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- Barriers Burned Away - 50/81 -
forward in the dark life is!"
This was a style of moralizing peculiarly distasteful to Mr. Ludolph--all the more repugnant because it seemed true, and brought home in Dennis's experience. Anything that interfered with his plans and interests, even though it might be God's providence, always angered him. And now he was irritated at the loss of one of his best clerks, just as he was becoming of great value; so he said, sharply: "I hope you are not leaning toward the silly cant of mysterious providence. Life is uncertain stumbling only to fools who can't see the chances that fortune throws in their way, or recognize the plain laws of health and success. This young Fleet has been putting two days' work in one for the past four months, and now perhaps his work is done forever, for the doctor looked very grave over him."
Again the shadow of night proved most friendly to Christine. Her face had a frightened, guilty look that it was well her father did not see, or he would have wrung from her the whole story. She felt the chill of a terrible dread at heart. If he should die, her conscience would give a fearful verdict against her. She stood trembling, feeling almost powerless to move.
"Come," said her father, sharply, "I am hungry and tired."
"I will ring for lights and supper," said Christine hastily, and then fled to her own room.
When she appeared, her father was sitting at the table impatiently awaiting her. But her face was so white, and there was such an expression in her eyes, that he started and said, "What is the matter?"
His question irritated her, and she replied as sharply as he had spoken.
"I told you I was tired, and I don't feel well. I have been a month in constant effort to get this house in order, and I am worn out, I suppose."
He looked at her keenly, but said more kindly, "Here, my dear, take this wine"; and he poured out a glass of old port.
She drank it eagerly, for she felt she must have something that would give her life, warmth, and courage. In a way she could not understand, her heart sank within her.
But she saw her father was watching her, and knew she must act skillfully to deceive him. Rallied and strengthened by the generous wine, her resolute will was soon on its throne again, and Mr. Ludolph with all his keen insight was no match for her. In a matter-of-fact tone she said:
"I do not see how we have worked Mr. Fleet to death. Does he charge anything of the kind?7'
"Oh, no! but he too seems possessed with the idea of becoming an artist. That drunken old Bruder, whom he appears to have reformed, was giving him lessons, and after working all day he would study much of the night and paint as soon as the light permitted in the morning. He might have made something if he had had a judicious friend to guide him" ("And such you might have been," whispered her conscience), "but now he drops away like untimely fruit."
"It is a pity," said she, coolly, and changed the subject, as if she had dismissed it from her mind.
Mr. Ludolph believed that Dennis was no more to his daughter than a useful clerk.
The next morning Christine rose pale and listless.
Her father said, "I will arrange my business so that we can go off on a trip in a few days."
When left alone she sat down at her easel and tried to restore the expression that had so delighted her on the preceding day. But she could not. Indeed she was greatly vexed to find that her tendency was to paint his stern and scornful look, which had made a deeper impression on her mind than any she had even seen on his face, because so unexpected and novel. She became irritated with herself, and cried, fiercely: "Shame on your weakness! You are unworthy of your blood and ancestry. I will reproduce that face as it was before he so insolently destroyed it;" and she bent over her easel with an expression not at all in harmony with her work. Unconsciously she made a strange contrast, with her severe, hard face and compressed lips, to the look of love and pleading she sought to paint. For several days she wrought with resolute purpose, but found that her inspiration was gone.
At last she threw down her brush in despair, and cried: "I cannot catch it again. The wretch either smiles or frowns upon me. I fear he was right: I have made my first and last success;" and she leaned her head sullenly and despairingly on her hand. Again the whole scene passed before her, and she dwelt upon every word, as she was beginning often to do now, in painful revery. When she came to the words, "I too mean to be an artist. I could show you a picture that would tell you far more of what I mean than can my poor words" she started up, and, hastily arraying herself for the street, was soon on her way to the Art Building.
No one heeded her movements there, and she went directly upstairs to his room. Though simple and plain, it had unmistakably been the abode of a gentleman and a person of taste. It was partially dismantled, and in disorder from his hasty departure, and she found nothing which satisfied her quest there. She hastened away, glad to escape from a place where everything seemed full of mute reproach, and next bent her steps to the top floor of the building. In a part half-filled with antiquated lumber, and seldom entered, she saw near a window facing the east an easel with canvas upon it. She was startled at the throbbing of her heart.
"It is only climbing these long stairs," she said; but her words were belied by the hesitating manner and eager face with which she approached and removed the covering from the canvas.
She gazed a moment and then put out her hand for something by which to steady herself. His chair was near, and she sank into it, exclaiming: "He has indeed painted more than he--more than any one--could put into words. He has the genius that I have not. All here is striking and original;" and she sat with her eyes riveted to a painting that had revealed to her--herself.
Here was the secret of Dennis's toil and early work. Here were the results of his insatiable demand for the incongruous elements of ice and sunlight.
Side by side were two emblematic pictures. In the first there opened before Christine a grotto of ice. The light was thin and cold but very clear. Stalactites hung glittering from the vaulted roof. Stalagmites in strange fantastic forms rose to meet them. Vivid brightness and beauty were on every side, but of that kind that threw a chill on the beholder. All was of cold blue ice, and so natural was it that the eye seemed to penetrate its clear crystal. To the right was an opening in the grotto, through which was caught a glimpse of a summer landscape, a vivid contrast to the icy cave.
But the main features of the picture were two figures. Sleeping on a couch of ice was the form of a young girl. The flow of the drapery, the contour of the form, was grace itself, and yet all was ice. But the face was the most wonderful achievement. Christine saw her own features, as beautiful as in her vainest moments she had ever dared to hope. So perfect was the portrait that the delicate blue veins branched across the temple in veiled distinctness. It was a face that lacked but two things, life and love; and yet in spite of all its beauty the want of these was painfully felt--all the more painfully, even as a lovely face in death awakens a deeper sadness and regret.
One little icy hand grasped a laurel wreath, also of ice. The other hand hung listless, half open, and from it had dropped a brush that formed a small stalagmite at her side.
Bending over her in most striking contrast was the figure of a young man, all instinct with life, power, and feeling. Though the face was turned away, Dennis had suggested his own form and manner. His left hand was extended toward the sleeping maiden, as if to awaken her, while with the right he pointed toward the opening through which was seen the summer landscape, and his whole attitude indicated an eager wish to rescue her. This was the first picture.
The second one was still more suggestive. At the entrance of the grotto, which looked more cold than ever, in its partial shadow, Christine saw herself again, but how changed! She now had a beauty which she could not believe in--could not understand.
The icy hue and rigidity were all gone. She stood in the warm sunlight, and seemed all warmth and life. Her face glowed with feeling, yet was full of peace.
Instead of the barren ice, flowers were at her feet, and fruitful trees bent over her. Birds were seen flitting through their branches. The bended boughs, her flowing costume, and the tress of golden hair lifted from her temple, all showed that the summer wind was blowing.
Everything, in contrast with the frozen, death-like cave, indicated life, activity. Near her, a plane-tree, which in nature's language is the emblem of genius, towered into the sky; around its trunk twined the passion-flower, meaning, in Flora's tongue, "Holy love"; while just above her head, sipping the nectar from an open blossom, was a bright-hued butterfly, the symbol of immortality. By her side stood the same tall, manly form, with face still averted. He was pointing, and her eyes, softened, and yet lustrous and happy, were following where a path wound through a long vista, in alternate light and shadow, to a gate, that in the distance looked like a pearl. Above and beyond it, in airy outline, rose the walls and towers of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem.
For a long time she sat in rapt attention. Moment by moment the paintings in their meaning grew upon her. At last her eyes filled with tears, her bosom rose and fell with an emotion most unwonted, and in low tones she murmured: "Heavenly delusion! and taught with the logic I most dearly love. Oh, that I could believe it! I would give ten thousand years of the life I am leading to know that it is true. Is there, can there be a path that leads through light or shade to a final and heavenly home? If this is true, in spite of all my father's keen and seemingly convincing arguments, what a terrible mistake our life is!"
Then her thoughts reverted to the artist.
"What have I done in driving him away with contempt in his heart for me? I can no more affect haughty superiority to the man who painted those pictures. Though he could not be my lover, what a friend he might have been! I fear I shall never find his equal. Oh, this world of chaos
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