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- Barriers Burned Away - 80/81 -
round on the little group. Dennis trembled, for he feared some dreadful bull on the part of his rough, though well-meaning friend, but Dr. Arten, in a state of intense enjoyment, cried, "Mr. Cronk has the floor."
Lifting a can of coffee containing about a quart, the drover said impressively, and with an attempt at great stateliness:
"Beautiful ladies and honorable gentlemen here assembled, I would respectfully ask you to drink to a toast in this harmless beverage: _The United States of Ameriky!_ When the two great elemental races--the sanguinary Yankee and the phlegmatic German--become one, and, as represented in the blooded team before me" (waving his hand majestically over the heads of Dennis and Christine), "pull in the traces together, how will the ship of state go forward!" and his face disappeared behind his huge flagon of coffee in the deepest pledge. Bill thought he had uttered a very profound and elegant sentiment, but his speech fell like a bombshell in the little company.
"The very spirit of mischief is abroad to-day," Dennis groaned. And Christine, with a face like a peony, snatched up the youngest little Bruder, saying, "It is time these sleepy children were in bed"; but the doctor and the Leonards went off again and again in uncontrollable fits of laughter, in which Dennis could not refrain from joining, though he wished the unlucky Cronk a thousand miles away. Bill put down his mug, stared around in a surprised and nonplussed manner, and then said, in a loud whisper, "I say, Fleet, was there any hitch in what I said?"
This set them off again, but Dennis answered good-naturedly, slapping his friend on the shoulder, "Cronk, you would make a man laugh in the face of fate."
Bill took this as a compliment, and the strange party, thrown together by an event that mingled all classes in the community, broke up and went their several ways.
EVERY BARRIER BURNED AWAY
Dennis was glad to escape, and went to a side door where he could cool his hot cheeks in the night air. He fairly dreaded to meet Christine again, and, even where the wind blew cold upon him, his cheeks grew hotter and hotter, as he remembered what had occurred. He had been there but a little time when a light hand fell on his arm, and he was startled by her voice--"Mr. Fleet, are you very tired?"
"Not in the least," he answered, eagerly.
"You must be: it is wrong for me to think of it."
"Miss Ludolph, please tell me what I can do for you?"
She looked at him wistfully and said: "This is a time when loss and disaster burden every heart, and I know it is a duty to try to maintain a cheerful courage, and forget personal troubles. I have tried to-day, and, with God's help, hope in time to succeed. While endeavoring to wear in public a cheerful face, I may perhaps now, and to so true a friend as yourself, show more of my real feelings. Is it too far--would it take too long, to go to where my father died? His remains could not have been removed."
"Alas, Miss Ludolph," said Dennis, very gently, "there can be no visible remains. The words of the Prayer Book are literally true in this case--'Ashes to ashes.' But I can take you to the spot, and it is natural that you should wish to go. Are you equal to the fatigue?"
"I shall not feel it if you go with me, and then we can ride part of the way, for I have a little money." (Dr. Arten had insisted on her taking some.) "Wait for me a moment."
She soon reappeared with her shawl cut in two equal parts. One she insisted on folding and putting around him as a Scotsman wears his plaid. "You will need it in the cool night wind," she said, and then she took his arm in perfect trust, and they started.
In the cars she gave him her money, and he said, "I will return my fare to-morrow night."
"What!" she replied, looking a little hurt. "After spending two dollars on me, will you not take five cents in return?"
"But I spent it foolishly."
"You spent it like a generous man. Surely, Mr. Fleet, you did not understand my badinage this evening. If I had not spoken to you in that strain, I could not have spoken at all. You have been a brother to me, and we should not stand on these little things."
"That is it," thought he again. "She looks upon and trusts me as a brother, and such I must try to be till she departs for her own land; yet if she knew the agony of the effort she would scarcely ask it."
But as they left the car, he said, "All that you would ask from a brother, please ask from me."
She put her hand in his, and said, "I now ask your support, sympathy, and prayer, for I feel that I shall need all here."
Still retaining her hand, he placed it on his arm and guided her most carefully around the hot ruins and heaps of rubbish till they came to where the Art Building had stood. The moon shone brightly down, lighting up with weird and ghostly effect the few walls remaining. They were utterly alone in the midst of a desolation sevenfold more impressing than that of the desert. Pointing to the spot where, in the midst of his treasures of art and idolized worldly possessions, Mr. Ludolph had perished, she said, in a thrilling whisper, "My father's ashes are there."
Her breath came quick and short, and her face was so pale and agonized that he trembled for her, but he tightened his grasp on her hand, and his tears fell with hers.
"Oh, my father!" she cried, in a tone of unspeakable pathos, "can I never, never see you again? Can I never tell you of the love of Jesus, and the better and happier life beyond? Oh, how my heart yearns after you! God forgive me if this is wrong, but I cannot help it!"
"It is not wrong," said Dennis, brokenly. "Our Lord himself wept over those He could not save."
"It is all that I can do," she murmured, and, leaning her head on his shoulder, a tempest of sobs shook her person.
He supported her tenderly, and said, in accents of the deepest sympathy, "Let every tear fall that will: they will do you good." At last, as she became calmer, he added, "Remember that your great Elder Brother has called the heavy laden to Him for rest."
At last she raised her head, turned, and gave one long parting look, and, as Dennis saw her face in the white moonlight, it was the face of a pitying angel. A low "Farewell!" trembled from her lips, she leaned heavily on his arm, they turned away, and seemingly the curtain fell between father and child to rise no more.
"Mr. Fleet," she said, pleadingly, "are you too tired to take me to my old home on the north side?"
"Miss Ludolph, I could go to the ends of the earth for you, but you are not equal to this strain upon your feelings. Have mercy on yourself."
But she said, in a low, dreamy tone: "I wish to take leave to-night of my old life--the strange, sad past with its mystery of evil; and then I shall set my face resolutely toward a better life--a better country. So bear with me, my true, kind friend, a little longer."
"Believe me, my thought was all for you. All sense of fatigue has passed away."
Silently they made their way, till they stood where, a few short days before, had been the elegant home that was full of sad and painful memories to both.
"There was my studio," she said in the same dreamy tone, "where I indulged in my wild, ambitious dreams, and sought to grasp a little fading circlet of laurel, while ignoring a heavenly and an immortal crown. There," she continued, her pale face becoming crimson, even in the white moonlight, "I most painfully wronged you, my most generous, forgiving friend, and a noble revenge you took when you saved my life and led me to a Saviour. May God reward you; but I humbly ask your pardon--"
"Please, Miss Ludolph, do not speak of that. I have buried it all. Do not pain yourself by recalling that which I have forgiven and almost forgotten. You are now my ideal of all that is noble and good, and in my solitary artist life of the future you shall be my gentle yet potent inspiration."
"Why must your life be solitary in the future?" she asked, in a low tone.
He was very pale, and his arm trembled under her hand; at last he said, in a hoarse voice, "Do not ask me. Why should I pain you by telling you the truth?"
"Is it the part of a true friend to refuse confidence?" she asked, reproachfully.
He turned his face away, that she might not see the evidences of the bitter struggle within--the severest he had ever known; but at last he spoke in the firm and quiet voice of victory. She had called him brother, and trusted him as such. She had ventured out alone on a sacred mission with him, as she might with a brother. She was dependent on him, and burdened by a feeling of obligation. His high sense of honor forbade that he should urge his suit under such circumstances. If she could not accept, how painful beyond words would be the necessity of refusal, and the impression had become almost fixed in his mind that her regard for him was only sisterly and grateful in its character.
"Yes, Miss Ludolph," he said, "my silence is the part of true friendship--truer than you can ever know. May Heaven's richest blessings go with you to your own land, and follow you through a long, happy
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