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of music commenced sweetly, and then suddenly broken down into a few discordant notes and ceased. It is like my picture--all very well; but that which would speak to and move the heart, year after year, when the mere beauty ceased to please--that life or something is wanting. What were his words?--'This picture is but the beautiful corpse of the other'; and my life is but a cold marble effigy of a true life. And yet is there any true and better life? If there is nothing better beyond, I have been carried forward too far. Miss Brown thoroughly enjoys champagne and flirtations. Susie Winthrop is happy in her superstition, as any one might be who could believe what she does. But I have gone past the power of taking up these things, as I have gone past my childhood's sports. And now what is there for me? My most dear and cherished hope--a hope that shone above my life like a sun--has been blown away by the breath of my father's clerk (it required no greater power to bring me down to my true level), and I hoped to be a queen among men, high-born, but crowned with the richer coronet of genius. I, who hoped to win so high a place that men would speak of me with honest praise, now and in all future time, must be contented as a mere accomplished woman, deemed worthy perhaps in time to grace some nobleman's halls who in the nice social scale abroad may stand a little higher than myself. I meant to shine and dazzle, to stoop to give in every case; but now I must take what I can get, with a humble 'Thank you';" and she clenched her little powerless hands in impotent revolt at what seemed very cruel destiny.
She appeared at the dinner-table outwardly calm and quiet. Her father did not share in her bitter disappointment, and she saw that he did not, and so felt more alone. He regarded her success as remarkable (as it truly was), having never believed that she could copy a picture so exactly as to deceive an ordinarily good observer. When, therefore, old Schwartz and others were unable to distinguish between the pictures, he was more than satisfied. He was sorry that Dennis had spoiled the triumph, but could not blame him. At the same time he recognized in Fleet another and most decided proof of intelligence on questions of art, for he knew that his criticism was just. He believed that when the true knight that his ambition would choose appeared, with golden spurs and jewelled crest, then her deeper nature would awaken, and she far surpass all previous effort. Moreover, he did not fully understand or enter into her lofty ambition. To see her settled in life, titled, rich, and a recognized leader in the aristocracy of his own land, was his highest aspiration so far as she was concerned.
He began, therefore, in a strain of compliment to cheer his daughter and rally her courage; but she shook her head sadly, and said so decidedly, "Father, let us change the subject," that with some surprise at her feelings he yielded to her wish, thinking that a little time and experience would moderate her ideas and banish the pain of disappointment. It was a quiet meal, both being occupied by their own thoughts. Soon after he was absorbed for the evening by his cigar and some business papers.
It was a mild, summer-like night, and a warm, gentle rain was falling. Even in the midst of a great city the sweet odors of spring found their way to the private parlor where Christine sat by the window, still lost in painful thoughts.
"Nature is full of hope, and the promise of coming life. So ought I to be in this my spring-time. Why am I not? If I am sad and disappointed in my spring, how dreary will be my autumn, when leaf after leaf of beauty, health, and strength drops away!"
A muffled figure, seemingly regardless of the rain, passed slowly down the opposite side of the street. Though the person cast but a single quick glance toward her window, and though the twilight was deepening, something in the passer-by suggested Dennis Fleet. For a moment she wished she could speak to him. She felt very lonely. Solitude had done her no good. Her troubles only grew darker and more real as she brooded over them. She instinctively felt that her father could not understand her, and she had never been able to go to him for sympathy. He was not the kind of person that any one would seek for such a purpose. Christine was not inclined to confidence, and there was really no one who knew her deeper feelings, and who could enter into her real hopes for life. She was so proud and cold that few ever thought of giving her confidence, much less of asking hers.
Up to the time of her recent illness she had been strong, self-confident, almost assured of success. At times she recognized dimly that something was wrong; but she shut her eyes to the unwelcome truth, and determined to succeed. But her sickness and fears at that time, and now a failure that seemed to destroy the ambition of her life, all united in greatly shaking her self-confidence.
This evening, as never before, she was conscious of weakness and dependence. With the instinct of one sinking, her spirit longed for help and support. Then the thought suddenly occurred to her, "Perhaps this young stranger, who so clearly pointed out the disease, may also show the way to some remedy."
But the figure had passed on. In a moment mere pride and conventionality resumed sway, and she smiled bitterly, saying to herself, "What a weak fool I am to-night! Of all things let me not become a romantic miss again."
She went to her piano and struck into a brilliant strain. For a few moments the music was of a forced and defiant character, loud, gay, but with no real or rollicking mirth in it, and it soon ceased. Then in a sharp contrast came a sad, weird German ballad, and this was real. In its pathos her burdened heart found expression, and whoever listened then would not merely have admired, but would have felt. One song followed another. All the pent-up feeling of the day seemed to find natural flow in the plaintive minstrelsy of her own land.
Suddenly she ceased and went to her window. The muffled figure stood in the shadow of an angle in the attitude of a listener. A moment later it vanished in the dusk toward the business part of the city. The quick footsteps died away, and only the patter of the falling rain broke the silence. Christine felt sure that it was Dennis. At first her feeling was one of pleasure. His coming and evident interest took somewhat, she scarcely knew why, from her sense of loneliness. Soon her pride awoke, however, and she said: "He has no business here to watch and listen. I will show him that, with all his taste and intelligence, we have no ground in common on which he can presume."
Her father had also listened to the music, and said to himself: "Christine is growing a little sentimental. She takes this disappointment too much to heart. I must touch her pride with the spur a little, and that will make her ice and steel in a moment. It is no slight task to keep a girl's heart safe till you want to use it. I will wait till the practical daylight of to-morrow, and then she shall look at the world through my eyes again."
DENNIS'S LOVE PUT TO PRACTICAL USE
The day following his unlucky criticism of the pictures was one of great despondency to Dennis. He had read in Christine's face that he had wounded her sorely; and, though she knew it to be unintentional, would it not prejudice her mind against him, and snap the slender thread by which he hoped to draw across the gulf between them the cord, and then the cable, that might in time unite their lives?
In the evening his restless, troubled spirit drove him, in spite of the rain, to seek to be at least nearer to her. He felt sure that in the dusk and wrapped in his greatcoat he would not be noticed, but was mistaken, as we have seen. He was rewarded, for he heard her sing as never before, as he did not believe she could sing. For the first time her rich, thoroughly trained voice had the sweetness and power of feeling. To Dennis her song seemed like an appeal, a cry for help, and his heart responded in the deepest sympathy. As he walked homeward he said to himself: "She could be a true artist, perhaps a great one, for she can feel. She has a heart. She has a taste and skill in touch that few can surpass. I can scarcely believe the beautiful coloring and faultless lines of that picture are her work." He long for a chance to speak with her and explain. He felt that he had so much to say, and in a thousand imaginary ways introduced the subject of her painting. He hoped he might find her sketching in some of the rooms again. He thought that he knew her better for having heard her sing, and that he could speak to her quite frankly.
The next day she came to the store, but passed him without the slightest notice. He hoped she had not seen him, and, as she passed out, so placed himself that she must see him, and secured for his pains only a slight, cold inclination of the head.
"It is as I feared," he said, bitterly. "She detests me for having spoiled her triumph. She is not just," he added, angrily. "She has no sense of justice, or she would not blame me. What a mean-spirited craven I should have been had I shrunk away under her taunts yesterday. Well, I can be proud too."
When she came in again he did not raise his eyes, and when she passed out he was in a distant part of the store. Christine saw no tall muffled figure under her window again, though she had the curiosity to look. That even this humble admirer, for whom she cared not a jot, should show such independence rather nettled and annoyed her for a moment. But she paid no more heed to him than to the other clerks.
But what was the merest jar to Christine's vanity cost Dennis a desperate struggle. It required no effort on her part to pass him by without a glance. To him it was torture. In a few days she ceased to think about him at all, and only remembered him in connection with her disappointment. But she was restless, could settle down to no work, and had lost her zest in her old pleasures. She tried to act as usual, for she saw her father's eye was on her. He had not much indulgence for any one's weaknesses save his own, and often by a little cold satire would sting her to the very quick. On the other hand, his admiration, openly expressed in a certain courtly gallantry, nourished her pride but not her heart. Though she tried to keep up her usual routine, her manner was forced before him and languid when alone. But he said, "All this will pass away like a cold snap in spring, and the old zest will come again in a few days."
It did, but from a cause which he could not understand, and which his daughter with consummate skill and care concealed. He thought it was only the old enthusiasm rallying after a sharp frost of disappointment.
Dennis's pride gave way before her cool and unstudied indifference. It was clearly evident to him that he had no hold upon her life whatever, and how to gain any he did not see. He became more and more dejected.
"She must have a heart, or I could not love her so; but it is so incased in ice I fear I can never reach it."
That something was wrong with Dennis any friend who cared for him at
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