Part 2 out of 6
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,
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 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!"
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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,
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
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
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
"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.
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
"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
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.
"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
"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
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
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
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 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
"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."
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
I hesitated how to answer. To say the least of it, her request
"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
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
There she paused, and looked over my shoulder.
"I think that is enough," she said. "Do you see anything objectionable in
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
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
On our way upstairs to our bed-chambers, Mr. Keller detained me for a
"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.
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
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
"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
"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
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.
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
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
"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."
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
"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
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?"
"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?"
"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.
"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
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
"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
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
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) 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
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
"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!
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
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
"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
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
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.
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
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