Part 3 out of 6
at anything wearied him. He feebly shook his head when I offered him the
cup of tea, and said in a fretful whisper, "Let me be!" I looked at his
night-drink. The jug and glass were both completely empty. "Were you
thirsty in the night?" In the same fretful whisper he answered,
"Horribly!" "Are you not thirsty now?" He only repeated the words he had
first spoken--"Let me be!" There he lay, wanting nothing, caring for
nothing; his face looking pinched and wan already, and the intermittent
trembling still at regular intervals shaking his helpless hands.
We sent at once for the physician who had attended him in trifling
illnesses at former dates.
The doctor who is not honest enough to confess it when he is puzzled, is
a well-known member of the medical profession in all countries. Our
present physician was one of that sort. He pronounced the patient to be
suffering from low (or nervous) fever--but it struck Mr. Engelman, as it
struck me, that he found himself obliged to say something, and said it
without feeling sure of the correctness of his own statement. He
prescribed, and promised to pay us a second visit later in the day.
Mother Barbara, the housekeeper, was already installed as nurse. Always a
domestic despot, she made her tyranny felt even in the sick-room. She
declared that she would leave the house if any other woman presumed to
enter it as nurse. "When my master is ill," said Mother Barbara, "my
master is my property." It was plainly impossible that a woman, at her
advanced age, could keep watch at the bedside by day and night together.
In the interests of peace we decided on waiting until the next day. If
Mr. Keller showed no signs of improvement by that time, I undertook to
inquire at the hospital for a properly qualified nurse.
Later in the day, our doubts of the doctor were confirmed. He betrayed
his own perplexity in arriving at a true "diagnosis" of the patient's
case, by bringing with him, at his second visit, a brother-physician,
whom he introduced as Doctor Dormann, and with whom he asked leave to
consult at the bedside.
The new doctor was the younger, and evidently the firmer person of the
His examination of the sick man was patient and careful in the extreme.
He questioned us minutely about the period at which the illness had
begun; the state of Mr. Keller's health immediately before it; the first
symptoms noticed; what he had eaten, and what he had drunk; and so on.
Next, he desired to see all the inmates of the house who had access to
the bed-chamber; looking with steady scrutiny at the housekeeper, the
footman, and the maid, as they followed each other into the room--and
dismissing them again without remark. Lastly, he astounded his old
colleague by proposing to administer an emetic. There was no prevailing
on him to give his reasons. "If I prove to be right, you shall hear my
reasons. If I prove to be wrong, I have only to say so, and no reasons
will be required. Clear the room, administer the emetic, and keep the
door locked till I come back."
With those parting directions he hurried out of the house.
"What _can_ he mean?" said Mr. Engelman, leading the way out of the
The elder doctor left in charge heard the words, and answered them,
addressing himself, not to Mr. Engelman, but to me. He caught me by the
arm, as I was leaving the room in my turn.
"Poison!" the doctor whispered in my ear. "Keep it a secret; that's what
I ran to my own bedchamber and bolted myself in. At that one word,
"Poison," the atrocious suggestion of Frau Meyer, when she had referred
to Doctor Fontaine's lost medicine-chest, instantly associated itself in
my memory with Madame Fontaine's suspicious intrusion into Mr. Keller's
room. Good God! had I not surprised her standing close by the table on
which the night-drink was set? and had I not heard Doctor Dormann say,
"That's unlucky," when he was told that the barley-water had been all
drunk by the patient, and the jug and glass washed as usual? For the
first few moments, I really think I must have been beside myself, so
completely was I overpowered by the horror of my own suspicions. I had
just sense enough to keep out of Mr. Engelman's way until I felt my mind
restored in some degree to its customary balance.
Recovering the power of thinking connectedly, I began to feel ashamed of
the panic which had seized on me.
What conceivable object had the widow to gain by Mr. Keller's death? Her
whole interest in her daughter's future centered, on the contrary, in his
living long enough to be made ashamed of his prejudices, and to give his
consent to the marriage. To kill him for the purpose of removing Fritz
from the influence of his father's authority would be so atrocious an act
in itself, and would so certainly separate Minna and Fritz for ever, in
the perfectly possible event of a discovery, that I really recoiled from
the contemplation of this contingency as I might have recoiled from
deliberately disgracing myself. Doctor Dormann had rashly rushed at a
false conclusion--that was the one comforting reflection that occurred to
me. I threw open my door again in a frenzy of impatience to hear the
decision, whichever way it might turn.
The experiment had been tried in my absence. Mr. Keller had fallen into a
broken slumber. Doctor Dormann was just closing the little bag in which
he had brought his testing apparatus from his own house. Even now there
was no prevailing on him to state his suspicions plainly.
"It's curious," he said, "to see how all mortal speculations on events,
generally resolve themselves into threes. Have we given the emetic too
late? Are my tests insufficient? Or have I made a complete mistake?" He
turned to his elder colleague. "My dear doctor, I see you want a positive
answer. No need to leave the room, Mr. Engelman! You and the young
English gentleman, your friend, must not be deceived for a single moment
so far as I am concerned. I see in the patient a mysterious wasting of
the vital powers, which is not accompanied by the symptoms of any disease
known to me to which I can point as a cause. In plain words, I tell you,
I don't understand Mr. Keller's illness."
It was perhaps through a motive of delicacy that he persisted in making a
needless mystery of his suspicions. In any case he was evidently a man
who despised all quackery from the bottom of his heart. The old doctor
looked at him with a frown of disapproval, as if his frank confession had
violated the unwritten laws of medical etiquette.
"If you will allow me to watch the case," he resumed, "under the
superintendence of my respected colleague, I shall be happy to submit to
approval any palliative treatment which may occur to me. My respected
colleague knows that I am always ready to learn."
His respected colleague made a formal bow, looked at his watch, and
hastened away to another patient. Doctor Dormann, taking up his hat,
stopped to look at Mother Barbara, fast asleep in her easy chair by the
"I must find you a competent nurse to-morrow," he said. "No, not one of
the hospital women--we want someone with finer feelings and tenderer
hands than theirs. In the meantime, one of you must sit up with Mr.
Keller to-night. If I am not wanted before, I will be with you to-morrow
I volunteered to keep watch; promising to call Mr. Engelman if any
alarming symptoms showed themselves. The old housekeeper, waking after
her first sleep, characteristically insisted on sending me to bed, and
taking my place. I was too anxious and uneasy (if I may say it of myself)
to be as compliant as usual. Mother Barbara, for once, found that she had
a resolute person to deal with. At a less distressing time, there would
have been something irresistibly comical in her rage and astonishment,
when I settled the dispute by locking her out of the room.
Soon afterwards Joseph came in with a message. If there was no immediate
necessity for his presence in the bedchamber, Mr. Engelman would go out
to get a breath of fresh air, before he retired for the night. There was
no necessity for his presence; and I sent a message downstairs to that
An hour later Mr. Engelman came in to see his old friend, and to say
good-night. After an interval of restlessness, the sufferer had become
composed, and was dozing again under the influence of his medicine.
Making all allowances for the sorrow and anxiety which Mr. Engelman must
necessarily feel under the circumstances, I thought his manner strangely
absent and confused. He looked like a man with some burden on his mind
which he was afraid to reveal and unable to throw off.
"Somebody must be found, David, who does understand the case," he said,
looking at the helpless figure on the bed.
"Who can we find?" I asked.
He bade me good-night without answering. It is no exaggeration to say
that I passed my night at the bedside in a miserable state of indecision
and suspense. The doctor's experiment had failed to prove absolutely that
the doctor's doubts were without foundation. In this state of things, was
it my bounden duty to tell the medical men what I had seen, when I went
back to the house to look for Mr. Keller's opera-glass? The more I
thought of it, the more I recoiled from the idea of throwing a frightful
suspicion on Minna's mother which would overshadow an innocent woman for
the rest of her life. What proof had I that she had lied to me about the
sketch and the mantlepiece? And, without proof, how could I, how dare I,
open my lips? I succeeded in deciding firmly enough for the alternative
of silence, during the intervals when my attendance on the sick man was
not required. But, when he wanted his medicine, when his pillows needed a
little arrangement, when I saw his poor eyes open, and look at me
vacantly--then my resolution failed me; my indecision returned; the
horrid necessity of speaking showed itself again, and shook me to the
soul. Never in the trials of later life have I passed such a night as
that night at Mr. Keller's bedside.
When the light of the new day shone in at the window, it was but too
plainly visible that the symptoms had altered for the worse.
The apathy was more profound, the wan pinched look of the face had
increased, the intervals between the attacks of nervous trembling had
grown shorter and shorter. Come what might of it, when Dr. Dormann paid
his promised visit, I felt I was now bound to inform him that another
person besides the servants and ourselves had obtained access secretly to
Mr. Keller's room.
I was so completely worn out by agitation and want of sleep--and I showed
it, I suppose, so plainly--that good Mr. Engelman insisted on my leaving
him in charge, and retiring to rest. I lay down on my bed, with the door
of my room ajar, resolved to listen for the doctor's footsteps on the
stairs, and to speak to him privately after he had seen the patient.
If I had been twenty years older, I might have succeeded in carrying out
my intention. But, with the young, sleep is a paramount necessity, and
nature insists on obedience to its merciful law. I remember feeling
drowsy; starting up from the bed, and walking about my room, to keep
myself awake; then lying down again from sheer fatigue; and after
that--total oblivion! When I woke, and looked at my watch, I found that I
had been fast asleep for no less than six hours!
Bewildered and ashamed of myself--afraid to think of what might have
happened in that long interval--I hurried to Mr. Keller's room, and
softly knocked at the door.
A woman's voice answered me, "Come in!"
I paused with my hand on the door--the voice was familiar to me. I had a
moment's doubt whether I was mad or dreaming. The voice softly repeated,
"Come in!" I entered the room.
There she was, seated at the bedside, smiling quietly and lifting her
finger to her lips! As certainly as I saw the familiar objects in the
room, and the prostrate figure on the bed, I saw--Madame Fontaine!
"Speak low," she said. "He sleeps very lightly; he must not be
I approached the bed and looked at him. There was a faint tinge of color
in his face; there was moisture on his forehead; his hands lay as still
on the counterpane, in the blessed repose that possessed him, as the
hands of a sleeping child. I looked round at Madame Fontaine.
She smiled again; my utter bewilderment seemed to amuse her. "He is left
entirely to me, David," she said, looking tenderly at her patient. "Go
downstairs and see Mr. Engelman. There must be no talking here."
She lightly wiped the perspiration from his forehead; lightly laid her
fingers on his pulse--then reclined in the easy chair, with her eyes
fixed in silent interest on the sleeping man. She was the very ideal of
the nurse with fine feelings and tender hands, contemplated by Doctor
Dormann when I had last seen him. Any stranger looking into the room at
that moment would have said, "What a charming picture! What a devoted
"A tumbler of the old Marcobrunner, David, and a slice of the game
pie--before I say one word about what we owe to that angel upstairs. Off
with the wine, my dear boy; you look as pale as death!"
With those words Mr. Engelman lit his pipe, and waited in silence until
the good eating and drinking had done their good work.
"Now carry your mind back to last night," he began. "You remember my
going out to get a breath of fresh air. Can you guess what that meant?"
I guessed of course that it meant a visit to Madame Fontaine.
"Quite right, David. I promised to call on her earlier in the day; but
poor Keller's illness made that impossible. She wrote to me under the
impression that something serious must have happened to prevent me, for
the first time, from keeping an appointment that I had made with her.
When I left you I went to answer her note personally. She was not only
distressed to hear of Mr. Keller's illness, she was interested enough in
my sad news to ask particularly in what form the illness declared itself.
When I mentioned what the symptoms were, she showed an agitation which
took me quite by surprise. 'Do the doctors understand what is the matter
with him?' she asked. I told her that one of the doctors was evidently
puzzled, and that the other had acknowledged that the malady was so far
incomprehensible to him. She clasped her hands in despair--she said, 'Oh,
if my poor husband had been alive!' I naturally asked what she meant. I
wish I could give her explanation, David, in her own delightful words. It
came in substance to this. Some person in her husband's employment at the
University of Wurzburg had been attacked by a malady presenting exactly
the same symptoms from which Mr. Keller was suffering. The medical men
had been just as much at a loss what to do as our medical men. Alone
among them Doctor Fontaine understood the case. He made up the medicine
that he administered with his own hand. Madame Fontaine, under her
husband's instructions, assisted in nursing the sick man, and in giving
the nourishment prescribed when he was able to eat. His extraordinary
recovery is remembered in the University to this day."
I interrupted Mr. Engelman at that point. "Of course you asked her for
the prescription?" I said. "I begin to understand it now."
"No, David; you don't understand it yet. I certainly asked her for the
prescription. No such thing was known to be in existence--she reminded me
that her husband had made up the medicine himself. But she remembered
that the results had exceeded his anticipations, and that only a part of
the remedy had been used. The bottle might still perhaps be found at
Wurzburg. Or it might be in a small portmanteau belonging to her husband,
which she had found in his bedroom, and had brought away with her, to be
examined at some future time. 'I have not had the heart to open it yet,'
she said; 'but for Mr. Keller's sake, I will look it over before you go
away.' There is a Christian woman, David, if ever there was one yet!
After the manner in which poor Keller had treated her, she was as eager
to help him as if he had been her dearest friend. Minna offered to take
her place. 'Why should you distress yourself, mamma?' she said. 'Tell me
what the bottle is like, and let me try if I can find it.' No! It was
quite enough for Madame Fontaine that there was an act of mercy to be
done. At any sacrifice of her own feelings, she was prepared to do it."
I interrupted him again, eager to hear the end.
"And she found the bottle?" I said.
"She found the bottle," Mr. Engelman resumed. "I can show it to you, if
you like. She has herself requested me to keep it under lock and key, so
long as it is wanted in this house."
He opened an old cabinet, and took out a long narrow bottle of dark-blue
glass. In form, it was quaintly and remarkably unlike any modern bottle
that I had ever seen. The glass stopper was carefully secured by a piece
of leather, for the better preservation, I suppose, of the liquid inside.
Down one side of the bottle ran a narrow strip of paper, notched at
regular intervals to indicate the dose that was to be given. No label
appeared on it; but, examining the surface of the glass carefully, I
found certain faintly-marked stains, which suggested that the label might
have been removed, and that some traces of the paste or gum by which it
had been secured had not been completely washed away. I held the bottle
up to the light, and found that it was still nearly half full. Mr.
Engelman forbade me to remove the stopper. It was very important, he
said, that no air should be admitted to the bottle, except when there was
an actual necessity for administering the remedy.
"I took it away with me the same night," he went on. "And a wretched
state of mind I was in, between my anxiety to give the medicine to poor
dear Keller immediately, and my fear of taking such a serious
responsibility entirely on myself. Madame Fontaine, always just in her
views, said, 'You had better wait and consult the doctors.' She made but
one condition (the generous creature!) relating to herself. 'If the
remedy is tried,' she said, 'I must ask you to give it a fair chance by
permitting me to act as nurse; the treatment of the patient when he
begins to feel the benefit of the medicine is of serious importance. I
know this from my husband's instructions, and it is due to his memory (to
say nothing of what is due to Mr. Keller) that I should be at the
bedside.' It is needless to say that I joyfully accepted the offered
help. So the night passed. The next morning, soon after you fell asleep,
the doctors came. You may imagine what they thought of poor Keller, when
I tell you that they recommended me to write instantly to Fritz in London
summoning him to his father's bedside. I was just in time to catch the
special mail which left this morning. Don't blame me, David. I could not
feel absolutely sure of the new medicine; and, with time of such terrible
importance, and London so far off, I was really afraid to miss a post."
I was far from blaming him--and I said so. In his place I should have
done what he did. We arranged that I should write to Fritz by that
night's mail, on the chance that my announcement of the better news might
reach him before he left London.
"My letter despatched," Mr. Engelman continued, "I begged both the
doctors to speak with me before they went away, in my private room. There
I told them, in the plainest words I could find, exactly what I have told
you. Doctor Dormann behaved like a gentleman. He said, 'Let me see the
lady, and speak to her myself, before the new remedy is tried.' As for
the other, what do you think he did? Walked out of the house (the old
brute!) and declined any further attendance on the patient. And who do
you think followed him out of the house, David, when I sent for Madame
Fontaine? Another old brute--Mother Barbara!"
After what I had seen myself of the housekeeper's temper on the previous
evening, this last piece of news failed to surprise me. To be stripped of
her authority as nurse in favor of a stranger, and that stranger a
handsome lady, was an aggravation of the wrong which Mother Barbara had
contemplated, when she threatened us with the alternative of leaving the
"Well," Mr. Engelman resumed, "Doctor Dormann asked his questions, and
smelt and tasted the medicine, and with Madame Fontaine's full approval
took away a little of it to be analyzed. That came to nothing! The
medicine kept its own secret. All the ingredients but two set analysis at
defiance! In the meantime we gave the first dose. Half an hour since we
tried the second. You have seen the result with your own eyes. She has
saved his life, David, and we have you to thank for it. But for you we
might never have known Madame Fontaine.
The door opened as he spoke, and I found myself confronted by a second
surprise. Minna came in, wearing a cook's apron, and asked if her mother
had rung for her yet. Under the widow's instructions, she was preparing
the peculiar vegetable diet which had been prescribed by Doctor Fontaine
as part of the cure. The good girl was eager to make herself useful to us
in any domestic capacity. What a charming substitute for the crabbed old
housekeeper who had just left us!
So here were Madame Fontaine and Minna actually established as inmates
under the same roof with Mr. Keller! What would Fritz think, when he knew
of it? What would Mr. Keller say when he recognized his nurse, and when
he heard that she had saved his life? "All's well that ends well" is a
good proverb. But we had not got as far as that yet. The question in our
case was, _How_ will it end?
When, late that night, I entered my bedroom again, how I blessed the
lucky accident of my six hours' sleep, after a night's watching at Mr.
If I had spoken to Doctor Dormann as I had positively resolved to speak,
he would, beyond all doubt, have forbidden the employment of Madame
Fontaine's remedy; Mr. Keller would have died; and the innocent woman who
had saved his life would have been suspected, perhaps even tried, on a
charge of murdering him. I really trembled when I looked back on the
terrible consequences which must have followed, if I had succeeded that
morning in keeping myself awake.
The next day, the doses of the wonderful medicine were renewed at the
regular intervals; and the prescribed vegetable diet was carefully
administered. On the day after, the patient was so far advanced on the
way to recovery, that the stopper of the dark-blue bottle was permanently
secured again under its leather guard. Mr. Engelman told me that nearly
two doses of it were still left at the bottom. He also mentioned, on my
asking to look at it again, that the widow had relieved him of the care
of the bottle, and had carefully locked it up in her own room.
Late on this day also, the patient being well-enough to leave his bed and
to occupy the armchair in his room, the inevitable disclosure took place;
and Madame Fontaine stood revealed in the character of the Good Samaritan
who had saved Mr. Keller's life.
By Doctor Dormann's advice, those persons only were permitted to enter
the bedroom whose presence was absolutely necessary. Besides Madame
Fontaine and the doctor himself, Mr. Engelman and Minna were the other
witnesses of the scene. Mr. Engelman had his claim to be present as an
old friend; and Minna was to be made useful, at her mother's suggestion,
as a means of gently preparing Mr. Keller's mind for the revelation that
was to come. Under these circumstances, I can only describe what took
place, by repeating the little narrative with which Minna favored me,
after she had left the room.
"We arranged that I should wait downstairs," she said, "until I heard the
bedroom bell ring--and then I myself was to take up Mr. Keller's dinner
of lentils and cream, and put it on his table without saying a word."
"Exactly like a servant!" I exclaimed.
Gentle sweet-tempered Minna answered my foolish interruption with her
customary simplicity and good sense.
"Why not?" she asked. "Fritz's father may one day be my father; and I am
happy to be of the smallest use to him, whenever he wants me. Well, when
I went in, I found him in his chair, with the light let into the room,
and with plenty of pillows to support him. Mr. Engelman and the doctor
were on either side of him; and poor dear mamma was standing back in a
corner behind the bed, where he could not see her. He looked up at me,
when I came in with my tray. 'Who's this?' he asked of Mr. Engelman--'is
she a new servant?' Mr. Engelman, humoring him, answered, 'Yes.' 'A
nice-looking girl,' he said; 'but what does Mother Barbara say to her?'
Upon this, Mr. Engelman told him how the housekeeper had left her place
and why. As soon as he had recovered his surprise, he looked at me again.
'But who has been my nurse?' he inquired; 'surely not this young girl?'
'No, no; the young girl's mother has nursed you,' said Mr. Engelman. He
looked at the doctor as he spoke; and the doctor interfered for the first
time. 'She has not only nursed you, sir,' he said; 'I can certify
medically that she has saved your life. Don't excite yourself. You shall
hear exactly how it happened.' In two minutes, he told the whole story,
so clearly and beautifully that it was quite a pleasure to hear him. One
thing only he concealed--the name. 'Who is she?' Mr. Keller cried out.
'Why am I not allowed to express my gratitude? Why isn't she here?' 'She
is afraid to approach you, sir,' said the doctor; 'you have a very bad
opinion of her.' 'A bad opinion,' Mr. Keller repeated, 'of a woman I
don't know? Who is the slanderer who has said that of me?' The doctor
signed to Mr. Engelman to answer. 'Speak plainly,' he whispered, behind
the chair. Mr. Engelman did speak plainly. 'Pardon me, my dear Keller,
there is no slanderer in this matter. Your own action has spoken for you.
A short time since--try if you cannot remember it yourself--a lady sent a
letter to you; and you sent the letter back to her, refusing to read it.
Do you know how she has returned the insult? That noble creature is the
woman to whom you owe your life.' When he had said those words, the
doctor crossed the room, and returned again to Mr. Keller, leading my
mother by the hand."
Minna's voice faltered; she stopped at the most interesting part of her
"What did Mr. Keller say?" I asked.
"There was silence in the room," Minna answered softly. "I heard nothing
except the ticking of the clock."
"But you must have seen something?"
"No, David. I couldn't help it--I was crying. After a while, my mother
put her arm round me and led me to Mr. Keller. I dried my eyes as well as
I could, and saw him again. His head was bent down on his breast--his
hands hung helpless over the arms of the chair--it was dreadful to see
him so overwhelmed by shame and sorrow! 'What can I do?' he groaned to
himself. 'God help me, what can I do?' Mamma spoke to him--so sweetly and
so prettily--'You can give this poor girl of mine a kiss, sir; the new
servant who has waited on you is my daughter Minna.' He looked up
quickly, and drew me to him. 'I can make but one atonement, my dear,' he
said--and then he kissed me, and whispered, 'Send for Fritz.' Oh, don't
ask me to tell you any more, David; I shall only begin crying again--and
I am so happy!"
She left me to write to Fritz by that night's post. I tried vainly to
induce her to wait a little. We had no electric telegraphs at our
disposal, and we were reduced to guessing at events. But there was
certainly a strong probability that Fritz might have left London
immediately on the receipt of Mr. Engelman's letter, announcing that his
father was dangerously ill. In this case, my letter, despatched by the
next mail to relieve his anxiety, would be left unopened in London; and
Fritz might be expected to arrive (if he traveled without stopping) in
the course of the next day or two. I put this reasonable view of the
matter to Minna, and received a thoroughly irrational and womanly reply.
"I don't care, David; I shall write to him, for all that."
"Because I like writing to him.
"What! whether he receives your letter or not?"
"Whether he receives it or not," she answered saucily, "I shall have the
pleasure of writing to him--that is all I want."
She covered four pages of note-paper, and insisted on posting them
The next morning Mr. Keller was able, with my help and Mr. Engelman's, to
get downstairs to the sitting-room. We were both with him, when Madame
Fontaine came in.
"Well," he asked, "have you brought it with you?"
She handed to him a sealed envelope, and then turned to explain herself
"The letter that you put on Mr. Keller's desk," she said pleasantly.
"This time, David, I act as my own postman--at Mr. Keller's request."
In her place, I should certainly have torn it up. To keep it, on the bare
chance of its proving to be of some use in the future, seemed to imply
either an excessive hopefulness or an extraordinary foresight, on the
widow's part. Without in the least comprehending my own state of mind, I
felt that she had, in some mysterious way, disappointed me by keeping
that letter. As a matter of course, I turned to leave the room, and Mr.
Engelman (from a similar motive of delicacy) followed me to the door. Mr.
Keller called us both back.
"Wait, if you please," he said, "until I have read it."
Madame Fontaine was looking out of the window. It was impossible for us
to discover whether she approved of our remaining in the room or not.
Mr. Keller read the closely written pages with the steadiest attention.
He signed to the widow to approach him, and took her hand when he had
arrived at the last words.
"Let me ask your pardon," he said, "in the presence of my partner and in
the presence of David Glenney, who took charge of your letter. Madame
Fontaine, I speak the plain truth, in the plainest words, when I tell you
that I am ashamed of myself."
She dropped on her knees before him, and entreated him to say no more.
Mr. Engelman looked at her, absorbed in admiration. Perhaps it was the
fault of my English education--I thought the widow's humility a little
overdone. What Mr. Keller's opinion might be, he kept to himself. He
merely insisted on her rising, and taking a chair by his side.
"To say that I believe every word of your letter," he resumed, "is only
to do you the justice which I have too long delayed. But there is one
passage which I must feel satisfied that I thoroughly understand, if you
will be pleased to give me the assurance of it with your own lips. Am I
right in concluding, from what is here written of your husband's
creditors, that his debts (which have now, in honor, become your debts)
have been all actually _paid_ to the last farthing?"
"To the last farthing!" Madame Fontaine answered, without a moment's
hesitation. "I can show you the receipts, sir, if you like."
"No, madam! I take your word for it--I require nothing more. Your title
to my heart-felt respect is now complete. The slanders which I have
disgraced myself by believing would never have found their way to my
credulity, if they had not first declared you to have ruined your husband
by your debts. I own that I have never been able to divest myself of my
inbred dislike and distrust of people who contract debts which they are
not able to pay. The light manner in which the world is apt to view the
relative positions of debtor and creditor is abhorrent to me. If I
promise to pay a man money, and fail to keep my promise, I am no better
than a liar and a cheat. That always has been, and always will be, _my_
view." He took her hand again as he made that strong declaration. "There
is another bond of sympathy between us," he said warmly; "you think as I
Good Heavens, if Frau Meyer had told me the truth, what would happen when
Madame Fontaine discovered that her promissory note was in the hands of a
stranger--a man who would inexorably present it for payment on the day
when it fell due? I tried to persuade myself that Frau Meyer had _not_
told me the truth. Perhaps I might have succeeded--but for my remembrance
of the disreputable-looking stranger on the door-step, who had been so
curious to know if Madame Fontaine intended to leave her lodgings.
The next day, my calculation of possibilities in the matter of Fritz
turned out to be correct.
Returning to Main Street, after a short absence from the house, the door
was precipitately opened to me by Minna. Before she could say a word, her
face told me the joyful news. Before I could congratulate her, Fritz
himself burst headlong into the hall, and made one of his desperate
attempts at embracing me. This time I succeeded (being the shorter man of
the two) in slipping through his arms in the nick of time.
"Do you want to kiss _me,"_ I exclaimed, "when Minna is in the house!"
"I have been kissing Minna," Fritz answered with perfect gravity, until
we are both of us out of breath. I look upon you as a sort of
At this, Minna's charming face became eloquent in another way. I only
waited to ask for news of my aunt before I withdrew. Mrs. Wagner was
already on the road to Frankfort, following Fritz by easy stages.
"And where is Jack Straw?" I inquired.
"Traveling with her," said Fritz.
Having received this last extraordinary piece of intelligence, I put off
all explanations until a fitter opportunity, and left the lovers together
It was one of the last fine days of the autumn. The sunshine tempted me
to take a turn in Mr. Engelman's garden.
A shrubbery of evergreens divided the lawn near the house from the
flower-beds which occupied the further extremity of the plot of ground.
While I was on one side of the shrubbery, I heard the voices of Mr.
Keller and Madame Fontaine on the other side. Then, and then only, I
remembered that the doctor had suggested a little walking exercise for
the invalid, while the sun was at its warmest in the first hours of the
afternoon. Madame Fontaine was in attendance, in the absence of Mr.
Engelman, engaged in the duties of the office.
I had just turned back again towards the house, thinking it better not to
disturb them, when I heard my name on the widow's lips. Better men than
I, under stress of temptation, have been known to commit actions unworthy
of them. I was mean enough to listen; and I paid the proverbial penalty
for gratifying my curiosity--I heard no good of myself.
"You have honored me by asking my advice, sir," I heard Madame Fontaine
say. "With regard to young David Glenney, I can speak quite impartially.
In a few days more, if I can be of no further use to you, I shall have
left the house."
Mr. Keller interrupted her there.
"Pardon me, Madame Fontaine; I can't let you talk of leaving us. We are
without a housekeeper, as you know. You will confer a favor on me and on
Mr. Engelman, if you will kindly undertake the direction of our domestic
affairs--for the present, at least. Besides, your charming daughter is
the light of our household. What will Fritz say, if you take her away
just when he has come home? No! no! you and Minna must stay with us."
"You are only too good to me, sir! Perhaps I had better ascertain what
Mr. Engelman's wishes are, before we decide?"
Mr. Keller laughed--and, more extraordinary still, Mr. Keller made a
"My dear madam, if you don't know what Mr. Engelman's wishes are likely
to be, without asking him, you are the most unobservant lady that ever
lived! Speak to him, by all means, if you think it formally
necessary--and let us return to the question of taking David Glenney into
our office here. A letter which he has lately received from Mrs. Wagner
expresses no intention of recalling him to London--and he has managed so
cleverly in a business matter which I confided to him, that he would
really be an acquisition to us. Besides (until the marriage takes place),
he would be a companion for Fritz."
"That is exactly where I feel a difficulty," Madame Fontaine replied. "To
my mind, sir, Mr. David is not at all a desirable companion for your son.
The admirable candor and simplicity of Fritz's disposition might suffer
by association with a person of Mr. David's very peculiar character."
"May I ask, Madame Fontaine, in what you think his character peculiar?"
"I will endeavor to express what I feel, sir. You have spoken of his
cleverness. I venture to say that he is _too_ clever And I have observed
that he is--for a young man--far too easily moved to suspect others. Do I
make myself understood?"
"Perfectly. Pray go on."
"I find, Mr. Keller, that there is something of the Jesuit about our
young friend. He has a way of refining on trifles, and seeing under the
surface, where nothing is to be seen. Don't attach too much importance to
what I say! It is quite likely that I am influenced by the popular
prejudice against 'old heads on young shoulders.' At the same time, I
confess I wouldn't keep him here, if I were in your place. Shall we move
a little further on?"
Madame Fontaine was, I daresay, perfectly right in her estimate of me.
Looking back at the pages of this narrative, I discover some places in
which I certainly appear to justify her opinion. I even justified it at
the time. Before she and Mr. Keller were out of my hearing, I began to
see "under the surface," and "to refine" on what she had said.
Was it Jesuitical to doubt the disinterestedness of her advice? I did
doubt it. Was it Jesuitical to suspect that she privately distrusted me,
and had reasons of her own for keeping me out of her way, at the safe
distance of London? I did suspect it.
And yet she was such a good Christian! And yet she had so nobly and so
undeniably saved Mr. Keller's life! What right had I to impute
self-seeking motives to such a woman as this? Mean! mean! there was no
excuse for me.
I turned back to the house, with my head feeling very old on my young
Madame Fontaine's manner to me was so charming, when we all met at the
dinner-table, that I fell into a condition of remorseful silence.
Fortunately, Fritz took most of the talking on himself, and the general
attention was diverted from me. His high spirits, his boisterous
nonsense, his contempt for all lawful forms and ceremonies which placed
impediments in the way of his speedy marriage, were amusingly contrasted
by Mr. Engelman's courteous simplicity in trying to argue the question
seriously with his reckless young friend.
"Don't talk to me about the customary delays and the parson's duty!"
cried Fritz. "Tell me this: does he do his duty without being paid for
"We must all live," pleaded good Mr. Engelman; "the parson must pay the
butcher and the baker, like the rest of us."
"That's shirking the question, my dear sir! Will the parson marry Minna
and me, without being paid for it?"
"In all civilized countries, Fritz, there are fees for the performance of
the marriage ceremony."
"Very well. Now follow my train of reasoning, Mr. Engelman! On your own
showing, the whole affair is a matter of money. The parson gets his fee
for making Minna my wife, after the customary delays."
There Minna modestly interposed. "Why do you object to the customary
delays, dear Fritz?"
"I'll tell you, my angel, when we are married. In the meantime, I resume
my train of reasoning, and I entreat Mr. Engelman not to forget that this
is a matter of money. Make it worth the parson's while to marry us,
_without_ the customary delays. Double his fee, treble his fee--give him
ten times his fee. It's merely a question of what his reverence can
resist. My father is a rich man. Favor me with a blank cheque, papa--and
I will make Minna Mrs. Keller before the end of the week!"
The father, hitherto content to listen and be amused, checked the son's
flow of nonsense at this point.
"There is a time for everything, Fritz," he said. "We have had laughing
enough. When you talk of your marriage, I am sorry to observe that you
entirely pass over the consideration which is due to your father's only
Madame Fontaine laid down her knife and fork as if her dinner had come to
an end. The sudden appearance in the conversation of the "surviving
relative," had evidently taken her by surprise. Mr. Keller, observing
her, turned away from his son, and addressed himself exclusively to the
widow when he spoke next.
"I referred, Madame Fontaine, to my elder sister," he said. "She and I
are the sole survivors of a large family."
"Does the lady live in this city, sir?" the widow inquired.
"No, she still lives in our birthplace--Munich."
"May I ask another question?"
"As many questions, dear madam, as you like."
"Is your sister married?"
"My sister has never been married."
"Not for want of suitors," said courteous Mr. Engelman. "A most majestic
person. Witty and accomplished. Possessed of an enviable little fortune,
entirely at her own disposal."
Mr. Keller gently reproved this latter allusion to the question of money.
"My good friend, Madame Fontaine has a mind above all mercenary
considerations. My sister's place in her esteem and regard will not be
influenced by my sister's fortune, when they meet (as I hope they will
meet) at Fritz's marriage."
At this, Fritz burst into the conversation in his usual headlong way.
"Oh, dear me, papa, have some consideration for us! If we wait for my
aunt, we shall never be married on this side of eternity."
"Don't be angry, sir, I meant no harm. I was thinking of my aunt's
asthma. At her age, she will never take the long journey from Munich to
Frankfort. Permit me to offer a suggestion. Let us be married first, and
then pay her a visit in the honeymoon.
Mr. Keller passed his son's suggestion over without notice, and addressed
himself once more to Madame Fontaine.
"I propose writing to my sister in a day or two," he resumed, "to inform
her of the contemplated marriage. She already knows your name through Mr.
Engelman, who kindly wrote to allay her anxiety about my illness."
"And to tell her," Mr. Engelman interposed, "to whose devotion he owes
The widow received this tribute with eyes fixed modestly on her plate.
Her black dress, rising and falling over her bosom, betrayed an
agitation, which her enemies at Wurzburg might have attributed to the
discovery of the rich sister at Munich. Mr. Keller went on--
"I am sure I may trust to your womanly sympathies to understand the
affection which binds me to my last living relative. My sister's presence
at the marriage will be an inexpressible comfort and happiness to me. In
spite of what my son has said (you are sadly given to talking at random,
Fritz), I believe she will not shrink from the journey to Frankfort, if
we only make it easier to her by consulting her health and convenience.
Our young people have all their lives before them--our young people can
She gave that short answer very quietly, with her eyes still on her
plate. It was impossible to discover in what frame of mind she viewed the
prospect of delay, involved in Mr. Keller's consideration for his sister.
For the moment, Fritz was simply confounded. He looked at
Minna--recovered himself--and favored his father with another suggestion.
"I have got it now!" he exclaimed. "Why not spare my aunt the fatigue of
the journey? Let us all start for Bavaria to--morrow, and have the
marriage at Munich!"
"And leave the business at Frankfort to take care of itself, at the
busiest time of the year!" his father added ironically. "When you open
your mouth again, Fritz, put food and drink into it--and confine yourself
With those words the question of the marriage was closed for the time.
When dinner was over, Mr. Keller retired, to take some rest in his own
room. Fritz and his sweetheart left the house together, on an errand in
which they were both equally interested--the purchase of the ring which
was to typify Minna's engagement. Left alone with Mr. Engelman and the
widow, I felt that I might be an obstacle to confidential conversation,
and withdrew to the office. Though not regularly employed as one of the
clerks, I had been admitted to serve as a volunteer, since my return from
Hanau. In this way, I improved my experience of the details of our
business, and I made some small return for the hospitable welcome which I
had received from the two partners.
Half an hour or more had passed, when some papers arrived from the bank,
which required the signature of the firm. Mr. Engelman being still
absent, the head-clerk, at my suggestion, proceeded to the dining-room
with the papers in his charge.
He came back again immediately, looking very much alarmed.
"Pray go into the dining-room!" he said to me. "I am afraid something is
seriously wrong with Mr. Engelman.
"Do you mean that he is ill?" I asked.
"I can hardly say. His arms are stretched out on the table, and his face
is hidden on them. He paid no attention to me. I am almost afraid he was
Crying? I had left him in excellent spirits, casting glances of the
tenderest admiration at Madame Fontaine. Without waiting to hear more, I
ran to the dining-room.
He was alone--in the position described by the clerk--and, poor old man,
he was indeed weeping bitterly! I put my hand with all possible
gentleness on his shoulder, and said, with the tenderness that I really
felt for him: "Dear Mr. Engelman, what has happened to distress you?"
At the sound of my voice he looked up, and caught me fervently by the
"Stay here with me a little while, David," he said. "I have got my
I sat down by him directly. "Try and tell me what has happened," I went
on. "I left you here with Madame Fontaine----"
His tears suddenly ceased; his hand closed convulsively on mine. "Don't
speak of her," he cried, with an outburst of anger. "You were right about
her, David. She is a false woman." As the words passed his lips, he
changed again. His voice faltered; he seemed to be frightened by his own
violent language. "Oh, what am I talking about! what right have I to say
that of her! I am a brute--I am reviling the best of women. It was all my
fault, David--I have acted like a madman, like a fool. Oh, my boy! my
boy!--would you believe it?--I asked her to marry me!"
It is needless to say that I wanted no further explanation. "Did she
encourage you to ask her?" I inquired.
"I thought she did, David--I thought I would be clever and seize the
opportunity. She said she wanted to consult me. She said: 'Mr. Keller has
asked me to stay here, and keep house for you; I have not given my answer
yet, I have waited to know if you approved it.' Upon that, I said the
rash words. I asked her to be more than our housekeeper--to be my wife. I
am naturally stupid," said the poor simple gentleman; "whenever I try to
do anything clever I always fail. She was very forbearing with me at
first; she said No, but she said it considerately, as if she felt for me.
I presumed on her kindness, like a fool; I couldn't help it, David, I was
so fond of her. I pressed her to say why she refused me. I was mad enough
to ask if there was some other man whom she preferred. Oh, she said some
hard things to me in her anger! And, worse still, when I went down on my
knees to her, she said, 'Get up, you old fool!'--and laughed--and left
me. Take me away somewhere, David; I am to old to get over it, if I stay
here. I can never see her or speak to her again. Take me to England with
you--and, oh, don't tell Keller!"
He burst into another fit of tears. It was dreadful to see and hear him.
I tried to think of some consoling words. Before I could give expression
to my thought, the door of the room was gently opened; and Madame
Fontaine herself stood before us. Her eyes looked at Mr. Engelman from
under their heavy lids, with a quiet and scornful compassion. The poor
wretch was of no further use to her. Quite needless to be on her best
behavior with him now!
"There is not the least occasion, sir, to disturb yourself," she said.
"It is _my_ duty to leave the house--and I will do it."
Without waiting to be answered, she turned back to the door, and left us.
"For heaven's sake, sir, allow me to go!"
"On no account, Madame Fontaine. If you won't remain here, in justice to
yourself, remain as a favor to me."
When I opened my bedroom door the next morning, the widow and Mr. Keller
were on the landing outside, and those were the words exchanged between
Mr. Keller approached, and spoke to me.
"What do you know, David, about the disappearance of Mr. Engelman?"
"Disappearance?" I repeated. "I was with him yesterday evening--and I
bade him good-night in his own room."
"He must have left the house before the servants were up this morning,"
said Mr. Keller. "Read that."
He handed me a morsel of paper with writing on it in pencil:--
"Forgive me, dear friend and partner, for leaving you without saying
good-bye; also for burdening you with the direction of business, before
you are perhaps strong enough to accept the charge. My mind is in such a
state of confusion that I should be worse than useless in the office.
While I write this, my poor weak head burns as if there was fire in it. I
cannot face _her,_ I cannot face _you_--I must go, before I lose all
control over myself. Don't attempt to trace me. If change and absence
restore me to myself I will return. If not, a man at my age and in my
state of mind is willing to die. Please tell Madame Fontaine that I ask
her pardon with all my heart. Good-bye--and God bless and prosper you."
I was unaffectedly distressed. There was something terrible in this
sudden break-up of poor Engelman's harmless life--something cruel and
shocking in the passion of love fixing its relentless hold on an innocent
old man, fast nearing the end of his days. There are hundreds of examples
of this deplorable anomaly in real life; and yet, when we meet with it in
our own experience, we are always taken by surprise, and always ready to
express doubt or derision when we hear of it in the experience of others.
Madame Fontaine behaved admirably. She sat down on the window-seat at the
end of the landing, and wrung her hands with a gesture of despair.
"Oh!" she said, "if he had asked me for anything else! If I could have
made any other sacrifice to him! God knows I never dreamed of it; I never
gave him the smallest encouragement. We might have all been so happy
together here--and I, who would have gone to the world's end to serve Mr.
Keller and Mr. Engelman, I am the unhappy creature who has broken up the
Mr. Keller was deeply affected. He sat down on the window-seat by Madame
"My dear, dear lady," he said, "you are entirely blameless in this
matter. Even my unfortunate partner feels it, and asks your pardon. If
inquiries can discover him, they shall be set on foot immediately. In the
meantime, let me entreat you to compose yourself. Engelman has perhaps
done wisely, to leave us for a time. He will get over his delusion, and
all may be well yet."
I went downstairs, not caring to hear more. All my sympathies, I confess,
were with Mr. Engelman--though he _was_ a fat simple old man. Mr. Keller
seemed to me (here is more of the "old head on young shoulders!") to have
gone from one extreme to the other. He had begun by treating the widow
with unbecoming injustice; and he was now flattering her with
For the next few days there was tranquillity, if not happiness, in the
house. Mr. Keller wrote to his sister in Munich, inviting her to mention
the earliest date at which it might suit her convenience to be present at
the marriage of his son. Madame Fontaine assumed the regular management
of our domestic affairs. Fritz and Minna found sufficient attraction in
each other's society. The new week was just beginning, and our inquiries
after Mr. Engelman had thus far led to no result--when I received a
letter containing news of the fugitive, confided to me under strict
The writer of the letter proved to be a married younger brother of Mr.
Engelman, residing at Bingen, on the Rhine.
"I write to you, dear sir, at my brother's request. My wife and I are
doing all that we can to relieve and comfort him, but his mind has not
yet sufficiently recovered to enable him to write to you himself. He
desires to thank you heartily for your sympathy, at the most trying
period of his life; and he trusts to your kindness to let him hear, from
time to time, of Mr. Keller's progress towards recovery, and of the
well-being of the business. In addressing your letters to me at Bingen,
you will be pleased to consider the information of my brother's
whereabouts herein afforded to you as strictly confidential, until you
hear from me to the contrary. In his present frame of mind, it would be
in the last degree painful to him to be made the subject of inquiries,
remonstrances, or entreaties to return."
The arrival of this sad news proved to be not the only noteworthy event
of the day. While I was still thinking of poor Mr. Engelman, Fritz came
into the office with his hat in his hand.
"Minna is not in very good spirits this morning," he said. "I am going to
take her out for half an hour to look at the shops. Can you come with
This invitation rather surprised me. "Does Minna wish it?" I asked.
Fritz dropped his voice so that the clerks in the room could not hear his
reply. "Minna has sent me to you," he answered. "She is uneasy about her
mother. I can make nothing of it--and she wants to ask your advice."
It was impossible for me to leave my desk at that moment. We arranged to
put off the walk until after dinner. During the meal, I observed that not
Minna only, but her mother also, appeared to be out of spirits. Mr.
Keller and Fritz probably noticed the change as I did. We were all of us
more silent than usual. It was a relief so find myself with the lovers,
out in the cheerful street.
Minna seemed to want to be encouraged before she could speak to me. I was
obliged to ask in plain words if anything had happened to annoy her
mother and herself.
"I hardly know how to tell you," she said. "I am very unhappy about my
"Begin at the beginning," Fritz suggested; "tell him where you went, and
what happened yesterday."
Minna followed her instructions. "Mamma and I went to our lodgings
yesterday," she began. "We had given notice to leave when it was settled
we were to live in Mr. Keller's house. The time was nearly up; and there
were some few things still left at the apartments, which we could carry
away in our hands. Mamma, who speaks considerately to everybody, said she
hoped the landlady would soon let the rooms again. The good woman
answered: 'I don't quite know, madam, whether I have not let them
already.'--Don't you think that rather a strange reply?"
"It seems to require some explanation, certainly. What did the landlady
"The landlady's explanation explained nothing," Fritz interposed. "She
appears to have spoken of a mysterious stranger, who had once before
inquired if Madame Fontaine was likely to leave the lodgings--and who
came yesterday to inquire again. You tell him the rest of it, Minna."
Before she could speak, I had already recognized the suspicious-looking
personage whom Mr. Engelman and I had some time since encountered on the
door-step. I inquired what the man had said when he heard that the
lodgings were to let.
"There is the suspicious part of it," cried Fritz. "Be very particular,
Minna, to leave nothing out."
Fritz's interruptions seemed only to confuse Minna. I begged him to be
silent, and did my best to help her to find the lost thread of her story.
"Did the man ask to see the lodgings?" I said.
"Did he talk of taking the lodgings?"
"He said he wished to have the refusal of them until the evening," Minna
replied; "and then he asked if Madame Fontaine had left Frankfort. When
the landlady said No, he had another question ready directly. He wanted
to know in what part of Frankfort Madame Fontaine was now living."
"And the old fool of a landlady actually told him the address," said
Fritz, interrupting again.
"And, I am afraid, did some serious mischief by her folly," Minna added.
"I saw mamma start and turn pale. She said to the landlady, 'How long ago
did this happen?' 'About half an hour ago,' the landlady answered. 'Which
way did he turn when he left you--towards Mr. Keller's house or the other
way?' The landlady said, 'Towards Mr. Keller's house.' Without another
word, mamma took me by the arm. 'It's time we were home again,' she
said--and we went back at once to the house."
"You were too late, of course, to find the man there?"
"Yes, David--but we heard of him. Mamma asked Joseph if anyone had called
while we were out. Joseph said a stranger had called, and had inquired if
Madame Fontaine was at home. Hearing that she was out, he had said, 'I
think I had better write to her. She is here for a short time only, I
believe?' And innocent Joseph answered, 'Oh, dear no! Madame Fontaine is
Mr. Keller's new housekeeper.' 'Well?' mamma asked, 'and what did he say
when he heard that?' 'He said nothing,' Joseph answered, 'and went away
"Was that all that passed between your mother and Joseph?"
"All," Minna replied. "My mother wouldn't even let me speak to her. I
only tried to say a few words of sympathy--and I was told sharply to be
silent. 'Don't interrupt me,' she said, 'I want to write a letter.' "
"Did you see the letter?"
"Oh, no! But I was so anxious and uneasy that I did peep over her
shoulder while she was writing the address."
"Do you remember what it was?"
"I only saw the last word on it. The last word was 'Wurzburg.' "
"Now you know as much as we do," Fritz resumed. "How does it strike you,
David? And what do you advise?"
How could I advise? I could only draw my own conclusions privately.
Madame Fontaine's movements were watched by somebody; possibly in the
interests of the stranger who now held the promissory note. It was, of
course, impossible for me to communicate this view of the circumstances
to either of my two companions. I could only suggest a patient reliance
on time, and the preservation of discreet silence on Minna's part, until
her mother set the example of returning to the subject.
My vaguely-prudent counsels were, naturally enough, not to the taste of
my young hearers. Fritz openly acknowledged that I had disappointed him;
and Minna turned aside her head, with a look of reproach. Her quick
perception had detected, in my look and manner, that I was keeping my
thoughts to myself. Neither she nor Fritz made any objection to my
leaving them, to return to the office before post-time. I wrote to Mr.
Engelman before I left my desk that evening.
Recalling those memorable days of my early life, I remember that a
strange and sinister depression pervaded our little household, from the
time when Mr. Engelman left us.
In some mysterious way the bonds of sympathy, by which we had been
hitherto more or less united, seemed to slacken and fall away. We lived
on perfectly good terms with one another; but there was an unrecognized
decrease of confidence among us, which I for one felt sometimes almost
painfully. An unwholesome atmosphere of distrust enveloped us. Mr. Keller
only believed, under reserve, that Madame Fontaine's persistent low
spirits were really attributable, as she said, to nothing more important
than nervous headaches. Fritz began to doubt whether Mr. Keller was
really as well satisfied as he professed to be with the choice that his
son had made of a portionless bride. Minna, observing that Fritz was
occasionally rather more subdued and silent than usual, began to ask
herself whether she was quite as dear to him, in the time of their
prosperity, as in the time of their adversity. To sum up all, Madame
Fontaine had her doubts of me--and I had my doubts (although she _had_
saved Mr. Keller's life) of Madame Fontaine.
From this degrading condition of dullness and distrust, we were roused,
one morning, by the happy arrival of Mrs. Wagner, attended by her maid,
her courier--and Jack Straw.
Circumstances had obliged my aunt to perform the last stage of her
journey to Frankfort by the night mail. She had only stopped at our house
on her way to the hotel; being unwilling to trespass on the hospitality
of her partners, while she was accompanied by such a half-witted fellow
as Jack. Mr. Keller, however, refused even to hear of the head partner in
the business being reduced to accept a mercenary welcome at an hotel. One
whole side of the house, situated immediately over the offices, had been
already put in order in anticipation of Mrs. Wagner's arrival. The
luggage was then and there taken off the carriage; and my aunt was
obliged, by all the laws of courtesy and good fellowship, to submit.
This information was communicated to me by Joseph, on my return from an
early visit to one of our warehouses at the riverside. When I asked if I
could see my aunt, I was informed that she had already retired to rest in
her room, after the fatigue of a seven hours' journey by night.
"And where is Jack Straw?" I asked.
"Playing the devil already, sir, with the rules of the house," Joseph
Fritz's voice hailed me from the lower regions.
"Come down, David; here's something worth seeing!"
I descended at once to the servants' offices. There, crouched up in a
corner of the cold stone corridor which formed the medium of
communication between the kitchen and the stairs, I saw Jack Straw
again--in the very position in which I had found him at Bedlam; excepting
the prison, the chains, and the straw.
But for his prematurely gray hair and the strange yellow pallor of his
complexion, I doubt if I should have recognized him again. He looked fat
and happy; he was neatly and becomingly dressed, with a flower in his
button-hole and rosettes on his shoes. In one word, so far as his costume
was concerned, he might have been taken for a lady's page, dressed under
the superintendence of his mistress herself.
"There he is!" said Fritz, "and there he means to remain, till your aunt
wakes and sends for him."
"Upsetting the women servants, on their way to their work," Joseph added,
with an air of supreme disgust--"and freezing in that cold corner, when
he might be sitting comfortably by the kitchen fire!"
Jack listened to this with an ironical expression of approval. "That's
very well said, Joseph," he remarked. "Come here; I want to speak to you.
Do you see that bell?" He pointed to a row of bells running along the
upper wall of the corridor, and singled out one of them which was
numbered ten. "They tell me that's the bell of Mistress's bedroom," he
resumed, still speaking of my aunt by the name which he had first given
to her on the day when they met in the madhouse. "Very well, Joseph! I
don't want to be in anybody's way; but no person in the house must see
that bell ring before me. Here I stay till Mistress rings--and then you
will get rid of me; I shall move to the mat outside her door, and wait
till she whistles for me. Now you may go. That's a poor half-witted
creature," he said as Joseph retired. "Lord! what a lot of them there are
in this world!" Fritz burst out laughing. "I'm afraid you're another of
them," said Jack, looking at him with an expression of the sincerest
"Do you remember me?" I asked.
Jack nodded his head in a patronizing way. "Oh, yes--Mistress has been
talking of you. I know you both. You're David, and he's Fritz. All right!
"What sort of journey from London have you had?" I inquired next.
He stretched out his shapely little arms and legs, and yawned. "Oh, a
pretty good journey. We should have been better without the courier and
the maid. The courier is a tall man. I have no opinion of tall men. I am
a man myself of five foot--that's the right height for a courier. I could
have done all the work, and saved Mistress the money. Her maid is another
tall person; clumsy with her fingers. I could dress Mistress's hair a
deal better than the maid, if she would only let me. The fact is, I want
to do everything for her myself. I shall never be quite happy till I'm
the only servant she has about her."
"Ah, yes," said Fritz, good-naturedly sympathizing with him. "You're a
grateful little man; you remember what Mrs. Wagner has done for you."
"Remember?" Jack reported scornfully. "I say, if you can't talk more
sensibly than that, you had better hold your tongue." He turned and
appealed to me. "Did you ever hear anything like Fritz? He seems to think
it wonderful that I remember the day when she took me out of Bedlam!"
"Ah, Jack, that was a great day in your life, wasn't it?"
"A great day? Oh, good Lord in Heaven! where are there words that are big
enough to speak about it?" He sprang to his feet, wild with the sudden
tumult of his own recollections. "The sun--the warm, golden, glorious,
beautiful sun--met us when we came out of the gates, and all but drove me
stark-staring-mad with the joy of it! Forty thousand devils--little
straw-colored, lively, tempting devils--(mind, I counted them!)--all
crawled over me together. They sat on my shoulders--and they tickled my
hands--and they scrambled in my hair--and they were all in one cry at me
like a pack of dogs. 'Now, Jack! we are waiting for you; your chains are
off, and the sun's shining, and Mistress's carriage is at the gate--join
us, Jack, in a good yell; a fine, tearing, screeching, terrifying, mad
yell!' I dropped on my knees, down in the bottom of the carriage; and I
held on by the skirts of Mistress's dress. 'Look at me!' I said; 'I won't
burst out; I won't frighten you, if I die for it. Only help me with your
eyes! only look at me!' And she put me on the front seat of the carriage,
opposite her, and she never took her eyes off me all the way through the
streets till we got to the house. 'I believe in you, Jack,' she said. And
I wouldn't even open my lips to answer her--I was so determined to be
quiet. Ha! ha! how you two fellows would have yelled, in my place!" He
sat down again in his corner, delighted with his own picture of the two
fellows who would have yelled in his place.
"And what did Mistress do with you when she brought you home?" I asked.
His gaiety suddenly left him. He lifted one of his hands, and waved it to
and fro gently in the air.
"You are too loud, David," he said. "All this part of it must be spoken
softly--because all this part of it is beautiful, and kind, and good.
There was a picture in the room, of angels and their harps. I wish I had
the angels and the harps to help me tell you about it. Fritz there came
in with us, and called it a bedroom. I knew better than that; I called it
Heaven. You see, I thought of the prison and the darkness and the cold
and the chains and the straw--and I named it Heaven. You two may say what
you please; Mistress said I was right."
He closed his eyes with a luxurious sense of self-esteem, and appeared to
absorb himself in his own thoughts. Fritz unintentionally roused him by
continuing the story of Jack's introduction to the bedroom.
"Our little friend," Fritz began confidentially, "did the strangest
things when he found himself in his new room. It was a cold day; and he
insisted on letting the fire out. Then he looked at the bedclothes,
Jack solemnly opened his eyes again, and stopped the narrative at that
"You are not the right person to speak of it," he said. "Nobody must
speak of it but a person who understands me. You shan't be disappointed,
David. I understand myself--_I'll_ tell you about it. You saw what sort
of place I lived in and slept in at the madhouse, didn't you?"
"I saw it, Jack--and I can never forget it."
"Now just think of my having a room, to begin with. And add, if you
please, a fire--and a light--and a bed--and blankets and sheets and
pillows--and clothes, splendid new clothes, for Me! And then ask yourself
if any man could bear it, all pouring on him at once (not an hour after
he had left Bedlam), without going clean out of his senses and screeching
for joy? No, no. If I have a quality, it's profound common sense. Down I
went on my knees before her again! 'If you have any mercy on me,
Mistress, let me have all this by a bit at a time. Upon my soul, I can't
swallow it at once!' She understood me. We let the fire out--and
surprised that deficient person, Fritz. A little of the Bedlam cold kept
me nice and quiet. The bed that night if you like--but Heaven defend me
from the blankets and the sheets and the pillows till I'm able to bear
them! And as to putting on coat, waistcoat, and breeches, all together,
the next morning--it was as much as I could do, when I saw myself in my
breeches, to give the word of command in the voice of a gentleman--'Away
with the rest of them! The shirt for to-morrow, the waistcoat for next
day, and the coat--if I can bear the sight of it without screaming--the
day after!' A gradual process, you see, David. And every morning Mistress
helped me by saying the words she said in the carriage, 'I believe in
you, Jack.' You ask her, when she gets up, if I ever once frightened her,
from the day when she took me home." He looked again, with undiminished
resentment, at Fritz. _"Now_ do you understand what I did when I got into
my new room? Is Fritz in the business, David? He'll want a deal of
looking after if he is. Just step this way--I wish to speak to you."
He got up again, and taking my arm with a look of great importance, led
me a few steps away--but not far enough to be out of sight of my aunt's
"I say," he began, "I've heard they call this place Frankfort. Am I
"And there's a business here, like the business in London?"
"And Mistress _is_ Mistress here, like she is in London?"
"Very well, then, I want to know something. What about the Keys?"
I looked at him, entirely at a loss to understand what this last question
meant. He stamped his foot impatiently.
"Do you mean to say, David, you have never heard what situation I held in
the London office?"
He drew himself up and folded his arms, and looked at me from the
immeasurable height of his own superiority.
"I was Keeper of the Keys in London!" he announced. "And what I want to
know is--Am I to be Keeper of the Keys here?"
It was now plain enough that my aunt--proceeding on the wise plan of
always cultivating the poor creature's sense of responsibility--had given
him some keys to take care of, and had put him on his honor to be worthy
of his little trust. I could not doubt that she would find some means of
humoring him in the same way at Frankfort.
"Wait till the bells rings," I answered "and perhaps you will find the
Keys waiting for you in Mistress' room."
He rubbed his hands in delight. "That's it!" he said. "Let's keep watch
on the bell."
As he turned to go back again to his corner, Madame Fontaine's voice
reached us from the top of the kitchen stairs. She was speaking to her
daughter. Jack stopped directly and waited, looking round at the stairs.
"Where is the other person who came here with Mrs. Wagner?" the widow
asked. "A man with an odd English name. Do you know, Minna, if they have
found a room for him?"
She reached the lower stair as she spoke--advanced along the
corridor--and discovered Jack Straw. In an instant, her languid
indifferent manner disappeared. Her eyes opened wildly under their heavy
lids. She stood motionless, like a woman petrified by surprise--perhaps
"Hans Grimm!" I heard her say to herself. "God in heaven! what brings
Almost instantaneously Madame Fontaine recovered her self-control.
"I really couldn't help feeling startled," she said, explaining herself
to Fritz and to me. "The last time I saw this man, he was employed in a
menial capacity at the University of Wurzburg. He left us one day, nobody
knew why. And he suddenly appears again, without a word of warning, in
I looked at Jack. A smile of mischievous satisfaction was on his face. He
apparently enjoyed startling Madame Fontaine. His expression changed
instantly for the better, when Minna approached and spoke to him.
"Don't you remember me, Hans?" she said.
"Oh, yes, Missie, I remember you. You are a good creature. You take after
your papa. _He_ was a good creature--except when he had his beastly
medical bottles in his hand. But, I say, I mustn't be called by the name
they gave me at the University! I was a German then--I am an Englishman
now. All nations are alike to me. But I am particular about my name,
because it's the name Mistress knew me by. I will never have another.
'Jack Straw,' if you please. There's my name, and I am proud of it. Lord!
what an ugly little hat you have got on your head! I'll soon make you a
better one." He turned on Madame Fontaine, with a sudden change to
"I don't like the way you spoke of my leaving the University, just now. I
had a right to go, if I liked--hadn't I?"
"Oh, yes, Hans."
"Not Hans! Didn't you hear what I mentioned just now? Say Jack."
She said it, with a ready docility which a little surprised me.
"Did I steal anything at the University?" Jack proceeded.
"Not that I know of."
"Then speak respectfully of me, next time. Say, 'Mr. Jack retired from
the University, in the exercise of his discretion.' " Having stated this
formula with an air of great importance, he addressed himself to me. "I
appeal to you," he said. "Suppose you had lost your color here" (he
touched his cheek), "and your color there" (he touched his hair); "and
suppose it had happened at the University--would _you"_ (he stood on
tip-toe, and whispered the next words in my ear) would _you_ have stopped
there, to be poisoned again? No!" he cried, raising his voice once more,
"you would have drifted away like me. From Germany to France; from France
to England--and so to London, and so under the feet of her Highness's
horses, and so to Bedlam, and so to Mistress. Oh, Lord help me, I'm
forgetting the bell! good-bye, all of you. Let me be in my corner till
the bell rings."
Madame Fontaine glanced at me compassionately, and touched her bead.
"Come to my sitting-room, Jack," she said, "and have something to eat and
drink, and tell me your adventures after you left Wurzburg."
She favored him with her sweetest smile, and spoke in her most
ingratiating tones. That objectionable tendency of mine to easily suspect
others was, I suppose, excited once more. At any rate, I thought the
widow showed a very remarkable anxiety to conciliate Jack. He was proof,
however, against all attempts at fascination--he shook his head
obstinately, and pointed to the bell. We went our several ways, and left
the strange little man crouched up in his corner.
In the afternoon, I was sent for to see my aunt.
I found Jack at his post; established in a large empty wardrobe, on the
landing outside his mistress's door. His fingers were already busy with
the framework of the new straw hat which he had promised to make for
"All right, David!" he said, patronizing me as indulgently as ever.
"Mistress has had her good sleep and her nice breakfast, and she looks
lovely. Go in, and see her--go in!"
I thought myself that she looked perhaps a little worn, and certainly
thinner than when I had seen her last. But these were trifles. It is not
easy to describe the sense of relief and pleasure that I felt--after
having been accustomed to the sleepy eyes and serpentine graces of Madame
Fontaine--when I looked again at the lithe active figure and the bright
well-opened gray eyes of my dear little English aunt.
"Tell me, David," she began, as soon as the first greetings were over,
what do you think of Jack Straw? Was my poor dear husband not right? and
have I not done well to prove it?"
I could, and did, honestly congratulate her on the result of the visit to
"And now about the people here," she went on. "I find Fritz's father
completely changed on the subject of Fritz's marriage. And when I ask
what it means, I am told that Madame Fontaine has set everything right,
in the most wonderful manner, by saving Mr. Keller's life. Is this true?"
"Quite true. What do you think of Madame Fontaine?"
"Ask me that, David, to-morrow or the next day. My head is muddled by
traveling--I have not made up my mind yet."
"Have you seen Minna?"
"Seen her, and kissed her too! There's a girl after my own heart. I
consider our scatter-brained friend Fritz to be the luckiest young fellow
"If Minna was not going to be married," I suggested, "she would just do
for one of your young-lady clerks, wouldn't she?"
My aunt laughed. "Exactly what I thought myself, when I saw her. But you
are not to make a joke of my young-lady clerks. I am positively
determined to carry out that useful reform in the office here. However,
as Mr. Keller has been so lately ill, and as we are sure to have a fight
about it, I will act considerately towards my opponent--I won't stir in
the matter until he is quite himself again. In the meantime, I must find
somebody, while I am away, to take my place in the London house. The
business is now under the direction of Mr. Hartrey. He is perfectly
competent to carry it on; but, as you know, our excellent head-clerk has
his old--fashioned prejudices. According to strict rule, a partner ought
always to be in command, at the London business--and Hartrey implores me
(if Mr. Keller is not well enough to take the journey) to send Mr.
Engelman to London. Where is Mr. Engelman? How is it that I have neither
heard nor seen anything of him?"
This was a delicate and difficult question to answer--at least, to my way
of thinking. There was little prospect of keeping the poor old
gentleman's sad secret. It was known to Fritz and Minna, as well as to
Mr. Keller. Still, I felt an unconquerable reluctance to be the first
person who revealed the disaster that had befallen him.
"Mr. Engelman is not in good health and spirits," I said. "He has gone
away for a little rest and change."
My aunt looked astonished.
"Both the partners ill!" she exclaimed. "I remember Mr. Engelman, in the
days when I was first married. He used to boast of never having had a
day's illness in his life. Not at all a clever man--but good as gold, and
a far more sensitive person than most people gave him credit for being.
He promised to be fat as years grew on him. Has he kept his promise? What
is the matter with him?"
I hesitated. My aunt eyed me sharply, and put another question before I
had quite made up my mind what to say.
"If you can't tell me what is the matter with him, can you tell me where
he is? I may want to write to him."
I hesitated again. Mr. Engelman's address had been confidentially
communicated to me, for reasons which I was bound to respect. "I am
afraid I can't answer that question either," I said awkwardly enough.
"Good heavens!" cried my aunt, "what does all this mystery mean? Has Mr.
Engelman killed a man in a duel? or run away with an opera-dancer? or
squandered the whole profits of the business at the gambling-table? or
what? As she put these bold views of the case, we heard voices outside,
followed by a gentle knock at the door. Minna entered the room with a
"Mamma has sent me, Mrs. Wagner, to ask at what time you would like to
"My dear, I am much obliged to your mother. I have only just breakfasted,
and I can wait quite well till supper-time comes. Stop a minute! Here is
my nephew driving me to the utmost verge of human endurance, by making a
mystery of Mr. Engelman's absence from Frankfort. Should I be very
indiscreet if I asked--Good gracious, how the girl blushes! You are
evidently in the secret too, Miss Minna. _Is_ it an opera-dancer? Leave
us together, David."
This made Minna's position simply unendurable. She looked at me
appealingly. I did at last, what I ought to have done at first--I spoke
"The fact is, aunt," I said, "poor Mr. Engelman has left us for awhile,
sadly mortified and distressed. He began by admiring Madame Fontaine; and
he ended in making her an offer of marriage."
"Mamma was indeed truly sorry for him," Minna added; "but she had no
other alternative than to refuse him, of course."
"Upon my word, child, I see no 'of course' in the matter!" my aunt
Minna was shocked. "Oh, Mrs. Wagner! Mr. Engelman is more than twenty
years older than mamma--and (I am sure I pity him, poor man)--and _so_
"Fat is a matter of taste," my aunt remarked, more and more resolute in
taking Mr. Engelman's part. "And as for his being twenty years older than
your mother, I can tell you, young lady, that my dear lost husband was
twenty years my senior when he married me--and a happier couple never
lived. I know more of the world than you do; and I say Madame Fontaine
has made a great mistake. She has thrown away an excellent position in
life, and has pained and humiliated one of the kindest-hearted men
living. No! no! I am not going to argue the matter with you now; I'll
wait till you are married to Fritz. But I own I should like to speak to
your mother about it. Ask her to favor me by stepping this way for a few
minutes, when she has nothing to do."
Minna seemed to think this rather a high-handed method of proceeding, and
entered a modest protest accordingly.
"Mamma is a very sensitive person," she began with dignity.
My aunt stopped her with a pat on the cheek.
"Good child! I like you for taking your mother's part. Mamma has another
merit, my dear. She is old enough to understand me better than you do. Go
and fetch her."
Minna left us, with her pretty little head carried high in the air. "Mrs.
Wagner is a person entirely without sentiment!" she indignantly whispered
to me in passing, when I opened the door for her.
"I declare that girl is absolute perfection!" my aunt exclaimed with
enthusiasm. "The one thing she wanted, as I thought, was spirit--and I
find she has got it. Ah! she will take Fritz in hand, and make something
of him. He is one of the many men who absolutely need being henpecked. I
prophesy confidently--their marriage will be a happy one."
"I don't doubt it, aunt. But tell me, what are you going to say to Madame
"It depends on circumstances. I must know first if Mr. Engelman has
really set his heart on the woman with the snaky movements and the sleepy
eyes. Can you certify to that?"
"Positively. Her refusal has completely crushed him."
"Very well. Then I mean to make Madame Fontaine marry him--always
supposing there is no other man in his way."
"My dear aunt, how you talk! At Madame Fontaine's age! With a grown-up
"My dear nephew, you know absolutely nothing about women. Counting by
years, I grant you they grow old. Counting by sensations, they remain
young to the end of their days. Take a word of advice from me. The
evidence of their gray hair may look indisputable; the evidence of their
grown-up children may look indisputable. Don't believe it! There is but
one period in the women's lives when you may feel quite certain that they
have definitely given the men their dismissal--the period when they are
put in their coffins. Hush! What's that outside? When there is a noisy
silk dress and a silent foot on the stairs, in this house, I know already
what it means. Be off with you!"
She was quite right. Madame Fontaine entered, as I rose to leave the
The widow showed none of her daughter's petulance. She was sweet and
patient; she saluted Mrs. Wagner with a sad smile which seemed to say,
"Outrage my most sacred feelings, dear madam; they are entirely at your
disposal." If I had believed that my aunt had the smallest chance of
carrying her point, I should have felt far from easy about Mr. Engelman's
prospects. As it was, I left the two ladies to their fruitless interview,
and returned composedly to my work.
When supper was announced, I went upstairs again to show my aunt the way
to the room in which we took our meals.
"Well?" I said.
"Well," she answered coolly, "Madame Fontaine has promised to reconsider
I confess I was staggered. By what possible motives could the widow have
been animated? Even Mr. Engelman's passive assistance was now of no
further importance to her. She had gained Mr. Keller's confidence; her
daughter's marriage was assured; her employment in the house offered her
a liberal salary, a respectable position, and a comfortable home. Why
should she consent to reconsider the question of marrying a man, in whom
she could not be said to feel any sort of true interest, in any possible
acceptation of the words? I began to think that my aunt was right, and
that I really did know absolutely nothing about women.
At supper Madame Fontaine and her daughter were both unusually silent.
Open-hearted Minna was not capable of concealing that her mother's
concession had been made known to her in some way, and that the
disclosure had disagreeably surprised her. However, there was no want of
gaiety at the table--thanks to my aunt, and to her faithful attendant.
Jack Straw followed us into the room, without waiting to be invited, and
placed himself, to Joseph's disgust, behind Mrs. Wagner's chair.
"Nobody waits on Mistress at table," he explained, "but me. Sometimes she
gives me a bit or a drink over her shoulder. Very little drink--just a
sip, and no more. I quite approve of only a sip myself. Oh, I know how to
behave. None of your wine-merchant's fire in _my_ head; no Bedlam
breaking loose again. Make your minds easy. There are no cooler brains
among you than mine." At this, Fritz burst into one of his explosions of
laughter. Jack appealed to Fritz's father, with unruffled gravity. "Your
son, I believe, sir? Ha! what a blessing it is there's plenty of room for
improvement in that young man. I only throw out a remark. If I was
afflicted with a son myself, I think I should prefer David."
This specimen of Jack's method of asserting himself, and other similar
outbreaks which Fritz and I mischievously encouraged, failed apparently
to afford any amusement to Madame Fontaine. Once she roused herself to
ask Mr. Keller if his sister had written to him from Munich. Hearing that
no reply had been received, she relapsed into silence. The old excuse of
a nervous headache was repeated, when Mr. Keller and my aunt politely
inquired if anything was amiss.
When the letters were delivered the next morning, two among them were not
connected with the customary business of the office. One (with the
postmark of Bingen) was for me. And one (with the postmark of Wurzburg)
was for Madame Fontaine. I sent it upstairs to her immediately.
When I opened my own letter, I found sad news of poor Mr. Engelman. Time
and change had failed to improve his spirits. He complained of a feeling
of fullness and oppression in his head, and of hissing noises in his
ears, which were an almost constant annoyance to him. On two occasions he
had been cupped, and had derived no more than a temporary benefit from
the employment of that remedy. His doctor recommended strict attention to
diet, and regular exercise. He submitted willingly to the severest rules
at table--but there was no rousing him to exert himself in any way. For
hours together, he would sit silent in one place, half sleeping, half
waking; noticing no one, and caring for nothing but to get to his bed as
soon as possible.
This statement of the case seemed to me to suggest very grave
considerations. I could no longer hesitate to inform Mr. Keller that I
had received intelligence of his absent partner, and to place my letter
in his hands.
Whatever little disagreements there had been between them were instantly
forgotten. I had never before seen Mr. Keller so distressed and so little
master of himself.
"I must go to Engelman directly," he said.
I ventured to submit that there were two serious objections to his doing
this: In the first place, his presence in the office was absolutely
necessary. In the second place, his sudden appearance at Bingen would
prove to be a serious, perhaps a fatal, shock to his old friend.
"What is to be done, then?" he exclaimed.
"I think my aunt may be of some use, sir, in this emergency."
"Your aunt? How can she help us?"
I informed him of my aunt's project; and I added that Madame Fontaine had
not positively said No. He listened without conviction, frowning and
shaking his head.
"Mrs. Wagner is a very impetuous person," he said. "She doesn't
understand a complex nature like Madame Fontaine's."
"At least I may show my aunt the letter from Bingen, sir?"
"Yes. It can do no harm, if it does no good."
On my way to my aunt's room, I encountered Minna on the stairs. She was
crying. I naturally asked what was the matter.
"Don't stop me!" was the only answer I received.
"But where are you going, Minna?"
"I am going to Fritz, to be comforted."
"Has anybody behaved harshly to you?"
"Yes, mamma has behaved harshly to me. For the first time in my life,"
said the spoilt child, with a strong sense of injury, "she has locked the
door of her room, and refused to let me in."
"How can I tell? I believe it has something to do with that horrid man I
told you of. You sent a letter upstairs this morning. I met Joseph on the
landing, and took the letter to her myself. Why shouldn't I look at the
postmark? Where was the harm in saying to her, 'A letter, mamma, from
Wurzburg'? She looked at me as if I had mortally offended her--and
pointed to the door, and locked herself in. I have knocked twice, and
asked her to forgive me. Not a word of answer either time! I consider
myself insulted. Let me go to Fritz."
I made no attempt to detain her. She had set those every-ready suspicions
of mine at work again.
Was the letter which I had sent upstairs a reply to the letter which
Minna had seen her mother writing? Was the widow now informed that the
senile old admirer who had advanced the money to pay her creditors had
been found dead in his bed? and that her promissory note had passed into
the possession of the heir-at-law? If this was the right reading of the
riddle, no wonder she had sent her daughter out of the room--no wonder
she had locked her door!
My aunt wasted no time in expressions of grief and surprise, when she was
informed of Mr. Engelman's state of health. "Send the widow here
directly," she said. "If there is anything like a true heart under that
splendid silk dress of hers, I shall write and relieve poor Engelman by
To confide my private surmises, even to my aunt, would have been an act
of inexcusable imprudence, to say the least of it. I could only reply
that Madame Fontaine was not very well, and was (as I had heard from
Minna) shut up in the retirement of her own room.
The resolute little woman got on her feet instantly. "Show me where she
is, David--and leave the rest to me."
I led her to the door, and was dismissed with these words--"Go and wait
in my room till I come back to you." As I retired, I heard a smart knock,
and my aunt's voice announcing herself outside--"Mrs. Wagner, ma'am, with
something serious to say to you." The reply was inaudible. Not so my
aunt's rejoinder: "Oh, very well! Just read that letter, will you? I'll
push it under the door, and wait for an answer." I lingered for a minute
longer--and heard the door opened and closed again.
In little more than half an hour, my aunt returned. She looked serious
and thoughtful. I at once anticipated that she had failed. Her first
words informed me that I was wrong.
"I've done it," she said. "I am to write to Engelman to-night; and I have
the widow's permission to tell him that she regrets her hasty decision.
Her own words, mind, when I asked her how I should put it!"
"So there is a true heart under that splendid silk dress of hers?" I
My aunt walked up and down the room, silent and frowning--discontented
with me, or discontented with herself; it was impossible to tell which.
On a sudden, she sat down by me, and hit me a smart slap on the shoulder.
"David!" she said, "I have found out something about myself which I never
suspected before. If you want to see a cold-blooded wretch, look at me!"
It was so gravely said, and so perfectly absurd, that I burst out
laughing. She was far too seriously perplexed about herself to take the
smallest notice of my merriment.
"Do you know," she resumed, "that I actually hesitate to write to
Engelman? David! I ought to be whipped at the cart's tail. I don't
believe in Madame Fontaine."
She little knew how that abrupt confession interested me. "Tell me why!"
I said eagerly.
"That's the disgraceful part of it," she answered. "I can't tell you why.
Madame Fontaine spoke charmingly--with perfect taste and feeling. And all
the time some devilish spirit of distrust kept whispering to me, "Don't
believe her; she has her motive!" Are you sure, David, it is only a
little illness that makes her shut herself up in her room, and look so
frightfully pale and haggard? Do you know anything about her affairs?
Engelman is rich; Engelman has a position. Has she got into some
difficulty since she refused him? and could he, by the barest
possibility, be of any use in helping her out of it?"
I declare solemnly that the idea suggested by my aunt never occurred to
me until she asked those questions. As a rejected suitor, Mr. Engelman
could be of no possible use to the widow. But suppose he was her accepted
husband? and suppose the note fell due before Minna was married? In that
case, Mr. Engelman might unquestionably be of use--he might lend the
My aunt's sharp eyes were on me. "Out with it, David!" she cried. "You
don't believe in her, either--and you know why."
"I know absolutely nothing," I rejoined; "I am guessing in the dark; and
the event may prove that I am completely at fault. Don't ask me to
degrade Madame Fontaine's character in your estimation, without an atom
of proof to justify what I say. I have something to propose which I think
will meet the difficulty."
With a strong exercise of self-restraint, my aunt resigned herself to
listen. "Let's hear your proposal," she said. "Have you any Scotch blood
in your veins, David? You are wonderfully prudent and cautious for so
young a man.
I went straight on with what I had to say.
"Send the widow's message to Mr. Engelman, by all means," I proceeded;
"but not by post. I was with him immediately after his offer of marriage
had been refused; and it is my belief that he is far too deeply wounded
by the manner in which Madame Fontaine expressed herself when she
rejected him, to be either able, or willing, to renew his proposal. I
even doubt if he will believe in her expression of regret. This view of
mine may turn out, of course, to be quite wrong; but let us at least put
it to the test. I can easily get leave of absence for a few days. Let me
take your letter to Bingen tomorrow, and see with my own eyes how it is
At last I was fortunate enough to deserve my aunt's approval. "An
excellent suggestion," she said. "But--I believe I have caught the
infection of your prudence, David--don't let us tell Madame Fontaine. Let
her suppose that you have gone to Bingen in consequence of the
unfavorable news of Engelman's health." She paused, and considered a
little. "Or, better still, Bingen is on the way to England. There will be
nothing extraordinary in your stopping to visit Engelman, on your journey
This took me completely, and far from agreeably, by surprise. I said
piteously, "Must I really leave Frankfort?"
"My good fellow, I have other interests to consider besides Engelman's
interests," my aunt explained. "Mr. Hartrey is waiting to hear from me.
There is no hope that Engelman will be able to travel to London, in his
present state of health, and no possibility of Mr. Keller taking his
place until something is settled at Frankfort. I want you to explain all
this to Mr. Hartrey, and to help him in the management of the business.
There is nobody else here, David, whom I can trust, as I trust you. I see
no alternative but to ask you to go to London."
On my side, I had no alternative but to submit--and, what is more
(remembering all that I owed to my aunt), to submit with my best grace.
We consulted Mr. Keller; and he entirely agreed that I was the fittest
person who could be found to reconcile Mr. Hartrey to the commercial
responsibilities that burdened him. After a day's delay at Bingen, to
study the condition of Mr. Engelman's health and to write the fullest
report to Frankfort, the faster I could travel afterwards, and the sooner
I could reach London, the better.
So hard necessity compelled me to leave the stage, before the curtain
rose on the final acts of the drama. The mail-post started at six in the
morning. I packed up, and took leave of everybody, overnight--excepting
Madame Fontaine, who still kept her room, and who was not well enough to
see me. The dear kind-hearted Minna offered me her cheek to kiss, and
made me promise to return for her marriage. She was strangely depressed
at my departure. "You first consoled me," she said; "you have brought me
happiness. I don't like your leaving us. Oh, David, I do wish you were
not going away!" "Come! come!" my aunt interposed; "no crying, young
lady! Always keep a man's spirits up when he leaves you. Give me a good
hug, David--and think of the time when you will be a partner in the
business." Ah! what a woman she was! Look as you may, my young friends,
you will not find the like of her now.
Jack Straw was the one person up and stirring when the coach stopped the
next morning at the door. I expected to be amused--but there was no
reckoning with Jack. His farewell words literally frightened me.
"I say!" he whispered, as I hurried into the hall, "there's one thing I
want to ask you before you go."
"Be quick about it, Jack."
"All right, David. I had a talk with Minna yesterday, about Mr. Keller's
illness. Is it true that he was cured out of the blue-glass bottle?"
"Look here, David! I have been thinking of it all night. _I_ was cured
out of the blue-glass bottle."
I suddenly stood still, with my eyes riveted on his face. He stepped
close up to me, and lowered his voice suddenly.
"And _I_ was poisoned," he said. "What I want to know is--Who poisoned
BETWEEN THE PARTS
MR. DAVID GLENNEY PRODUCES HIS CORRESPONDENCE, AND THROWS SOME NEW LIGHTS
ON THE STORY
Be pleased to read the following letter from Mr. Lawyer's-Clerk-Schmuckle
to Mr. Town-Councilor-Hof:
"My honored Sir,--I beg to report that you may make your mind easy on the
subject of Madame Fontaine. If she leaves Frankfort, she will not slip
away privately as she did at Wurzburg. Wherever she may go now, we need
not apply again to her relations in this place to help us to find her.
Henceforth I undertake to keep her in view until the promissory note
"The lady is at present established as housekeeper in the employment of
the firm of Wagner, Keller, and Engelman; and there (barring accidents,
which I shall carefully look after) she is likely to remain.
"I have made a memorandum of the date at which her promissory note falls
due--viz., the 31st December in the present year. The note being made
payable at Wurzburg, you must take care (in the event of its not being
honored) to have the document protested in that town, and to communicate
with me by the same day's post. I will myself see that the law takes its