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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBarriers Burned Away - Chapter 26. Miss Ludolph Commits A Theft
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Barriers Burned Away - Chapter 26. Miss Ludolph Commits A Theft Post by :steve66 Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Payson Roe Date :May 2012 Read :1610

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Barriers Burned Away - Chapter 26. Miss Ludolph Commits A Theft


Mr. Ludolph on his return found Christine suffering from a nervous horror of the smallpox. From the indiscreet and callous maid, intent on her own safety, and preparing to palliate the cowardice of her flight should her fears prove true, Christine learned that the city was full of this loathsome disease, and her feelings were harrowed by exaggerated instances of its virulent and contagious character.

"But you will surely stay with me," pleaded Christine.

"Mademoiselle could not expect zat."

"Heartless!" muttered Christine. Then she said: "Won't you go for Susie Winthrop? Oh, how I would like to see her now!"

"She vould not come; no von vould come who knew."

Christine wrung her hands and cried, "Oh, I shall die alone and deserted of all!"

"No, you shall not," said her father, entering at that moment; "so do not give way, my dear.--Leave the room, stupid!" (to the maid, who again gladly escaped, resolving not to re-enter till the case was decided). "I have secured the best of physicians, and the best of nurses, and by to-night or to-morrow morning we shall know about what to expect. I cannot help hoping still that it is only a severe cold." And he told her of Dennis's offer of his mother's services.

"I am sure I should like her, for somehow I picture to myself a kind, motherly person. What useful creatures those Fleets are! They are on hand in emergencies when one so needs help. It seemed very nice to have young Fleet my humble servant; but really, father, he deserves promotion."

"He shall have it, and I doubt not will be just as ready to do your bidding as ever. It is only commonplace people whose heads are turned by a little prosperity. Fleet knew he was a gentleman before he came to the store."

"Father, if I should have the smallpox and live, would my beaut--would I become a fright?"

"Not necessarily. Let us hope for the best. Make the most of the world, and never endure evils till they come, are my maxims. Half of suffering is anticipation of possible or probable evil."

"Father," said Christine, abruptly, "I believe you are right, you _must be right, and have given me the best comfort and hope that truthfully can be given. But this is a strange, cruel world. We seem the sport of circumstances, the victims of hard, remorseless laws. One bad person can frightfully injure another person" (a spasm distorted her father's face). "What accidents may occur! Worst of all are those horrible, subtle, contagious diseases which, none can see or guard against! Then to suffer, die, corrupt--faugh! To what a disgusting end, to what a lame and impotent conclusion, does the noble creature, man, come! My whole nature revolts at it. For instance, here am I a young girl, capable of the highest enjoyment, with everything to live for, and lured forward by the highest hopes and expectations; and yet, in spite of all the safeguards you can place around me, my path is in the midst of dangers, and now perhaps I am to be rendered hideous, if not killed outright, by a disease the very thought of which fills me with loathing. What I fear _has happened, and may happen again. And what compensation is there for it all?--what can enable one to bear it all? Oh, that I could believe in a God and a future happier life!"

"And what kind of a God would He be who, having the power to prevent, permits, or orders, as the Bible teaches, all these evils? I am a man of the world, and pretend to nothing saint-like or chivalric, but do you think I am capable of going to Mr. Winthrop and striking down his daughter Susie with a loathsome disease? And yet if a minister or priest should come here he would begin to talk about the mysterious providence, and submission to God's will. If I am to have a God, I want one at least better than myself."

"You _must be right," said Christine, with a weary moan. "There is no God, and if there were, in view of what you say, I could only hate and fear Him. How chaotic the world is! But it is hard." After a moment she added, shudderingly: "_It is horrible_. I did not think of these things when well."

"Get well and forget them again, my dear. It is the best you can do."

"If I get well," said Christine, almost fiercely, "I shall get the most I can out of life, cost what it may;" and she turned her face to the wall.

A logical result of his teaching, but for some reason it awakened in Mr. Ludolph a vague foreboding.

The hours dragged on, and late in the afternoon the hard-driven physician appeared, examined his patient, and seemed relieved.

"If there is no change for the worse," he said, cheerily, "if no new symptoms develop by to-morrow, I can pronounce this merely a severe cold, caused by the state of the system and too sudden check of perspiration;" and the doctor gave and opiate and bowed himself out.

Long and heavily Christine slept. The night that Dennis filled with agonizing prayer and thought was to her a blank. While he in his strong Christian love brought heaven nearer to her, while he resolved on that which would give her a chance for life, happy life, here and hereafter, she was utterly unconscious. No vision or presentiment of good, like a struggling ray of light, found access to her darkened spirit. So heavy was the stupor induced by the opiate, that her sleep seemed like the blank she so feared, when her brilliant, ambitious life should end in nothingness.

So I suppose God's love meditates good, and resolves on life and joy for us, while our hearts are sleeping, dead to Him, benumbed and paralyzed so that only His love can awaken them. Like a vague yet hope-inspiring dream, this truth often enters the minds of those who are wrapped in the spiritual lethargy that may end in death. God wakes, watches, loves, and purposes good for them. When we are most unconscious, perhaps another effect for our salvation has been resolved upon in the councils of heaven.

But ambition more than love, earthly hopes rather than heavenly, kept Mr. Ludolph an anxious watcher at Christine's side that night. A smile of satisfaction illumined his somewhat haggard face as he saw the fever pass away and the dew of natural moisture come out on Christine's brow, but there was no thankful glance upward. Immunity from loathsome disease was due only to chance and the physician's skill, by his creed.

The sun was shining brightly when Christine awoke and by a faint call startled her father from a doze in the great armchair.

"How do you feel, my dear?" he asked.

She languidly rubbed her heavy eyes, and said she thought she was better--she felt no pain. The opiate had not yet lost its effect. But soon she greatly revived, and when the doctor came he found her decidedly better, and concluded that she was merely suffering from a severe cold, and would soon regain her usual health.

Father and daughter were greatly relieved, and their spirits rose.

"I really feel as if I ought to thank somebody," said Christine. "I am not going to thank the doctor, for I know what a bill is coming, so I will thank you. It was very kind of you to sit up the long night with me."

Even Mr. Ludolph had to remember that he had in his anxiety thought as much of himself as of her.

"Another lease of life," said Christine, dreamily looking into the future; "and, as I said last night, I mean to make the most of it."

"I can best guide you in doing that," said her father, looking into his daughter's face with keen scrutiny.

"I believe you, and intend to give you the chance. When can we leave this detested land, this city of shops and speculators? To think that I, Christine Ludolph, am sick, idle, and perhaps have endangered all by reason of foolish exposure in a brewer's tawdry, money-splashed house! Come, father when is the next scene in the brief drama to open? I am impatient to go _home to our beloved Germany and enter on real life."

"Well, my dear, if all goes well, we can enter on our true career a year from next fall--a short year and a half. Do not blame the delay, for it will enable us to live in Germany in almost royal style. I never was making money so rapidly as now. I have invested in that which cannot depreciate, and thus far has advanced beyond belief--buildings in the business part of the city. Rents are paying me from twenty to a hundred per cent. At the same time I could sell out in a month. So you see you have only to co-operate with me--to preserve health and strength--to enjoy all that money can insure; and money can buy almost everything."

Christine's eyes sparkled as the future opened before her, and she said, with emphasis, "If _I could preserve health and strength, I would live a thousand years."

"You can do much toward it. Every chance is in favor of prudence and wise action;" and, much relieved, her father went to the store.

Business had accumulated, and in complete absorption he gave himself to it. With an anxiety beyond expression, Dennis, flushed and trembling, ventured to approach. Merely glancing to see who it was, Mr. Ludolph, with his head bent over his writing, said, "Miss Ludolph is better-- no fear of smallpox, I think--you need not write to your mother--greatly obliged."

It was well for Dennis that his employer did not look up. The open face of Mr. Ludolph's clerk expressed more than friendly interest in his daughter's health. The young man went to his tasks with a mountain of fear lifted from his heart.

But the thought of the beloved one lying alone and sick at the hotel seemed very pathetic to him. Love filled his heart with more sympathy for Christine upon her luxurious couch, in rapid convalescence, than for all the hopeless suffering of Chicago. What could he do for her? She seemed so far off, so high and distant, that he could not reach her. If he ventured to send anything, prudence whispered that she would regard it as an impertinence. But love can climb every steep place, and prudence is not its grand-vizier.

Going by a fruit-store in the afternoon he saw some fine strawberries, the first in from the South. He bought a basket, decorated it with German ivy obtained at a flower-stand, and spirited it upstairs to his room as if it were the most dangerous of contraband. In a disguised hand he wrote on a card, "For Miss Ludolph." Calling Ernst, who had little to do at that hour of the day, he said: "Ernst, my boy, take this parcel to Le Grand Hotel, and say it is for Miss Christine Ludolph. Tell them to send it right up, but on no account--remember, on no account--tell any one who sent it. Carry it carefully in just this manner."

Ernst was soon at his destination, eager to do anything for his friend.

After all, the day had proved a long one for Christine. Unaccustomed to the restraints of sickness, she found the enforced inaction very wearisome. Mind and body both seemed weak. The sources of chief enjoyment when well seemed powerless to contribute much now. In silken robe she reclined in an arm-chair, or languidly sauntered about the room. She took up a book only to throw it down again. Her pencil fared no better. Ennui gave to her fair young face the expression of one who had tried the world for a century and found it wanting. She was leaning her elbow on the window-sill, gazing vacantly into the street, when Ernst appeared.

"Janette," she said, suddenly, "do you see that boy? He is employed at the store. Go bring him up here; I want him;" and with more animation than she had shown that day she got out materials for a sketch.

"I must get that boy's face," she said, "before good living destroys all his artistic merit."

Ernst was unwilling to come, but the maid almost dragged him up.

"What have you got there?" asked Miss Ludolph, with a reassuring smile.

"Something for Miss Ludolph," stammered the boy, looking very much embarrassed.

Christine carefully opened the parcel and then exclaimed with delight: "Strawberries, as I live! the very ambrosia of the gods. Papa sent them, did he not?"

"No," said the boy, hanging his head.

"Who did, then?" said Christine, looking at him keenly.

He shuffled uneasily, but made no answer.

"Come, I insist on knowing," she cried, her wilful spirit and curiosity both aroused.

The boy was pale and frightened, and she was mentally taking notes of his face. But he said, doggedly, "I can't tell."

"But I say you must. Don't you know that I am Miss Ludolph?"

"I don't care what you do to me," said the little fellow, beginning to cry, "I won't tell."

"Why won't you tell, my boy?" said Christine, cunningly, in a wheedling tone of voice.

Before he knew it, the frightened, bewildered boy fell into the trap, and he sobbed, "Because Mr. Fleet told me not to, and I wouldn't disobey him to save my life."

A look of surprise, and then a broad smile, stole over the young girl's face--at the gift, the messenger, and at him who sent it. It was indeed a fresh and unexpected little episode, breaking the monotony of the day--as fresh and pleasing to her as one of the luscious berries so grateful to her parched mouth.

"You need not tell me," she said, soothingly, "if Mr. Fleet told you not to."

The boy saw the smile, and in a moment realized that he had been tricked out of the forbidden knowledge.

His little face glowed with honest indignation, and looking straight at Miss Ludolph, with his great eyes flashing through the tears, he said, "You stole that from me."

Even she colored a little and bit her lip under the merited charge. But all this made him all the more interesting as an art study, and she was now sketching away rapidly. She coolly replied, however, "You don't know the world very well yet, my little man."

The boy said nothing, but stood regarding her with his unnaturally large eyes filled with anger, reproach, and wonder.

"Oh," thought Christine, "if I could only paint that expression!"

"You seem a great friend of Mr. Fleet," she said, studying and sketching him as if he had been an inanimate object.

The boy made no answer.

"Perhaps you do not know that I am a friend--friendly," she added, correcting herself, "to Mr. Fleet also."

"Mr. Fleet never likes to have his friends do wrong," said the boy, doubtingly.

Again she colored a little, for Ernst's pure and reproachful face made her feel that she had done a mean thing, but she laughed said: "You see I am not in his mission class, and have never had the instruction that you have. But, after all, why do you think Mr. Fleet better than other people?"

"By what he does."

"That is a fair test; what has he done?"

"He saved us all from starving, and worse than starving."

Then with feminine tact she drew from him his story, and it was told with deep feeling and the natural pathos of childhood, and his gratitude caused him to dwell with a simple eloquence on the part Dennis had taken, while his rich and loved German accent made it all the more interesting to Christine. She dropped her pencil, and, when he finished, her eyes, that were seldom moistened by the dew of sympathy, were wet.

"Good-by, my child," she said, in a voice so kind and sweet that it seemed as if another person had spoken. "You shall come again, and then I shall finish my sketch. When I get well I shall go to see your father's picture. Do not be afraid; neither you nor Mr. Fleet will fare the worse for the strawberries, and you may tell him that they have done me much good."

When Dennis, wondering at Ernst's long absence, heard from him his story, his mind was in a strange tumult, and yet the result of his effort seemed favorable. But he learned more fully than ever that Christine was not perfect, and that her faultless beauty and taste were but the fair mask of a deformed spirit. But he dwelt in hope on the feeling she had shown at Ernst's story.

"She seemed to have two hearts," said the boy--"a good, kind one way inside the cold, hard outside one."

"That is about the truth," thought Dennis. "Good-night, Ernst. I don't blame you, my boy, for you did the best you could."

He had done better than Dennis knew.

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