Part 4 out of 6
"Permit me most gratefully to thank you for the advance on my regular
fees which you have so graciously transmitted, and believe me your
obedient humble servant to command."
I next submit a copy of a letter addressed by the late
Chemistry-Professor Fontaine to an honored friend and colleague. This
gentleman is still living; and he makes it a condition of supplying the
copy that his name shall not appear:--
"Illustrious Friend and Colleague,--You will be surprised at so soon
hearing from me again. The truth is, that I have some interesting news
for you. An alarming accident has enabled me to test the value of one of
my preparations on a living human subject--that subject being a man.
"My last letter informed you that I had resolved on making no further use
of the Formula for recomposing some of the Borgia Poisons (erroneously
supposed to be destroyed) left to me on the death of my lamented
Hungarian friend--my master in chemical science.
"The motives which have led me to this decision are, I hope, beyond the
reach of blame.
"You will remember agreeing with me, that the two specimens of these
resuscitated poisons which I have succeeded in producing are
capable--like the poisons already known to modern medical practice--of
rendering the utmost benefit in certain cases of disease, if they are
administered in carefully regulated doses. Should I live to devote them
to this good purpose, there will still be the danger (common to all
poisonous preparations employed in medicine) of their doing fatal
mischief, when misused by ignorance or crime.
"Bearing this in mind, I conceive it to be my duty to provide against
dangerous results, by devoting myself to the discovery of efficient
antidotes, before I adapt the preparations themselves to the capacities
of the healing art. I have had some previous experience in this branch of
what I call preservative chemistry, and I have already in some degree
succeeded in attaining my object.
"The Formula in cipher which I now send to you, on the slip of paper
enclosed, is an antidote to that one of the two poisons known to you and
to me by the fanciful name which you suggested for it--'Alexander's
"With regard to the second of the poisons, which (if you remember) I have
entitled--in anticipation of its employment as medicine--'The
Looking-Glass Drops,' I regret to say that I have not yet succeeded in
discovering the antidote in this case.
"Having now sufficiently explained my present position, I may tell you of
the extraordinary accident to which I have alluded at the beginning of my
"About a fortnight since, I was sent for, just as I had finished my
lecture to the students, to see one of my servants. He had been suffering
from illness for one or two days. I had of course offered him my medical
services. He refused, however, to trouble me; sending word that he only
wanted rest. Fortunately one of my assistants happened to see him, and at
once felt the necessity of calling in my help.
"The man was a poor half-witted friendless creature, whom I had employed
out of pure pity to keep my laboratory clean, and to wash and dry my
bottles. He had sense enough to perform such small services as these, and
no more. Judge of my horror when I went to his bedside, and instantly
recognized the symptoms of poisoning by "Alexander's Wine!"
"I ran back to my laboratory, and unlocked the medicine-chest which held
the antidote. In the next compartment, the poison itself was always
placed. Looking into the compartment now, I found it empty.
"I at once instituted a search, and discovered the bottle left out on a
shelf. For the first time in my life, I had been guilty of inexcusable
carelessness. I had not looked round me to see that I had left everything
safe before quitting the room. The poor imbecile wretch had been
attracted by the color of "Alexander's Wine," and had tasted it (in his
own phrase) "to see if it was nice." My inquiries informed me that this
had happened at least thirty--six hours since! I had but one hope of
saving him--derived from experiments on animals, which had shown me the
very gradual progress of the deadly action of the poison.
"What I felt when I returned to the suffering man, I shall not attempt to
describe. You will understand how completely I was overwhelmed, when I
tell you that I meanly concealed my own disgraceful thoughtlessness from
my brethren in the University. I was afraid that my experiments might be
prohibited as dangerous, and my want of common prudence be made the
subject of public reprimand by the authorities. The medical professors
were permitted by me to conclude that it was a case of illness entirely
new in their experience.
"In administering the antidote, I had no previous experiments to guide
me, except my experiments with rabbits and dogs. Whether I miscalculated
or whether I was deluded by my anxiety to save the man's life, I cannot
say. This at least is certain, I gave the doses too copiously and at too
"The patient recovered--but it was after sustaining some incomprehensibly
deteriorating change in the blood, which destroyed his complexion, and
turned his hair gray. I have since modified the doses; and in dread of
losing the memorandum, I have attached a piece of notched paper to the
bottle, so as to render any future error of judgment impossible. At the
same time, I have facilitated the future administration of the antidote
by adding a label to the bottle, stating the exact quantity of the poison
taken by my servant, as calculated by myself.
"I ought, by the way, to have mentioned in the cipher that experience has
shown me the necessity, if the antidote is to be preserved for any length
of time, of protecting it in blue glass from the influence of light.
"Let me also tell you that I found a vegetable diet of use in perfecting
the effect of the treatment. That mean dread of discovery, which I have
already acknowledged, induced me to avail myself of my wife's help in
nursing the man. When he began to talk of what had happened to him, I
could trust Madame Fontaine to keep the secret. When he was well enough
to get up, the poor harmless creature disappeared. He was probably
terrified at the prospect of entering the laboratory again. In any case,
I have never seen him or heard of him since.
"If you have had patience to read as far as this, you will understand
that I am not sure enough yet of my own discoveries to risk communicating
them to any other person than yourself. Favor me with any chemical
suggestions which may strike you--and then, in case of accidents, destroy
the cipher. For the present farewell."
_Note to Doctor Fontaine's Letter_
"Alexander's Wine" refers to the infamous Roderic Borgia, historically
celebrated as Pope Alexander the Sixth. He was accidentally, and most
deservedly, killed by drinking one of the Borgia poisons, in a bowl of
wine which he had prepared for another person.
The formula for "The Looking-Glass Drops" is supposed to have been found
hidden on removing the wooden lining at the back of a looking-glass,
which had been used by Lucrezia Borgia. Hence the name.
The third and last letter which I present is written by me, and was
addressed to Mrs. Wagner during her stay at Frankfort:--
"I exaggerate nothing, my dear aunt, when I say that I write in great
distress. Let me beg you to prepare yourself for very sad news.
"It was late yesterday evening before I arrived at Bingen. A servant was
waiting to take my portmanteau, when I got out of the coach. After first
asking my name, he communicated to me the melancholy tidings of dear Mr.
Engelman's death. He had sunk under a fit of apoplexy, at an early hour
"Medical help was close at hand, and was (so far as I can hear) carefully
and intelligently exercised. But he never rallied in the least. The fit
appears to have killed him, as a bullet might have killed him.
"He had been very dull and heavy on the previous day. In the few words
that he spoke before retiring to rest, my name was on his lips. He said,
"If I get better I should like to have David here, and to go on with him
to our house of business in London." He was very much flushed, and
complained of feeling giddy; but he would not allow the doctor to be sent
for. His brother assisted him to ascend the stairs to his room, and asked
him some questions about his affairs. He replied impatiently, 'Keller
knows all about it--leave it to Keller.'
"When I think of the good old man's benevolent and happy life, and when I
remember that it was accidentally through me that he first met Madame
Fontaine, I feel a bitterness of spirit which makes my sense of the loss
of him more painful than I can describe. I call to mind a hundred little
instances of his kindness to me--and (don't be offended) I wish you had
sent some other person than myself to represent you at Frankfort.
"He is to be buried here, in two days' time. I hope you will not consider
me negligent of your interest in accepting his brother's invitation to
follow him to the grave. I think it will put me in a better frame of
mind, if I can pay the last tribute of affection and respect to my old
friend. When all is over, I will continue the journey to London, without
stopping on the road night or day.
"Write to me at London, dear aunt; and give my love to Minna and
Fritz--and ask them to write to me also. I beg my best respects to Mr.
Keller. Please assure him of my true sympathy; I know, poor man, how
deeply he will be grieved."
MR. DAVID GLENNEY COLLECTS HIS MATERIALS AND CONTINUES THE STORY
In the preceding portion of this narrative I spoke as an eye-witness. In
the present part of it, my absence from Frankfort leaves me dependent on
the documentary evidence of other persons. This evidence consists (first)
of letters addressed to myself; (secondly) of statements personally made
to me; (thirdly) of extracts from a diary discovered after the lifetime
of the writer. In all three cases the materials thus placed at my
disposal bear proof of truthfulness on the face of them.
Early in the month of December, Mr. Keller sent a message to Madame
Fontaine, requesting to see her on a matter of importance to both of
"I hope you feel better to-day, madam," he said, rising to receive the
widow when she entered the room.
"You are very good, sir," she answered, in tones barely audible--with her
eyes on the ground. "I can't say that I feel much better."
"I have news for you, which ought to act as the best of all
restoratives," Mr. Keller proceeded. "At last I have heard from my sister
on the subject of the marriage."
He stopped, and, suddenly stepping forward, caught the widow by the arm.
At his last words she had started to her feet. Her face suddenly turned
from pale to red--and then changed again to a ghastly whiteness. She
would have fallen if Mr. Keller had not held her up. He placed her at
once in his own easy chair. "You must really have medical advice," he
said gravely; "your nerves are seriously out of order. Can I get you
"A glass of water, sir, if you will be so kind as to ring for it."
"There is no need to ring for it; I have water in the next room."
She laid her hand on his arm, and stopped him as he was about to leave
"One word first, sir. You will forgive a woman's curiosity on such an
interesting subject as the marriage of her child. Does your sister
propose a day for the wedding?"
"My sister suggests," Mr. Keller answered, "the thirtieth of this month."
He left her and opened the door of the next room.
As he disappeared, she rapidly followed out a series of calculations on
her fingers. Her eyes brightened, her energies rallied. "No matter what
happens so long as my girl is married first," she whispered to herself.
"The wedding on the thirtieth, and the money due on the thirty-first.
Saved by a day! Saved by a day!"
Mr. Keller returned with a glass of water. He started as he looked at
"You seem to have recovered already--you look quite a different woman!"
She drank the water nevertheless. "My unlucky nerves play me strange
tricks, sir," she answered, as she set the empty glass down on a table at
Mr. Keller took a chair and referred to his letter from Munich.
"My sister hopes to be with us some days before the end of the year," he
resumed. "But in her uncertain state of health, she suggests the
thirtieth so as to leave a margin in case of unexpected delays. I presume
this will afford plenty of time (I speak ignorantly of such things) for
providing the bride's outfit?"
Madame Fontaine smiled sadly. "Far more time than we want, sir. My poor
little purse will leave my girl to rely on her natural attractions--with
small help from the jeweler and the milliner, on her wedding day."
Mr. Keller referred to his letter again, and looked up from it with a
"My sister will in one respect at least anticipate the assistance of the
jeweler," he said. "She proposes to bring with her, as a present to the
bride, an heirloom on the female side of our family. It is a pearl
necklace (of very great value, I am told) presented to my mother by the
Empress Maria Theresa--in recognition of services rendered to that
illustrious person early in life. As an expression of my sister's
interest in the marriage, I thought an announcement of the proposed gift
might prove gratifying to you."
Madame Fontaine clasped her hands, with a fervor of feeling which was in
this case, at least, perfectly sincere. A pearl necklace, the gift of an
Empress, would represent in money value a little fortune in itself. "I
can find no words to express my sense of gratitude," she said; "my
daughter must speak for herself and for me."
"And your daughter must hear the good news as soon as possible," Mr.
Keller added kindly. "I won't detain you. I know you must be anxious to
see Minna. One word before you go. You will, of course, invite any
relatives and friends whom you would like to see at the wedding."
Madame Fontaine lifted her sleepy eyes by slow gradations to the ceiling,
and devoutly resigned herself to mention her family circumstances.
"My parents cast me off, sir, when I married," she said; "my other
relatives here and in Brussels refused to assist me when I stood in need
of help. As for friends--you, dear Mr. Keller, are our only friend. Thank
you again and again."
She lowered her eyes softly to the floor, and glided out of the room. The
back view of her figure was its best view. Even Mr.
Keller--constitutionally inaccessible to exhibitions of female
grace--followed her with his eyes, and perceived that his housekeeper was
On the stairs she met with the housemaid.
"Where is Miss Minna?" she asked impatiently. "In her room?"
"In your room, madam. I saw Miss Minna go in as I passed the door."
Madame Fontaine hurried up the next flight of stairs, and ran along the
corridor as lightly as a young girl. The door of her room was ajar; she
saw her daughter through the opening sitting on the sofa, with some work
lying idle on her lap. Minna started up when her mother appeared.
"Am I in the way, mamma? I am so stupid, I can't get on with this
Madame Fontaine tossed the embroidery to the other end of the room, threw
her arms round Minna, and lifted her joyously from the floor as if she
had been a little child.
"The day is fixed, my angel!" she cried; "You are to be married on the
She shifted one hand to her daughter's head, and clasped it with a fierce
fondness to her bosom. "Oh, my darling, you had lovely hair even when you
were a baby! We won't have it dressed at your wedding. It shall flow down
naturally in all its beauty--and no hand shall brush it but mine." She
pressed her lips on Minna's head, and devoured it with kisses; then,
driven by some irresistible impulse, pushed the girl away from her, and
threw herself on the sofa with a cry of pain.
"Why did you start up, as if you were afraid of me, when I came in?" she
said wildly. "Why did you ask if you were in the way? Oh, Minna! Minna!
can't you forget the day when I locked you out of my room? My child! I
was beside myself--I was mad with my troubles. Do you think I would
behave harshly to you? Oh, my own love! when I came to tell you of your
marriage, why did you ask me if you were in the way? My God! am I never
to know a moment's pleasure again without something to embitter it?
People say you take after your father, Minna. Are you as cold-blooded as
he was? There! there! I don't mean it; I am a little hysterical, I
think--don't notice me. Come and be a child again. Sit on my knee, and
let us talk of your marriage."
Minna put her arm round her mother's neck a little nervously. "Dear,
sweet mamma, how can you think me so hard-hearted and so ungrateful? I
can't tell you how I love you! Let this tell you."
With a tender and charming grace, she kissed her mother--then drew back a
little and looked at Madame Fontaine. The subsiding conflict of emotions
still showed itself with a fiery brightness in the widow's eyes. "Do you
know what I am thinking?" Minna asked, a little timidly.
"What is it, my dear?"
"I think you are almost too fond of me, mamma. I shouldn't like to be the
person who stood between me and my marriage--if _you_ knew of it."
Madame Fontaine smiled. "You foolish child, do you take me for a
tigress?" she said playfully. "I must have another kiss to reconcile me
to my new character."
She bent her head to meet the caress--looked by chance at a cupboard
fixed in a recess in the opposite wall of the room--and suddenly checked
herself. "This is too selfish of me," she said, rising abruptly. "All
this time I am forgetting the bridegroom. His father will leave him to
hear the good news from you. Do you think I don't know what you are
longing to do?" She led Minna hurriedly to the door. "Go, my dear one--go
and tell Fritz!"
The instant her daughter disappeared, she rushed across the room to the
cupboard. Her eyes had not deceived her. The key _was_ left in the lock.
Madame Fontaine dropped into a chair, overwhelmed by the discovery.
She looked at the key left in the cupboard. It was of an old-fashioned
pattern--but evidently also of the best workmanship of the time. On its
flat handle it bore engraved the words, "Pink-Room Cupboard"--so called
from the color of the curtains and hangings in the bedchamber.
"Is my brain softening?" she said to herself. "What a horrible mistake!
What a frightful risk to have run!"
She got on her feet again, and opened the cupboard.
The two lower shelves were occupied by her linen, neatly folded and laid
out. On the higher shelf, nearly on a level with her eyes, stood a plain
wooden box about two feet in height by one foot in breadth. She examined
the position of this box with breathless interest and care--then gently
lifted it in both hands and placed it on the floor. On a table near the
window lay a half-finished watercolor drawing, with a magnifying glass by
the side of it. Providing herself with the glass, she returned to the
cupboard, and closely investigated the place on which the box had stood.
The slight layer of dust--so slight as to be imperceptible to the
unassisted eye--which had surrounded the four sides of the box, presented
its four delicate edges in perfectly undisturbed straightness of line.
This mute evidence conclusively proved that the box had not been moved
during her quarter of an hour's absence in Mr. Keller's room. She put it
back again, and heaved a deep breath of relief.
But it was a bad sign (she thought) that her sense of caution had been
completely suspended, in the eagerness of her curiosity to know if Mr.
Keller's message of invitation referred to the wedding day. "I lose my
best treasure," she said to herself sadly, "if I am beginning to lose my
steadiness of mind. If this should happen again----"
She left the expression of the idea uncompleted; locked the door of the
room; and returned to the place on which she had left the box.
Seating herself, she rested the box on her knee and opened it.
Certain tell-tale indentations, visible where the cover fitted into the
lock, showed that it had once been forced open. The lock had been
hampered on some former occasion; and the key remained so fast fixed in
it that it could neither be turned nor drawn out. In her newly-aroused
distrust of her own prudence, she was now considering the serious
question of emptying the box, and sending it to be fitted with a lock and
"Have I anything by me," she thought to herself, "in which I can keep the
She emptied the box, and placed round her on the floor those terrible six
bottles which had been the special subjects of her husband's
precautionary instructions on his death-bed. Some of them were smaller
than others, and were manufactured in glass of different colors--the six
compartments in the medicine-chest being carefully graduated in size, so
as to hold them all steadily. The labels on three of the bottles were
unintelligible to Madame Fontaine; the inscriptions were written in
barbarously abridged Latin characters.
The bottle which was the fourth in order, as she took them out one by
one, was wrapped in a sheet of thick cartridge-paper, covered on its
inner side with characters written in mysterious cipher. But the label
pasted on the bottle contained an inscription in good readable German,
"The Looking-Glass Drops. Fatal dose, as discovered by experiment on
animals, the same as in the case of 'Alexander's Wine.' But the effect,
in producing death, more rapid, and more indistinguishable, in respect of
presenting traces on post-mortem examination."
The lines thus written were partially erased by strokes of the pen--drawn
through them at a later date, judging by the color of the ink. In the
last blank space left at the foot of the label, these words were
added--also in ink of a fresher color:
"After many patient trials, I can discover no trustworthy antidote to
this infernal poison. Under these circumstances, I dare not attempt to
modify it for medical use. I would throw it away--but I don't like to be
beaten. If I live a little longer I will try once more, with my mind
refreshed by other studies."
Madame Fontaine paused before she wrapped the bottle up again in its
covering, and looked with longing eyes at the ciphers which filled the
inner side of the sheet of paper. There, perhaps, was the announcement of
the discovery of the antidote; or possibly, the record of some more
recent experiment which placed the terrible power of the poison in a new
light! And there also was the cipher defying her to discover its secret!
The fifth bottle that she took from the chest contained "Alexander's
Wine." The sixth, and last, was of the well-remembered blue glass, which
had played such an important part in the event of Mr. Keller's recovery.
David Glenney had rightly conjectured that the label had been removed
from the blue-glass bottle. Madame Fontaine shook it out of the empty
compartment. The inscription (also in the German language) ran as
"Antidote to Alexander's Wine. The fatal dose, in case of accident, is
indicated by the notched slip of paper attached to the bottle. Two fluid
drachms of the poison (more than enough to produce death) were
accidentally taken in my experience. So gradual is the deadly effect
that, after a delay of thirty-six hours before my attention was called to
the case, the administration of the antidote proved successful. The doses
are to be repeated every three or four hours. Any person watching the
patient may know that the recovery is certain, and that the doses are
therefore to be discontinued, by these signs: the cessation of the
trembling in the hands; the appearance of natural perspiration; and the
transition from the stillness of apathy to the repose of sleep. For at
least a week or ten days afterwards a vegetable diet, with cream, is
necessary as a means of completing the cure."
She laid the label aside, and looked at the two bottles--the poison and
the antidote--ranged together at her feet.
"Power!" she thought, with a superb smile of triumph. "The power that I
have dreamed of all my life is mine at last! Alone among mortal
creatures, I have Life and Death for my servants. You were deaf, Mr.
Keller, to my reasons, and deaf to my entreaties. What wonderful
influence brought you to my feet, and made you the eager benefactor of my
child? My servant Death, who threatened you in the night; and my servant
Life, who raised you up in the morning. What a position! I stand here, a
dweller in a populous city--and every creature in it, from highest to
lowest, is a creature in my power!"
She looked through the window of her room over the houses of Frankfort.
At last her sleepy eyes opened wide; an infernal beauty irradiated her
face. For one moment, she stood--a demon in human form. The next, she
suddenly changed into a timid woman, shaken in every limb by the cold
grasp of fear.
What influence had wrought the transformation?
Nothing but a knock at the door.
"Who's there?" she cried.
The voice that answered her was the voice of Jack Straw.
"Hullo, there, Mrs. Fontaine! Let me in."
She placed a strong constraint on herself; she spoke in friendly tones.
"What do you want, Jack?"
"I want to show you my keys."
"What do I care about the crazy wretch's keys?"--was the thought that
passed through Madame Fontaine's mind, when Jack answered her from the
outer side of the door. But she was still careful, when she spoke to him,
to disguise her voice in its friendliest tones.
"Excuse me for keeping you waiting, Jack. I can't let you in yet."
"Because I am dressing. Come back in half an hour; and I shall be glad to
There was no reply to this. Jack's step was so light that it was
impossible to hear, through the door, whether he had gone away or not.
After waiting a minute, the widow ventured on peeping out. Jack had taken
himself off. Not a sign of him was to be seen, when she bent over the
railing of the corridor, and looked down on the stairs.
She locked herself in again. "I hope I haven't offended him!" she
thought, as she returned to the empty medicine-chest.
The fear that Jack might talk of what had happened to him in the
laboratory at Wurzburg, and that he might allude to his illness in terms
which could not fail to recall the symptoms of Mr. Keller's illness, was
constantly present to her mind. She decided on agreeably surprising him
by a little present, which might help her to win his confidence and to
acquire some influence over him. As a madman lately released from Bedlam,
it might perhaps not greatly matter what he said. But suspicion was
easily excited. Though David Glenney had been sent out of the way, his
aunt remained at Frankfort; and an insolent readiness in distrusting
German ladies seemed to run in the family.
Having arrived at these conclusions, she gave her mind again to the still
unsettled question of the new lock to the medicine-chest.
Measuring the longest of the bottles (the bottle containing the
antidote), she found that her dressing case was not high enough to hold
it, while the chest was in the locksmith's workshop. Her trunks, on the
other hand, were only protected by very ordinary locks, and were too
large to be removed to the safe keeping of the cupboard. She must either
leave the six bottles loose on the shelf or abandon the extra security of
the new lock.
The one risk of taking the first of these two courses, was the risk of
leaving the key again in the cupboard. Was this likely to occur, after
the fright she had already suffered? The question was not really worth
answering. She had already placed two of the bottles on the shelf--when a
fatal objection to trusting the empty box out of her own possession
suddenly crossed her mind.
Her husband's colleagues at Wurzburg and some of the elder students, were
all acquainted (externally, at least) with the appearance of the
Professor's ugly old medicine-chest. It could be easily identified by the
initials of his name, inscribed in deeply-burnt letters on the lid.
Suppose one of these men happened to be in Frankfort? and suppose he saw
the stolen chest in the locksmith's shop? Two such coincidences were in
the last degree improbable--but it was enough that they were possible.
Who but a fool, in her critical position, would run the risk of even one
chance in a hundred turning against her? Instead of trusting the chest in
a stranger's hands, the wiser course would be to burn it at the first
safe opportunity, and be content with the security of the cupboard, while
she remained in Mr. Keller's house. Arriving at this conclusion, she put
the chest and its contents back again on the shelf--with the one
exception of the label detached from the blue-glass bottle.
In the preternatural distrust that now possessed her, this label assumed
the character of a dangerous witness, if, through some unlucky accident,
it happened to fall into the hands of any person in the house. She picked
it up--advanced to the fireplace to destroy it--paused--and looked at it
Nearly two doses of the antidote were still left. Who could say, looking
at the future of such a life as hers, that she might not have some need
of it yet--after it had already served her so well? Could she be sure, if
she destroyed it, of remembering the instructions which specified the
intervals at which the doses were to be given, the signs which signified
recovery, and the length of time during which the vegetable diet was to
She read the first sentences again carefully.
"Antidote to Alexander's Wine. The fatal dose, in case of accident, is
indicated by the notched slip of paper attached to the bottle. Two fluid
drachms of the poison (more than enough to produce death) were
accidentally taken in my experience. So gradual is the deadly effect
that, after a delay of thirty-six hours before my attention was called to
the case, the administration of the antidote proved successful. The doses
are to be repeated----"
The remaining instructions, beginning with this last sentence, were not
of a nature to excite suspicion. Taken by themselves, they might refer to
nothing more remarkable than a remedy in certain cases of illness. First
she thought of cutting off the upper part of the label: but the lines of
the writing were so close together, that they would infallibly betray the
act of mutilation. She opened her dressing-case and took from it a
common-looking little paper-box, purchased at the chemist's, bearing the
ambitious printed title of "Macula Exstinctor, or Destroyer of
Stains"--being an ordinary preparation, in powder, for removing stains
from dresses, ink-stains included. The printed directions stated that the
powder, partially dissolved in water, might also be used to erase written
characters without in any way injuring the paper, otherwise than by
leaving a slight shine on the surface. By these means, Madame Fontaine
removed the first four sentences on the label, and left the writing on it
to begin harmlessly with the instructions for repeating the doses.
"Now I can trust you to refresh my memory without telling tales," she
said to herself, when she put the label back in the chest. As for the
recorded dose of the poison, she was not likely to forget that. It was
her medicine-measuring glass, filled up to the mark of two drachms.
Having locked the cupboard, and secured the key in her pocket, she was
ready for the reception of Jack. Her watch told her that the half-hour's
interval had more than expired. She opened the door of her room. There
was no sign of him outside. She looked over the stairs, and called to him
softly. There was no reply; the little man's sensitive dignity had
evidently taken offense.
The one thing to be done (remembering all that she had to dread from the
wanton exercise of Jack's tongue) was to soothe his ruffled vanity
without further delay. There would be no difficulty in discovering him,
if he had not gone out. Wherever his Mistress might be at the moment,
there he was sure to be found.
Trying Mrs. Wagner's room first, without success, the widow descended to
the ground floor and made her way to the offices. In the private room,
formerly occupied by Mr. Engelman, David Glenney's aunt was working at
her desk; and Jack Straw was perched on the old-fashioned window-seat,
putting the finishing touches to Minna's new straw hat.
In the gloom thrown over the household by Mr. Engelman's death, Mrs.
Wagner, with characteristic energy and good sense, had kept her mind
closely occupied. During the office hours, she studied those details of
the business at Frankfort which differed from the details of the business
in London; and soon mastered them sufficiently to be able to fill the
vacancy which Mr. Engelman had left. The position that he had held
became, with all its privileges and responsibilities, Mrs. Wagner's
position--claimed, not in virtue of her rank as directress of the London
house, but in recognition of the knowledge that she had specially
acquired to fit her for the post.
Out of office-hours, she corresponded with the English writer on the
treatment of insane persons, whose work she had discovered in her late
husband's library, and assisted him in attracting public attention to the
humane system which he advocated. Even the plan for the employment of
respectable girls, in suitable departments of the office, was not left
neglected by this indefatigable woman. The same friendly consideration
which had induced her to spare Mr. Keller any allusion to the subject,
while his health was not yet completely restored, still kept her silent
until time had reconciled him to the calamity of his partner's death.
Privately, however, she had caused inquiries to be made in Frankfort,
which would assist her in choosing worthy candidates for employment, when
the favorable time came--probably after the celebration of Fritz's
marriage--for acting in the interests of the proposed reform.
"Pray send me away, if I interrupt you," said Madame Fontaine, pausing
modestly on the threshold before she entered the room. She spoke English
admirably, and made a point of ignoring Mrs. Wagner's equally perfect
knowledge of German, by addressing her always in the English language.
"Come in by all means," Mrs. Wagner answered. "I am only writing to David
Glenney, to tell him (at Minna's request) that the wedding-day is fixed."
"Give your nephew my kind regards, Mrs. Wagner. He will be one of the
party at the wedding, of course?"
"Yes--if he can be spared from his duties in London. Is there anything I
can do for you, Madame Fontaine?"
"Nothing, thank you--except to excuse my intrusion. I am afraid I have
offended our little friend there, with the pretty straw hat in his hand,
and I want to make my peace with him."
Jack looked up from his work with an air of lofty disdain. "Oh, dear me,
it doesn't matter," he said, in his most magnificent manner.
"I was dressing when he knocked at my door," pursued Madame Fontaine;
"and I asked him to come back, and show me his keys in half an hour. Why
didn't you return, Jack? Won't you show me the keys now?"
"You see it's a matter of business," Jack replied as loftily as ever. "I
am in the business--Keeper of the Keys. Mistress is in the business; Mr.
Keller is in the business. You are not in the business. It doesn't
matter. Upon my soul, it doesn't matter."
Mrs. Wagner held up her forefinger reprovingly. "Jack! don't forget you
are speaking to a lady."
Jack audaciously put his hand to his head, as if this was an effort of
memory which was a little too much to expect of him.
"Anything to please you, Mistress," he said. "I'll show her the bag."
He exhibited to Madame Fontaine a leather bag, with a strap fastened
round it. "The keys are inside," he explained. "I wore them loose this
morning: and they made a fine jingle. Quite musical to _my_ ear. But
Mistress thought the noise likely to be a nuisance in the long run. So I
strapped them up in a bag to keep them quiet. And when I move about, the
bag hangs from my shoulder, like this, by another strap. When the keys
are wanted, I open the bag. You don't want them--you're not in the
business. Besides, I'm thinking of going out, and showing myself and my
bag in the fashionable quarter of the town. On such an occasion, I think
I ought to present the appearance of a gentleman--I ought to wear gloves.
Oh, it doesn't matter! I needn't detain you any longer. Good morning."
He made one of his fantastic bows, and waved his hand, dismissing Madame
Fontaine from further attendance on him. Secretly, he was as eager as
ever to show the keys. But the inordinate vanity which was still the mad
side of him and the incurable side of him, shrank from opening the
leather bag unless the widow first made a special request and a special
favor of it. Feeling no sort of interest in the subject, she took the
shorter way of making her peace with him. She took out her purse.
"Let me make you a present of the gloves," she said, with her
Jack lost all his dignity in an instant.
He leapt off the window seat and snatched at the money, like a famished
animal snatching at a piece of meat. Mrs. Wagner caught him by the arm,
and looked at him. He lifted his eyes to hers, then lowered them again as
if he was ashamed of himself.
"Oh, to be sure!" he said, "I have forgotten my manners, I haven't said
Thank you. A lapse of memory, I suppose. Thank you, Mrs. Housekeeper." In
a moment more, he and his bag were on their way to the fashionable
quarter of the town.
"You will make allowances for my poor little Jack, I am sure," said Mrs.
"My dear madam, Jack amuses me!"
Mrs. Wagner winced a little at the tone of the widow's reply. "I have
cured him of all the worst results of his cruel imprisonment in the
mad-house," she went on. "But his harmless vanity seems to be inbred; I
can do nothing with him on that side of his character. He is proud of
being trusted with anything, especially with keys; and he has been kept
waiting for them, while I had far more important matters to occupy me. In
a day or two he will be more accustomed to his great responsibility, as
he calls it."
"Of course you don't trust him," said Madame Fontaine, "with keys that
are of any importance; like the key of your desk there, for instance."
Mrs. Wagner's steady gray eyes began to brighten. "I can trust him with
anything," she answered emphatically.
Madame Fontaine arched her handsome brows in a mutely polite expression
of extreme surprise.
"In my experience of the world," Mrs. Wagner went on, "I have found that
the rarest of all human virtues is the virtue of gratitude. In a hundred
little ways my poor friendless Jack has shown me that he is grateful. To
my mind that is reason enough for trusting him."
"With money?" the widow inquired.
"Certainly. In London I trusted him with money--with the happiest
results. I quieted his mind by an appeal to his sense of trust and
self-respect, which he thoroughly appreciated. As yet I have not given
him the key of my desk here, because I reserve it as a special reward for
good conduct. In a few days more I have no doubt he will add it to the
collection in his bag."
"Ah," said Madame Fontaine, with the humility which no living woman knew
better when and how to assume, "you understand these difficult
questions--you have your grand national common-sense. I am only a poor
limited German woman. But, as you say in England, 'Live and learn.' You
have indescribably interested me. Good morning."
She left the room. "Hateful woman!" she said in her own language, on the
outer side of the door.
"Humbug!" said Mrs. Wagner in her language, on the inner side of the
If there had been more sympathy between the two ladies, or if Madame
Fontaine had felt a little curiosity on the subject of crazy Jack's keys,
she might have taken away with her some valuable materials for future
consideration. As it was, Mrs. Wagner had not troubled her with any
detailed narrative of the manner in which she had contrived to fill
Jack's leather bag.
In London, she had begun cautiously by only giving him some of the
useless old keys which accumulate about a house in course of years. When
the novelty of merely keeping them had worn off, and when he wanted to
see them put to some positive use, she had added one or two keys of her
own, and had flattered his pride by asking him to open the box or the
desk for her, as the case might be. Proceeding on the same wisely gradual
plan at Frankfort, she had asked Mr. Keller to help her, and had been
taken by him (while Jack was out of the way) to a lumber-room in the
basement of the house, on the floor of which several old keys were lying
about. "Take as many as you like," he had said; "they have been here, for
all I know, ever since the house was repaired and refurnished in my
grandfather's time, and they might be sold for old iron, if there were
only enough of them." Mrs. Wagner had picked up the first six keys that
presented themselves, arid had made Jack Straw the happiest of men. He
found no fault with them for being rusty. On the contrary, he looked
forward with delight to the enjoyment of cleaning away the rust. "They
shall be as bright as diamonds," he had said to his mistress, "before I
have done with them."
And what did Madame Fontaine lose, by failing to inform herself of such
trifles as these? She never discovered what she had lost. But she had not
done with Jack Straw yet.
After leaving Mrs. Wagner, the widow considered with herself, and then
turned away from the commercial regions of the house, in search of her
She opened the dining-room door, and found the bagatelle-board on the
table. Fritz and Minna were playing a game of the desultory sort--with
the inevitable interruptions appropriate to courtship.
"Are you coming to join us, mamma? Fritz is playing very badly."
"This sort of thing requires mathematical calculation," Fritz remarked;
"and Minna distracts my attention."
Madame Fontaine listened with a smile of maternal indulgence. "I am on my
way back to my room," she said. "If either of you happen to see Jack
"He has gone out," Fritz interposed. "I saw him through the window. He
started at a run--and then remembered his dignity, and slackened his pace
to a walk. How will he come back, I wonder?"
"He will come back with greater dignity than ever, Fritz. I have given
him the money to buy himself a pair of gloves. If you or Minna happen to
meet with him before I do, tell him he may come upstairs and show me his
new gloves. I like to indulge the poor imbecile creature. You mustn't
laugh at him--he is to be pitied."
Expressing these humane sentiments, she left the lovers to their game.
While Jack was still pleasurably excited by the new gift, he would be in
the right frame of mind to feel her influence. Now or never (if the thing
could be done) was the time to provide against the danger of
chance-allusions to what had happened at Wurzburg. It was well known in
the house that Mrs. Wagner wished to return to London, as soon after the
marriage as certain important considerations connected with the
management of the office would permit. By Madame Fontaine's calculations,
Jack would be happily out of the way of doing mischief (if she could keep
him quiet in the meanwhile) in a month or six weeks' time.
The game went on in the dining-room--with the inevitable intervals.
Beyond reproach as a lover, Fritz showed no signs of improvement as a
bagatelle-player. In a longer pause than usual, during which the persons
concerned happened to have their backs turned to the door, a disagreeable
interruption occurred. At a moment of absolute silence an intruding voice
made itself heard, inviting immediate attention in these words:--
"I say, you two! If you want to see the finest pair of gloves in
Frankfort, just look here."
There he stood with outstretched hands, exhibiting a pair of bright green
gloves, and standing higher in his own estimation than ever.
"Why do you always come in without knocking?" Fritz asked, with excusable
"Why have _you_ always got your arm round her waist?" Jack retorted. "I
say, Miss Minna (I only offer a remark), the more he kisses you the more
you seem to like it."
"Send him away, for Heaven's sake!" Minna whispered.
"Go upstairs!" cried Fritz.
"What! do you want to be at it again?" asked Jack.
"Go and show your new gloves to Madame Fontaine," said Minna.
The girl's quick wit had discovered the right way to get rid of Jack. He
accepted the suggestion with enthusiasm. "Ah!" he exclaimed, "that's a
good idea! It would never have entered your head, Fritz, would it?"
Before Fritz could reply, Jack was out of his reach.
The widow sat in her room, innocently reading the newspaper. A cake
happened to be on the table at her side; and a bottle of sparkling
lemonade, by the merest coincidence, was in the near neighborhood of the
cake. Jack's eyes brightened, as they turned towards the table when he
entered the room.
"And those are the gloves!" said Madame Fontaine, with her head held
critically a little on one side, as if she was a connoisseur enjoying a
fine picture. "How very pretty! And what good taste you have!"
Jack (with his eyes still on the cake) accepted these flattering
expressions as no more than his due. "I am pleased with my walk," he
remarked. "I have made a successful appearance in public. When the
general attention was not occupied with my bag of keys, it was absorbed
in my gloves. I showed a becoming modesty--I took no notice of anybody."
"Perhaps your walk has given you a little appetite?" the widow suggested.
"What did you say?" cried Jack. "Appetite! Upon my soul, I could eat----
No, that's not gentleman-like. Mistress gave me one of her looks when I
said 'Upon my soul' down in the office. Thank you. Yes; I like cake.
Excuse me--I hope it has got plums in it?"
"Plums and other fine things besides. Taste!"
Jack tried hard to preserve his good manners, and only taste as he was
told. But the laws of Nature were too much for him. He was as fond of
sweet things as a child--he gobbled. "I say, you're uncommonly good to me
all of a sudden," he exclaimed between the bites. "You didn't make much
of me like this at Wurzburg!"
He had given Madame Fontaine her opportunity. She was not the woman to
let it slip. "Oh, Jack!" she said, in tones of gentle reproach, "didn't I
nurse you at Wurzburg?"
"Well," Jack admitted, "you did something of the sort."
"What do you mean?"
He had finished his first slice of cake; his politeness began to show
signs of wearing out.
"You did what my master the Doctor told you to do," he said. "But I don't
believe you cared whether I lived or died. When you had to tuck me up in
bed, for instance, you did it with the grossest indifference. Ha! you
have improved since that time. Give me some more cake. Never mind cutting
it thick. Is that bottle of lemonade for me?"
"You hardly deserve it, Jack, after the way you have spoken of me. Don't
you remember," she added, cautiously leading him back to the point, "I
used to make your lemonade when you were ill?"
Jack persisted in wandering away from the point. "You are so hungry for
compliments," he objected. "Haven't I told you that you have improved?
Only go on as you are going on now, and I dare say I shall put you next
to Mistress in my estimation, one of these days. Let the cork go out with
a pop; I like noises of all kinds. Your good health! Is it manners to
smack one's lips after lemonade?--it is such good stuff, and there's
_such_ pleasure in feeling it sting one's throat as it goes down. You
didn't give me such lemonade as this, when I was ill--Oh! that reminds
"Reminds you of something that happened at Wurzburg?" Madame Fontaine
"Yes. Wait a bit. I'm going to try how the cake tastes dipped in
lemonade. Ha! ha! how it fizzes as I stir it round! Yes; something that
happened at Wurzburg, as you say. I asked David about it, the morning he
went away. But the coach was waiting for him; and he ran off without
saying a word. I call that rude."
He was still stirring his lemonade with his bit of cake--or he might have
seen something in the widow's face that would have startled him. He did
look up, when she spoke to him. His sense of hearing was his quickest
sense; and he was struck by the sudden change in her voice.
"What did you ask David?"--was all she ventured to say.
Jack still looked at her. "Anything the matter with you?" he inquired.
"Nothing. What did you ask David?"
"Something I wanted to know."
"Perhaps _I_ can tell you what you want to know?"
"I shouldn't wonder. No: dipping the cake in lemonade doesn't improve it,
and it leaves crumbs in the drink."
"Throw away that bit of cake, Jack, and have some more.
"May I help myself?"
"Certainly. But you haven't told me yet what you want to know.
At last he answered directly. "What I want to know is this," he said.
"Who poisoned Mr. Keller?"
He was cutting the cake as he spoke, and extracted a piece of candied
orange peel with the point of the knife. Once more, the widow's face had
escaped observation. She turned away quickly, and occupied herself in
mending the fire. In this position, her back was turned towards the
table--she could trust herself to speak.
"You are talking nonsense!" she said.
Jack stopped--with the cake half-way to his mouth. Here was a direct
attack on his dignity, and he was not disposed to put up with it. "I
never talk nonsense," he answered sharply.
"You do," Madame Fontaine rejoined, just as sharply on her side. "Mr.
Keller fell ill, as anyone else might fall ill. Nobody poisoned him."
Jack got on his legs. For the moment he actually forgot the cake.
"Nobody?" he repeated. "Tell me this, if you please: Wasn't Mr. Keller
cured out of the blue-glass bottle--like me?"
(Who had told him this? Joseph might have told him; Minna might have told
him. It was no time for inquiry; the one thing needful was to eradicate
the idea from his mind. She answered boldly, "Quite right, so far"--and
waited to see what came of it.)
"Very well," said Jack, "Mr. Keller was cured out of the blue-glass
bottle, like me. And _I_ was poisoned. Now?"
She flatly contradicted him again. "You were _not_ poisoned!"
Jack crossed the room, with a flash of the old Bedlam light in his eyes,
and confronted her at the fire place. "The devil is the father of lies,"
he said, lifting his hand solemnly. "No lies! I heard my master the
Doctor say I was poisoned."
She was ready with her answer. "Your master the Doctor said that to
frighten you. He didn't want you to taste his medicines in his absence
again. You drank double what any person ought to have drunk, you greedy
Jack, when you tasted that pretty violet-colored medicine in your
master's workshop. And you had yourself to thank--not poison, when you
Jack looked hard at her. He could reason so far as that he and Mr. Keller
must have taken the same poison, because he and Mr. Keller had been cured
out of the same bottle. But to premise that he had been made ill by an
overdose of medicine, and that Mr. Keller had been made ill in some other
way, and then to ask, how two different illnesses could both have been
cured by the same remedy--was an effort utterly beyond him. He hung his
head sadly, and went back to the table.
"I wish I hadn't asked you about it," he said. "You puzzle me horribly."
But for that unendurable sense of perplexity, he would still have doubted
and distrusted her as resolutely as ever. As it was, his bewildered mind
unconsciously took its refuge in belief. "If it was medicine," asked the
poor creature vacantly, "what is the medicine good for?"
At those words, an idea of the devil's own prompting entered Madame
Fontaine's mind. Still standing at the fireplace, she turned her head
slowly, and looked at the cupboard.
"It's a better remedy even than the blue-glass bottle," she said; "it
cures you so soon when you are tired, or troubled in your mind, that I
have brought it away with me from Wurzburg, to use it for myself."
Jack's face brightened with a new interest. "Oh," he said eagerly, "do
let me see it again!"
She put her hand in her pocket, took out the key, and hesitated at the
"Just one look at it," Jack pleaded, "to see if it's the same."
She unlocked the cupboard.
Jack attempted to follow her, and look in. She waved him back with her
"Wait at the window," she said, "where you can see the medicine in the
light." She took the bottle of "Alexander's Wine" from the chest, and
having locked the cupboard again, replaced the key in her pocket. "Do you
remember it?" she asked, showing him the bottle.
He shuddered as he recognized the color. "Medicine?" he said to
himself--troubled anew by doubts which he was not able to realize. "I
don't remember how much I took when I tasted it. Do you?"
"I have told you already. You took twice the proper dose."
"Did my master the Doctor say that?"
"And did he tell you what the proper dose was?"
Jack was not able to resist this. "I should like to see it!" he said
eagerly. "My master was a wonderful man--my master knew everything."
Madame Fontaine looked at him. He waited to see his request granted, like
a child waiting to see a promised toy. "Shall I measure it out, and show
you?" she said. "I suppose you don't know what two drachms mean?"
"No, no! Let me see it."
She looked at him again and hesitated. With a certain reluctance of
manner, she opened her dressing-case. As she took out a
medicine-measuring-glass, her hand began to tremble. A faint perspiration
showed itself on her forehead. She put the glass on the table, and spoke
"What makes you so curious to see what the dose is?" she said. "Do you
think you are likely to want some of it yourself?"
His eyes looked longingly at the poison. "It cures you when you are tired
or troubled in your mind," he answered, repeating her own words. "I am
but a little fellow--and I'm more easily tired sometimes than you would
She passed her handkerchief over her forehead. "The fire makes the room
rather warm," she said.
Jack took no notice of the remark; he had not done yet with the
confession of his little infirmities. He went on proving his claim to be
favored with some of the wonderful remedy.
"And as for being troubled in my mind," he said, "you haven't a notion
how bad I am sometimes. If I'm kept away from Mistress for a whole
day--when I say or do something wrong, you know--I tell you this, I'm fit
to hang myself! If you were to see me, I do think your heart would be
touched; I do indeed!"
Instead of answering him, she rose abruptly, and hurried to the door.
"Surely there's somebody outside," she exclaimed--"somebody wanting to
speak to me!"
"I don't hear it," said Jack; "and mine are the quickest ears in the
"Wait a minute, and let me see."
She opened the door: closed it again behind her; and hurried along the
lonely corridor. Throwing up the window at the end, she put her head out
into the keen wintry air, with a wild sense of relief. She was almost
beside herself, without knowing why. Poor Jack's innocent attempts to
persuade her to his destruction had, in their pitiable simplicity, laid a
hold on that complex and terrible nature which shook it to its center.
The woman stood face to face with her own contemplated crime, and
trembled at the diabolical treachery of it. "What's the matter with me?"
she wondered inwardly. "I feel as if I could destroy every poison in the
chest with my own hands."
Slowly she returned along the corridor, to her room. The refreshing air
had strung up her nerves again! she began to recover herself. The
strengthened body reacted on the wavering mind. She smiled as she
recalled her own weakness, looking at the bottle of poison which she had
mechanically kept in her hand. "That feeble little creature might do some
serious mischief, between this and the wedding-day," she thought; "and
"Well, was there anybody outside?" Jack asked.
"Nothing to matter," she said. The answer was spoken mechanically.
Something in him or something in herself, it was impossible to say which,
had suddenly set her thinking of the day when her husband had dragged him
out of the jaws of death. It seemed strange that the memory of the dead
Doctor should come between them in that way, and at that time.
Jack recalled her to the passing moment. He offered her the
medicine-measuring-glass left on the table. "It frightens me, when I
think of what I did," he said. "And yet it's such a pretty color--I want
to see it again."
In silence, she took the glass; in silence, she measured out the fatal
two drachms of the poison, and showed it to him.
"Do put it in something," he pleaded, "and let me have it to keep: I know
I shall want it."
Still in silence, she turned to the table, and searching again in her
dressing-case, found a little empty bottle. She filled it and carefully
fitted in the glass stopper. Jack held out his hand. She suddenly drew
her own hand back. "No," she said. "On second thoughts, I won't let you
"Because you can't govern your tongue, and can't keep anything to
yourself. You will tell everybody in the house that I have given you my
wonderful medicine. They will all be wanting some--and I shall have none
left for myself."
"Isn't that rather selfish?" said Jack. "I suppose it's natural, though.
Never mind, I'll do anything to please you; I'll keep it in my pocket and
not say a word to anybody. Now?"
Once more, he held out his hand. Once more Madame Fontaine checked
herself in the act of yielding to him. Her dead husband had got between
them again. The wild words he had spoken to her, in the first horror of
the discovery that his poor imbecile servant had found and tasted the
fatal drug, came back to her memory--"If he dies I shall not survive him.
And I firmly believe I shall not rest in my grave." She had never been,
like her husband, a believer in ghosts: superstitions of all sorts were
to her mind unworthy of a reasonable being. And yet at that moment, she
was so completely unnerved that she looked round the old Gothic room,
with a nameless fear throbbing at her heart.
It was enough--though nothing appeared: it was enough--though
superstitions of all sorts were unworthy of a reasonable being--to shake
her fell purpose, for the time. Nothing that Jack could say had the least
effect on her. Having arrived at a determination, she was mistress of
herself again. "Not yet," she resolved; "there may be consequences that I
haven't calculated on. I'll take the night to think of it." Jack tried a
last entreaty as she put her hand into her pocket, searching for the
cupboard key, and tried it in vain. "No," she said; "I will keep it for
you. Come to me when you are really ill, and want it."
Her pocket proved to be entangled for the moment in the skirt of her
dress. In irritably trying to disengage it, she threw out the key on the
floor. Jack picked the key up and noticed the inscription on the handle.
"Pink-Room Cupboard," he read. "Why do they call it by that name?"
In her over-wrought state of mind, she had even felt the small irritating
influence of an entangled pocket. She was in no temper to endure simple
questions patiently. "Look at the pink curtains, you fool!" she said--and
snatched the key out of his hand.
Jack instantly resented the language and the action. "I didn't come here
to be insulted," he declared in his loftiest manner.
Madame Fontaine secured the poison in the cupboard without noticing him,
and made him more angry than ever.
"Take back your new gloves," he cried, "I don't want them!" He rolled up
his gloves, and threw them at her. "I wish I could throw all the cake
I've eaten after them!" he burst out fervently.
He delivered this aspiration with an emphatic stamp of his foot. The
hysterical excitement in Madame Fontaine forced its way outwards under a
new form. She burst into a frantic fit of laughter. "You curious little
creature," she said; "I didn't mean to offend you. Don't you know that
women will lose their patience sometimes? There! Shake hands and make it
up. And take away the rest of the cake, if you like it." Jack looked at
her in speechless surprise. "Leave me to myself!" she cried, relapsing
into irritability. "Do you hear? Go! go! go!"
Jack left the room without a word of protest. The rapid changes in her,
the bewildering diversity of looks and tones that accompanied them,
completely cowed him. It was only when he was safe outside in the
corridor, that he sufficiently recovered himself to put his own
interpretation on what had happened. He looked back at the door of Madame
Fontaine's room, and shook his little gray head solemnly.
"Now I understand it," he thought to himself "Mrs. Housekeeper is mad.
Oh, dear, dear me--Bedlam is the only place for her!"
He descended the first flight of stairs, and stopped again to draw the
moral suggested by his own clever discovery. "I must speak to Mistress
about this," he concluded. "The sooner we are back in London, the safer I
Mrs. Wagner was still hard at work at her desk, when Jack Straw made his
appearance again in the private office.
"Where have you been all this time?" she asked. "And what have you done
with your new gloves?"
"I threw them at Madame Fontaine," Jack answered. "Don't alarm yourself.
I didn't hit her."
Mrs. Wagner laid down her pen, smiling. "Even business must give way to
such an extraordinary event as this," she said. "What has gone wrong
between you and Madame Fontaine?"
Jack entered into a long rambling narrative of what he had heard on the
subject of the wonderful remedy, and of the capricious manner in which a
supply of it had been first offered to him, and then taken away again.
"Turn it over in your own mind," he said grandly, "and tell me what your
opinion is, so far."
"I think you had better let Madame Fontaine keep her medicine in the
cupboard," Mrs. Wagner answered; "and when you want anything of that
sort, mention it to me." The piece of cake which Jack had brought away
with him attracted her attention, as she spoke. Had he bought it himself?
or had he carried it off from the housekeeper's room? "Does that belong
to you, or to Madame Fontaine?" she asked. "Anything that belongs to
Madame Fontaine must be taken back to her."
"Do you think I would condescend to take anything that didn't belong to
me?" said Jack indignantly. He entered into another confused narrative,
which brought him, in due course of time, to the dropping of the key and
the picking of it up. "I happened to read 'Pink-Room Cupboard' on the
handle," he proceeded; "and when I asked what it meant she called me a
fool, and snatched the key out of my hand. Do you suppose I was going to
wear her gloves after that? No! I am as capable of self-sacrifice as any
of you--I acted nobly--I threw them at her. Wait a bit! You may laugh at
that, but there's something terrible to come. What do you think of a
furious person who insults me, suddenly turning into a funny person who
shakes hands with me and bursts out laughing? She did that. On the honor
of a gentleman, she did that. Follow my wise example; keep out of her
way--and let's get back to London as soon as we can. Oh, I have got a
reason for what I say. Just let me look through the keyhole before I
mention it. All right; there's nobody at the keyhole; I may say it
safely. It's a dreadful secret to reveal--Mrs. Housekeeper is mad! No,
no; there can be no possible mistake about it. If there's a creature
living who thoroughly understands madness when he sees it--by Heaven, I'm
Watching Jack attentively while he was speaking. Mrs. Wagner beckoned to
him to come nearer, and took him by the hand.
"No more now," she said quietly; "you are beginning to get a little
"Who says that?" cried Jack.
"Your eyes say it. Come here to your place."
She rose, and led him to his customary seat in the recess of the
old-fashioned window. "Sit down," she said.
"I don't want to sit down."
"Not if I ask you?"
He instantly sat down. Mrs. Wagner produced her pocket-book, and made a
mark in it with her pencil. "One good conduct-mark already for Jack," she
said. "Now I must go on with my work; and you must occupy yourself
quietly, in some way that will amuse you. What will you do?"
Jack, steadily restraining himself under the firm kind eyes that rested
on him, was not in the right frame of mind for discovering a suitable
employment. "You tell me," he said.
Mrs. Wagner pointed to the bag of keys, hanging over his shoulder. "Have
you cleaned them yet?" she asked.
His attention was instantly diverted to the keys; he was astonished at
having forgotten them. Mrs. Wagner rang the bell, and supplied him with
sandpaper, leather, and whiting. "Now then," she said, pointing to the
clock, "for another hour at least--silence and work!"
She returned to her desk; and Jack opened his bag.
He spread out the rusty keys in a row, on the seat at his side. Looking
from one to the other before he began the cleansing operations, he
started, picked out one key, and held it up to the light. There was
something inscribed on the handle, under a layer of rust and dirt. He
snatched up his materials, and set to work with such good will that the
inscription became visible in a few minutes. He could read it
plainly--"Pink-Room Cupboard." A word followed which was not quite so
intelligible to him--the word "Duplicate." But he had no need to trouble
himself about this. "Pink-Room Cupboard," on a second key, told him all
he wanted to know.
His eyes sparkled--he opened his lips--looked at Mrs. Wagner, busily
engaged with her pen--and restrained himself within the hard limits of
silence. "Aha! I can take Mrs. Housekeeper's medicine whenever I like,"
he thought slily.
His faith in the remedy was not at all shaken by his conviction that
Madame Fontaine was mad. It was the Doctor who had made the remedy--and
the Doctor could not commit a mistake. "She's not fit to have the keeping
of such a precious thing," he concluded. "I'll take the whole of it under
my own charge. Shall I tell Mistress, when we have done work?"
He considered this question, cleaning his keys, and looking furtively
from time to time at Mrs. Wagner. The cunning which is almost invariably
well developed in a feeble intelligence, decided him on keeping his
discovery to himself. "Anything that belongs to Madame Fontaine must be
taken back to her"--was what the Mistress had just said to him. He would
certainly be ordered to give up the duplicate key (which meant giving up
the wonderful remedy) if he took Mrs. Wagner into his confidence. "When I
have got what I want," he thought, "I can throw away the key--and there
will be an end of it."
The minutes followed each other, the quarters struck--and still the two
strangely associated companions went on silently with their strangely
dissimilar work. It was close on the time for the striking of the hour,
when a third person interrupted the proceedings--that person being no
other than Madame Fontaine again.
"A thousand pardons, Mrs. Wagner! At what time can I say two words to you
"You could not have chosen your time better, Madame Fontaine. My work is
done for to-day." She paused, and looked at Jack, ostentatiously busy
with his keys. The wisest course would be to leave him in the
window-seat, harmlessly employed. "Shall we step into the dining-room?"
she suggested, leading the way out. "Wait there, Jack, till I return; I
may have another good mark to put in my pocket-book."
The two ladies held their conference, with closed doors, in the empty
"My only excuse for troubling you, madam," the widow began, "is that I
speak in the interest of that poor little Jack, whom we have just left in
the office. May I ask if you have lately observed any signs of excitement
"Certainly!" Mrs. Wagner answered, with her customary frankness of reply;
"I found it necessary to compose him, when he came to me about an hour
ago--and you have just seen that he is as quiet again as a man can be. I
am afraid you have had reason to complain of his conduct yourself?"
Madame Fontaine lifted her hands in gently-expressed protest. "Oh, dear,
no--not to complain! To pity our afflicted Jack, and to feel, perhaps,
that your irresistible influence over him might be required--no more."
"You are very good," said Mrs. Wagner dryly. "At the same time, I beg you
to accept my excuses--not only for Jack, but for myself. I found him so
well behaved, and so capable of restraining himself in London, that I
thought I was running no risk in bringing him with me to Frankfort."
"Pray say no more, dear madam--you really confuse me. I am the innocent
cause of his little outbreak. I most unfortunately reminded him of the
time when he lived with us at Wurzburg--and in that way I revived one of
his old delusions, which even your admirable treatment has failed to
remove from his mind."
"May I ask what the delusion is, Madame Fontaine?"
"One of the commonest delusions among insane persons, Mrs. Wagner--the
delusion that he has been poisoned. Has he ever betrayed it in your
"I heard something of it," Mrs. Wagner answered, "from the superintendent
at the madhouse in London."
"Ah, indeed? The superintendent merely repeated, I suppose, what Jack had
"Exactly. I was careful not to excite him, by referring to it myself,
when I took him under my charge. At the same time, it is impossible to
look at his hair and his complexion, without seeing that some serious
accident must have befallen him."
"Most unquestionably! He is the victim, poor creature--not of poison--but
of his own foolish curiosity, in my husband's surgery, and you see the
result. Alas! I cannot give you the scientific reasons for it."
"I shouldn't understand them, Madame Fontaine, if you could."
"Ah, dear lady, you kindly say so, because you are unwilling to humiliate
me. Is there anything Jack may have said to you about me, which seems to
require an explanation--if I can give it?"
She slipped in this question, concealing perfectly the anxiety that
suggested it, so far as her voice and her eyes were concerned. But the
inner agitation rose to the surface in a momentary trembling of her lips.
Slight as it was, that sign of self-betrayal did not escape Mrs. Wagner's
keen observation. She made a cautious reply. "On the contrary," she said,
"from what Jack has told me, the conclusion is plain that you have really
done him a service. You have succeeded in curing that delusion you spoke
of--and I applaud your good sense in refusing to trust him with the
Madame Fontaine made a low curtsey. "I shall remember those kind words,
among the happy events of my life," she said, with her best grace.
"Permit me to take your hand." She pressed Mrs. Wagner's hand
gratefully--and made an exit which was a triumph of art. Even a French
actress might have envied the manner in which she left the room.
But, when she ascended the stairs, with no further necessity for keeping
up appearances, her step was as slow and as weary as the step of an old
woman. "Oh, my child," she thought sadly, with her mind dwelling again on
Minna, "shall I see the end of all these sacrifices, when your
wedding-day comes with the end of the year?" She sat down by the fire in
her room, and for the first time in her life, the harmless existence of
one of those domestic drudges whom she despised began to seem enviable to
her. There were merits visible now, in the narrow social horizon that is
bounded by gossip, knitting, and tea.
Left by herself in the dining-room, Mrs. Wagner took a turn up and down,
with her mind bent on penetrating Madame Fontaine's motives.
There were difficulties in her way. It was easy to arrive at the
conclusion that there was something under the surface; but the obstacles
to advancing beyond this point of discovery seemed to defy removal. To
distrust the graceful widow more resolutely than ever, and to lament that
she had not got wise David Glenney to consult with, were the principal
results of Mrs. Wagner's reflections when she returned to the office.
There was Jack--in the nursery phrase, as good as gold--still in his
place on the window seat, devoted to his keys. His first words related
entirely to himself.
"If this isn't good conduct," he said, "I should like to know what is.
Give me my other mark."
Mrs. Wagner took out her pocket-book and made the new mark.
"Thank you," said Jack. "Now I want something else. I want to know what
Mrs. Housekeeper has been saying. I have been seriously alarmed about
"She hasn't bitten you, has she? Oh, they do it sometimes! What lies has
she been telling you of me? Oh, they lie in the most abominable manner!
What? She has been talking of me in the kindest terms? Then why did she
want to get out of my hearing? Ah, they're so infernally deceitful! I do
hate mad people."
Mrs. Wagner produced her pocket-book again. "I shall scratch out your
mark," she said sternly, "if I hear any more talk of that sort."
Jack gathered his keys together with a strong sense of injury, and put
them back in his leather bag. "You're a little hard on me," he said, when
I'm only warning you for your own good. I don't know why it is, you're
not as kind to me here, as you used to be in London. And I feel it, I
do!" He laid himself down on the window seat, and began to cry.
Mrs. Wagner was not the woman to resist this expression of the poor
little man's feeling. In a moment she was at the window comforting him
and drying his eyes, as if he had been a child. And, like a child, Jack
took advantage of the impression that he had made. "Look at your desk,"
he said piteously; "there's another proof how hard you are on me. I used
to keep the key of your desk in London. You won't trust it to me here."
Mrs. Wagner went to the desk, locked it, and returned to Jack. Few people
know how immensely an act of kindness gains in effect, by being performed
in silence. Mrs. Wagner was one of the few. Without a word, she opened
the leather bag and dropped the key into it. Jack's gratitude rushed
innocently to an extreme which it had never reached yet. "Oh!" he cried,
"would you mind letting me kiss you?"
Mrs. Wagner drew back, and held up a warning hand. Before she could
express herself in words, Jack's quick ear caught the sound of footsteps
approaching the door. "Is she coming back?" he cried, still suspicious of
Madame Fontaine. Mrs. Wagner instantly opened the door, and found herself
face to face with Joseph the footman.
"Do you know, ma'am, when Mr. Keller will be back?" he asked.
"I didn't even know that he was out, Joseph. Who wants him?"
"A gentleman, ma'am, who says he comes from Munich."
On further inquiry, it turned out that "the gentleman from Munich" had no
time to spare. In the absence of Mr. Keller, he had asked if he could see
"one of the other partners." This seemed to imply that commercial
interests were in some way connected with the stranger's visit--in which
case, Mrs. Wagner was perfectly competent to hear what he had to say.
"Where is the gentleman?" she asked.
"In the drawing-room," Joseph answered.
Mrs. Wagner at once left the office. She found herself in the presence of
a dignified elderly gentleman, dressed entirely in black, and having the
ribbon of some order of merit attached to the buttonhole of his long
frock-coat. His eyes opened wide in surprise, behind his gold spectacles,
when he found himself face to face with a lady. "I fear there is some
mistake," he said, in the smoothest of voices, and with the politest of
bows; "I asked to see one of the partners."
Mrs. Wagner added largely to his amazement, by informing him of the
position that she held in the firm. "If you come on a matter of
business," she proceeded, "you may trust me to understand you, sir,
though I am only a woman. If your visit relates to private affairs, I beg
to suggest that you should write to Mr. Keller--I will take care that he
receives your letter the moment he returns."
"There is not the least necessity for my troubling you," the stranger
replied. "I am a physician; and I have been summoned to Frankfort to
consult with my colleagues here, on a serious case of illness. Mr.
Keller's sister is one of my patients in Munich. I thought I would take
the present opportunity of speaking to him about the state of her
He had just introduced himself in those words, when Mr. Keller entered
the room. The merchant and the physician shook hands like old friends.
"No alarming news of my sister, I hope?" said Mr. Keller.
"Only the old trouble, my good friend. Another attack of asthma."
Mrs. Wagner rose to leave the room. Mr. Keller stopped her. "There is not
the least necessity for you to leave us," he said. "Unless my
presentiments deceive me, we may even have occasion to ask your advice.
-- Is there any hope, doctor, of her being well enough to leave Munich,
towards the end of the month?"
"I am sorry to say it," answered the physician--"having heard of the
interesting occasion on which she had engaged to be one of your
guests--but, at her age, I must ask for a little more time."
"In other words, it is impossible for my sister to be with us, on the day
of my son's marriage?"
"Quite impossible. She has so few pleasures, poor soul, and she is so
bitterly disappointed, that I volunteered to take advantage of my
professional errand here, to make a very bold request. Let me first do
your excellent sister justice. She will not hear of the young people
being disappointed by any postponement of the wedding, on her account.
And here is the famous necklace, committed to my care, to prove that she
He took his little traveling-bag from the chair on which he had placed
it, and produced the case containing the necklace. No woman--not even a
head-partner in a great house of business--could have looked at those
pearls, and preserved her composure. Mrs. Wagner burst out with a cry of
Mr. Keller passed the necklace over without notice; his sister was the
one object of interest to him. "Would she be fit to travel," he asked,
"if we put off the marriage for a month?"
"She shall be fit to travel, barring accidents," said the physician, "if
you can put off the marriage for a fortnight. I start this evening on my
return to Munich, and not a day shall pass without my seeing her."
Mr. Keller appealed to Mrs. Wagner. "Surely, we might make this trifling
sacrifice?" he said. "The pleasure of seeing her nephew married is likely
to be the last pleasure of my sister's life."
"In your place," said Mrs. Wagner, "I should not hesitate for an instant
to grant the fortnight's delay. But the bride and bridegroom must be
consulted, of course."
"And the bride's parents," suggested the discreet physician, "if they are
"There is only her mother living," said Mr. Keller. "She is too
high-minded a person to raise any objection, I am sure." He paused, and
reflected for awhile. "Fritz counts for nothing," he went on. "I think we
ought to put the question, in the first instance, to the bride?" He rang
the bell, and then took the necklace out of Mrs. Wagner's hands. "I have
a very high opinion of little Minna," he resumed. "We will see what the
child's own kind heart says--undisturbed by the influence of the pearls,
and without any prompting on the part of her mother."
He closed the jewel case, and put it into a cabinet that stood near him.
Joseph was sent upstairs, with the necessary message. "Don't make any
mistake," said his master; "I wish to see Miss Minna, alone."
The physician took a pinch of snuff while they were waiting. "The test is
hardly conclusive," he remarked slily; "women are always capable of
sacrificing themselves. What will the bridegroom say?"
"My good sir," Mr. Keller rejoined a little impatiently, "I have
mentioned already that Fritz counts for nothing."
Minna came in. Her color rose when she found herself unexpectedly in the
presence of a dignified and decorated stranger. The physician tapped his
snuff-box, with the air of a man who thoroughly understood young women.
"Charming indeed!" he said confidentially to Mrs. Wagner; "I am young
enough (at heart, madam) to wish I was Fritz."
Mr. Keller advanced to meet Minna, and took her hand.
"My dear," he said, "what would you think of me, if I requested you to
put off your marriage for two whole weeks--and all on account of an old
"I should think you had surely some reason, sir, for asking me to do
that," Minna replied; "and I confess I should be curious to know who the
old woman was."
In the fewest and plainest words, Mr. Keller repeated what the physician
had told him. "Take your own time to think of it," he added; "and consult
your mother first, if you like."
Minna's sweet face looked lovelier than ever, glowing with the heavenly
light of true and generous feeling. "Oh, Mr. Keller!" she exclaimed, "do
you really suppose I am cold-hearted enough to want time to think of it?
I am sure I may speak for my mother, as well as for myself. Fraulein
Keller's time shall be our time. Please tell her so, with my duty--or,
may I be bold enough to say already, with my love?"
Mr. Keller kissed her forehead with a fervor of feeling that was rare
with him. "You are well worthy of my sister's bridal gift," he said--and
took the necklace out of the cabinet, and gave it to her.
For some moments Minna stood looking at the magnificent pearls, in a
state of speechless enchantment. When she did speak, her first delightful
ardor of admiration had cooled under the chilling perception of a want of
proper harmony between her pearls and herself. "They are too grand for
me," she said sadly; "I ought to be a great lady, with a wardrobe full of
magnificent dresses, to wear such pearls as these!" She looked at them
again, with the natural longing of her sex and age. "May I take the
necklace upstairs," she asked, with the most charming inconsistency, "and
see how it looks when I put it on?"
Mr. Keller smiled and waved his hand. "You can do what you like with your
own necklace, my dear," he said. "When I have written a line to my
sister, perhaps I may follow you, and admire my daughter-in-law in all
The physician looked at his watch. "If you can write your letter in five
minutes," he suggested, "I can take it with me to Munich."
Mrs. Wagner and Minna left the room together. "Come and see how it
looks," said Minna; "I should so like to have your opinion."
"I will follow you directly, my dear. There is something I have forgotten
in the office."
The events of the day had ended in making Jack drowsy; he was half-asleep
on the window-seat. Mrs. Wagner effectually roused him.
"Mr. Keeper of the Keys," she said; "I want my desk opened."
Jack was on his legs in an instant. "Ha, Mistress, it's jolly to hear you
say that--it's like being in London again."
The desk was of the spacious commercial sort, with a heavy mahogany lid.
Everything inside was in the most perfect order. A row of "pigeon-holes"
at the back had their contents specified by printed tickets. "Abstracts
of correspondence, A to Z;" "Terms for commission agency;" "Key of the
iron safe." "Key of the private ledger"--and so on. The ledger--a stout
volume with a brass lock, like a private diary--was placed near the
pigeon-holes. On the top of it rested a smaller book, of the
pocket--size, entitled "Private Accounts." Mrs. Wagner laid both books
open before her, at the pages containing the most recent entries, and
compared them. "I felt sure I had forgotten it!" she said to herself--and
transferred an entry in the ledger to the private account-book. After
replacing the ledger, she locked the desk, and returned the key to Jack.
"Remember," she said, "the rule in London is the rule here. My desk is
never to be opened, except when I ask you to do it. And if you allow the
key to pass out of your own possession, you cease to be Keeper."
"Did I ever do either of those two things in London?" Jack asked.
"Then don't be afraid of my doing them here. I say! you haven't put back
the little book." He produced the key again, and put it into the
lock--while Mrs. Wagner was occupied in placing her account-book in her
"Its proper place is not in the desk," she explained; "I usually keep it
Jack's ready suspicion was excited. "Ah," he cried, with an outburst of
indignation, "you won't trust it to me!"
"Take care I don't set a bad-conduct mark against you!" said Mrs. Wagner.
"You foolish fellow, the little book is a copy of what is in the big
book--and I trust you with the big book."
She knew Jack thoroughly well. His irritable dignity was at once appeased
when he heard that the biggest of the duplicate books was in his keeping.
He took the key out of the lock again. At the same moment, Mr. Keller
entered the office. Jack possessed the dog's enviable faculty of
distinguishing correctly between the people who are, and the people who
are not, their true friends. Mr. Keller privately disliked the idea of
having a person about him who had come out of a madhouse. Jack's
instincts warned him to leave a room when Mr. Keller entered it. He left
the office now.
"Is it possible that you trust that crazy creature with the key of your
desk?" said Mr. Keller. "Even your bitterest enemy, Mrs. Wagner, would
not believe you could be guilty of such an act of rashness."
"Pardon me, sir, it is you who are guilty of an act of rashness in
forming your judgment. 'Fancy a woman in her senses trusting her keys to
a man who was once in Bedlam!' Everybody said that of me, when I put Jack
to the proof in my own house."
"Aha! there are other people then who agree with me?" said Mr. Keller.
"There are other people, sir (I say it with all needful respect), who
know no more of the subject than you do. The most certain curative
influence that can be exercised over the poor martyrs of the madhouse, is
to appeal to their self-respect. From first to last, Jack has never been
unworthy of the trust that I have placed in him. Do you think my friends
owned they had been mistaken? No more than you will own it! Make your
mind easy. I will be personally answerable for anything that is lost,
while I am rash enough to trust my crazy creature with my key."
Mr. Keller's opinion was not in the least shaken; he merely checked any
further expression of it, in deference to an angry lady. "I dare say you
know best," he remarked politely. "Let me mention the little matter that
has brought me here. David Glenney is, no doubt, closely occupied in
London. He ought to know at once that the wedding-day is deferred. Will
you write to him, or shall I?"
Mrs. Wagner began to recover her temper.
"I will write with pleasure, Mr. Keller. We have half an hour yet before
post-time. I have promised Minna to see how the wonderful necklace looks
on her. Will you excuse me for a few minutes? Or will you go upstairs
with me?--I think you said something about it in the drawing-room."
"Certainly," said Mr. Keller, "if the ladies will let me in."
They ascended the stairs together. On the landing outside the
drawing-room, they encountered Fritz and Minna--one out of temper, and
the other in tears.
"What's wrong now?" Mr. Keller asked sharply. "Fritz! what does that
sulky face mean?"
"I consider myself very badly used," Fritz answered. "I say there's a
great want of proper consideration for Me, in putting off our marriage.
And Madame Fontaine agrees with me."
"Madame Fontaine?" He looked at Minna, as he repeated the name. "Is this
Minna trembled at the bare recollection of what had passed. "Oh, don't
ask me!" she pleaded piteously; "I can't tell what has come to my
mother--she is so changed, she frightens me. And as for Fritz," she said,
rousing herself, "if he is to be a selfish tyrant, I can tell him this--I
won't marry him at all!"
Mr. Keller turned to Fritz, and pointed contemptuously down the stairs.
"Leave us!" he said. Fritz opened his lips to protest. Mr. Keller
interposed, with a protest of his own. "One of these days," he went on,
"you may possibly have a son. You will not find his society agreeable to
you, when he happens to have made a fool of himself." He pointed down the
stairs for the second time. Fritz retired, frowning portentously. His
father addressed Minna with marked gentleness of manner. "Rest and
recover yourself, my child. I will see your mother, and set things
"Don't go away by yourself, my dear," Mrs. Wagner added kindly; "come
with me to my room."
Mr. Keller entered the drawing-room, and sent Joseph with another
message. "Go up to Madame Fontaine, and say I wish to see her here
The widow presented herself, with a dogged resignation singularly unlike
her customary manner. Her eyes had a set look of hardness; her lips were
fast closed; her usually colorless complexion had faded to a strange
grayish pallor. If her dead husband could have risen from the grave, and
warned Mr. Keller, he would have said, "Once or twice in my life, I have
seen her like that--mind what you are about!"
She puzzled Mr. Keller. He tried to gain time--he bowed and pointed to a
chair. Madame Fontaine took the chair in silence. Her hard eyes looked
straight at the master of the house, overhung more heavily than usual by
their drooping lids. Her thin lips never opened. The whole expression of
the woman said plainly, "You speak first!"
Mr. Keller spoke. His kindly instinct warned him not to refer to Minna,
in alluding to the persons from whom he had derived his information. "I
hear from my son," he said, "that you do not approve of our putting off
the wedding-day, though it is only for a fortnight. Are you aware of the
"I am aware of the circumstances."
"Your daughter informed you of my sister's illness, I suppose?"
At that first reference to Minna, some inner agitation faintly stirred
the still surface of Madame Fontaine's face.
"Yes," she said. "My thoughtless daughter informed me."
The epithet applied to Minna, aggravated by the deliberate emphasis laid
on it, jarred on Mr. Keller's sense of justice. "It appears to me," he
said, "that your daughter acted in this matter, not only with the truest
kindness, but with the utmost good sense. Mrs. Wagner and my sister's
physician were both present at the time, and both agreed with me in
admiring her conduct. What has she done to deserve that you should call
"She ought to have remembered her duty to her mother. She ought to have
consulted me, before she presumed to decide for herself."
"In that case, Madame Fontaine, would you have objected to change the day
of the marriage?"
"I am well aware, sir, that your sister has honored my daughter by making
her a magnificent present----"
Mr. Keller's face began to harden. "May I beg you to be so good as answer
my question plainly?" he said, in tones which were peremptory for the
first time. "Would you have objected to grant the fortnight's delay?"
She answered him, on the bare chance that a strong expression of her
opinion, as the bride's mother, might, even now, induce him to revert to
the date originally chosen for the wedding. "I should certainly have
objected," she said firmly.
"What difference could it possibly make to _you?"_ There was suspicion in
his manner, as well as surprise, when he put that question. "For what
reason would you have objected?"
"Is my objection, as Minna's mother, not worthy of some consideration,
sir, without any needless inquiry into motives?"
"Your daughter's objection--as the bride--would have been a final
objection, to my mind," Mr. Keller answered. "But _your_ objection is
simply unaccountable; and I press you for your motives, having this good
reason for doing so on my side. If I am to disappoint my sister--cruelly
to disappoint her--it must be for some better cause than a mere caprice."
It was strongly put, and not easily answered. Madame Fontaine made a last
effort--she invented the likeliest motives she could think of. "I object,
sir, in the first place, to putting off the most important event in my
daughter's life, and in my life, as if it was some trifling engagement.
Besides, how do I know that some other unlucky circumstance may not cause
more delays; and perhaps prevent the marriage from taking place at all?"
Mr. Keller rose from his chair. Whatever her true motives might be, it
was now perfectly plain that she was concealing them from him. "If you
have any more serious reasons to give me than these," he said quietly and
coldly, "let me hear them between this and post-time tomorrow. In the
meanwhile, I need not detain you any longer."
Madame Fontaine rose also--but she was not quite defeated yet.
"As things are, then," she resumed, "I am to understand, sir, that the
marriage is put off to the thirteenth of January next?"
"Yes, with your daughter's consent."
"Suppose my daughter changes her mind, in the interval?"
"Under your influence?"
"Mr. Keller! you insult me."
"I should insult your daughter, Madame Fontaine--after what she said in
this room before me and before other witnesses--if I supposed her to be
capable of changing her mind, except under your influence.
"Good evening, sir."
"Good evening, madam."
She went back to her room.
The vacant spaces on the walls were prettily filled up with prints and
water-color drawings. Among these last was a little portrait of Mr.
Keller, in a glazed frame. She approached it--looked at it--and, suddenly
tearing it from the wall, threw it on the floor. It happened to fall with
the glass uppermost. She stamped on it, in a perfect frenzy of rage; not
only crushing the glass, but even breaking the frame, and completely
destroying the portrait as a work of art. "There! that has done me good,"
she said to herself--and kicked the fragments into a corner of the room.
She was now able to take a chair at the fireside, and shape out for
herself the course which it was safest to follow.
Minna was first in her thoughts. She could bend the girl to her will, and
send her to Mr. Keller. But he would certainly ask, under what influence
she was acting, in terms which would place the alternative between a
downright falsehood, or a truthful answer. Minna was truth itself; in her
youngest days, she had been one of those rare children who never take
their easy refuge in a lie. What influence would be most likely to
persuade her to deceive Fritz's father? The widow gave up the idea, in
the moment when it occurred to her. Once again, "Jezebel's Daughter"
unconsciously touched Jezebel's heart with the light of her purity and
her goodness. The mother shrank from deliberately degrading the nature of
her own child.
The horrid question of the money followed. On the thirty-first of the
month, the promissory note would be presented for payment. Where was the
money to be found?
Some little time since, having the prospect of Minna's marriage on the
thirtieth of December before her, she had boldly resolved on referring
the holder of the note to Mr. Keller. Did it matter to her what the
sordid old merchant said or thought, after Minna had become his son's
wife? She would coolly say to him, "The general body of the creditors
harassed me. I preferred having one creditor to deal with, who had no
objection to grant me time. His debt has fallen due; and I have no money
to pay it. Choose between paying it yourself, and the disgrace of letting
your son's mother-in-law be publicly arrested in Frankfort for debt."
So she might have spoken, if her daughter had been a member of Mr.
Keller's family. With floods of tears, with eloquent protestations, with
threats even of self-destruction, could she venture on making the
She remembered how solemnly she had assured Mr. Keller that her debts
were really and truly paid. She remembered the inhuman scorn with which
he had spoken of persons who failed to meet their pecuniary engagements
honestly. Even if he forgave her for deceiving him--which was in the last
degree improbable--he was the sort of man who would suspect her of other
deceptions. He would inquire if she had been quite disinterested in
attending at his bedside, and saving his life. He might take counsel
privately with his only surviving partner, Mrs. Wagner. Mrs. Wagner might
recall the interview in the drawing-room, and the conversation about
Jack; and might see her way to consulting Jack's recollections of his
illness at Wurzburg. The risk to herself of encountering these dangers