitude. When once they understood his thought, their delight and admiration knew no bounds. The professor turned and stared at him as if he were an entirely different person from the unpretending youth who had been introduced on the preceding evening.
"If you do not get the prize," he said, sententiously, "you have a great deal of artistic talent in Chicago."
"'A Daniel come to judgment!'" cried his wife.
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