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´╗┐Title: Jezebel's Daughter
Author: Collins, Wilkie, 1824-1889
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Jezebel's Daughter" ***

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JEZEBEL'S DAUGHTER


by

Wilkie Collins



TO ALBERTO CACCIA

Let me begin by informing you, that this new novel does not present the
proposed sequel to my last work of fiction--"The Fallen Leaves."

The first part of that story has, through circumstances connected with
the various forms of publications adopted thus far, addressed itself to a
comparatively limited class of readers in England. When the book is
finally reprinted in its cheapest form--then, and then only, it will
appeal to the great audience of the English people. I am waiting for that
time, to complete my design by writing the second part of "The Fallen
Leaves."

Why?

Your knowledge of English Literature--to which I am indebted for the
first faithful and intelligent translation of my novels into the Italian
language--has long since informed you, that there are certain important
social topics which are held to be forbidden to the English novelist (no
matter how seriously and how delicately he may treat them), by a
narrow-minded minority of readers, and by the critics who flatter their
prejudices. You also know, having done me the honor to read my books,
that I respect my art far too sincerely to permit limits to be wantonly
assigned to it, which are imposed in no other civilized country on the
face of the earth. When my work is undertaken with a pure purpose, I
claim the same liberty which is accorded to a writer in a newspaper, or
to a clergyman in a pulpit; knowing, by previous experience, that the
increase of readers and the lapse of time will assuredly do me justice,
if I have only written well enough to deserve it.

In the prejudiced quarters to which I have alluded, one of the characters
in "The Fallen Leaves" offended susceptibilities of the sort felt by
Tartuffe, when he took out his handkerchief, and requested Dorine to
cover her bosom. I not only decline to defend myself, under such
circumstances as these--I say plainly, that I have never asserted a truer
claim to the best and noblest sympathies of Christian readers than in
presenting to them, in my last novel, the character of the innocent
victim of infamy, rescued and purified from the contamination of the
streets. I remember what the nasty posterity of Tartuffe, in this
country, said of "Basil," of "Armadale," of "The New Magdalen," and I
know that the wholesome audience of the nation at large has done liberal
justice to those books. For this reason, I wait to write the second part
of "The Fallen Leaves," until the first part of the story has found its
way to the people.



Turning for a moment to the present novel, you will (I hope) find two
interesting studies of humanity in these pages.

In the character called "Jack Straw," you have the exhibition of an
enfeebled intellect, tenderly shown under its lightest and happiest
aspect, and used as a means of relief in some of the darkest scenes of
terror and suspense occurring in this story. Again, in "Madame Fontaine,"
I have endeavored to work out the interesting moral problem, which takes
for its groundwork the strongest of all instincts in a woman, the
instinct of maternal love, and traces to its solution the restraining and
purifying influence of this one virtue over an otherwise cruel, false,
and degraded nature.

The events in which these two chief personages play their parts have been
combined with all possible care, and have been derived, to the best of my
ability, from natural and simple causes. In view of the distrust which
certain readers feel, when a novelist builds his fiction on a foundation
of fact, it may not be amiss to mention (before I close these lines),
that the accessories of the scenes in the Deadhouse of Frankfort have
been studied on the spot. The published rules and ground-plans of that
curious mortuary establishment have also been laid on my desk, as aids to
memory while I was writing the closing passages of the story.

With this, I commend "Jezebel's Daughter" to my good friend and brother
in the art--who will present this last work also to the notice of Italian
readers.

W. C.

Gloucester Place, London:

February 9, 1880.



PART I

MR. DAVID GLENNEY CONSULTS HIS MEMORY AND OPENS THE STORY

CHAPTER I

In the matter of Jezebel's Daughter, my recollections begin with the
deaths of two foreign gentlemen, in two different countries, on the same
day of the same year.

They were both men of some importance in their way, and both strangers to
each other.

Mr. Ephraim Wagner, merchant (formerly of Frankfort-on-the-Main), died in
London on the third day of September, 1828.

Doctor Fontaine--famous in his time for discoveries in experimental
chemistry--died at Wurzburg on the third day of September, 1828.

Both the merchant and the doctor left widows. The merchant's widow (an
Englishwoman) was childless. The doctor's widow (of a South German
family) had a daughter to console her.

At that distant time--I am writing these lines in the year 1878, and
looking back through half a century--I was a lad employed in Mr. Wagner's
office. Being his wife's nephew, he most kindly received me as a member
of his household. What I am now about to relate I saw with my own eyes
and heard with my own ears. My memory is to be depended on. Like other
old men, I recollect events which happened at the beginning of my career
far more clearly than events which happened only two or three years
since.



Good Mr. Wagner had been ailing for many months; but the doctors had no
immediate fear of his death. He proved the doctors to be mistaken; and
took the liberty of dying at a time when they all declared that there was
every reasonable hope of his recovery. When this affliction fell upon his
wife, I was absent from the office in London on a business errand to our
branch-establishment at Frankfort-on-the-Main, directed by Mr. Wagner's
partners. The day of my return happened to be the day after the funeral.
It was also the occasion chosen for the reading of the will. Mr. Wagner,
I should add, had been a naturalized British citizen, and his will was
drawn by an English lawyer.

The fourth, fifth, and sixth clauses of the will are the only portions of
the document which it is necessary to mention in this place.

The fourth clause left the whole of the testator's property, in lands and
in money, absolutely to his widow. In the fifth clause he added a new
proof of his implicit confidence in her--he appointed her sole executrix
of his will.

The sixth and last clause began in these words:--

"During my long illness, my dear wife has acted as my secretary and
representative. She has made herself so thoroughly well acquainted with
the system on which I have conducted my business, that she is the fittest
person to succeed me. I not only prove the fullness of my trust in her
and the sincerity of my gratitude towards her, but I really act in the
best interests of the firm of which I am the head, when I hereby appoint
my widow as my sole successor in the business, with all the powers and
privileges appertaining thereto."

The lawyer and I both looked at my aunt. She had sunk back in her chair;
her face was hidden in her handkerchief. We waited respectfully until she
might be sufficiently recovered to communicate her wishes to us. The
expression of her husband's love and respect, contained in the last words
of the will, had completely overwhelmed her. It was only after she had
been relieved by a burst of tears that she was conscious of our presence,
and was composed enough to speak to us.

"I shall be calmer in a few days' time," she said. "Come to me at the end
of the week. I have something important to say to both of you."

The lawyer ventured on putting a question. "Does it relate in any way to
the will?" he inquired.

She shook her head. "It relates," she answered, "to my husband's last
wishes."

She bowed to us, and went away to her own room.

The lawyer looked after her gravely and doubtfully as she disappeared.
"My long experience in my profession," he said, turning to me, "has
taught me many useful lessons. Your aunt has just called one of those
lessons to my mind.

"May I ask what it is, sir?"

"Certainly." He took my arm and waited to repeat the lesson until we had
left the house; "Always distrust a man's last wishes on his
death-bed--unless they are communicated to his lawyer, and expressed in
his will."

At the time, I thought this rather a narrow view to take. How could I
foresee that coming events in the future life of my aunt would prove the
lawyer to be right? If she had only been content to leave her husband's
plans and projects where he had left them at his death, and if she had
never taken that rash journey to our branch office at Frankfort--but what
is the use of speculating on what might or might not have happened? My
business in these pages is to describe what did happen. Let me return to
my business.



CHAPTER II

At the end of the week we found the widow waiting to receive us.

To describe her personally, she was a little lady, with a remarkably
pretty figure, a clear pale complexion, a broad low forehead, and large,
steady, brightly-intelligent gray eyes. Having married a man very much
older than herself, she was still (after many years of wedded life) a
notably attractive woman. But she never seemed to be conscious of her
personal advantages, or vain of the very remarkable abilities which she
did unquestionably possess. Under ordinary circumstances, she was a
singularly gentle, unobtrusive creature. But let the occasion call for
it, and the reserves of resolution in her showed themselves instantly. In
all my experience I have never met with such a firm woman, when she was
once roused.

She entered on her business with us, wasting no time in preliminary
words. Her face showed plain signs, poor soul, of a wakeful and tearful
night. But she claimed no indulgence on that account. When she spoke of
her dead husband--excepting a slight unsteadiness in her voice--she
controlled herself with a courage which was at once pitiable and
admirable to see.

"You both know," she began, "that Mr. Wagner was a man who thought for
himself. He had ideas of his duty to his poor and afflicted
fellow-creatures which are in advance of received opinions in the world
about us. I love and revere his memory--and (please God) I mean to carry
out his ideas."

The lawyer began to look uneasy. "Do you refer, madam, to Mr. Wagner's
political opinions?" he inquired.

Fifty years ago, my old master's political opinions were considered to be
nothing less than revolutionary. In these days--when his Opinions have
been sanctioned by Acts of Parliament, with the general approval of the
nation--people would have called him a "Moderate Liberal," and would have
set him down as a discreetly deliberate man in the march of modern
progress.

"I have nothing to say about politics," my aunt answered. "I wish to
speak to you, in the first place, of my husband's opinions on the
employment of women."

Here, again, after a lapse of half a century, my master's heresies of the
year 1828 have become the orthodox principles of the year 1878. Thinking
the subject over in his own independent way, he had arrived at the
conclusion that there were many employments reserved exclusively for men,
which might with perfect propriety be also thrown open to capable and
deserving women. To recognize the claims of justice was, with a man of
Mr. Wagner's character, to act on his convictions without a moment's
needless delay. Enlarging his London business at the time, he divided the
new employments at his disposal impartially between men and women alike.
The scandal produced in the city by this daring innovation is remembered
to the present day by old men like me. My master's audacious experiment
prospered nevertheless, in spite of scandal.

"If my husband had lived," my aunt continued, "it was his intention to
follow the example, which he has already set in London, in our house at
Frankfort. There also our business is increasing, and we mean to add to
the number of our clerks. As soon as I am able to exert myself, I shall
go to Frankfort, and give German women the same opportunities which my
husband has already given to English women in London. I have his notes on
the best manner of carrying out this reform to guide me. And I think of
sending you, David," she added, turning to me, "to our partners in
Frankfort, Mr. Keller and Mr. Engelman, with instructions which will keep
some of the vacant situations in the office open, until I can follow
you." She paused, and looked at the lawyer. "Do you see any objection to
what I propose?" she said.

"I see some risks," he answered, cautiously.

"What risks?"

"In London, madam, the late Mr. Wagner had special means of investigating
the characters of the women whom he took into his office. It may not be
so easy for you, in a strange place like Frankfort, to guard against the
danger----" He hesitated, at a loss for the moment to express himself
with sufficient plainness and sufficient delicacy.

My aunt made no allowances for his embarrassment.

"Don't be afraid to speak out, sir," she said, a little coldly. "What
danger are you afraid of?"

"Yours is a generous nature, madam: and generous natures are easily
imposed upon. I am afraid of women with bad characters, or, worse still,
of other women----"

He stopped again. This time there was a positive interruption. We heard a
knock at the door.

Our head-clerk was the person who presented himself at the summons to
come in. My aunt held up her hand. "Excuse me, Mr. Hartrey--I will attend
to you in one moment." She turned to the lawyer. "What other women are
likely to impose on me?" she asked.

"Women, otherwise worthy of your kindness, who may be associated with
disreputable connections," the lawyer replied. "The very women, if I know
anything of your quick sympathies, whom you would be most anxious to
help, and who might nevertheless be a source of constant trouble and
anxiety, under pernicious influences at home."

My aunt made no answer. For the moment, the lawyer's objections seemed to
annoy her. She addressed herself to Mr. Hartrey; asking rather abruptly
what he had to say to her.

Our head-clerk was a methodical gentleman of the old school. He began by
confusedly apologizing for his intrusion; and ended by producing a
letter.

"When you are able to attend to business, madam, honor me by reading this
letter. And, in the meantime, will you forgive me for taking a liberty in
the office, rather than intrude on your grief so soon after the death of
my dear and honored master?" The phrases were formal enough; but there
was true feeling in the man's voice as he spoke. My aunt gave him her
hand. He kissed it, with the tears in his eyes.

"Whatever you have done has been well done, I am sure," she said kindly.
"Who is the letter from?"

"From Mr. Keller, of Frankfort, madam."

My aunt instantly took the letter from him, and read it attentively. It
has a very serious bearing on passages in the present narrative which are
yet to come. I accordingly present a copy of it in this place:

"Private and confidential.

"Dear Mr. Hartrey,--It is impossible for me to address myself to Mrs.
Wagner, in the first days of the affliction that has fallen on her. I am
troubled by a pressing anxiety; and I venture to write to you, as the
person now in charge at our London office.

"My only son Fritz is finishing his education at the university of
Wurzburg. He has, I regret to say, formed an attachment to a young woman,
the daughter of a doctor at Wurzburg, who has recently died. I believe
the girl to be a perfectly reputable and virtuous young person. But her
father has not only left her in poverty, he has done worse--he has died
in debt. Besides this, her mother's character does not stand high in the
town. It is said, among other things, that her extravagance is mainly
answerable for her late husband's debts. Under these circumstances, I
wish to break off the connection while the two young people are separated
for the time by the event of the doctor's recent death. Fritz has given
up the idea of entering the medical profession, and has accepted my
proposal that he shall succeed me in our business. I have decided on
sending him to London, to learn something of commercial affairs, at
headquarters, in your office.

"My son obeys me reluctantly; but he is a good and dutiful lad--and he
yields to his father's wishes. You may expect him in a day or two after
receipt of these lines. Oblige me by making a little opening for him in
one of your official departments, and by keeping him as much as possible
under your own eye, until I can venture on communicating directly with
Mrs. Wagner--to whom pray convey the expression of my most sincere and
respectful sympathy."

My aunt handed back the letter. "Has the young man arrived yet?" she
asked.

"He arrived yesterday, madam."

"And have you found some employment for him?"

"I have ventured to place him in our corresponding department," the
head-clerk answered. "For the present he will assist in copying letters;
and, after business-hours, he will have a room (until further orders) in
my house. I hope you think I have done right, madam?"

"You have done admirably, Mr. Hartrey. At the same time, I will relieve
you of some of the responsibility. No grief of mine shall interfere with
my duty to my husband's partner. I will speak to the young man myself.
Bring him here this evening, after business-hours. And don't leave us
just yet; I want to put a question to you relating to my husband's
affairs, in which I am deeply interested." Mr. Hartrey returned to his
chair. After a momentary hesitation, my aunt put her question in terms
which took us all three by surprise.



CHAPTER III

"My husband was connected with many charitable institutions," the widow
began. "Am I right in believing that he was one of the governors of
Bethlehem Hospital?"

At this reference to the famous asylum for insane persons, popularly
known among the inhabitants of London as "Bedlam," I saw the lawyer
start, and exchange a look with the head-clerk. Mr. Hartrey answered with
evident reluctance; he said, "Quite right, madam"--and said no more. The
lawyer, being the bolder man of the two, added a word of warning,
addressed directly to my aunt.

"I venture to suggest," he said, "that there are circumstances connected
with the late Mr. Wagner's position at the Hospital, which make it
desirable not to pursue the subject any farther. Mr. Hartrey will confirm
what I say, when I tell you that Mr. Wagner's proposals for a reformation
in the treatment of the patients----"

"Were the proposals of a merciful man," my aunt interposed "who abhorred
cruelty in all its forms, and who held the torturing of the poor mad
patients by whips and chains to be an outrage on humanity. I entirely
agree with him. Though I am only a woman, I will not let the matter drop.
I shall go to the Hospital on Monday morning next--and my business with
you to-day is to request that you will accompany me."

"In what capacity am I to have the honor of accompanying you?" the lawyer
asked, in his coldest manner.

"In your professional capacity," my aunt replied. "I may have a proposal
to address to the governors; and I shall look to your experience to
express it in the proper form."

The lawyer was not satisfied yet. "Excuse me if I venture on making
another inquiry," he persisted. "Do you propose to visit the madhouse in
consequence of any wish expressed by the late Mr. Wagner?"

"Certainly not! My husband always avoided speaking to me on that
melancholy subject. As you have heard, he even left me in doubt whether
he was one of the governing body at the asylum. No reference to any
circumstance in his life which might alarm or distress me ever passed his
lips." Her voice failed her as she paid that tribute to her husband's
memory. She waited to recover herself. "But, on the night before his
death," she resumed, "when he was half waking, half dreaming, I heard him
talking to himself of something that he was anxious to do, if the chance
of recovery had been still left to him. Since that time I have looked at
his private diary; and I have found entries in it which explain to me
what I failed to understand clearly at his bedside. I know for certain
that the obstinate hostility of his colleagues had determined him on
trying the effect of patience and kindness in the treatment of mad
people, at his sole risk and expense. There is now in Bethlehem Hospital
a wretched man--a friendless outcast, found in the streets--whom my noble
husband had chosen as the first subject of his humane experiment, and
whose release from a life of torment he had the hope of effecting through
the influence of a person in authority in the Royal Household. You know
already that the memory of my husband's plans and wishes is a sacred
memory to me. I am resolved to see that poor chained creature whom he
would have rescued if he had lived; and I will certainly complete his
work of mercy, if my conscience tells me that a woman should do it."

Hearing this bold announcement--I am almost ashamed to confess it, in
these enlightened days--we all three protested. Modest Mr. Hartrey was
almost as loud and as eloquent as the lawyer, and I was not far behind
Mr. Hartrey. It is perhaps to be pleaded as an excuse for us that some of
the highest authorities, in the early part of the present century, would
have been just as prejudiced and just as ignorant as we were. Say what we
might, however, our remonstrances produced no effect on my aunt. We
merely roused the resolute side of her character to assert itself.

"I won't detain you any longer," she said to the lawyer. "Take the rest
of the day to decide what you will do. If you decline to accompany me, I
shall go by myself. If you accept my proposal, send me a line this
evening to say so."

In that way the conference came to an end.

Early in the evening young Mr. Keller made his appearance, and was
introduced to my aunt and to me. We both took a liking to him from the
first. He was a handsome young man, with light hair and florid
complexion, and with a frank ingratiating manner--a little sad and
subdued, in consequence, no doubt, of his enforced separation from his
beloved young lady at Wurzburg. My aunt, with her customary kindness and
consideration, offered him a room next to mine, in place of his room in
Mr. Hartrey's house. "My nephew David speaks German; and he will help to
make your life among us pleasant to you." With those words our good
mistress left us together.

Fritz opened the conversation with the easy self-confidence of a German
student.

"It is one bond of union between us that you speak my language," he
began. "I am good at reading and writing English, but I speak badly. Have
we any other sympathies in common? Is it possible that you smoke?"

Poor Mr. Wagner had taught me to smoke. I answered by offering my new
acquaintance a cigar.

"Another bond between us," cried Fritz. "We must be friends from this
moment. Give me your hand." We shook hands. He lit his cigar, looked at
me very attentively, looked away again, and puffed out his first mouthful
of smoke with a heavy sigh.

"I wonder whether we are united by a third bond?" he said thoughtfully.
"Are you a stiff Englishman? Tell me, friend David, may I speak to you
with the freedom of a supremely wretched man?"

"As freely as you like," I answered. He still hesitated.

"I want to be encouraged," he said. "Be familiar with me. Call me Fritz."

I called him "Fritz." He drew his chair close to mine, and laid his hand
affectionately on my shoulder. I began to think I had perhaps encouraged
him a little too readily.

"Are you in love, David?" He put the question just as coolly as if he had
asked me what o'clock it was.

I was young enough to blush. Fritz accepted the blush as a sufficient
answer. "Every moment I pass in your society," he cried with enthusiasm,
"I like you better--find you more eminently sympathetic. You are in love.
One word more--are there any obstacles in your way?"

There _were_ obstacles in my way. She was too old for me, and too poor
for me--and it all came to nothing in due course of time. I admitted the
obstacles; abstaining, with an Englishman's shyness, from entering into
details. My reply was enough, and more than enough, for Fritz. "Good
Heavens!" he exclaimed; "our destinies exactly resemble each other! We
are both supremely wretched men. David, I can restrain myself no longer;
I must positively embrace you!"

I resisted to the best of my ability--but he was the stronger man of the
two. His long arms almost strangled me; his bristly mustache scratched my
cheek. In my first involuntary impulse of disgust, I clenched my fist.
Young Mr. Keller never suspected (my English brethren alone will
understand) how very near my fist and his head were to becoming
personally and violently acquainted. Different nations--different
customs. I can smile as I write about it now.

Fritz took his seat again. "My heart is at ease; I can pour myself out
freely," he said. "Never, my friend, was there such an interesting
love-story as mine. She is the sweetest girl living. Dark, slim,
gracious, delightful, desirable, just eighteen. The image, I should
suppose, of what her widowed mother was at her age. Her name is Minna.
Daughter and only child of Madame Fontaine. Madame Fontaine is a truly
grand creature, a Roman matron. She is the victim of envy and scandal.
Would you believe it? There are wretches in Wurzburg (her husband the
doctor was professor of chemistry at the University)--there are wretches,
I say, who call my Minna's mother 'Jezebel,' and my Minna herself
'Jezebel's Daughter!' I have fought three duels with my fellow-students
to avenge that one insult. Alas, David, there is another person who is
influenced by those odious calumnies!--a person sacred to me--the honored
author of my being. Is it not dreadful? My good father turns tyrant in
this one thing; declares I shall never marry 'Jezebel's Daughter;' exiles
me, by his paternal commands, to this foreign country; and perches me on
a high stool to copy letters. Ha! he little knows my heart. I am my
Minna's and my Minna is mine. In body and soul, in time and in eternity,
we are one. Do you see my tears? Do my tears speak for me? The heart's
relief is in crying freely. There is a German song to that effect. When I
recover myself, I will sing it to you. Music is a great comforter; music
is the friend of love. There is another German song to _that_ effect." He
suddenly dried his eyes, and got on his feet; some new idea had
apparently occurred to him. "It is dreadfully dull here," he said; "I am
not used to evenings at home. Have you any music in London? Help me to
forget Minna for an hour or two. Take me to the music."

Having, by this time, heard quite enough of his raptures, I was eager on
my side for a change of any kind. I helped him to forget Minna at a
Vauxhall Concert. He thought our English orchestra wanting in subtlety
and spirit. On the other hand, he did full justice, afterwards, to our
English bottled beer. When we left the Gardens he sang me that German
song, 'My heart's relief is crying freely,' with a fervor of sentiment
which must have awakened every light sleeper in the neighborhood.

Retiring to my bedchamber, I found an open letter on my toilet-table. It
was addressed to my aunt by the lawyer; and it announced that he had
decided on accompanying her to the madhouse--without pledging himself to
any further concession. In leaving the letter for me to read, my aunt had
written across it a line in pencil: "You can go with us, David, if you
like."

My curiosity was strongly aroused. It is needless to say I decided on
being present at the visit to Bedlam.



CHAPTER IV

On the appointed Monday we were ready to accompany my aunt to the
madhouse.

Whether she distrusted her own unaided judgment, or whether she wished to
have as many witnesses as possible to the rash action in which she was
about to engage, I cannot say. In either case, her first proceeding was
to include Mr. Hartrey and Fritz Keller in the invitation already
extended to the lawyer and myself.

They both declined to accompany us. The head-clerk made the affairs of
the office serve for his apology, it was foreign post day, and he could
not possibly be absent from his desk. Fritz invented no excuses; he
confessed the truth, in his own outspoken manner. "I have a horror of mad
people," he said, "they so frighten and distress me, that they make me
feel half mad myself. Don't ask me to go with you--and oh, dear lady,
don't go yourself."

My aunt smiled sadly--and led the way out.

We had a special order of admission to the Hospital which placed the
resident superintendent himself at our disposal. He received my aunt with
the utmost politeness, and proposed a scheme of his own for conducting us
over the whole building; with an invitation to take luncheon with him
afterwards at his private residence.

"At another time, sir, I shall be happy to avail myself of your
kindness," my aunt said, when he had done. "For the present, my object is
to see one person only among the unfortunate creatures in this asylum."

"One person only?" repeated the superintendent. "One of our patients of
the higher rank, I suppose?"

"On the contrary," my aunt replied, "I wish to see a poor friendless
creature, found in the streets; known here, as I am informed, by no
better name than Jack Straw."

The superintendent looked at her in blank amazement.

"Good Heavens, madam!" he exclaimed; "are you aware that Jack Straw is
one of the most dangerous lunatics we have in the house?"

"I have heard that he bears the character you describe," my aunt quietly
admitted.

"And yet you wish to see him?"

"I am here for that purpose--and no other."

The superintendent looked round at the lawyer and at me, appealing to us
silently to explain, if we could, this incomprehensible desire to see
Jack Straw. The lawyer spoke for both of us. He reminded the
superintendent of the late Mr. Wagner's peculiar opinions on the
treatment of the insane, and of the interest which he had taken in this
particular case. To which my aunt added: "And Mr. Wagner's widow feels
the same interest, and inherits her late husband's opinions." Hearing
this, the superintendent bowed with his best grace, and resigned himself
to circumstances. "Pardon me if I keep you waiting for a minute or two,"
he said, and rang a bell.

A man-servant appeared at the door.

"Are Yarcombe and Foss on duty on the south side?" the superintendent
asked.

"Yes, sir."

"Send one of them here directly."

We waited a few minutes--and then a gruff voice became audible on the
outer side of the door. "Present, sir," growled the gruff voice.

The superintendent courteously offered his arm to my aunt. "Permit me to
escort you to Jack Straw," he said, with a touch of playful irony in his
tone.

We left the room. The lawyer and I followed my aunt and her escort. A
man, whom we found posted on the door-mat, brought up the rear. Whether
he was Yarcombe or whether he was Foss, mattered but little. In either
case he was a hulking, scowling, hideously ill-looking brute. "One of our
assistants," we heard the superintendent explain. "It is possible, madam,
that we may want two of them, if we are to make things pleasant at your
introduction to Jack Straw."

We ascended some stairs, shut off from the lower floor by a massive
locked door, and passed along some dreary stone passages, protected by
more doors. Cries of rage and pain, at one time distant and at another
close by, varied by yelling laughter, more terrible even than the cries,
sounded on either side of us. We passed through a last door, the most
solid of all, which shut out these dreadful noises, and found ourselves
in a little circular hall. Here the superintendent stopped, and listened
for a moment. There was dead silence. He beckoned to the attendant, and
pointed to a heavily nailed oaken door.

"Look in," he said.

The man drew aside a little shutter in the door, and looked through the
bars which guarded the opening.

"Is he waking or sleeping?" the superintendent asked.

"Waking, sir."

"Is he at work?"

"Yes, sir."

The superintendent turned to my aunt.

"You are fortunate, madam--you will see him in his quiet moments. He
amuses himself by making hats, baskets, and table-mats, out of his straw.
Very neatly put together, I assure you. One of our visiting physicians, a
man with a most remarkable sense of humor, gave him his nickname from his
work. Shall we open the door?"

My aunt had turned very pale; I could see that she was struggling with
violent agitation. "Give me a minute or two first," she said; "I want to
compose myself before I see him."

She sat down on a stone bench outside the door. "Tell me what you know
about this poor man?" she said. "I don't ask out of idle curiosity--I
have a better motive than that. Is he young or old?"

"Judging by his teeth," the superintendent answered, as if he had been
speaking of a horse, "he is certainly young. But his complexion is
completely gone, and his hair has turned gray. So far as we have been
able to make out (when he is willing to speak of himself), these
peculiarities in his personal appearance are due to a narrow escape from
poisoning by accident. But how the accident occurred, and where it
occurred, he either cannot or will not tell us. We know nothing about
him, except that he is absolutely friendless. He speaks English--but it
is with an odd kind of accent--and we don't know whether he is a
foreigner or not. You are to understand, madam, that he is here on
sufferance. This is a royal institution, and, as a rule, we only receive
lunatics of the educated class. But Jack Straw has had wonderful luck.
Being too mad, I suppose, to take care of himself, he was run over in one
of the streets in our neighborhood by the carriage of an exalted
personage, whom it would be an indiscretion on my part even to name. The
personage (an illustrious lady, I may inform you) was so distressed by
the accident--without the slightest need, for the man was not seriously
hurt--that she actually had him brought here in her carriage, and laid
her commands on us to receive him. Ah, Mrs. Wagner, her highness's heart
is worthy of her highness's rank. She occasionally sends to inquire after
the lucky lunatic who rolled under her horse's feet. We don't tell her
what a trouble and expense he is to us. We have had irons specially
invented to control him; and, if I am not mistaken," said the
superintendent, turning to the assistant, "a new whip was required only
last week."

The man put his hand into the big pocket of his coat, and produced a
horrible whip, of many lashes. He exhibited this instrument of torture
with every appearance of pride and pleasure. "This is what keeps him in
order, my lady," said the brute, cheerfully. "Just take it in your hand."

My aunt sprang to her feet. She was so indignant that I believe she would
have laid the whip across the man's shoulders, if his master had not
pushed him back without ceremony. "A zealous servant," said the
superintendent, smiling pleasantly. "Please excuse him."

My aunt pointed to the cell door.

"Open it," she said, "Let me see _anything,_ rather than set eyes on that
monster again!"

The firmness of her tone evidently surprised the superintendent. He knew
nothing of the reserves of resolution in her, which the mere sight of the
whip had called forth. The pallor had left her face; she trembled no
longer; her fine gray eyes were bright and steady. "That brute has roused
her," said the lawyer, looking back at the assistant, and whispering to
me; "nothing will restrain her, David--she will have her way now."



CHAPTER V

The superintendent opened the cell door with his own hand.

We found ourselves in a narrow, lofty prison, like an apartment in a
tower. High up, in one corner, the grim stone walls were pierced by a
grated opening, which let in air and light. Seated on the floor, in the
angle formed by the junction of two walls, we saw the superintendent's
"lucky lunatic" at work, with a truss of loose straw on either side of
him. The slanting rays of light from the high window streamed down on his
prematurely gray hair, and showed us the strange yellow pallor of his
complexion, and the youthful symmetry of his hands, nimbly occupied with
their work. A heavy chain held him to the wall. It was not only fastened
round his waist, it also fettered his legs between the knee and the
ankle. At the same time, it was long enough to allow him a range of
crippled movement, within a circle of five or six feet, as well as I
could calculate at the time. Above his head, ready for use if required,
hung a small chain evidently intended to confine his hands at the wrists.
Unless I was deceived by his crouching attitude, he was small in stature.
His ragged dress barely covered his emaciated form. In other and happier
days, he must have been a well-made little man; his feet and ankles, like
his hands, were finely and delicately formed. He was so absorbed in his
employment that he had evidently not heard the talking outside his cell.
It was only when the door was banged to by the assistant (who kept behind
us, at a sign from the superintendent) that he looked up. We now saw his
large vacantly-patient brown eyes, the haggard outline of his face, and
his nervously sensitive lips. For a moment, he looked from one to the
other of the visitors with a quiet childish curiosity. Then his wandering
glances detected the assistant, waiting behind us with the whip still in
his hand.

In an instant the whole expression of the madman's face changed.
Ferocious hatred glittered in his eyes; his lips, suddenly retracted,
showed his teeth like the teeth of a wild beast. My aunt perceived the
direction in which he was looking, and altered her position so as to
conceal from him the hateful figure with the whip, and to concentrate his
attention on herself. With startling abruptness, the poor creature's
expression changed once more. His eyes softened, a faint sad smile
trembled on his lips. He dropped the straw which he had been plaiting,
and lifted his hands with a gesture of admiration. "The pretty lady!" he
whispered to himself. "Oh, the pretty lady!"

He attempted to crawl out from the wall, as far as his chain would let
him. At a sign from the superintendent he stopped, and sighed bitterly.
"I wouldn't hurt the lady for the world," he said; "I beg your pardon,
Mistress, if I have frightened you."

His voice was wonderfully gentle. But there was something strange in his
accent--and there was perhaps a foreign formality in his addressing my
aunt as "Mistress." Englishmen in general would have called her "ma'am."

We men kept our places at a safe distance from his chain. My aunt, with a
woman's impulsive contempt of danger when her compassion is strongly
moved, stepped forward to him. The superintendent caught her by the arm
and checked her. "Take care," he said. "You don't know him as well as we
do."

Jack's eyes turned on the superintendent, dilating slowly. His lips began
to part again--I feared to see the ferocious expression in his face once
more. I was wrong. In the very moment of another outbreak of rage, the
unhappy man showed that he was still capable, under strong internal
influence, of restraining himself. He seized the chain that held him to
the wall in both hands, and wrung it with such convulsive energy that I
almost expected to see the bones of his fingers start through the skin.
His head dropped on his breast, his wasted figure quivered. It was only
for an instant. When he looked up again, his poor vacant brown eyes
turned on my aunt, dim with tears. She instantly shook off the
superintendent's hold on her arm. Before it was possible to interfere,
she was bending over Jack Straw, with one of her pretty white hands laid
gently on his head.

"How your head burns, poor Jack!" she said simply. "Does my hand cool
it?"

Still holding desperately by the chain, he answered like a timid child.
"Yes, Mistress; your hand cools it. Thank you."

She took up a little straw hat on which he had been working when his door
was opened. "This is very nicely done, Jack," she went on. "Tell me how
you first came to make these pretty things with your straw."

He looked up at her with a sudden accession of confidence; her interest
in the hat had flattered him.

"Once," he said, "there was a time when my hands were the maddest things
about me. They used to turn against me and tear my hair and my flesh. An
angel in a dream told me how to keep them quiet. An angel said, "Let them
work at your straw." All day long I plaited my straw. I would have gone
on all night too, if they would only have given me a light. My nights are
bad, my nights are dreadful. The raw air eats into me, the black darkness
frightens me. Shall I tell you what is the greatest blessing in the
world? Daylight! Daylight!! Daylight!!!"

At each repetition of the word his voice rose. He was on the point of
breaking into a scream, when he took a tighter turn of his chain and
instantly silenced himself. "I am quiet, sir," he said, before the
superintendent could reprove him.

My aunt added a word in his favor. "Jack has promised not to frighten me;
and I am sure he will keep his word. Have you never had parents or
friends to be kind to you, my poor fellow?" she asked, turning to him
again.

He looked up at her. "Never," he said, "till you came here to see me." As
he spoke, there was a flash of intelligence in the bright gratitude of
his eyes. "Ask me something else," he pleaded; "and see how quietly I can
answer you."

"Is it true, Jack, that you were once poisoned by accident, and nearly
killed by it?"

"Yes!"

"Where was it?"

"Far away in another country. In the doctor's big room. In the time when
I was the doctor's man."

"Who was the doctor?"

He put his hand to his head, "Give me more time," he said. "It hurts me
when I try to remember too much. Let me finish my hat first. I want to
give you my hat when it's done. You don't know how clever I am with my
fingers and thumbs. Just look and see!"

He set to work on the hat; perfectly happy while my aunt was looking at
him. The lawyer was the unlucky person who produced a change for the
worse. Having hitherto remained passive, this worthy gentleman seemed to
think it was due to his own importance to take a prominent part in the
proceedings. "My professional experience will come in well here," he
said; "I mean to treat him as an unwilling witness; you will see we shall
get something out of him in that way. Jack!"

The unwilling witness went on impenetrably with his work. The lawyer
(keeping well out of reach of the range of the chain) raised his voice.
"Hullo, there!" he cried, "you're not deaf, are you?"

Jack looked up, with an impish expression of mischief in his eyes. A man
with a modest opinion of himself would have taken warning, and would have
said no more. The lawyer persisted.

"Now, my man! let us have a little talk. 'Jack Straw' can't be your
proper name. What is your name?"

"Anything you like," said Jack. "What's yours?"

"Oh, come! that won't do. You must have had a father and mother."

"Not that I know of."

"Where were you born?"

"In the gutter."

"How were you brought up?"

"Sometimes with a cuff on the head."

"And at other times?"

"At other times with a kick. Do be quiet, and let me finish my hat."

The discomfited lawyer tried a bribe as a last resource. He held up a
shilling. "Do you see this?"

"No, I don't. I see nothing but my hat."

This reply brought the examination to an end. The lawyer looked at the
superintendent, and said, "A hopeless case, sir." The superintendent
looked at the lawyer, and answered, "Perfectly hopeless."

Jack finished his hat, and gave it to my aunt. "Do you like it, now it's
done?" he asked.

"I like it very much," she answered: "and one of these days I shall trim
it with ribbons, and wear it for your sake."

She appealed to the superintendent, holding out the hat to him.

"Look," she said. "There is not a false turn anywhere in all this
intricate plaiting. Poor Jack is sane enough to fix his attention to this
subtle work. Do you give him up as incurable, when he can do that?"

The superintendent waved away the question with his hand. "Purely
mechanical," he replied. "It means nothing."

Jack touched my aunt. "I want to whisper," he said. She bent down to him,
and listened.

I saw her smile, and asked, after we had left the asylum, what he had
said. Jack had stated his opinion of the principal officer of Bethlehem
Hospital in these words: "Don't you listen to him, Mistress; he's a poor
half-witted creature. And short, too--not above six inches taller than I
am!"

But my aunt had not done with Jack's enemy yet.

"I am sorry to trouble you, sir," she resumed--"I have something more to
say before I go, and I wish to say it privately. Can you spare me a few
minutes?"

The amiable superintendent declared that he was entirely at her service.
She turned to Jack to say good-bye. The sudden discovery that she was
about to leave him was more than he could sustain; he lost his
self-control.

"Stay with me!" cried the poor wretch, seizing her by both hands. "Oh, be
merciful, and stay with me!"

She preserved her presence of mind--she would permit no interference to
protect her. Without starting back, without even attempting to release
herself, she spoke to him quietly.

"Let us shake hands for to-day," she said; "you have kept your promise,
Jack--you have been quiet and good. I must leave you for a while. Let me
go."

He obstinately shook his head, and still held her.

"Look at me," she persisted, without showing any fear of him. "I want to
tell you something. You are no longer a friendless creature, Jack. You
have a friend in me. Look up."

Her clear firm tones had their effect on him; he looked up. Their eyes
met.

"Now, let me go, as I told you."

He dropped her hand, and threw himself back in his corner and burst out
crying.

"I shall never see her again," he moaned to himself. "Never, never, never
again!"

"You shall see me to-morrow," she said.

He looked at her through his tears, and looked away again with an abrupt
change to distrust. "She doesn't mean it," he muttered, still speaking to
himself; "she only says it to pacify me."

"You shall see me to-morrow," my aunt reiterated; "I promise it."

He was cowed, but not convinced; he crawled to the full length of his
chain, and lay down at her feet like a dog. She considered for a
moment--and found her way to his confidence at last.

"Shall I leave you something to keep for me until I see you again?"

The idea struck him like a revelation: he lifted his head, and eyed her
with breathless interest. She gave him a little ornamental handbag, in
which she was accustomed to carry her handkerchief, and purse, and
smelling-bottle.

"I trust it entirely to you, Jack: you shall give it back to me when we
meet to-morrow."

Those simple words more than reconciled him to her departure--they subtly
flattered his self-esteem.

"You will find your bag torn to pieces, to-morrow," the superintendent
whispered, as the door was opened for us to go out.

"Pardon me, sir," my aunt replied; "I believe I shall find it quite
safe."

The last we saw of poor Jack, before the door closed on him, he was
hugging the bag in both arms, and kissing it.



CHAPTER VI

On our return to home, I found Fritz Keller smoking his pipe in the
walled garden at the back of the house.

In those days, it may not be amiss to remark that merchants of the
old-fashioned sort still lived over their counting-houses in the city.
The late Mr. Wagner's place of business included two spacious houses
standing together, with internal means of communication. One of these
buildings was devoted to the offices and warehouses. The other (having
the garden at the back) was the private residence.

Fritz advanced to meet me, and stopped, with a sudden change in his
manner. "Something has happened," he said--"I see it in your face! Has
the madman anything to do with it?"

"Yes. Shall I tell you what has happened, Fritz?"

"Not for the world. My ears are closed to all dreadful and distressing
narratives. I will imagine the madman--let us talk of something else."

"You will probably see him, Fritz, in a few weeks' time."

"You don't mean to tell me he is coming into this house?"

"I am afraid it's likely, to say the least of it."

Fritz looked at me like a man thunderstruck. "There are some
disclosures," he said, in his quaint way, "which are too overwhelming to
be received on one's legs. Let us sit down."

He led the way to a summer-house at the end of the garden. On the wooden
table, I observed a bottle of the English beer which my friend prized so
highly, with glasses on either side of it.

"I had a presentiment that we should want a consoling something of this
sort," said Fritz. "Fill your glass, David, and let out the worst of it
at once, before we get to the end of the bottle."

I let out the best of it first--that is to say, I told him what I have
related in the preceding pages. Fritz was deeply interested: full of
compassion for Jack Straw, but not in the least converted to my aunt's
confidence in him.

"Jack is supremely pitiable," he remarked; "but Jack is also a smoldering
volcano--and smoldering volcanos burst into eruption when the laws of
nature compel them. My only hope is in Mr. Superintendent. Surely he will
not let this madman loose on us, with nobody but your aunt to hold the
chain? What did she really say, when you left Jack, and had your private
talk in the reception-room? One minute, my friend, before you begin,"
said Fritz, groping under the bench upon which we were seated. "I had a
second presentiment that we might want a second bottle--and here it is!
Fill your glass; and let us establish ourselves in our respective
positions--you to administer, and I to sustain, a severe shock to the
moral sense. I think, David, this second bottle is even more deliciously
brisk than the first. Well, and what did your aunt say?"

My aunt had said much more than I could possibly tell him.

In substance it had come to this:--After seeing the whip, and seeing the
chains, and seeing the man--she had actually determined to commit herself
to the perilous experiment which her husband would have tried, if he had
lived! As to the means of procuring Jack Straw's liberation from the
Hospital, the powerful influence which had insisted on his being received
by the Institution, in defiance of rules, could also insist on his
release, and could be approached by the intercession of the same official
person, whose interest in the matter had been aroused by Mr. Wagner in
the last days of his life. Having set forth her plans for the future in
these terms, my aunt appealed to the lawyer to state the expression of
her wishes and intentions, in formal writing, as a preliminary act of
submission towards the governors of the asylum.

"And what did the lawyer say to it?" Fritz inquired, after I had reported
my aunt's proceedings thus far.

"The lawyer declined, Fritz, to comply with her request. He said, 'It
would be inexcusable, even in a man, to run such a risk--I don't believe
there is another woman in England who would think of such a thing.' Those
were his words."

"Did they have any effect on her?"

"Not the least in the world. She apologized for having wasted his
valuable time, and wished him good morning. 'If nobody will help me,' she
said, quietly, 'I must help myself.' Then she turned to me. 'You have
seen how carefully and delicately poor Jack can work,' she said; 'you
have seen him tempted to break out, and yet capable of restraining
himself in my presence. And, more than that, on the one occasion when he
did lose his self-control, you saw how he recovered himself when he was
calmly and kindly reasoned with. Are you content, David, to leave such a
man for the rest of his life to the chains and the whip?' What could I
say? She was too considerate to press me; she only asked me to think of
it. I have been trying to think of it ever since--and the more I try, the
more I dread the consequences if that madman is brought into the house."

Fritz shuddered at the prospect.

"On the day when Jack comes into the house, I shall go out of it," he
said. The social consequences of my aunt's contemplated experiment
suddenly struck him while he spoke. "What will Mrs. Wagner's friends
think?" he asked piteously. "They will refuse to visit her--they will say
she's mad herself."

"Don't let that distress you, gentlemen--I shan't mind what my friends
say of me."

We both started in confusion to our feet. My aunt herself was standing at
the open door of the summer-house with a letter in her hand.

"News from Germany, just come for you, Fritz."

With those words, she handed him the letter, and left us.

We looked at each other thoroughly ashamed of ourselves, if the truth
must be told. Fritz cast an uneasy glance at the letter, and recognized
the handwriting on the address. "From my father!" he said. As he opened
the envelope a second letter enclosed fell out on the floor. He changed
color as he picked it up, and looked at it. The seal was unbroken--the
postmark was Wurzburg.



CHAPTER VII

Fritz kept the letter from Wurzburg unopened in his hand.

"It's not from Minna," he said; "the handwriting is strange to me.
Perhaps my father knows something about it." He turned to his father's
letter; read it; and handed it to me without a word of remark.

Mr. Keller wrote briefly as follows:--

"The enclosed letter has reached me by post, as you perceive, with
written instructions to forward it to my son. The laws of honor guide me
just as absolutely in my relations with my son as in my relations with
any other gentleman. I forward the letter to you exactly as I have
received it. But I cannot avoid noticing the postmark of the city in
which the Widow Fontaine and her daughter are still living. If either
Minna or her mother be the person who writes to you, I must say plainly
that I forbid your entering into any correspondence with them. The two
families shall never be connected by marriage while I live. Understand,
my dear son, that this is said in your own best interests, and said,
therefore, from the heart of your father who loves you."

While I was reading these lines Fritz had opened the letter from
Wurzburg. "It's long enough, at any rate," he said, turning over the
closely-written pages to find the signature at the end.

"Well?" I asked.

"Well," Fritz repeated, "it's an anonymous letter. The signature is 'Your
Unknown Friend.'"

"Perhaps it relates to Miss Minna, or to her mother," I suggested. Fritz
turned back to the first page and looked up at me, red with anger. "More
abominable slanders! More lies about Minna's mother!" he burst out. "Come
here, David. Look at it with me. What do you say? Is it the writing of a
woman or a man?"

The writing was so carefully disguised that it was impossible to answer
his question. The letter (like the rest of the correspondence connected
with this narrative) has been copied in duplicate and placed at my
disposal. I reproduce it here for reasons which will presently explain
themselves--altering nothing, not even the vulgar familiarity of the
address.



"My good fellow, you once did me a kindness a long time since. Never mind
what it was or who I am. I mean to do you a kindness in return. Let that
be enough.

"You are in love with 'Jezebel's Daughter.' Now, don't be angry! I know
you believe Jezebel to be a deeply-injured woman; I know you have been
foolish enough to fight duels at Wurzburg in defense of her character.

"It is enough for you that she is a fond mother, and that her innocent
daughter loves her dearly. I don't deny that she is a fond mother; but is
the maternal instinct enough of itself to answer for a woman? Why, Fritz,
a cat is a fond mother; but a cat scratches and swears for all that! And
poor simple little Minna, who can see no harm in anybody, who can't
discover wickedness when it stares her in the face--is _she_ a
trustworthy witness to the widow's character? Bah!

"Don't tear up my letter in a rage; I am not going to argue the question
with you any further. Certain criminal circumstances have come to my
knowledge, which point straight to this woman. I shall plainly relate
those circumstances, out of my true regard for you, in the fervent hope
that I may open your eyes to the truth.

"Let us go back to the death of Doctor-Professor Fontaine, at his
apartments in the University of Wurzburg, on the 3rd of September, in the
present year 1828.

"The poor man died of typhoid fever, as you know--and died in debt,
through no extravagance on his own part, as you also know. He had
outlived all his own relatives, and had no pecuniary hopes or
expectations from anyone. Under these circumstances, he could only leave
the written expression of his last wishes, in place of a will.

"This document committed his widow and child to the care of his widow's
relations, in terms of respectful entreaty. Speaking next of himself, he
directed that he should be buried with the strictest economy, so that he
might cost the University as little as possible. Thirdly, and lastly, he
appointed one of his brother professors to act as his sole executor, in
disposing of those contents of his laboratory which were his own property
at the time of his death.

"The written instructions to his executor are of such serious importance
that I feel it my duty to copy them for you, word for word.

"Thus they begin:--

"'I hereby appoint my dear old friend and colleague, Professor
Stein--now absent for a while at Munich, on University business--to act
as my sole representative in the disposal of the contents of my
laboratory, after my death. The various objects used in my chemical
investigations, which are my own private property, will be all found
arranged on the long deal table that stands between the two windows. They
are to be offered for sale to my successor, in the first instance. If he
declines to purchase them, they can then be sent to Munich, to be sold
separately by the manufacturer, as occasion may offer. The furniture of
the laboratory, both movable and stationary, belongs entirely to the
University, excepting the contents of an iron safe built into the south
wall of the room. As to these, which are my own sole property, I
seriously enjoin my executor and representative to follow my instructions
to the letter:--

"'(1) Professor Stein will take care to be accompanied by a competent
witness, when he opens the safe in the wall.

"'(2) The witness will take down in writing, from the dictation of
Professor Stein, an exact list of the contents of the safe. These
are:--Bottles containing drugs, tin cases containing powders, and a small
medicine-chest, having six compartments, each occupied by a labeled
bottle, holding a liquid preparation.

"'(3) The written list being complete, I desire Professor Stein to empty
every one of the bottles and cases, including the bottles in the
medicine-chest, into the laboratory sink, with his own hands. He is also
to be especially careful to destroy the labels on the bottles in the
medicine-chest. These things done, he will sign the list, stating that
the work of destruction is accomplished; and the witness present will add
his signature. The document, thus attested, is to be placed in the care
of the Secretary to the University.

"'My object in leaving these instructions is simply to prevent the
dangerous results which might follow any meddling with my chemical
preparations, after my death.

"'In almost every instance, these preparations are of a poisonous
nature. Having made this statement, let me add, in justice to myself,
that the sole motive for my investigations has been the good of my
fellow-creatures.

"'I have been anxious, in the first place, to enlarge the list of
curative medicines having poison for one of their ingredients. I have
attempted, in the second place, to discover antidotes to the deadly
action of those poisons, which (in cases of crime or accident) might be
the means of saving life.

"'If I had been spared for a few years longer, I should so far have
completed my labors as to have ventured on leaving them to be introduced
to the medical profession by my successor. As it is--excepting one
instance, in which I ran the risk, and was happily enabled to preserve
the life of a poisoned man--I have not had time so completely to verify
my theories, by practical experiment, as to justify me in revealing my
discoveries to the scientific world for the benefit of mankind.

"'Under these circumstances, I am resigned to the sacrifice of my
ambition--I only desire to do no harm. If any of my preparations, and
more particularly those in the medicine-chest, fell into ignorant or
wicked hands, I tremble when I think of the consequences which might
follow. My one regret is, that I have not strength enough to rise from my
bed, and do the good work of destruction myself. My friend and executor
will take my place.

"'The key of the laboratory door, and the key of the safe, will be
secured this day in the presence of my medical attendant, in a small
wooden box. The box will be sealed (before the same witness) with my own
seal. I shall keep it under my pillow, to give it myself to Professor
Stein, if I live until he returns from Munich.

"'If I die while my executor is still absent, my beloved wife is the one
person in the world whom I can implicitly trust to take charge of the
sealed box. She will give it to Professor Stein, immediately on his
return to Wurzburg; together with these instructions, which will be
placed in the box along with the keys.'"



"There are the instructions, friend Fritz! They are no secret now. The
Professor has felt it his duty to make them public in a court of law, in
consequence of the events which followed Doctor Fontaine's death. You are
interested in those events, and you shall be made acquainted with them
before I close my letter.

"Professor Stein returned from Munich too late to receive the box from
the hands of his friend and colleague. It was presented to him by the
Widow Fontaine, in accordance with her late husband's wishes.

"The Professor broke the seal. Having read his Instructions, he followed
them to the letter, the same day.

"Accompanied by the Secretary to the University, as a witness, he opened
the laboratory door. Leaving the sale of the objects on the table to be
provided for at a later date, he proceeded at once to take the list of
the bottles and cases, whose contents he was bound to destroy. On opening
the safe, these objects were found as the Instructions led him to
anticipate: the dust lying thick on them vouched for their having been
left undisturbed. The list being completed, the contents of the bottles
and cases were thereupon thrown away by the Professor's own hand.

"On looking next, however, for the medicine-chest, no such thing was to
be discovered in the safe. The laboratory was searched from end to end,
on the chance that some mistake had been made. Still no medicine-chest
was to be found.

"Upon this the Widow Fontaine was questioned. Did she know what had
become of the medicine-chest? She was not even aware that such a thing
existed. Had she been careful to keep the sealed box so safely that no
other person could get at it? Certainly! She had kept it locked in one of
her drawers, and the key in her pocket.

"The lock of the drawer, and the locks of the laboratory door and the
safe, were examined. They showed no sign of having been tampered with.
Persons employed in the University, who were certain to know, were asked
if duplicate keys existed, and all united in answering in the negative.
The medical attendant was examined, and declared that it was physically
impossible for Doctor Fontaine to have left his bed, and visited the
laboratory, between the time of writing his Instructions and the time of
his death.

"While these investigations were proceeding, Doctor Fontaine's senior
assistant obtained leave to examine through a microscope the sealing-wax
left on the box which had contained the keys.

"The result of this examination, and of the chemical analyses which
followed, proved that two different kinds of sealing-wax (both of the
same red color, superficially viewed) had been used on the seal of the
box--an undermost layer of one kind of wax, and an uppermost layer of
another, mingled with the undermost in certain places only. The plain
inference followed that the doctor's sealing-wax had been softened by
heat so as to allow of the opening of the box, and that new sealing-wax
had been afterwards added, and impressed by the Doctor's seal so that the
executor might suspect nothing. Here, again, the evidence of the medical
attendant (present at the time) proved that Doctor Fontaine had only used
one stick of sealing-wax to secure the box. The seal itself was found in
the possession of the widow; placed carelessly in the china tray in which
she kept her rings after taking them off for the night.

"The affair is still under judicial investigation. I will not trouble you
by reporting the further proceedings in detail.

"Of course, Widow Fontaine awaits the result of the investigation with
the composure of conscious innocence. Of course, she has not only
submitted to an examination of her lodgings, but has insisted on it. Of
course, no red sealing-wax and no medicine-chest have been found. Of
course, some thief unknown, for some purpose quite inconceivable, got at
the box and the seal, between the Doctor's death and the return of the
Professor from Munich, and read the Instructions and stole the terrible
medicine-chest. Such is the theory adopted by the defense. If you can
believe it--then I have written in vain. If, on the other hand, you are
the sensible young man I take you to be, follow my advice. Pity poor
little Minna as much as you please, but look out for another young lady
with an unimpeachable mother; and think yourself lucky to have two such
advisers as your excellent father, and Your Unknown Friend."



CHAPTER VIII

"I will lay any wager you like," said Fritz, when we had come to the end
of the letter, "that the wretch who has written this is a woman."

"What makes you think so?"

"Because all the false reports about poor Madame Fontaine, when I was at
Wurzburg, were traced to women. They envy and hate Minna's mother. She is
superior to them in everything; handsome, distinguished, dresses to
perfection, possesses all the accomplishments--a star, I tell you, a
brilliant star among a set of dowdy domestic drudges. Isn't it infamous,
without an atom of evidence against her, to take it for granted that she
is guilty? False to her dead husband's confidence in her, a breaker of
seals, a stealer of poisons--what an accusation against a defenseless
woman! Oh, my poor dear Minna! how she must feel it; she doesn't possess
her mother's strength of mind. I shall fly to Wurzburg to comfort her. My
father may say what he pleases; I can't leave these two persecuted women
without a friend. Suppose the legal decision goes against the widow? How
do I know that judgment has not been pronounced already? The suspense is
intolerable. Do you mean to tell me I am bound to obey my father, when
his conduct is neither just nor reasonable?"

"Gently, Fritz--gently!"

"I tell you, David, I can prove what I say. Just listen to this. My
father has never even seen Minna's mother; he blindly believes the
scandals afloat about her--he denies that any woman can be generally
disliked and distrusted among her neighbors without some good reason for
it. I assure you, on my honor, he has no better excuse for forbidding me
to marry Minna than that. Is it just, is it reasonable, to condemn a
woman without first hearing what she has to say in her own defense? Ah,
now indeed I feel the loss of my own dear mother! If she had been alive
she would have exerted her influence, and have made my father ashamed of
his own narrow prejudices. My position is maddening; my head whirls when
I think of it. If I go to Wurzburg, my father will never speak to me
again. If I stay here, I shall cut my throat."

There was still a little beer left in the bottom of the second bottle.
Fritz poured it out, with a gloomy resolution to absorb it to the last
drop.

I took advantage of this momentary pause of silence to recommend the
virtue of patience to the consideration of my friend. News from Wurzburg,
I reminded him, might be obtained in our immediate neighborhood by
consulting a file of German journals, kept at a foreign coffee-house. By
way of strengthening the good influence of this suggestion, I informed
Fritz that I expected to be shortly sent to Frankfort, as the bearer of a
business communication addressed to Mr. Keller by my aunt; and I offered
privately to make inquiries, and (if possible) even to take messages to
Wurzburg--if he would only engage to wait patiently for the brighter
prospects that might show themselves in the time to come.

I had barely succeeded in tranquilizing Fritz, when my attention was
claimed by the more serious and pressing subject of the liberation of
Jack Straw. My aunt sent to say that she wished to see me.

I found her at her writing-table, with the head-clerk established at the
desk opposite.

Mr. Hartrey was quite as strongly opposed as the lawyer to any meddling
with the treatment of mad people on the part of my aunt. But he placed
his duty to his employer before all other considerations; and he
rendered, under respectful protest, such services as were required of
him. He was now engaged in drawing out the necessary memorials and
statements, under the instructions of my aunt. Her object in sending for
me was to inquire if I objected to making fair copies of the rough drafts
thus produced. In the present stage of the affair, she was unwilling to
take the clerks at the office into her confidence. As a matter of course,
I followed Mr. Hartrey's example, and duly subordinated my own opinions
to my aunt's convenience.

On the next day, she paid her promised visit to poor Jack.

The bag which she had committed to his care was returned to her without
the slightest injury. Naturally enough, she welcomed this circumstance as
offering a new encouragement to the design that she had in view. Mad Jack
could not only understand a responsibility, but could prove himself
worthy of it. The superintendent smiled, and said, in his finely ironical
way, "I never denied, madam, that Jack was cunning."

From that date, my aunt's venturesome enterprise advanced towards
completion with a rapidity that astonished us.

Applying, in the first instance, to the friend of her late husband,
holding a position in the Royal Household, she was met once more by the
inevitable objections to her design. She vainly pleaded that her purpose
was to try the experiment modestly in the one pitiable case of Jack
Straw, and that she would willingly leave any further development of her
husband's humane project to persons better qualified to encounter dangers
and difficulties than herself. The only concession that she could obtain
was an appointment for a second interview, in the presence of a gentleman
whose opinion it would be important to consult. He was one of the
physicians attached to the Court, and he was known to be a man of liberal
views in his profession. Mrs. Wagner would do well, in her own interests,
to be guided by his disinterested advice.

Keeping this second appointment, my aunt provided herself with a special
means of persuasion in the shape of her husband's diary, containing his
unfinished notes on the treatment of insanity by moral influence.

As she had anticipated, the physician invited to advise her was readier
to read the notes than to listen to her own imperfect explanation of the
object in view. He was strongly impressed by the novelty and good sense
of the ideas that her husband advocated, and was candid enough openly to
acknowledge it. But he, too, protested against any attempt on the part of
a woman to carry out any part of the proposed reform, even on the
smallest scale. Exasperated by these new remonstrances, my aunt's
patience gave way. Refusing to submit herself to the physician's advice,
she argued the question boldly from her own point of view. The discussion
was at its height, when the door of the room was suddenly opened from
without. A lady in walking-costume appeared, with two ladies in
attendance on her. The two gentlemen started to their feet, and whispered
to my aunt, "The Princess!"

This was the exalted personage whom the superintendent at Bethlehem had
been too discreet to describe more particularly as a daughter of George
the Third. Passing the door on her way to the Palace-gardens, the
Princess had heard the contending voices, and the name of Jack distinctly
pronounced in a woman's tones. Inheriting unusually vigorous impulses of
curiosity from her august father, her Highness opened the door and joined
the party without ceremony.

"What are you quarreling about?" inquired the Princess. "And who is this
lady?"

Mrs. Wagner was presented, to answer for herself. She made the best of
the golden opportunity that had fallen into her hands. The Princess was
first astonished, then interested, then converted to my aunt's view of
the case. In the monotonous routine of Court life, here was a romantic
adventure in which even the King's daughter could take some share. Her
Highness quoted Boadicea, Queen Elizabeth, and Joan of Arc, as women who
had matched the men on their own ground--and complimented Mrs. Wagner as
a heroine of the same type.

"You are a fine creature," said the Princess, "and you may trust to me to
help you with all my heart. Come to my apartments tomorrow at this
time--and tell poor Jack that I have not forgotten him."

Assailed by Royal influence, all the technical obstacles that lawyers,
doctors, and governors could raise to the liberation of Jack Straw were
set aside by an ingenious appeal to the letter of the law, originating in
a suggestion made by the Princess herself.

"It lies in a nutshell, my dear," said her Highness to my aunt. "They
tell me I broke the rules when I insisted on having Jack admitted to the
Hospital. Now, your late husband was one of the governors; and you are
his sole executor. Very good. As your husband's representative, complain
of the violation of the rules, and insist on the discharge of Jack. He
occupies a place which ought to be filled by an educated patient in a
higher rank of life. Oh, never mind me! I shall express my regret for
disregarding the regulations--and, to prove my sincerity, I shall consent
to the poor creature's dismissal, and assume the whole responsibility of
providing for him myself. There is the way out of our difficulty. Take
it--and you shall have Jack whenever you want him."

In three weeks from that time, the "dangerous lunatic" was free (as our
friend the lawyer put it) to "murder Mrs. Wagner, and to burn the house
down."

How my aunt's perilous experiment was conducted--in what particulars it
succeeded and in what particulars it failed--I am unable to state as an
eyewitness, owing to my absence at the time. This curious portion of the
narrative will be found related by Jack himself, on a page still to come.
In the meanwhile, the course of events compels me to revert to the
circumstances which led to my departure from London.

While Mrs. Wagner was still in attendance at the palace, a letter reached
her from Mr. Keller, stating the necessity of increasing the number of
clerks at the Frankfort branch of our business. Closely occupied as she
then was, she found time to provide me with those instructions to her
German partners, preparing them for the coming employment of women in
their office, to which she had first alluded when the lawyer and I had
our interview with her after the reading of the will.

"The cause of the women," she said to me, "must not suffer because I
happen to be just now devoted to the cause of poor Jack. Go at once to
Frankfort, David. I have written enough to prepare my partners there for
a change in the administration of the office, and to defer for the
present the proposed enlargement of our staff of clerks. The rest you can
yourself explain from your own knowledge of the plans that I have in
contemplation. Start on your journey as soon as possible--and understand
that you are to say No positively, if Fritz proposes to accompany you. He
is not to leave London without the express permission of his father."

Fritz did propose to accompany me, the moment he heard of my journey. I
must own that I thought the circumstances excused him.

On the previous evening, we had consulted the German newspapers at the
coffee-house, and had found news from Wurzburg which quite overwhelmed my
excitable friend.

Being called upon to deliver their judgment, the authorities presiding at
the legal inquiry into the violation of the seals and the loss of the
medicine-chest failed to agree in opinion, and thus brought the
investigation to a most unsatisfactory end. The moral effect of this
division among the magistrates was unquestionably to cast a slur on the
reputation of Widow Fontaine. She was not pronounced to be guilty--but
she was also not declared to be innocent. Feeling, no doubt, that her
position among her neighbors had now become unendurable, she and her
daughter had left Wurzburg. The newspaper narrative added that their
departure had been privately accomplished. No information could be
obtained of the place of their retreat.

But for this last circumstance, I believe Fritz would have insisted on
traveling with me. Ignorant of what direction to begin the search for
Minna and her mother, he consented to leave me to look for traces of them
in Germany, while he remained behind to inquire at the different foreign
hotels, on the chance that they might have taken refuge in London.

The next morning I started for Frankfort.

My spirits were high as I left the shores of England. I had a young man's
hearty and natural enjoyment of change. Besides, it flattered my
self-esteem to feel that I was my aunt's business-representative; and I
was almost equally proud to be Fritz's confidential friend. Never could
any poor human creature have been a more innocent instrument of mischief
in the hands of Destiny than I was, on that fatal journey. The day was
dark, when the old weary way of traveling brought me at last to
Frankfort. The unseen prospect, at the moment when I stepped out of the
mail-post-carriage, was darker still.



CHAPTER IX

I had just given a porter the necessary directions for taking my
portmanteau to Mr. Keller's house, when I heard a woman's voice behind me
asking the way to the Poste Restante--or, in our roundabout English
phrase, the office of letters to be left till called for.

The voice was delightfully fresh and sweet, with an undertone of sadness,
which made it additionally interesting. I did what most other young men
in my place would have done--I looked round directly.

Yes! the promise of the voice was abundantly kept by the person. She was
quite a young girl, modest and ladylike; a little pale and careworn, poor
thing, as if her experience of life had its sad side already. Her face
was animated by soft sensitive eyes--the figure supple and slight, the
dress of the plainest material, but so neatly made and so perfectly worn
that I should have doubted her being a German girl, if I had not heard
the purely South-German accent in which she put her question. It was
answered, briefly and civilly, by the conductor of the post-carriage in
which I had traveled. But, at that hour, the old court-yard of the
post-office was thronged with people arriving and departing, meeting
their friends and posting their letters. The girl was evidently not used
to crowds. She was nervous and confused. After advancing a few steps in
the direction pointed out to her, she stopped in bewilderment, hustled by
busy people, and evidently in doubt already about which way she was to
turn next.

If I had followed the strict line of duty, I suppose I should have turned
my steps in the direction of Mr. Keller's house. I followed my instincts
instead, and offered my services to the young lady. Blame the laws of
Nature and the attraction between the sexes. Don't blame me.

"I heard you asking for the post-office," I said. "Will you allow me to
show you the way?"

She looked at me, and hesitated. I felt that I was paying the double
penalty of being a young man, and of being perhaps a little too eager as
well.

"Forgive me for venturing to speak to you," I pleaded. "It is not very
pleasant for a young lady to find herself alone in such a crowded place
as this. I only ask permission to make myself of some trifling use to
you."

She looked at me again, and altered her first opinion.

"You are very kind, sir; I will thankfully accept your assistance."

"May I offer you my arm?"

She declined this proposal--with perfect amiability, however. "Thank you,
sir, I will follow you, if you please."

I pushed my way through the crowd, with the charming stranger close at my
heels. Arrived at the post-office, I drew aside to let her make her own
inquiries. Would she mention her name? No; she handed in a passport, and
asked if there was a letter waiting for the person named in it. The
letter was found; but was not immediately delivered. As well as I could
understand, the postage had been insufficiently paid, and the customary
double-rate was due. The young lady searched in the pocket of her
dress--a cry of alarm escaped her. "Oh!" she exclaimed, "I have lost my
purse, and the letter is so important!"

It occurred to me immediately that she had had her pocket picked by some
thief in the crowd. The clerk thought so too. He looked at the clock.
"You must be quick about it if you return for the letter," he said, "the
office closes in ten minutes."

She clasped her hands in despair. "It's more than ten minutes' walk," she
said, "before I can get home."

I immediately offered to lend her the money. "It is such a very small
sum," I reminded her, "that it would be absurd to consider yourself under
any obligation to me."

Between her eagerness to get possession of the letter, and her doubt of
the propriety of accepting my offer, she looked sadly embarrassed, poor
soul.

"You are very good to me," she said confusedly; "but I am afraid it might
not be quite right in me to borrow money of a stranger, however little it
may be. And, even if I did venture, how am I----?" She looked at me
shyly, and shrank from finishing the sentence.

"How are you to pay it back?" I suggested.

"Yes, sir."

"Oh, it's not worth the trouble of paying back. Give it to the first poor
person you meet with to-morrow." I said this, with the intention of
reconciling her to the loan of the money. It had exactly the contrary
effect on this singularly delicate and scrupulous girl. She drew back a
step directly.

"No, I couldn't do that," she said. "I could only accept your kindness,
if----" She stopped again. The clerk looked once more at the clock. "Make
up your mind, Miss, before it's too late."

In her terror of not getting the letter that day, she spoke out plainly
at last. "Will you kindly tell me, sir, to what address I can return the
money when I get home?"

I paid for the letter first, and then answered the question.

"If you will be so good as to send it to Mr. Keller's house----"

Before I could add the name of the street, her pale face suddenly
flushed. "Oh!" she exclaimed impulsively, "do you know Mr. Keller?"

A presentiment of the truth occurred to my mind for the first time.

"Yes," I said; "and his son Fritz too."

She trembled; the color that had risen in her face left it instantly; she
looked away from me with a pained, humiliated expression. Doubt was no
longer possible. The charming stranger was Fritz's sweetheart--and
"Jezebel's Daughter."

My respect for the young lady forbade me to attempt any concealment of
the discovery that I had made. I said at once, "I believe I have the
honor of speaking to Miss Minna Fontaine?"

She looked at me in wonder, not unmixed with distrust.

"How do you know who I am?" she asked.

"I can easily tell you, Miss Minna. I am David Glenney, nephew of Mrs.
Wagner, of London. Fritz is staying in her house, and he and I have
talked about you by the hour together."

The poor girl's face, so pale and sad the moment before, became radiant
with happiness. "Oh!" she cried innocently, "has Fritz not forgotten me?"

Even at this distance of time, my memory recalls her lovely dark eyes
riveted in breathless interest on my face, as I spoke of Fritz's love and
devotion, and told her that she was still the one dear image in his
thoughts by day, in his dreams by night. All her shyness vanished. She
impulsively gave me her hand. "How can I be grateful enough to the good
angel who has brought us together!" she exclaimed. "If we were not in the
street, I do believe, Mr. David, I should go down on my knees to thank
you! You have made me the happiest girl living." Her voice suddenly
failed her; she drew her veil down. "Don't mind me," she said; "I can't
help crying for joy."

Shall I confess what my emotions were? For the moment, I forgot my own
little love affair in England--and envied Fritz from the bottom of my
heart.

The chance-passengers in the street began to pause and look at us. I
offered Minna my arm, and asked permission to attend her on the way home.

"I should like it," she answered, with a friendly frankness that charmed
me. "But you are expected at Mr. Keller's--you must go there first."

"May I call and see you to-morrow?" I persisted, "and save you the
trouble of sending my money to Mr. Keller's?"

She lifted her veil and smiled at me brightly through her tears. "Yes,"
she said; "come to-morrow and be introduced to my mother. Oh! how glad my
dear mother will be to see you, when I tell her what has happened! I am a
selfish wretch; I have not borne my sorrow and suspense as I ought; I
have made her miserable about me, because I was miserable about Fritz.
It's all over now. Thank you again and again. There is our address on
that card. No, no, we must say good-bye till to-morrow. My mother is
waiting for her letter; and Mr. Keller is wondering what has become of
you." She pressed my hand warmly and left me.

On my way alone to Mr. Keller's house, I was not quite satisfied with
myself. The fear occurred to me that I might have spoken about Fritz a
little too freely, and might have excited hopes which could never be
realized. The contemplation of the doubtful future began to oppress my
mind. Minna might have reason to regret that she had ever met with me.

I was received by Mr. Keller with truly German cordiality. He and his
partner Mr. Engelman--one a widower, the other an old bachelor--lived
together in the ancient building, in Main Street, near the river, which
served for house and for offices alike.

The two old gentlemen offered the completest personal contrast
imaginable. Mr. Keller was lean, tall, and wiry--a man of considerable
attainments beyond the limits of his business, capable (when his hot
temper was not excited) of speaking sensibly and strongly on any subject
in which he was interested. Mr. Engelman, short and fat, devoted to the
office during the hours of business, had never read a book in his life,
and had no aspiration beyond the limits of his garden and his pipe. "In
my leisure moments," he used to say, "give me my flowers, my pipe, and my
peace of mind--and I ask no more." Widely as they differed in character,
the two partners had the truest regard for one another. Mr. Engelman
believed Mr. Keller to be the most accomplished and remarkable man in
Germany. Mr. Keller was as firmly persuaded, on his side, that Mr.
Engelman was an angel in sweetness of temper, and a model of modest and
unassuming good sense. Mr. Engelman listened to Mr. Keller's learned talk
with an ignorant admiration which knew no limit. Mr. Keller, detesting
tobacco in all its forms, and taking no sort of interest in horticulture,
submitted to the fumes of Mr. Engelman's pipe, and passed hours in Mr.
Engelman's garden without knowing the names of nine-tenths of the flowers
that grew in it. There are still such men to be found in Germany and in
England; but, oh! dear me, the older I get the fewer I find there are of
them.

The two old friends and partners were waiting for me to join them at
their early German supper. Specimens of Mr. Engelman's flowers adorned
the table in honor of my arrival. He presented me with a rose from the
nosegay when I entered the room.

"And how did you leave dear Mrs. Wagner?" he inquired.

"And how is my boy Fritz?" asked Mr. Keller.

I answered in terms which satisfied them both, and the supper proceeded
gaily. But when the table was cleared, and Mr. Engelman had lit his pipe,
and I had kept him company with a cigar, then Mr. Keller put the fatal
question. "And now tell me, David, do you come to us on business or do
you come to us on pleasure?"

I had no alternative but to produce my instructions, and to announce the
contemplated invasion of the office by a select army of female clerks.
The effect produced by the disclosure was highly characteristic of the
widely different temperaments of the two partners.

Mild Mr. Engelman laid down his pipe, and looked at Mr. Keller in
helpless silence.

Irritable Mr. Keller struck his fist on the table, and appealed to Mr.
Engelman with fury in his looks.

"What did I tell you," he asked, "when we first heard that Mr. Wagner's
widow was appointed head-partner in the business? How many opinions of
philosophers on the moral and physical incapacities of women did I quote?
Did I, or did I not, begin with the ancient Egyptians, and end with
Doctor Bernastrokius, our neighbor in the next street?"

Poor Mr. Engelman looked frightened.

"Don't be angry, my dear friend," he said softly.

"Angry?" repeated Mr. Keller, more furiously than ever. "My good
Engelman, you never were more absurdly mistaken in your life! I am
delighted. Exactly what I expected, exactly what I predicted, has come to
pass. Put down your pipe! I can bear a great deal--but tobacco smoke is
beyond me at such a crisis as this. And do for once overcome your
constitutional indolence. Consult your memory; recall my own words when
we were first informed that we had a woman for head-partner."

"She was a very pretty woman when I first saw her," Mr. Engelman
remarked.

"Pooh!" cried Mr. Keller.

"I didn't mean to offend you," said Mr. Engelman. "Allow me to present
you with one of my roses as a peace-offering."

_"Will_ you be quiet, and let me speak?"

"My dear Keller, I am always too glad to hear you speak! You put ideas
into my poor head, and my poor head lets them out, and then you put them
in again. What noble perseverance! If I live a while longer I do really
think you will make a clever man of me. Let me put the rose in your
buttonhole for you. And I say, I wish you would allow me to go on with my
pipe."

Mr. Keller made a gesture of resignation, and gave up his partner in
despair. "I appeal to _you,_ David," he said, and poured the full flow of
his learning and his indignation into my unlucky ears.

Mr. Engelman, enveloped in clouds of tobacco-smoke, enjoyed in silence
the composing influence of his pipe. I said, "Yes, sir," and "No, sir,"
at the right intervals in the flow of Mr. Keller's eloquence. At this
distance of time, I cannot pretend to report the long harangue of which I
was made the victim. In substance, Mr. Keller held that there were two
irremediable vices in the composition of women. Their dispositions
presented, morally speaking, a disastrous mixture of the imitativeness of
a monkey and the restlessness of a child. Having proved this by copious
references to the highest authorities, Mr. Keller logically claimed my
aunt as a woman, and, as such, not only incapable of "letting well
alone," but naturally disposed to imitate her husband on the most
superficial and defective sides of his character. "I predicted, David,
that the fatal disturbance of our steady old business was now only a
question of time--and there, in Mrs. Wagner's ridiculous instructions, is
the fulfillment of my prophecy!"

Before we went to bed that night, the partners arrived at two
resolutions. Mr. Keller resolved to address a written remonstrance to my
aunt. Mr. Engelman resolved to show me his garden the first thing in the
morning.



CHAPTER X

On the afternoon of the next day, while my two good friends were still
occupied by the duties of the office, I stole out to pay my promised
visit to Minna and Minna's mother.

It was impossible not to arrive at the conclusion that they were indeed
in straitened circumstances. Their lodgings were in the cheap suburban
quarter of Frankfort on the left bank of the river. Everything was
scrupulously neat, and the poor furniture was arranged with taste--but no
dexterity of management could disguise the squalid shabbiness of the
sitting-room into which I was shown. I could not help thinking how
distressed Fritz would feel, if he could have seen his charming Minna in
a place so unworthy of her as this.

The rickety door opened, and the "Jezebel" of the anonymous letter
(followed by her daughter) entered the room.

There are certain remarkable women in all countries who, whatever sphere
they may be seen in, fill that sphere as completely as a great actor
fills the stage. Widow Fontaine was one of these noteworthy persons. The
wretched little room seemed to disappear when she softly glided into it;
and even the pretty Minna herself receded into partial obscurity in her
mother's presence. And yet there was nothing in the least obtrusive in
the manner of Madame Fontaine, and nothing remarkable in her stature. Her
figure, reaching to no more than the middle height, was the well-rounded
figure of a woman approaching forty years of age. The influence she
exercised was, in part, attributable, as I suppose, to the supple grace
of all her movements; in part, to the commanding composure of her
expression and the indescribable witchery of her manner. Her dark eyes,
never fully opened in my remembrance, looked at me under heavy
overhanging upper eyelids. Her enemies saw something sensual in their
strange expression. To my mind it was rather something furtively
cruel--except when she looked at her daughter. Sensuality shows itself
most plainly in the excessive development of the lower part of the face.
Madame Fontaine's lips were thin, and her chin was too small. Her profuse
black hair was just beginning to be streaked with gray. Her complexion
wanted color. In spite of these drawbacks, she was still a striking, I
might almost say a startling, creature, when you first looked at her.
And, though she only wore the plainest widow's weeds, I don't scruple to
assert that she was the most perfectly dressed woman I ever saw.

Minna made a modest attempt to present me in due form. Her mother put her
aside playfully, and held out both her long white powerful hands to me as
cordially as if we had known each other for years.

"I wait to prove other people before I accept them for my friends," she
said. "Mr. David, you have been more than kind to my daughter--and _you_
are my friend at our first meeting."

I believe I repeat the words exactly. I wish I could give any adequate
idea of the exquisite charm of voice and manner which accompanied them.

And yet, I was not at my ease with her--I was not drawn to her
irresistibly, as I had felt drawn to her daughter. Those dark, steady,
heavy-lidded eyes of hers seemed to be looking straight into my heart,
and surprising all my secrets. To say that I actually distrusted and
disliked her would be far from the truth. Distrust and dislike would have
protected me, in some degree at least, from feeling her influence as I
certainly did feel it. How that influence was exerted--whether it was
through her eyes, or through her manner, or, to speak the jargon of these
latter days, through some "magnetic emanation" from her, which invisibly
overpowered me--is more than I can possibly say. I can only report that
she contrived by slow degrees to subject the action of my will more and
more completely to the action of hers, until I found myself answering her
most insidious questions as unreservedly as if she had been in very truth
my intimate and trusted friend.

"And is this your first visit to Frankfort, Mr. David?" she began.

"Oh, no, madam! I have been at Frankfort on two former occasions."

"Ah, indeed? And have you always stayed with Mr. Keller?"

"Always."

She looked unaccountably interested when she heard that reply, brief as
it was.

"Then, of course, you are intimate with him," she said. "Intimate enough,
perhaps, to ask a favor or to introduce a friend?"

I made a futile attempt to answer this cautiously.

"As intimate, madam, as a young clerk in the business can hope to be with
a partner," I said.

"A clerk in the business?" she repeated. "I thought you lived in London,
with your aunt."

Here Minna interposed for the first time.

"You forget, mamma, that there are three names in the business. The
inscription over the door in Main Street is Wagner, Keller, and Engelman.
Fritz once told me that the office here in Frankfort was only the small
office--and the grand business was Mr. Wagner's business in London. Am I
right, Mr. David?"

"Quite right, Miss Minna. But we have no such magnificent flower-garden
at the London house as Mr. Engelman's flower-garden here. May I offer you
a nosegay which he allowed me to gather?"

I had hoped to make the flowers a means of turning the conversation to
more interesting topics. But the widow resumed her questions, while Minna
was admiring the flowers.

"Then you are Mr. Wagner's clerk?" she persisted.

"I _was_ Mr. Wagner's clerk. Mr. Wagner is dead."

"Ha! And who takes care of the great business now?"

Without well knowing why, I felt a certain reluctance to speak of my aunt
and her affairs. But Widow Fontaine's eyes rested on me with a resolute
expectation in them which I felt myself compelled to gratify. When she
understood that Mr. Wagner's widow was now the chief authority in the
business, her curiosity to hear everything that I could tell her about my
aunt became all but insatiable. Minna's interest in the subject was, in
quite another way, as vivid as her mother's. My aunt's house was the
place to which cruel Mr. Keller had banished her lover. The inquiries of
the mother and daughter followed each other in such rapid succession that
I cannot pretend to remember them now. The last question alone remains
vividly impressed on my memory, in connection with the unexpected effect
which my answer produced. It was put by the widow in these words:

"Your aunt is interested, of course, in the affairs of her partners in
this place. Is it possible, Mr. David, that she may one day take the
journey to Frankfort?"

"It is quite likely, madam, that my aunt may be in Frankfort on business
before the end of the year."

As I replied in those terms the widow looked round slowly at her
daughter. Minna was evidently quite as much at a loss to understand the
look as I was. Madame Fontaine turned to me again, and made an apology.

"Pardon me, Mr. David, there is a little domestic duty that I had
forgotten." She crossed the room to a small table, on which
writing-materials were placed, wrote a few lines, and handed the paper,
without enclosing it, to Minna. "Give that, my love, to our good friend
downstairs--and, while you are in the kitchen, suppose you make the tea.
You will stay and drink tea with us, Mr. David? It is our only luxury,
and we always make it ourselves."

My first impulse was to find an excuse for declining the invitation.
There was something in the air of mystery with which Madame Fontaine
performed her domestic duties that was not at all to my taste. But Minna
pleaded with me to say Yes. "Do stay with us a little longer," she said,
in her innocently frank way, "we have so few pleasures in this place." I
might, perhaps, have even resisted Minna--but her mother literally laid
hands on me. She seated herself, with the air of an empress, on a shabby
little sofa in the corner of the room, and beckoning me to take my place
by her side, laid her cool firm hand persuasively on mine. Her touch
filled me with a strange sense of disturbance, half pleasurable, half
painful--I don't know how to describe it. Let me only record that I
yielded, and that Minna left us together.

"I want to tell you the whole truth," said Madame Fontaine, as soon as we
were alone; "and I can only do so in the absence of my daughter. You must
have seen for yourself that we are very poor?"

Her hand pressed mine gently. I answered as delicately as I could--I said
I was sorry, but not surprised, to hear it.

"When you kindly helped Minna to get that letter yesterday," she went on,
"you were the innocent means of inflicting a disappointment on me--one
disappointment more, after others that had gone before it. I came here to
place my case before some wealthy relatives of mine in this city. They
refused to assist me. I wrote next to other members of my family, living
in Brussels. The letter of yesterday contained their answer. Another
refusal! The landlady of this house is an afflicted creature, with every
claim on my sympathies; she, too, is struggling with poverty. If I failed
to pay her, it would be too cruel. Only yesterday I felt it my hard duty
to give her notice of our departure in a week more. I have just written
to recall that notice. The reason is, that I see a gleam of hope in the
future--and you, Mr. David, are the friend who has shown it to me."

I was more than surprised at this. "May I ask how?" I said.

She patted my hand with a playful assumption of petulance.

"A little more patience," she rejoined; "and you shall soon hear. If I
had only myself to think of, I should not feel the anxieties that now
trouble me. I could take a housekeeper's place to-morrow. Yes! I was
brought up among surroundings of luxury and refinement; I descended in
rank when I married--but for all that, I could fill a domestic employment
without repining my lot, without losing my self-respect. Adversity is a
hard teacher of sound lessons, David. May I call you David? And if you
heard of a housekeeper's place vacant, would you tell me of it?"

I could hardly understand whether she was in jest or in earnest. She went
on without waiting for me to reply.

"But I have my daughter to think of," she resumed, "and to add to my
anxieties my daughter has given her heart to Mr. Keller's son. While I
and my dear Minna had only our own interests to consider, we might have
earned our daily bread together; we might have faced the future with
courage. But what might once have been the calm course of our lives is
now troubled by a third person--a rival with me in my daughter's
love--and, worse still, a man who is forbidden to marry her. Is it
wonderful that I feel baffled, disheartened, helpless? Oh, I am not
exaggerating! I know my child's nature. She is too delicate, too
exquisitely sensitive, for the rough world she lives in. When she loves,
she loves with all her heart and soul. Day by day I have seen her pining
and fading under her separation from Fritz. You have revived her hopes
for the moment--but the prospect before her remains unaltered. If she
loses Fritz she will die of a broken heart. Oh, God! the one creature I
love--and how I am to help her and save her I don't know!"

For the first time, I heard the fervor of true feeling in her voice. She
turned aside from me, and hid her face with a wild gesture of despair
that was really terrible to see. I tried, honestly tried, to comfort her.

"Of one thing at least you may be sure." I said. "Fritz's whole heart is
given to your daughter. He will be true to her, and worthy of her,
through all trials."

"I don't doubt it," she answered sadly, "I have nothing to say against my
girl's choice. Fritz is good, and Fritz is true, as you say. But you
forget his father. Personally, mind, I despise Mr. Keller." She looked
round at me with unutterable contempt flashing through the tears that
filled her eyes. "A man who listens to every lie that scandal can utter
against the character of a helpless woman--who gives her no opportunity
of defending herself (I have written to him and received no answer)--who
declares that his son shall never marry my daughter (because we are poor,
of course); and who uses attacks on my reputation which he has never
verified, as the excuse for his brutal conduct--can anybody respect such
a man as that? And yet on this despicable creature my child's happiness
and my child's life depend! For her sake, no matter what my own feeling
may be, I must stoop to defend myself. I must make my opportunity of
combating his cowardly prejudice, and winning his good opinion in spite
of himself. How am I to get a hearing? how am I to approach him? I
understand that you are not in a position to help me. But you have done
wonders for me nevertheless, and God bless you for it!"

She lifted my hand to her lips. I foresaw what was coming; I tried to
speak. But she gave me no opportunity; her eloquent enthusiasm rushed
into a new flow of words.

"Yes, my best of friends, my wisest of advisers," she went on; "you have
suggested the irresistible interference of a person whose authority is
supreme. Your excellent aunt is the head of the business; Mr. Keller
_must_ listen to his charming chief. There is my gleam of hope. On that
chance, I will sell the last few valuables I possess, and wait till Mrs.
Wagner arrives at Frankfort. You start, David! What is there to alarm
you? Do you suppose me capable of presuming on your aunt's kindness--of
begging for favors which it may not be perfectly easy for her to grant?
Mrs. Wagner knows already from Fritz what our situation is. Let her only
see my Minna; I won't intrude on her myself. My daughter shall plead for
me; my daughter shall ask for all I want--an interview with Mr. Keller,
and permission to speak in my own defense. Tell me, honestly, am I
expecting too much, if I hope that your aunt will persuade Fritz's father
to see me?"

It sounded modestly enough in words. But I had my own doubts,
nevertheless.

I had left Mr. Keller working hard at his protest against the employment
of women in the office, to be sent to my aunt by that day's post. Knowing
them both as I did, I thought it at least probable that a written
controversy might be succeeded by a personal estrangement. If Mr. Keller
proved obstinate, Mrs. Wagner would soon show him that she had a will of
her own. Under those circumstances, no favors could be asked, no favors
could be granted--and poor Minna's prospects would be darker than ever.

This was one view of the case. I must own, however, that another
impression had been produced on me. Something in Madame Fontaine's manner
suggested that she might not be quite so modest in her demands on my
aunt, when they met at Frankfort, as she had led me to believe. I was
vexed with myself for having spoken too unreservedly, and was quite at a
loss to decide what I ought to say in answer to the appeal that had been
made to me. In this state of perplexity I was relieved by a welcome
interruption. Minna's voice reached us from the landing outside. "I have
both hands engaged," she said; "please let me in."

I ran to the door. The widow laid her finger on her lips. "Not a word,
mind, to Minna!" she whispered. "We understand each other--don't we?"

I said, "Yes, certainly." And so the subject was dropped for the rest of
the evening.

The charming girl came in carrying the tea-tray. She especially directed
my attention to a cake which she had made that day with her own hands. "I
can cook," she said, "and I can make my own dresses--and if Fritz is a
poor man when he marries me, I can save him the expense of a servant."
Our talk at the tea-table was, I dare say, too trifling to be recorded. I
only remember that I enjoyed it. Later in the evening, Minna sang to me.
I heard one of those simple German ballads again, not long since, and the
music brought the tears into my eyes.

The moon rose early that night. When I looked at my watch, I found that
it was time to go. Minna was at the window, admiring the moonlight. "On
such a beautiful night," she said, "it seems a shame to stay indoors. Do
let us walk a part of the way back with Mr. David, mamma! Only as far as
the bridge, to see the moon on the river."

Her mother consented, and we three left the house together.

Arrived at the bridge, we paused to look at the view. But the clouds were
rising already, and the moonlight only showed itself at intervals. Madame
Fontaine said she smelt rain in the air, and took her daughter's arm to
go home. I offered to return with them as far as their own door; but they
positively declined to delay me on my way back. It was arranged that I
should call on them again in a day or two.

Just as we were saying good-night, the fitful moonlight streamed out
brightly again through a rift in the clouds. At the same moment a stout
old gentleman, smoking a pipe, sauntered past us on the pavement, noticed
me as he went by, stopped directly, and revealed himself as Mr. Engelman.
"Good-night, Mr. David," said the widow. The moon shone full on her as
she gave me her hand; Minna standing behind her in the shadow. In a
moment more the two ladies had left us.

Mr. Engelman's eyes followed the smoothly gliding figure of the widow,
until it was lost to view at the end of the bridge. He laid his hand
eagerly on my arm. "David!" he said, "who is that glorious creature?"

"Which of the two ladies do you mean?" I asked, mischievously.

"The one with the widow's cap, of course!"

"Do you admire the widow, sir?"

"Admire her!" repeated Mr. Engelman. "Look here, David!" He showed me the
long porcelain bowl of his pipe. "My dear boy, she has done what no woman
ever did with me yet--she has put my pipe out!"



CHAPTER XI

There was something so absurd in the association of Madame Fontaine's
charms with the extinction of Mr. Engelman's pipe, that I burst out
laughing. My good old friend looked at me in grave surprise.

"What is there to laugh at in my forgetting to keep my pipe alight?" he
asked. "My whole mind, David, was absorbed in that magnificent woman the
instant I set eyes on her. The image of her is before me at this
moment--an image of an angel in moonlight. Am I speaking poetically for
the first time in my life? I shouldn't wonder. I really don't know what
is the matter with me. You are a young man, and perhaps you can tell.
Have I fallen in love, as the saying is?" He took me confidentially by
the arm, before I could answer this formidable question. "Don't tell
friend Keller!" he said, with a sudden outburst of alarm. "Keller is an
excellent man, but he has no mercy on sinners. I say, David! couldn't you
introduce me to her?"

Still haunted by the fear that I had spoken too unreservedly during my
interview with the widow, I was in the right humor to exhibit
extraordinary prudence in my intercourse with Mr. Engelman.

"I couldn't venture to introduce you," I said; "the lady is living here
in the strictest retirement."

"At any rate, you can tell me her name," pleaded Mr. Engelman. "I dare
say you have mentioned it to Keller?"

"I have done nothing of the sort. I have reasons for saying nothing about
the lady to Mr. Keller."

"Well, you can trust me to keep the secret, David. Come! I only want to
send her some flowers from my garden. She can't object to that. Tell me
where I am to send my nosegay, there's a dear fellow."

I dare say I did wrong--indeed, judging by later events, I _know_ I did
wrong. But I could not view the affair seriously enough to hold out
against Mr. Engelman in the matter of the nosegay. He started when I
mentioned the widow's name.

"Not the mother of the girl whom Fritz wants to marry?" he exclaimed.

"Yes, the same. Don't you admire Fritz's taste? Isn't Miss Minna a
charming girl?"

"I can't say, David. I was bewitched--I had no eyes for anybody but her
mother. Do you think Madame Fontaine noticed me?"

"Oh, yes. I saw her look at you."

"Turn this way, David. The effect of the moonlight on you seems to make
you look younger. Has it the same effect on me? How old should you guess
me to be to-night? Fifty or sixty?"

"Somewhere between the two, sir."

(He was close on seventy. But who could have been cruel enough to say so,
at that moment?)

My answer proved to be so encouraging to the old gentleman that he
ventured on the subject of Madame Fontaine's late husband. "Was she very
fond of him, David? What sort of man was he?"

I informed him that I had never even seen Dr. Fontaine; and then, by way
of changing the topic, inquired if I was too late for the regular
supper-hour at Main Street.

"My dear boy, the table was cleared half an hour ago. But I persuaded our
sour-tempered old housekeeper to keep something hot for you. You won't
find Keller very amiable to-night, David. He was upset, to begin with, by
writing that remonstrance to your aunt--and then your absence annoyed
him. 'This is treating our house like an hotel; I won't allow anybody to
take such liberties with us.' Yes! that was really what he said of you.
He was so cross, poor fellow, that I left him, and went out for a stroll
on the bridge. And met my fate," added poor Mr. Engelman, in the saddest
tones I had ever heard fall from his lips.

My reception at the house was a little chilly.

"I have written my mind plainly to your aunt," said Mr. Keller; "you will
probably be recalled to London by return of post. In the meantime, on the
next occasion when you spend the evening out, be so obliging as to leave
word to that effect with one of the servants." The crabbed old
housekeeper (known in the domestic circle as Mother Barbara) had her
fling at me next. She set down the dish which she had kept hot for me,
with a bang that tried the resisting capacity of the porcelain severely.
"I've done it this once," she said. "Next time you're late, you and the
dog can sup together."

The next day, I wrote to my aunt, and also to Fritz, knowing how anxious
he must be to hear from me.

To tell him the whole truth would probably have been to bring him to
Frankfort as fast as sailing-vessels and horses could carry him. All I
could venture to say was, that I had found the lost trace of Minna and
her mother, and that I had every reason to believe there was no cause to
feel any present anxiety about them. I added that I might be in a
position to forward a letter secretly, if it would comfort him to write
to his sweetheart.

In making this offer, I was, no doubt, encouraging my friend to disobey
the plain commands which his father had laid on him.

But, as the case stood, I had really no other alternative. With Fritz's
temperament, it would have been simply impossible to induce him to remain
in London, unless his patience was sustained in my absence by a practical
concession of some kind. In the interests of peace, then--and I must own
in the interests of the pretty and interesting Minna as well--I consented
to become a medium for correspondence, on the purely Jesuitical principle
that the end justified the means. I had promised to let Minna know of it
when I wrote to Fritz. My time being entirely at my own disposal, until
the vexed question of the employment of women was settled between Mr.
Keller and my aunt, I went to the widow's lodgings, after putting my
letters in the post.

Having made Minna happy in the anticipation of hearing from Fritz, I had
leisure to notice an old china punch-bowl on the table, filled to
overflowing with magnificent flowers. To anyone who knew Mr. Engelman as
well as I did, the punch-bowl suggested serious considerations. He, who
forbade the plucking of a single flower on ordinary occasions, must, with
his own hands, have seriously damaged the appearance of his beautiful
garden.

"What splendid flowers!" I said, feeling my way cautiously. "Mr. Engelman
himself might be envious of such a nosegay as that."

The widow's heavy eyelids drooped lower for a moment, in unconcealed
contempt for my simplicity.

"Do you really think you can mystify _me?"_ she asked ironically. "Mr.
Engelman has done more than send the flowers--he has written me a
too-flattering note. And I," she said, glancing carelessly at the
mantelpiece, on which a letter was placed, "have written the necessary
acknowledgment. It would be absurd to stand on ceremony with the harmless
old gentleman who met us on the bridge. How fat he is! and what a
wonderful pipe he carries--almost as fat as himself!"

Alas for Mr. Engelman! I could not resist saying a word in his favor--she
spoke of him with such cruelly sincere contempt.

"Though he only saw you for a moment," I said, "he is your ardent admirer
already."

"Is he indeed?" She was so utterly indifferent to Mr. Engelman's
admiration that she could hardly take the trouble to make that
commonplace reply. The next moment she dismissed the subject. "So you
have written to Fritz?" she went on. "Have you also written to your
aunt?"

"Yes, by the same post."

"Mainly on business, no doubt? Is it indiscreet to ask if you slipped in
a little word about the hopes that I associate with Mrs. Wagner's arrival
at Frankfort?"

This seemed to give me a good opportunity of moderating her "hopes," in
mercy to her daughter and to herself.

"I thought it undesirable to mention the subject--for the present, at
least," I answered. "There is a serious difference of opinion between
Mrs. Wagner and Mr. Keller, on a subject connected with the management of
the office here. I say serious, because they are both equally firm in
maintaining their convictions. Mr. Keller has written to my aunt by
yesterday's post; and I fear it may end in an angry correspondence
between them."

I saw that I had startled her. She suddenly drew her chair close to mine.

"Do you think the correspondence will delay your aunt's departure from
England?" she asked.

"On the contrary. My aunt is a very resolute person, and it may hasten
her departure. But I am afraid it will indispose her to ask any favors of
Mr. Keller, or to associate herself with his personal concerns. Any
friendly intercourse between them will indeed be impossible, if she
asserts her authority as head-partner, and forces him to submit to a
woman in a matter of business."

She sank back in her chair. "I understand." she said faintly.

While we had been talking, Minna had walked to the window, and had
remained there looking out. She suddenly turned round as her mother
spoke.

"Mamma! the landlady's little boy has just gone out. Shall I tap at the
window and call him back?"

The widow roused herself with an effort. "What for, my love?" she asked,
absently.

Minna pointed to the mantelpiece. "To take your letter to Mr. Engelman,
mamma." Madame Fontaine looked at the letter--paused for a moment--and
answered, "No, my dear; let the boy go. It doesn't matter for the
present."

She turned to me, with an abrupt recovery of her customary manner.

"I am fortunately, for myself, a sanguine person," she resumed. "I always
did hope for the best; and (feeling the kind motive of what you have said
to me) I shall hope for the best still. Minna, my darling, Mr. David and
I have been talking on dry subjects until we are tired. Give us a little
music." While her daughter obediently opened the piano, she looked at the
flowers. "You are fond of flowers, David?" she went on. "Do you
understand the subject? I ignorantly admire the lovely colors, and enjoy
the delicious scents--and I can do no more. It was really very kind of
your old friend Mr. Engelman. Does he take any part in this deplorable
difference of opinion between your aunt and Mr. Keller?"

What did that new allusion to Mr. Engelman mean? And why had she declined
to despatch her letter to him, when the opportunity offered of sending it
by the boy?

Troubled by the doubts which these considerations suggested, I committed
an act of imprudence--I replied so reservedly that I put her on her
guard. All I said was that I supposed Mr. Engelman agreed with Mr.
Keller, but that I was not in the confidence of the two partners. From
that moment she saw through me, and was silent on the subject of Mr.
Engelman. Even Minna's singing had lost its charm, in my present frame of
mind. It was a relief to me when I could make my excuses, and leave the
house.

On my way back to Main Street, when I could think freely, my doubts began
to develop into downright suspicion. Madame Fontaine could hardly hope,
after what I had told her, to obtain the all-important interview with Mr.
Keller, through my aunt's intercession. Had she seen her way to trying
what Mr. Engelman's influence with his partner could do for her? Would
she destroy her formal acknowledgment of the receipt of his flowers, as
soon as my back was turned, and send him a second letter, encouraging him
to visit her? And would she cast him off, without ceremony, when he had
served her purpose?

These were the thoughts that troubled me on my return to the house. When
we met at supper, some hours later, my worst anticipations were realized.
Poor innocent Mr. Engelman was dressed with extraordinary smartness, and
was in the highest good spirits. Mr. Keller asked him jestingly if he was
going to be married. In the intoxication of happiness that possessed him,
he was quite reckless; he actually retorted by a joke on the sore subject
of the employment of women! "Who knows what may happen," he cried gaily,
"when we have young ladies in the office for clerks?" Mr. Keller was so
angry that he kept silence through the whole of our meal. When Mr.
Engelman left the room I slipped out after him.

"You are going to Madame Fontaine's," I said.

He smirked and smiled. "Just a little evening visit, David. Aha! you
young men are not to have it all your own way." He laid his hand tenderly
on the left breast-pocket of his coat. "Such a delightful letter!" he
said. "It is here, over my heart. No, a woman's sentiments are sacred; I
mustn't show it to you."

I was on the point of telling him the whole truth, when the thought of
Minna checked me for the time. My interest in preserving Mr. Engelman's
tranquillity was in direct conflict with my interest in the speedy
marriage of my good friend Fritz. Besides, was it likely that anything I
could say would have the slightest effect on the deluded old man, in the
first fervor of his infatuation? I thought I would give him a general
caution, and wait to be guided by events.

"One word, sir, for your private ear," I said. "Even the finest women
have their faults. You will find Madame Fontaine perfectly charming; but
don't be too ready to believe that she is in earnest."

Mr. Engelman felt infinitely flattered, and owned it without the
slightest reserve.

"Oh, David! David!" he said, "are you jealous of me already?"

He put on his hat (with a jaunty twist on one side), and swung his stick
gaily, and left the room. For the first time, in my experience of him, he
went out without his pipe; and (a more serious symptom still) he really
did not appear to miss it.



CHAPTER XII

Two days passed, and I perceived another change in Mr. Engelman.

He was now transformed into a serious and reticent man. Had he committed
indiscretions which might expose him to ridicule if they were known? Or
had the widow warned him not to be too ready to take me into his
confidence? In any case, he said not one word to me about Madame
Fontaine's reception of him, and he left the house secretly when he paid
his next visit to her. Having no wish to meet him unexpectedly, and
feeling (if the truth be told) not quite at ease about the future, I kept
away from Minna and her mother, and waited for events.

On the third day, an event happened. I received a little note from
Minna:--

"Dear Mr. David,--If you care to see mamma and me, stay at home this
evening. Good Mr. Engelman has promised to show us his interesting old
house, after business hours."

There was nothing extraordinary in making an exhibition of "the old
house." It was one among the many picturesque specimens of the domestic
architecture of bygone days, for which Frankfort is famous; and it had
been sketched by artists of all nations, both outside and in. At the same
time, it was noticeable (perhaps only as a coincidence) that the evening
chosen for showing the house to the widow, was also the evening on which
Mr. Keller had an engagement with some friends in another part of the
city.

As the hour approached for the arrival of the ladies, I saw that Mr.
Engelman looked at me with an expression of embarrassment.

"Are you not going out this evening, David?" he asked.

"Am I in the way, sir?" I inquired mischievously.

"Oh, no!"

"In that case then, I think I shall stay at home."

He said no more, and walked up and down the room with an air of
annoyance. The bell of the street-door rang. He stopped and looked at me
again.

"Visitors?" I said.

He was obliged to answer me. "Friends of mine, David, who are coming to
see the house."

I was just sufficiently irritated by his persistence in keeping up the
mystery to set him the example of speaking plainly.

"Madame Fontaine and her daughter?" I said.

He turned quickly to answer me, and hesitated. At the same moment, the
door was opened by the sour old housekeeper, frowning suspiciously at the
two elegantly-dressed ladies whom she ushered into the room.

If I had been free to act on my own impulse, I should certainly (out of
regard for Mr. Engelman) have refrained from accompanying the visitors
when they were shown over the house. But Minna took my arm. I had no
choice but to follow Mr. Engelman and her mother when they left the room.

Minna spoke to me as confidentially as if I had been her brother.

"Do you know," she whispered, "that nice old gentleman and mamma are like
old friends already. Mamma is generally suspicious of strangers. Isn't it
odd? And she actually invites him to bring his pipe when he comes to see
us! He sits puffing smoke, and admiring mamma--and mamma does all the
talking. Do come and see us soon! I have nobody to speak to about Fritz.
Mamma and Mr. Engelman take no more notice of me than if I was a little
dog in the room."

As we passed from the ground floor to the first floor, Madame Fontaine's
admiration of the house rose from one climax of enthusiasm to another.
Among the many subjects that she understood, the domestic architecture of
the seventeenth century seemed to be one, and the art of water-color
painting soon proved to be another.

"I am not quite contemptible as a lady-artist," I heard her say to Mr.
Engelman; "and I should so like to make some little studies of these
beautiful old rooms--as memorials to take with me when I am far away from
Frankfort. But I don't ask it, dear Mr. Engelman. You don't want
enthusiastic ladies with sketch-books in this bachelor paradise of yours.
I hope we are not intruding on Mr. Keller. Is he at home?"

"No," said Mr. Engelman; "he has gone out."

Madame Fontaine's flow of eloquence suddenly ran dry. She was silent as
we ascended from the first floor to the second. In this part of the house
our bedrooms were situated. The chamber in which I slept presented
nothing particularly worthy of notice. But the rooms occupied by Mr.
Keller and Mr. Engelman contained some of the finest carved woodwork in
the house.

It was beginning to get dark. Mr. Engelman lit the candles in his own
room. The widow took one of them from him, and threw the light skillfully
on the different objects about her. She was still a little subdued; but
she showed her knowledge of wood-carving by picking out the two finest
specimens in the room--a wardrobe and a toilet-table.

"My poor husband was fond of old carving," she explained modestly; "what
I know about it, I know from him. Dear Mr. Engelman, your room is a
picture in itself. What glorious colors! How simple and how grand! Might
we----" she paused, with a becoming appearance of confusion. Her voice
dropped softly to lower tones. "Might we be pardoned, do you think, if we
ventured to peep into Mr. Keller's room?"

She spoke of "Mr. Keller's room" as if it had been a shrine, approachable
only by a few favored worshippers. "Where is it?" she inquired, with
breathless interest. I led the way out into the passage, and threw open
the door without ceremony. Madame Fontaine looked at me as if I had
committed an act of sacrilege.

Mr. Engelman, following us with one of his candles, lit an ancient brass
lamp which hung from the middle of the ceiling. "My learned partner," he
explained, "does a great deal of his reading in his bedroom, and he likes
plenty of light. You will have a good view when the lamp has burnt up.
The big chimney-piece is considered the finest thing of that sort in
Frankfort."

The widow confronted the chimney-piece, and clasped her hands in silent
rapture. When she was able to speak, she put her arm round Minna's waist.

"Let me teach you, my love, to admire this glorious work," she said, and
delivered quite a little lecture on the merits of the chimney-piece. "Oh,
if I could but take the merest sketch of it!" she exclaimed, by way of
conclusion. "But no, it is too much to ask." She examined everything in
the room with the minutest attention. Even the plain little table by the
bed-side, with a jug and a glass on it, did not escape her observation.
"Is that his drink?" she asked, with an air of respectful curiosity. "Do
you think I might taste it?"

Mr. Engelman laughed. "It's only barley-water, dear lady," he said. "Our
rheumatic old housekeeper makes as few journeys as possible up and down
stairs. When she sets the room in order in the evening, she takes the
night-drink up with her, and so saves a second journey."

"Taste it, Minna," said the widow, handing the glass to her daughter.
"How refreshing! how pure!"

Mr. Engelman, standing on the other side of her, whispered in her ear. I
was just behind them, and could not help hearing him. "You will make me
jealous," he said; "you never noticed _my_ night-drink--_I_ have beer."

The widow answered him by a look; he heaved a little sigh of happiness.
Poor Mr. Engelman!

Minna innocently broke in on this mute scene of sentiment.

She was looking at the pictures in the room, and asked for explanations
of them which Mr. Engelman only could afford. It struck me as odd that
her mother's artistic sympathies did not appear to be excited by the
pictures. Instead of joining her daughter at the other end of the room,
she stood by the bedside with her hand resting on the little table, and
her eyes fixed on the jug of barley-water, absorbed in thought. On a
sudden, she started, turned quickly, and caught me observing her. I might
have been deceived by the lamp-light; but I thought I saw a flash of
expression under her heavy eyelids, charged with such intensity of angry
suspicion that it startled me. She was herself again, before I could
decide whether to trust my own strong impression or not.

"Do I surprise you, David?" she asked in her gentlest tones. "I ought to
be looking at the pictures, you think? My friend! I can't always control
my own sad recollections. They will force themselves on me--sometimes
when the most trifling associations call them up. Dear Mr. Engelman
understands me. He, no doubt, has suffered too. May I sit down for a
moment?"

She dropped languidly into a chair, and sat looking at the famous
chimney-piece. Her attitude was the perfection of grace. Mr. Engelman
hurried through his explanation of the pictures, and placed himself at
her side, and admired the chimney-piece with her.

"Artists think it looks best by lamplight," he said. "The big pediment
between the windows keeps out the light in the daytime."

Madame Fontaine looked round at him with a softly approving smile.
"Exactly what I was thinking myself, when you spoke," she said. "The
effect by this light is simply perfect. Why didn't I bring my sketch-book
with me? I might have stolen some little memorial of it, in Mr. Keller's
absence." She turned towards me when she said that.

"If you can do without colors," I suggested, "we have paper and pencils
in the house."

The clock in the corridor struck the hour.

Mr. Engelman looked uneasy, and got up from his chair. His action
suggested that the time had passed by us unperceived, and that Mr.
Keller's return might take place at any moment. The same impression was
evidently produced on Minna. For once in her life, the widow's quick
perception seemed to have deserted her. She kept her seat as composedly
as if she had been at home.

"I wonder whether I could manage without my colors?" she said placidly.
"Perhaps I might try."

Mr. Engelman's uneasiness increased to downright alarm. Minna perceived
the change, as I did, and at once interfered.

"I am afraid, mamma, it is too late for sketching to-night," she said.
"Suppose Mr. Keller should come back?"

Madame Fontaine rose instantly, with a look of confusion. "How very
stupid of me not to think of it!" she exclaimed. "Forgive me, Mr.
Engelman--I was so interested, so absorbed--thank you a thousand times
for your kindness!" She led the way out, with more apologies and more
gratitude. Mr. Engelman recovered his tranquillity. He looked at her
lovingly, and gave her his arm to lead her down-stairs.

On this occasion, Minna and I were in front. We reached the first
landing, and waited there. The widow was wonderfully slow in descending
the stairs. Judging by what we heard, she was absorbed in the old
balusters now. When she at last joined us on the landing, the doors of
the rooms on the first floor delayed her again: it was simply impossible,
she said, to pass them without notice. Once more, Minna and I waited on
the ground floor. Here, there was another ancient brass lamp which
lighted the hall; and, therefore, another object of beauty which it was
impossible to pass over in a hurry.

"I never knew mamma to behave so oddly before," said Minna. "If such a
thing wasn't impossible, in our situation, one would really think she
wanted Mr. Keller to catch us in the house!"

There was not the least doubt in my mind (knowing as I did, how deeply
Madame Fontaine was interested in forcing her acquaintance on Mr. Keller)
that this was exactly what she did want. Fortune is proverbially said to
favor the bold; and Fortune offered to the widow the perilous opportunity
of which she had been in search.

While she was still admiring the lamp, the grating sound became audible
of a key put into the street door.

The door opened, and Mr. Keller walked into the hall.

He stopped instantly at the sight of two ladies who were both strangers
to him, and looked interrogatively at his partner. Mr. Engelman had no
choice but to risk an explanation of some kind. He explained, without
mentioning names.

"Friends of mine, Keller," he said confusedly, "to whom I have been
showing the house."

Mr. Keller took off his hat, and bowed to the widow. With a boldness that
amazed me, under the circumstances, she made a low curtsey to him, smiled
her sweetest smile, and deliberately mentioned her name.

"I am Madame Fontaine, sir," she said. "And this is my daughter, Minna."



CHAPTER XIII

Mr. Keller fixed his eyes on the widow in stern silence; walked past her
to the inner end of the hall; and entered a room at the back of the
house, closing the door behind him. Even if he had felt inclined to look
at Minna, it would not have been possible for him to see her. After one
timid glance at him, the poor girl hid herself behind me, trembling
piteously. I took her hand to encourage her. "Oh, what hope is there for
us," she whispered, "with such a man as that?"

Madame Fontaine turned as Mr. Keller passed her, and watched his progress
along the hall until he disappeared from view. "No," she said quietly to
herself, "you don't escape me in that way."

As if moved by a sudden impulse, she set forth on the way by which Mr.
Keller had gone before her; walking, as he had walked, to the door at the
end of the hall.

I had remained with Minna, and was not in a position to see how her
mother looked. Mr. Engelman's face, as he stretched out his hands
entreatingly to stop Madame Fontaine, told me that the fierce passions
hidden deep in the woman's nature had risen to the surface and shown
themselves. "Oh, dear lady! dear lady!" cried the simple old man, "Don't
look like that! It's only Keller's temper--he will soon be himself
again."

Without answering him, without looking at him, she lifted her hand, and
put him back from her as if he had been a troublesome child. With her
firm graceful step, she resumed her progress along the hall to the room
at the end, and knocked sharply at the door.

Mr. Keller's voice answered from within, "Who is there?"

"Madame Fontaine," said the widow. "I wish to speak to you."

"I decline to receive Madame Fontaine."

"In that case, Mr. Keller, I will do myself the honor of writing to you."

"I refuse to read your letter."

"Take the night to think of it, Mr. Keller, and change your mind in the
morning."

She turned away, without waiting for a reply, and joined us at the outer
end of the hall.

Minna advanced to meet her, and kissed her tenderly. "Dear, kind mamma,
you are doing this for my sake," said the grateful girl. "I am ashamed
that you should humble yourself--it is so useless!"

"It shall _not_ be useless," her mother answered. "If fifty Mr. Kellers
threatened your happiness, my child, I would brush the fifty out of your
way. Oh, my darling, my darling!"

Her voice--as firm as the voice of a man, while she declared her
resolution--faltered and failed her when the last words of endearment
fell from her lips. She drew Minna to her bosom, and embraced in silent
rapture the one creature whom she loved. When she raised her head again
she was, to my mind, more beautiful than I had ever yet seen her. The
all-ennobling tears of love and grief filled her eyes. Knowing the
terrible story that is still to be told, let me do that miserable woman
justice. Hers was not a wholly corrupted heart. It was always in Minna's
power to lift her above her own wickedness. When she held out the hand
that had just touched her daughter to Mr. Engelman, it trembled as if she
had been the most timid woman living.

"Good night, dear friend," she said to him; "I am sorry to have been the
innocent cause of this little embarrassment."

Simple Mr. Engelman put his handkerchief to his eyes; never, in all his
life, had he been so puzzled, so frightened, and so distressed. He kissed
the widow's hand. "Do let me see you safe home!" he said, in tones of the
tenderest entreaty.

"Not to-night," she answered. He attempted a faint remonstrance. Madame
Fontaine knew perfectly well how to assert her authority over him--she
gave him another of those tender looks which had already become the charm
of his life. Mr. Engelman sat down on one of the hall chairs completely
overwhelmed. "Dear and admirable woman!" I heard him say to himself
softly.

Taking leave of me in my turn, the widow dropped my hand, struck, to all
appearance, by a new idea.

"I have a favor to ask of you, David," she said. "Do you mind going back
with us?"

As a matter of course I took my hat, and placed myself at her service.
Mr. Engelman got on his feet, and lifted his plump hands in mute and
melancholy protest. "Don't be uneasy," Madame Fontaine said to him, with
a faint smile of contempt. "David doesn't love me!"

I paused for a moment, as I followed her out, to console Mr. Engelman.
"She is old enough to be my mother, sir," I whispered; "and this time, at
any rare, she has told you the truth."

Hardly a word passed between us on our way through the streets and over
the bridge. Minna was sad and silent, thinking of Fritz; and whatever her
mother might have to say to me, was evidently to be said in private.
Arrived at the lodgings, Madame Fontaine requested me to wait for her in
the shabby little sitting-room, and graciously gave me permission to
smoke. "Say good night to David," she continued, turning to her daughter.
"Your poor little heart is heavy to-night, and mamma means to put you to
bed as if you were a child again. Ah! me, if those days could only come
back!"

After a short absence the widow returned to me, with a composed manner
and a quiet smile. The meeting with Mr. Keller seemed to have been
completely dismissed from her thoughts, in the brief interval since I had
seen her last.

"We often hear of parents improving their children," she said. "It is my
belief that the children quite as often improve the parents. I have had
some happy minutes with Minna--and (would you believe it?) I am already
disposed to forgive Mr. Keller's brutality, and to write to him in a tone
of moderation, which must surely have its effect. All Minna's doing--and
my sweet girl doesn't in the least suspect it herself! If you ever have
children of your own, David, you will understand me and feel for me. In
the meantime, I must not detain you by idle talk--I must say plainly what
I want of you." She opened her writing-desk and took up a pen. "If I
write to Mr. Keller under your own eye, do you object to take charge of
my letter?"

I hesitated how to answer. To say the least of it, her request
embarrassed me.

"I don't expect you to give it to Mr. Keller personally," she explained.
"It is of very serious importance to me" (she laid a marked emphasis on
those words) "to be quite sure that my letter has reached him, and that
he has really had the opportunity of reading it. If you will only place
it on his desk in the office, with your own hand, that is all I ask you
to do. For Minna's sake, mind; not for mine!"

For Minna's sake, I consented. She rose directly, and signed to me to
take her place at the desk.

"It will save time," she said, "if you write the rough draft of the
letter from my dictation. I am accustomed to dictate my letters, with
Minna for secretary. Of course, you shall see the fair copy before I seal
it."

She began to walk up and down the little room, with her hands crossed
behind her in the attitude made famous by the great Napoleon. After a
minute of consideration, she dictated the draft as follows:

"Sir,--I am well aware that scandalous reports at Wurzburg have
prejudiced you against me. Those reports, so far as I know, may be summed
up under three heads.

"(First.) That my husband died in debt through my extravagance.

"(Second.) That my respectable neighbors refuse to associate with me.

"(Third.) That I entrapped your son Fritz into asking for my daughter's
hand in marriage, because I knew his father to be a rich man.

"To the first calumny I reply, that the debts are due to expensive
chemical experiments in which my late husband engaged, and that I have
satisfied the creditors to the last farthing. Grant me an audience, and I
will refer you to the creditors themselves.

"To the second calumny I reply, that I received invitations, on my
arrival in Wurzburg after my marriage, from every lady of distinguished
social position in the town. After experience of the society thus offered
to me, I own to having courteously declined subsequent invitations, and
having devoted myself in retirement to my husband, to my infant child,
and to such studies in literature and art as I had time to pursue. Gossip
and scandal, with an eternal accompaniment of knitting, are not to my
taste; and, while I strictly attend to domestic duties, I do not consider
them as constituting, in connection with tea-drinking, the one great
interest of a woman's life. I plead guilty to having been foolish enough
to openly acknowledge these sentiments, and to having made bitter enemies
everywhere as the necessary consequence. If this plain defense of myself
fails to satisfy you, grant me an audience, and I will answer your
questions, whatever they may be.

"To the third calumny, I reply, that if you had been a Prince instead of
a merchant, I would still have done everything in my power to keep your
son away from my daughter--for this simple reason, that the idea of
parting with her to any man fills me with grief and dismay. I only
yielded to the marriage engagement, when the conviction was forced upon
me that my poor child's happiness depended on her union with your son. It
is this consideration alone which induces me to write to you, and to
humiliate myself by pleading for a hearing. As for the question of money,
if through some unexpected misfortune you became a bankrupt to-morrow, I
would entreat you to consent to the marriage exactly as I entreat you
now. Poverty has no terrors for me while I have health to work. But I
cannot face the idea of my child's life being blighted, because you
choose to believe the slanders that are spoken of her mother. For the
third time I ask you to grant me an audience, and to hear me in my own
defense."

There she paused, and looked over my shoulder.

"I think that is enough," she said. "Do you see anything objectionable in
my letter?"

How could I object to the letter? From beginning to end, it was strongly,
and yet moderately, expressed. I resigned my place at the desk, and the
widow wrote the fair copy, with her own hand. She made no change
whatever, except by adding these ominous lines as a postscript:

"I implore you not to drive me to despair. A mother who is pleading for
her child's life--it is nothing less, in this case--is a woman who surely
asserts a sacred claim. Let no wise man deny it."

"Do you think it quite discreet," I ventured to ask, "to add those
words?"

She looked at me with a moment's furtive scrutiny, and only answered
after she had sealed the letter, and placed it in my hands.

"I have my reasons," she replied. "Let the words remain."

Returning to the house at rather a late hour for Frankfort, I was
surprised to find Mr. Keller waiting to see me.

"I have had a talk with my partner," he said. "It has left (for the time
only, I hope), a painful impression on both sides--and I must ask you to
do me a service, in the place of Mr. Engelman--who has an engagement
to-morrow, which prevents him from leaving Frankfort."

His tone indicated plainly enough that the "engagement" was with Madame
Fontaine. Hard words must have passed between the two old friends on the
subject of the widow. Even Mr. Engelman's placid temper had, no doubt,
resented Mr. Keller's conduct at the meeting in the hall.

"The service I ask of you," he resumed, "will be easily rendered. The
proprietor of a commercial establishment at Hanau is desirous of entering
into business-relations with us, and has sent references to respectable
persons in the town and neighborhood, which it is necessary to verify. We
are so busy in the office that it is impossible for me to leave Frankfort
myself, or to employ our clerks on this errand. I have drawn out the
necessary instructions--and Hanau, as you are aware, is within an easy
distance of Frankfort. Have you any objection to be the representative of
the house in this matter?"

It is needless to say that I was gratified by the confidence that had
been placed in me, and eager to show that I really deserved it. We
arranged that I should leave Frankfort by the earliest conveyance the
next morning.

On our way upstairs to our bed-chambers, Mr. Keller detained me for a
moment more.

"I have no claim to control you in the choice of your friends," he said;
"but I am old enough to give you a word of advice. Don't associate
yourself too readily, David, with the woman whom I found here to-night."

He shook hands cordially, and left me. I thought of Madame Fontaine's
letter in my pocket, and felt a strong conviction that he would persist
in his refusal to read it.

The servants were the only persons stirring in the house, when I rose the
next morning. Unobserved by anyone, I placed the letter on the desk in
Mr. Keller's private room. That done, I started on my journey to Hanau.



CHAPTER XIV

Thanks to the instructions confided to me, my errand presented no
difficulties. There were certain persons to whom I was introduced, and
certain information to be derived from them, which it was my duty to
submit to Mr. Keller on my return. Fidelity was required of me, and
discretion was required of me--and that was all.

At the close of my day's work, the hospitable merchant, whose references
I had been engaged in verifying, refused to permit me to return to the
hotel. His dinner-hour had been put off expressly to suit my convenience.
"You will only meet the members of my family," he said, "and a cousin of
my wife's who is here with her daughter, on a visit to us--Frau Meyer, of
Wurzburg."

I accepted the invitation, feeling privately an Englishman's reluctance
to confronting an assembly of strangers, and anticipating nothing
remarkable in reference to Frau Meyer, although she did come from
Wurzburg. Even when I was presented to the ladies in due form, as "the
honored representative of Mr. Keller, of Frankfort," I was too stupid, or
too much absorbed in the business on which I had been engaged, to be much
struck by the sudden interest with which Frau Meyer regarded me. She was
a fat florid old lady, who looked coarsely clever and resolute; and she
had a daughter who promised to resemble her but too faithfully, in due
course of time. It was a relief to me, at dinner, to find myself placed
between the merchant's wife and her eldest son. They were far more
attractive neighbors at table, to my thinking, than Frau Meyer.

Dinner being over, we withdrew to another room to take our coffee. The
merchant and his son, both ardent musicians in their leisure hours,
played a sonata for pianoforte and violin. I was at the opposite
extremity of the room, looking at some fine proof impressions of prints
from the old masters, when a voice at my side startled me by an
unexpected question.

"May I ask, sir, if you are acquainted with Mr. Keller's son?"

I looked round, and discovered Frau Meyer.

"Have you seen him lately?" she proceeded, when I had acknowledged that I
was acquainted with Fritz. "And can you tell me where he is now?"

I answered both these questions. Frau Meyer looked thoroughly well
satisfied with me. "Let us have a little talk," she said, and seated
herself, and signed to me to take a chair near her.

"I feel a true interest in Fritz," she resumed, lowering her voice so as
not to be heard by the musicians at the other end of the room. "Until
to-day, I have heard nothing of him since he left Wurzburg. I like to
talk about him--he once did me a kindness a long time since. I suppose
you are in his confidence? Has he told you why his father sent him away
from the University?"

My reply to this was, I am afraid, rather absently given. The truth is,
my mind was running on some earlier words which had dropped from the old
lady's lips. "He once did me a kindness a long time since." When had I
last heard that commonplace phrase? and why did I remember it so readily
when I now heard it again?

"Ah, his father did a wise thing in separating him from that woman and
her daughter!" Frau Meyer went on. "Madame Fontaine deliberately
entrapped the poor boy into the engagement. But perhaps you are a friend
of hers? In that case, I retract and apologize."

"Quite needless," I said.

"You are _not_ a friend of Madame Fontaine?" she persisted.

This cool attempt to force an answer from me failed in its object. It was
like being cross-examined in a court of law; and, in our common English
phrase, "it set my back up." In the strict sense of the word, Madame
Fontaine might be termed an acquaintance, but certainly not a friend, of
mine. For once, I took the prudent course, and said, No.

Frau Meyer's expansive bosom emitted a hearty sigh of relief. "Ah!" she
said, "now I can talk freely--in Fritz's interest, mind. You are a young
man like himself, he will be disposed to listen to you. Do all you can to
back his father's influence, and cure him of his infatuation. I tell you
plainly, his marriage would be his ruin!"

"You speak very strongly, madam. Do you object to the young lady?"

"Not I; a harmless insignificant creature--nothing more and nothing less.
It's her vile mother that I object to."

"As I have heard, Frau Meyer, there are two sides to that question. Fritz
is persuaded that Madame Fontaine is an injured woman. He assures me, for
instance, that she is the fondest of mothers."

"Bah! What does _that_ amount to? It's as much a part of a woman's nature
to take to her child when she has got one, as it is to take to her dinner
when she is hungry. A fond mother? What stuff! Why, a cat is a fond
mother!--What's the matter?"

_A cat is a fond mother._ Another familiar phrase--and this time a phrase
remarkable enough to lead my memory back in the right direction. In an
instant I recollected the anonymous letter to Fritz. In an instant I felt
the conviction that Frau Meyer, in her eagerness to persuade me, had
unconsciously repeated two of the phrases which she had already used, in
her eagerness to persuade Fritz. No wonder I started in my chair, when I
felt that I was face to face with the writer of the anonymous letter!

I made some excuse--I forget what--and hastened to resume the
conversation. The opportunity of making discoveries which might be
invaluable to Fritz (to say nothing of good Mr. Engelman) was not an
opportunity to be neglected. I persisted in quoting Fritz's authority; I
repeated his assertion relative to the love of scandal at Wurzburg, and
the envy of Madame Fontaine's superior attractions felt among the ladies.
Frau Meyer laughed disdainfully.

"Poor Fritz!" she said. "An excellent disposition--but so easily
persuaded, so much too amiable. Our being all envious of Widow Fontaine
is too ridiculous. It is a mere waste of time to notice such nonsense.
Wait a little, Mr. David, and you will see. If you and Mr. Keller can
only keep Fritz out of the widow's way for a few months longer, his eyes
will be opened in spite of himself. He may yet come back to us with a
free heart, and he may choose his future wife more wisely next time."

As she said this her eyes wandered away to her daughter, at the other end
of the room. Unless her face betrayed her, she had evidently planned, at
some past time, to possess herself of Fritz as a son-in-law, and she had
not resigned the hope of securing him yet. Madame Fontaine might be a
deceitful and dangerous woman. But what sort of witness against her was
this abusive old lady, the unscrupulous writer of an anonymous letter?
"You prophesy very confidently about what is to come in the future," I
ventured to say.

Frau Meyer's red face turned a shade redder. "Does that mean that you
don't believe me?" she asked.

"Certainly not, madam. It only means that you speak severely of Doctor
Fontaine's widow--without mentioning any facts that justify you."

"Oh! you want facts, do you? I'll soon show you whether I know what I am
talking about or not. Has Fritz mentioned that among Madame Fontaine's
other virtues, she has paid her debts? I'll tell you how she has paid
them--as an example, young gentleman, that I am not talking at random.
Your admirable widow, sir, is great at fascinating old men; they are
always falling in love with her, the idiots! A certain old man at
Wurzburg--close on eighty, mind--was one of her victims. I had a letter
this morning which tells me that he was found dead in his bed, two days
since, and that his nephew is the sole heir to all that he leaves behind
him. Examination of his papers has shown that _he_ paid the widow's
creditors, and that he took a promissory note from her--ha! ha! ha!--a
promissory note from a woman without a farthing!--in payment of the sum
that he had advanced. The poor old man would, no doubt, have destroyed
the note if he had known that his end was so near. His sudden death has
transferred it to the hands of his heir. In money-matters, the nephew is
reported to be one of the hardest men living. When that note falls due,
he will present it for payment. I don't know where Madame Fontaine is
now. No matter! Sooner or later, she is sure to hear of what has
happened--and she must find the money, or see the inside of a debtor's
prison. Those are the facts that I had in my mind, Mr. David, when I
spoke of events opening Fritz's eyes to the truth."

I submitted with all possible humility to the lady's triumph over me. My
thoughts were with Minna. What a prospect for the innocent, affectionate
girl! Assuming the statement that I had just heard to be true, there was
surely a chance that Madame Fontaine (with time before her) might find
the money. I put this view of the case to Frau Meyer.

"If I didn't know Mr. Keller to be a thoroughly resolute man," she
answered, "I should say she might find the money too. She has only to
succeed in marrying her daughter to Fritz, and Mr. Keller would be
obliged to pay the money for the sake of the family credit. But he is one
of the few men whom she can't twist round her finger. If you ever fall in
with her, take care of yourself. She may find your influence with Fritz
an obstacle in her way--and she may give you reason to remember that the
mystery of her husband's lost chest of poisons is not cleared up yet. It
was all in the German newspapers--you know what I mean."

This seemed to me to be passing all bounds of moderation. "And _you_
know, madam," I answered sharply, "that there was no evidence against
her--nothing whatever to associate her with the robbery of the medicine
chest."

"Not even suspicion, Mr. David?"

"Not even suspicion."

I rose from my chair as I spoke. Minna was still in my thoughts; I was
not merely unwilling, I was almost afraid to hear more.

"One minute," said Frau Meyer. "Which of the two hotels here are you
staying at? I want to send you something to read to-night, after you have
left us."

I told her the name of the hotel; and we joined our friends at the other
end of the room. Not long afterwards I took my leave. My spirits were
depressed; a dark cloud of uncertainty seemed to hang over the future.
Even the prospect of returning to Frankfort, the next day, became
repellent to me. I was almost inclined to hope that my aunt might (as Mr.
Keller had predicted) recall me to London.



CHAPTER XV

From these reflections I was roused by the appearance of a waiter, with a
letter for me. The envelope contained a slip cut from a German newspaper,
and these lines of writing, signed by Frau Meyer:--

"You are either a very just, or a very obstinate young man. In either
case, it will do you no harm to read what I enclose. I am not such a
scandal-mongering old woman as you seem to think. The concealment of the
names will not puzzle you. Please return the slip. It belongs to our
excellent host, and forms part of his collection of literary
curiosities."

Such was the introduction to my reading. I translate it from the German
newspaper into English as literally as I can.

The Editor's few prefatory words were at the top of the column, bearing
the date of September 1828.

"We have received, in strictest confidence, extracts from letters written
by a lady to a once-beloved female friend. The extracts are dated and
numbered, and are literally presented in this column--excepting the
obviously necessary precaution of suppressing names, places, and days of
the month. Taken in connection with a certain inquiry which is just now
occupying the public mind, these fragments may throw some faint glimmer
of light on events which are at present involved in darkness."



_Number I._ 1809.--"Yes, dearest Julie, I have run the grand risk. Only
yesterday, I was married to Doctor ----. The people at the church were
our only witnesses.

"My father declares that I have degraded his noble blood by marrying a
medical man. He forbade my mother to attend the ceremony. Poor simple
soul! She asked me if I loved my young doctor, and was quite satisfied
when I said Yes. As for my father's objections, my husband is a man of
high promise in his profession. In his country--I think I told you in my
last letter that he was a Frenchman--a famous physician is ennobled by
the State. I shall leave no stone unturned, my dear, to push my husband
forward. And when he is made a Baron, we shall see what my father will
say to us then."



_Number II._ 1810.--"We have removed, my Julie, to this detestably dull
old German town, for no earthly reason but that the University is famous
as a medical school.

"My husband informs me, in his sweetest manner, that he will hesitate at
no sacrifice of our ordinary comforts to increase his professional
knowledge. If you could see how the ladies dress in this lost hole of a
place, if you could hear the twaddle they talk, you would pity me. I have
but one consolation--a lovely baby, Julie, a girl: I had almost said an
angel. Were you as fond of your first child, I wonder, as I am of mine?
And did you utterly forget your husband, when the little darling was
first put into your arms? Write and tell me."



_Number III._ 1811.--"I have hardly patience to take up my pen But I
shall do something desperate, if I don't relieve my overburdened mind in
some way.

"After I wrote to you last year, I succeeded in getting my husband away
from the detestable University. But he persisted in hanging about
Germany, and conferring with moldy old doctors (whom he calls "Princes of
Science"!) instead of returning to Paris, taking a handsome house, and
making his way to the top of the tree with my help. I am the very woman
to give brilliant parties, and to push my husband's interests with
powerful people of all degrees. No; I really must not dwell on it. When I
think of what has happened since, it will drive me mad.

"Six weeks ago, a sort of medical congress was announced to be at the
University. Something in the proposed discussion was to be made the
subject of a prize-essay. The doctor's professional interest in this
matter decided him on trying for the prize--and the result is our return
to the hateful old town and its society.

"Of course, my husband resumes his professional studies; of course, I am
thrown once more among the dowdy gossiping women. But that is far from
being the worst of it. Among the people in the School of Chemistry here,
there is a new man, who entered the University shortly after we left it
last year. This devil--it is the only right word for him--has bewitched
my weak husband; and, for all I can see to the contrary, has ruined our
prospects in life.

"He is a Hungarian. Small, dirty, lean as a skeleton, with hands like
claws, eyes like a wild beast's, and the most hideously false smile you
ever saw in a human face. What his history is, nobody knows. The people
at the medical school call him the most extraordinary experimental
chemist living. His ideas astonish the Professors themselves. The
students have named him 'The new Paracelsus.'

"I ventured to ask him, one day, if he believed he could make gold. He
looked at me with his frightful grin, and said, "Yes, and diamonds too,
with time and money to help me." He not only believes in The
Philosopher's Stone; he says he is on the trace of some explosive
compound so terrifically destructive in its effect, that it will make war
impossible. He declares that he will annihilate time and space by means
of electricity; and that he will develop steam as a motive power, until
travelers can rush over the whole habitable globe at the rate of a mile
in a minute.

"Why do I trouble you with these ravings? My dear, this boastful
adventurer has made himself master of my husband, has talked him out of
his senses, has reduced my influence over him to nothing. Do you think I
am exaggerating? Hear how it has ended. My husband absolutely refuses to
leave this place. He cares no longer even to try for the prize. The idea
of medical practice has become distasteful to him, and he has decided on
devoting his life to discovery in chemical science.

"And this is the man whom I married with the sincerest belief in the
brilliant social career that was before him! For this contemptible
creature I have sacrificed my position in the world, and alienated my
father from me for ever. I may look forward to being the wife of a poor
Professor, who shows experiments to stupid lads in a school. And the
friends in Paris, who, to my certain knowledge, are now waiting to give
him introductions to the Imperial Court itself, may transfer their
services to some other man.

"No words can tell you what I feel at this complete collapse of all my
hopes and plans. The one consideration of my child is all that restrains
me from leaving my husband, never to see him again. As it is, I must live
a life of deceit, and feign respect and regard for a man whom I despise
with my whole heart.

"Power--oh, if I had the power to make the fury that consumes me felt!
The curse of our sex is its helplessness. Every day, Julie, the
conviction grows on me that I shall end badly. Who among us knows the
capacity for wickedness that lies dormant in our natures, until the fatal
event comes and calls it forth?

"No! I am letting you see too much of my tortured soul. Let me close my
letter, and play with my child."



_Number IV._ 1812.--"My heartfelt congratulations, dearest, on your
return to Germany, after your pleasant visit to the United States. And
more congratulations yet on the large addition to your income, due to
your husband's intelligence and spirit of enterprise on American ground.
Ah, you have married a Man! Happy woman! I am married to a Machine.

"Why have I left your kind letters from America without reply? My Julie,
I have constantly thought of you; but the life I lead is slowly crushing
my energies. Over and over again, I have taken up my pen; and over and
over again, I have laid it aside, recoiling from the thought of myself
and my existence; too miserable (perhaps too proud) to tell you what a
wretched creature I am, and what thoughts come to me sometimes in the
wakeful hours of the night.

"After this confession, you wonder, perhaps, why I write to you now.

"I really believe it is because I have been threatened with legal
proceedings by my creditors, and have just come victoriously out of a
hard struggle to appease them for the time. This little fight has roused
me from my apathy; it has rallied my spirits, and made me feel like my
old self again. I am no longer content with silently loving my dearest
friend; I open my heart and write to her.

"'Oh, dear, how sad that she should be in debt!' I can hear you say
this, and sigh to yourself--you who have never known what it was to be in
want of money since you were born. Shall I tell you what my husband earns
at the University? No: I feel the blood rushing into my face at the bare
idea of revealing it.

"Let me do the Professor justice. My Animated Mummy has reached the
height of his ambition at last--he is Professor of Chemistry, and is
perfectly happy for the rest of his life. My dear, he is as lean, and
almost as dirty, as the wretch who first perverted him. Do you remember
my once writing to you about a mysterious Hungarian, whom we found in the
University? A few years since, this man died by suicide, as mysteriously
as he had lived. They found him in the laboratory, with a strange
inscription traced in chalk on the wall by which he lay dead. These were
the words:--'After giving it a fair trial, I find that life is not worth
living for. I have decided to destroy myself with a poison of my own
discovery. My chemical papers and preparations are hereby bequeathed to
my friend Doctor ----, and my body is presented as a free gift to the
anatomy school. Let a committee of surgeons and analysts examine my
remains. I defy them to discover a trace of the drug that has killed me.'
And they did try, Julie--and discovered nothing. I wonder whether the
suicide has left the receipt for that poison, among his other precious
legacies, to his 'friend Doctor ----.'

"Why do I trouble you with these nauseous details? Because they are in no
small degree answerable for my debts. My husband devotes all his leisure
hours to continuing the detestable experiments begun by the Hungarian;
and my yearly dress-money for myself and my child has been reduced one
half, to pay the chemical expenses.

"Ought I, in this hard case, to have diminished my expenditure to the
level of my reduced income?

"If you say Yes, I answer that human endurance has its limits. I can
support the martyrdom of my life; the loss of my dearest illusions and
hopes; the mean enmity of our neighbors; the foul-mouthed jealousy of the
women; and, more than all, the exasperating patience of a husband who
never resents the hardest things I can say to him, and who persists in
loving and admiring me as if we were only married last week. But I cannot
see my child in a stuff frock, on promenade days in the Palace Gardens,
when other people's children are wearing silk. And plain as my own dress
may be, I must and will have the best material that is made. When the
wife of the military commandant (a woman sprung from the people) goes out
in an Indian shawl with Brussels lace in her bonnet, am I to meet her and
return her bow, in a camelot cloak and a beaver hat? No! When I lose my
self-respect let me lose my life too. My husband may sink as low as he
pleases. I always have stood above him, and I always will!

"And so I am in debt, and my creditors threaten me. What does it matter?
I have pacified them, for the time, with some small installments of
money, and a large expenditure of smiles.

"I wish you could see my darling little Minna; she is the loveliest and
sweetest child in the world--my pride at all times, and my salvation in
my desperate moods. There are moments when I feel inclined to set fire to
the hateful University, and destroy all the moldy old creatures who
inhabit it. I take Minna out and buy her a little present, and see her
eyes sparkle and her color rise, and feel her innocent kisses, and
become, for awhile, quite a good woman again. Yesterday, her father--no,
I shall work myself up into a fury if I tell you about it. Let me only
say that Minna saved me as usual. I took her to the jeweler's and bought
her a pair of pearl earrings. If you could have heard her, if you could
have seen her, when the little angel first looked at herself in the
glass! I wonder when I shall pay for the earrings?

"Ah, Julie, if I only had such an income as yours, I would make my power
felt in this place. The insolent women should fawn on me and fear me. I
would have my own house and establishment in the country, to purify me
after the atmosphere of the Professor's drugs. I would--well! well! never
mind what else I would have.

"Talking of power, have you read the account of the execution last year
of that wonderful criminal, Anna Maria Zwanziger? Wherever she went, the
path of this terrific woman is strewed with the dead whom she has
poisoned. She appears to have lived to destroy her fellow-creatures, and
to have met her doom with the most undaunted courage. What a career! and
what an end! (1)

"The foolish people in Wurzburg are at a loss to find motives for some of
the murders she committed, and try to get out of the difficulty by
declaring that she must have been a homicidal maniac. That is not _my_
explanation. I can understand the murderess becoming morally intoxicated
with the sense of her own tremendous power. A mere human creature--only a
woman, Julie!--armed with the means of secretly dealing death with her,
wherever she goes--meeting with strangers who displease her, looking at
them quietly, and saying to herself, "I doom you to die, before you are a
day older"--is there no explanation, here, of some of Zwanziger's
poisonings which are incomprehensible to commonplace minds?

"I put this view, in talking of the trial, to the military commandant a
few days since. His vulgar wife answered me before he could speak.
'Madame Fontaine,' said this spitfire, 'my husband and I don't feel
_your_ sympathy with poisoners!' Take that as a specimen of the ladies of
Wurzburg--and let me close this unmercifully long letter. I think you
will acknowledge, my dear, that, when I do write, I place a flattering
trust in my friend's patient remembrance of me."

There the newspaper extracts came to an end.

As a picture of a perverted mind, struggling between good and evil, and
slowly losing ground under the stealthy influence of temptation, the
letters certainly possessed a melancholy interest for any thoughtful
reader. But (not being a spiteful woman) I failed to see, in these
extracts, the connection which Frau Meyer had attempted to establish
between the wickedness of Madame Fontaine and the disappearance of her
husband's medicine chest.

At the same time, I must acknowledge that a vague impression of distrust
_was_ left on my mind by what I had read. I felt a certain sense of
embarrassment at the prospect of renewing my relations with the widow, on
my return to Frankfort; and I was also conscious of a decided increase of
anxiety to hear what had been Mr. Keller's reception of Madame Fontaine's
letter. Add to this, that my brotherly interest in Minna was sensibly
strengthened--and the effect on me of the extracts in the newspaper is
truly stated, so far as I can remember it at this distant time.

On the evening of the next day, I was back again at Frankfort.


(1) The terrible career of Anna Maria Zwanziger, sentenced to death at
Bamberg in the year 1811, will be found related in Lady Duff-Gordon's
translation of Feuerbach's "Criminal Trials."



CHAPTER XVI

Mr. Keller and Mr. Engelman were both waiting to receive me. They looked
over my written report of my inquiries at Hanau, and expressed the
warmest approval of it. So far, all was well.

But, when we afterwards sat down to our supper, I noticed a change in the
two partners, which it was impossible to see without regret. On the
surface they were as friendly towards each other as ever. But a certain
constraint of look and manner, a palpable effort, on either side, to
speak with the old unsought ease and gaiety, showed that the disastrous
discovery of Madame Fontaine in the hall had left its evil results behind
it. Mr. Keller retired, when the meal was over, to examine my report
minutely in all its details.

When we were alone, Mr. Engelman lit his pipe. He spoke to me once more
with the friendly familiarity of past days--before he met the
too-fascinating widow on the bridge.

"My dear boy, tell me frankly, do you notice any change in Keller?"

"I see a change in both of you," I answered: "you are not such pleasant
companions as you used to be."

Mr. Engelman blew out a mouthful of smoke, and followed it by a heavy
sigh.

"Keller has become so bitter," he said. "His hasty temper I never
complained of, as you know. But in these later days he is hard--hard as
stone. Do you know what he did with dear Madame Fontaine's letter? A
downright insult, David--he sent it back to her!"

"Without explanation or apology?" I asked.

"With a line on the envelope. 'I warned you that I should refuse to read
your letter. You see that I am a man of my word.' What a message to send
to a poor mother, who only asks leave to plead for her child's happiness!
You saw the letter. Enough to melt the heart of any man, as I should have
thought. I spoke to Keller on the subject; I really couldn't help it."

"Wasn't that rather indiscreet, Mr. Engelman?"

"I said nothing that could reasonably offend him. 'Do you know of some
discreditable action on the part of Madame Fontaine, which has not been
found out by anyone else?' I asked. 'I know the character she bears in
Wurzburg,' he said; 'and the other night I saw her face. That is all I
know, friend Engelman, and that is enough for me.' With those sour words,
he walked out of the room. What lamentable prejudice! What an unchristian
way of thinking! The name of Madame Fontaine will never be mentioned
between us again. When that much-injured lady honors me with another
visit, I can only receive her where she will be protected from insult, in
a house of my own."

"Surely you are not going to separate yourself from Mr. Keller?" I said.

"Not for the present. I will wait till your aunt comes here, and brings
that restless reforming spirit of hers into the business. Changes are
sure to follow--and my change of residence may pass as one of them."

He got up to leave the room, and stopped at the door.

"I wish you would come with me, David, to Madame Fontaine's. She is very
anxious to see you." Feeling no such anxiety on my side, I attempted to
excuse myself; but he went on without giving me time to speak--"Nice
little Miss Minna is very dull, poor child. She has no friend of her own
age here at Frankfort, excepting yourself. And she has asked me more than
once when Mr. David would return from Hanau."

My excuses failed me when I heard this. Mr. Engelman and I left the house
together.

As we approached the door of Madame Fontaine's lodgings, it was opened
from within by the landlady, and a stranger stepped out into the street.
He was sufficiently well dressed to pass for a gentleman--but there were
obstacles in his face and manner to a successful personation of the
character. He cast a peculiarly furtive look at us both, as we ascended
the house-steps. I thought he was a police spy. Mr. Engelman set him down
a degree lower in the social scale.

"I hope you are not in debt, ma'am," he said to the landlady; "that man
looks to me like a bailiff in disguise."

"I manage to pay my way, sir, though it is a hard struggle," the woman
replied. "As for the gentleman who has just gone out, I know no more of
him than you do."

"May I ask what he wanted here?"

"He wanted to know when Madame Fontaine was likely to quit my apartments.
I told him my lodger had not appointed any time for leaving me yet."

"Did he mention Madame Fontaine's name?"

"Yes, sir."

"How did he know that she lived here?"

"He didn't say."

"And you didn't think of asking him?"

"It was very stupid of me, sir--I only asked him how he came to know that
I let apartments. He said, 'Never mind, now; I am well recommended, and
I'll call again, and tell you about it.' And then I opened the door for
him, as you saw."

"Did he ask to see Madame Fontaine?"

"No, sir."

"Very odd!" said Mr. Engelman, as we went upstairs. "Do you think we
ought to mention it?"

I thought not. There was nothing at all uncommon in the stranger's
inquiries, taken by themselves. We had no right, that I could see, to
alarm the widow, because we happened to attach purely fanciful suspicions
to a man of whom we knew nothing. I expressed this opinion to Mr.
Engelman; and he agreed with me.

The same subdued tone which had struck me in the little household in Main
Street, was again visible in the welcome which I received in Madame
Fontaine's lodgings. Minna looked weary of waiting for the long-expected
letter from Fritz. Minna's mother pressed my hand in silence, with a
melancholy smile. Her reception of my companion struck me as showing some
constraint. After what had happened on the night of her visit to the
house, she could no longer expect him to help her to an interview with
Mr. Keller. Was she merely keeping up appearances, on the chance that he
might yet be useful to her, in some other way? The trifling change which
I observed did not appear to present itself to Mr. Engelman. I turned
away to Minna. Knowing what I knew, it grieved me to see that the poor
old man was fonder of the widow, and prouder of her than ever.

It was no very hard task to revive the natural hopefulness of Minna's
nature. Calculating the question of time in the days before railroads, I
was able to predict the arrival of Fritz's letter in two, or at most
three days more. This bright prospect was instantly reflected in the
girl's innocent face. Her interest in the little world about her revived.
When her mother joined us, in our corner of the room, I was telling her
all that could be safely related of my visit to Hanau. Madame Fontaine
seemed to be quite as attentive as her daughter to the progress of my
trivial narrative--to Mr. Engelman's evident surprise.

"Did you go farther than Hanau?" the widow asked.

"No farther."

"Were there any guests to meet you at the dinner-party?"

"Only the members of the family."

"I lived so long, David, in dull old Wurzburg, that I can't help feeling
a certain interest in the town. Did the subject turn up? Did you hear of
anything that was going on there?"

I answered this as cautiously as I had answered the questions that had
gone before it. Frau Meyer had, I fear, partially succeeded in perverting
my sense of justice. Before my journey to Hanau, I might have attributed
the widow's inquiries to mere curiosity. I believed suspicion to be the
ruling motive with her, now.

Before any more questions could be asked, Mr. Engelman changed the topic
to a subject of greater interest to himself. "I have told David, dear
lady, of Mr. Keller's inhuman reception of your letter."

"Don't say 'inhuman,'" Madame Fontaine answered gently; "it is I alone
who am to blame. I have been a cause of estrangement between you and your
partner, and I have destroyed whatever little chance I might once have
had of setting myself right in Mr. Keller's estimation. All due to my
rashness in mentioning my name. If I had been less fond of my little girl
here, and less eager to seize the first opportunity of pleading for her,
I should never have committed that fatal mistake."

So far, this was sensibly said--and, as an explanation of her own
imprudence, was unquestionably no more than the truth.

I was less favorably impressed by what followed, when she went on;

"Pray understand, David, that I don't complain. I feel no ill-will
towards Mr. Keller. If chance placed the opportunity of doing him a
service in my hands, I should be ready and willing to make use of it--I
should be only too glad to repair the mischief that I have so innocently
done."

She raised her handkerchief to her eyes. Mr. Engelman raised his
handkerchief to his eyes. Minna took her mother's hand. I alone sat
undemonstrative, with my sympathies in a state of repose. Frau Meyer
again! Nothing but the influence of Frau Meyer could have hardened me in
this way!

"I have entreated our sweet friend not to leave Frankfort in despair,"
Mr. Engelman explained in faltering tones. "Although my influence with
Keller is, for the present, a lost influence in this matter, I am more
than willing--I am eager--to speak to Mrs. Wagner on Madame Fontaine's
behalf. My advice is, Wait for Mrs. Wagner's arrival, and trust to _my_
zeal, and _my_ position in the firm. When both his partners summon him to
do justice to an injured woman, even Keller must submit!"

The widow's eyes were still hidden behind her handkerchief. But the lower
part of her face was visible. Unless I completely misinterpreted the mute
language of her lips, she had not the faintest belief in the fulfillment
of Mr. Engelman's prediction. Whatever reason she might have for
remaining in Frankfort, after the definite rejection of her too-confident
appeal to Mr. Keller's sympathies, was thus far undoubtedly a reason
known only to herself. That very night, after we had left her, an
incident occurred which suggested that she had some motive for
ingratiating herself with one of the servants in Mr. Keller's house.

Our domestic establishment indoors consisted of the sour-tempered old
housekeeper (who was perfectly unapproachable); of a little kitchen-maid
(too unimportant a person to be worth conciliating); and of the footman
Joseph, who performed the usual duties of waiting on us at table, and
answering the door. This last was a foolish young man, excessively vain
of his personal appearance--but a passably good servant, making allowance
for these defects.

Having occasion to ring for Joseph, to do me some little service, I
noticed that the loose ends of his necktie were connected by a smart new
pin, presenting a circle of malachite set in silver.

"Have you had a present lately," I asked, "or are you extravagant enough
to spend your money on buying jewelry?"

Joseph simpered in undisguised satisfaction with himself. "It's a
present, sir, from Madame Fontaine. I take her flowers almost every day
from Mr. Engelman, and I have done one or two trifling errands for her in
the town. She was pleased with my attention to her wishes. 'I have very
little money, Mr. Joseph,' she said; 'oblige me by accepting this pin in
return for the trouble I have given you.' And she took the pin out of the
beautiful white lace round her neck, and made me a present of it with her
own hand. A most liberal lady, isn't she, sir?"

"Liberal indeed, Joseph, considering the small services which you seem to
have rendered to her. Are you quite sure that she doesn't expect
something more of you?"

"Oh, quite sure, sir." He blushed as he said that--and rather hurriedly
left the room. How would Frau Meyer have interpreted Joseph's blushes,
and the widow's liberality? I went to bed without caring to pursue that
question.

A lapse of two days more brought with it two interesting events: the
opening night of a traveling opera company on a visit to Frankfort, and
the arrival by a late post of our long-expected letters from London.

The partners (both of them ardent lovers of music) had taken a box for
the short season, and, with their usual kindness, had placed a seat at my
disposal. We were all three drinking our coffee before going to the
theater, and Joseph was waiting on us, when the rheumatic old housekeeper
brought in the letters, and handed them to me, as the person who sat
nearest to the door.

"Why, my good creature, what has made you climb the stairs, when you
might have rung for Joseph?" asked kind-hearted Mr. Engelman.

"Because I have got something to ask of my masters," answered crabbed
Mother Barbara. "There are your letters, to begin with. Is it true that
you are, all three of you, going to the theater to-night?"

She never used any of the ordinary terms of respect. If she had been
their mother, instead of their housekeeper, she could not have spoken
more familiarly to the two old gentlemen who employed her.

"Well," she went on, "my daughter is in trouble about her baby, and wants
my advice. Teething, and convulsions, and that sort of thing. As you are
all going out for the evening, you don't want me, after I have put your
bedrooms tidy. I can go to my daughter for an hour or two, I suppose--and
Joseph (who isn't of much use, heaven knows) can take care of the house."

Mr. Keller, refreshing his memory of the opera of the night (Gluck's
"Armida") by consulting the book, nodded, and went on with his reading.
Mr. Engelman said, "Certainly, my good soul; give my best wishes to your
daughter for the baby's health." Mother Barbara grunted, and hobbled out
of the room.

I looked at the letters. Two were for me--from my aunt and Fritz. One was
for Mr. Keller--addressed also in the handwriting of my aunt. When I
handed it to him across the table, he dropped "Armida" the moment he
looked at the envelope. It was the answer to his remonstrance on the
subject of the employment of women.

For Minna's sake, I opened Fritz's letter first. It contained the
long-expected lines to his sweetheart. I went out at once, and, enclosing
the letter in an envelope, sent Joseph away with it to the widow's
lodgings before Mother Barbara's departure made it necessary for him to
remain in the house.

Fritz's letter to me was very unsatisfactory. In my absence, London was
unendurably dull to him, and Minna was more necessary to the happiness of
his life than ever. He desired to be informed, by return of post, of the
present place of residence of Madame Fontaine and her daughter. If I
refused to comply with this request, he could not undertake to control
himself, and he thought it quite likely that he might "follow his heart's
dearest aspirations," and set forth on the journey to Frankfort in search
of Minna.

My aunt's letter was full of the subject of Jack Straw.

In the first place she had discovered, while arranging her late husband's
library, a book which had evidently suggested his ideas of reformation in
the treatment of the insane. It was called, "Description of the Retreat,
an institution near York for insane persons of the Society of Friends.
Written by Samuel Tuke." She had communicated with the institution; had
received the most invaluable help; and would bring the book with her to
Frankfort, to be translated into German, in the interests of humanity.
(1)

(1) Tuke's Description of the Retreat near York is reviewed by Sydney
Smith in a number of the "Edinburgh Review," for 1814.

As for her merciful experiment with poor Jack, it had proved to be
completely successful--with one serious drawback. So long as he was under
her eye, and in daily communication with her, a more grateful,
affectionate, and perfectly harmless creature never breathed the breath
of life. Even Mr. Hartrey and the lawyer had been obliged to confess that
they had been in the wrong throughout, in the view they had taken of the
matter. But, when she happened to be absent from the house, for any
length of time, it was not to be denied that Jack relapsed. He did
nothing that was violent or alarming--he merely laid himself down on the
mat before the door of her room, and refused to eat, drink, speak, or
move, until she returned. He heard her outside the door, before anyone
else was aware that she was near the house; and his joy burst out in a
scream which did certainly recall Bedlam. That was the drawback, and the
only drawback; and how she was to take the journey to Frankfort, which
Mr. Keller's absurd remonstrance had rendered absolutely necessary, was
more than my aunt's utmost ingenuity could thus far discover. Setting
aside the difficulty of disposing of Jack, there was another difficulty,
represented by Fritz. It was in the last degree doubtful if he could be
trusted to remain in London in her absence. "But I shall manage it," the
resolute woman concluded. "I never yet despaired of anything--and I don't
despair now."

Returning to the sitting-room, when it was time to go to the theater, I
found Mr. Keller with his temper in a flame, and Mr. Engelman silently
smoking as usual.

"Read that!" cried Mr. Keller, tossing my aunt's reply to him across the
table. "It won't take long."

It was literally a letter of four lines! "I have received your
remonstrance. It is useless for two people who disagree as widely as we
do, to write to each other. Please wait for my answer, until I arrive at
Frankfort."

"Let's go to the music!" cried Mr. Keller. "God knows, I want a composing
influence of some kind."

At the end of the first act of the opera, a new trouble exhausted his
small stock of patience. He had been too irritated, on leaving the house,
to remember his opera-glass; and he was sufficiently near-sighted to feel
the want of it. It is needless to say that I left the theater at once to
bring back the glass in time for the next act.

My instructions informed me that I should find it on his bedroom-table.

I thought Joseph looked confused when he opened the house-door to me. As
I ran upstairs, he followed me, saying something. I was in too great a
hurry to pay any attention to him.

Reaching the second floor by two stairs at a time, I burst into Mr.
Keller's bedroom, and found myself face to face with--Madame Fontaine!



CHAPTER XVII

The widow was alone in the room; standing by the bedside table on which
Mr. Keller's night-drink was placed. I was so completely taken by
surprise, that I stood stock-still like a fool, and stared at Madame
Fontaine in silence.

On her side she was, as I believe, equally astonished and equally
confounded, but better able to conceal it. For the moment, and only for
the moment, she too had nothing to say. Then she lifted her left hand
from under her shawl. "You have caught me, Mr. David!" she said--and held
up a drawing-book as she spoke.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

She pointed with the book to the famous carved mantelpiece.

"You know how I longed to make a study of that glorious work," she
answered. "Don't be hard on a poor artist who takes her opportunity when
she finds it."

"May I ask how you came to know of the opportunity, Madame Fontaine?"

"Entirely through your kind sympathy, my friend," was the cool reply.

"My sympathy? What do you mean?"

"Was it not you, David, who considerately thought of Minna when the post
came in? And did you not send the man-servant to us, with her letter from
Fritz?"

The blubbering voice of Joseph, trembling for his situation, on the
landing outside, interrupted me before I could speak again.

"I'm sure I meant no harm, sir. I only said I was in a hurry to get back,
because you had all gone to the theater, and I was left (with nobody but
the kitchen girl) to take care of the house. When the lady came, and
showed me her drawing-book----"

"That will do, friend Joseph," said the widow, signing to him to go
downstairs in her easy self-possessed way. "Mr. David is too sensible to
take notice of trifles. There! there! go down," She turned to me, with an
expression of playful surprise. "How very serious you look!" she said
gaily.

"It might have been serious for _you,_ Madame Fontaine, if Mr. Keller had
returned to the house to fetch his opera-glass himself."

"Ah! he has left his opera-glass behind him? Let me help you to look for
it. I have done my sketch; I am quite at your service." She forestalled
me in finding the opera-glass. "I really had no other chance of making a
study of the chimney-piece," she went on, as she handed the glass to me.
"Impossible to ask Mr. Engelman to let me in again, after what happened
on the last occasion. And, if I must confess it, there is another motive
besides my admiration for the chimney-piece. You know how poor we are.
The man who keeps the picture-shop in the Zeil is willing to employ me.
He can always sell these memorials of old Frankfort to English travelers.
Even the few forms he gives me will find two half-starved women in
housekeeping money for a week."

It was all very plausible; and perhaps (in my innocent days before I met
with Frau Meyer) I might have thought it quite likely to be true. In my
present frame of mind, I only asked the widow if I might see her sketch.

She shook her head, and sheltered the drawing-book again under her shawl.

"It is little better than a memorandum at present," she explained. "Wait
till I have touched it up, and made it saleable--and I will show it to
you with pleasure. You will not make mischief, Mr. David, by mentioning
my act of artistic invasion to either of the old gentlemen? It shall not
be repeated--I give you my word of honor. There is poor Joseph, too. You
don't want to ruin a well-meaning lad, by getting him turned out of his
place? Of course not! We part as friends who understand each other, don't
we? Minna would have sent her love and thanks, if she had known I was to
meet you. Good-night."

She ran downstairs, humming a little tune to herself, as blithe as a
young girl. I heard a momentary whispering with Joseph in the hall. Then
the house-door closed--and there was an end of Madame Fontaine for that
time.

After no very long reflection, I decided that my best course would be to
severely caution Joseph, and to say nothing to the partners of what had
happened--for the present, at least. I should certainly do mischief, by
setting the two old friends at variance again on the subject of the
widow, if I spoke; to say nothing (as another result) of the likelihood
of Joseph's dismissal by Mr. Keller. Actuated by these reasonable
considerations, I am bound frankly to add that I must have felt some
vague misgivings as well. Otherwise, why did I carefully examine Mr.
Keller's room (before I returned to the theater), without any distinct
idea of any conceivable discovery that I might make? Not the vestige of a
suspicious appearance rewarded my search. The room was in its customary
state of order, from the razors and brushes on the toilet-table to the
regular night-drink of barley-water, ready as usual in the jug by the
bedside.

I left the bedchamber at last. Why was I still not at my ease? Why was I
rude enough, when I thought of the widow, to say to myself, "Damn her!"
Why did I find Gluck's magnificent music grow wearisome from want of
melody as it went on? Let the learned in such things realize my position,
and honor me by answering those questions for themselves.

We were quite gay at supper; the visit to the theater had roused the
spirits of the two partners, by means of a wholesome break in the
monotony of their lives. I had seldom seen Mr. Keller so easy and so
cheerful. Always an abstemious man, he exercised his usual moderation in
eating and drinking; and he was the first to go to bed. But, while he was
with us, he was, in the best sense of the word, a delightful companion;
and he looked forward to the next opera night with the glee of a
schoolboy looking forward to a holiday.



CHAPTER XVIII

The breakfast-room proved to be empty when I entered it the next morning.
It was the first time in my experience that I had failed to find Mr.
Keller established at the table. He had hitherto set the example of early
rising to his partner and to myself. I had barely noticed his absence,
when Mr. Engelman followed me into the room with a grave and anxious
face, which proclaimed that something was amiss.

"Where is Mr. Keller?" I asked.

"In bed, David."

"Not ill, I hope?"

"I don't know what is the matter with him, my dear boy. He says he has
passed a bad night, and he can't leave his bed and attend to business as
usual. Is it the close air of the theater, do you think?"

"Suppose I make him a comfortable English cup of tea?" I suggested.

"Yes, yes! And take it up yourself. I should like to know what you think
of him."

Mr. Keller alarmed me in the first moment when I looked at him. A
dreadful apathy had possessed itself of this naturally restless and
energetic man. He lay quite motionless, except an intermittent trembling
of his hands as they rested on the counterpane. His eyes opened for a
moment when I spoke to him--then closed again as if the effort of looking
at anything wearied him. He feebly shook his head when I offered him the
cup of tea, and said in a fretful whisper, "Let me be!" I looked at his
night-drink. The jug and glass were both completely empty. "Were you
thirsty in the night?" In the same fretful whisper he answered,
"Horribly!" "Are you not thirsty now?" He only repeated the words he had
first spoken--"Let me be!" There he lay, wanting nothing, caring for
nothing; his face looking pinched and wan already, and the intermittent
trembling still at regular intervals shaking his helpless hands.

We sent at once for the physician who had attended him in trifling
illnesses at former dates.

The doctor who is not honest enough to confess it when he is puzzled, is
a well-known member of the medical profession in all countries. Our
present physician was one of that sort. He pronounced the patient to be
suffering from low (or nervous) fever--but it struck Mr. Engelman, as it
struck me, that he found himself obliged to say something, and said it
without feeling sure of the correctness of his own statement. He
prescribed, and promised to pay us a second visit later in the day.
Mother Barbara, the housekeeper, was already installed as nurse. Always a
domestic despot, she made her tyranny felt even in the sick-room. She
declared that she would leave the house if any other woman presumed to
enter it as nurse. "When my master is ill," said Mother Barbara, "my
master is my property." It was plainly impossible that a woman, at her
advanced age, could keep watch at the bedside by day and night together.
In the interests of peace we decided on waiting until the next day. If
Mr. Keller showed no signs of improvement by that time, I undertook to
inquire at the hospital for a properly qualified nurse.

Later in the day, our doubts of the doctor were confirmed. He betrayed
his own perplexity in arriving at a true "diagnosis" of the patient's
case, by bringing with him, at his second visit, a brother-physician,
whom he introduced as Doctor Dormann, and with whom he asked leave to
consult at the bedside.

The new doctor was the younger, and evidently the firmer person of the
two.

His examination of the sick man was patient and careful in the extreme.
He questioned us minutely about the period at which the illness had
begun; the state of Mr. Keller's health immediately before it; the first
symptoms noticed; what he had eaten, and what he had drunk; and so on.
Next, he desired to see all the inmates of the house who had access to
the bed-chamber; looking with steady scrutiny at the housekeeper, the
footman, and the maid, as they followed each other into the room--and
dismissing them again without remark. Lastly, he astounded his old
colleague by proposing to administer an emetic. There was no prevailing
on him to give his reasons. "If I prove to be right, you shall hear my
reasons. If I prove to be wrong, I have only to say so, and no reasons
will be required. Clear the room, administer the emetic, and keep the
door locked till I come back."

With those parting directions he hurried out of the house.

"What _can_ he mean?" said Mr. Engelman, leading the way out of the
bedchamber.

The elder doctor left in charge heard the words, and answered them,
addressing himself, not to Mr. Engelman, but to me. He caught me by the
arm, as I was leaving the room in my turn.

"Poison!" the doctor whispered in my ear. "Keep it a secret; that's what
he means."

I ran to my own bedchamber and bolted myself in. At that one word,
"Poison," the atrocious suggestion of Frau Meyer, when she had referred
to Doctor Fontaine's lost medicine-chest, instantly associated itself in
my memory with Madame Fontaine's suspicious intrusion into Mr. Keller's
room. Good God! had I not surprised her standing close by the table on
which the night-drink was set? and had I not heard Doctor Dormann say,
"That's unlucky," when he was told that the barley-water had been all
drunk by the patient, and the jug and glass washed as usual? For the
first few moments, I really think I must have been beside myself, so
completely was I overpowered by the horror of my own suspicions. I had
just sense enough to keep out of Mr. Engelman's way until I felt my mind
restored in some degree to its customary balance.

Recovering the power of thinking connectedly, I began to feel ashamed of
the panic which had seized on me.

What conceivable object had the widow to gain by Mr. Keller's death? Her
whole interest in her daughter's future centered, on the contrary, in his
living long enough to be made ashamed of his prejudices, and to give his
consent to the marriage. To kill him for the purpose of removing Fritz
from the influence of his father's authority would be so atrocious an act
in itself, and would so certainly separate Minna and Fritz for ever, in
the perfectly possible event of a discovery, that I really recoiled from
the contemplation of this contingency as I might have recoiled from
deliberately disgracing myself. Doctor Dormann had rashly rushed at a
false conclusion--that was the one comforting reflection that occurred to
me. I threw open my door again in a frenzy of impatience to hear the
decision, whichever way it might turn.

The experiment had been tried in my absence. Mr. Keller had fallen into a
broken slumber. Doctor Dormann was just closing the little bag in which
he had brought his testing apparatus from his own house. Even now there
was no prevailing on him to state his suspicions plainly.

"It's curious," he said, "to see how all mortal speculations on events,
generally resolve themselves into threes. Have we given the emetic too
late? Are my tests insufficient? Or have I made a complete mistake?" He
turned to his elder colleague. "My dear doctor, I see you want a positive
answer. No need to leave the room, Mr. Engelman! You and the young
English gentleman, your friend, must not be deceived for a single moment
so far as I am concerned. I see in the patient a mysterious wasting of
the vital powers, which is not accompanied by the symptoms of any disease
known to me to which I can point as a cause. In plain words, I tell you,
I don't understand Mr. Keller's illness."

It was perhaps through a motive of delicacy that he persisted in making a
needless mystery of his suspicions. In any case he was evidently a man
who despised all quackery from the bottom of his heart. The old doctor
looked at him with a frown of disapproval, as if his frank confession had
violated the unwritten laws of medical etiquette.

"If you will allow me to watch the case," he resumed, "under the
superintendence of my respected colleague, I shall be happy to submit to
approval any palliative treatment which may occur to me. My respected
colleague knows that I am always ready to learn."

His respected colleague made a formal bow, looked at his watch, and
hastened away to another patient. Doctor Dormann, taking up his hat,
stopped to look at Mother Barbara, fast asleep in her easy chair by the
bedside.

"I must find you a competent nurse to-morrow," he said. "No, not one of
the hospital women--we want someone with finer feelings and tenderer
hands than theirs. In the meantime, one of you must sit up with Mr.
Keller to-night. If I am not wanted before, I will be with you to-morrow
morning."

I volunteered to keep watch; promising to call Mr. Engelman if any
alarming symptoms showed themselves. The old housekeeper, waking after
her first sleep, characteristically insisted on sending me to bed, and
taking my place. I was too anxious and uneasy (if I may say it of myself)
to be as compliant as usual. Mother Barbara, for once, found that she had
a resolute person to deal with. At a less distressing time, there would
have been something irresistibly comical in her rage and astonishment,
when I settled the dispute by locking her out of the room.

Soon afterwards Joseph came in with a message. If there was no immediate
necessity for his presence in the bedchamber, Mr. Engelman would go out
to get a breath of fresh air, before he retired for the night. There was
no necessity for his presence; and I sent a message downstairs to that
effect.

An hour later Mr. Engelman came in to see his old friend, and to say
good-night. After an interval of restlessness, the sufferer had become
composed, and was dozing again under the influence of his medicine.
Making all allowances for the sorrow and anxiety which Mr. Engelman must
necessarily feel under the circumstances, I thought his manner strangely
absent and confused. He looked like a man with some burden on his mind
which he was afraid to reveal and unable to throw off.

"Somebody must be found, David, who does understand the case," he said,
looking at the helpless figure on the bed.

"Who can we find?" I asked.

He bade me good-night without answering. It is no exaggeration to say
that I passed my night at the bedside in a miserable state of indecision
and suspense. The doctor's experiment had failed to prove absolutely that
the doctor's doubts were without foundation. In this state of things, was
it my bounden duty to tell the medical men what I had seen, when I went
back to the house to look for Mr. Keller's opera-glass? The more I
thought of it, the more I recoiled from the idea of throwing a frightful
suspicion on Minna's mother which would overshadow an innocent woman for
the rest of her life. What proof had I that she had lied to me about the
sketch and the mantlepiece? And, without proof, how could I, how dare I,
open my lips? I succeeded in deciding firmly enough for the alternative
of silence, during the intervals when my attendance on the sick man was
not required. But, when he wanted his medicine, when his pillows needed a
little arrangement, when I saw his poor eyes open, and look at me
vacantly--then my resolution failed me; my indecision returned; the
horrid necessity of speaking showed itself again, and shook me to the
soul. Never in the trials of later life have I passed such a night as
that night at Mr. Keller's bedside.

When the light of the new day shone in at the window, it was but too
plainly visible that the symptoms had altered for the worse.

The apathy was more profound, the wan pinched look of the face had
increased, the intervals between the attacks of nervous trembling had
grown shorter and shorter. Come what might of it, when Dr. Dormann paid
his promised visit, I felt I was now bound to inform him that another
person besides the servants and ourselves had obtained access secretly to
Mr. Keller's room.

I was so completely worn out by agitation and want of sleep--and I showed
it, I suppose, so plainly--that good Mr. Engelman insisted on my leaving
him in charge, and retiring to rest. I lay down on my bed, with the door
of my room ajar, resolved to listen for the doctor's footsteps on the
stairs, and to speak to him privately after he had seen the patient.

If I had been twenty years older, I might have succeeded in carrying out
my intention. But, with the young, sleep is a paramount necessity, and
nature insists on obedience to its merciful law. I remember feeling
drowsy; starting up from the bed, and walking about my room, to keep
myself awake; then lying down again from sheer fatigue; and after
that--total oblivion! When I woke, and looked at my watch, I found that I
had been fast asleep for no less than six hours!

Bewildered and ashamed of myself--afraid to think of what might have
happened in that long interval--I hurried to Mr. Keller's room, and
softly knocked at the door.

A woman's voice answered me, "Come in!"

I paused with my hand on the door--the voice was familiar to me. I had a
moment's doubt whether I was mad or dreaming. The voice softly repeated,
"Come in!" I entered the room.

There she was, seated at the bedside, smiling quietly and lifting her
finger to her lips! As certainly as I saw the familiar objects in the
room, and the prostrate figure on the bed, I saw--Madame Fontaine!

"Speak low," she said. "He sleeps very lightly; he must not be
disturbed."

I approached the bed and looked at him. There was a faint tinge of color
in his face; there was moisture on his forehead; his hands lay as still
on the counterpane, in the blessed repose that possessed him, as the
hands of a sleeping child. I looked round at Madame Fontaine.

She smiled again; my utter bewilderment seemed to amuse her. "He is left
entirely to me, David," she said, looking tenderly at her patient. "Go
downstairs and see Mr. Engelman. There must be no talking here."

She lightly wiped the perspiration from his forehead; lightly laid her
fingers on his pulse--then reclined in the easy chair, with her eyes
fixed in silent interest on the sleeping man. She was the very ideal of
the nurse with fine feelings and tender hands, contemplated by Doctor
Dormann when I had last seen him. Any stranger looking into the room at
that moment would have said, "What a charming picture! What a devoted
wife!"



CHAPTER XIX

"A tumbler of the old Marcobrunner, David, and a slice of the game
pie--before I say one word about what we owe to that angel upstairs. Off
with the wine, my dear boy; you look as pale as death!"

With those words Mr. Engelman lit his pipe, and waited in silence until
the good eating and drinking had done their good work.

"Now carry your mind back to last night," he began. "You remember my
going out to get a breath of fresh air. Can you guess what that meant?"

I guessed of course that it meant a visit to Madame Fontaine.

"Quite right, David. I promised to call on her earlier in the day; but
poor Keller's illness made that impossible. She wrote to me under the
impression that something serious must have happened to prevent me, for
the first time, from keeping an appointment that I had made with her.
When I left you I went to answer her note personally. She was not only
distressed to hear of Mr. Keller's illness, she was interested enough in
my sad news to ask particularly in what form the illness declared itself.
When I mentioned what the symptoms were, she showed an agitation which
took me quite by surprise. 'Do the doctors understand what is the matter
with him?' she asked. I told her that one of the doctors was evidently
puzzled, and that the other had acknowledged that the malady was so far
incomprehensible to him. She clasped her hands in despair--she said, 'Oh,
if my poor husband had been alive!' I naturally asked what she meant. I
wish I could give her explanation, David, in her own delightful words. It
came in substance to this. Some person in her husband's employment at the
University of Wurzburg had been attacked by a malady presenting exactly
the same symptoms from which Mr. Keller was suffering. The medical men
had been just as much at a loss what to do as our medical men. Alone
among them Doctor Fontaine understood the case. He made up the medicine
that he administered with his own hand. Madame Fontaine, under her
husband's instructions, assisted in nursing the sick man, and in giving
the nourishment prescribed when he was able to eat. His extraordinary
recovery is remembered in the University to this day."

I interrupted Mr. Engelman at that point. "Of course you asked her for
the prescription?" I said. "I begin to understand it now."

"No, David; you don't understand it yet. I certainly asked her for the
prescription. No such thing was known to be in existence--she reminded me
that her husband had made up the medicine himself. But she remembered
that the results had exceeded his anticipations, and that only a part of
the remedy had been used. The bottle might still perhaps be found at
Wurzburg. Or it might be in a small portmanteau belonging to her husband,
which she had found in his bedroom, and had brought away with her, to be
examined at some future time. 'I have not had the heart to open it yet,'
she said; 'but for Mr. Keller's sake, I will look it over before you go
away.' There is a Christian woman, David, if ever there was one yet!
After the manner in which poor Keller had treated her, she was as eager
to help him as if he had been her dearest friend. Minna offered to take
her place. 'Why should you distress yourself, mamma?' she said. 'Tell me
what the bottle is like, and let me try if I can find it.' No! It was
quite enough for Madame Fontaine that there was an act of mercy to be
done. At any sacrifice of her own feelings, she was prepared to do it."

I interrupted him again, eager to hear the end.

"And she found the bottle?" I said.

"She found the bottle," Mr. Engelman resumed. "I can show it to you, if
you like. She has herself requested me to keep it under lock and key, so
long as it is wanted in this house."

He opened an old cabinet, and took out a long narrow bottle of dark-blue
glass. In form, it was quaintly and remarkably unlike any modern bottle
that I had ever seen. The glass stopper was carefully secured by a piece
of leather, for the better preservation, I suppose, of the liquid inside.
Down one side of the bottle ran a narrow strip of paper, notched at
regular intervals to indicate the dose that was to be given. No label
appeared on it; but, examining the surface of the glass carefully, I
found certain faintly-marked stains, which suggested that the label might
have been removed, and that some traces of the paste or gum by which it
had been secured had not been completely washed away. I held the bottle
up to the light, and found that it was still nearly half full. Mr.
Engelman forbade me to remove the stopper. It was very important, he
said, that no air should be admitted to the bottle, except when there was
an actual necessity for administering the remedy.

"I took it away with me the same night," he went on. "And a wretched
state of mind I was in, between my anxiety to give the medicine to poor
dear Keller immediately, and my fear of taking such a serious
responsibility entirely on myself. Madame Fontaine, always just in her
views, said, 'You had better wait and consult the doctors.' She made but
one condition (the generous creature!) relating to herself. 'If the
remedy is tried,' she said, 'I must ask you to give it a fair chance by
permitting me to act as nurse; the treatment of the patient when he
begins to feel the benefit of the medicine is of serious importance. I
know this from my husband's instructions, and it is due to his memory (to
say nothing of what is due to Mr. Keller) that I should be at the
bedside.' It is needless to say that I joyfully accepted the offered
help. So the night passed. The next morning, soon after you fell asleep,
the doctors came. You may imagine what they thought of poor Keller, when
I tell you that they recommended me to write instantly to Fritz in London
summoning him to his father's bedside. I was just in time to catch the
special mail which left this morning. Don't blame me, David. I could not
feel absolutely sure of the new medicine; and, with time of such terrible
importance, and London so far off, I was really afraid to miss a post."

I was far from blaming him--and I said so. In his place I should have
done what he did. We arranged that I should write to Fritz by that
night's mail, on the chance that my announcement of the better news might
reach him before he left London.

"My letter despatched," Mr. Engelman continued, "I begged both the
doctors to speak with me before they went away, in my private room. There
I told them, in the plainest words I could find, exactly what I have told
you. Doctor Dormann behaved like a gentleman. He said, 'Let me see the
lady, and speak to her myself, before the new remedy is tried.' As for
the other, what do you think he did? Walked out of the house (the old
brute!) and declined any further attendance on the patient. And who do
you think followed him out of the house, David, when I sent for Madame
Fontaine? Another old brute--Mother Barbara!"

After what I had seen myself of the housekeeper's temper on the previous
evening, this last piece of news failed to surprise me. To be stripped of
her authority as nurse in favor of a stranger, and that stranger a
handsome lady, was an aggravation of the wrong which Mother Barbara had
contemplated, when she threatened us with the alternative of leaving the
house.

"Well," Mr. Engelman resumed, "Doctor Dormann asked his questions, and
smelt and tasted the medicine, and with Madame Fontaine's full approval
took away a little of it to be analyzed. That came to nothing! The
medicine kept its own secret. All the ingredients but two set analysis at
defiance! In the meantime we gave the first dose. Half an hour since we
tried the second. You have seen the result with your own eyes. She has
saved his life, David, and we have you to thank for it. But for you we
might never have known Madame Fontaine."

The door opened as he spoke, and I found myself confronted by a second
surprise. Minna came in, wearing a cook's apron, and asked if her mother
had rung for her yet. Under the widow's instructions, she was preparing
the peculiar vegetable diet which had been prescribed by Doctor Fontaine
as part of the cure. The good girl was eager to make herself useful to us
in any domestic capacity. What a charming substitute for the crabbed old
housekeeper who had just left us!

So here were Madame Fontaine and Minna actually established as inmates
under the same roof with Mr. Keller! What would Fritz think, when he knew
of it? What would Mr. Keller say when he recognized his nurse, and when
he heard that she had saved his life? "All's well that ends well" is a
good proverb. But we had not got as far as that yet. The question in our
case was, _How_ will it end?



CHAPTER XX

When, late that night, I entered my bedroom again, how I blessed the
lucky accident of my six hours' sleep, after a night's watching at Mr.
Keller's bedside!

If I had spoken to Doctor Dormann as I had positively resolved to speak,
he would, beyond all doubt, have forbidden the employment of Madame
Fontaine's remedy; Mr. Keller would have died; and the innocent woman who
had saved his life would have been suspected, perhaps even tried, on a
charge of murdering him. I really trembled when I looked back on the
terrible consequences which must have followed, if I had succeeded that
morning in keeping myself awake.

The next day, the doses of the wonderful medicine were renewed at the
regular intervals; and the prescribed vegetable diet was carefully
administered. On the day after, the patient was so far advanced on the
way to recovery, that the stopper of the dark-blue bottle was permanently
secured again under its leather guard. Mr. Engelman told me that nearly
two doses of it were still left at the bottom. He also mentioned, on my
asking to look at it again, that the widow had relieved him of the care
of the bottle, and had carefully locked it up in her own room.

Late on this day also, the patient being well-enough to leave his bed and
to occupy the armchair in his room, the inevitable disclosure took place;
and Madame Fontaine stood revealed in the character of the Good Samaritan
who had saved Mr. Keller's life.

By Doctor Dormann's advice, those persons only were permitted to enter
the bedroom whose presence was absolutely necessary. Besides Madame
Fontaine and the doctor himself, Mr. Engelman and Minna were the other
witnesses of the scene. Mr. Engelman had his claim to be present as an
old friend; and Minna was to be made useful, at her mother's suggestion,
as a means of gently preparing Mr. Keller's mind for the revelation that
was to come. Under these circumstances, I can only describe what took
place, by repeating the little narrative with which Minna favored me,
after she had left the room.

"We arranged that I should wait downstairs," she said, "until I heard the
bedroom bell ring--and then I myself was to take up Mr. Keller's dinner
of lentils and cream, and put it on his table without saying a word."

"Exactly like a servant!" I exclaimed.

Gentle sweet-tempered Minna answered my foolish interruption with her
customary simplicity and good sense.

"Why not?" she asked. "Fritz's father may one day be my father; and I am
happy to be of the smallest use to him, whenever he wants me. Well, when
I went in, I found him in his chair, with the light let into the room,
and with plenty of pillows to support him. Mr. Engelman and the doctor
were on either side of him; and poor dear mamma was standing back in a
corner behind the bed, where he could not see her. He looked up at me,
when I came in with my tray. 'Who's this?' he asked of Mr. Engelman--'is
she a new servant?' Mr. Engelman, humoring him, answered, 'Yes.' 'A
nice-looking girl,' he said; 'but what does Mother Barbara say to her?'
Upon this, Mr. Engelman told him how the housekeeper had left her place
and why. As soon as he had recovered his surprise, he looked at me again.
'But who has been my nurse?' he inquired; 'surely not this young girl?'
'No, no; the young girl's mother has nursed you,' said Mr. Engelman. He
looked at the doctor as he spoke; and the doctor interfered for the first
time. 'She has not only nursed you, sir,' he said; 'I can certify
medically that she has saved your life. Don't excite yourself. You shall
hear exactly how it happened.' In two minutes, he told the whole story,
so clearly and beautifully that it was quite a pleasure to hear him. One
thing only he concealed--the name. 'Who is she?' Mr. Keller cried out.
'Why am I not allowed to express my gratitude? Why isn't she here?' 'She
is afraid to approach you, sir,' said the doctor; 'you have a very bad
opinion of her.' 'A bad opinion,' Mr. Keller repeated, 'of a woman I
don't know? Who is the slanderer who has said that of me?' The doctor
signed to Mr. Engelman to answer. 'Speak plainly,' he whispered, behind
the chair. Mr. Engelman did speak plainly. 'Pardon me, my dear Keller,
there is no slanderer in this matter. Your own action has spoken for you.
A short time since--try if you cannot remember it yourself--a lady sent a
letter to you; and you sent the letter back to her, refusing to read it.
Do you know how she has returned the insult? That noble creature is the
woman to whom you owe your life.' When he had said those words, the
doctor crossed the room, and returned again to Mr. Keller, leading my
mother by the hand."

Minna's voice faltered; she stopped at the most interesting part of her
narrative.

"What did Mr. Keller say?" I asked.

"There was silence in the room," Minna answered softly. "I heard nothing
except the ticking of the clock."

"But you must have seen something?"

"No, David. I couldn't help it--I was crying. After a while, my mother
put her arm round me and led me to Mr. Keller. I dried my eyes as well as
I could, and saw him again. His head was bent down on his breast--his
hands hung helpless over the arms of the chair--it was dreadful to see
him so overwhelmed by shame and sorrow! 'What can I do?' he groaned to
himself. 'God help me, what can I do?' Mamma spoke to him--so sweetly and
so prettily--'You can give this poor girl of mine a kiss, sir; the new
servant who has waited on you is my daughter Minna.' He looked up
quickly, and drew me to him. 'I can make but one atonement, my dear,' he
said--and then he kissed me, and whispered, 'Send for Fritz.' Oh, don't
ask me to tell you any more, David; I shall only begin crying again--and
I am so happy!"

She left me to write to Fritz by that night's post. I tried vainly to
induce her to wait a little. We had no electric telegraphs at our
disposal, and we were reduced to guessing at events. But there was
certainly a strong probability that Fritz might have left London
immediately on the receipt of Mr. Engelman's letter, announcing that his
father was dangerously ill. In this case, my letter, despatched by the
next mail to relieve his anxiety, would be left unopened in London; and
Fritz might be expected to arrive (if he traveled without stopping) in
the course of the next day or two. I put this reasonable view of the
matter to Minna, and received a thoroughly irrational and womanly reply.

"I don't care, David; I shall write to him, for all that."

"Why?"

"Because I like writing to him.

"What! whether he receives your letter or not?"

"Whether he receives it or not," she answered saucily, "I shall have the
pleasure of writing to him--that is all I want."

She covered four pages of note-paper, and insisted on posting them
herself.

The next morning Mr. Keller was able, with my help and Mr. Engelman's, to
get downstairs to the sitting-room. We were both with him, when Madame
Fontaine came in.

"Well," he asked, "have you brought it with you?"

She handed to him a sealed envelope, and then turned to explain herself
to me.

"The letter that you put on Mr. Keller's desk," she said pleasantly.
"This time, David, I act as my own postman--at Mr. Keller's request."

In her place, I should certainly have torn it up. To keep it, on the bare
chance of its proving to be of some use in the future, seemed to imply
either an excessive hopefulness or an extraordinary foresight, on the
widow's part. Without in the least comprehending my own state of mind, I
felt that she had, in some mysterious way, disappointed me by keeping
that letter. As a matter of course, I turned to leave the room, and Mr.
Engelman (from a similar motive of delicacy) followed me to the door. Mr.
Keller called us both back.

"Wait, if you please," he said, "until I have read it."

Madame Fontaine was looking out of the window. It was impossible for us
to discover whether she approved of our remaining in the room or not.

Mr. Keller read the closely written pages with the steadiest attention.
He signed to the widow to approach him, and took her hand when he had
arrived at the last words.

"Let me ask your pardon," he said, "in the presence of my partner and in
the presence of David Glenney, who took charge of your letter. Madame
Fontaine, I speak the plain truth, in the plainest words, when I tell you
that I am ashamed of myself."

She dropped on her knees before him, and entreated him to say no more.
Mr. Engelman looked at her, absorbed in admiration. Perhaps it was the
fault of my English education--I thought the widow's humility a little
overdone. What Mr. Keller's opinion might be, he kept to himself. He
merely insisted on her rising, and taking a chair by his side.

"To say that I believe every word of your letter," he resumed, "is only
to do you the justice which I have too long delayed. But there is one
passage which I must feel satisfied that I thoroughly understand, if you
will be pleased to give me the assurance of it with your own lips. Am I
right in concluding, from what is here written of your husband's
creditors, that his debts (which have now, in honor, become your debts)
have been all actually _paid_ to the last farthing?"

"To the last farthing!" Madame Fontaine answered, without a moment's
hesitation. "I can show you the receipts, sir, if you like."

"No, madam! I take your word for it--I require nothing more. Your title
to my heart-felt respect is now complete. The slanders which I have
disgraced myself by believing would never have found their way to my
credulity, if they had not first declared you to have ruined your husband
by your debts. I own that I have never been able to divest myself of my
inbred dislike and distrust of people who contract debts which they are
not able to pay. The light manner in which the world is apt to view the
relative positions of debtor and creditor is abhorrent to me. If I
promise to pay a man money, and fail to keep my promise, I am no better
than a liar and a cheat. That always has been, and always will be, _my_
view." He took her hand again as he made that strong declaration. "There
is another bond of sympathy between us," he said warmly; "you think as I
do."

Good Heavens, if Frau Meyer had told me the truth, what would happen when
Madame Fontaine discovered that her promissory note was in the hands of a
stranger--a man who would inexorably present it for payment on the day
when it fell due? I tried to persuade myself that Frau Meyer had _not_
told me the truth. Perhaps I might have succeeded--but for my remembrance
of the disreputable-looking stranger on the door-step, who had been so
curious to know if Madame Fontaine intended to leave her lodgings.



CHAPTER XXI

The next day, my calculation of possibilities in the matter of Fritz
turned out to be correct.

Returning to Main Street, after a short absence from the house, the door
was precipitately opened to me by Minna. Before she could say a word, her
face told me the joyful news. Before I could congratulate her, Fritz
himself burst headlong into the hall, and made one of his desperate
attempts at embracing me. This time I succeeded (being the shorter man of
the two) in slipping through his arms in the nick of time.

"Do you want to kiss _me,"_ I exclaimed, "when Minna is in the house!"

"I have been kissing Minna," Fritz answered with perfect gravity, until
we are both of us out of breath. "I look upon you as a sort of
safety-valve."

At this, Minna's charming face became eloquent in another way. I only
waited to ask for news of my aunt before I withdrew. Mrs. Wagner was
already on the road to Frankfort, following Fritz by easy stages.

"And where is Jack Straw?" I inquired.

"Traveling with her," said Fritz.

Having received this last extraordinary piece of intelligence, I put off
all explanations until a fitter opportunity, and left the lovers together
until dinner-time.

It was one of the last fine days of the autumn. The sunshine tempted me
to take a turn in Mr. Engelman's garden.

A shrubbery of evergreens divided the lawn near the house from the
flower-beds which occupied the further extremity of the plot of ground.
While I was on one side of the shrubbery, I heard the voices of Mr.
Keller and Madame Fontaine on the other side. Then, and then only, I
remembered that the doctor had suggested a little walking exercise for
the invalid, while the sun was at its warmest in the first hours of the
afternoon. Madame Fontaine was in attendance, in the absence of Mr.
Engelman, engaged in the duties of the office.

I had just turned back again towards the house, thinking it better not to
disturb them, when I heard my name on the widow's lips. Better men than
I, under stress of temptation, have been known to commit actions unworthy
of them. I was mean enough to listen; and I paid the proverbial penalty
for gratifying my curiosity--I heard no good of myself.

"You have honored me by asking my advice, sir," I heard Madame Fontaine
say. "With regard to young David Glenney, I can speak quite impartially.
In a few days more, if I can be of no further use to you, I shall have
left the house."

Mr. Keller interrupted her there.

"Pardon me, Madame Fontaine; I can't let you talk of leaving us. We are
without a housekeeper, as you know. You will confer a favor on me and on
Mr. Engelman, if you will kindly undertake the direction of our domestic
affairs--for the present, at least. Besides, your charming daughter is
the light of our household. What will Fritz say, if you take her away
just when he has come home? No! no! you and Minna must stay with us."

"You are only too good to me, sir! Perhaps I had better ascertain what
Mr. Engelman's wishes are, before we decide?"

Mr. Keller laughed--and, more extraordinary still, Mr. Keller made a
little joke.

"My dear madam, if you don't know what Mr. Engelman's wishes are likely
to be, without asking him, you are the most unobservant lady that ever
lived! Speak to him, by all means, if you think it formally
necessary--and let us return to the question of taking David Glenney into
our office here. A letter which he has lately received from Mrs. Wagner
expresses no intention of recalling him to London--and he has managed so
cleverly in a business matter which I confided to him, that he would
really be an acquisition to us. Besides (until the marriage takes place),
he would be a companion for Fritz."

"That is exactly where I feel a difficulty," Madame Fontaine replied. "To
my mind, sir, Mr. David is not at all a desirable companion for your son.
The admirable candor and simplicity of Fritz's disposition might suffer
by association with a person of Mr. David's very peculiar character."

"May I ask, Madame Fontaine, in what you think his character peculiar?"

"I will endeavor to express what I feel, sir. You have spoken of his
cleverness. I venture to say that he is _too_ clever And I have observed
that he is--for a young man--far too easily moved to suspect others. Do I
make myself understood?"

"Perfectly. Pray go on."

"I find, Mr. Keller, that there is something of the Jesuit about our
young friend. He has a way of refining on trifles, and seeing under the
surface, where nothing is to be seen. Don't attach too much importance to
what I say! It is quite likely that I am influenced by the popular
prejudice against 'old heads on young shoulders.' At the same time, I
confess I wouldn't keep him here, if I were in your place. Shall we move
a little further on?"

Madame Fontaine was, I daresay, perfectly right in her estimate of me.
Looking back at the pages of this narrative, I discover some places in
which I certainly appear to justify her opinion. I even justified it at
the time. Before she and Mr. Keller were out of my hearing, I began to
see "under the surface," and "to refine" on what she had said.

Was it Jesuitical to doubt the disinterestedness of her advice? I did
doubt it. Was it Jesuitical to suspect that she privately distrusted me,
and had reasons of her own for keeping me out of her way, at the safe
distance of London? I did suspect it.

And yet she was such a good Christian! And yet she had so nobly and so
undeniably saved Mr. Keller's life! What right had I to impute
self-seeking motives to such a woman as this? Mean! mean! there was no
excuse for me.

I turned back to the house, with my head feeling very old on my young
shoulders.

Madame Fontaine's manner to me was so charming, when we all met at the
dinner-table, that I fell into a condition of remorseful silence.
Fortunately, Fritz took most of the talking on himself, and the general
attention was diverted from me. His high spirits, his boisterous
nonsense, his contempt for all lawful forms and ceremonies which placed
impediments in the way of his speedy marriage, were amusingly contrasted
by Mr. Engelman's courteous simplicity in trying to argue the question
seriously with his reckless young friend.

"Don't talk to me about the customary delays and the parson's duty!"
cried Fritz. "Tell me this: does he do his duty without being paid for
it?"

"We must all live," pleaded good Mr. Engelman; "the parson must pay the
butcher and the baker, like the rest of us."

"That's shirking the question, my dear sir! Will the parson marry Minna
and me, without being paid for it?"

"In all civilized countries, Fritz, there are fees for the performance of
the marriage ceremony."

"Very well. Now follow my train of reasoning, Mr. Engelman! On your own
showing, the whole affair is a matter of money. The parson gets his fee
for making Minna my wife, after the customary delays."

There Minna modestly interposed. "Why do you object to the customary
delays, dear Fritz?"

"I'll tell you, my angel, when we are married. In the meantime, I resume
my train of reasoning, and I entreat Mr. Engelman not to forget that this
is a matter of money. Make it worth the parson's while to marry us,
_without_ the customary delays. Double his fee, treble his fee--give him
ten times his fee. It's merely a question of what his reverence can
resist. My father is a rich man. Favor me with a blank cheque, papa--and
I will make Minna Mrs. Keller before the end of the week!"

The father, hitherto content to listen and be amused, checked the son's
flow of nonsense at this point.

"There is a time for everything, Fritz," he said. "We have had laughing
enough. When you talk of your marriage, I am sorry to observe that you
entirely pass over the consideration which is due to your father's only
surviving relative."

Madame Fontaine laid down her knife and fork as if her dinner had come to
an end. The sudden appearance in the conversation of the "surviving
relative," had evidently taken her by surprise. Mr. Keller, observing
her, turned away from his son, and addressed himself exclusively to the
widow when he spoke next.

"I referred, Madame Fontaine, to my elder sister," he said. "She and I
are the sole survivors of a large family."

"Does the lady live in this city, sir?" the widow inquired.

"No, she still lives in our birthplace--Munich."

"May I ask another question?"

"As many questions, dear madam, as you like."

"Is your sister married?"

"My sister has never been married."

"Not for want of suitors," said courteous Mr. Engelman. "A most majestic
person. Witty and accomplished. Possessed of an enviable little fortune,
entirely at her own disposal."

Mr. Keller gently reproved this latter allusion to the question of money.

"My good friend, Madame Fontaine has a mind above all mercenary
considerations. My sister's place in her esteem and regard will not be
influenced by my sister's fortune, when they meet (as I hope they will
meet) at Fritz's marriage."

At this, Fritz burst into the conversation in his usual headlong way.

"Oh, dear me, papa, have some consideration for us! If we wait for my
aunt, we shall never be married on this side of eternity."

"Fritz!"

"Don't be angry, sir, I meant no harm. I was thinking of my aunt's
asthma. At her age, she will never take the long journey from Munich to
Frankfort. Permit me to offer a suggestion. Let us be married first, and
then pay her a visit in the honeymoon."

Mr. Keller passed his son's suggestion over without notice, and addressed
himself once more to Madame Fontaine.

"I propose writing to my sister in a day or two," he resumed, "to inform
her of the contemplated marriage. She already knows your name through Mr.
Engelman, who kindly wrote to allay her anxiety about my illness."

"And to tell her," Mr. Engelman interposed, "to whose devotion he owes
his recovery."

The widow received this tribute with eyes fixed modestly on her plate.
Her black dress, rising and falling over her bosom, betrayed an
agitation, which her enemies at Wurzburg might have attributed to the
discovery of the rich sister at Munich. Mr. Keller went on--

"I am sure I may trust to your womanly sympathies to understand the
affection which binds me to my last living relative. My sister's presence
at the marriage will be an inexpressible comfort and happiness to me. In
spite of what my son has said (you are sadly given to talking at random,
Fritz), I believe she will not shrink from the journey to Frankfort, if
we only make it easier to her by consulting her health and convenience.
Our young people have all their lives before them--our young people can
wait."

"Certainly, sir."

She gave that short answer very quietly, with her eyes still on her
plate. It was impossible to discover in what frame of mind she viewed the
prospect of delay, involved in Mr. Keller's consideration for his sister.
For the moment, Fritz was simply confounded. He looked at
Minna--recovered himself--and favored his father with another suggestion.

"I have got it now!" he exclaimed. "Why not spare my aunt the fatigue of
the journey? Let us all start for Bavaria to--morrow, and have the
marriage at Munich!"

"And leave the business at Frankfort to take care of itself, at the
busiest time of the year!" his father added ironically. "When you open
your mouth again, Fritz, put food and drink into it--and confine yourself
to that."

With those words the question of the marriage was closed for the time.

When dinner was over, Mr. Keller retired, to take some rest in his own
room. Fritz and his sweetheart left the house together, on an errand in
which they were both equally interested--the purchase of the ring which
was to typify Minna's engagement. Left alone with Mr. Engelman and the
widow, I felt that I might be an obstacle to confidential conversation,
and withdrew to the office. Though not regularly employed as one of the
clerks, I had been admitted to serve as a volunteer, since my return from
Hanau. In this way, I improved my experience of the details of our
business, and I made some small return for the hospitable welcome which I
had received from the two partners.

Half an hour or more had passed, when some papers arrived from the bank,
which required the signature of the firm. Mr. Engelman being still
absent, the head-clerk, at my suggestion, proceeded to the dining-room
with the papers in his charge.

He came back again immediately, looking very much alarmed.

"Pray go into the dining-room!" he said to me. "I am afraid something is
seriously wrong with Mr. Engelman.

"Do you mean that he is ill?" I asked.

"I can hardly say. His arms are stretched out on the table, and his face
is hidden on them. He paid no attention to me. I am almost afraid he was
crying."

Crying? I had left him in excellent spirits, casting glances of the
tenderest admiration at Madame Fontaine. Without waiting to hear more, I
ran to the dining-room.

He was alone--in the position described by the clerk--and, poor old man,
he was indeed weeping bitterly! I put my hand with all possible
gentleness on his shoulder, and said, with the tenderness that I really
felt for him: "Dear Mr. Engelman, what has happened to distress you?"

At the sound of my voice he looked up, and caught me fervently by the
hand.

"Stay here with me a little while, David," he said. "I have got my
death-blow."

I sat down by him directly. "Try and tell me what has happened," I went
on. "I left you here with Madame Fontaine----"

His tears suddenly ceased; his hand closed convulsively on mine. "Don't
speak of her," he cried, with an outburst of anger. "You were right about
her, David. She is a false woman." As the words passed his lips, he
changed again. His voice faltered; he seemed to be frightened by his own
violent language. "Oh, what am I talking about! what right have I to say
that of her! I am a brute--I am reviling the best of women. It was all my
fault, David--I have acted like a madman, like a fool. Oh, my boy! my
boy!--would you believe it?--I asked her to marry me!"

It is needless to say that I wanted no further explanation. "Did she
encourage you to ask her?" I inquired.

"I thought she did, David--I thought I would be clever and seize the
opportunity. She said she wanted to consult me. She said: 'Mr. Keller has
asked me to stay here, and keep house for you; I have not given my answer
yet, I have waited to know if you approved it.' Upon that, I said the
rash words. I asked her to be more than our housekeeper--to be my wife. I
am naturally stupid," said the poor simple gentleman; "whenever I try to
do anything clever I always fail. She was very forbearing with me at
first; she said No, but she said it considerately, as if she felt for me.
I presumed on her kindness, like a fool; I couldn't help it, David, I was
so fond of her. I pressed her to say why she refused me. I was mad enough
to ask if there was some other man whom she preferred. Oh, she said some
hard things to me in her anger! And, worse still, when I went down on my
knees to her, she said, 'Get up, you old fool!'--and laughed--and left
me. Take me away somewhere, David; I am too old to get over it, if I stay
here. I can never see her or speak to her again. Take me to England with
you--and, oh, don't tell Keller!"

He burst into another fit of tears. It was dreadful to see and hear him.

I tried to think of some consoling words. Before I could give expression
to my thought, the door of the room was gently opened; and Madame
Fontaine herself stood before us. Her eyes looked at Mr. Engelman from
under their heavy lids, with a quiet and scornful compassion. The poor
wretch was of no further use to her. Quite needless to be on her best
behavior with him now!

"There is not the least occasion, sir, to disturb yourself," she said.
"It is _my_ duty to leave the house--and I will do it."

Without waiting to be answered, she turned back to the door, and left us.



CHAPTER XXII

"For heaven's sake, sir, allow me to go!"

"On no account, Madame Fontaine. If you won't remain here, in justice to
yourself, remain as a favor to me."

When I opened my bedroom door the next morning, the widow and Mr. Keller
were on the landing outside, and those were the words exchanged between
them.

Mr. Keller approached, and spoke to me.

"What do you know, David, about the disappearance of Mr. Engelman?"

"Disappearance?" I repeated. "I was with him yesterday evening--and I
bade him good-night in his own room."

"He must have left the house before the servants were up this morning,"
said Mr. Keller. "Read that."

He handed me a morsel of paper with writing on it in pencil:--

"Forgive me, dear friend and partner, for leaving you without saying
good-bye; also for burdening you with the direction of business, before
you are perhaps strong enough to accept the charge. My mind is in such a
state of confusion that I should be worse than useless in the office.
While I write this, my poor weak head burns as if there was fire in it. I
cannot face _her,_ I cannot face _you_--I must go, before I lose all
control over myself. Don't attempt to trace me. If change and absence
restore me to myself I will return. If not, a man at my age and in my
state of mind is willing to die. Please tell Madame Fontaine that I ask
her pardon with all my heart. Good-bye--and God bless and prosper you."

I was unaffectedly distressed. There was something terrible in this
sudden break-up of poor Engelman's harmless life--something cruel and
shocking in the passion of love fixing its relentless hold on an innocent
old man, fast nearing the end of his days. There are hundreds of examples
of this deplorable anomaly in real life; and yet, when we meet with it in
our own experience, we are always taken by surprise, and always ready to
express doubt or derision when we hear of it in the experience of others.

Madame Fontaine behaved admirably. She sat down on the window-seat at the
end of the landing, and wrung her hands with a gesture of despair.

"Oh!" she said, "if he had asked me for anything else! If I could have
made any other sacrifice to him! God knows I never dreamed of it; I never
gave him the smallest encouragement. We might have all been so happy
together here--and I, who would have gone to the world's end to serve Mr.
Keller and Mr. Engelman, I am the unhappy creature who has broken up the
household!"

Mr. Keller was deeply affected. He sat down on the window-seat by Madame
Fontaine.

"My dear, dear lady," he said, "you are entirely blameless in this
matter. Even my unfortunate partner feels it, and asks your pardon. If
inquiries can discover him, they shall be set on foot immediately. In the
meantime, let me entreat you to compose yourself. Engelman has perhaps
done wisely, to leave us for a time. He will get over his delusion, and
all may be well yet."

I went downstairs, not caring to hear more. All my sympathies, I confess,
were with Mr. Engelman--though he _was_ a fat simple old man. Mr. Keller
seemed to me (here is more of the "old head on young shoulders!") to have
gone from one extreme to the other. He had begun by treating the widow
with unbecoming injustice; and he was now flattering her with
unreasonable partiality.

For the next few days there was tranquillity, if not happiness, in the
house. Mr. Keller wrote to his sister in Munich, inviting her to mention
the earliest date at which it might suit her convenience to be present at
the marriage of his son. Madame Fontaine assumed the regular management
of our domestic affairs. Fritz and Minna found sufficient attraction in
each other's society. The new week was just beginning, and our inquiries
after Mr. Engelman had thus far led to no result--when I received a
letter containing news of the fugitive, confided to me under strict
reserve.

The writer of the letter proved to be a married younger brother of Mr.
Engelman, residing at Bingen, on the Rhine.

"I write to you, dear sir, at my brother's request. My wife and I are
doing all that we can to relieve and comfort him, but his mind has not
yet sufficiently recovered to enable him to write to you himself. He
desires to thank you heartily for your sympathy, at the most trying
period of his life; and he trusts to your kindness to let him hear, from
time to time, of Mr. Keller's progress towards recovery, and of the
well-being of the business. In addressing your letters to me at Bingen,
you will be pleased to consider the information of my brother's
whereabouts herein afforded to you as strictly confidential, until you
hear from me to the contrary. In his present frame of mind, it would be
in the last degree painful to him to be made the subject of inquiries,
remonstrances, or entreaties to return."

The arrival of this sad news proved to be not the only noteworthy event
of the day. While I was still thinking of poor Mr. Engelman, Fritz came
into the office with his hat in his hand.

"Minna is not in very good spirits this morning," he said. "I am going to
take her out for half an hour to look at the shops. Can you come with
us?"

This invitation rather surprised me. "Does Minna wish it?" I asked.

Fritz dropped his voice so that the clerks in the room could not hear his
reply. "Minna has sent me to you," he answered. "She is uneasy about her
mother. I can make nothing of it--and she wants to ask your advice."

It was impossible for me to leave my desk at that moment. We arranged to
put off the walk until after dinner. During the meal, I observed that not
Minna only, but her mother also, appeared to be out of spirits. Mr.
Keller and Fritz probably noticed the change as I did. We were all of us
more silent than usual. It was a relief so find myself with the lovers,
out in the cheerful street.

Minna seemed to want to be encouraged before she could speak to me. I was
obliged to ask in plain words if anything had happened to annoy her
mother and herself.

"I hardly know how to tell you," she said. "I am very unhappy about my
mother."

"Begin at the beginning," Fritz suggested; "tell him where you went, and
what happened yesterday."

Minna followed her instructions. "Mamma and I went to our lodgings
yesterday," she began. "We had given notice to leave when it was settled
we were to live in Mr. Keller's house. The time was nearly up; and there
were some few things still left at the apartments, which we could carry
away in our hands. Mamma, who speaks considerately to everybody, said she
hoped the landlady would soon let the rooms again. The good woman
answered: 'I don't quite know, madam, whether I have not let them
already.'--Don't you think that rather a strange reply?"

"It seems to require some explanation, certainly. What did the landlady
say?"

"The landlady's explanation explained nothing," Fritz interposed. "She
appears to have spoken of a mysterious stranger, who had once before
inquired if Madame Fontaine was likely to leave the lodgings--and who
came yesterday to inquire again. You tell him the rest of it, Minna."

Before she could speak, I had already recognized the suspicious-looking
personage whom Mr. Engelman and I had some time since encountered on the
door-step. I inquired what the man had said when he heard that the
lodgings were to let.

"There is the suspicious part of it," cried Fritz. "Be very particular,
Minna, to leave nothing out."

Fritz's interruptions seemed only to confuse Minna. I begged him to be
silent, and did my best to help her to find the lost thread of her story.

"Did the man ask to see the lodgings?" I said.

"No."

"Did he talk of taking the lodgings?"

"He said he wished to have the refusal of them until the evening," Minna
replied; "and then he asked if Madame Fontaine had left Frankfort. When
the landlady said No, he had another question ready directly. He wanted
to know in what part of Frankfort Madame Fontaine was now living."

"And the old fool of a landlady actually told him the address," said
Fritz, interrupting again.

"And, I am afraid, did some serious mischief by her folly," Minna added.
"I saw mamma start and turn pale. She said to the landlady, 'How long ago
did this happen?' 'About half an hour ago,' the landlady answered. 'Which
way did he turn when he left you--towards Mr. Keller's house or the other
way?' The landlady said, 'Towards Mr. Keller's house.' Without another
word, mamma took me by the arm. 'It's time we were home again,' she
said--and we went back at once to the house."

"You were too late, of course, to find the man there?"

"Yes, David--but we heard of him. Mamma asked Joseph if anyone had called
while we were out. Joseph said a stranger had called, and had inquired if
Madame Fontaine was at home. Hearing that she was out, he had said, 'I
think I had better write to her. She is here for a short time only, I
believe?' And innocent Joseph answered, 'Oh, dear no! Madame Fontaine is
Mr. Keller's new housekeeper.' 'Well?' mamma asked, 'and what did he say
when he heard that?' 'He said nothing,' Joseph answered, 'and went away
directly.'"

"Was that all that passed between your mother and Joseph?"

"All," Minna replied. "My mother wouldn't even let me speak to her. I
only tried to say a few words of sympathy--and I was told sharply to be
silent. 'Don't interrupt me,' she said, 'I want to write a letter.'"

"Did you see the letter?"

"Oh, no! But I was so anxious and uneasy that I did peep over her
shoulder while she was writing the address."

"Do you remember what it was?"

"I only saw the last word on it. The last word was 'Wurzburg.'"

"Now you know as much as we do," Fritz resumed. "How does it strike you,
David? And what do you advise?"

How could I advise? I could only draw my own conclusions privately.
Madame Fontaine's movements were watched by somebody; possibly in the
interests of the stranger who now held the promissory note. It was, of
course, impossible for me to communicate this view of the circumstances
to either of my two companions. I could only suggest a patient reliance
on time, and the preservation of discreet silence on Minna's part, until
her mother set the example of returning to the subject.

My vaguely-prudent counsels were, naturally enough, not to the taste of
my young hearers. Fritz openly acknowledged that I had disappointed him;
and Minna turned aside her head, with a look of reproach. Her quick
perception had detected, in my look and manner, that I was keeping my
thoughts to myself. Neither she nor Fritz made any objection to my
leaving them, to return to the office before post-time. I wrote to Mr.
Engelman before I left my desk that evening.

Recalling those memorable days of my early life, I remember that a
strange and sinister depression pervaded our little household, from the
time when Mr. Engelman left us.

In some mysterious way the bonds of sympathy, by which we had been
hitherto more or less united, seemed to slacken and fall away. We lived
on perfectly good terms with one another; but there was an unrecognized
decrease of confidence among us, which I for one felt sometimes almost
painfully. An unwholesome atmosphere of distrust enveloped us. Mr. Keller
only believed, under reserve, that Madame Fontaine's persistent low
spirits were really attributable, as she said, to nothing more important
than nervous headaches. Fritz began to doubt whether Mr. Keller was
really as well satisfied as he professed to be with the choice that his
son had made of a portionless bride. Minna, observing that Fritz was
occasionally rather more subdued and silent than usual, began to ask
herself whether she was quite as dear to him, in the time of their
prosperity, as in the time of their adversity. To sum up all, Madame
Fontaine had her doubts of me--and I had my doubts (although she _had_
saved Mr. Keller's life) of Madame Fontaine.

From this degrading condition of dullness and distrust, we were roused,
one morning, by the happy arrival of Mrs. Wagner, attended by her maid,
her courier--and Jack Straw.



CHAPTER XXIII

Circumstances had obliged my aunt to perform the last stage of her
journey to Frankfort by the night mail. She had only stopped at our house
on her way to the hotel; being unwilling to trespass on the hospitality
of her partners, while she was accompanied by such a half-witted fellow
as Jack. Mr. Keller, however, refused even to hear of the head partner in
the business being reduced to accept a mercenary welcome at an hotel. One
whole side of the house, situated immediately over the offices, had been
already put in order in anticipation of Mrs. Wagner's arrival. The
luggage was then and there taken off the carriage; and my aunt was
obliged, by all the laws of courtesy and good fellowship, to submit.

This information was communicated to me by Joseph, on my return from an
early visit to one of our warehouses at the riverside. When I asked if I
could see my aunt, I was informed that she had already retired to rest in
her room, after the fatigue of a seven hours' journey by night.

"And where is Jack Straw?" I asked.

"Playing the devil already, sir, with the rules of the house," Joseph
answered.

Fritz's voice hailed me from the lower regions.

"Come down, David; here's something worth seeing!"

I descended at once to the servants' offices. There, crouched up in a
corner of the cold stone corridor which formed the medium of
communication between the kitchen and the stairs, I saw Jack Straw
again--in the very position in which I had found him at Bedlam; excepting
the prison, the chains, and the straw.

But for his prematurely gray hair and the strange yellow pallor of his
complexion, I doubt if I should have recognized him again. He looked fat
and happy; he was neatly and becomingly dressed, with a flower in his
button-hole and rosettes on his shoes. In one word, so far as his costume
was concerned, he might have been taken for a lady's page, dressed under
the superintendence of his mistress herself.

"There he is!" said Fritz, "and there he means to remain, till your aunt
wakes and sends for him."

"Upsetting the women servants, on their way to their work," Joseph added,
with an air of supreme disgust--"and freezing in that cold corner, when
he might be sitting comfortably by the kitchen fire!"

Jack listened to this with an ironical expression of approval. "That's
very well said, Joseph," he remarked. "Come here; I want to speak to you.
Do you see that bell?" He pointed to a row of bells running along the
upper wall of the corridor, and singled out one of them which was
numbered ten. "They tell me that's the bell of Mistress's bedroom," he
resumed, still speaking of my aunt by the name which he had first given
to her on the day when they met in the madhouse. "Very well, Joseph! I
don't want to be in anybody's way; but no person in the house must see
that bell ring before me. Here I stay till Mistress rings--and then you
will get rid of me; I shall move to the mat outside her door, and wait
till she whistles for me. Now you may go. That's a poor half-witted
creature," he said as Joseph retired. "Lord! what a lot of them there are
in this world!" Fritz burst out laughing. "I'm afraid you're another of
them," said Jack, looking at him with an expression of the sincerest
compassion.

"Do you remember me?" I asked.

Jack nodded his head in a patronizing way. "Oh, yes--Mistress has been
talking of you. I know you both. You're David, and he's Fritz. All right!
all right!"

"What sort of journey from London have you had?" I inquired next.

He stretched out his shapely little arms and legs, and yawned. "Oh, a
pretty good journey. We should have been better without the courier and
the maid. The courier is a tall man. I have no opinion of tall men. I am
a man myself of five foot--that's the right height for a courier. I could
have done all the work, and saved Mistress the money. Her maid is another
tall person; clumsy with her fingers. I could dress Mistress's hair a
deal better than the maid, if she would only let me. The fact is, I want
to do everything for her myself. I shall never be quite happy till I'm
the only servant she has about her."

"Ah, yes," said Fritz, good-naturedly sympathizing with him. "You're a
grateful little man; you remember what Mrs. Wagner has done for you."

"Remember?" Jack reported scornfully. "I say, if you can't talk more
sensibly than that, you had better hold your tongue." He turned and
appealed to me. "Did you ever hear anything like Fritz? He seems to think
it wonderful that I remember the day when she took me out of Bedlam!"

"Ah, Jack, that was a great day in your life, wasn't it?"

"A great day? Oh, good Lord in Heaven! where are there words that are big
enough to speak about it?" He sprang to his feet, wild with the sudden
tumult of his own recollections. "The sun--the warm, golden, glorious,
beautiful sun--met us when we came out of the gates, and all but drove me
stark-staring-mad with the joy of it! Forty thousand devils--little
straw-colored, lively, tempting devils--(mind, I counted them!)--all
crawled over me together. They sat on my shoulders--and they tickled my
hands--and they scrambled in my hair--and they were all in one cry at me
like a pack of dogs. 'Now, Jack! we are waiting for you; your chains are
off, and the sun's shining, and Mistress's carriage is at the gate--join
us, Jack, in a good yell; a fine, tearing, screeching, terrifying, mad
yell!' I dropped on my knees, down in the bottom of the carriage; and I
held on by the skirts of Mistress's dress. 'Look at me!' I said; 'I won't
burst out; I won't frighten you, if I die for it. Only help me with your
eyes! only look at me!' And she put me on the front seat of the carriage,
opposite her, and she never took her eyes off me all the way through the
streets till we got to the house. 'I believe in you, Jack,' she said. And
I wouldn't even open my lips to answer her--I was so determined to be
quiet. Ha! ha! how you two fellows would have yelled, in my place!" He
sat down again in his corner, delighted with his own picture of the two
fellows who would have yelled in his place.

"And what did Mistress do with you when she brought you home?" I asked.

His gaiety suddenly left him. He lifted one of his hands, and waved it to
and fro gently in the air.

"You are too loud, David," he said. "All this part of it must be spoken
softly--because all this part of it is beautiful, and kind, and good.
There was a picture in the room, of angels and their harps. I wish I had
the angels and the harps to help me tell you about it. Fritz there came
in with us, and called it a bedroom. I knew better than that; I called it
Heaven. You see, I thought of the prison and the darkness and the cold
and the chains and the straw--and I named it Heaven. You two may say what
you please; Mistress said I was right."

He closed his eyes with a luxurious sense of self-esteem, and appeared to
absorb himself in his own thoughts. Fritz unintentionally roused him by
continuing the story of Jack's introduction to the bedroom.

"Our little friend," Fritz began confidentially, "did the strangest
things when he found himself in his new room. It was a cold day; and he
insisted on letting the fire out. Then he looked at the bedclothes,
and----"

Jack solemnly opened his eyes again, and stopped the narrative at that
point.

"You are not the right person to speak of it," he said. "Nobody must
speak of it but a person who understands me. You shan't be disappointed,
David. I understand myself--_I'll_ tell you about it. You saw what sort
of place I lived in and slept in at the madhouse, didn't you?"

"I saw it, Jack--and I can never forget it."

"Now just think of my having a room, to begin with. And add, if you
please, a fire--and a light--and a bed--and blankets and sheets and
pillows--and clothes, splendid new clothes, for Me! And then ask yourself
if any man could bear it, all pouring on him at once (not an hour after
he had left Bedlam), without going clean out of his senses and screeching
for joy? No, no. If I have a quality, it's profound common sense. Down I
went on my knees before her again! 'If you have any mercy on me,
Mistress, let me have all this by a bit at a time. Upon my soul, I can't
swallow it at once!' She understood me. We let the fire out--and
surprised that deficient person, Fritz. A little of the Bedlam cold kept
me nice and quiet. The bed that night if you like--but Heaven defend me
from the blankets and the sheets and the pillows till I'm able to bear
them! And as to putting on coat, waistcoat, and breeches, all together,
the next morning--it was as much as I could do, when I saw myself in my
breeches, to give the word of command in the voice of a gentleman--'Away
with the rest of them! The shirt for to-morrow, the waistcoat for next
day, and the coat--if I can bear the sight of it without screaming--the
day after!' A gradual process, you see, David. And every morning Mistress
helped me by saying the words she said in the carriage, 'I believe in
you, Jack.' You ask her, when she gets up, if I ever once frightened her,
from the day when she took me home." He looked again, with undiminished
resentment, at Fritz. _"Now_ do you understand what I did when I got into
my new room? Is Fritz in the business, David? He'll want a deal of
looking after if he is. Just step this way--I wish to speak to you."

He got up again, and taking my arm with a look of great importance, led
me a few steps away--but not far enough to be out of sight of my aunt's
bell.

"I say," he began, "I've heard they call this place Frankfort. Am I
right?"

"Quite right!"

"And there's a business here, like the business in London?"

"Certainly."

"And Mistress _is_ Mistress here, like she is in London?"

"Yes."

"Very well, then, I want to know something. What about the Keys?"

I looked at him, entirely at a loss to understand what this last question
meant. He stamped his foot impatiently.

"Do you mean to say, David, you have never heard what situation I held in
the London office?"

"Never, Jack!"

He drew himself up and folded his arms, and looked at me from the
immeasurable height of his own superiority.

"I was Keeper of the Keys in London!" he announced. "And what I want to
know is--Am I to be Keeper of the Keys here?"

It was now plain enough that my aunt--proceeding on the wise plan of
always cultivating the poor creature's sense of responsibility--had given
him some keys to take care of, and had put him on his honor to be worthy
of his little trust. I could not doubt that she would find some means of
humoring him in the same way at Frankfort.

"Wait till the bells rings," I answered "and perhaps you will find the
Keys waiting for you in Mistress' room."

He rubbed his hands in delight. "That's it!" he said. "Let's keep watch
on the bell."

As he turned to go back again to his corner, Madame Fontaine's voice
reached us from the top of the kitchen stairs. She was speaking to her
daughter. Jack stopped directly and waited, looking round at the stairs.

"Where is the other person who came here with Mrs. Wagner?" the widow
asked. "A man with an odd English name. Do you know, Minna, if they have
found a room for him?"

She reached the lower stair as she spoke--advanced along the
corridor--and discovered Jack Straw. In an instant, her languid
indifferent manner disappeared. Her eyes opened wildly under their heavy
lids. She stood motionless, like a woman petrified by surprise--perhaps
by terror.

"Hans Grimm!" I heard her say to herself. "God in heaven! what brings
_him_ here?"



CHAPTER XXIV

Almost instantaneously Madame Fontaine recovered her self-control.

"I really couldn't help feeling startled," she said, explaining herself
to Fritz and to me. "The last time I saw this man, he was employed in a
menial capacity at the University of Wurzburg. He left us one day, nobody
knew why. And he suddenly appears again, without a word of warning, in
this house."

I looked at Jack. A smile of mischievous satisfaction was on his face. He
apparently enjoyed startling Madame Fontaine. His expression changed
instantly for the better, when Minna approached and spoke to him.

"Don't you remember me, Hans?" she said.

"Oh, yes, Missie, I remember you. You are a good creature. You take after
your papa. _He_ was a good creature--except when he had his beastly
medical bottles in his hand. But, I say, I mustn't be called by the name
they gave me at the University! I was a German then--I am an Englishman
now. All nations are alike to me. But I am particular about my name,
because it's the name Mistress knew me by. I will never have another.
'Jack Straw,' if you please. There's my name, and I am proud of it. Lord!
what an ugly little hat you have got on your head! I'll soon make you a
better one." He turned on Madame Fontaine, with a sudden change to
distrust.

"I don't like the way you spoke of my leaving the University, just now. I
had a right to go, if I liked--hadn't I?"

"Oh, yes, Hans."

"Not Hans! Didn't you hear what I mentioned just now? Say Jack."

She said it, with a ready docility which a little surprised me.

"Did I steal anything at the University?" Jack proceeded.

"Not that I know of."

"Then speak respectfully of me, next time. Say, 'Mr. Jack retired from
the University, in the exercise of his discretion.'" Having stated this
formula with an air of great importance, he addressed himself to me. "I
appeal to you," he said. "Suppose you had lost your color here" (he
touched his cheek), "and your color there" (he touched his hair); "and
suppose it had happened at the University--would _you"_ (he stood on
tip-toe, and whispered the next words in my ear) "would _you_ have stopped
there, to be poisoned again? No!" he cried, raising his voice once more,
"you would have drifted away like me. From Germany to France; from France
to England--and so to London, and so under the feet of her Highness's
horses, and so to Bedlam, and so to Mistress. Oh, Lord help me, I'm
forgetting the bell! good-bye, all of you. Let me be in my corner till
the bell rings."

Madame Fontaine glanced at me compassionately, and touched her bead.

"Come to my sitting-room, Jack," she said, "and have something to eat and
drink, and tell me your adventures after you left Wurzburg."

She favored him with her sweetest smile, and spoke in her most
ingratiating tones. That objectionable tendency of mine to easily suspect
others was, I suppose, excited once more. At any rate, I thought the
widow showed a very remarkable anxiety to conciliate Jack. He was proof,
however, against all attempts at fascination--he shook his head
obstinately, and pointed to the bell. We went our several ways, and left
the strange little man crouched up in his corner.

In the afternoon, I was sent for to see my aunt.

I found Jack at his post; established in a large empty wardrobe, on the
landing outside his mistress's door. His fingers were already busy with
the framework of the new straw hat which he had promised to make for
Minna.

"All right, David!" he said, patronizing me as indulgently as ever.
"Mistress has had her good sleep and her nice breakfast, and she looks
lovely. Go in, and see her--go in!"

I thought myself that she looked perhaps a little worn, and certainly
thinner than when I had seen her last. But these were trifles. It is not
easy to describe the sense of relief and pleasure that I felt--after
having been accustomed to the sleepy eyes and serpentine graces of Madame
Fontaine--when I looked again at the lithe active figure and the bright
well-opened gray eyes of my dear little English aunt.

"Tell me, David," she began, as soon as the first greetings were over,
"what do you think of Jack Straw? Was my poor dear husband not right? and
have I not done well to prove it?"

I could, and did, honestly congratulate her on the result of the visit to
Bedlam.

"And now about the people here," she went on. "I find Fritz's father
completely changed on the subject of Fritz's marriage. And when I ask
what it means, I am told that Madame Fontaine has set everything right,
in the most wonderful manner, by saving Mr. Keller's life. Is this true?"

"Quite true. What do you think of Madame Fontaine?"

"Ask me that, David, to-morrow or the next day. My head is muddled by
traveling--I have not made up my mind yet."

"Have you seen Minna?"

"Seen her, and kissed her too! There's a girl after my own heart. I
consider our scatter-brained friend Fritz to be the luckiest young fellow
living."

"If Minna was not going to be married," I suggested, "she would just do
for one of your young-lady clerks, wouldn't she?"

My aunt laughed. "Exactly what I thought myself, when I saw her. But you
are not to make a joke of my young-lady clerks. I am positively
determined to carry out that useful reform in the office here. However,
as Mr. Keller has been so lately ill, and as we are sure to have a fight
about it, I will act considerately towards my opponent--I won't stir in
the matter until he is quite himself again. In the meantime, I must find
somebody, while I am away, to take my place in the London house. The
business is now under the direction of Mr. Hartrey. He is perfectly
competent to carry it on; but, as you know, our excellent head-clerk has
his old--fashioned prejudices. According to strict rule, a partner ought
always to be in command, at the London business--and Hartrey implores me
(if Mr. Keller is not well enough to take the journey) to send Mr.
Engelman to London. Where is Mr. Engelman? How is it that I have neither
heard nor seen anything of him?"

This was a delicate and difficult question to answer--at least, to my way
of thinking. There was little prospect of keeping the poor old
gentleman's sad secret. It was known to Fritz and Minna, as well as to
Mr. Keller. Still, I felt an unconquerable reluctance to be the first
person who revealed the disaster that had befallen him.

"Mr. Engelman is not in good health and spirits," I said. "He has gone
away for a little rest and change."

My aunt looked astonished.

"Both the partners ill!" she exclaimed. "I remember Mr. Engelman, in the
days when I was first married. He used to boast of never having had a
day's illness in his life. Not at all a clever man--but good as gold, and
a far more sensitive person than most people gave him credit for being.
He promised to be fat as years grew on him. Has he kept his promise? What
is the matter with him?"

I hesitated. My aunt eyed me sharply, and put another question before I
had quite made up my mind what to say.

"If you can't tell me what is the matter with him, can you tell me where
he is? I may want to write to him."

I hesitated again. Mr. Engelman's address had been confidentially
communicated to me, for reasons which I was bound to respect. "I am
afraid I can't answer that question either," I said awkwardly enough.

"Good heavens!" cried my aunt, "what does all this mystery mean? Has Mr.
Engelman killed a man in a duel? or run away with an opera-dancer? or
squandered the whole profits of the business at the gambling-table? or
what? As she put these bold views of the case, we heard voices outside,
followed by a gentle knock at the door. Minna entered the room with a
message.

"Mamma has sent me, Mrs. Wagner, to ask at what time you would like to
dine."

"My dear, I am much obliged to your mother. I have only just breakfasted,
and I can wait quite well till supper-time comes. Stop a minute! Here is
my nephew driving me to the utmost verge of human endurance, by making a
mystery of Mr. Engelman's absence from Frankfort. Should I be very
indiscreet if I asked--Good gracious, how the girl blushes! You are
evidently in the secret too, Miss Minna. _Is_ it an opera-dancer? Leave
us together, David."

This made Minna's position simply unendurable. She looked at me
appealingly. I did at last, what I ought to have done at first--I spoke
out plainly.

"The fact is, aunt," I said, "poor Mr. Engelman has left us for awhile,
sadly mortified and distressed. He began by admiring Madame Fontaine; and
he ended in making her an offer of marriage."

"Mamma was indeed truly sorry for him," Minna added; "but she had no
other alternative than to refuse him, of course."

"Upon my word, child, I see no 'of course' in the matter!" my aunt
answered sharply.

Minna was shocked. "Oh, Mrs. Wagner! Mr. Engelman is more than twenty
years older than mamma--and (I am sure I pity him, poor man)--and _so_
fat!"

"Fat is a matter of taste," my aunt remarked, more and more resolute in
taking Mr. Engelman's part. "And as for his being twenty years older than
your mother, I can tell you, young lady, that my dear lost husband was
twenty years my senior when he married me--and a happier couple never
lived. I know more of the world than you do; and I say Madame Fontaine
has made a great mistake. She has thrown away an excellent position in
life, and has pained and humiliated one of the kindest-hearted men
living. No! no! I am not going to argue the matter with you now; I'll
wait till you are married to Fritz. But I own I should like to speak to
your mother about it. Ask her to favor me by stepping this way for a few
minutes, when she has nothing to do."

Minna seemed to think this rather a high-handed method of proceeding, and
entered a modest protest accordingly.

"Mamma is a very sensitive person," she began with dignity.

My aunt stopped her with a pat on the cheek.

"Good child! I like you for taking your mother's part. Mamma has another
merit, my dear. She is old enough to understand me better than you do. Go
and fetch her."

Minna left us, with her pretty little head carried high in the air. "Mrs.
Wagner is a person entirely without sentiment!" she indignantly whispered
to me in passing, when I opened the door for her.

"I declare that girl is absolute perfection!" my aunt exclaimed with
enthusiasm. "The one thing she wanted, as I thought, was spirit--and I
find she has got it. Ah! she will take Fritz in hand, and make something
of him. He is one of the many men who absolutely need being henpecked. I
prophesy confidently--their marriage will be a happy one."

"I don't doubt it, aunt. But tell me, what are you going to say to Madame
Fontaine?"

"It depends on circumstances. I must know first if Mr. Engelman has
really set his heart on the woman with the snaky movements and the sleepy
eyes. Can you certify to that?"

"Positively. Her refusal has completely crushed him."

"Very well. Then I mean to make Madame Fontaine marry him--always
supposing there is no other man in his way."

"My dear aunt, how you talk! At Madame Fontaine's age! With a grown-up
daughter!"

"My dear nephew, you know absolutely nothing about women. Counting by
years, I grant you they grow old. Counting by sensations, they remain
young to the end of their days. Take a word of advice from me. The
evidence of their gray hair may look indisputable; the evidence of their
grown-up children may look indisputable. Don't believe it! There is but
one period in the women's lives when you may feel quite certain that they
have definitely given the men their dismissal--the period when they are
put in their coffins. Hush! What's that outside? When there is a noisy
silk dress and a silent foot on the stairs, in this house, I know already
what it means. Be off with you!"

She was quite right. Madame Fontaine entered, as I rose to leave the
room.

The widow showed none of her daughter's petulance. She was sweet and
patient; she saluted Mrs. Wagner with a sad smile which seemed to say,
"Outrage my most sacred feelings, dear madam; they are entirely at your
disposal." If I had believed that my aunt had the smallest chance of
carrying her point, I should have felt far from easy about Mr. Engelman's
prospects. As it was, I left the two ladies to their fruitless interview,
and returned composedly to my work.



CHAPTER XXV

When supper was announced, I went upstairs again to show my aunt the way
to the room in which we took our meals.

"Well?" I said.

"Well," she answered coolly, "Madame Fontaine has promised to reconsider
it."

I confess I was staggered. By what possible motives could the widow have
been animated? Even Mr. Engelman's passive assistance was now of no
further importance to her. She had gained Mr. Keller's confidence; her
daughter's marriage was assured; her employment in the house offered her
a liberal salary, a respectable position, and a comfortable home. Why
should she consent to reconsider the question of marrying a man, in whom
she could not be said to feel any sort of true interest, in any possible
acceptation of the words? I began to think that my aunt was right, and
that I really did know absolutely nothing about women.

At supper Madame Fontaine and her daughter were both unusually silent.
Open-hearted Minna was not capable of concealing that her mother's
concession had been made known to her in some way, and that the
disclosure had disagreeably surprised her. However, there was no want of
gaiety at the table--thanks to my aunt, and to her faithful attendant.

Jack Straw followed us into the room, without waiting to be invited, and
placed himself, to Joseph's disgust, behind Mrs. Wagner's chair.

"Nobody waits on Mistress at table," he explained, "but me. Sometimes she
gives me a bit or a drink over her shoulder. Very little drink--just a
sip, and no more. I quite approve of only a sip myself. Oh, I know how to
behave. None of your wine-merchant's fire in _my_ head; no Bedlam
breaking loose again. Make your minds easy. There are no cooler brains
among you than mine." At this, Fritz burst into one of his explosions of
laughter. Jack appealed to Fritz's father, with unruffled gravity. "Your
son, I believe, sir? Ha! what a blessing it is there's plenty of room for
improvement in that young man. I only throw out a remark. If I was
afflicted with a son myself, I think I should prefer David."

This specimen of Jack's method of asserting himself, and other similar
outbreaks which Fritz and I mischievously encouraged, failed apparently
to afford any amusement to Madame Fontaine. Once she roused herself to
ask Mr. Keller if his sister had written to him from Munich. Hearing that
no reply had been received, she relapsed into silence. The old excuse of
a nervous headache was repeated, when Mr. Keller and my aunt politely
inquired if anything was amiss.

When the letters were delivered the next morning, two among them were not
connected with the customary business of the office. One (with the
postmark of Bingen) was for me. And one (with the postmark of Wurzburg)
was for Madame Fontaine. I sent it upstairs to her immediately.

When I opened my own letter, I found sad news of poor Mr. Engelman. Time
and change had failed to improve his spirits. He complained of a feeling
of fullness and oppression in his head, and of hissing noises in his
ears, which were an almost constant annoyance to him. On two occasions he
had been cupped, and had derived no more than a temporary benefit from
the employment of that remedy. His doctor recommended strict attention to
diet, and regular exercise. He submitted willingly to the severest rules
at table--but there was no rousing him to exert himself in any way. For
hours together, he would sit silent in one place, half sleeping, half
waking; noticing no one, and caring for nothing but to get to his bed as
soon as possible.

This statement of the case seemed to me to suggest very grave
considerations. I could no longer hesitate to inform Mr. Keller that I
had received intelligence of his absent partner, and to place my letter
in his hands.

Whatever little disagreements there had been between them were instantly
forgotten. I had never before seen Mr. Keller so distressed and so little
master of himself.

"I must go to Engelman directly," he said.

I ventured to submit that there were two serious objections to his doing
this: In the first place, his presence in the office was absolutely
necessary. In the second place, his sudden appearance at Bingen would
prove to be a serious, perhaps a fatal, shock to his old friend.

"What is to be done, then?" he exclaimed.

"I think my aunt may be of some use, sir, in this emergency."

"Your aunt? How can she help us?"

I informed him of my aunt's project; and I added that Madame Fontaine had
not positively said No. He listened without conviction, frowning and
shaking his head.

"Mrs. Wagner is a very impetuous person," he said. "She doesn't
understand a complex nature like Madame Fontaine's."

"At least I may show my aunt the letter from Bingen, sir?"

"Yes. It can do no harm, if it does no good."

On my way to my aunt's room, I encountered Minna on the stairs. She was
crying. I naturally asked what was the matter.

"Don't stop me!" was the only answer I received.

"But where are you going, Minna?"

"I am going to Fritz, to be comforted."

"Has anybody behaved harshly to you?"

"Yes, mamma has behaved harshly to me. For the first time in my life,"
said the spoilt child, with a strong sense of injury, "she has locked the
door of her room, and refused to let me in."

"But why?"

"How can I tell? I believe it has something to do with that horrid man I
told you of. You sent a letter upstairs this morning. I met Joseph on the
landing, and took the letter to her myself. Why shouldn't I look at the
postmark? Where was the harm in saying to her, 'A letter, mamma, from
Wurzburg'? She looked at me as if I had mortally offended her--and
pointed to the door, and locked herself in. I have knocked twice, and
asked her to forgive me. Not a word of answer either time! I consider
myself insulted. Let me go to Fritz."

I made no attempt to detain her. She had set those every-ready suspicions
of mine at work again.

Was the letter which I had sent upstairs a reply to the letter which
Minna had seen her mother writing? Was the widow now informed that the
senile old admirer who had advanced the money to pay her creditors had
been found dead in his bed? and that her promissory note had passed into
the possession of the heir-at-law? If this was the right reading of the
riddle, no wonder she had sent her daughter out of the room--no wonder
she had locked her door!

My aunt wasted no time in expressions of grief and surprise, when she was
informed of Mr. Engelman's state of health. "Send the widow here
directly," she said. "If there is anything like a true heart under that
splendid silk dress of hers, I shall write and relieve poor Engelman by
to-night's post."

To confide my private surmises, even to my aunt, would have been an act
of inexcusable imprudence, to say the least of it. I could only reply
that Madame Fontaine was not very well, and was (as I had heard from
Minna) shut up in the retirement of her own room.

The resolute little woman got on her feet instantly. "Show me where she
is, David--and leave the rest to me."

I led her to the door, and was dismissed with these words--"Go and wait
in my room till I come back to you." As I retired, I heard a smart knock,
and my aunt's voice announcing herself outside--"Mrs. Wagner, ma'am, with
something serious to say to you." The reply was inaudible. Not so my
aunt's rejoinder: "Oh, very well! Just read that letter, will you? I'll
push it under the door, and wait for an answer." I lingered for a minute
longer--and heard the door opened and closed again.

In little more than half an hour, my aunt returned. She looked serious
and thoughtful. I at once anticipated that she had failed. Her first
words informed me that I was wrong.

"I've done it," she said. "I am to write to Engelman to-night; and I have
the widow's permission to tell him that she regrets her hasty decision.
Her own words, mind, when I asked her how I should put it!"

"So there is a true heart under that splendid silk dress of hers?" I
said.

My aunt walked up and down the room, silent and frowning--discontented
with me, or discontented with herself; it was impossible to tell which.
On a sudden, she sat down by me, and hit me a smart slap on the shoulder.

"David!" she said, "I have found out something about myself which I never
suspected before. If you want to see a cold-blooded wretch, look at me!"

It was so gravely said, and so perfectly absurd, that I burst out
laughing. She was far too seriously perplexed about herself to take the
smallest notice of my merriment.

"Do you know," she resumed, "that I actually hesitate to write to
Engelman? David! I ought to be whipped at the cart's tail. I don't
believe in Madame Fontaine."

She little knew how that abrupt confession interested me. "Tell me why!"
I said eagerly.

"That's the disgraceful part of it," she answered. "I can't tell you why.
Madame Fontaine spoke charmingly--with perfect taste and feeling. And all
the time some devilish spirit of distrust kept whispering to me, "Don't
believe her; she has her motive!" Are you sure, David, it is only a
little illness that makes her shut herself up in her room, and look so
frightfully pale and haggard? Do you know anything about her affairs?
Engelman is rich; Engelman has a position. Has she got into some
difficulty since she refused him? and could he, by the barest
possibility, be of any use in helping her out of it?"

I declare solemnly that the idea suggested by my aunt never occurred to
me until she asked those questions. As a rejected suitor, Mr. Engelman
could be of no possible use to the widow. But suppose he was her accepted
husband? and suppose the note fell due before Minna was married? In that
case, Mr. Engelman might unquestionably be of use--he might lend the
money.

My aunt's sharp eyes were on me. "Out with it, David!" she cried. "You
don't believe in her, either--and you know why."

"I know absolutely nothing," I rejoined; "I am guessing in the dark; and
the event may prove that I am completely at fault. Don't ask me to
degrade Madame Fontaine's character in your estimation, without an atom
of proof to justify what I say. I have something to propose which I think
will meet the difficulty."

With a strong exercise of self-restraint, my aunt resigned herself to
listen. "Let's hear your proposal," she said. "Have you any Scotch blood
in your veins, David? You are wonderfully prudent and cautious for so
young a man."

I went straight on with what I had to say.

"Send the widow's message to Mr. Engelman, by all means," I proceeded;
"but not by post. I was with him immediately after his offer of marriage
had been refused; and it is my belief that he is far too deeply wounded
by the manner in which Madame Fontaine expressed herself when she
rejected him, to be either able, or willing, to renew his proposal. I
even doubt if he will believe in her expression of regret. This view of
mine may turn out, of course, to be quite wrong; but let us at least put
it to the test. I can easily get leave of absence for a few days. Let me
take your letter to Bingen tomorrow, and see with my own eyes how it is
received."

At last I was fortunate enough to deserve my aunt's approval. "An
excellent suggestion," she said. "But--I believe I have caught the
infection of your prudence, David--don't let us tell Madame Fontaine. Let
her suppose that you have gone to Bingen in consequence of the
unfavorable news of Engelman's health." She paused, and considered a
little. "Or, better still, Bingen is on the way to England. There will be
nothing extraordinary in your stopping to visit Engelman, on your journey
to London."

This took me completely, and far from agreeably, by surprise. I said
piteously, "Must I really leave Frankfort?"

"My good fellow, I have other interests to consider besides Engelman's
interests," my aunt explained. "Mr. Hartrey is waiting to hear from me.
There is no hope that Engelman will be able to travel to London, in his
present state of health, and no possibility of Mr. Keller taking his
place until something is settled at Frankfort. I want you to explain all
this to Mr. Hartrey, and to help him in the management of the business.
There is nobody else here, David, whom I can trust, as I trust you. I see
no alternative but to ask you to go to London."

On my side, I had no alternative but to submit--and, what is more
(remembering all that I owed to my aunt), to submit with my best grace.
We consulted Mr. Keller; and he entirely agreed that I was the fittest
person who could be found to reconcile Mr. Hartrey to the commercial
responsibilities that burdened him. After a day's delay at Bingen, to
study the condition of Mr. Engelman's health and to write the fullest
report to Frankfort, the faster I could travel afterwards, and the sooner
I could reach London, the better.

So hard necessity compelled me to leave the stage, before the curtain
rose on the final acts of the drama. The mail-post started at six in the
morning. I packed up, and took leave of everybody, overnight--excepting
Madame Fontaine, who still kept her room, and who was not well enough to
see me. The dear kind-hearted Minna offered me her cheek to kiss, and
made me promise to return for her marriage. She was strangely depressed
at my departure. "You first consoled me," she said; "you have brought me
happiness. I don't like your leaving us. Oh, David, I do wish you were
not going away!" "Come! come!" my aunt interposed; "no crying, young
lady! Always keep a man's spirits up when he leaves you. Give me a good
hug, David--and think of the time when you will be a partner in the
business." Ah! what a woman she was! Look as you may, my young friends,
you will not find the like of her now.

Jack Straw was the one person up and stirring when the coach stopped the
next morning at the door. I expected to be amused--but there was no
reckoning with Jack. His farewell words literally frightened me.

"I say!" he whispered, as I hurried into the hall, "there's one thing I
want to ask you before you go."

"Be quick about it, Jack."

"All right, David. I had a talk with Minna yesterday, about Mr. Keller's
illness. Is it true that he was cured out of the blue-glass bottle?"

"Perfectly true.

"Look here, David! I have been thinking of it all night. _I_ was cured
out of the blue-glass bottle."

I suddenly stood still, with my eyes riveted on his face. He stepped
close up to me, and lowered his voice suddenly.

"And _I_ was poisoned," he said. "What I want to know is--Who poisoned
Mr. Keller?"



BETWEEN THE PARTS

MR. DAVID GLENNEY PRODUCES HIS CORRESPONDENCE, AND THROWS SOME NEW LIGHTS
ON THE STORY

I

Be pleased to read the following letter from Mr. Lawyer's-Clerk-Schmuckle
to Mr. Town-Councilor-Hof:

"My honored Sir,--I beg to report that you may make your mind easy on the
subject of Madame Fontaine. If she leaves Frankfort, she will not slip
away privately as she did at Wurzburg. Wherever she may go now, we need
not apply again to her relations in this place to help us to find her.
Henceforth I undertake to keep her in view until the promissory note
falls due.

"The lady is at present established as housekeeper in the employment of
the firm of Wagner, Keller, and Engelman; and there (barring accidents,
which I shall carefully look after) she is likely to remain.

"I have made a memorandum of the date at which her promissory note falls
due--viz., the 31st December in the present year. The note being made
payable at Wurzburg, you must take care (in the event of its not being
honored) to have the document protested in that town, and to communicate
with me by the same day's post. I will myself see that the law takes its
regular course.

"Permit me most gratefully to thank you for the advance on my regular
fees which you have so graciously transmitted, and believe me your
obedient humble servant to command."

II

I next submit a copy of a letter addressed by the late
Chemistry-Professor Fontaine to an honored friend and colleague. This
gentleman is still living; and he makes it a condition of supplying the
copy that his name shall not appear:--

"Illustrious Friend and Colleague,--You will be surprised at so soon
hearing from me again. The truth is, that I have some interesting news
for you. An alarming accident has enabled me to test the value of one of
my preparations on a living human subject--that subject being a man.

"My last letter informed you that I had resolved on making no further use
of the Formula for recomposing some of the Borgia Poisons (erroneously
supposed to be destroyed) left to me on the death of my lamented
Hungarian friend--my master in chemical science.

"The motives which have led me to this decision are, I hope, beyond the
reach of blame.

"You will remember agreeing with me, that the two specimens of these
resuscitated poisons which I have succeeded in producing are
capable--like the poisons already known to modern medical practice--of
rendering the utmost benefit in certain cases of disease, if they are
administered in carefully regulated doses. Should I live to devote them
to this good purpose, there will still be the danger (common to all
poisonous preparations employed in medicine) of their doing fatal
mischief, when misused by ignorance or crime.

"Bearing this in mind, I conceive it to be my duty to provide against
dangerous results, by devoting myself to the discovery of efficient
antidotes, before I adapt the preparations themselves to the capacities
of the healing art. I have had some previous experience in this branch of
what I call preservative chemistry, and I have already in some degree
succeeded in attaining my object.

"The Formula in cipher which I now send to you, on the slip of paper
enclosed, is an antidote to that one of the two poisons known to you and
to me by the fanciful name which you suggested for it--'Alexander's
Wine.'

"With regard to the second of the poisons, which (if you remember) I have
entitled--in anticipation of its employment as medicine--'The
Looking-Glass Drops,' I regret to say that I have not yet succeeded in
discovering the antidote in this case.

"Having now sufficiently explained my present position, I may tell you of
the extraordinary accident to which I have alluded at the beginning of my
letter.

"About a fortnight since, I was sent for, just as I had finished my
lecture to the students, to see one of my servants. He had been suffering
from illness for one or two days. I had of course offered him my medical
services. He refused, however, to trouble me; sending word that he only
wanted rest. Fortunately one of my assistants happened to see him, and at
once felt the necessity of calling in my help.

"The man was a poor half-witted friendless creature, whom I had employed
out of pure pity to keep my laboratory clean, and to wash and dry my
bottles. He had sense enough to perform such small services as these, and
no more. Judge of my horror when I went to his bedside, and instantly
recognized the symptoms of poisoning by "Alexander's Wine!"

"I ran back to my laboratory, and unlocked the medicine-chest which held
the antidote. In the next compartment, the poison itself was always
placed. Looking into the compartment now, I found it empty.

"I at once instituted a search, and discovered the bottle left out on a
shelf. For the first time in my life, I had been guilty of inexcusable
carelessness. I had not looked round me to see that I had left everything
safe before quitting the room. The poor imbecile wretch had been
attracted by the color of "Alexander's Wine," and had tasted it (in his
own phrase) "to see if it was nice." My inquiries informed me that this
had happened at least thirty-six hours since! I had but one hope of
saving him--derived from experiments on animals, which had shown me the
very gradual progress of the deadly action of the poison.

"What I felt when I returned to the suffering man, I shall not attempt to
describe. You will understand how completely I was overwhelmed, when I
tell you that I meanly concealed my own disgraceful thoughtlessness from
my brethren in the University. I was afraid that my experiments might be
prohibited as dangerous, and my want of common prudence be made the
subject of public reprimand by the authorities. The medical professors
were permitted by me to conclude that it was a case of illness entirely
new in their experience.

"In administering the antidote, I had no previous experiments to guide
me, except my experiments with rabbits and dogs. Whether I miscalculated
or whether I was deluded by my anxiety to save the man's life, I cannot
say. This at least is certain, I gave the doses too copiously and at too
short intervals.

"The patient recovered--but it was after sustaining some incomprehensibly
deteriorating change in the blood, which destroyed his complexion, and
turned his hair gray. I have since modified the doses; and in dread of
losing the memorandum, I have attached a piece of notched paper to the
bottle, so as to render any future error of judgment impossible. At the
same time, I have facilitated the future administration of the antidote
by adding a label to the bottle, stating the exact quantity of the poison
taken by my servant, as calculated by myself.

"I ought, by the way, to have mentioned in the cipher that experience has
shown me the necessity, if the antidote is to be preserved for any length
of time, of protecting it in blue glass from the influence of light.

"Let me also tell you that I found a vegetable diet of use in perfecting
the effect of the treatment. That mean dread of discovery, which I have
already acknowledged, induced me to avail myself of my wife's help in
nursing the man. When he began to talk of what had happened to him, I
could trust Madame Fontaine to keep the secret. When he was well enough
to get up, the poor harmless creature disappeared. He was probably
terrified at the prospect of entering the laboratory again. In any case,
I have never seen him or heard of him since.

"If you have had patience to read as far as this, you will understand
that I am not sure enough yet of my own discoveries to risk communicating
them to any other person than yourself. Favor me with any chemical
suggestions which may strike you--and then, in case of accidents, destroy
the cipher. For the present farewell."

_Note to Doctor Fontaine's Letter_

"Alexander's Wine" refers to the infamous Roderic Borgia, historically
celebrated as Pope Alexander the Sixth. He was accidentally, and most
deservedly, killed by drinking one of the Borgia poisons, in a bowl of
wine which he had prepared for another person.

The formula for "The Looking-Glass Drops" is supposed to have been found
hidden on removing the wooden lining at the back of a looking-glass,
which had been used by Lucrezia Borgia. Hence the name.

III

The third and last letter which I present is written by me, and was
addressed to Mrs. Wagner during her stay at Frankfort:--

"I exaggerate nothing, my dear aunt, when I say that I write in great
distress. Let me beg you to prepare yourself for very sad news.

"It was late yesterday evening before I arrived at Bingen. A servant was
waiting to take my portmanteau, when I got out of the coach. After first
asking my name, he communicated to me the melancholy tidings of dear Mr.
Engelman's death. He had sunk under a fit of apoplexy, at an early hour
that morning.

"Medical help was close at hand, and was (so far as I can hear) carefully
and intelligently exercised. But he never rallied in the least. The fit
appears to have killed him, as a bullet might have killed him.

"He had been very dull and heavy on the previous day. In the few words
that he spoke before retiring to rest, my name was on his lips. He said,
"If I get better I should like to have David here, and to go on with him
to our house of business in London." He was very much flushed, and
complained of feeling giddy; but he would not allow the doctor to be sent
for. His brother assisted him to ascend the stairs to his room, and asked
him some questions about his affairs. He replied impatiently, 'Keller
knows all about it--leave it to Keller.'

"When I think of the good old man's benevolent and happy life, and when I
remember that it was accidentally through me that he first met Madame
Fontaine, I feel a bitterness of spirit which makes my sense of the loss
of him more painful than I can describe. I call to mind a hundred little
instances of his kindness to me--and (don't be offended) I wish you had
sent some other person than myself to represent you at Frankfort.

"He is to be buried here, in two days' time. I hope you will not consider
me negligent of your interest in accepting his brother's invitation to
follow him to the grave. I think it will put me in a better frame of
mind, if I can pay the last tribute of affection and respect to my old
friend. When all is over, I will continue the journey to London, without
stopping on the road night or day.

"Write to me at London, dear aunt; and give my love to Minna and
Fritz--and ask them to write to me also. I beg my best respects to Mr.
Keller. Please assure him of my true sympathy; I know, poor man, how
deeply he will be grieved."



PART II

MR. DAVID GLENNEY COLLECTS HIS MATERIALS AND CONTINUES THE STORY
HISTORICALLY


CHAPTER I

In the preceding portion of this narrative I spoke as an eye-witness. In
the present part of it, my absence from Frankfort leaves me dependent on
the documentary evidence of other persons. This evidence consists (first)
of letters addressed to myself; (secondly) of statements personally made
to me; (thirdly) of extracts from a diary discovered after the lifetime
of the writer. In all three cases the materials thus placed at my
disposal bear proof of truthfulness on the face of them.

Early in the month of December, Mr. Keller sent a message to Madame
Fontaine, requesting to see her on a matter of importance to both of
them.

"I hope you feel better to-day, madam," he said, rising to receive the
widow when she entered the room.

"You are very good, sir," she answered, in tones barely audible--with her
eyes on the ground. "I can't say that I feel much better."

"I have news for you, which ought to act as the best of all
restoratives," Mr. Keller proceeded. "At last I have heard from my sister
on the subject of the marriage."

He stopped, and, suddenly stepping forward, caught the widow by the arm.
At his last words she had started to her feet. Her face suddenly turned
from pale to red--and then changed again to a ghastly whiteness. She
would have fallen if Mr. Keller had not held her up. He placed her at
once in his own easy chair. "You must really have medical advice," he
said gravely; "your nerves are seriously out of order. Can I get you
anything?"

"A glass of water, sir, if you will be so kind as to ring for it."

"There is no need to ring for it; I have water in the next room."

She laid her hand on his arm, and stopped him as he was about to leave
her.

"One word first, sir. You will forgive a woman's curiosity on such an
interesting subject as the marriage of her child. Does your sister
propose a day for the wedding?"

"My sister suggests," Mr. Keller answered, "the thirtieth of this month."

He left her and opened the door of the next room.

As he disappeared, she rapidly followed out a series of calculations on
her fingers. Her eyes brightened, her energies rallied. "No matter what
happens so long as my girl is married first," she whispered to herself.
"The wedding on the thirtieth, and the money due on the thirty-first.
Saved by a day! Saved by a day!"

Mr. Keller returned with a glass of water. He started as he looked at
her.

"You seem to have recovered already--you look quite a different woman!"
he exclaimed.

She drank the water nevertheless. "My unlucky nerves play me strange
tricks, sir," she answered, as she set the empty glass down on a table at
her side.

Mr. Keller took a chair and referred to his letter from Munich.

"My sister hopes to be with us some days before the end of the year," he
resumed. "But in her uncertain state of health, she suggests the
thirtieth so as to leave a margin in case of unexpected delays. I presume
this will afford plenty of time (I speak ignorantly of such things) for
providing the bride's outfit?"

Madame Fontaine smiled sadly. "Far more time than we want, sir. My poor
little purse will leave my girl to rely on her natural attractions--with
small help from the jeweler and the milliner, on her wedding day."

Mr. Keller referred to his letter again, and looked up from it with a
grim smile.

"My sister will in one respect at least anticipate the assistance of the
jeweler," he said. "She proposes to bring with her, as a present to the
bride, an heirloom on the female side of our family. It is a pearl
necklace (of very great value, I am told) presented to my mother by the
Empress Maria Theresa--in recognition of services rendered to that
illustrious person early in life. As an expression of my sister's
interest in the marriage, I thought an announcement of the proposed gift
might prove gratifying to you."

Madame Fontaine clasped her hands, with a fervor of feeling which was in
this case, at least, perfectly sincere. A pearl necklace, the gift of an
Empress, would represent in money value a little fortune in itself. "I
can find no words to express my sense of gratitude," she said; "my
daughter must speak for herself and for me."

"And your daughter must hear the good news as soon as possible," Mr.
Keller added kindly. "I won't detain you. I know you must be anxious to
see Minna. One word before you go. You will, of course, invite any
relatives and friends whom you would like to see at the wedding."

Madame Fontaine lifted her sleepy eyes by slow gradations to the ceiling,
and devoutly resigned herself to mention her family circumstances.

"My parents cast me off, sir, when I married," she said; "my other
relatives here and in Brussels refused to assist me when I stood in need
of help. As for friends--you, dear Mr. Keller, are our only friend. Thank
you again and again."

She lowered her eyes softly to the floor, and glided out of the room. The
back view of her figure was its best view. Even Mr.
Keller--constitutionally inaccessible to exhibitions of female
grace--followed her with his eyes, and perceived that his housekeeper was
beautifully made.

On the stairs she met with the housemaid.

"Where is Miss Minna?" she asked impatiently. "In her room?"

"In your room, madam. I saw Miss Minna go in as I passed the door."

Madame Fontaine hurried up the next flight of stairs, and ran along the
corridor as lightly as a young girl. The door of her room was ajar; she
saw her daughter through the opening sitting on the sofa, with some work
lying idle on her lap. Minna started up when her mother appeared.

"Am I in the way, mamma? I am so stupid, I can't get on with this
embroidery----"

Madame Fontaine tossed the embroidery to the other end of the room, threw
her arms round Minna, and lifted her joyously from the floor as if she
had been a little child.

"The day is fixed, my angel!" she cried; "You are to be married on the
thirtieth!"

She shifted one hand to her daughter's head, and clasped it with a fierce
fondness to her bosom. "Oh, my darling, you had lovely hair even when you
were a baby! We won't have it dressed at your wedding. It shall flow down
naturally in all its beauty--and no hand shall brush it but mine." She
pressed her lips on Minna's head, and devoured it with kisses; then,
driven by some irresistible impulse, pushed the girl away from her, and
threw herself on the sofa with a cry of pain.

"Why did you start up, as if you were afraid of me, when I came in?" she
said wildly. "Why did you ask if you were in the way? Oh, Minna! Minna!
can't you forget the day when I locked you out of my room? My child! I
was beside myself--I was mad with my troubles. Do you think I would
behave harshly to you? Oh, my own love! when I came to tell you of your
marriage, why did you ask me if you were in the way? My God! am I never
to know a moment's pleasure again without something to embitter it?
People say you take after your father, Minna. Are you as cold-blooded as
he was? There! there! I don't mean it; I am a little hysterical, I
think--don't notice me. Come and be a child again. Sit on my knee, and
let us talk of your marriage."

Minna put her arm round her mother's neck a little nervously. "Dear,
sweet mamma, how can you think me so hard-hearted and so ungrateful? I
can't tell you how I love you! Let this tell you."

With a tender and charming grace, she kissed her mother--then drew back a
little and looked at Madame Fontaine. The subsiding conflict of emotions
still showed itself with a fiery brightness in the widow's eyes. "Do you
know what I am thinking?" Minna asked, a little timidly.

"What is it, my dear?"

"I think you are almost too fond of me, mamma. I shouldn't like to be the
person who stood between me and my marriage--if _you_ knew of it."

Madame Fontaine smiled. "You foolish child, do you take me for a
tigress?" she said playfully. "I must have another kiss to reconcile me
to my new character."

She bent her head to meet the caress--looked by chance at a cupboard
fixed in a recess in the opposite wall of the room--and suddenly checked
herself. "This is too selfish of me," she said, rising abruptly. "All
this time I am forgetting the bridegroom. His father will leave him to
hear the good news from you. Do you think I don't know what you are
longing to do?" She led Minna hurriedly to the door. "Go, my dear one--go
and tell Fritz!"

The instant her daughter disappeared, she rushed across the room to the
cupboard. Her eyes had not deceived her. The key _was_ left in the lock.



CHAPTER II

Madame Fontaine dropped into a chair, overwhelmed by the discovery.

She looked at the key left in the cupboard. It was of an old-fashioned
pattern--but evidently also of the best workmanship of the time. On its
flat handle it bore engraved the words, "Pink-Room Cupboard"--so called
from the color of the curtains and hangings in the bedchamber.

"Is my brain softening?" she said to herself. "What a horrible mistake!
What a frightful risk to have run!"

She got on her feet again, and opened the cupboard.

The two lower shelves were occupied by her linen, neatly folded and laid
out. On the higher shelf, nearly on a level with her eyes, stood a plain
wooden box about two feet in height by one foot in breadth. She examined
the position of this box with breathless interest and care--then gently
lifted it in both hands and placed it on the floor. On a table near the
window lay a half-finished watercolor drawing, with a magnifying glass by
the side of it. Providing herself with the glass, she returned to the
cupboard, and closely investigated the place on which the box had stood.
The slight layer of dust--so slight as to be imperceptible to the
unassisted eye--which had surrounded the four sides of the box, presented
its four delicate edges in perfectly undisturbed straightness of line.
This mute evidence conclusively proved that the box had not been moved
during her quarter of an hour's absence in Mr. Keller's room. She put it
back again, and heaved a deep breath of relief.

But it was a bad sign (she thought) that her sense of caution had been
completely suspended, in the eagerness of her curiosity to know if Mr.
Keller's message of invitation referred to the wedding day. "I lose my
best treasure," she said to herself sadly, "if I am beginning to lose my
steadiness of mind. If this should happen again----"

She left the expression of the idea uncompleted; locked the door of the
room; and returned to the place on which she had left the box.

Seating herself, she rested the box on her knee and opened it.

Certain tell-tale indentations, visible where the cover fitted into the
lock, showed that it had once been forced open. The lock had been
hampered on some former occasion; and the key remained so fast fixed in
it that it could neither be turned nor drawn out. In her newly-aroused
distrust of her own prudence, she was now considering the serious
question of emptying the box, and sending it to be fitted with a lock and
key.

"Have I anything by me," she thought to herself, "in which I can keep the
bottles?"

She emptied the box, and placed round her on the floor those terrible six
bottles which had been the special subjects of her husband's
precautionary instructions on his death-bed. Some of them were smaller
than others, and were manufactured in glass of different colors--the six
compartments in the medicine-chest being carefully graduated in size, so
as to hold them all steadily. The labels on three of the bottles were
unintelligible to Madame Fontaine; the inscriptions were written in
barbarously abridged Latin characters.

The bottle which was the fourth in order, as she took them out one by
one, was wrapped in a sheet of thick cartridge-paper, covered on its
inner side with characters written in mysterious cipher. But the label
pasted on the bottle contained an inscription in good readable German,
thus translated:

"The Looking-Glass Drops. Fatal dose, as discovered by experiment on
animals, the same as in the case of 'Alexander's Wine.' But the effect,
in producing death, more rapid, and more indistinguishable, in respect of
presenting traces on post-mortem examination."

The lines thus written were partially erased by strokes of the pen--drawn
through them at a later date, judging by the color of the ink. In the
last blank space left at the foot of the label, these words were
added--also in ink of a fresher color:

"After many patient trials, I can discover no trustworthy antidote to
this infernal poison. Under these circumstances, I dare not attempt to
modify it for medical use. I would throw it away--but I don't like to be
beaten. If I live a little longer I will try once more, with my mind
refreshed by other studies."

Madame Fontaine paused before she wrapped the bottle up again in its
covering, and looked with longing eyes at the ciphers which filled the
inner side of the sheet of paper. There, perhaps, was the announcement of
the discovery of the antidote; or possibly, the record of some more
recent experiment which placed the terrible power of the poison in a new
light! And there also was the cipher defying her to discover its secret!

The fifth bottle that she took from the chest contained "Alexander's
Wine." The sixth, and last, was of the well-remembered blue glass, which
had played such an important part in the event of Mr. Keller's recovery.

David Glenney had rightly conjectured that the label had been removed
from the blue-glass bottle. Madame Fontaine shook it out of the empty
compartment. The inscription (also in the German language) ran as
follows:--

"Antidote to Alexander's Wine. The fatal dose, in case of accident, is
indicated by the notched slip of paper attached to the bottle. Two fluid
drachms of the poison (more than enough to produce death) were
accidentally taken in my experience. So gradual is the deadly effect
that, after a delay of thirty-six hours before my attention was called to
the case, the administration of the antidote proved successful. The doses
are to be repeated every three or four hours. Any person watching the
patient may know that the recovery is certain, and that the doses are
therefore to be discontinued, by these signs: the cessation of the
trembling in the hands; the appearance of natural perspiration; and the
transition from the stillness of apathy to the repose of sleep. For at
least a week or ten days afterwards a vegetable diet, with cream, is
necessary as a means of completing the cure."

She laid the label aside, and looked at the two bottles--the poison and
the antidote--ranged together at her feet.

"Power!" she thought, with a superb smile of triumph. "The power that I
have dreamed of all my life is mine at last! Alone among mortal
creatures, I have Life and Death for my servants. You were deaf, Mr.
Keller, to my reasons, and deaf to my entreaties. What wonderful
influence brought you to my feet, and made you the eager benefactor of my
child? My servant Death, who threatened you in the night; and my servant
Life, who raised you up in the morning. What a position! I stand here, a
dweller in a populous city--and every creature in it, from highest to
lowest, is a creature in my power!"

She looked through the window of her room over the houses of Frankfort.
At last her sleepy eyes opened wide; an infernal beauty irradiated her
face. For one moment, she stood--a demon in human form. The next, she
suddenly changed into a timid woman, shaken in every limb by the cold
grasp of fear.

What influence had wrought the transformation?

Nothing but a knock at the door.

"Who's there?" she cried.

The voice that answered her was the voice of Jack Straw.

"Hullo, there, Mrs. Fontaine! Let me in."

She placed a strong constraint on herself; she spoke in friendly tones.
"What do you want, Jack?"

"I want to show you my keys."

"What do I care about the crazy wretch's keys?"--was the thought that
passed through Madame Fontaine's mind, when Jack answered her from the
outer side of the door. But she was still careful, when she spoke to him,
to disguise her voice in its friendliest tones.

"Excuse me for keeping you waiting, Jack. I can't let you in yet."

"Why not?"

"Because I am dressing. Come back in half an hour; and I shall be glad to
see you."

There was no reply to this. Jack's step was so light that it was
impossible to hear, through the door, whether he had gone away or not.
After waiting a minute, the widow ventured on peeping out. Jack had taken
himself off. Not a sign of him was to be seen, when she bent over the
railing of the corridor, and looked down on the stairs.

She locked herself in again. "I hope I haven't offended him!" she
thought, as she returned to the empty medicine-chest.

The fear that Jack might talk of what had happened to him in the
laboratory at Wurzburg, and that he might allude to his illness in terms
which could not fail to recall the symptoms of Mr. Keller's illness, was
constantly present to her mind. She decided on agreeably surprising him
by a little present, which might help her to win his confidence and to
acquire some influence over him. As a madman lately released from Bedlam,
it might perhaps not greatly matter what he said. But suspicion was
easily excited. Though David Glenney had been sent out of the way, his
aunt remained at Frankfort; and an insolent readiness in distrusting
German ladies seemed to run in the family.

Having arrived at these conclusions, she gave her mind again to the still
unsettled question of the new lock to the medicine-chest.

Measuring the longest of the bottles (the bottle containing the
antidote), she found that her dressing case was not high enough to hold
it, while the chest was in the locksmith's workshop. Her trunks, on the
other hand, were only protected by very ordinary locks, and were too
large to be removed to the safe keeping of the cupboard. She must either
leave the six bottles loose on the shelf or abandon the extra security of
the new lock.

The one risk of taking the first of these two courses, was the risk of
leaving the key again in the cupboard. Was this likely to occur, after
the fright she had already suffered? The question was not really worth
answering. She had already placed two of the bottles on the shelf--when a
fatal objection to trusting the empty box out of her own possession
suddenly crossed her mind.

Her husband's colleagues at Wurzburg and some of the elder students, were
all acquainted (externally, at least) with the appearance of the
Professor's ugly old medicine-chest. It could be easily identified by the
initials of his name, inscribed in deeply-burnt letters on the lid.
Suppose one of these men happened to be in Frankfort? and suppose he saw
the stolen chest in the locksmith's shop? Two such coincidences were in
the last degree improbable--but it was enough that they were possible.
Who but a fool, in her critical position, would run the risk of even one
chance in a hundred turning against her? Instead of trusting the chest in
a stranger's hands, the wiser course would be to burn it at the first
safe opportunity, and be content with the security of the cupboard, while
she remained in Mr. Keller's house. Arriving at this conclusion, she put
the chest and its contents back again on the shelf--with the one
exception of the label detached from the blue-glass bottle.

In the preternatural distrust that now possessed her, this label assumed
the character of a dangerous witness, if, through some unlucky accident,
it happened to fall into the hands of any person in the house. She picked
it up--advanced to the fireplace to destroy it--paused--and looked at it
again.

Nearly two doses of the antidote were still left. Who could say, looking
at the future of such a life as hers, that she might not have some need
of it yet--after it had already served her so well? Could she be sure, if
she destroyed it, of remembering the instructions which specified the
intervals at which the doses were to be given, the signs which signified
recovery, and the length of time during which the vegetable diet was to
be administered?

She read the first sentences again carefully.

"Antidote to Alexander's Wine. The fatal dose, in case of accident, is
indicated by the notched slip of paper attached to the bottle. Two fluid
drachms of the poison (more than enough to produce death) were
accidentally taken in my experience. So gradual is the deadly effect
that, after a delay of thirty-six hours before my attention was called to
the case, the administration of the antidote proved successful. The doses
are to be repeated----"

The remaining instructions, beginning with this last sentence, were not
of a nature to excite suspicion. Taken by themselves, they might refer to
nothing more remarkable than a remedy in certain cases of illness. First
she thought of cutting off the upper part of the label: but the lines of
the writing were so close together, that they would infallibly betray the
act of mutilation. She opened her dressing-case and took from it a
common-looking little paper-box, purchased at the chemist's, bearing the
ambitious printed title of "Macula Exstinctor, or Destroyer of
Stains"--being an ordinary preparation, in powder, for removing stains
from dresses, ink-stains included. The printed directions stated that the
powder, partially dissolved in water, might also be used to erase written
characters without in any way injuring the paper, otherwise than by
leaving a slight shine on the surface. By these means, Madame Fontaine
removed the first four sentences on the label, and left the writing on it
to begin harmlessly with the instructions for repeating the doses.

"Now I can trust you to refresh my memory without telling tales," she
said to herself, when she put the label back in the chest. As for the
recorded dose of the poison, she was not likely to forget that. It was
her medicine-measuring glass, filled up to the mark of two drachms.
Having locked the cupboard, and secured the key in her pocket, she was
ready for the reception of Jack. Her watch told her that the half-hour's
interval had more than expired. She opened the door of her room. There
was no sign of him outside. She looked over the stairs, and called to him
softly. There was no reply; the little man's sensitive dignity had
evidently taken offense.

The one thing to be done (remembering all that she had to dread from the
wanton exercise of Jack's tongue) was to soothe his ruffled vanity
without further delay. There would be no difficulty in discovering him,
if he had not gone out. Wherever his Mistress might be at the moment,
there he was sure to be found.

Trying Mrs. Wagner's room first, without success, the widow descended to
the ground floor and made her way to the offices. In the private room,
formerly occupied by Mr. Engelman, David Glenney's aunt was working at
her desk; and Jack Straw was perched on the old-fashioned window-seat,
putting the finishing touches to Minna's new straw hat.



CHAPTER III

In the gloom thrown over the household by Mr. Engelman's death, Mrs.
Wagner, with characteristic energy and good sense, had kept her mind
closely occupied. During the office hours, she studied those details of
the business at Frankfort which differed from the details of the business
in London; and soon mastered them sufficiently to be able to fill the
vacancy which Mr. Engelman had left. The position that he had held
became, with all its privileges and responsibilities, Mrs. Wagner's
position--claimed, not in virtue of her rank as directress of the London
house, but in recognition of the knowledge that she had specially
acquired to fit her for the post.

Out of office-hours, she corresponded with the English writer on the
treatment of insane persons, whose work she had discovered in her late
husband's library, and assisted him in attracting public attention to the
humane system which he advocated. Even the plan for the employment of
respectable girls, in suitable departments of the office, was not left
neglected by this indefatigable woman. The same friendly consideration
which had induced her to spare Mr. Keller any allusion to the subject,
while his health was not yet completely restored, still kept her silent
until time had reconciled him to the calamity of his partner's death.
Privately, however, she had caused inquiries to be made in Frankfort,
which would assist her in choosing worthy candidates for employment, when
the favorable time came--probably after the celebration of Fritz's
marriage--for acting in the interests of the proposed reform.

"Pray send me away, if I interrupt you," said Madame Fontaine, pausing
modestly on the threshold before she entered the room. She spoke English
admirably, and made a point of ignoring Mrs. Wagner's equally perfect
knowledge of German, by addressing her always in the English language.

"Come in by all means," Mrs. Wagner answered. "I am only writing to David
Glenney, to tell him (at Minna's request) that the wedding-day is fixed."

"Give your nephew my kind regards, Mrs. Wagner. He will be one of the
party at the wedding, of course?"

"Yes--if he can be spared from his duties in London. Is there anything I
can do for you, Madame Fontaine?"

"Nothing, thank you--except to excuse my intrusion. I am afraid I have
offended our little friend there, with the pretty straw hat in his hand,
and I want to make my peace with him."

Jack looked up from his work with an air of lofty disdain. "Oh, dear me,
it doesn't matter," he said, in his most magnificent manner.

"I was dressing when he knocked at my door," pursued Madame Fontaine;
"and I asked him to come back, and show me his keys in half an hour. Why
didn't you return, Jack? Won't you show me the keys now?"

"You see it's a matter of business," Jack replied as loftily as ever. "I
am in the business--Keeper of the Keys. Mistress is in the business; Mr.
Keller is in the business. You are not in the business. It doesn't
matter. Upon my soul, it doesn't matter."

Mrs. Wagner held up her forefinger reprovingly. "Jack! don't forget you
are speaking to a lady."

Jack audaciously put his hand to his head, as if this was an effort of
memory which was a little too much to expect of him.

"Anything to please you, Mistress," he said. "I'll show her the bag."

He exhibited to Madame Fontaine a leather bag, with a strap fastened
round it. "The keys are inside," he explained. "I wore them loose this
morning: and they made a fine jingle. Quite musical to _my_ ear. But
Mistress thought the noise likely to be a nuisance in the long run. So I
strapped them up in a bag to keep them quiet. And when I move about, the
bag hangs from my shoulder, like this, by another strap. When the keys
are wanted, I open the bag. You don't want them--you're not in the
business. Besides, I'm thinking of going out, and showing myself and my
bag in the fashionable quarter of the town. On such an occasion, I think
I ought to present the appearance of a gentleman--I ought to wear gloves.
Oh, it doesn't matter! I needn't detain you any longer. Good morning."

He made one of his fantastic bows, and waved his hand, dismissing Madame
Fontaine from further attendance on him. Secretly, he was as eager as
ever to show the keys. But the inordinate vanity which was still the mad
side of him and the incurable side of him, shrank from opening the
leather bag unless the widow first made a special request and a special
favor of it. Feeling no sort of interest in the subject, she took the
shorter way of making her peace with him. She took out her purse.

"Let me make you a present of the gloves," she said, with her
irresistible smile.

Jack lost all his dignity in an instant.

He leapt off the window seat and snatched at the money, like a famished
animal snatching at a piece of meat. Mrs. Wagner caught him by the arm,
and looked at him. He lifted his eyes to hers, then lowered them again as
if he was ashamed of himself.

"Oh, to be sure!" he said, "I have forgotten my manners, I haven't said
Thank you. A lapse of memory, I suppose. Thank you, Mrs. Housekeeper." In
a moment more, he and his bag were on their way to the fashionable
quarter of the town.

"You will make allowances for my poor little Jack, I am sure," said Mrs.
Wagner.

"My dear madam, Jack amuses me!"

Mrs. Wagner winced a little at the tone of the widow's reply. "I have
cured him of all the worst results of his cruel imprisonment in the
mad-house," she went on. "But his harmless vanity seems to be inbred; I
can do nothing with him on that side of his character. He is proud of
being trusted with anything, especially with keys; and he has been kept
waiting for them, while I had far more important matters to occupy me. In
a day or two he will be more accustomed to his great responsibility, as
he calls it."

"Of course you don't trust him," said Madame Fontaine, "with keys that
are of any importance; like the key of your desk there, for instance."

Mrs. Wagner's steady gray eyes began to brighten. "I can trust him with
anything," she answered emphatically.

Madame Fontaine arched her handsome brows in a mutely polite expression
of extreme surprise.

"In my experience of the world," Mrs. Wagner went on, "I have found that
the rarest of all human virtues is the virtue of gratitude. In a hundred
little ways my poor friendless Jack has shown me that he is grateful. To
my mind that is reason enough for trusting him."

"With money?" the widow inquired.

"Certainly. In London I trusted him with money--with the happiest
results. I quieted his mind by an appeal to his sense of trust and
self-respect, which he thoroughly appreciated. As yet I have not given
him the key of my desk here, because I reserve it as a special reward for
good conduct. In a few days more I have no doubt he will add it to the
collection in his bag."

"Ah," said Madame Fontaine, with the humility which no living woman knew
better when and how to assume, "you understand these difficult
questions--you have your grand national common-sense. I am only a poor
limited German woman. But, as you say in England, 'Live and learn.' You
have indescribably interested me. Good morning."

She left the room. "Hateful woman!" she said in her own language, on the
outer side of the door.

"Humbug!" said Mrs. Wagner in her language, on the inner side of the
door.

If there had been more sympathy between the two ladies, or if Madame
Fontaine had felt a little curiosity on the subject of crazy Jack's keys,
she might have taken away with her some valuable materials for future
consideration. As it was, Mrs. Wagner had not troubled her with any
detailed narrative of the manner in which she had contrived to fill
Jack's leather bag.

In London, she had begun cautiously by only giving him some of the
useless old keys which accumulate about a house in course of years. When
the novelty of merely keeping them had worn off, and when he wanted to
see them put to some positive use, she had added one or two keys of her
own, and had flattered his pride by asking him to open the box or the
desk for her, as the case might be. Proceeding on the same wisely gradual
plan at Frankfort, she had asked Mr. Keller to help her, and had been
taken by him (while Jack was out of the way) to a lumber-room in the
basement of the house, on the floor of which several old keys were lying
about. "Take as many as you like," he had said; "they have been here, for
all I know, ever since the house was repaired and refurnished in my
grandfather's time, and they might be sold for old iron, if there were
only enough of them." Mrs. Wagner had picked up the first six keys that
presented themselves, and had made Jack Straw the happiest of men. He
found no fault with them for being rusty. On the contrary, he looked
forward with delight to the enjoyment of cleaning away the rust. "They
shall be as bright as diamonds," he had said to his mistress, "before I
have done with them."

And what did Madame Fontaine lose, by failing to inform herself of such
trifles as these? She never discovered what she had lost. But she had not
done with Jack Straw yet.



CHAPTER IV

After leaving Mrs. Wagner, the widow considered with herself, and then
turned away from the commercial regions of the house, in search of her
daughter.

She opened the dining-room door, and found the bagatelle-board on the
table. Fritz and Minna were playing a game of the desultory sort--with
the inevitable interruptions appropriate to courtship.

"Are you coming to join us, mamma? Fritz is playing very badly."

"This sort of thing requires mathematical calculation," Fritz remarked;
"and Minna distracts my attention."

Madame Fontaine listened with a smile of maternal indulgence. "I am on my
way back to my room," she said. "If either of you happen to see Jack
Straw----"

"He has gone out," Fritz interposed. "I saw him through the window. He
started at a run--and then remembered his dignity, and slackened his pace
to a walk. How will he come back, I wonder?"

"He will come back with greater dignity than ever, Fritz. I have given
him the money to buy himself a pair of gloves. If you or Minna happen to
meet with him before I do, tell him he may come upstairs and show me his
new gloves. I like to indulge the poor imbecile creature. You mustn't
laugh at him--he is to be pitied."

Expressing these humane sentiments, she left the lovers to their game.
While Jack was still pleasurably excited by the new gift, he would be in
the right frame of mind to feel her influence. Now or never (if the thing
could be done) was the time to provide against the danger of
chance-allusions to what had happened at Wurzburg. It was well known in
the house that Mrs. Wagner wished to return to London, as soon after the
marriage as certain important considerations connected with the
management of the office would permit. By Madame Fontaine's calculations,
Jack would be happily out of the way of doing mischief (if she could keep
him quiet in the meanwhile) in a month or six weeks' time.

The game went on in the dining-room--with the inevitable intervals.
Beyond reproach as a lover, Fritz showed no signs of improvement as a
bagatelle-player. In a longer pause than usual, during which the persons
concerned happened to have their backs turned to the door, a disagreeable
interruption occurred. At a moment of absolute silence an intruding voice
made itself heard, inviting immediate attention in these words:--

"I say, you two! If you want to see the finest pair of gloves in
Frankfort, just look here."

There he stood with outstretched hands, exhibiting a pair of bright green
gloves, and standing higher in his own estimation than ever.

"Why do you always come in without knocking?" Fritz asked, with excusable
indignation.

"Why have _you_ always got your arm round her waist?" Jack retorted. "I
say, Miss Minna (I only offer a remark), the more he kisses you the more
you seem to like it."

"Send him away, for Heaven's sake!" Minna whispered.

"Go upstairs!" cried Fritz.

"What! do you want to be at it again?" asked Jack.

"Go and show your new gloves to Madame Fontaine," said Minna.

The girl's quick wit had discovered the right way to get rid of Jack. He
accepted the suggestion with enthusiasm. "Ah!" he exclaimed, "that's a
good idea! It would never have entered your head, Fritz, would it?"

Before Fritz could reply, Jack was out of his reach.

The widow sat in her room, innocently reading the newspaper. A cake
happened to be on the table at her side; and a bottle of sparkling
lemonade, by the merest coincidence, was in the near neighborhood of the
cake. Jack's eyes brightened, as they turned towards the table when he
entered the room.

"And those are the gloves!" said Madame Fontaine, with her head held
critically a little on one side, as if she was a connoisseur enjoying a
fine picture. "How very pretty! And what good taste you have!"

Jack (with his eyes still on the cake) accepted these flattering
expressions as no more than his due. "I am pleased with my walk," he
remarked. "I have made a successful appearance in public. When the
general attention was not occupied with my bag of keys, it was absorbed
in my gloves. I showed a becoming modesty--I took no notice of anybody."

"Perhaps your walk has given you a little appetite?" the widow suggested.

"What did you say?" cried Jack. "Appetite! Upon my soul, I could eat----
No, that's not gentleman-like. Mistress gave me one of her looks when I
said 'Upon my soul' down in the office. Thank you. Yes; I like cake.
Excuse me--I hope it has got plums in it?"

"Plums and other fine things besides. Taste!"

Jack tried hard to preserve his good manners, and only taste as he was
told. But the laws of Nature were too much for him. He was as fond of
sweet things as a child--he gobbled. "I say, you're uncommonly good to me
all of a sudden," he exclaimed between the bites. "You didn't make much
of me like this at Wurzburg!"

He had given Madame Fontaine her opportunity. She was not the woman to
let it slip. "Oh, Jack!" she said, in tones of gentle reproach, "didn't I
nurse you at Wurzburg?"

"Well," Jack admitted, "you did something of the sort."

"What do you mean?"

He had finished his first slice of cake; his politeness began to show
signs of wearing out.

"You did what my master the Doctor told you to do," he said. "But I don't
believe you cared whether I lived or died. When you had to tuck me up in
bed, for instance, you did it with the grossest indifference. Ha! you
have improved since that time. Give me some more cake. Never mind cutting
it thick. Is that bottle of lemonade for me?"

"You hardly deserve it, Jack, after the way you have spoken of me. Don't
you remember," she added, cautiously leading him back to the point, "I
used to make your lemonade when you were ill?"

Jack persisted in wandering away from the point. "You are so hungry for
compliments," he objected. "Haven't I told you that you have improved?
Only go on as you are going on now, and I dare say I shall put you next
to Mistress in my estimation, one of these days. Let the cork go out with
a pop; I like noises of all kinds. Your good health! Is it manners to
smack one's lips after lemonade?--it is such good stuff, and there's
_such_ pleasure in feeling it sting one's throat as it goes down. You
didn't give me such lemonade as this, when I was ill--Oh! that reminds
me."

"Reminds you of something that happened at Wurzburg?" Madame Fontaine
inquired.

"Yes. Wait a bit. I'm going to try how the cake tastes dipped in
lemonade. Ha! ha! how it fizzes as I stir it round! Yes; something that
happened at Wurzburg, as you say. I asked David about it, the morning he
went away. But the coach was waiting for him; and he ran off without
saying a word. I call that rude."

He was still stirring his lemonade with his bit of cake--or he might have
seen something in the widow's face that would have startled him. He did
look up, when she spoke to him. His sense of hearing was his quickest
sense; and he was struck by the sudden change in her voice.

"What did you ask David?"--was all she ventured to say.

Jack still looked at her. "Anything the matter with you?" he inquired.

"Nothing. What did you ask David?"

"Something I wanted to know."

"Perhaps _I_ can tell you what you want to know?"

"I shouldn't wonder. No: dipping the cake in lemonade doesn't improve it,
and it leaves crumbs in the drink."

"Throw away that bit of cake, Jack, and have some more.

"May I help myself?"

"Certainly. But you haven't told me yet what you want to know."

At last he answered directly. "What I want to know is this," he said.
"Who poisoned Mr. Keller?"

He was cutting the cake as he spoke, and extracted a piece of candied
orange peel with the point of the knife. Once more, the widow's face had
escaped observation. She turned away quickly, and occupied herself in
mending the fire. In this position, her back was turned towards the
table--she could trust herself to speak.

"You are talking nonsense!" she said.

Jack stopped--with the cake half-way to his mouth. Here was a direct
attack on his dignity, and he was not disposed to put up with it. "I
never talk nonsense," he answered sharply.

"You do," Madame Fontaine rejoined, just as sharply on her side. "Mr.
Keller fell ill, as anyone else might fall ill. Nobody poisoned him."

Jack got on his legs. For the moment he actually forgot the cake.
"Nobody?" he repeated. "Tell me this, if you please: Wasn't Mr. Keller
cured out of the blue-glass bottle--like me?"

(Who had told him this? Joseph might have told him; Minna might have told
him. It was no time for inquiry; the one thing needful was to eradicate
the idea from his mind. She answered boldly, "Quite right, so far"--and
waited to see what came of it.)

"Very well," said Jack, "Mr. Keller was cured out of the blue-glass
bottle, like me. And _I_ was poisoned. Now?"

She flatly contradicted him again. "You were _not_ poisoned!"

Jack crossed the room, with a flash of the old Bedlam light in his eyes,
and confronted her at the fire place. "The devil is the father of lies,"
he said, lifting his hand solemnly. "No lies! I heard my master the
Doctor say I was poisoned."

She was ready with her answer. "Your master the Doctor said that to
frighten you. He didn't want you to taste his medicines in his absence
again. You drank double what any person ought to have drunk, you greedy
Jack, when you tasted that pretty violet-colored medicine in your
master's workshop. And you had yourself to thank--not poison, when you
fell ill."

Jack looked hard at her. He could reason so far as that he and Mr. Keller
must have taken the same poison, because he and Mr. Keller had been cured
out of the same bottle. But to premise that he had been made ill by an
overdose of medicine, and that Mr. Keller had been made ill in some other
way, and then to ask, how two different illnesses could both have been
cured by the same remedy--was an effort utterly beyond him. He hung his
head sadly, and went back to the table.

"I wish I hadn't asked you about it," he said. "You puzzle me horribly."
But for that unendurable sense of perplexity, he would still have doubted
and distrusted her as resolutely as ever. As it was, his bewildered mind
unconsciously took its refuge in belief. "If it was medicine," asked the
poor creature vacantly, "what is the medicine good for?"

At those words, an idea of the devil's own prompting entered Madame
Fontaine's mind. Still standing at the fireplace, she turned her head
slowly, and looked at the cupboard.

"It's a better remedy even than the blue-glass bottle," she said; "it
cures you so soon when you are tired, or troubled in your mind, that I
have brought it away with me from Wurzburg, to use it for myself."

Jack's face brightened with a new interest. "Oh," he said eagerly, "do
let me see it again!"

She put her hand in her pocket, took out the key, and hesitated at the
last moment.

"Just one look at it," Jack pleaded, "to see if it's the same."

She unlocked the cupboard.



CHAPTER V

Jack attempted to follow her, and look in. She waved him back with her
hand.

"Wait at the window," she said, "where you can see the medicine in the
light." She took the bottle of "Alexander's Wine" from the chest, and
having locked the cupboard again, replaced the key in her pocket. "Do you
remember it?" she asked, showing him the bottle.

He shuddered as he recognized the color. "Medicine?" he said to
himself--troubled anew by doubts which he was not able to realize. "I
don't remember how much I took when I tasted it. Do you?"

"I have told you already. You took twice the proper dose."

"Did my master the Doctor say that?"

"Yes."

"And did he tell you what the proper dose was?"

"Yes."

Jack was not able to resist this. "I should like to see it!" he said
eagerly. "My master was a wonderful man--my master knew everything."

Madame Fontaine looked at him. He waited to see his request granted, like
a child waiting to see a promised toy. "Shall I measure it out, and show
you?" she said. "I suppose you don't know what two drachms mean?"

"No, no! Let me see it."

She looked at him again and hesitated. With a certain reluctance of
manner, she opened her dressing-case. As she took out a
medicine-measuring-glass, her hand began to tremble. A faint perspiration
showed itself on her forehead. She put the glass on the table, and spoke
to Jack.

"What makes you so curious to see what the dose is?" she said. "Do you
think you are likely to want some of it yourself?"

His eyes looked longingly at the poison. "It cures you when you are tired
or troubled in your mind," he answered, repeating her own words. "I am
but a little fellow--and I'm more easily tired sometimes than you would
think."

She passed her handkerchief over her forehead. "The fire makes the room
rather warm," she said.

Jack took no notice of the remark; he had not done yet with the
confession of his little infirmities. He went on proving his claim to be
favored with some of the wonderful remedy.

"And as for being troubled in my mind," he said, "you haven't a notion
how bad I am sometimes. If I'm kept away from Mistress for a whole
day--when I say or do something wrong, you know--I tell you this, I'm fit
to hang myself! If you were to see me, I do think your heart would be
touched; I do indeed!"

Instead of answering him, she rose abruptly, and hurried to the door.

"Surely there's somebody outside," she exclaimed--"somebody wanting to
speak to me!"

"I don't hear it," said Jack; "and mine are the quickest ears in the
house."

"Wait a minute, and let me see."

She opened the door: closed it again behind her; and hurried along the
lonely corridor. Throwing up the window at the end, she put her head out
into the keen wintry air, with a wild sense of relief. She was almost
beside herself, without knowing why. Poor Jack's innocent attempts to
persuade her to his destruction had, in their pitiable simplicity, laid a
hold on that complex and terrible nature which shook it to its center.
The woman stood face to face with her own contemplated crime, and
trembled at the diabolical treachery of it. "What's the matter with me?"
she wondered inwardly. "I feel as if I could destroy every poison in the
chest with my own hands."

Slowly she returned along the corridor, to her room. The refreshing air
had strung up her nerves again! she began to recover herself. The
strengthened body reacted on the wavering mind. She smiled as she
recalled her own weakness, looking at the bottle of poison which she had
mechanically kept in her hand. "That feeble little creature might do some
serious mischief, between this and the wedding-day," she thought; "and
yet----and yet----"

"Well, was there anybody outside?" Jack asked.

"Nothing to matter," she said. The answer was spoken mechanically.
Something in him or something in herself, it was impossible to say which,
had suddenly set her thinking of the day when her husband had dragged him
out of the jaws of death. It seemed strange that the memory of the dead
Doctor should come between them in that way, and at that time.

Jack recalled her to the passing moment. He offered her the
medicine-measuring-glass left on the table. "It frightens me, when I
think of what I did," he said. "And yet it's such a pretty color--I want
to see it again."

In silence, she took the glass; in silence, she measured out the fatal
two drachms of the poison, and showed it to him.

"Do put it in something," he pleaded, "and let me have it to keep: I know
I shall want it."

Still in silence, she turned to the table, and searching again in her
dressing-case, found a little empty bottle. She filled it and carefully
fitted in the glass stopper. Jack held out his hand. She suddenly drew
her own hand back. "No," she said. "On second thoughts, I won't let you
have it."

"Why not?"

"Because you can't govern your tongue, and can't keep anything to
yourself. You will tell everybody in the house that I have given you my
wonderful medicine. They will all be wanting some--and I shall have none
left for myself."

"Isn't that rather selfish?" said Jack. "I suppose it's natural, though.
Never mind, I'll do anything to please you; I'll keep it in my pocket and
not say a word to anybody. Now?"

Once more, he held out his hand. Once more Madame Fontaine checked
herself in the act of yielding to him. Her dead husband had got between
them again. The wild words he had spoken to her, in the first horror of
the discovery that his poor imbecile servant had found and tasted the
fatal drug, came back to her memory--"If he dies I shall not survive him.
And I firmly believe I shall not rest in my grave." She had never been,
like her husband, a believer in ghosts: superstitions of all sorts were
to her mind unworthy of a reasonable being. And yet at that moment, she
was so completely unnerved that she looked round the old Gothic room,
with a nameless fear throbbing at her heart.

It was enough--though nothing appeared: it was enough--though
superstitions of all sorts were unworthy of a reasonable being--to shake
her fell purpose, for the time. Nothing that Jack could say had the least
effect on her. Having arrived at a determination, she was mistress of
herself again. "Not yet," she resolved; "there may be consequences that I
haven't calculated on. I'll take the night to think of it." Jack tried a
last entreaty as she put her hand into her pocket, searching for the
cupboard key, and tried it in vain. "No," she said; "I will keep it for
you. Come to me when you are really ill, and want it."

Her pocket proved to be entangled for the moment in the skirt of her
dress. In irritably trying to disengage it, she threw out the key on the
floor. Jack picked the key up and noticed the inscription on the handle.
"Pink-Room Cupboard," he read. "Why do they call it by that name?"

In her over-wrought state of mind, she had even felt the small irritating
influence of an entangled pocket. She was in no temper to endure simple
questions patiently. "Look at the pink curtains, you fool!" she said--and
snatched the key out of his hand.

Jack instantly resented the language and the action. "I didn't come here
to be insulted," he declared in his loftiest manner.

Madame Fontaine secured the poison in the cupboard without noticing him,
and made him more angry than ever.

"Take back your new gloves," he cried, "I don't want them!" He rolled up
his gloves, and threw them at her. "I wish I could throw all the cake
I've eaten after them!" he burst out fervently.

He delivered this aspiration with an emphatic stamp of his foot. The
hysterical excitement in Madame Fontaine forced its way outwards under a
new form. She burst into a frantic fit of laughter. "You curious little
creature," she said; "I didn't mean to offend you. Don't you know that
women will lose their patience sometimes? There! Shake hands and make it
up. And take away the rest of the cake, if you like it." Jack looked at
her in speechless surprise. "Leave me to myself!" she cried, relapsing
into irritability. "Do you hear? Go! go! go!"

Jack left the room without a word of protest. The rapid changes in her,
the bewildering diversity of looks and tones that accompanied them,
completely cowed him. It was only when he was safe outside in the
corridor, that he sufficiently recovered himself to put his own
interpretation on what had happened. He looked back at the door of Madame
Fontaine's room, and shook his little gray head solemnly.

"Now I understand it," he thought to himself "Mrs. Housekeeper is mad.
Oh, dear, dear me--Bedlam is the only place for her!"

He descended the first flight of stairs, and stopped again to draw the
moral suggested by his own clever discovery. "I must speak to Mistress
about this," he concluded. "The sooner we are back in London, the safer I
shall feel."



CHAPTER VI

Mrs. Wagner was still hard at work at her desk, when Jack Straw made his
appearance again in the private office.

"Where have you been all this time?" she asked. "And what have you done
with your new gloves?"

"I threw them at Madame Fontaine," Jack answered. "Don't alarm yourself.
I didn't hit her."

Mrs. Wagner laid down her pen, smiling. "Even business must give way to
such an extraordinary event as this," she said. "What has gone wrong
between you and Madame Fontaine?"

Jack entered into a long rambling narrative of what he had heard on the
subject of the wonderful remedy, and of the capricious manner in which a
supply of it had been first offered to him, and then taken away again.
"Turn it over in your own mind," he said grandly, "and tell me what your
opinion is, so far."

"I think you had better let Madame Fontaine keep her medicine in the
cupboard," Mrs. Wagner answered; "and when you want anything of that
sort, mention it to me." The piece of cake which Jack had brought away
with him attracted her attention, as she spoke. Had he bought it himself?
or had he carried it off from the housekeeper's room? "Does that belong
to you, or to Madame Fontaine?" she asked. "Anything that belongs to
Madame Fontaine must be taken back to her."

"Do you think I would condescend to take anything that didn't belong to
me?" said Jack indignantly. He entered into another confused narrative,
which brought him, in due course of time, to the dropping of the key and
the picking of it up. "I happened to read 'Pink-Room Cupboard' on the
handle," he proceeded; "and when I asked what it meant she called me a
fool, and snatched the key out of my hand. Do you suppose I was going to
wear her gloves after that? No! I am as capable of self-sacrifice as any
of you--I acted nobly--I threw them at her. Wait a bit! You may laugh at
that, but there's something terrible to come. What do you think of a
furious person who insults me, suddenly turning into a funny person who
shakes hands with me and bursts out laughing? She did that. On the honor
of a gentleman, she did that. Follow my wise example; keep out of her
way--and let's get back to London as soon as we can. Oh, I have got a
reason for what I say. Just let me look through the keyhole before I
mention it. All right; there's nobody at the keyhole; I may say it
safely. It's a dreadful secret to reveal--Mrs. Housekeeper is mad! No,
no; there can be no possible mistake about it. If there's a creature
living who thoroughly understands madness when he sees it--by Heaven, I'm
that man!"

Watching Jack attentively while he was speaking. Mrs. Wagner beckoned to
him to come nearer, and took him by the hand.

"No more now," she said quietly; "you are beginning to get a little
excited."

"Who says that?" cried Jack.

"Your eyes say it. Come here to your place."

She rose, and led him to his customary seat in the recess of the
old-fashioned window. "Sit down," she said.

"I don't want to sit down."

"Not if I ask you?"

He instantly sat down. Mrs. Wagner produced her pocket-book, and made a
mark in it with her pencil. "One good conduct-mark already for Jack," she
said. "Now I must go on with my work; and you must occupy yourself
quietly, in some way that will amuse you. What will you do?"

Jack, steadily restraining himself under the firm kind eyes that rested
on him, was not in the right frame of mind for discovering a suitable
employment. "You tell me," he said.

Mrs. Wagner pointed to the bag of keys, hanging over his shoulder. "Have
you cleaned them yet?" she asked.

His attention was instantly diverted to the keys; he was astonished at
having forgotten them. Mrs. Wagner rang the bell, and supplied him with
sandpaper, leather, and whiting. "Now then," she said, pointing to the
clock, "for another hour at least--silence and work!"

She returned to her desk; and Jack opened his bag.

He spread out the rusty keys in a row, on the seat at his side. Looking
from one to the other before he began the cleansing operations, he
started, picked out one key, and held it up to the light. There was
something inscribed on the handle, under a layer of rust and dirt. He
snatched up his materials, and set to work with such good will that the
inscription became visible in a few minutes. He could read it
plainly--"Pink-Room Cupboard." A word followed which was not quite so
intelligible to him--the word "Duplicate." But he had no need to trouble
himself about this. "Pink-Room Cupboard," on a second key, told him all
he wanted to know.

His eyes sparkled--he opened his lips--looked at Mrs. Wagner, busily
engaged with her pen--and restrained himself within the hard limits of
silence. "Aha! I can take Mrs. Housekeeper's medicine whenever I like,"
he thought slily.

His faith in the remedy was not at all shaken by his conviction that
Madame Fontaine was mad. It was the Doctor who had made the remedy--and
the Doctor could not commit a mistake. "She's not fit to have the keeping
of such a precious thing," he concluded. "I'll take the whole of it under
my own charge. Shall I tell Mistress, when we have done work?"

He considered this question, cleaning his keys, and looking furtively
from time to time at Mrs. Wagner. The cunning which is almost invariably
well developed in a feeble intelligence, decided him on keeping his
discovery to himself. "Anything that belongs to Madame Fontaine must be
taken back to her"--was what the Mistress had just said to him. He would
certainly be ordered to give up the duplicate key (which meant giving up
the wonderful remedy) if he took Mrs. Wagner into his confidence. "When I
have got what I want," he thought, "I can throw away the key--and there
will be an end of it."

The minutes followed each other, the quarters struck--and still the two
strangely associated companions went on silently with their strangely
dissimilar work. It was close on the time for the striking of the hour,
when a third person interrupted the proceedings--that person being no
other than Madame Fontaine again.

"A thousand pardons, Mrs. Wagner! At what time can I say two words to you
in confidence?"

"You could not have chosen your time better, Madame Fontaine. My work is
done for to-day." She paused, and looked at Jack, ostentatiously busy
with his keys. The wisest course would be to leave him in the
window-seat, harmlessly employed. "Shall we step into the dining-room?"
she suggested, leading the way out. "Wait there, Jack, till I return; I
may have another good mark to put in my pocket-book."

The two ladies held their conference, with closed doors, in the empty
dining-room.

"My only excuse for troubling you, madam," the widow began, "is that I
speak in the interest of that poor little Jack, whom we have just left in
the office. May I ask if you have lately observed any signs of excitement
in him?"

"Certainly!" Mrs. Wagner answered, with her customary frankness of reply;
"I found it necessary to compose him, when he came to me about an hour
ago--and you have just seen that he is as quiet again as a man can be. I
am afraid you have had reason to complain of his conduct yourself?"

Madame Fontaine lifted her hands in gently-expressed protest. "Oh, dear,
no--not to complain! To pity our afflicted Jack, and to feel, perhaps,
that your irresistible influence over him might be required--no more."

"You are very good," said Mrs. Wagner dryly. "At the same time, I beg you
to accept my excuses--not only for Jack, but for myself. I found him so
well behaved, and so capable of restraining himself in London, that I
thought I was running no risk in bringing him with me to Frankfort."

"Pray say no more, dear madam--you really confuse me. I am the innocent
cause of his little outbreak. I most unfortunately reminded him of the
time when he lived with us at Wurzburg--and in that way I revived one of
his old delusions, which even your admirable treatment has failed to
remove from his mind."

"May I ask what the delusion is, Madame Fontaine?"

"One of the commonest delusions among insane persons, Mrs. Wagner--the
delusion that he has been poisoned. Has he ever betrayed it in your
presence?"

"I heard something of it," Mrs. Wagner answered, "from the superintendent
at the madhouse in London."

"Ah, indeed? The superintendent merely repeated, I suppose, what Jack had
told him?"

"Exactly. I was careful not to excite him, by referring to it myself,
when I took him under my charge. At the same time, it is impossible to
look at his hair and his complexion, without seeing that some serious
accident must have befallen him."

"Most unquestionably! He is the victim, poor creature--not of poison--but
of his own foolish curiosity, in my husband's surgery, and you see the
result. Alas! I cannot give you the scientific reasons for it."

"I shouldn't understand them, Madame Fontaine, if you could."

"Ah, dear lady, you kindly say so, because you are unwilling to humiliate
me. Is there anything Jack may have said to you about me, which seems to
require an explanation--if I can give it?"

She slipped in this question, concealing perfectly the anxiety that
suggested it, so far as her voice and her eyes were concerned. But the
inner agitation rose to the surface in a momentary trembling of her lips.

Slight as it was, that sign of self-betrayal did not escape Mrs. Wagner's
keen observation. She made a cautious reply. "On the contrary," she said,
"from what Jack has told me, the conclusion is plain that you have really
done him a service. You have succeeded in curing that delusion you spoke
of--and I applaud your good sense in refusing to trust him with the
medicine."

Madame Fontaine made a low curtsey. "I shall remember those kind words,
among the happy events of my life," she said, with her best grace.
"Permit me to take your hand." She pressed Mrs. Wagner's hand
gratefully--and made an exit which was a triumph of art. Even a French
actress might have envied the manner in which she left the room.

But, when she ascended the stairs, with no further necessity for keeping
up appearances, her step was as slow and as weary as the step of an old
woman. "Oh, my child," she thought sadly, with her mind dwelling again on
Minna, "shall I see the end of all these sacrifices, when your
wedding-day comes with the end of the year?" She sat down by the fire in
her room, and for the first time in her life, the harmless existence of
one of those domestic drudges whom she despised began to seem enviable to
her. There were merits visible now, in the narrow social horizon that is
bounded by gossip, knitting, and tea.

Left by herself in the dining-room, Mrs. Wagner took a turn up and down,
with her mind bent on penetrating Madame Fontaine's motives.

There were difficulties in her way. It was easy to arrive at the
conclusion that there was something under the surface; but the obstacles
to advancing beyond this point of discovery seemed to defy removal. To
distrust the graceful widow more resolutely than ever, and to lament that
she had not got wise David Glenney to consult with, were the principal
results of Mrs. Wagner's reflections when she returned to the office.

There was Jack--in the nursery phrase, as good as gold--still in his
place on the window seat, devoted to his keys. His first words related
entirely to himself.

"If this isn't good conduct," he said, "I should like to know what is.
Give me my other mark."

Mrs. Wagner took out her pocket-book and made the new mark.

"Thank you," said Jack. "Now I want something else. I want to know what
Mrs. Housekeeper has been saying. I have been seriously alarmed about
you."

"Why, Jack?"

"She hasn't bitten you, has she? Oh, they do it sometimes! What lies has
she been telling you of me? Oh, they lie in the most abominable manner!
What? She has been talking of me in the kindest terms? Then why did she
want to get out of my hearing? Ah, they're so infernally deceitful! I do
hate mad people."

Mrs. Wagner produced her pocket-book again. "I shall scratch out your
mark," she said sternly, "if I hear any more talk of that sort."

Jack gathered his keys together with a strong sense of injury, and put
them back in his leather bag. "You're a little hard on me," he said, "when
I'm only warning you for your own good. I don't know why it is, you're
not as kind to me here, as you used to be in London. And I feel it, I
do!" He laid himself down on the window seat, and began to cry.

Mrs. Wagner was not the woman to resist this expression of the poor
little man's feeling. In a moment she was at the window comforting him
and drying his eyes, as if he had been a child. And, like a child, Jack
took advantage of the impression that he had made. "Look at your desk,"
he said piteously; "there's another proof how hard you are on me. I used
to keep the key of your desk in London. You won't trust it to me here."

Mrs. Wagner went to the desk, locked it, and returned to Jack. Few people
know how immensely an act of kindness gains in effect, by being performed
in silence. Mrs. Wagner was one of the few. Without a word, she opened
the leather bag and dropped the key into it. Jack's gratitude rushed
innocently to an extreme which it had never reached yet. "Oh!" he cried,
"would you mind letting me kiss you?"

Mrs. Wagner drew back, and held up a warning hand. Before she could
express herself in words, Jack's quick ear caught the sound of footsteps
approaching the door. "Is she coming back?" he cried, still suspicious of
Madame Fontaine. Mrs. Wagner instantly opened the door, and found herself
face to face with Joseph the footman.

"Do you know, ma'am, when Mr. Keller will be back?" he asked.

"I didn't even know that he was out, Joseph. Who wants him?"

"A gentleman, ma'am, who says he comes from Munich."



CHAPTER VII

On further inquiry, it turned out that "the gentleman from Munich" had no
time to spare. In the absence of Mr. Keller, he had asked if he could see
"one of the other partners." This seemed to imply that commercial
interests were in some way connected with the stranger's visit--in which
case, Mrs. Wagner was perfectly competent to hear what he had to say.

"Where is the gentleman?" she asked.

"In the drawing-room," Joseph answered.

Mrs. Wagner at once left the office. She found herself in the presence of
a dignified elderly gentleman, dressed entirely in black, and having the
ribbon of some order of merit attached to the buttonhole of his long
frock-coat. His eyes opened wide in surprise, behind his gold spectacles,
when he found himself face to face with a lady. "I fear there is some
mistake," he said, in the smoothest of voices, and with the politest of
bows; "I asked to see one of the partners."

Mrs. Wagner added largely to his amazement, by informing him of the
position that she held in the firm. "If you come on a matter of
business," she proceeded, "you may trust me to understand you, sir,
though I am only a woman. If your visit relates to private affairs, I beg
to suggest that you should write to Mr. Keller--I will take care that he
receives your letter the moment he returns."

"There is not the least necessity for my troubling you," the stranger
replied. "I am a physician; and I have been summoned to Frankfort to
consult with my colleagues here, on a serious case of illness. Mr.
Keller's sister is one of my patients in Munich. I thought I would take
the present opportunity of speaking to him about the state of her
health."

He had just introduced himself in those words, when Mr. Keller entered
the room. The merchant and the physician shook hands like old friends.

"No alarming news of my sister, I hope?" said Mr. Keller.

"Only the old trouble, my good friend. Another attack of asthma."

Mrs. Wagner rose to leave the room. Mr. Keller stopped her. "There is not
the least necessity for you to leave us," he said. "Unless my
presentiments deceive me, we may even have occasion to ask your advice.--Is
there any hope, doctor, of her being well enough to leave Munich,
towards the end of the month?"

"I am sorry to say it," answered the physician--"having heard of the
interesting occasion on which she had engaged to be one of your
guests--but, at her age, I must ask for a little more time."

"In other words, it is impossible for my sister to be with us, on the day
of my son's marriage?"

"Quite impossible. She has so few pleasures, poor soul, and she is so
bitterly disappointed, that I volunteered to take advantage of my
professional errand here, to make a very bold request. Let me first do
your excellent sister justice. She will not hear of the young people
being disappointed by any postponement of the wedding, on her account.
And here is the famous necklace, committed to my care, to prove that she
is sincere."

He took his little traveling-bag from the chair on which he had placed
it, and produced the case containing the necklace. No woman--not even a
head-partner in a great house of business--could have looked at those
pearls, and preserved her composure. Mrs. Wagner burst out with a cry of
admiration.

Mr. Keller passed the necklace over without notice; his sister was the
one object of interest to him. "Would she be fit to travel," he asked,
"if we put off the marriage for a month?"

"She shall be fit to travel, barring accidents," said the physician, "if
you can put off the marriage for a fortnight. I start this evening on my
return to Munich, and not a day shall pass without my seeing her."

Mr. Keller appealed to Mrs. Wagner. "Surely, we might make this trifling
sacrifice?" he said. "The pleasure of seeing her nephew married is likely
to be the last pleasure of my sister's life."

"In your place," said Mrs. Wagner, "I should not hesitate for an instant
to grant the fortnight's delay. But the bride and bridegroom must be
consulted, of course."

"And the bride's parents," suggested the discreet physician, "if they are
still living."

"There is only her mother living," said Mr. Keller. "She is too
high-minded a person to raise any objection, I am sure." He paused, and
reflected for awhile. "Fritz counts for nothing," he went on. "I think we
ought to put the question, in the first instance, to the bride?" He rang
the bell, and then took the necklace out of Mrs. Wagner's hands. "I have
a very high opinion of little Minna," he resumed. "We will see what the
child's own kind heart says--undisturbed by the influence of the pearls,
and without any prompting on the part of her mother."

He closed the jewel case, and put it into a cabinet that stood near him.
Joseph was sent upstairs, with the necessary message. "Don't make any
mistake," said his master; "I wish to see Miss Minna, alone."

The physician took a pinch of snuff while they were waiting. "The test is
hardly conclusive," he remarked slily; "women are always capable of
sacrificing themselves. What will the bridegroom say?"

"My good sir," Mr. Keller rejoined a little impatiently, "I have
mentioned already that Fritz counts for nothing."

Minna came in. Her color rose when she found herself unexpectedly in the
presence of a dignified and decorated stranger. The physician tapped his
snuff-box, with the air of a man who thoroughly understood young women.
"Charming indeed!" he said confidentially to Mrs. Wagner; "I am young
enough (at heart, madam) to wish I was Fritz."

Mr. Keller advanced to meet Minna, and took her hand.

"My dear," he said, "what would you think of me, if I requested you to
put off your marriage for two whole weeks--and all on account of an old
woman?"

"I should think you had surely some reason, sir, for asking me to do
that," Minna replied; "and I confess I should be curious to know who the
old woman was."

In the fewest and plainest words, Mr. Keller repeated what the physician
had told him. "Take your own time to think of it," he added; "and consult
your mother first, if you like."

Minna's sweet face looked lovelier than ever, glowing with the heavenly
light of true and generous feeling. "Oh, Mr. Keller!" she exclaimed, "do
you really suppose I am cold-hearted enough to want time to think of it?
I am sure I may speak for my mother, as well as for myself. Fraulein
Keller's time shall be our time. Please tell her so, with my duty--or,
may I be bold enough to say already, with my love?"

Mr. Keller kissed her forehead with a fervor of feeling that was rare
with him. "You are well worthy of my sister's bridal gift," he said--and
took the necklace out of the cabinet, and gave it to her.

For some moments Minna stood looking at the magnificent pearls, in a
state of speechless enchantment. When she did speak, her first delightful
ardor of admiration had cooled under the chilling perception of a want of
proper harmony between her pearls and herself. "They are too grand for
me," she said sadly; "I ought to be a great lady, with a wardrobe full of
magnificent dresses, to wear such pearls as these!" She looked at them
again, with the natural longing of her sex and age. "May I take the
necklace upstairs," she asked, with the most charming inconsistency, "and
see how it looks when I put it on?"

Mr. Keller smiled and waved his hand. "You can do what you like with your
own necklace, my dear," he said. "When I have written a line to my
sister, perhaps I may follow you, and admire my daughter-in-law in all
her grandeur."

The physician looked at his watch. "If you can write your letter in five
minutes," he suggested, "I can take it with me to Munich."

Mrs. Wagner and Minna left the room together. "Come and see how it
looks," said Minna; "I should so like to have your opinion."

"I will follow you directly, my dear. There is something I have forgotten
in the office."

The events of the day had ended in making Jack drowsy; he was half-asleep
on the window-seat. Mrs. Wagner effectually roused him.

"Mr. Keeper of the Keys," she said; "I want my desk opened."

Jack was on his legs in an instant. "Ha, Mistress, it's jolly to hear you
say that--it's like being in London again."

The desk was of the spacious commercial sort, with a heavy mahogany lid.
Everything inside was in the most perfect order. A row of "pigeon-holes"
at the back had their contents specified by printed tickets. "Abstracts
of correspondence, A to Z;" "Terms for commission agency;" "Key of the
iron safe." "Key of the private ledger"--and so on. The ledger--a stout
volume with a brass lock, like a private diary--was placed near the
pigeon-holes. On the top of it rested a smaller book, of the
pocket--size, entitled "Private Accounts." Mrs. Wagner laid both books
open before her, at the pages containing the most recent entries, and
compared them. "I felt sure I had forgotten it!" she said to herself--and
transferred an entry in the ledger to the private account-book. After
replacing the ledger, she locked the desk, and returned the key to Jack.

"Remember," she said, "the rule in London is the rule here. My desk is
never to be opened, except when I ask you to do it. And if you allow the
key to pass out of your own possession, you cease to be Keeper."

"Did I ever do either of those two things in London?" Jack asked.

"Never."

"Then don't be afraid of my doing them here. I say! you haven't put back
the little book." He produced the key again, and put it into the
lock--while Mrs. Wagner was occupied in placing her account-book in her
pocket.

"Its proper place is not in the desk," she explained; "I usually keep it
about me."

Jack's ready suspicion was excited. "Ah," he cried, with an outburst of
indignation, "you won't trust it to me!"

"Take care I don't set a bad-conduct mark against you!" said Mrs. Wagner.
"You foolish fellow, the little book is a copy of what is in the big
book--and I trust you with the big book."

She knew Jack thoroughly well. His irritable dignity was at once appeased
when he heard that the biggest of the duplicate books was in his keeping.
He took the key out of the lock again. At the same moment, Mr. Keller
entered the office. Jack possessed the dog's enviable faculty of
distinguishing correctly between the people who are, and the people who
are not, their true friends. Mr. Keller privately disliked the idea of
having a person about him who had come out of a madhouse. Jack's
instincts warned him to leave a room when Mr. Keller entered it. He left
the office now.

"Is it possible that you trust that crazy creature with the key of your
desk?" said Mr. Keller. "Even your bitterest enemy, Mrs. Wagner, would
not believe you could be guilty of such an act of rashness."

"Pardon me, sir, it is you who are guilty of an act of rashness in
forming your judgment. 'Fancy a woman in her senses trusting her keys to
a man who was once in Bedlam!' Everybody said that of me, when I put Jack
to the proof in my own house."

"Aha! there are other people then who agree with me?" said Mr. Keller.

"There are other people, sir (I say it with all needful respect), who
know no more of the subject than you do. The most certain curative
influence that can be exercised over the poor martyrs of the madhouse, is
to appeal to their self-respect. From first to last, Jack has never been
unworthy of the trust that I have placed in him. Do you think my friends
owned they had been mistaken? No more than you will own it! Make your
mind easy. I will be personally answerable for anything that is lost,
while I am rash enough to trust my crazy creature with my key."

Mr. Keller's opinion was not in the least shaken; he merely checked any
further expression of it, in deference to an angry lady. "I dare say you
know best," he remarked politely. "Let me mention the little matter that
has brought me here. David Glenney is, no doubt, closely occupied in
London. He ought to know at once that the wedding-day is deferred. Will
you write to him, or shall I?"

Mrs. Wagner began to recover her temper.

"I will write with pleasure, Mr. Keller. We have half an hour yet before
post-time. I have promised Minna to see how the wonderful necklace looks
on her. Will you excuse me for a few minutes? Or will you go upstairs
with me?--I think you said something about it in the drawing-room."

"Certainly," said Mr. Keller, "if the ladies will let me in."

They ascended the stairs together. On the landing outside the
drawing-room, they encountered Fritz and Minna--one out of temper, and
the other in tears.

"What's wrong now?" Mr. Keller asked sharply. "Fritz! what does that
sulky face mean?"

"I consider myself very badly used," Fritz answered. "I say there's a
great want of proper consideration for Me, in putting off our marriage.
And Madame Fontaine agrees with me."

"Madame Fontaine?" He looked at Minna, as he repeated the name. "Is this
really true?"

Minna trembled at the bare recollection of what had passed. "Oh, don't
ask me!" she pleaded piteously; "I can't tell what has come to my
mother--she is so changed, she frightens me. And as for Fritz," she said,
rousing herself, "if he is to be a selfish tyrant, I can tell him this--I
won't marry him at all!"

Mr. Keller turned to Fritz, and pointed contemptuously down the stairs.

"Leave us!" he said. Fritz opened his lips to protest. Mr. Keller
interposed, with a protest of his own. "One of these days," he went on,
"you may possibly have a son. You will not find his society agreeable to
you, when he happens to have made a fool of himself." He pointed down the
stairs for the second time. Fritz retired, frowning portentously. His
father addressed Minna with marked gentleness of manner. "Rest and
recover yourself, my child. I will see your mother, and set things
right."

"Don't go away by yourself, my dear," Mrs. Wagner added kindly; "come
with me to my room."

Mr. Keller entered the drawing-room, and sent Joseph with another
message. "Go up to Madame Fontaine, and say I wish to see her here
immediately."



CHAPTER VIII

The widow presented herself, with a dogged resignation singularly unlike
her customary manner. Her eyes had a set look of hardness; her lips were
fast closed; her usually colorless complexion had faded to a strange
grayish pallor. If her dead husband could have risen from the grave, and
warned Mr. Keller, he would have said, "Once or twice in my life, I have
seen her like that--mind what you are about!"

She puzzled Mr. Keller. He tried to gain time--he bowed and pointed to a
chair. Madame Fontaine took the chair in silence. Her hard eyes looked
straight at the master of the house, overhung more heavily than usual by
their drooping lids. Her thin lips never opened. The whole expression of
the woman said plainly, "You speak first!"

Mr. Keller spoke. His kindly instinct warned him not to refer to Minna,
in alluding to the persons from whom he had derived his information. "I
hear from my son," he said, "that you do not approve of our putting off
the wedding-day, though it is only for a fortnight. Are you aware of the
circumstances?"

"I am aware of the circumstances."

"Your daughter informed you of my sister's illness, I suppose?"

At that first reference to Minna, some inner agitation faintly stirred
the still surface of Madame Fontaine's face.

"Yes," she said. "My thoughtless daughter informed me."

The epithet applied to Minna, aggravated by the deliberate emphasis laid
on it, jarred on Mr. Keller's sense of justice. "It appears to me," he
said, "that your daughter acted in this matter, not only with the truest
kindness, but with the utmost good sense. Mrs. Wagner and my sister's
physician were both present at the time, and both agreed with me in
admiring her conduct. What has she done to deserve that you should call
her thoughtless?"

"She ought to have remembered her duty to her mother. She ought to have
consulted me, before she presumed to decide for herself."

"In that case, Madame Fontaine, would you have objected to change the day
of the marriage?"

"I am well aware, sir, that your sister has honored my daughter by making
her a magnificent present----"

Mr. Keller's face began to harden. "May I beg you to be so good as answer
my question plainly?" he said, in tones which were peremptory for the
first time. "Would you have objected to grant the fortnight's delay?"

She answered him, on the bare chance that a strong expression of her
opinion, as the bride's mother, might, even now, induce him to revert to
the date originally chosen for the wedding. "I should certainly have
objected," she said firmly.

"What difference could it possibly make to _you?"_ There was suspicion in
his manner, as well as surprise, when he put that question. "For what
reason would you have objected?"

"Is my objection, as Minna's mother, not worthy of some consideration,
sir, without any needless inquiry into motives?"

"Your daughter's objection--as the bride--would have been a final
objection, to my mind," Mr. Keller answered. "But _your_ objection is
simply unaccountable; and I press you for your motives, having this good
reason for doing so on my side. If I am to disappoint my sister--cruelly
to disappoint her--it must be for some better cause than a mere caprice."

It was strongly put, and not easily answered. Madame Fontaine made a last
effort--she invented the likeliest motives she could think of. "I object,
sir, in the first place, to putting off the most important event in my
daughter's life, and in my life, as if it was some trifling engagement.
Besides, how do I know that some other unlucky circumstance may not cause
more delays; and perhaps prevent the marriage from taking place at all?"

Mr. Keller rose from his chair. Whatever her true motives might be, it
was now perfectly plain that she was concealing them from him. "If you
have any more serious reasons to give me than these," he said quietly and
coldly, "let me hear them between this and post-time tomorrow. In the
meanwhile, I need not detain you any longer."

Madame Fontaine rose also--but she was not quite defeated yet.

"As things are, then," she resumed, "I am to understand, sir, that the
marriage is put off to the thirteenth of January next?"

"Yes, with your daughter's consent."

"Suppose my daughter changes her mind, in the interval?"

"Under your influence?"

"Mr. Keller! you insult me."

"I should insult your daughter, Madame Fontaine--after what she said in
this room before me and before other witnesses--if I supposed her to be
capable of changing her mind, except under your influence.

"Good evening, sir."

"Good evening, madam."

She went back to her room.

The vacant spaces on the walls were prettily filled up with prints and
water-color drawings. Among these last was a little portrait of Mr.
Keller, in a glazed frame. She approached it--looked at it--and, suddenly
tearing it from the wall, threw it on the floor. It happened to fall with
the glass uppermost. She stamped on it, in a perfect frenzy of rage; not
only crushing the glass, but even breaking the frame, and completely
destroying the portrait as a work of art. "There! that has done me good,"
she said to herself--and kicked the fragments into a corner of the room.

She was now able to take a chair at the fireside, and shape out for
herself the course which it was safest to follow.

Minna was first in her thoughts. She could bend the girl to her will, and
send her to Mr. Keller. But he would certainly ask, under what influence
she was acting, in terms which would place the alternative between a
downright falsehood, or a truthful answer. Minna was truth itself; in her
youngest days, she had been one of those rare children who never take
their easy refuge in a lie. What influence would be most likely to
persuade her to deceive Fritz's father? The widow gave up the idea, in
the moment when it occurred to her. Once again, "Jezebel's Daughter"
unconsciously touched Jezebel's heart with the light of her purity and
her goodness. The mother shrank from deliberately degrading the nature of
her own child.

The horrid question of the money followed. On the thirty-first of the
month, the promissory note would be presented for payment. Where was the
money to be found?

Some little time since, having the prospect of Minna's marriage on the
thirtieth of December before her, she had boldly resolved on referring
the holder of the note to Mr. Keller. Did it matter to her what the
sordid old merchant said or thought, after Minna had become his son's
wife? She would coolly say to him, "The general body of the creditors
harassed me. I preferred having one creditor to deal with, who had no
objection to grant me time. His debt has fallen due; and I have no money
to pay it. Choose between paying it yourself, and the disgrace of letting
your son's mother-in-law be publicly arrested in Frankfort for debt."

So she might have spoken, if her daughter had been a member of Mr.
Keller's family. With floods of tears, with eloquent protestations, with
threats even of self-destruction, could she venture on making the
confession now?

She remembered how solemnly she had assured Mr. Keller that her debts
were really and truly paid. She remembered the inhuman scorn with which
he had spoken of persons who failed to meet their pecuniary engagements
honestly. Even if he forgave her for deceiving him--which was in the last
degree improbable--he was the sort of man who would suspect her of other
deceptions. He would inquire if she had been quite disinterested in
attending at his bedside, and saving his life. He might take counsel
privately with his only surviving partner, Mrs. Wagner. Mrs. Wagner might
recall the interview in the drawing-room, and the conversation about
Jack; and might see her way to consulting Jack's recollections of his
illness at Wurzburg. The risk to herself of encountering these dangers
was trifling. But the risk to Minna involved nothing less than the
breaking off of the marriage. She decided on keeping up appearances, at
any sacrifice, until the marriage released her from the necessities of
disguise.

So it came back again to the question of how the money was to be found.

Had she any reasonable hope of success, if she asked for a few days'
leave of absence, and went to Wurzburg? Would the holder of the bill
allow her to renew it for a fortnight?

She got up, and consulted her glass--and turned away from it again, with
a sigh. "If I was only ten years younger!" she thought.

The letter which she received from Wurzburg had informed her that the
present holder of the bill was "a middle-aged man." If he had been very
young, or very old, she would have trusted in the autumn of her beauty,
backed by her ready wit. But experience had taught her that the
fascinations of a middle-aged woman are, in the vast majority of cases,
fascinations thrown away on a middle-aged man. Even if she could hope to
be one of the exceptions that prove the rule, the middle-aged man was an
especially inaccessible person, in this case. He had lost money by her
already--money either paid, or owing, to the spy whom he had set to watch
her. Was this the sort of man who would postpone the payment of his just
dues?

She opened one of the drawers in the toilette table, and took out the
pearl necklace. "I thought it would come to this," she said quietly.
"Instead of paying the promissory note, Mr. Keller will have to take the
necklace out of pledge."

The early evening darkness of winter had set in. She dressed herself for
going out, and left her room, with the necklace in its case, concealed
under her shawl.

Poor puzzled Minna was waiting timidly to speak to her in the corridor.
"Oh mamma, do forgive me! I meant it for the best."

The widow put one arm (the other was not at liberty) round her daughter's
waist. "You foolish child," she said, "will you never understand that
your poor mother is getting old and irritable? I may think you have made
a great mistake, in sacrificing yourself to the infirmities of an
asthmatic stranger at Munich; but as to being ever really angry with
you----! Kiss me, my love; I never was fonder of you than I am now. Lift
my veil. Oh, my darling, I don't like giving you to anybody, even to
Fritz."

Minna changed the subject--a sure sign that she and Fritz were friends
again. "How thick and heavy your veil is!" she said.

"It is cold out of doors, my child, to-night."

"But why are you going out?"

"I don't feel very well, Minna. A brisk walk in the frosty air will do me
good."

"Mamma, do let me go with you!"

"No, my dear. You are not a hard old woman like me--and you shall not run
the risk of catching cold. Go into my room, and keep the fire up. I shall
be back in half an hour.

"Where is my necklace, mamma?"

"My dear, the bride's mother keeps the bride's necklace--and, when we do
try it on, we will see how it looks by daylight."

In a minute more, Madame Fontaine was out in the street, on her way to
the nearest jeweler.



CHAPTER IX

The widow stopped at a jeweler's window in the famous street called the
Zeil. The only person in the shop was a simple-looking old man, sitting
behind the counter, reading a newspaper.

She went in. "I have something to show you, sir," she said, in her
softest and sweetest tones. The simple old man first looked at her thick
veil, and then at the necklace. He lifted his hands in amazement and
admiration. "May I examine these glorious pearls?" he asked--and looked
at them through a magnifying glass, and weighed them in his hand. "I
wonder you are not afraid to walk out alone in the dark, with such a
necklace as this," he said. "May I send to my foreman, and let him see
it?"

Madame Fontaine granted his request. He rang the bell which communicated
with the work-rooms. Being now satisfied that she was speaking to the
proprietor of the shop, she risked her first inquiry.

"Have you any necklace of imitation pearls which resembles my necklace?"
she asked.

The old gentleman started, and looked harder than ever at the
impenetrable veil. "Good heavens--no!" he exclaimed. "There is no such
thing in all Frankfort.

"Could an imitation be made, sir?"

The foreman entered the shop--a sullen, self-concentrated man. "Fit for a
queen," he remarked, with calm appreciation of the splendid pearls. His
master repeated to him Madame Fontaine's last question. "They might do it
in Paris," he answered briefly. "What time could you give them, madam?"

"I should want the imitation sent here before the thirteenth of next
month."

The master, humanely pitying the lady's ignorance, smiled and said
nothing. The foreman's decision was rough and ready. "Nothing like time
enough; quite out of the question."

Madame Fontaine had no choice but to resign herself to circumstances. She
had entered the shop with the idea of exhibiting the false necklace on
the wedding-day, whilst the genuine pearls were pledged for the money of
which she stood in need. With the necklace in pawn, and with no
substitute to present in its place, what would Minna say, what would Mr.
Keller think? It was useless to pursue those questions--some plausible
excuse must be found. No matter what suspicions might be excited, the
marriage would still take place. The necklace was no essential part of
the ceremony which made Fritz and Minna man and wife--and the money must
be had.

"I suppose, sir, you grant loans on valuable security--such as this
necklace?" she said.

"Certainly, madam."

"Provided you have the lady's name and address," the disagreeable foreman
suggested, turning to his master.

The old man cordially agreed. "Quite true! quite true! And a reference
besides--some substantial person, madam, well known in this city. The
responsibility is serious with such pearls as these."

"Is the reference absolutely necessary?" Madame Fontaine asked.

The foreman privately touched his master behind the counter.
Understanding the signal, the simple old gentleman closed the jewel-case,
and handed it back. "Absolutely necessary," he answered.

Madame Fontaine went out again into the street. "A substantial reference"
meant a person of some wealth and position in Frankfort--a person like
Mr. Keller, for example. Where was she to find such a reference? Her
relatives in the city had deliberately turned their backs on her. Out of
Mr. Keller's house, they were literally the only "substantial" people
whom she knew. The one chance left seemed to be to try a pawnbroker.

At this second attempt, she was encountered by a smart young man. The
moment _he_ saw the necklace, he uttered a devout ejaculation of surprise
and blew a whistle. The pawnbroker himself appeared--looked at the
pearls--looked at the veiled lady--and answered as the jeweler had
answered, but less civilly. "I'm not going to get myself into a scrape,"
said the pawnbroker; "I must have a good reference."

Madame Fontaine was not a woman easily discouraged. She turned her steps
towards the noble medieval street called the Judengasse--then thickly
inhabited; now a spectacle of decrepit architectural old age, to be soon
succeeded by a new street.

By twos and threes at a time, the Jews in this quaint quarter of the town
clamorously offered their services to the lady who had come among them.
When the individual Israelite to whom she applied saw the pearls, he
appeared to take leave of his senses. He screamed; he clapped his hands;
he called upon his wife, his children, his sisters, his lodgers, to come
and feast their eyes on such a necklace as had never been seen since
Solomon received the Queen of Sheba.

The first excitement having worn itself out, a perfect volley of
questions followed. What was the lady's name? Where did she live? How had
she got the necklace? Had it been given to her? and, if so, who had given
it? Where had it been made? Why had she brought it to the Judengasse? Did
she want to sell it? or to borrow money on it? Aha! To borrow money on
it. Very good, very good indeed; but--and then the detestable invitation
to produce the reference made itself heard once more.

Madame Fontaine's answer was well conceived. "I will pay you good
interest, in place of a reference," she said. Upon this, the Jewish
excitability, vibrating between the desire of gain and the terror of
consequences, assumed a new form. Some of them groaned; some of them
twisted their fingers frantically in their hair; some of them called on
the Deity worshipped by their fathers to bear witness how they had
suffered, by dispensing with references in other cases of precious
deposits; one supremely aged and dirty Jew actually suggested placing an
embargo on the lady and her necklace, and sending information to the city
authorities at the Town Hall. In the case of a timid woman, this sage's
advice might actually have been followed. Madame Fontaine preserved her
presence of mind, and left the Judengasse as freely as she had entered
it. "I can borrow the money elsewhere," she said haughtily at parting.
"Yes," cried a chorus of voices, answering, "you can borrow of a receiver
of stolen goods."

It was only too true! The extraordinary value of the pearls demanded, on
that account, extraordinary precautions on the part of moneylenders of
every degree. Madame Fontaine put back the necklace in the drawer of her
toilette-table. The very splendor of Minna's bridal gift made it useless
as a means of privately raising money among strangers.

And yet, the money must be found--at any risk, under any circumstances,
no matter how degrading or how dangerous they might be.

With that desperate resolution, she went to her bed. Hour after hour she
heard the clock strike. The faint cold light of the new day found her
still waking and thinking, and still unprepared with a safe plan for
meeting the demand on her, when the note became due. As to resources of
her own, the value of the few jewels and dresses that she possessed did
not represent half the amount of her debt.

It was a busy day at the office. The work went on until far into the
evening.

Even when the household assembled at the supper-table, there was an
interruption. A messenger called with a pressing letter, which made it
immediately necessary to refer to the past correspondence of the firm.
Mr. Keller rose from the table. "The Abstracts will rake up less time to
examine," he said to Mrs. Wagner; "you have them in your desk, I think?"
She at once turned to Jack, and ordered him to produce the key. He took
it from his bag, under the watchful eyes of Madame Fontaine, observing
him from the opposite side of the table. "I should have preferred opening
the desk myself," Jack remarked when Mr. Keller had left the room; "but I
suppose I must give way to the master. Besides, he hates me."

The widow was quite startled by this strong assertion. "How can you say
so?" she exclaimed. "We all like you, Jack. Come and have a little wine,
out of my glass."

Jack refused this proposal. "I don't want wine," he said; "I am sleepy
and cold--I want to go to bed."

Madame Fontaine was too hospitably inclined to take No for an answer.
"Only a little drop," she pleaded. "You look so cold."

"Surely you forget what I told you?" Mrs. Wagner interposed. "Wine first
excites, and then stupefies him. The last time I tried it, he was as dull
and heavy as if I had given him laudanum. I thought I mentioned it to
you." She turned to Jack. "You look sadly tired, my poor little man. Go
to bed at once."

"Without the key?" cried Jack indignantly. "I hope I know my duty better
than that."

Mr. Keller returned, perfectly satisfied with the result of his
investigation. "I knew it!" he said. "The mistake is on the side of our
clients; I have sent them the proof of it."

He handed back the key to Mrs. Wagner. She at once transferred it to
Jack. Mr. Keller shook his head in obstinate disapproval. "Would you run
such a risk as that?" he said to Madame Fontaine, speaking in French. "I
should be afraid," she replied in the same language. Jack secured the key
in his bag, kissed his mistress's hand, and approached the door on his
way to bed. "Won't you wish me good-night?" said the amiable widow. "I
didn't know whether German or English would do for you," Jack answered;
"and I can't speak your unknown tongue."

He made one of his fantastic bows, and left the room. "Does he understand
French?" Madame Fontaine asked. "No," said Mrs. Wagner; "he only
understood that you and Mr. Keller had something to conceal from him."

In due course of time the little party at the supper-table rose, and
retired to their rooms. The first part of the night passed as tranquilly
as usual. But, between one and two in the morning, Mrs. Wagner was
alarmed by a violent beating against her door, and a shrill screaming in
Jack's voice. "Let me in! I want a light--I've lost the keys!"

She called out to him to be quiet, while she put on her dressing-gown,
and struck a light. They were fortunately on the side of the house
occupied by the offices, the other inhabited bedchambers being far enough
off to be approached by a different staircase. Still, in the silence of
the night, Jack's reiterated cries of terror and beatings at the door
might possibly reach the ears of a light sleeper. She pulled him into the
room and closed the door again, with an impetuosity that utterly
confounded him. "Sit down there, and compose yourself!" she said sternly.
"I won't give you the light until you are perfectly quiet. You disgrace
_me_ if you disturb the house."

Between cold and terror, Jack shuddered from head to foot. "May I
whisper?" he asked, with a look of piteous submission.

Mrs. Wagner pointed to the last living embers in the fireplace. She knew
by experience the tranquilizing influence of giving him something to do.
"Rake the fire together," she said; "and warm yourself first."

He obeyed, and then laid himself down in his dog-like way on the rug. A
quarter of an hour, at least, passed before his mistress considered him
to be in a fit state to tell his story. There was little or nothing to
relate. He had put his bag under his pillow as usual; and (after a long
sleep) he had woke with a horrid fear that something had happened to the
keys. He had felt in vain for them under the pillow, and all over the
bed, and all over the floor. "After that," he said, "the horrors got hold
of me; and I am afraid I went actually mad, for a little while. I'm all
right now, if you please. See! I'm as quiet as a bird with its head under
its wing."

Mrs. Wagner took the light, and led the way to his little room, close by
her own bedchamber. She lifted the pillow--and there lay the leather bag,
exactly where he had placed it when he went to bed.

Jack's face, when this discovery revealed itself, would have pleaded for
mercy with a far less generous woman than Mrs. Wagner. She took his hand.
"Get into bed again," she said kindly; "and the next time you dream, try
not to make a noise about it."

No! Jack refused to get into bed again, until he had been heard in his
own defense. He dropped on his knees, and held up his clasped hands, as
if he was praying.

"When you first taught me to say my prayers," he answered, "you said God
would hear me. As God hears me now Mistress, I was wide awake when I put
my hand under the pillow--and the bag was not there. Do you believe me?"

Mrs. Wagner was strongly impressed by the simple fervor of this
declaration. It was no mere pretense, when she answered that she did
believe him. At her suggestion, the bag was unstrapped and examined. Not
only the unimportant keys (with another one added to their number) but
the smaller key which opened her desk were found safe inside. "We will
talk about it to-morrow," she said. Having wished him good-night, she
paused in the act of opening the door, and looked at the lock. There was
no key in it, but there was another protection in the shape of a bolt
underneath. "Did you bolt your door when you went to bed?" she asked.

"No."

The obvious suspicion, suggested by this negative answer, crossed her
mind.

"What has become of the key of your door?" she inquired next.

Jack hung his head. "I put it along with the other keys," he confessed,
"to make the bag look bigger."

Alone again in her own room, Mrs. Wagner stood by the reanimated fire,
thinking.

While Jack was asleep, any person, with a soft step and a delicate hand,
might have approached his bedside, when the house was quiet for the
night, and have taken his bag. And, again, any person within hearing of
the alarm that he had raised, some hours afterwards, might have put the
bag back, while he was recovering himself in Mrs. Wagner's room. Who
could have been near enough to hear the alarm? Somebody in the empty
bedrooms above? Or somebody in the solitary offices below? If a theft had
really been committed, the one likely object of it would be the key of
the desk. This pointed to the probability that the alarm had reached the
ears of the thief in the offices. Was there any person in the house, from
the honest servants upwards, whom it would be reasonably possible to
suspect of theft? Mrs. Wagner returned to her bed. She was not a woman to
be daunted by trifles--but on this occasion her courage failed her when
she was confronted by her own question.



CHAPTER X

The office hours, in the winter-time, began at nine o'clock. From the
head-clerk to the messenger, not one of the persons employed slept in the
house: it was Mr. Keller's wish that they should all be absolutely free
to do what they liked with their leisure time in the evening: "I know
that I can trust them, from the oldest to the youngest man in my
service," he used to say; "and I like to show it."

Under these circumstances, Mrs. Wagner had only to rise earlier than
usual, to be sure of having the whole range of the offices entirely to
herself. At eight o'clock, with Jack in attendance, she was seated at her
desk, carefully examining the different objects that it contained.

Nothing was missing; nothing had been moved out of its customary place.
No money was kept in the desk. But her valuable watch, which had stopped
on the previous day, had been put there, to remind her that it must be
sent to be cleaned. The watch, like everything else, was found in its
place. If some person had really opened her desk in the night, no common
thief had been concerned, and no common object had been in view.

She took the key of the iron safe from its pigeon-hole, and opened the
door. Her knowledge of the contents of this repository was far from being
accurate. The partners each possessed a key, but Mr. Keller had many more
occasions than Mrs. Wagner for visiting the safe. And to make a
trustworthy examination more difficult still, the mist of the early
morning was fast turning into a dense white fog.

Of one thing, however, Mrs. Wagner was well aware--a certain sum of
money, in notes and securities, was always kept in this safe as a reserve
fund. She took the tin box in which the paper money was placed close to
the light, and counted its contents. Then, replacing it in the safe, she
opened the private ledger next, to compare the result of her counting
with the entry relating to the Fund.

Being unwilling to cause surprise, perhaps to excite suspicion, by
calling for a candle before the office hours had begun, she carried the
ledger also to the window. There was just light enough to see the sum
total in figures. To her infinite relief, it exactly corresponded with
the result of her counting. She secured everything again in its proper
place; and, after finally locking the desk, handed the key to Jack. He
shook his head, and refused to take it. More extraordinary still, he
placed his bag, with all the other keys in it, on the desk, and said,
"Please keep it for me; I'm afraid to keep it myself."

Mrs. Wagner looked at him with a first feeling of alarm, which changed
instantly to compassion. The tears were in his eyes; his sensitive vanity
was cruelly wounded. "My poor boy," she said gently, "what is it that
troubles you?"

The tears rolled down Jack's face. "I'm a wretched creature," he said;
"I'm not fit to keep the keys, after letting a thief steal them last
night. Take them back, Mistress--I'm quite broken-hearted. Please try me
again, in London."

"A thief?" Mrs. Wagner repeated. "Haven't you seen me examine everything?
And mind, if there _had_ been any dishonest person about the house last
night, the key of my desk is the only key that a thief would have thought
worth stealing. I happen to be sure of that. Come! come! don't be
down-hearted. You know I never deceive you--and I say you are quite wrong
in suspecting that your bag was stolen last night."

Jack solemnly lifted his hand, as his custom was in the great emergencies
of his life. "And _I_ say," he reiterated, "there is a thief in the
house. And you will find it out before long. When we are back in London
again, I will be Keeper of the Keys. Never, never, never more, here!"

It was useless to contend with him; the one wise course was to wait until
his humor changed. Mrs. Wagner locked up his bag, and put the key of the
desk back in her pocket. She was not very willing to own it even to
herself--Jack's intense earnestness had a little shaken her.

After breakfast that morning, Minna lingered at the table, instead of
following her mother upstairs as usual. When Mr. Keller also had left the
room, she addressed a little request of her own to Mrs. Wagner.

"I have got a very difficult letter to write," she said, "and Fritz
thought you might be kind enough to help me."

"With the greatest pleasure, my dear. Does your mother know of this
letter?"

"Yes; it was mamma who said I ought to write it. But she is going out
this morning; and, when I asked for a word of advice, she shook her head.
'They will think it comes from me,' she said, 'and the whole effect of it
will be spoilt.' It's a letter, Mrs. Wagner, announcing my marriage to
mamma's relations here, who have behaved so badly to her--and she says
they may do something for me, if I write to them as if I had done it all
out of my own head. I don't know whether I make myself understood?"

"Perfectly, Minna. Come to my writing-room, and we will see what we can
do together."

Mrs. Wagner led the way out. As she opened the door, Madame Fontaine
passed her in the hall, in walking costume, with a small paper-packet in
her hand.

"There is a pen, Minna. Sit down by me, and write what I tell you."

The ink-bottle had been replenished by the person charged with that duty;
and he had filled it a little too full. In a hurry to write the first
words dictated, Minna dipped her pen too deeply in the bottle. On
withdrawing it she not only blotted the paper but scattered some of the
superfluous ink over the sleeve of Mrs. Wagner's dress. "Oh, how awkward
I am!" she exclaimed. "Excuse me for one minute. Mamma has got something
in her dressing-case which will take out the marks directly."

She ran upstairs, and returned with the powder which her mother had used,
in erasing the first sentences on the label attached to the blue-glass
bottle. Mrs. Wagner looked at the printed instructions on the little
paper box, when the stains had been removed from her dress, with some
curiosity. "Macula Exstinctor," she read, "or Destroyer of Stains.
Partially dissolve the powder in a teaspoonful of water; rub it well over
the place, and the stain will disappear, without taking out the color of
the dress. This extraordinary specific may also be used for erasing
written characters without in any way injuring the paper, otherwise than
by leaving a slight shine on the surface."

"Is this to be got in Frankfort?" asked Mrs. Wagner. "I only know
lemon-juice as a remedy against ink-marks, when I get them on my dress or
my fingers."

"Keep it, dear Mrs. Wagner. I can easily buy another box for mamma where
we got this one, at a chemist's in the Zeil. See how easily I can take
off the blot that I dropped on the paper! Unless you look very close, you
can hardly see the shine--and the ink has completely disappeared."

"Thank you, my dear. But your mother might meet with some little
accident, and might want your wonderful powder when I am out of the way.
Take it back when we have done our letter. And we will go to the chemist
together and buy another box in a day or two."



On the thirtieth of December, after dinner, Mr. Keller proposed a
toast--"Success to the adjourned wedding-day!" There was a general effort
to be cheerful, which was not rewarded by success. Nobody knew why; but
the fact remained that nobody was really merry.

On the thirty-first, there was more hard work at the office. The last day
of the old year was the day on which the balance was struck.

Towards noon, Mr. Keller appeared in Mrs. Wagner's office, and opened the
safe.

"We must see about the Reserve Fund," he said; "I will count the money,
if you will open the ledger and see that the entry is right. I don't know
what you think, but my idea is that we keep too much money lying idle in
these prosperous times. What do you say to using half of the customary
fund for investment? By the by, our day for dividing the profits is not
your day in London. When my father founded this business, the sixth of
January was the chosen date--being one way, among others, of celebrating
his birthday. We have kept to the old custom, out of regard for his
memory; and your worthy husband entirely approved of our conduct. I am
sure you agree with him?"

"With all my heart," said Mrs. Wagner. "Whatever my good husband thought,
I think."

Mr. Keller proceeded to count the Fund. "Fifteen thousand florins," he
announced. "I thought it had been more than that. If poor dear Engelman
had been here--Never mind! What does the ledger say?"

"Fifteen thousand florins," Mrs. Wagner answered.

"Ah, very well, my memory must have deceived me. This used to be
Engelman's business; and you are as careful as he was--I can say no
more."

Mr. Keller replaced the money in the safe, and hastened back to his own
office.

Mrs. Wagner raised one side of the ledger off the desk to close the
book--stopped to think--and laid it back again.

The extraordinary accuracy of Mr. Keller's memory was proverbial in the
office. Remembering the compliment which he had paid to her sense of
responsibility as Mr. Engelman's successor, Mrs. Wagner was not quite
satisfied to take it for granted that he had made a mistake--even on the
plain evidence of the ledger. A reference to the duplicate entry, in her
private account-book, would at once remove even the shadow of a doubt.

The last day of the old year was bright and frosty; the clear midday
light fell on the open page before her. She looked again at the entry,
thus recorded in figures--"15,000 florins"--and observed a trifling
circumstance which had previously escaped her.

The strokes which represented the figures "15" were unquestionably a
little, a very little, thicker than the strokes which represented the
three zeros or "noughts" that followed. Had a hair got into the pen of
the head-clerk, who had made the entry? or was there some trifling defect
in the paper, at that particular part of the page?

She once more raised one side of the ledger so that the light fell at an
angle on the writing. There was a difference between that part of the
paper on which the figures "15" were written, and the rest of the
page--and the difference consisted in a slight shine on the surface.

The side of the ledger dropped from her hand on the desk. She left the
office, and ran upstairs to her own room. Her private account-book had
not been wanted lately--it was locked up in her dressing-case. She took
it out, and referred to it. There was the entry as she had copied it, and
compared it with the ledger--"20,000 florins."

"Madame Fontaine!" she said to herself in a whisper.



CHAPTER XI

The New Year had come.

On the morning of the second of January, Mrs. Wagner (on her way to the
office at the customary hour) was stopped at the lower flight of stairs
by Madame Fontaine--evidently waiting with a purpose.

"Pardon me," said the widow, "I must speak to you."

"These are business hours, madam; I have no time to spare."

Without paying the slightest heed to this reply--impenetrable, in the
petrifying despair that possessed her, to all that looks, tones, and
words could say--Madame Fontaine stood her ground, and obstinately
repeated, "I must speak to you."

Mrs. Wagner once more refused. "All that need be said between us has been
said," she answered. "Have you replaced the money?"

"That is what I want to speak about?"

"Have you replaced the money?"

"Don't drive me mad, Mrs. Wagner! As you hope for mercy yourself, at the
hour of your death, show mercy to the miserable woman who implores you to
listen to her! Return with me as far as the drawing-room. At this time of
day, nobody will disturb us there. Give me five minutes!"

Mrs. Wagner looked at her watch.

"I will give you five minutes. And mind, I mean five minutes. Even in
trifles, I speak the truth."

They returned up the stairs, Mrs. Wagner leading the way.

There were two doors of entrance to the drawing-room--one, which opened
from the landing, and a smaller door, situated at the farther end of the
corridor. This second entrance communicated with a sort of alcove, in
which a piano was placed, and which was only separated by curtains from
the spacious room beyond. Mrs. Wagner entered by the main door, and
paused, standing near the fire-place. Madame Fontaine, following her,
turned aside to the curtains, and looked through. Having assured herself
that no person was in the recess, she approached the fire-place, and said
her first words.

"You told me just now, madam, that _you_ spoke the truth. Does that imply
a doubt of the voluntary confession----?"

"You made no voluntary confession," Mrs. Wagner interposed. "I had
positive proof of the theft that you have committed, when I entered your
room. I showed you my private account-book, and when you attempted to
defend yourself, I pointed to the means of falsifying the figures in the
ledger which lay before me in your own dressing-case. What do you mean by
talking of a voluntary confession, after that?"

"You mistake me, madam. I was speaking of the confession of my
motives--the motives which, in my dreadful position, forced me to take
the money, or to sacrifice the future of my daughter's life. I declare
that I have concealed nothing from you. As you are a Christian woman,
don't be hard on me!"

Mrs. Wagner drew back, and eyed her with an expression of contemptuous
surprise.

"Hard on you?" she repeated. "Do you know what you are saying? Have you
forgotten already how I have consented to degrade myself? Must I once
more remind you of _my_ position? I am bound to tell Mr. Keller that his
money and mine has been stolen; I am bound to tell him that he has taken
into his house, and has respected and trusted, a thief. There is my plain
duty--and I have consented to trifle with it. Are you lost to all sense
of decency? Have you no idea of the shame that an honest woman must feel,
when she knows that her unworthy silence makes her--for the time at
least--the accomplice of your crime? Do you think it was for your
sake--not to be hard on You--that I have consented to this intolerable
sacrifice? In the instant when I discovered you I would have sent for Mr.
Keller, but for the sweet girl whose misfortune it is to be your child.
Once for all, have you anything to say which it is absolutely necessary
that I should hear? Have you, or have you not, complied with the
conditions on which I consented--God help me!--to be what I am?"

Her voice faltered. She turned away proudly to compose herself. The look
that flashed out at her from the widow's eyes, the suppressed fury
struggling to force its way in words through the widow's lips, escaped
her notice. It was the first, and last, warning of what was to come--and
she missed it.

"I wished to speak to you of your conditions," Madame Fontaine resumed,
after a pause. "Your conditions are impossibilities. I entreat you, in
Minna's interests--oh! not in mine!--to modify them."

The tone in which those words fell from her lips was so unnaturally
quiet, that Mrs. Wagner suddenly turned again with a start, and faced
her.

"What do you mean by impossibilities? Explain yourself."

"You are an honest woman, and I am a thief," Madame Fontaine answered,
with the same ominous composure. "How can explanations pass between you
and me? Have I not spoken plainly enough already? In my position, I say
again, your conditions are impossibilities--especially the first of
them."

There was something in the bitterly ironical manner which accompanied
this reply that was almost insolent. Mrs. Wagner's color began to rise
for the first time. "Honest conditions are always possible conditions to
honest people," she said.

Perfectly unmoved by the reproof implied in those words, Madame Fontaine
persisted in pressing her request. "I only ask you to modify your terms,"
she explained. "Let us understand each other. Do you still insist on my
replacing what I have taken, by the morning of the sixth of this month?"

"I still insist."

"Do you still expect me to resign my position here as director of the
household, on the day when Fritz and Minna have become man and wife?"

"I still expect that."

"Permit me to set the second condition aside for awhile. Suppose I fail
to replace the five thousand florins in your reserve fund?"

"If you fail, I shall do my duty to Mr. Keller, when we divide profits on
the sixth of the month."

"And you will expose me in this way, knowing that you make the marriage
impossible--knowing that you doom my daughter to shame and misery for the
rest of her life?"

"I shall expose you, knowing that I have kept your guilty secret to the
last moment--and knowing what I owe to my partner and to myself. You have
still four days to spare. Make the most of your time."

"I can do absolutely nothing in the time."

"Have you tried?"

The suppressed fury in Madame Fontaine began to get beyond her control.

"Do you think I should have exposed myself to the insults that you have
heaped upon me if I had _not_ tried?" she asked. "Can I get the money
back from the man to whom it was paid at Wurzburg, when my note fell due
on the last day of the old year? Do I know anybody who will lend me five
thousand florins? Will my father do it? His house has been closed to me
for twenty years--and my mother, who might have interceded for me, is
dead. Can I appeal to the sympathy and compassion (once already refused
in the hardest terms) of my merciless relatives in this city? I have
appealed! I forced my way to them yesterday--I owned that I owed a sum of
money which was more, far more, than I could pay. I drank the bitter cup
of humiliation to the dregs--I even offered my daughter's necklace as
security for a loan. Do you want to know what reply I received? The
master of the house turned his back on me; the mistress told me to my
face that she believed I had stolen the necklace. Was the punishment of
my offense severe enough, when I heard those words? Surely I have
asserted some claim to your pity, at last? I only want more time. With a
few months before me--with my salary as housekeeper, and the sale of my
little valuables, and the proceeds of my work for the picture-dealers--I
can, and will, replace the money. You are rich. What is a loan of five
thousand florins to you? Help me to pass through the terrible ordeal of
your day of reckoning on the sixth of the month! Help me to see Minna
married and happy! And if you still doubt my word, take the pearl
necklace as security that you will suffer no loss."

Struck speechless by the outrageous audacity of this proposal, Mrs.
Wagner answered by a look, and advanced to the door. Madame Fontaine
instantly stopped her.

"Wait!" cried the desperate creature. "Think--before you refuse me!"

Mrs. Wagner's indignation found its way at last into words. "I deserved
this," she said, "when I allowed you to speak to me. Let me pass, if you
please."

Madame Fontaine made a last effort--she fell on her knees. "Your hard
words have roused my pride," she said; "I have forgotten that I am a
disgraced woman; I have not spoken humbly enough. See! I am humbled
now--I implore your mercy on my knees. This is not only _my_ last chance;
it is Minna's last chance. Don't blight my poor girl's life, for my
fault!"

"For the second time, Madame Fontaine, I request you to let me pass.

"Without an answer to my entreaties? Am I not even worthy of an answer?"

"Your entreaties are an insult. I forgive you the insult."

Madame Fontaine rose to her feet. Every trace of agitation disappeared
from her face and her manner. "Yes," she said, with the unnatural
composure that was so strangely out of harmony with the terrible position
in which she stood--"Yes, from your point of view, I can't deny that it
may seem like an insult. When a thief, who has already robbed a person of
money, asks that same person to lend her more money, by way of atoning
for the theft, there is something very audacious (on the surface) in such
a request. I can't fairly expect you to understand the despair which
wears such an insolent look. Accept my apologies, madam; I didn't see it
at first in that light. I must do what I can, while your merciful silence
still protects me from discovery--I must do what I can between this and
the sixth of the month. Permit me to open the door for you." She opened
the drawing-room door, and waited.

Mrs. Wagner's heart suddenly quickened its beat.

Under what influence? Could it be fear? She was indignant with herself at
the bare suspicion of it. Her face flushed deeply, under the momentary
apprehension that some outward change might betray her. She left the
room, without even trusting herself to look at the woman who stood by the
open door, and bowed to her with an impenetrable assumption of respect as
she passed out.

Madame Fontaine remained in the drawing-room.

She violently closed the door with a stroke of her hand--staggered across
the room to a sofa--and dropped on it. A hoarse cry of rage and despair
burst from her, now that she was alone. In the fear that someone might
hear her, she forced her handkerchief into her mouth, and fastened her
teeth into it. The paroxysm passed, she sat up on the sofa, and wiped the
perspiration from her face, and smiled to herself. "It was well I stopped
here," she thought; "I might have met someone on the stairs."

As she rose to leave the drawing-room, Fritz's voice reached her from the
far end of the corridor.

"You are out of spirits, Minna. Come in, and let us try what a little
music will do for you."

The door leading into the recess was opened. Minna's voice became audible
next, on the inner side of the curtains.

"I am afraid I can't sing to-day, Fritz. I am very unhappy about mamma.
She looks so anxious and so ill; and when I ask what is troubling her,
she puts me off with an excuse."

The melody of those fresh young tones, the faithful love and sympathy
which the few simple words expressed, seemed to wring with an unendurable
pain the whole being of the mother who heard them. She lifted her hands
above her head, and clenched them in the agony which could only venture
to seek that silent means of relief. With swift steps, as if the sound of
her daughter's voice was unendurable to her, she made for the door. But
her movements, on ordinary occasions the perfection of easy grace, felt
the disturbing influence of the agitation that possessed her. In avoiding
a table on one side, as she passed it, she struck against a chair on the
other.

Fritz instantly opened the curtains, and looked through. "Why, here is
mamma!" he exclaimed, in his hearty boyish way.

Minna instantly closed the piano, and hastened to her mother. When Madame
Fontaine looked at her, she paused, with an expression of alarm. "Oh, how
dreadfully pale and ill you look!" She advanced again, and tried to throw
her arms round her mother, and kiss her. Gently, very gently, Madame
Fontaine signed to her to draw back.

"Mamma! what have I done to offend you?"

"Nothing, my dear."

"Then why won't you let me come to you?"

"No time now, Minna. I have something to do. Wait till I have done it."

"Not even one little kiss, mamma?"

Madame Fontaine hurried out of the room without answering and ran up the
stairs without looking back. Minna's eyes filled with tears. Fritz stood
at the open door, bewildered.

"I wouldn't have believed it, if anybody had told me," he said; "your
mother seems to be afraid to let you touch her."

Fritz had made many mistaken guesses in his time--but, for once, he had
guessed right. She _was_ afraid.



CHAPTER XII

As the presiding genius of the household, Madame Fontaine was always
first in the room when the table was laid for the early German dinner. A
knife with a speck on the blade, a plate with a suspicion of dirt on it,
never once succeeded in escaping her observation. If Joseph folded a
napkin carelessly, Joseph not only heard of it, but suffered the
indignity of seeing his work performed for him to perfection by the
housekeeper's dexterous hands.

On the second day of the New Year, she was at her post as usual, and
Joseph stood convicted of being wasteful in the matter of wine.

He had put one bottle of Ohligsberger on the table, at the place occupied
by Madame Fontaine. The wine had already been used at the dinner and the
supper of the previous day. At least two-thirds of it had been drunk.
Joseph set down a second bottle on the opposite side of the table, and
produced his corkscrew. Madame Fontaine took it out of his hand.

"Why do you open that bottle, before you are sure it will be wanted?" She
asked sharply. "You know that Mr. Keller and his son prefer beer."

"There is so little left in the other bottle," Joseph pleaded; "not a
full tumbler altogether."

"It may be enough, little as it is, for Mrs. Wagner and for me." With
that reply she pointed to the door. Joseph retired, leaving her alone at
the table, until the dinner was ready to be brought into the room.

In five minutes more, the family assembled at their meal.

Joseph performed his customary duties sulkily, resenting the
housekeeper's reproof. When the time came for filling the glasses, he had
the satisfaction of hearing Madame Fontaine herself give him orders to
draw the cork of a new bottle, after all.

Mrs. Wagner turned to Jack, standing behind her chair as usual, and asked
for some wine. Madame Fontaine instantly took up the nearly empty bottle
by her side, and, half-filling a glass, handed it with grave politeness
across the table. "If you have no objection," she said, "we will finish
one bottle, before we open another."

Mrs. Wagner drank her small portion of wine at a draught. "It doesn't
seem to keep well, after it has once been opened," she remarked, as she
set down her glass. "The wine has quite lost the good flavor it had
yesterday."

"It ought to keep well," said Mr. Keller, speaking from his place at the
top of the table. "It's old wine, and good wine. Let me taste what is
left."

Joseph advanced to carry the remains of the wine to his master. But
Madame Fontaine was beforehand with him. "Open the other bottle
directly," she said--and rose so hurriedly to take the wine herself to
Mr. Keller, that she caught her foot in her dress. In saving herself from
falling, she lost her hold of the bottle. It broke in two pieces, and the
little wine left in it ran out on the floor.

"Pray forgive me," she said, smiling faintly. "It is the first thing I
have broken since I have been in the house."

The wine from the new bottle was offered to Mrs. Wagner. She declined to
take any: and she left her dinner unfinished on her plate.

"My appetite is very easily spoilt," she said. "I dare say there might
have been something I didn't notice in the glass--or perhaps my taste may
be out of order."

"Very likely," said Mr. Keller. "You didn't find anything wrong with the
wine yesterday. And there is certainly nothing to complain of in the new
bottle," he added, after tasting it. "Let us have your opinion, Madame
Fontaine."

He filled the housekeeper's glass. "I am a poor judge of wine," she
remarked humbly. "It seems to me to be delicious."

She put her glass down, and noticed that Jack's eyes were fixed on her,
with a solemn and scrutinizing attention. "Do you see anything remarkable
in me?" she asked lightly.

"I was thinking," Jack answered.

"Thinking of what?"

"This is the first time I ever saw you in danger of tumbling down. It
used to be a remark of mine, at Wurzburg, that you were as sure-footed as
a cat. That's all."

"Don't you know that there are exceptions to all rules?" said Madame
Fontaine, as amiably as ever. "I notice an exception in You," she
continued, suddenly changing the subject. "What has become of your
leather bag? May I ask if you have taken away his keys, Mrs. Wagner?"

She had noticed Jack's pride in his character as "Keeper of the Keys."
There would be no fear of his returning to the subject of what he had
remarked at Wurzburg, if she stung him in _that_ tender place. The result
did not fail to justify her anticipations. In fierce excitement, Jack
jumped up on the hind rail of his mistress's chair, eager for the most
commanding position that he could obtain, and opened his lips to tell the
story of the night alarm. Before he could utter a word, Mrs. Wagner
stopped him, with a very unusual irritability of look and manner. "The
question was put to _me,"_ she said. "I am taking care of the keys,
Madame Fontaine, at Jack's own request. He can have them back again,
whenever he chooses to ask for them."

"Tell her about the thief," Jack whispered.

"Be quiet!"

Jack was silenced at last. He retired to a corner. When he followed Mrs.
Wagner as usual, on her return to her duties in the office he struck his
favorite place on the window seat with his clenched fist. "The devil take
Frankfort!" he said.

"What do you mean?"

"I hate Frankfort. You were always kind to me in London. You do nothing
but lose your temper with me here. It's really too cruel. Why shouldn't I
have told Mrs. Housekeeper how I lost my keys in the night? Now I come to
think of it, I believe she was the thief."

"Hush! hush! you must not say that. Come and shake hands, Jack, and make
it up. I do feel irritable--I don't know what's the matter with me.
Remember, Mr. Keller doesn't like your joining in the talk at
dinner-time--he thinks it is taking a liberty. That was one reason why I
stopped you. And you might have said something to offend Madame
Fontaine--that was another. It will not be long before we go back to our
dear old London. Now, be a good boy, and leave me to my work."

Jack was not quite satisfied; but he was quiet again.

For awhile he sat watching Mrs. Wagner at her work. His thoughts went
back to the subject of the keys. Other people--the younger clerks and the
servants, for example--might have observed that he was without his bag,
and might have injuriously supposed that the keys had been taken away
from him. Little by little, he reached the conclusion that he had been in
too great a hurry perhaps to give up the bag. Why not prove himself to be
worthier of it than ever, by asking to have it back again, and taking
care always to lock the door of his bedroom at night? He looked at Mrs.
Wagner, to see if she paused over her work, so as to give him an
opportunity of speaking to her.

She was not at work; she was not pausing over it. Her head hung down over
her breast; her hands and arms lay helpless on the desk.

He got up and crossed the room on tiptoe, to look at her.

She was not asleep.

Slowly and silently, she turned her head. Her eyes stared at him awfully.
Her mouth was a little crooked. There was a horrid gray paleness all over
her face.

He dropped terrified on his knees, and clasped her dress in both hands.
"Oh, Mistress, Mistress, you are ill! What can I do for you?"

She tried to reassure him by a smile. Her mouth became more crooked
still. "I'm not well," she said, speaking thickly and slowly, with an
effort. "Help me down. Bed. Bed."

He held out his hands. With another effort, she lifted her arms from the
desk, and turned to him on the high office-stool.

"Take hold of me," she said.

"I have got hold of you, Mistress! I have got your hands in my hands.
Don't you feel it?"

"Press me harder."

He closed his hands on hers with all his strength. Did she feel it now?

Yes; she could just feel it now.

Leaning heavily upon him, she set her feet on the floor. She felt with
them as if she was feeling the floor, without quite understanding that
she stood on it. The next moment, she reeled against the desk. "Giddy,"
she said, faintly and thickly. "My head." Her eyes looked at him, cold
and big and staring. They maddened the poor affectionate creature with
terror. The frightful shrillness of the past days in Bedlam was in his
voice, as he screamed for help.

Mr. Keller rushed into the room from his office, followed by the clerks.

"Fetch the doctor, one of you," he cried. "Stop."

He mastered himself directly, and called to mind what he had heard of the
two physicians who had attended him, during his own illness. "Not the old
man," he said. "Fetch Doctor Dormann. Joseph will show you where he
lives." He turned to another of the clerks, supporting Mrs. Wagner in his
arms while he spoke. "Ring the bell in the hall--the upstairs bell for
Madame Fontaine!"



CHAPTER XIII

Madame Fontaine instantly left her room. Alarmed by the violent ringing
of the bell, Minna followed her mother downstairs. The door of the office
was open; they both saw what had happened as soon as they reached the
hall. In sending for Madame Fontaine, Mr. Keller had placed a natural
reliance on the experience and presence of mind of a woman of her age and
character. To his surprise, she seemed to be as little able to control
herself as her daughter. He was obliged to summon the assistance of the
elder of the female servants, in carrying Mrs. Wagner to her room. Jack
went with them, holding one of his mistress's helpless hands.

His first paroxysm of terror had passed away with the appearance of Mr.
Keller and the clerk, and had left his weak mind stunned by the shock
that had fallen on it. He looked about him vacantly. Once or twice, on
the slow sad progress up the stairs, they heard him whispering to
himself, "She won't die--no, no, no; she won't die." His only consolation
seemed to be in that helpless confession of faith. When they laid her on
the bed, he was close at the side of the pillow. With an effort, her eyes
turned on him. With an effort she whispered, "The Key!"

He understood her--the desk downstairs had been left unlocked.

"I'll take care of the key, Mistress; I'll take care of them all," he
said.

As he left the room, he repeated his comforting words, "She won't
die--no, no, no; she won't die." He locked the desk and placed the key
with the rest in his bag.

Leaving the office with the bag slung over his shoulder, he stopped at
the door of the dining-room, on the opposite side of the hall. His head
felt strangely dull. A sudden suspicion that the feeling might show
itself in his face, made him change his mind and pause before he ascended
the stairs. There was a looking-glass in the dining-room. He went
straight to the glass, and stood before it, studying the reflection of
his face with breathless anxiety. "Do I look stupid-mad?" he asked
himself. "They won't let me be with her; they'll send me away, if I look
stupid-mad."

He turned from the glass, and dropped on his knees before the nearest
chair. "Perhaps God will keep me quiet," he thought, "if I say my
prayers."

Repeating his few simple words, the poor creature's memory vaguely
recalled to him the happy time when his good mistress had first taught
him his prayers. The one best relief that could come to him, came--the
relief of tears. Mr. Keller, descending to the hall in his impatience for
the arrival of the doctor, found himself unexpectedly confronted by Mrs.
Wagner's crazy attendant.

"May I go upstairs to Mistress?" Jack asked humbly. "I've said my
prayers, sir, and I've had a good cry--and my head's easier now."

Mr. Keller spoke to him more gently than usual. "You had better not
disturb your mistress before the doctor comes."

"May I wait outside her door, sir? I promise to be very quiet."

Mr. Keller consented by a sign. Jack took off his shoes, and noiselessly
ascended the stairs. Before he reached the first landing, he turned and
looked back into the hall. "Mind this!" he announced very earnestly; "I
say she won't die--_I_ say that!"

He went on up the stairs. For the first time Mr. Keller began to pity the
harmless little man whom he had hitherto disliked. "Poor wretch!" he said
to himself, as he paced up and down the hall, "what will become of him,
if she does die?"

In ten minutes more, Doctor Dormann arrived at the house.

His face showed that he thought badly of the case, as soon as he looked
at Mrs. Wagner. He examined her, and made all the necessary inquiries,
with the unremitting attention to details which was part of his
professional character. One of his questions could only be answered
generally. Having declared his opinion that the malady was paralysis, and
that some of the symptoms were far from being common in his medical
experience, he inquired if Mrs. Wagner had suffered from any previous
attack of the disease. Mr. Keller could only reply that he had known her
from the time of her marriage, and that he had never (in the course of a
long and intimate correspondence with her husband) heard of her having
suffered from serious illness of any kind. Doctor Dormann looked at his
patient narrowly, and looked back again at Mr. Keller with unconcealed
surprise.

"At her age," he said, "I have never seen any first attack of paralysis
so complicated and so serious as this."


"Is there danger?" Mr. Keller asked in a whisper.

"She is not an old woman," the doctor answered; "there is always hope.
The practice in these cases generally is to bleed. In this case, the
surface of the body is cold; the heart's action is feeble--I don't like
to try bleeding, if I can possibly avoid it."

After some further consideration, he directed a system of treatment
which, in some respects, anticipated the practice of a later and wiser
time. Having looked at the women assembled round the bed--and especially
at Madame Fontaine--he said he would provide a competent nurse, and would
return to see the effect of the remedies in two hours.

Looking at Madame Fontaine, after the doctor had gone away, Mr. Keller
felt more perplexed than ever. She presented the appearance of a woman
who was completely unnerved. "I am afraid you are far from well
yourself," he said.

"I have not felt well, sir, for some time past," she answered, without
looking at him.

"You had better try what rest and quiet will do for you," he suggested.

"Yes, I think so." With that reply--not even offering, for the sake of
appearances, to attend on Mrs. Wagner until the nurse arrived--she took
her daughter's arm, and went out.

The woman-servant was fortunately a discreet person. She remembered the
medical instructions, and she undertook all needful duties, until the
nurse relieved her. Jack (who had followed the doctor into the room, and
had watched him attentively) was sent away again for the time. He would
go no farther than the outer side of the door. Mr. Keller passed him,
crouched up on the mat, biting his nails. He was apparently thinking of
the doctor. He said to himself, "That man looked puzzled; that man knows
nothing about it."

In the meantime, Madame Fontaine reached her room.

"Where is Fritz?" she asked, dropping her daughter's arm.

"He has gone out, mamma. Don't send me away! You seem to be almost as ill
as poor Mrs. Wagner--I want to be with you."

Madame Fontaine hesitated. "Do you love me with all your heart and soul?"
she asked suddenly. "Are you worthy of any sacrifice that a mother can
make for her child?"

Before the girl could answer, she spoke more strangely still.

"Are you just as fond of Fritz as ever? would it break your heart if you
lost him?"

Minna placed her mother's hand on her bosom.

"Feel it, mamma," she said quietly. Madame Fontaine took her chair by the
fire-side--seating herself with her back to the light. She beckoned to
her daughter to sit by her. After an interval, Minna ventured to break
the silence.

"I am very sorry for Mrs. Wagner, mamma; she has always been so kind to
me. Do you think she will die?" Resting her elbows on her knees, staring
into the fire, the widow lifted her head--looked round--and looked back
again at the fire.

"Ask the doctor," she said. "Don't ask me."

There was another long interval of silence. Minna's eyes were fixed
anxiously on her mother. Madame Fontaine remained immovable, still
looking into the fire.

Afraid to speak again, Minna sought refuge from the oppressive stillness
in a little act of attention. She took a fire-screen from the
chimney-piece, and tried to place it gently in her mother's hand.

At that light touch, Madame Fontaine sprang to her feet as if she had
felt the point of a knife. Had she seen some frightful thing? had she
heard some dreadful sound? "I can't bear it!" she cried--"I can't bear it
any longer!"

"Are you in pain, mamma? Will you lie down on the bed?" Her mother only
looked at her. She drew back trembling, and said no more.

Madame Fontaine crossed the room to the wardrobe. When she spoke next,
she was outwardly quite calm again. "I am going out for a walk," she
said.

"A walk, mamma? It's getting dark already."

"Dark or light, my nerves are all on edge--I must have air and exercise."

"Let me go with you?"

She paced backwards and forwards restlessly, before she answered. "The
room isn't half large enough!" she burst out. "I feel suffocated in these
four walls. Space! space! I must have space to breathe in! Did you say
you wished to go out with me? I want a companion, Minna. Don't you mind
the cold?"

"I don't even feel it, in my fur cloak."

"Get ready, then, directly."

In ten minutes more, the mother and daughter were out of the house.



CHAPTER XIV

Doctor Dormann was punctual to his appointment. He was accompanied by a
stranger, whom he introduced as a surgeon. As before, Jack slipped into
the room, and waited in a corner, listening and watching attentively.

Instead of improving under the administration of the remedies, the state
of the patient had sensibly deteriorated. On the rare occasions when she
attempted to speak, it was almost impossible to understand her. The sense
of touch seemed to be completely lost--the poor woman could no longer
feel the pressure of a friendly hand. And more ominous still, a new
symptom had appeared; it was with evident difficulty that she performed
the act of swallowing. Doctor Dormann turned resignedly to the surgeon.

"There is no other alternative," he said; "you must bleed her."

At the sight of the lancet and the bandage, Jack started out of his
corner. His teeth were fast set; his eyes glared with rage. Before he
could approach the surgeon Mr. Keller took him sternly by the arm and
pointed to the door. He shook himself free--he saw the point of the
lancet touch the vein. As the blood followed the incision, a cry of
horror burst from him: he ran out of the room.

"Wretches! Tigers! How dare they take her blood from her! Oh, why am I
only a little man? why am I not strong enough to fling the brutes out of
the window? Mistress! Mistress! is there nothing I can do to help you?"

These wild words poured from his lips in the solitude of his little
bedchamber. In the agony that he suffered, as the sense of Mrs. Wagner's
danger now forced itself on him, he rolled on the floor, and struck
himself with his clenched fists. And, again and again, he cried out to
her, "Mistress! Mistress! is there nothing I can do to help you?"

The strap that secured his keys became loosened, as his frantic movements
beat the leather bag, now on one side, and now on the other, upon the
floor. The jingling of the keys rang in his ears. For a moment, he lay
quite still. Then, he sat up on the floor. He tried to think calmly.
There was no candle in the room. The nearest light came from a lamp on
the landing below. He got up, and went softly down the stairs. Alone on
the landing, he held up the bag and looked at it. "There's something in
my mind, trying to speak to me," he said to himself. "Perhaps, I shall
find it in here?"

He knelt down under the light, and shook out the keys on the landing.

One by one he ranged them in a row, with a single exception. The key of
the desk happened to be the first that he took up. He kissed it--it was
_her_ key--and put it back in the bag. Placing the others before him, the
duplicate key was the last in the line. The inscription caught his eye.
He held it to the light and read "Pink-Room Cupboard."

The lost recollection now came back to him in intelligible form. The
"remedy" that Madame Fontaine had locked up--the precious "remedy" made
by the wonderful master who knew everything--was at his disposal. He had
only to open the cupboard, and to have it in his own possession.

He threw the other keys back into the bag. They rattled as he ran down
the lower flight of stairs. Opposite to the offices, he stopped and
buckled them tight with the strap. No noise! Nothing to alarm Mrs.
Housekeeper! He ascended the stairs in the other wing of the house, and
paused again when he approached Madame Fontaine's room. By this time, he
was in the perilous fever of excitement, which was still well remembered
among the authorities of Bedlam. Suppose the widow happened to be in her
room? Suppose she refused to let him have the "remedy"?

He looked at the outstretched fingers of his right hand. "I am strong
enough to throttle a woman," he said, "and I'll do it."

He opened the door without knocking, without stopping to listen outside.
Not a creature was in the room.

In another moment the fatal dose of "Alexander's Wine," which he
innocently believed to be a beneficent remedy, was in his possession.

As he put it into the breast-pocket of his coat, the wooden chest caught
his eye. He reached it down and tried the lid. The lid opened in his
hand, and disclosed the compartments and the bottles placed in them. One
of the bottles rose higher by an inch or two than any of the others. He
drew that one out first to look at it, and discovered--the "blue-glass
bottle."

From that moment all idea of trying the effect on Mrs. Wagner of the
treacherous "remedy" in his pocket vanished from his mind. He had secured
the inestimable treasure, known to him by his own experience. Here was
the heavenly bottle that had poured life down his throat, when he lay
dying at Wurzburg! This was the true and only doctor who had saved Mr.
Keller's life, when the poor helpless fools about his bed had given him
up for lost! The Mistress, the dear Mistress, was as good as cured
already. Not a drop more of her precious blood should be shed by the
miscreant, who had opened his knife and wounded her. Oh, of all the
colors in the world, there's no color like blue! Of all the friends in
the world, there never was such a good friend as this! He kissed and
hugged the bottle as if it had been a living thing. He jumped up and
danced about the room with it in his arms. Ha! what music there was in
the inner gurgling and splashing of the shaken liquid, which told him
that there was still some left for the Mistress! The striking of the
clock on the mantelpiece sobered him at the height of his ecstasy. It
told him that time was passing. Minute by minute, Death might be getting
nearer and nearer to her; and there he was, with Life in his possession,
wasting the time, far from her bedside.

On his way to the door, he stopped. His eyes turned slowly towards the
inner part of the room. They rested on the open cupboard--and then they
looked at the wooden chest, left on the floor.

Suppose the housekeeper should return, and see the key in the cupboard,
and the chest with one of the bottles missing?

His only counselor at that critical moment was his cunning; stimulated
into action by the closely related motive powers of his inbred vanity,
and his devotion to the benefactress whom he loved.

The chance of being discovered by Madame Fontaine never entered into his
calculations. He cared nothing whether she discovered him or not--he had
got the bottle, and woe to her if she tried to take it away from him!
What he really dreaded was, that the housekeeper might deprive him of the
glory of saving Mrs. Wagner's life, if she found out what had happened.
She might follow him to the bedside; she might claim the blue-glass
bottle as her property; she might say, "I saved Mr. Keller; and now I
have saved Mrs. Wagner. This little man is only the servant who gave the
dose, which any other hand might have poured out in his place."

Until these considerations occurred to him, his purpose had been to
announce his wonderful discovery publicly at Mrs. Wagner's bedside. This
intention he now abandoned, without hesitation. He saw a far more
inviting prospect before him. What a glorious position for him it would
be, if he watched his opportunity of administering the life-giving liquid
privately--if he waited till everybody was astonished at the speedy
recovery of the suffering woman--and then stood up before them all, and
proclaimed himself as the man who had restored her to health!

He replaced the chest, and locked the cupboard; taking the key away with
him. Returning to the door, he listened intently to make sure that nobody
was outside, and kept the blue-glass bottle hidden under his coat when he
ventured at last to leave the room. He reached the other wing of the
house, and ascended the second flight of stairs, without interruption of
any kind. Safe again in his own room, he watched through the half-opened
door.

Before long, Doctor Dormann and the surgeon appeared, followed by Mr.
Keller. The three went downstairs together. On the way, the Doctor
mentioned that he had secured a nurse for the night.

Still keeping the bottle concealed, Jack knocked softly at the door, and
entered Mrs. Wagner's room.

He first looked at the bed. She lay still and helpless, noticing nothing;
to all appearance, poor soul, a dying woman. The servant was engaged in
warming something over the fire. She shook her head gloomily, when Jack
inquired if any favorable change had place in his absence. He sat down,
vainly trying to discover how he might find the safe opportunity of which
he was in search.

The slow minutes followed each other. After a little while the
woman-servant looked at the clock. "It's time Mrs. Wagner had her
medicine," she remarked, still occupied with her employment at the fire.
Jack saw his opportunity in those words. "Please let me give the
medicine," he said.

"Bring it here," she answered; "I mustn't trust anybody to measure it
out.

"Surely I can give it to her, now it's ready?" Jack persisted.

The woman handed the glass to him. "I can't very well leave what I am
about," she said. "Mind you are careful not to spill any of it. She's as
patient as a lamb, poor creature. If she can only swallow it, she won't
give you any trouble."

Jack carried the glass round to the farther side of the bed, so as to
keep the curtains as a screen between himself and the fire-place. He
softly dropped out the contents of the glass on the carpet, and filled it
again from the bottle concealed under his coat. Waiting a moment after
that, he looked towards the door. What if the housekeeper came in, and
saw the blue-glass bottle? He snatched it up--an empty bottle now--and
put it in the side-pocket of his coat, and arranged his handkerchief so
as to hide that part of it which the pocket was not deep enough to
conceal. "Now!" he thought to himself, "now I may venture!" He gently put
his arm round Mrs. Wagner, and raised her on the pillow.

"Your medicine, dear Mistress," he whispered. "You will take it from poor
Jack, won't you?"

The sense of hearing still remained. Her vacant eyes turned towards him
by slow degrees. No outward expression answered to her thought; she could
show him that she submitted, and she could do no more.

He dashed away the tears that blinded him. Supported by the firm belief
that he was saving her life, he took the glass from the bedside-table and
put it to her lips.

With painful efforts, with many intervals of struggling breath, she
swallowed the contents of the glass, by a few drops at a time. He held it
up under the shadowed lamplight, and saw that it was empty.

As he laid her head back on the pillows, he ventured to touch her cold
cheek with his lips. "Has she taken it?" the woman asked. He was just
able to answer "Yes"--just able to look once more at the dear face on the
pillow. The tumult of contending emotions, against which he had struggled
thus far, overpowered his utmost resistance. He ran to hide the
hysterical passion in him, forcing its way to relief in sobs and cries,
on the landing outside.

In the calmer moments that followed, the fear still haunted him that
Madame Fontaine might discover the empty compartment in the
medicine-chest--might search every room in the house for the lost
bottle--and might find it empty. Even if he broke it, and threw the
fragments into the dusthole, the fragments might be remarked for their
beautiful blue color, and the discovery might follow. Where could he hide
it?

While he was still trying to answer that question, the hours of business
came to an end, and the clerks were leaving the offices below. He heard
them talking about the hard frost as they went out. One of them said
there were blocks of ice floating down the river already. The river! It
was within a few minutes' walk of the house. Why not throw the bottle
into the river?

He waited until there was perfect silence below, and then stole
downstairs. As he opened the door, a strange man met him, ascending the
house-steps, with a little traveling bag in his hand.

"Is this Mr. Keller's?" asked the strange man.

He was a jolly-looking old fellow with twinkling black eyes and a big red
nose. His breath was redolent of the smell of wine, and his thick lips
expanded into a broad grin, when he looked at Jack.

"My name's Schwartz," he said; "and here in this bag are my sister's
things for the night."

"Who is your sister?" Jack inquired.

Schwartz laughed. "Quite right, little man, how should you know who she
is? My sister's the nurse. She's hired by Doctor Dormann, and she'll be
here in an hour's time. I say! that's a pretty bottle you're hiding there
under your coat. Is there any wine in it?"

Jack began to tremble. He had been discovered by a stranger. Even the
river might not be deep enough to keep his secret now!

"The cold has got into my inside," proceeded the jolly old man. "Be a
good little fellow--and give us a drop!"

"I haven't got any wine in it," Jack answered.

Schwartz laid his forefinger confidentially along the side of his big red
nose. "I understand," he said, "you were just going out to get some." He
put his sister's bag on one of the chairs in the hall, and took Jack's
arm in the friendliest manner. "Suppose you come along with me?" he
suggested. "I am the man to help you to the best tap of wine in
Frankfort. Bless your heart! you needn't feel ashamed of being in my
company. My sister's a most respectable woman. And what do you think I
am? I'm one of the city officers. Ho! ho! just think of that! I'm not
joking, mind. The regular Night Watchman at the Deadhouse is ill in bed,
and they're obliged to find somebody to take his place till he gets well
again. I'm the Somebody. They tried two other men--but the Deadhouse gave
them the horrors. My respectable sister spoke for me, you know. "The
regular watchman will be well in a week," she says; "try him for a week."
And they tried me. I'm not proud, though I am a city officer. Come
along--and let me carry the bottle."

"The bottle" again! And, just as this intrusive person spoke of it,
Joseph's voice was audible below, and Joseph's footsteps gave notice that
he was ascending the kitchen stairs. In the utter bewilderment of the
moment, Jack ran out, with the one idea of escaping the terrible
possibilities of discovery in the hall. He heard the door closed behind
him--then heavy boots thumping the pavement at a quick trot. Before he
had got twenty yards from the house, the vinous breath of Schwartz puffed
over his shoulder, and the arm of the deputy-night-watchman took
possession of him again.

"Not too fast--I'm nimble on my legs for a man of my age--but not too
fast," said his new friend. "You're just the sort of little man I like.
My sister will tell you I take sudden fancies to people of your
complexion. My sister's a most respectable woman. What's your
name?--Jack? A capital name! Short, with a smack in it like the crack of
a whip. _Do_ give me the bottle!" He took it this time, without waiting
to have it given to him. "There! might drop it, you know," he said. "It's
safe in my friendly hands. Where are you going to? You don't deal, I
hope, at the public-house up that way? A word in your ear--the infernal
scoundrel waters his wine. Here's the turning where the honest publican
lives. I have the truest affection for him. I have the truest affection
for you. Would you like to see the Deadhouse, some night? It's against
the rules; but that don't matter. The cemetery overseer is a deal too
fond of his bed to turn out these cold nights and look after the
watchman. It's just the right place for me. There's nothing to do but to
drink, when you have got the liquor; and to sleep, when you haven't. The
Dead who come our way, my little friend, have one great merit. We are
supposed to help them, if they're perverse enough to come to life again
before they're buried. There they lie in our house, with one end of the
line tied to their fingers, and the other end at the spring of the
alarm-bell. And they have never rung the bell yet--never once, bless
their hearts, since the Deadhouse was built! Come and see me in the
course of the week, and we'll drink a health to our quiet neighbors."

They arrived at the door of the public-house.

"You've got some money about you, I suppose?" said Schwartz.

Madame Fontaine's generosity, when she gave Jack the money to buy a pair
of gloves, had left a small surplus in his pocket. He made a last effort
to escape from the deputy-watchman. "There's the money," he said. "Give me
back the bottle, and go and drink by yourself."

Schwartz took him by the shoulder, and surveyed him from head to foot by
the light of the public-house lamp. "Drink by myself?" he repeated. "Am I
a jolly fellow, or am I not? Yes, or No?"

"Yes," said Jack, trying hard to release himself.

Schwartz tightened his hold. "Did you ever hear of a jolly fellow, who
left his friend at the public-house door?" he asked.

"If you please, sir, I don't drink," Jack pleaded.

Schwartz burst into a great roar of laughter, and kicked open the door of
the public-house. "That's the best joke I ever heard in my life," he
said. "We've got money enough to fill the bottle, and to have a glass
a-piece besides. Come along!"

He dragged Jack into the house. The bottle was filled; the glasses were
filled. "My sister's health! Long life and prosperity to my respectable
sister! You can't refuse to drink the toast." With those words, he put
the fatal glass into his companion's hand.

Jack tasted the wine. It was cool; it was good. Perhaps it was not so
strong as Mr. Keller's wine? He tried it again--and emptied the glass.

An hour later, there was a ring at the door of Mr. Keller's house.

Joseph opened the door, and discovered a red-nosed old man, holding up
another man who seemed to be three parts asleep, and who was quite unable
to stand on his legs without assistance. The light of the hall lamp fell
on this helpless creature's face, and revealed--Jack.

"Put him to bed," said the red-nosed stranger. "And, look here, take
charge of the bottle for him, or he'll break it. Somehow, the wine has
all leaked out. Where's my sister's bag?"

"Do you mean the nurse?"

"Of course I do! I defy the world to produce the nurse's equal. Has she
come?"

Joseph held up his hand with a gesture of grave reproof.

"Not so loud," he said. "The nurse has come too late."

"Has the lady got well again?"

"The lady is dead."



CHAPTER XV

Doctor Dormann had behaved very strangely.

He was the first person who made the terrible discovery of the death.
When he came to the house, on his evening visit to his patient, Mr.
Keller was in the room. Half an hour before, Mrs. Wagner had spoken to
him. Seeing a slight movement of her lips, he had bent over her, and had
just succeeded in hearing her few last words, "Be kind to Jack." Her
eyelids dropped wearily, after the struggle to speak. Mr. Keller and the
servant in attendance both supposed that she had fallen asleep. The
doctor's examination was not only prolonged beyond all customary limits
of time in such cases--it was the examination (judging by certain
expressions which escaped him) of a man who seemed to be unwilling to
trust his own experience. The new nurse arrived, before he had definitely
expressed his opinion; and the servant was instructed to keep her waiting
downstairs. In expectation of the doctor's report, Mr. Keller remained in
the bedroom. Doctor Dormann might not have noticed this circumstance, or
might not have cared to conceal what was passing in his mind. In either
case, when he spoke at last, he expressed himself in these extraordinary
terms:--

"The second suspicious illness in this house! And the second
incomprehensible end to it!"

Mr. Keller at once stepped forward, and showed himself.

"Did you mean me to hear what you have just said?" he asked.

The doctor looked at him gravely and sadly. "I must speak to you
privately, Mr. Keller. Before we leave the room, permit me to send for
the nurse. You may safely trust her to perform the last sad duties."

Mr. Keller started. "Good God!" he exclaimed, "is Mrs. Wagner dead?"

"To my astonishment, she is dead." He laid a strong emphasis on the first
part of his reply.

The nurse having received her instructions, Mr. Keller led the way to his
private room. "In my responsible position," he said, "I may not
unreasonably expect that you will explain yourself without reserve."

"On such a serious matter as this," Doctor Dormann answered, "it is my
duty to speak without reserve. The person whom you employ to direct the
funeral will ask you for the customary certificate. I refuse to give it."

This startling declaration roused a feeling of anger, rather than of
alarm, in a man of Mr. Keller's resolute character. "For what reason do
you refuse?" he asked sternly.

"I am not satisfied, sir, that Mrs. Wagner has died a natural death. My
experience entirely fails to account for the suddenly fatal termination
of the disease, in the case of a patient of her healthy constitution, and
at her comparatively early age."

"Doctor Dormann, do you suspect there is a poisoner in my house?"

"In plain words, I do."

"In plain words on my side, I ask why?"

"I have already given you my reason."

"Is your experience infallible? Have you never made a mistake?"

"I made a mistake, Mr. Keller (as it appeared at the time), in regard to
your own illness."

"What! you suspected foul play in my case too?"

"Yes; and, by way of giving you another reason, I will own that the
suspicion is still in my mind. After what I have seen this evening--and
only after that, observe--I say the circumstances of your recovery are
suspicious circumstances in themselves. Remember, if you please, that
neither I nor my colleague really understood what was the matter with
you; and that you were cured by a remedy, not prescribed by either of us.
You were rapidly sinking; and your regular physician had left you. I had
to choose between the certainty of your death, and the risk of letting
you try a remedy, with the nature of which (though I did my best to
analyze it) I was imperfectly acquainted. I ran the risk. The result has
justified me--and up to this day, I have kept my misgivings to myself. I
now find them renewed by Mrs. Wagner's death--and I speak."

Mr. Keller's manner began to change. His tone was sensibly subdued. He
understood the respect which was due to the doctor's motives at last.

"May I ask if the symptoms of my illness resembled the symptoms of Mrs.
Wagner's illness?" he said.

"Far from it. Excepting the nervous derangement, in both cases, there was
no other resemblance in the symptoms. The conclusion, to my mind, is not
altered by this circumstance. It simply leads me to the inference that
more than one poison may have been used. I don't attempt to solve the
mystery. I have no idea why your life has been saved, and Mrs. Wagner's
life sacrificed--or what motives have been at work in the dark. Ask
yourself--don't ask me--in what direction suspicion points. I refuse to
sign the certificate of death; and I have told you why."

"Give me a moment," said Mr. Keller, "I don't shrink from my
responsibility; I only ask for time to compose myself."

It was the pride of his life to lean on nobody for help. He walked to the
window; hiding all outward betrayal of the consternation that shook him
to the soul. When he returned to his chair, he scrupulously avoided even
the appearance of asking Doctor Dormann for advice.

"My course is plain," he said quietly. "I must communicate your decision
to the authorities; and I must afford every assistance in my power to the
investigation that will follow. It shall be done, when the magistrates
meet to-morrow morning."

"We will go together to the town-hall, Mr. Keller. It is my duty to
inform the burgomaster that this is a case for the special safeguards,
sanctioned by the city regulations. I must also guarantee that there is
no danger to the public health, in the removal of the body from your
house."

"The immediate removal?" Mr. Keller asked.

"No! The removal twenty-four hours after death."

"To what place?"

"To the Deadhouse."



CHAPTER XVI

Acting on the doctor's information, the burgomaster issued his order. At
eight o'clock in the evening, on the third of January, the remains of
Mrs. Wagner were to be removed to the cemetery-building, outside the
Friedberg Gate of Frankfort.

Long before the present century, the dread of premature
interment--excited by traditions of persons accidentally buried
alive--was a widely-spread feeling among the people of Germany. In other
cities besides Frankfort, the municipal authorities devised laws, the
object of which was to make this frightful catastrophe impossible. In the
early part of the present century, these laws were re-enacted and revised
by the City of Frankfort. The Deadhouse was attached to the cemetery,
with a double purpose. First, to afford a decent resting-place for the
corpse, when death occurred among the crowded residences of the poorer
class of the population. Secondly, to provide as perfect a safeguard as
possible against the chances of premature burial. The use of the
Deadhouse (strictly confined to the Christian portion of the inhabitants)
was left to the free choice of surviving relatives or
representatives--excepting only those cases in which a doctor's
certificate justified the magistrate in pronouncing an absolute decision.
Even in the event of valid objections to the Deadhouse as a last
resting-place on the way to the grave, the doctor in attendance on the
deceased person was subjected to certain restrictions in issuing his
certificate. He was allowed to certify the death informally, for the
purpose of facilitating the funeral arrangements. But he was absolutely
forbidden to give his written authority for the burial, before the
expiration of three nights from the time of the death; and he was further
bound to certify that the signs of decomposition had actually begun to
show themselves. Have these multiplied precautions, patiently applied in
many German cities, through a long lapse of years, ever yet detected a
case in which Death has failed to complete its unintelligible work? Let
the answer be found in the cells of the dead. Pass, with the mourners,
through the iron gates--hear and see!



On the evening of the third, as the time approached for the arrival of
the hearse, the melancholy stillness in the house was only broken by Mr.
Keller's servants, below-stairs. Collecting together in one room, they
talked confidentially, in low voices. An instinctive horror of silence,
in moments of domestic distress, is, in all civilized nations, one of the
marked characteristics of their class.

"In ten minutes," said Joseph, "the men from the cemetery will be here to
take her away. It will be no easy matter to carry her downstairs on the
couch."

"Why is she not put in her coffin, like other dead people?" the housemaid
asked.

"Because the crazy creature she brought with her from London is allowed
to have his own way in the house," Joseph answered irritably. "If I had
been brought to the door drunk last night, I should have been sent away
this morning. If I had been mad enough to screech out, 'She isn't dead;
not one of you shall put her in a coffin!'--I should have richly deserved
a place in the town asylum, and I should have got my deserts. Nothing of
the sort for Master Jack. Mr. Keller only tells him to be quiet, and
looks distressed. The doctor takes him away, and speaks to him in another
room--and actually comes back converted to Jack's opinion!"

"You don't mean to tell us," exclaimed the cook, "that the doctor said
she wasn't dead?"

"Of course not. It was he who first found out that she _was_ dead--I only
mean that he let Jack have his own way. He asked me for a foot rule, and
he measured the little couch in the bedroom. 'It's no longer than the
coffin' (he says); 'and I see no objection to the body being laid on it,
till the time comes for the burial.' Those were his own words; and when
the nurse objected to it, what do you think he said?--'Hold your tongue!
A couch is a pleasanter thing all the world over than a coffin.'"

"Blasphemous!" said the cook--"that's what I call it."

"Ah, well, well!" the housemaid remarked, "couch or coffin, she looks
beautiful, poor soul, in her black velvet robe, with the winter flowers
in her pretty white hands. Who got the flowers? Madame Fontaine, do you
think?"

"Bah! Madame Fontaine, indeed! Little Crazybrains went out (instead of
eating the good dinner I cooked for him), and got the flowers. He
wouldn't let anybody put them into her hands but himself--at least, so
the nurse said. Has anybody seen Madame Housekeeper? Was she downstairs
at dinner to-day, Joseph?"

"Not she! You mark my words," said Joseph, "there's some very serious
reason for her keeping her room, on pretense of being ill."

"Can you give any guess what it is?"

"You shall judge for yourself," Joseph answered. "Did I tell you what
happened yesterday evening, before Jack was brought home by the nurse's
brother? I answered a ring at the door-bell--and there was Mr. Fritz in a
towering passion, with Miss Minna on his arm looking ready to drop with
fatigue. They rang for some wine; and I heard what he said to his father.
It seems that Madame Fontaine had gone out walking in the dark and the
cold (and her daughter with her), without rhyme or reason. Mr. Fritz met
them, and insisted on taking Miss Minna home. Her mother didn't seem to
care what he said or did. She went on walking by herself, as hard as she
could lay her feet to the ground. And what do you suppose her excuse was?
Her nerves were out of order! Mr. Fritz's notion is that there is
something weighing on her mind. An hour afterwards she came back to the
house--and I found reason to agree with Mr. Fritz."

"Tell us all about it, Joseph! What did she do?"

"You shall hear. It happened, just after I had seen crazy Jack safe in
his bed. When I heard the bell, I was on my way downstairs, with a
certain bottle in my hand. One of you saw the nurse's brother give it to
me, I think? How he and Crazybrains came into possession of it, mind you,
is more than I know."

"It looked just like the big medicine-bottle that cured Mr. Keller," said
the cook.

"It _was_ the bottle; and, what is more, it smelt of wine, instead of
medicine, and it was empty. Well, I opened the door to Madame
Housekeeper, with the bottle in my hand. The instant she set eyes on it,
she snatched it away from me. She looked--I give you my word of honor,
she looked as if she could have cut my throat. "You wretch!"--nice
language to use to a respectable servant, eh?--"You wretch" (she says),
"how did you come by this?" I made her a low bow. I said, "Civility costs
nothing, ma'am; and sometimes buys a great deal" (severe, eh?). I told
her exactly what had happened, and exactly what Schwartz had said. And
then I ended with another hard hit. "The next time anything of yours is
put into my hands," I said, "I shall leave it to take care of itself." I
don't know whether she heard me; she was holding the bottle up to the
light. When she saw it was empty--well! I can't tell you, of course, what
was passing in her mind. But this I can swear; she shivered and shuddered
as if she had got a fit of the ague; and pale as she was when I let her
into the house, I do assure you she turned paler still. I thought I
should have to take _her_ upstairs next. My good creatures, she's made of
iron! Upstairs she went. I followed her as far as the first landing, and
saw Mr. Keller waiting--to tell her the news of Mrs. Wagner's death, I
suppose. What passed between them I can't say. Mr. Fritz tells me she has
never left her room since; and his father has not even sent a message to
know how she is. What do you think of that?"

"I think Mr. Fritz was mistaken, when he told you she had never left her
room," said the housemaid. "I am next to certain I heard her whispering,
early this morning, with crazy Jack. Do you think she will follow the
hearse to the Deadhouse, with Mr. Keller and the doctor?"

"Hush!" said Joseph. As he spoke, the heavy wheels of the hearse were
heard in the street. He led the way to the top of the kitchen stairs.
"Wait here," he whispered, "while I answer the door--and you will see."



Upstairs, in the drawing-room, Fritz and Minna were alone. Madame
Fontaine's door, closed to everyone, was a closed door even to her
daughter.

Fritz had refused to let Minna ask a second time to be let in. "It will
soon be your husband's privilege, my darling, to take care of you and
comfort you," he said. "At this dreadful time, there must be no
separation between you and me."

His arm was round her; her head rested on his shoulder. She looked up at
him timidly.

"Are you not going with them to the cemetery?" she asked.

"I am going to stay with you, Minna."

"You were angry yesterday, Fritz, when you met me with my mother. Don't
think the worse of her, because she is ill and troubled in her mind. You
will make allowances for her as I do--won't you?"

"My sweet girl, there is nothing I won't do to please you! Kiss me,
Minna. Again! again!"



On the higher floor of the house, Mr. Keller and the doctor were waiting
in the chamber of death.

Jack kept his silent watch by the side of the couch, on which the one
human creature who had befriended him lay hushed in the last earthly
repose. Still, from time to time, he whispered to himself the sad
senseless words, "No, no, no--not dead, Mistress! Not dead yet!"

There was a soft knock at the door. The doctor opened it. Madame Fontaine
stood before him. She spoke in dull monotonous tones--standing in the
doorway; refusing, when she was invited by a gesture, to enter the room.

"The hearse has stopped at the door," she said. "The men wish to ask you
if they can come in."

It was Joseph's duty to make this announcement. Her motive for
forestalling him showed itself dimly in her eyes. They were not on Mr.
Keller; not on the doctor; not on the couch. From the moment when the
door had been opened to her, she fixed her steady look on Jack. It never
moved until the bearers of the dead hid him from her when they entered
the room.

The procession passed out. Jack, at Mr. Keller's command, followed last.
Standing back at the doorway, Madame Fontaine caught him by the arm as he
came out.

"You were half asleep this morning," she whispered. "You are not half
asleep now. How did you get the blue-glass bottle? I insist on knowing."

"I won't tell you!"

Madame Fontaine altered her tone.

"Will you tell me who emptied the bottle? I have always been kind to
you--it isn't much to ask. Who emptied it?"

His variable temper changed; he lifted his head proudly. Absolutely sure
of his mistress's recovery, he now claimed the merit that was his due.

_"I_ emptied it!"

"How did you empty it?" she asked faintly. "Did you throw away what was
in it? Did you give it to anybody?"

He seized her in his turn--and dragged her to the railing of the
corridor. "Look there!" he cried, pointing to the bearers, slowly
carrying their burden down the stairs. "Do you see her, resting on her
little sofa till she recovers? I gave it to her!"

He left her, and descended the stairs. She staggered back against the
wall of the corridor. Her sight seemed to be affected. She groped for the
stair-rail, and held by it. The air was wafted up through the open
street-door. It helped her to rally her energies. She went down steadily,
step by step, to the first landing--paused, and went down again. Arrived
in the hall, she advanced to Mr. Keller, and spoke to him.

"Are you going to see the body laid in the Deadhouse?"

"Yes."

"Is there any objection to my seeing it too?"

"The authorities have no objection to admitting friends of the deceased
person," Mr. Keller answered. He looked at her searchingly, and added,
"Do _you_ go as a friend?"

It was rashly said; and he knew it. The magistrates had decided that the
first inquiries should be conducted with the greatest secrecy. For that
day, at least, the inmates of the house were to enjoy their usual liberty
of action (under private superintendence), so that no suspicion might be
excited in the mind of the guilty person. Conscious of having trifled
with the serious necessity of keeping a guard over his tongue, Mr. Keller
waited anxiously for Madame Fontaine's reply.

Not a word fell from her lips. There was a slight hardening of her face,
and no more. In ominous silence, she turned about and ascended the stairs
again.



CHAPTER XVII

The departure from the house was interrupted by an unforeseen cause of
delay.

Jack refused to follow the hearse with Doctor Dormann and Mr. Keller. "I
won't lose sight of her!" he cried--"no! not for a moment! Of all living
creatures, I must be the first to see her when she wakes."

Mr. Keller turned to the doctor. "What does he mean?"

The doctor, standing back in the shadow of the house, seemed to have some
reason for not answering otherwise than by gesture. He touched his
forehead significantly; and, stepping out into the road, took Jack by the
hand. The canopy of the hearse, closed at the sides, was open at either
end. From the driver's seat, the couch became easily visible on looking
round. With inexhaustible patience the doctor quieted the rising
excitement in Jack, and gained him permission to take his place by the
driver's side. Always grateful for kindness, he thanked Doctor Dormann,
with the tears falling fast over his cheeks. "I'm not crying for _her,"_
said the poor little man; "she will soon be herself again. But it's so
dreadful, sir, to go out driving with her in such a carriage as this!"

The hearse moved away.

Doctor Dormann, walking with Mr. Keller, felt his arm touched, and,
looking round, saw the dimly-outlined figure of a woman beckoning to him.
He drew back, after a word of apology to his companion, who continued to
follow the hearse. The woman met him half way. He recognized Madame
Fontaine.

"You are a learned man," she began abruptly. "Do you understand writing
in cipher?"

"Sometimes."

"If you have half an hour to spare this evening, look at that--and do me
the favor of telling me what it means."

She offered something to him, which appeared in the dim light to be only
a sheet of paper. He hesitated to take it from her. She tried to press it
on him.

"I found it among my husband's papers," she said. "He was a great
chemist, as you know. It might be interesting to you."

He still hesitated.

"Are _you_ acquainted with chemical science?" he asked.

"I am perfectly ignorant of chemical science."

"Then what interest can you have in interpreting the cipher?"

"I have a very serious interest. There may be something dangerous in it,
if it fell into unscrupulous hands. I want to know if I ought to destroy
it."

He suddenly took the paper from her. It felt stiff, like a sheet of
cartridge-paper.

"You shall hear," he said. "In case of necessity, I will destroy it
myself. Anything more?"

"One thing more. Does Jack go to the cemetery with you and Mr. Keller?"

"Yes."

Walking away rapidly to overtake Mr. Keller, he looked behind him once or
twice. The street was dimly lit, in those days, by a few oil lamps. He
might be mistaken--but he thought that Madame Fontaine was following him.

On leaving the city, the lanterns were lit to guide the hearse along the
road that led to the cemetery. The overseer met the bearers at the gates.

They passed, under a Doric portico, into a central hall. At its
right-hand extremity, an open door revealed a room for the accommodation
of mourners. Beyond this there was a courtyard; and, farther still, the
range of apartments devoted to the residence of the cemetery-overseer.
Turning from the right-hand division of the building, the bearers led the
way to the opposite extremity of the hall; passed through a second room
for mourners; crossed a second courtyard beyond it; and, turning into a
narrow passage, knocked at a closed door.

The door was opened by a watchman. He admitted them into a long room,
situated between the courtyard at one end, and the cemetery at the other,
and having ten side recesses which opened out of it. The long room was
the Watchman's Chamber. The recesses were the cells which held the dead.

The couch was set down in the Watchman's Chamber. It was a novelty in the
Deadhouse; and the overseer asked for an explanation. Doctor Dormann
informed him that the change had been made, with his full approval, to
satisfy a surviving friend, and that the coffin would be provided before
the certificate was granted for the burial.

While the persons present were all gathered round the doctor and the
overseer, Madame Fontaine softly pushed open the door from the courtyard.
After a look at the recesses--situated, five on either side of the length
of the room, and closed by black curtains--she parted the curtains of the
nearest recess to her, on her left hand; and stepped in without being
noticed by anyone.

"You take the responsibility of the couch, doctor, if the authorities
raise any objection?" said the overseer.

This condition being complied with, he addressed himself to the watchman.
"The cells are all empty to-night, Duntzer, are they not?"

"Yes, sir."

"Are you off duty, early or late this evening?"

"I am off duty in half an hour, sir."

The overseer pointed to the couch. "You can attend to this," he said.
"Take the cell that is the nearest to you, where the watchman's chair is
placed--Number Five."

He referred to the fifth recess, at the upper end of the room on the
right, counting from the courtyard door. The watchman looped up the black
curtains, while the bearers placed the couch in the cell. This done, the
bearers were dismissed.

Doctor Dormann pointed through the parted curtains to the lofty cell,
ventilated from the top, and warmed (like the Watchman's Chamber) by an
apparatus under the flooring. In the middle of the cell was a stand,
placed there to support the coffin. Above the stand a horizontal bar
projected, which was fixed over the doorway. It was furnished with a
pulley, through which passed a long thin string hanging loosely downward
at one end, and attached at the other to a small alarm-bell, placed over
the door on the outer side--that is to say, on the side of the Watchman's
Chamber.

"All the cells are equal in size," said the doctor to Mr. Keller, "and
are equally clean, and well warmed. The hot bath, in another room, is
always ready; and a cabinet, filled with restorative applications, is
close by. Now look at the watchman, and mark the care that is taken--in
the event, for instance, of a cataleptic trance, and of a revival
following it."

Duntzer led the way into the cell. He took the loose end of the string,
hanging from above, and attached to it two shorter and lighter strings,
each of which terminated in five loose ends.

From these ten ends hung ten little thimble-shaped objects, made of
brass.

First slightly altering the position of the couch on the stand, Duntzer
lifted the dead hands--fitted the ten brass thimbles to the fingers and
the thumbs--and gently laid the hands back on the breast of the corpse.
When he had looked up, and had satisfied himself of the exact connection
between the hands and the line communicating with the alarm-bell outside,
his duty was done. He left the cell; and, seating himself in his chair,
waited the arrival of the night-watchman who was to relieve him.

Mr. Keller came out into the chamber, and spoke to the overseer.

"Is all done now?"

"All is done."

"I should like, while I am here, to speak to you about the grave."

The overseer bowed. "You can see the plan of the cemetery," he said, "in
my office on the other side of the building."

Mr. Keller looked back into the cell. Jack had taken his place in it,
when the couch had been carried in; and Doctor Dormann was quietly
observing him. Mr. Keller beckoned to Jack. "I am waiting for you," he
said. "Come!"

"And leave Mistress?" Jack answered. "Never!"

Mr. Keller was on the point of stepping into the cell, when Doctor
Dormann took his arm, and led him away out of hearing.

"I want to ask you a question," said the doctor. "Was that poor
creature's madness violent madness, when Mrs. Wagner took him out of the
London asylum?"

"I have heard her say so."

"Be careful what you do with him. Mrs. Wagner's death has tried his weak
brain seriously. I am afraid of a relapse into that violent
madness--leave him to me."

Mr. Keller left the room with the overseer. Doctor Dormann returned to
the cell.

"Listen to me, Jack," he said. "If your mistress revives (as you think),
I want you to see for yourself how she will tell it to the man who is on
the watch." He turned, and spoke to Duntzer. "Is the alarm-bell set?"

"Yes, sir."

The doctor addressed himself once more to Jack.

"Now look, and listen!" he said.

He delicately touched one of the brass thimbles, fitted to the fingers of
the corpse. The bell rang instantly in the Watchman's Chamber.

"The moment the man hears that," he resumed, "he will make the signal,
which calls the overseer and the nurses to help your mistress back to
life. At the same time, a messenger will be sent to Mr. Keller's house to
tell you what has happened. You see how well she is taken care of--and
you will behave sensibly, I am sure? I am going away. Come with me."

Jack answered as he had answered Mr. Keller.

"Never!" he said.

He flung himself on the floor, and clasped his arms round one of the
pillars supporting the stand on which the couch was placed. "Tear my arms
out of their sockets," he cried--"you won't get me away till you've done
that!"

Before the doctor could answer, footsteps were heard in the Watchman's
Chamber. A jolly voice asked a question. "Any report for the night,
Duntzer?"

Jack seemed to recognize the voice. He looked round eagerly.

"A corpse in Number Five," Duntzer answered. "And strangers in the cell.
Contrary to the order for the night, as you know. I have reported them;
it's your duty to send them away. Good night."

A red-nosed old man looked in at the doorway of the cell. Jack started to
his feet. "Here's Schwartz!" he cried--"leave me with Schwartz!"



CHAPTER XVIII

The discovery of Jack agreeably surprised Schwartz, without in the least
perplexing him.

His little friend (as he reasoned) had, no doubt, remembered the
invitation to the Deadhouse, and had obtained admission through the
interference of the strange gentleman who was with him. But who was the
gentleman? The deputy night-watchman (though he might carry messages for
his relative the nurse) was not personally acquainted with his sister's
medical patrons in Frankfort. He looked at the doctor with an expression
of considerable doubt.

"I beg your pardon, sir," he ventured to say, "you're not a member of the
city council, are you?"

"I have nothing to do with the city council."

"And nothing to do with managing the Deadhouse?"

"Nothing. I am Doctor Dormann."

Schwartz snapped his clumsy fingers, as an appropriate expression of
relief. "All right, sir! Leave the little man with me--I'll take care of
him."

"Do you know this person?" asked the doctor, turning to Jack.

"Yes! yes! leave me here with him," Jack answered eagerly. "Good-night,
sir--good-night!"

Doctor Dormann looked again at Jack's friend.

"I thought strangers were not allowed here at night," he said.

"It's against the rules," Schwartz admitted. "But, Lord love you, sir,
think of the dullness of this place! Besides, I'm only a deputy. In three
nights more, the regular man will come on duty again. It's an awful job,
doctor, watching alone here, all night. One of the men actually went mad,
and hanged himself. To be sure he was a poet in his way, which makes it
less remarkable. I'm not a poet myself--I'm only a sociable creature.
Leave little Jack with me! I'll send him home safe and sound--I feel like
a father to him."

The doctor hesitated. What was he to do? Jack had already returned to the
cell in which his mistress lay. To remove him by the brutal exercise of
main force was a proceeding from which Doctor Dormann's delicacy of
feeling naturally recoiled--to say nothing of the danger of provoking
that outbreak of madness against which the doctor had himself warned Mr.
Keller. Persuasion he had already tried in vain. Delegated authority to
control Jack had not been conferred on him. There seemed to be no other
course than to yield.

"If you persist in your obstinacy," he said to Jack, "I must return alone
to Mr. Keller's house, and tell him that I have left you here with your
friend."

Jack was already absorbed in his own thoughts. He only repeated vacantly,
"Good-night."

Doctor Dormann left the room. Schwartz looked in at his guest. "Wait
there for the present," he said. "The porter will be here directly: I
don't want him to see you."

The porter came in after an interval. "All right for the night?" he
asked.

"All right," Schwartz answered.

The porter withdrew in silence. The night-watchman's reply was his
authority for closing the gates of the Deadhouse until the next morning.

Schwartz returned to Jack--still watching patiently by the side of the
couch. "Was she a relation of yours?" he asked.

"All the relations in the world to me!" Jack burst out passionately.
"Father and mother--and brother and sister and wife."

"Aye, aye? Five relations in one is what I call an economical family,"
said Schwartz. "Come out here, to the table. You stood treat last
time--my turn now. I've got the wine handy. Yes, yes--she was a fine
woman in her time, I dare say. Why haven't you put her into a coffin like
other people?"

"Why?" Jack repeated indignantly. "I couldn't prevent them from bringing
her here; but I could have burnt the house down over their heads, if they
had dared to put her into a coffin! Are you stupid enough to suppose that
Mistress is dead? Don't you know that I'm watching and waiting here till
she wakes? Ah! I beg your pardon--you don't know. The rest of them would
have let her die. I saved her life. Come here, and I'll tell you how."

He dragged Schwartz into the cell. As the watchman disappeared from view,
the wild white face of Madame Fontaine appeared between the curtains of
her hiding-place, listening to Jack's narrative of the opening of the
cupboard, and the discovery that had followed.

Schwartz humored his little friend (evidently, as he now concluded, his
crazy little friend), by listening in respectful silence. Instead of
making any remark at the end, he mentioned once more that the wine was
handy. "Come!" he reiterated; "come to the table!"

Madame Fontaine drew back again behind the curtains. Jack remained
obstinately in the cell. "I mean to see it," he said, "the moment she
moves."

"Do you think your eyes will tell you?" Schwartz remonstrated. "You look
dead-beat already; your eyes will get tired. Trust the bell here, over
the door. Brass and steel don't get tired; brass and steel don't fall
asleep; brass and steel will ring, and call you to her. Take a rest and a
drink."

These words reminded Jack of the doctor's experiment with the alarm-bell.
He could not disguise from himself the stealthily-growing sense of
fatigue in his head and his limbs. "I'm afraid you're right," he said
sadly. "I wish I was a stronger man." He joined Schwartz at the table,
and dropped wearily into the watchman's chair.

His head sank on his breast, his eyes closed. He started up again. "She
may want help when she wakes!" he cried, with a look of terror. "What
must we do? Can we carry her home between us? Oh! Schwartz, I was so
confident in myself a little while since--and it seems all to have left
me now!"

"Don't worry that weary little head of yours about nothing," Schwartz
answered, with rough good-nature. "Come along with me, and I'll show you
where help's to be got when help's wanted. No! no! you won't be out of
hearing of the bell--if it rings. We'll leave the door open. It's only on
the other side of the passage here."

He lighted a lantern, and led Jack out.

Leaving the courtyard and the waiting-room on their left hand, he
advanced along the right-hand side of the passage, and opened the door of
a bed-chamber, always kept ready for use. A second door in the
bed-chamber led to a bath-room. Here, opposite the bath, stood the
cabinet in which the restorative applications were kept, under the care
of the overseer.



When the two men had gone out, Madame Fontaine ventured into the
Watchman's Chamber. Her eyes turned towards the one terrible cell, at the
farther end of the row of black curtains. She advanced towards it; and
stopped, lifting her hands to her head in the desperate effort to compose
herself.

The terror of impending discovery had never left her, since Jack had
owned the use to which he had put the contents of the blue-glass bottle.

Animated by that all-mastering dread, she had thrown away every poison in
the medicine-chest--had broken the bottles into fragments--and had taken
those fragments out with her, when she left the house to follow Doctor
Dormann. On the way to the cemetery, she had scattered the morsels of
broken glass and torn paper on the dark road outside the city gate.
Nothing now remained but the empty medicine-chest, and the writing in
cipher, once rolled round the poison called the "Looking-Glass Drops."

Under these altered circumstances, she had risked asking Doctor Dormann
to interpret the mysterious characters, on the bare chance of their
containing some warning by which she might profit, in her present
ignorance of the results which Jack's ignorant interference might
produce.

Acting under the same vague terror of that possible revival, to which
Jack looked forward with such certain hope, she had followed him to the
Deadhouse, and had waited, hidden in the cells, to hear what dangerous
confidences he might repose in the doctor or in Mr. Keller, and to combat
on the spot the suspicion which he might ignorantly rouse in their minds.
Still in the same agony of doubt, she now stood, with her eyes on the
cell, trying to summon the resolution to judge for herself. One look at
the dead woman, while the solitude in the room gave her the chance--one
look might assure her of the livid pallor of death, or warn her of the
terrible possibilities of awakening life. She hurried headlong over the
intervening space, and looked in.

There, grand and still, lay her murderous work! There, ghostly white on
the ground of the black robe, were the rigid hands, topped by the hideous
machinery which was to betray them, if they trembled under the mysterious
return of life!

In the instant when she saw it, the sight overwhelmed her with horror.
She turned distractedly, and fled through the open door. She crossed the
courtyard, like a deeper shadow creeping swiftly through the darkness of
the winter night. On the threshold of the solitary waiting-room,
exhausted nature claimed its rest. She wavered--groped with her hands at
the empty air--and sank insensible on the floor.



In the meantime, Schwartz revealed the purpose of his visit to the
bath-room.

The glass doors which protected the upper division of the cabinet were
locked; the key being in the possession of the overseer. The cupboard in
the lower division, containing towels and flannel wrappers, was left
unsecured. Opening the door, the watchman drew out a bottle and an old
traveling flask, concealed behind the bath-linen. "I call this my
cellar," he explained. "Cheer up, Jacky; we'll have a jolly night of it
yet."

"I don't want to see your cellar!" said Jack impatiently. "I want to be
of use to Mistress--show me the place where we call for help."

"Call?" repeated Schwartz, with a roar of laughter. "Do you think they
can hear us at the overseer's, through a courtyard, and a waiting-room,
and a grand hall, and another courtyard, and another waiting-room beyond?
Not if we were twenty men all bawling together till we were hoarse! I'll
show you how we can make the master hear us--if that miraculous revival
of yours happens," he added facetiously in a whisper to himself.

He led the way back into the passage, and held up his lantern so as to
show the cornice. A row of fire-buckets was suspended there by books.
Midway between them, a stout rope hung through a metal-lined hole in the
roof.

"Do you see that?" said Schwartz. "You have only to pull, and there's an
iron tongue in the belfry above that will speak loud enough to be heard
at the city gate. The overseer will come tumbling in, with his bunch of
keys, as if the devil was at his heels, and the two women-servants after
him--old and ugly, Jack!--they attend to the bath, you know, when a woman
wants it. Wait a bit! Take the light into the bedroom, and get a chair
for yourself--we haven't much accommodation for evening visitors. Got it?
that's right. Would you like to see where the mad watchman hung himself?
On the last hook at the end of the row there. We've got a song he made
about the Deadhouse. I think it's in the drawer of the table. A gentleman
had it printed and sold, for the benefit of the widow and children. Wait
till we are well warmed with our liquor, and I'll tell you what I'll
do--I'll sing you the mad watchman's song; and Jacky, my man, you shall
sing the chorus! Tow-row-rub-a-dub-boom--that's the tune. Pretty, isn't
it? Come along back to our snuggery." He led the way to the Watchman's
Chamber.



CHAPTER XIX

Jack looked eagerly into the cell again. There was no change--not a sign
of that happy waking in which he so firmly believed.

Schwartz opened the drawer of the table. Tobacco and pipes; two or three
small drinking-glasses; a dirty pack of playing-cards; the mad watchman's
song, with a woodcut illustration of the suicide--all lay huddled
together. He took from the drawer the song, and two of the
drinking-glasses, and called to his little guest to come out of the cell.

"There;" he said, filling the glasses, "you never tasted such wine as
that in all your life. Off with it!"

Jack turned away with a look of disgust. "What did you say of wine, when
I drank with you the other night?" he asked reproachfully. "You said it
would warm my heart, and make a man of me. And what did it do? I couldn't
stand on my legs. I couldn't hold up my head--I was so sleepy and stupid
that Joseph had to take me upstairs to bed. I hate your wine! Your wine's
a liar, who promises and doesn't perform! I'm weary enough, and wretched
enough in my mind, as it is. No more wine for me!"

"Wrong!" remarked Schwartz, emptying his glass, and smacking his lips
after it.

"You made a serious mistake the other night--you didn't drink half
enough. Give the good liquor a fair chance, my son. No, you won't? Must I
try a little gentle persuasion before you will come back to your chair?"
Suiting the action to the word, he put his arm round Jack. "What's this I
feel under my hand?" he asked. "A bottle?" He took it out of Jack's
breast-pocket. "Lord help us!" he exclaimed; "it looks like physic!"

Jack snatched it away from him, with a cry of delight. "The very thing
for me--and I never thought of it!"

It was the phial which Madame Fontaine had repentantly kept to herself,
after having expressly filled it for him with the fatal dose of
"Alexander's Wine"--the phial which he had found, when he first opened
the "Pink-Room Cupboard." In the astonishment and delight of finding the
blue-glass bottle immediately afterwards, he had entirely forgotten it.
Nothing had since happened to remind him that it was in his pocket, until
Schwartz had stumbled on the discovery.

"It cures you when you are tired or troubled in your mind," Jack
announced in his grandest manner, repeating Madame Fontaine's own words.
"Is there any water here?"

"Not a drop, thank Heaven!" said Schwartz, devoutly.

"Give me my glass, then. I once tried the remedy by itself, and it stung
me as it went down. The wine won't hurt me, with this splendid stuff in
it. I'll take it in the wine."

"Who told you to take it?" Schwartz asked, holding back the glass.

"Mrs. Housekeeper told me."

"A woman!" growled Schwartz, in a tone of sovereign contempt. "How dare
you let a woman physic you, when you've got me for a doctor? Jack! I'm
ashamed of you."

Jack defended his manhood. "Oh, I don't care what she says! I despise
her--she's mad. You don't suppose she made this? I wouldn't touch it, if
she had. No, no; her husband made it--a wonderful man! the greatest man
in Germany!"

He reached across the table and secured his glass of wine. Before it was
possible to interfere, he had emptied the contents of the phial into it,
and had raised it to his lips. At that moment, Schwartz's restraining
hand found its way to his wrist. The deputy watchman had far too sincere
a regard for good wine to permit it to be drunk, in combination with
physic, at his own table.

"Put it down!" he said gruffly. "You're my visitor, ain't you? Do you
think I'm going to let housekeeper's cat-lap be drunk at my table? Look
here!"

He held up his traveling-flask, with the metal drinking-cup taken off, so
as to show the liquor through the glass. The rich amber color of it
fascinated Jack. He put his wine-glass back on the table. "What is it?"
he asked eagerly.

"Drinkable gold, Jack! _My_ physic. Brandy!"

He poured out a dram into the metal cup. "Try that," he said, "and don't
let me hear any more about the housekeeper's physic."

Jack tasted it. The water came into his eyes--he put his hands on his
throat. "Fire!" he gasped faintly.

"Wait!" said Schwartz.

Jack waited. The fiery grip of the brandy relaxed; the genial warmth of
it was wafted through him persuasively from head to foot. He took another
sip. His eyes began to glitter. "What divine being made this?" he asked.
Without waiting to be answered, he tried it again, and emptied the cup.
"More!" he cried. "I never felt so big, I never felt so strong, I never
felt so clever, as I feel now!"

Schwartz, drinking freely from his own bottle, recovered, and more than
recovered, his Bacchanalian good humor. He clapped Jack on the shoulder.
"Who's the right doctor now?" he asked cheerfully. "A drab of a
housekeeper? or Father Schwartz? Your health, my jolly boy! When the
bottle's empty, I'll help you to finish the flask. Drink away! and the
devil take all heel-taps!"

The next dose of brandy fired Jack's excitable brain with a new idea. He
fell on his knees at the table, and clasped his hands in a sudden fervor
of devotion. "Silence!" he commanded sternly. "Your wine's only a poor
devil. Your drinkable gold is a god. Take your cap off, Schwartz--I'm
worshipping drinkable gold!"

Schwartz, highly diverted, threw his cap up to the ceiling. "Drinkable
gold, ora pro nobis!" he shouted, profanely adapting himself to Jack's
humor. "You shall be Pope, my boy--and I'll be the Pope's butler. Allow
me to help your sacred majesty back to your chair."

Jack's answer betrayed another change in him. His tones were lofty; his
manner was distant. "I prefer the floor," he said; "hand me down my mug."
As he reached up to take it, the alarm-bell over the door caught his eye.
Debased as he was by the fiery strength of the drink, his ineradicable
love for his mistress made its noble influence felt through the coarse
fumes that were mounting to his brain. "Stop!" he cried. "I must be where
I can see the bell--I must be ready for her, the instant it rings."

He crawled across the floor, and seated himself with his back against the
wall of one of the empty cells, on the left-hand side of the room.
Schwartz, shaking his fat sides with laughter, handed down the cup to his
guest. Jack took no notice of it. His eyes, reddened already by the
brandy, were fixed on the bell opposite to him. "I want to know about
it," he said. "What's that steel thing there, under the brass cover?"

"What's the use of asking?" Schwartz replied, returning to his bottle.

"I want to know!"

"Patience, Jack--patience. Follow my fore-finger. My hand seems to shake
a little; but it's as honest a hand as ever was. That steel thing there,
is the bell hammer, you know. And, bless your heart, the hammer's
everything. Cost, Lord knows how much. Another toast, my son. Good luck
to the bell!"

Jack changed again; he began to cry. "She's sleeping too long on that
sofa, in there," he said sadly. "I want her to speak to me; I want to
hear her scold me for drinking in this horrid place. My heart's all cold
again. Where's the mug?" He found it, as he spoke; the fire of the brandy
went down his throat once more, and lashed him into frantic high spirits.
"I'm up in the clouds!" he shouted; "I'm riding on a whirlwind. Sing,
Schwartz! Ha! there are the stars twinkling through the skylight! Sing
the stars down from heaven!"

Schwartz emptied his bottle, without the ceremony of using the glass.
"Now we are primed!" he said--"now for the mad watchman's song!" He
snatched up the paper from the table, and roared out hoarsely the first
verse:

  The moon was shining, cold and bright,
  In the Frankfort Deadhouse, on New Year's night
  And I was the watchman, left alone,
  While the rest to feast and dance were gone;
  I envied their lot, and cursed my own--
  Poor me!

"Chorus, Jack! 'I envied their lot and cursed my own'----"

The last words of the verse were lost in a yell of drunken terror.
Schwartz started out of his chair, and pointed, panic-stricken, to the
lower end of the room. "A ghost!" he screamed. "A ghost in black, at the
door!"

Jack looked round, and burst out laughing. "Sit down again, you old
fool," he said. "It's only Mrs. Housekeeper. We are singing, Mrs.
Housekeeper! You haven't heard my voice yet--I'm the finest singer in
Germany."

Madame Fontaine approached him humbly. "You have a kind heart, Jack--I am
sure you will help me," she said. "Show me how to get out of this
frightful place."

"The devil take you!" growled Schwartz, recovering himself. "How did you
get in?"

"She's a witch!" shouted Jack. "She rode in on a broomstick--she crept in
through the keyhole. Where's the fire? Let's take her downstairs, and
burn her!"

Schwartz applied himself to the brandy-flask, and began to laugh again.
"There never was such good company as Jack," he said, in his oiliest
tones. "You can't get out to-night, Mrs. Witch. The gates are locked--and
they don't trust me with the key. Walk in, ma'am. Plenty of accommodation
for you, on that side of the room where Jack sits. We are slack of guests
for the grave, to-night. Walk in."

She renewed her entreaties. "I'll give you all the money I have about me!
Who can I go to for the key? Jack! Jack! speak for me!"

"Go on with the song!" cried Jack.

She appealed again in her despair to Schwartz. "Oh, sir, have mercy on
me! I fainted, out there--and, when I came to myself, I tried to open the
gates--and I called, and called, and nobody heard me."

Schwartz's sense of humor was tickled by this. "If you could bellow like
a bull," he said, "nobody would hear you. Take a seat, ma'am."

"Go on with the song!" Jack reiterated. "I'm tired of waiting."

Madame Fontaine looked wildly from one to the other of them. "Oh, God,
I'm locked in with an idiot and a drunkard!" The thought of it maddened
her as it crossed her mind. Once more, she fled from the room. Again, and
again, in the outer darkness, she shrieked for help.

Schwartz advanced staggering towards the door, with Jack's empty chair in
his hand. "Perhaps you'll be able to pipe a little higher, ma'am, if you
come back, and sit down? Now for the song, Jack!"

He burst out with the second verse:

  Backwards and forwards, with silent tread,
  I walked on my watch by the doors of the dead.
  And I said, It's hard, on this New Year,
  While the rest are dancing to leave me here,
  Alone with death and cold and fear--
  Poor me!

"Chorus, Jack! Chorus, Mrs. Housekeeper! Ho! ho! look at her! She can't
resist the music--she has come back to us already. What can we do for
you, ma'am? The flask's not quite drained yet. Come and have a drink."

She had returned, recoiling from the outer darkness and silence, giddy
with the sickening sense of faintness which was creeping over her again.
When Schwartz spoke she advanced with tottering steps. "Water!" she
exclaimed, gasping for breath. "I'm faint--water! water!"

"Not a drop in the place, ma'am! Brandy, if you like?"

"I forbid it!" cried Jack, with a peremptory sign of the hand. "Drinkable
gold is for us--not for her!"

The glass of wine which Schwartz had prevented him from drinking caught
his notice. To give Madame Fontaine her own "remedy," stolen from her own
room, was just the sort of trick to please Jack in his present humor. He
pointed to the glass, and winked at the watchman. After a momentary
hesitation, Schwartz's muddled brain absorbed the new idea. "Here's a
drop of wine left, ma'am," he said. "Suppose you try it?"

She leaned one hand on the table to support herself. Her heart sank lower
and lower; a cold perspiration bedewed her face. "Quick! quick!" she
murmured faintly. She seized the glass, and emptied it eagerly to the
last drop.

Schwartz and Jack eyed her with malicious curiosity. The idea of getting
away was still in her mind. "I think I can walk now," she said. "For
God's sake, let me out!"

"Haven't I told you already? I can't get out myself."

At that brutal answer, she shrank back. Slowly and feebly she made her
way to the chair, and dropped on it.

"Cheer up, ma'am!" said Schwartz. "You shall have more music to help
you--you shall hear how the mad watchman lost his wits. Another drop of
the drinkable gold, Jack. A dram for you and a dram for me--and here
goes!" He roared out the last verses of the song:--

  Any company's better than none, I said:
  If I can't have the living, I'd like the dead.
  In one terrific moment more,
  The corpse-bell rang at each cell door,
  The moonlight shivered on the floor--
  Poor me!

  The curtains gaped; there stood a ghost,
  On every threshold, as white as frost,
  You called us, they shrieked, and we gathered soon;
  Dance with your guests by the New Year's moon!
  I danced till I dropped in a deadly swoon--
  Poor me!

  And since that night I've lost my wits,
  And I shake with ceaseless ague-fits:
  For the ghosts they turned me cold as stone,
  On that New Year's night when the white moon shone,
  And I walked on my watch, all, all alone--
  Poor me!

  And, oh, when I lie in my coffin-bed,
  Heap thick the earth above my head!
  Or I shall come back, and dance once more,
  With frantic feet on the Deadhouse floor,
  And a ghost for a partner at every door--
  Poor me!

The night had cleared. While Schwartz was singing, the moon shone in at
the skylight. At the last verse of the song, a ray of the cold yellow
light streamed across Jack's face. The fire of the brandy leapt into
flame--the madness broke out in him, with a burst of its by-gone fury. He
sprang, screaming, to his feet.

"The moon!" he shouted--"the mad watchman's moon! The mad watchman
himself is coming back. There he is, sliding down on the slanting light!
Do you see the brown earth of the grave dropping from him, and the rope
round his neck? Ha! how he skips, and twists, and twirls! He's dancing
again with the dead ones. Make way there! I mean to dance with them too.
Come on, mad watchman--come on! I'm as mad as you are!"

He whirled round and round with the fancied ghost for a partner in the
dance. The coarse laughter of Schwartz burst out again at the terrible
sight. He called, with drunken triumph, to Madame Fontaine. "Look at
Jacky, ma'am. There's a dancer for you! There's good company for a dull
winter night!" She neither looked nor moved--she sat crouched on the
chair, spellbound with terror. Jack threw up his arms, turned giddily
once or twice, and sank exhausted on the floor. "The cold of him creeps
up my hands," he said, still possessed by the vision of the watchman. "He
cools my eyes, he calms my heart, he stuns my head. I'm dying, dying,
dying--going back with him to the grave. Poor me! poor me!"

He lay hushed in a strange repose; his eyes wide open, staring up at the
moon. Schwartz drained the last drop of brandy out of the flask. "Jack's
name ought to be Solomon," he pronounced with drowsy solemnity; "Solomon
was wise; and Jack's wise. Jack goes to sleep, when the liquor's done.
Take away the bottle, before the overseer comes in. If any man says I am
not sober, that man lies. The Rhine wine has a way of humming in one's
head. That's all, Mr. Overseer--that's all. Do I see the sun rising, up
there in the skylight? I wish you good-night; I wish--you--good--night."

He laid his heavy arms on the table; his head dropped on them--he slept.

The time passed. No sound broke the silence but the lumpish snoring of
Schwartz. No change appeared in Jack; there he lay, staring up at the
moon.

Somewhere in the building (unheard thus far in the uproar) a clock struck
the first hour of the morning.

Madame Fontaine started. The sound shook her with a new fear--a fear that
expressed itself in a furtive look at the cell in which the dead woman
lay. If the corpse-bell rang, would the stroke of it be like the single
stroke of the clock?

"Jack!" she whispered. "Do you hear the clock? Oh, Jack, the stillness is
dreadful--speak to me."

He slowly raised himself. Perhaps the striking of the clock--perhaps some
inner prompting--had roused him. He neither answered Madame Fontaine, nor
looked at her. With his arms clasped round his knees, he sat on the floor
in the attitude of a savage. His eyes, which had stared at the moon, now
stared with the same rigid, glassy look at the alarm-bell over the
cell-door.

The time went on. Again the oppression of silence became more than Madame
Fontaine could endure. Again she tried to make Jack speak to her.

"What are you looking at?" she asked. "What are you waiting for? Is
it----?" The rest of the sentence died away on her lips: the words that
would finish it were words too terrible to be spoken.

The sound of her voice produced no visible impression on Jack. Had it
influenced him, in some unseen way? Something did certainly disturb the
strange torpor that held him. He spoke. The tones were slow and
mechanical--the tones of a man searching his memory with pain and
difficulty; repeating his recollections, one by one, as he recovered
them, to himself.

"When she moves," he muttered, "her hands pull the string. Her hands send
a message up: up and up to the bell." He paused, and pointed to the
cell-door.

The action had a horrible suggestiveness to the guilty wretch who was
watching him.

"Don't do that!" she cried. "Don't point _there!"_

His hand never moved; he pursued his newly-found recollections of what
the doctor had shown to him.

"Up and up to the bell," he repeated. "And the bell feels it. The steel
thing moves. The bell speaks. Good bell! Faithful bell!"

The clock struck the half-hour past one. Madame Fontaine shrieked at the
sound--her senses knew no distinction between the clock and the bell.

She saw his pointing hand drop back, and clasp itself with the other
hand, round his knees. He spoke--softly and tenderly now--he was speaking
to the dead. "Rise Mistress, rise! Dear soul, the time is long; and poor
Jack is waiting for you!"

She thought the closed curtains moved: the delusion was reality to her.
She tried to rouse Schwartz.

"Watchman! watchman! Wake up!"

He slept on as heavily as ever.

She half rose from her chair. She was almost on her feet--when she sank
back again. Jack had moved. He got up on his knees. "Mistress hears me!"
he said. The light of vivid expression showed itself in his eyes. Their
vacancy was gone: they looked longingly at the door of the cell. He got
on his feet--he pressed both hands over his bosom. "Come!" he said. "Oh,
Mistress, come!"

There was a sound--a faint premonitory rustling sound--over the door.

The steel hammer moved--rose--struck the metal globe. The bell rang.

He stood rooted to the floor, sobbing hysterically. The iron grasp of
suspense held him.

Not a cry, not a movement escaped Madame Fontaine. The life seemed to
have been struck out of her by the stroke of the bell. It woke Schwartz.
Except that he looked up, he too never moved: he too was like a living
creature turned to stone.

A minute passed.

The curtains swayed gently. Tremulous fingers crept out, parting them.
Slowly, over the black surface of the curtain, a fair naked arm showed
itself, widening the gap.

The figure appeared, in its velvet pall. On the pale face the stillness
of repose was barely ruffled yet. The eyes alone were conscious of
returning life. They looked out on the room, softly surprised and
perplexed--no more. They looked downwards: the lips trembled sweetly into
a smile. She saw Jack, kneeling in ecstasy at her feet.



And now again, there was stillness in the room. Unutterable happiness
rejoiced, unutterable dread suffered, in the same silence.

The first sound heard came suddenly from the lonely outer hall. Hurrying
footsteps swept over the courtyard. The flash of lights flew along the
dark passage. Voices of men and women, mingled together, poured into the
Watchman's Chamber.



POSTSCRIPT

MR. DAVID GLENNEY RETURNS TO FRANKFORT, AND CLOSES THE STORY

I

On the twelfth of December, I received a letter from Mrs. Wagner,
informing me that the marriage of Fritz and Minna had been deferred until
the thirteenth of January. Shortly afterwards I left London, on my way to
Frankfort.

My departure was hurried, to afford me time to transact business with
some of our correspondents in France and in Northern Germany. Our
head-clerk, Mr. Hartrey (directing the London house in Mrs. Wagner's
absence), had his own old-fashioned notions of doing nothing in a hurry.
He insisted on allowing me a far larger margin of time, for treating with
our correspondents, than I was likely to require. The good man little
suspected to what motive my ready submission to him was due. I was eager
to see my aunt and the charming Minna once more. Without neglecting any
of my duties (and with the occasional sacrifice of traveling by night), I
contrived to reach Frankfort a week before I was expected--that is to
say, in the forenoon of the fourth of January.


II

Joseph's face, when he opened the door, at once informed me that
something extraordinary was going on in the house.

"Anything wrong?" I asked.

Joseph looked at me in a state of bewilderment. "You had better speak to
the doctor," he said.

"The doctor! Who is ill? My aunt? Mr. Keller? Who is it?" In my
impatience, I took him by the collar of his coat, and shook him. I shook
out nothing but the former answer, a little abridged:--

"Speak to the doctor."

The office-door was close by me. I asked one of the clerks if Mr. Keller
was in his room. The clerk informed me that Mr. Keller was upstairs with
the doctor. In the extremity of my suspense, I inquired again if my aunt
was ill. The man opened his eyes. "Is it possible you haven't heard?" he
said.

"Is she dead or alive?" I burst out, losing all patience.

"Both," answered the clerk.

I began--not unnaturally, I think--to wonder whether I was in Mr.
Keller's house, or in an asylum for idiots. Returning to the hall, I
collared Joseph for the second time. "Take me up to the doctor
instantly!" I said.

Joseph led the way upstairs--not on my aunt's side of the house, to my
infinite relief. On the first landing, he made a mysterious
communication. "Mr. David, I have given notice to leave," he said. "There
are some things that no servant can put up with. While a person lives, I
expect a person to live. When a person dies, I expect a person to die.
There must be no confusion on such a serious subject as life and death. I
blame nobody--I understand nothing--I merely go. Follow me, if you
please, sir."

Had he been drinking? He led the way up the next flight of stairs,
steadily and quietly. He knocked discreetly at Madame Fontaine's door.
"Mr. David Glenney," he announced, "to see Doctor Dormann."

Mr. Keller came out first, closing the door behind him. He embraced me,
with a demonstrative affection far from characteristic of him at other
times. His face was disturbed; his voice faltered, as he spoke his first
words to me.

"Welcome back, David--more welcome than ever!"

"My aunt is well, I hope?"

He clasped his hands fervently. "God is merciful," he said. "Thank God!"

"Is Madame Fontaine ill?"

Before he could answer, the door was opened again. Doctor Dormann came
out.

"The very man I want!" he exclaimed. "You could not possibly have arrived
at a better time." He turned to Mr. Keller. "Where can I find
writing-materials? In the drawing-room? Come down, Mr. Glenney. Come
down, Mr. Keller."

In the drawing-room, he wrote a few lines rapidly. "See us sign our
names," he said. He handed the pen to Mr. Keller after he had signed
himself--and then gave me the paper to read.

To my unspeakable amazement, the writing certified that, "the suspended
vital forces in Mrs. Wagner had recovered their action, in the Deadhouse
of Frankfort, at half-past one o'clock on the morning of the fourth of
January; that he had professionally superintended the restoration to
life; and that he thereby relieved the magistrates from any further
necessity for pursuing a private inquiry, the motive for which no longer
existed." To this statement there was a line added, declaring that Mr.
Keller withdrew his application to the magistrates; authenticated by Mr.
Keller's signature.

I stood with the paper in my hand, looking from one to the other of them,
as completely bewildered as Joseph himself.

"I can't leave Madame Fontaine," said the doctor; "I am professionally
interested in watching the case. Otherwise, I would have made my
statement in person. Mr. Keller has been terribly shaken, and stands in
urgent need of rest and quiet. You will do us both a service if you will
take that paper to the town-hall, and declare before the magistrates that
you know us personally, and have seen us sign our names. On your return,
you shall have every explanation that I can give; and you shall see for
yourself that you need feel no uneasiness on the subject of your aunt."

Having arrived at the town-hall, I made the personal statement to which
the doctor had referred. Among the questions put to me, I was asked if I
had any direct interest in the matter--either as regarded Mrs. Wagner or
any other person. Having answered that I was Mrs. Wagner's nephew, I was
instructed to declare in writing, that I approved (as Mrs. Wagner's
representative) of the doctor's statement and of Mr. Keller's withdrawal
of his application.

With this, the formal proceedings terminated, and I was free to return to
the house.


III

Joseph had his orders, this time. He spoke like a reasonable being--he
said the doctor was waiting for me, in Madame Fontaine's room. The place
of the appointment rather surprised me.

The doctor opened the door--but paused before he admitted me.

"I think you were the first person," he said, "who saw Mr. Keller, on the
morning when he was taken ill?"

"After the late Mr. Engelman," I answered, "I was the first person.

"Come in, then. I want you to look at Madame Fontaine."

He led me to the bedside. The instant I looked at her, I saw Mr. Keller's
illness reproduced, in every symptom. There she lay, in the same apathy;
with the same wan look on her face, and the same intermittent trembling
of her hands. When I recovered the first shock of the discovery, I was
able to notice poor Minna, kneeling at the opposite side of the bed,
weeping bitterly. "Oh, my dear one!" she cried, in a passion of grief,
"look at me! speak to me!"

The mother opened her eyes for a moment--looked at Minna--and closed them
again wearily. "Leave me quiet," she said, in tones of fretful entreaty.
Minna rose and bent over the pillow tenderly. "Your poor lips look so
parched," she said; "let me give you some lemonade?" Madame Fontaine only
repeated the words, "Leave me quiet." The same reluctance to raise her
heavy eyelids, the same entreaty to be left undisturbed, which had
alarmed me on the memorable morning when I had entered Mr. Keller's room!

Doctor Dormann signed to me to follow him out. As he opened the door, the
nurse inquired if he had any further instructions for her. "Send for me,
the moment you see a change," he answered; "I shall be in the
drawing-room, with Mr. Glenney." I silently pressed poor Minna's hand,
before I left her. Who could have presumed, at that moment, to express
sympathy in words?

The doctor and I descended the stairs together. "Does her illness remind
you of anything?" he asked.

"Of Mr. Keller's illness," I answered, "exactly as I remember it."

He made no further remark. We entered the drawing-room. I inquired if I
could see my aunt.

"You must wait a little," he said. "Mrs. Wagner is asleep. The longer she
sleeps the more complete her recovery will be. My main anxiety is about
Jack. He is quiet enough now, keeping watch outside her door; but he has
given me some trouble. I wish I knew more of his early history. From all
I can learn, he was only what is called "half-witted," when they received
him at the asylum in London. The cruel repressive treatment in that place
aggravated his imbecility into violent madness--and such madness has a
tendency to recur. Mrs. Wagner's influence, which has already done so
much, is my main hope for the future. Sit down, and let me explain the
strange position in which you find us here, as well as I can."


IV

"Do you remember how Mr. Keller's illness was cured?" the doctor began.

Those words instantly reminded me, not only of Doctor Dormann's
mysterious suspicions at the time of the illness, but of Jack's
extraordinary question to me, on the morning when I left Frankfort. The
doctor saw that I answered him with some little embarrassment.

"Let us open our minds to each other, without reserve," he said. "I have
set you thinking of something. What is it?"

I replied, concealing nothing. Doctor Dormann was equally candid on his
side. He spoke to me, exactly as he is reported to have spoken to Mr.
Keller, in the Second Part of this narrative.

"You now know," he proceeded, "what I thought of Mr. Keller's
extraordinary recovery, and what I feared when I found Mrs. Wagner (as I
then firmly believed) dead. My suspicions of poisoning pointed to the
poisoner. Madame Fontaine's wonderful cure of Mr. Keller, by means of her
own mysterious remedy, made me suspect Madame Fontaine. My motive, in
refusing to give the burial certificate, was to provoke the legal
inquiry, which I knew that Mr. Keller would institute, on the mere
expression of a doubt, on my part, whether your aunt had died a natural
death. At that time, I had not the slightest anticipation of the event
that has actually occurred. Before, however, we had removed the remains
to the Deadhouse, I must own I was a little startled--prepare yourself
for a surprise--by a private communication, addressed to me by Jack."

He repeated Jack's narrative of the opening of the Pink-Room cupboard,
and the administration of the antidote to Mrs. Wagner.

"You will understand," he went on, "that I was too well aware of the
marked difference between Mr. Keller's illness and Mrs. Wagner's illness
to suppose for a moment that the same poison had been given to both of
them. I was, therefore, far from sharing Jack's blind confidence in the
efficacy of the blue-glass bottle, in the case of his mistress. But I
tell you, honestly, my mind was disturbed about it. Towards night, my
thoughts were again directed to the subject, under mysterious
circumstances. Mr. Keller and I accompanied the hearse to the Deadhouse.
On our way through the streets, I was followed and stopped by Madame
Fontaine. She had something to give me. Here it is."

He laid on the table a sheet of thick paper, closely covered with writing
in cipher.


V

"Whose writing is this?" I asked.

"The writing of Madame Fontaine's late husband."

"And she put it into your hands!"

"Yes--and asked me to interpret the cipher for her."

"It's simply incomprehensible."

"Not in the least. She knew the use to which Jack had put her antidote,
and (in her ignorance of chemistry) she was eager to be prepared for any
consequences which might follow. Can you guess on what chance I
calculated, when I consented to interpret the cipher?"

"On the chance that it might tell you what poison she had given to Mrs.
Wagner?"

"Well guessed, Mr. Glenney!"

"And you have actually discovered the meaning of these hieroglyphics?"

He laid a second sheet of paper on the table.

"There is but one cipher that defies interpretation," he said. "If you
and your correspondent privately arrange to consult the same edition of
the same book, and if your cipher, or his, refers to a given page and to
certain lines on that page, no ingenuity can discover you, unaided by a
previous discovery of the book. All other ciphers, so far as I know, are
at the mercy of skill and patience. In this case I began (to save time
and trouble) by trying the rule for interpreting the most simple, and
most elementary, of all ciphers--that is to say, the use of the ordinary
language of correspondence, concealed under arbitrary signs. The right
way to read these signs can be described in two words. On examination of
the cipher, you will find that some signs will be more often repeated
than others. Count the separate signs, and ascertain, by simple addition,
which especial sign occurs oftenest--which follows next in point of
number--and so on. These comparisons established, ask yourself what vowel
occurs oftenest, and what consonant occurs oftenest, in the language in
which you suppose the cipher to be written. The result is merely a
question of time and patience."

"And this is the result?" I said, pointing to the second sheet of paper.

"Read it," he answered; "and judge for yourself."

The opening sentence of the interpreted cipher appeared to be intended by
Doctor Fontaine to serve the purpose of a memorandum; repeating privately
the instructions already attached by labels to the poison called
"Alexander's Wine," and to its antidote.

The paragraphs that followed were of a far more interesting kind. They
alluded to the second poison, called "The Looking-Glass Drops;" and they
related the result of one of the Professor's most remarkable experiments
in the following words:--


VI

"The Looking-Glass Drops. Fatal Dose, as discovered by experiments on
animals, the same as in the case of Alexander's Wine. But the effect, in
producing death, more rapid, and more indistinguishable, in respect of
presenting traces on post-mortem examination.

"After many patient trials, I can discover no trustworthy antidote to
this infernal poison. Under these circumstances, I dare not attempt to
modify it for medical use. I would throw it away--but I don't like to be
beaten. If I live a little longer, I will try once more, with my mind
refreshed by other studies.

"A month after writing these lines (which I have repeated in plain
characters, on the bottle, for fear of accidents), I tried again--and
failed again. Annoyed by this new disappointment, I did something
unworthy of me as a scientific man.

"After first poisoning an animal with the Looking-Glass Drops, I
administered a dose from the blue bottle, containing the antidote to
Alexander's Wine--knowing perfectly well the different nature of the two
poisons; expecting nothing of any scientific importance to follow; and
yet trusting stupidly to chance to help me.

"The result was startling in the last degree. It was nothing less than
the complete suspension of all the signs of life (as we know them) for a
day, and a night, and part of another day. I only knew that the animal
was not really dead, by observing, on the morning of the second day, that
no signs of decomposition had set in--the season being summer, and the
laboratory badly ventilated.

"An hour after the first symptoms of revival had astonished me, the
creature was as lively again as usual, and ate with a good appetite.
After a lapse of ten days, it is still in perfect health. This
extraordinary example of the action and reaction of the ingredients of
the poison and the ingredients of the antidote on each other, and on the
sources of life, deserves, and shall have, the most careful
investigation. May I live to carry the inquiry through to some good use,
and to record it on another page!"

There was no other page, and no further record. The Professor's last
scientific aspiration had not been fulfilled.


VII

"It was past midnight," said the doctor, "when I made the discovery, with
which you are now acquainted. I went at once to Mr. Keller. He had
fortunately not gone to bed; and he accompanied me to the Deadhouse.
Knowing the overseer's private door, at the side of the building, I was
able to rouse him with very little delay. In the excitement that
possessed me, I spoke of the revival as a possible thing in the hearing
of the servants. The whole household accompanied us to the Deadhouse, at
the opposite extremity of the building. What we saw there, I am utterly
incapable of describing to you. I was in time to take the necessary
measures for keeping Mrs. Wagner composed, and for removing her without
injury to Mr. Keller's house. Having successfully accomplished this, I
presumed that my anxieties were at an end. I was completely mistaken."

"You refer to Madame Fontaine, I suppose?"

"No; I refer to Jack. The poor wretch's ignorant faith had unquestionably
saved his mistress's life. I should never have ventured (even if I had
been acquainted with the result of the Professor's experiment, at an
earlier hour) to run the desperate risk, which Jack confronted without
hesitation. The events of the night (aggravated by the brandy that
Schwartz had given to him) had completely overthrown the balance of his
feeble brain. He was as mad, for the time being, as ever he could have
been in Bedlam. With some difficulty, I prevailed on him to take a
composing mixture. He objected irritably to trust me; and, even when the
mixture had begun to quiet him, he was ungrateful enough to speak
contemptuously of what I had done for him. 'I had a much better remedy
than yours,' he said, 'made by a man who was worth a hundred of you.
Schwartz and I were fools enough to give it to Mrs. Housekeeper, last
night.' I thought nothing of this--it was one of the eccentricities which
were to be expected from him, in his condition. I left him quietly
asleep; and I was about to go home, and get a little rest myself--when
Mr. Keller's son stopped me in the hall. 'Do go and see Madame Fontaine,'
he said; 'Minna is alarmed about her mother.' I went upstairs again
directly."

"Had you noticed anything remarkable in Madame Fontaine," I asked,
"before Fritz spoke to you?"

"I noticed, at the Deadhouse, that she looked frightened out of her
senses; and I was a little surprised--holding the opinion I did of
her--that such a woman should show so much sensibility. Mr. Keller took
charge of her, on our way back to the house. I was quite unprepared for
what I saw afterwards, when I went to her room at Fritz's request.

"Did you discover the resemblance to Mr. Keller's illness?"

"No--not till afterwards. She sent her daughter out of the room; and I
thought she looked at me strangely, when we were alone. 'I want the paper
that I gave you in the street, last night,' she said. I asked her why she
wanted it. She seemed not to know how to reply; she became excited and
confused. 'To destroy it, to be sure!' she burst out suddenly. 'Every
bottle my husband left is destroyed--strewed here, there, and everywhere,
from the Gate to the Deadhouse. Oh, I know what you think of me--I defy
you!' She seemed to forget what she had said, the moment she had said
it--she turned away, and opened a drawer, and took out a book closed by
metal clasps. My presence in the room appeared to be a lost perception in
her mind. The clasps of the book, as well as I could make it out, opened
by touching some spring. I noticed that her hands trembled as they tried
to find the spring. I attributed the trembling to the terrors of the
night, and offered to help her. 'Let my secrets alone,' she said--and
pushed the book under the pillow of her bed. It was my professional duty
to assist her, if I could. Though I attached no sort of importance to
what Jack had said, I thought it desirable, before I prescribed for her,
to discover whether she had really taken some medicine of her own or not.
She staggered back from me, on my repeating what I had heard from Jack,
as if I had terrified her. 'What remedy does he mean? I drank nothing but
a glass of wine. Send for him directly--I must, and will speak to him!' I
told her this was impossible; I could not permit his sleep to be
disturbed. 'The watchman!' she cried; 'the drunken brute! send for him.'
By this time I began to conclude that there was really something wrong. I
called in her daughter to look after her while I was away, and then left
the room to consult with Fritz. The only hope of finding Schwartz (the
night-watch at the Deadhouse being over by that time) was to apply to his
sister the nurse. I knew where she lived; and Fritz most kindly offered
to go to her. By the time Schwartz was found, and brought to the house,
Madame Fontaine was just able to understand what he said, and no more. I
began to recognize the symptoms of Mr. Keller's illness. The apathy which
you remember was showing itself already. 'Leave me to die,' she said
quietly; 'I deserve it.' The last effort of the distracted mind, rousing
for a moment the sinking body, was made almost immediately afterwards.
She raised herself on the pillow, and seized my arm. 'Mind!' she said,
'Minna is to be married on the thirteenth!' Her eyes rested steadily on
me, while she spoke. At the last word, she sank back, and relapsed into
the condition in which you have just seen her."

"Can you do nothing for her?"

"Nothing. Our modern science is absolutely ignorant of the poisons which
Professor Fontaine's fatal ingenuity revived. Slow poisoning by
reiterated doses, in small quantities, we understand. But slow poisoning
by one dose is so entirely beyond our experience, that medical men in
general refuse to believe in it."

"Are you sure that she is poisoned?" I asked.

"After what Jack told me this morning when he woke, I have no doubt she
is poisoned by 'Alexander's Wine.' She appears to have treacherously
offered it to him as a remedy--and to have hesitated, at the last moment,
to let him have it. As a remedy, Jack's ignorant faith gave it to her by
the hands of Schwartz. When we have more time before us, you shall hear
the details. In the meanwhile, I can only tell you that the retribution
is complete. Madame Fontaine might even now be saved, if Jack had not
given all that remained of the antidote to Mrs. Wagner.

"Is there any objection to my asking Jack for the particulars?"

"The strongest possible objection. It is of the utmost importance to
discourage him from touching on the subject, in the future. He has
already told Mrs. Wagner that he has saved her life; and, just before you
came in, I found him comforting Minna. 'Your mamma has taken her own good
medicine, Missy; she will soon get well.' I have been obliged--God
forgive me!--to tell your aunt and Minna that he is misled by insane
delusions, and that they are not to believe one word of what he has said
to them."

"No doubt your motive justifies you," I said--not penetrating his motive
at the moment.

"You will understand me directly," he answered. "I trust to your honor
under any circumstances. Why have I taken you into my confidence, under
_these_ circumstances? For a very serious reason, Mr. David. You are
likely to be closely associated, in the time to come, with your aunt and
Minna--and I look to you to help the good work which I have begun. Mrs.
Wagner's future life must not be darkened by a horrible recollection.
That sweet girl must enjoy the happy years that are in store for her,
unembittered by the knowledge of her mother's guilt. Do you understand,
now, why I am compelled to speak unjustly of poor Jack?"

As a proof that I understood him, I promised the secrecy which he had
every right to expect from me.

The entrance of the nurse closed our conference. She reported Madame
Fontaine's malady to be already altering for the worse.

The doctor watched the case. At intervals, I too saw her again.

Although it happened long ago, I cannot prevail upon myself to dwell on
the deliberate progress of the hellish Borgia poison, in undermining the
forces of life. The nervous shudderings reached their climax, and then
declined as gradually as they had arisen. For hours afterwards, she lay
in a state of complete prostration. Not a last word, not a last look,
rewarded the devoted girl, watching faithfully at the bedside. No more of
it--no more! Late in the afternoon of the next day, Doctor Dormann,
gently, most gently, removed Minna from the room. Mr. Keller and I looked
at each other in silence. We knew that Madame Fontaine was dead.


VIII

I had not forgotten the clasped book that she had tried vainly to open,
in Doctor Dormann's presence. Taking it myself from under the pillow, I
left Mr. Keller and the doctor to say if I should give it, unopened, to
Minna.

"Certainly not!" said the doctor.

"Why not?"

"Because it will tell her what she must never know. I believe that book
to be a Diary. Open it, and see."

I found the spring and opened the clasps. It _was_ a Diary.

"You judged, I suppose, from the appearance of the book?" I said.

"Not at all. I judged from my own experience, at the time when I was
Medical Officer at the prison here. An educated criminal is almost
invariably an inveterate egotist. We are all interesting to
ourselves--but the more vile we are, the more intensely we are absorbed
in ourselves. The very people who have, logically speaking, the most
indisputable interest in concealing their crimes, are also the very
people who, almost without exception, yield to the temptation of looking
at themselves in the pages of a Diary."

"I don't doubt your experience, doctor. But your results puzzle me."

"Think a little, Mr. David, and you will not find the riddle so very hard
to read. The better we are, the more unselfishly we are interested in
others. The worse we are, the more inveterately our interest is
concentrated on ourselves. Look at your aunt as an example of what I say.
This morning there were some letters waiting for her, on the subject of
those reforms in the treatment of mad people, which she is as resolute as
ever to promote--in this country as well as in England. It was with the
greatest difficulty that I prevailed on her not to answer those letters
just yet: in other words, not to excite her brain and nervous system,
after such an ordeal as she has just passed through. Do you think a
wicked woman--with letters relating merely to the interests of other
people waiting for her--would have stood in any need of my interference?
Not she! The wicked woman would have thought only of herself, and would
have been far too much interested in her own recovery to run the risk of
a relapse. Open that book of Madame Fontaine's at any of the later
entries. You will find the miserable woman self-betrayed in every page."

It was true! Every record of Madame Fontaine's most secret moments,
presented in this narrative, was first found in her Diary.

As an example:--Her Diary records, in the fullest detail, the infernal
ingenuity of the stratagem by which she usurped her title to Mr. Keller's
confidence, as the preserver of his life. "I have only to give him the
Alexander's Wine," she writes, "to make sure, by means of the antidote,
of curing the illness which I have myself produced. After that, Minna's
mother becomes Mr. Keller's guardian angel, and Minna's marriage is a
certainty."

On a later page, she is similarly self described--in Mrs. Wagner's
case--as acting from an exactly opposite motive, in choosing the
Looking-Glass Drops. "They not only kill soonest, and most surely defy
detection," she proceeds, "but I have it on the authority of the label,
that my husband has tried to find the antidote to these Drops, and has
tried in vain. If my heart fails me, when the deed is done, there can be
no reprieve for the woman whose tongue I must silence for ever--or, after
all I have sacrificed, my child's future is ruined."

There is little doubt that she intended to destroy these compromising
pages, on her return to Mr. Keller's house--and that she would have
carried out her intention, but for those first symptoms of the poison,
which showed themselves in the wandering of her mind, and the helpless
trembling of her hands.

The final entry in the Diary has an interest of its own, which I think
justifies the presentation of it in this place. It shows the purifying
influence of the maternal instinct in a wicked nature, surviving to the
last. Even Madame Fontaine's nature preserved, in this way, a softer
side. On the memorable occasion of her meeting with Mr. Keller in the
hall, she had acted as imprudently as if she had been the most foolish
woman living, in her eagerness to plead Minna's cause with the man on
whom Minna's marriage depended. She had shrunk from poisoning harmless
Jack, even for her own protection. She would not even seduce Minna into
telling a lie, when a lie would have served them both at the most
critical moment of their lives.

Are such redeeming features unnatural in an otherwise wicked woman? Think
of your own "inconsistencies." Read these last words of a sinner--and
thank God that you were not tempted as she was:

"... Sent Minna out of my room, and hurt my sensitive girl cruelly. I
am afraid of her! This last crime seems to separate me from that pure
creature--all the more, because it has been committed in her dearest
interests, and for her sweet sake. Every time she looks at me, I am
afraid she may see what I have done for her, in my face. Oh, how I long
to take her in my arms, and devour her with kisses! I daren't do it--I
daren't do it."


Lord, have mercy on her--miserable sinner!


IX

The night is getting on; and the lamp I am writing by grows dim.

My mind wanders away from Frankfort, and from all that once happened
there. The picture now in my memory presents an English scene.

I am at the house of business in London. Two friends are waiting for me.
One of them is Fritz. The other is the most popular person in the
neighborhood; a happy, harmless creature, known to everyone by the
undignified nickname of Jack Straw. Thanks to my aunt's influence, and to
the change of scene, no return of the relapse at Frankfort has shown
itself. We are easy about the future of our little friend.

As to the past, we have made no romantic discoveries, relating to the
earlier years of Jack's life. Who were his parents; whether they died or
whether they deserted him; how he lived, and what he suffered, before he
drifted into the service of the chemistry-professor at Wurzburg--these,
and other questions like them, remain unanswered. Jack himself feels no
sort of interest in our inquiries. He either will not or cannot rouse his
feeble memory to help us. "What does it matter now?" he says. "I began to
live when Mistress first came to see me. I don't remember, and won't
remember, anything before that."

So the memoirs of Jack remain unwritten, for want of materials--like the
memoirs of many another foundling, in real life.



While I am speaking of Jack, I am keeping my two friends waiting in the
reception-room. I dress myself in my best clothes and join them. Fritz is
silent and nervous; unreasonably impatient for the arrival of the
carriage at the door. Jack promenades the room, with a superb nosegay in
the button-hole of a glorious blue coat. He has a watch; he carries a
cane; he wears white gloves, and tight nankeen pantaloons. He struts out
before us, when the carriage comes at last. "I don't deny that Fritz is a
figure in the festival," he says, when we drive away; "but I positively
assert that the thing is not complete without Me. If my dress fails in
any respect to do me justice, for Heaven's sake mention it, one of you,
before we pass the tailor's door!" I answer Jack, by telling him that he
is in all respects perfect. And Jack answers me, "David, you have your
faults; but your taste is invariably correct. Give me a little more room;
I can't face Mistress with crumpled coat-tails."

We reach a little village in the neighborhood of London, and stop at the
gate of the old church.

We walk up to the altar-rails, and wait there. All the women in the place
are waiting also. They merely glance at Fritz and at me--their whole
attention is concentrated on Jack. They take him for the bridegroom. Jack
discovers it; and is better pleased with himself than ever.

The organist plays a wedding-march. The bride, simply and unpretendingly
dressed, just fluttered enough to make her eyes irresistible, and her
complexion lovely, enters the church, leaning on Mr. Keller's arm.

Our good partner looks younger than usual. At his own earnest request,
the business in Frankfort has been sold; the head-partner first
stipulating for the employment of a given number of reputable young women
in the office. Removed from associations which are inexpressibly
repellent to him, Mr. Keller is building a house, near Mrs. Wagner's
pretty cottage, on the hill above the village. Here he proposes to pass
the rest of his days peacefully, with his two married children.

On their way to the altar, Mr. Keller and Minna are followed by Doctor
Dormann (taking his annual holiday, this year, in England). The doctor
gives his arm to the woman of all women whom Jack worships and loves. My
kind and dear aunt--with the old bright charm in her face; the firm
friend of all friendless creatures--why does my calmness desert me, when
I try to draw my little portrait of her; Minna's second mother, standing
by Minna's side, on the greatest day of her life?

I can't even see the paper. Nearly fifty years have passed, since that
wedding-day. Oh, my coevals, who have outlived your dearest friends, like
me, _you_ know what is the matter with my eyes! I must take out my
handkerchief, and put down my pen--and leave some of you younger ones to
finish the story of the marriage for yourself.





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