Part 5 out of 6
was trifling. But the risk to Minna involved nothing less than the
breaking off of the marriage. She decided on keeping up appearances, at
any sacrifice, until the marriage released her from the necessities of
So it came back again to the question of how the money was to be found.
Had she any reasonable hope of success, if she asked for a few days'
leave of absence, and went to Wurzburg? Would the holder of the bill
allow her to renew it for a fortnight?
She got up, and consulted her glass--and turned away from it again, with
a sigh. "If I was only ten years younger!" she thought.
The letter which she received from Wurzburg had informed her that the
present holder of the bill was "a middle-aged man." If he had been very
young, or very old, she would have trusted in the autumn of her beauty,
backed by her ready wit. But experience had taught her that the
fascinations of a middle-aged woman are, in the vast majority of cases,
fascinations thrown away on a middle-aged man. Even if she could hope to
be one of the exceptions that prove the rule, the middle-aged man was an
especially inaccessible person, in this case. He had lost money by her
already--money either paid, or owing, to the spy whom he had set to watch
her. Was this the sort of man who would postpone the payment of his just
She opened one of the drawers in the toilette table, and took out the
pearl necklace. "I thought it would come to this," she said quietly.
"Instead of paying the promissory note, Mr. Keller will have to take the
necklace out of pledge."
The early evening darkness of winter had set in. She dressed herself for
going out, and left her room, with the necklace in its case, concealed
under her shawl.
Poor puzzled Minna was waiting timidly to speak to her in the corridor.
"Oh mamma, do forgive me! I meant it for the best."
The widow put one arm (the other was not at liberty) round her daughter's
waist. "You foolish child," she said, "will you never understand that
your poor mother is getting old and irritable? I may think you have made
a great mistake, in sacrificing yourself to the infirmities of an
asthmatic stranger at Munich; but as to being ever really angry with
you----! Kiss me, my love; I never was fonder of you than I am now. Lift
my veil. Oh, my darling, I don't like giving you to anybody, even to
Minna changed the subject--a sure sign that she and Fritz were friends
again. "How thick and heavy your veil is!" she said.
"It is cold out of doors, my child, to-night."
"But why are you going out?"
"I don't feel very well, Minna. A brisk walk in the frosty air will do me
"Mamma, do let me go with you!"
"No, my dear. You are not a hard old woman like me--and you shall not run
the risk of catching cold. Go into my room, and keep the fire up. I shall
be back in half an hour.
"Where is my necklace, mamma?"
"My dear, the bride's mother keeps the bride's necklace--and, when we do
try it on, we will see how it looks by daylight."
In a minute more, Madame Fontaine was out in the street, on her way to
the nearest jeweler.
The widow stopped at a jeweler's window in the famous street called the
Zeil. The only person in the shop was a simple-looking old man, sitting
behind the counter, reading a newspaper.
She went in. "I have something to show you, sir," she said, in her
softest and sweetest tones. The simple old man first looked at her thick
veil, and then at the necklace. He lifted his hands in amazement and
admiration. "May I examine these glorious pearls?" he asked--and looked
at them through a magnifying glass, and weighed them in his hand. "I
wonder you are not afraid to walk out alone in the dark, with such a
necklace as this," he said. "May I send to my foreman, and let him see
Madame Fontaine granted his request. He rang the bell which communicated
with the work-rooms. Being now satisfied that she was speaking to the
proprietor of the shop, she risked her first inquiry.
"Have you any necklace of imitation pearls which resembles my necklace?"
The old gentleman started, and looked harder than ever at the
impenetrable veil. "Good heavens--no!" he exclaimed. "There is no such
thing in all Frankfort.
"Could an imitation be made, sir?"
The foreman entered the shop--a sullen, self-concentrated man. "Fit for a
queen," he remarked, with calm appreciation of the splendid pearls. His
master repeated to him Madame Fontaine's last question. "They might do it
in Paris," he answered briefly. "What time could you give them, madam?"
"I should want the imitation sent here before the thirteenth of next
The master, humanely pitying the lady's ignorance, smiled and said
nothing. The foreman's decision was rough and ready. "Nothing like time
enough; quite out of the question."
Madame Fontaine had no choice but to resign herself to circumstances. She
had entered the shop with the idea of exhibiting the false necklace on
the wedding-day, whilst the genuine pearls were pledged for the money of
which she stood in need. With the necklace in pawn, and with no
substitute to present in its place, what would Minna say, what would Mr.
Keller think? It was useless to pursue those questions--some plausible
excuse must be found. No matter what suspicions might be excited, the
marriage would still take place. The necklace was no essential part of
the ceremony which made Fritz and Minna man and wife--and the money must
"I suppose, sir, you grant loans on valuable security--such as this
necklace?" she said.
"Provided you have the lady's name and address," the disagreeable foreman
suggested, turning to his master.
The old man cordially agreed. "Quite true! quite true! And a reference
besides--some substantial person, madam, well known in this city. The
responsibility is serious with such pearls as these."
"Is the reference absolutely necessary?" Madame Fontaine asked.
The foreman privately touched his master behind the counter.
Understanding the signal, the simple old gentleman closed the jewel-case,
and handed it back. "Absolutely necessary," he answered.
Madame Fontaine went out again into the street. "A substantial reference"
meant a person of some wealth and position in Frankfort--a person like
Mr. Keller, for example. Where was she to find such a reference? Her
relatives in the city had deliberately turned their backs on her. Out of
Mr. Keller's house, they were literally the only "substantial" people
whom she knew. The one chance left seemed to be to try a pawnbroker.
At this second attempt, she was encountered by a smart young man. The
moment _he_ saw the necklace, he uttered a devout ejaculation of surprise
and blew a whistle. The pawnbroker himself appeared--looked at the
pearls--looked at the veiled lady--and answered as the jeweler had
answered, but less civilly. "I'm not going to get myself into a scrape,"
said the pawnbroker; "I must have a good reference."
Madame Fontaine was not a woman easily discouraged. She turned her steps
towards the noble medieval street called the Judengasse--then thickly
inhabited; now a spectacle of decrepit architectural old age, to be soon
succeeded by a new street.
By twos and threes at a time, the Jews in this quaint quarter of the town
clamorously offered their services to the lady who had come among them.
When the individual Israelite to whom she applied saw the pearls, he
appeared to take leave of his senses. He screamed; he clapped his hands;
he called upon his wife, his children, his sisters, his lodgers, to come
and feast their eyes on such a necklace as had never been seen since
Solomon received the Queen of Sheba.
The first excitement having worn itself out, a perfect volley of
questions followed. What was the lady's name? Where did she live? How had
she got the necklace? Had it been given to her? and, if so, who had given
it? Where had it been made? Why had she brought it to the Judengasse? Did
she want to sell it? or to borrow money on it? Aha! To borrow money on
it. Very good, very good indeed; but--and then the detestable invitation
to produce the reference made itself heard once more.
Madame Fontaine's answer was well conceived. "I will pay you good
interest, in place of a reference," she said. Upon this, the Jewish
excitability, vibrating between the desire of gain and the terror of
consequences, assumed a new form. Some of them groaned; some of them
twisted their fingers frantically in their hair; some of them called on
the Deity worshipped by their fathers to bear witness how they had
suffered, by dispensing with references in other cases of precious
deposits; one supremely aged and dirty Jew actually suggested placing an
embargo on the lady and her necklace, and sending information to the city
authorities at the Town Hall. In the case of a timid woman, this sage's
advice might actually have been followed. Madame Fontaine preserved her
presence of mind, and left the Judengasse as freely as she had entered
it. "I can borrow the money elsewhere," she said haughtily at parting.
"Yes," cried a chorus of voices, answering, "you can borrow of a receiver
of stolen goods."
It was only too true! The extraordinary value of the pearls demanded, on
that account, extraordinary precautions on the part of moneylenders of
every degree. Madame Fontaine put back the necklace in the drawer of her
toilette-table. The very splendor of Minna's bridal gift made it useless
as a means of privately raising money among strangers.
And yet, the money must be found--at any risk, under any circumstances,
no matter how degrading or how dangerous they might be.
With that desperate resolution, she went to her bed. Hour after hour she
heard the clock strike. The faint cold light of the new day found her
still waking and thinking, and still unprepared with a safe plan for
meeting the demand on her, when the note became due. As to resources of
her own, the value of the few jewels and dresses that she possessed did
not represent half the amount of her debt.
It was a busy day at the office. The work went on until far into the
Even when the household assembled at the supper-table, there was an
interruption. A messenger called with a pressing letter, which made it
immediately necessary to refer to the past correspondence of the firm.
Mr. Keller rose from the table. "The Abstracts will rake up less time to
examine," he said to Mrs. Wagner; "you have them in your desk, I think?"
She at once turned to Jack, and ordered him to produce the key. He took
it from his bag, under the watchful eyes of Madame Fontaine, observing
him from the opposite side of the table. "I should have preferred opening
the desk myself," Jack remarked when Mr. Keller had left the room; "but I
suppose I must give way to the master. Besides, he hates me."
The widow was quite startled by this strong assertion. "How can you say
so?" she exclaimed. "We all like you, Jack. Come and have a little wine,
out of my glass."
Jack refused this proposal. "I don't want wine," he said; "I am sleepy
and cold--I want to go to bed."
Madame Fontaine was too hospitably inclined to take No for an answer.
"Only a little drop," she pleaded. "You look so cold."
"Surely you forget what I told you?" Mrs. Wagner interposed. "Wine first
excites, and then stupefies him. The last time I tried it, he was as dull
and heavy as if I had given him laudanum. I thought I mentioned it to
you." She turned to Jack. "You look sadly tired, my poor little man. Go
to bed at once."
"Without the key?" cried Jack indignantly. "I hope I know my duty better
Mr. Keller returned, perfectly satisfied with the result of his
investigation. "I knew it!" he said. "The mistake is on the side of our
clients; I have sent them the proof of it."
He handed back the key to Mrs. Wagner. She at once transferred it to
Jack. Mr. Keller shook his head in obstinate disapproval. "Would you run
such a risk as that?" he said to Madame Fontaine, speaking in French. "I
should be afraid," she replied in the same language. Jack secured the key
in his bag, kissed his mistress's hand, and approached the door on his
way to bed. "Won't you wish me good-night?" said the amiable widow. "I
didn't know whether German or English would do for you," Jack answered;
"and I can't speak your unknown tongue.
He made one of his fantastic bows, and left the room. "Does he understand
French?" Madame Fontaine asked. "No," said Mrs. Wagner; "he only
understood that you and Mr. Keller had something to conceal from him."
In due course of time the little party at the supper-table rose, and
retired to their rooms. The first part of the night passed as tranquilly
as usual. But, between one and two in the morning, Mrs. Wagner was
alarmed by a violent beating against her door, and a shrill screaming in
Jack's voice. "Let me in! I want a light--I've lost the keys!"
She called out to him to be quiet, while she put on her dressing-gown,
and struck a light. They were fortunately on the side of the house
occupied by the offices, the other inhabited bedchambers being far enough
off to be approached by a different staircase. Still, in the silence of
the night, Jack's reiterated cries of terror and beatings at the door
might possibly reach the ears of a light sleeper. She pulled him into the
room and closed the door again, with an impetuosity that utterly
confounded him. "Sit down there, and compose yourself!" she said sternly.
"I won't give you the light until you are perfectly quiet. You disgrace
_me_ if you disturb the house."
Between cold and terror, Jack shuddered from head to foot. "May I
whisper?" he asked, with a look of piteous submission.
Mrs. Wagner pointed to the last living embers in the fireplace. She knew
by experience the tranquilizing influence of giving him something to do.
"Rake the fire together," she said; "and warm yourself first."
He obeyed, and then laid himself down in his dog-like way on the rug. A
quarter of an hour, at least, passed before his mistress considered him
to be in a fit state to tell his story. There was little or nothing to
relate. He had put his bag under his pillow as usual; and (after a long
sleep) he had woke with a horrid fear that something had happened to the
keys. He had felt in vain for them under the pillow, and all over the
bed, and all over the floor. "After that," he said, "the horrors got hold
of me; and I am afraid I went actually mad, for a little while. I'm all
right now, if you please. See! I'm as quiet as a bird with its head under
Mrs. Wagner took the light, and led the way to his little room, close by
her own bedchamber. She lifted the pillow--and there lay the leather bag,
exactly where he had placed it when he went to bed.
Jack's face, when this discovery revealed itself, would have pleaded for
mercy with a far less generous woman than Mrs. Wagner. She took his hand.
"Get into bed again," she said kindly; "and the next time you dream, try
not to make a noise about it."
No! Jack refused to get into bed again, until he had been heard in his
own defense. He dropped on his knees, and held up his clasped hands, as
if he was praying.
"When you first taught me to say my prayers," he answered, "you said God
would hear me. As God hears me now Mistress, I was wide awake when I put
my hand under the pillow--and the bag was not there. Do you believe me?"
Mrs. Wagner was strongly impressed by the simple fervor of this
declaration. It was no mere pretense, when she answered that she did
believe him. At her suggestion, the bag was unstrapped and examined. Not
only the unimportant keys (with another one added to their number) but
the smaller key which opened her desk were found safe inside. "We will
talk about it to-morrow," she said. Having wished him good-night, she
paused in the act of opening the door, and looked at the lock. There was
no key in it, but there was another protection in the shape of a bolt
underneath. "Did you bolt your door when you went to bed?" she asked.
The obvious suspicion, suggested by this negative answer, crossed her
"What has become of the key of your door?" she inquired next.
Jack hung his head. "I put it along with the other keys," he confessed,
"to make the bag look bigger."
Alone again in her own room, Mrs. Wagner stood by the reanimated fire,
While Jack was asleep, any person, with a soft step and a delicate hand,
might have approached his bedside, when the house was quiet for the
night, and have taken his bag. And, again, any person within hearing of
the alarm that he had raised, some hours afterwards, might have put the
bag back, while he was recovering himself in Mrs. Wagner's room. Who
could have been near enough to hear the alarm? Somebody in the empty
bedrooms above? Or somebody in the solitary offices below? If a theft had
really been committed, the one likely object of it would be the key of
the desk. This pointed to the probability that the alarm had reached the
ears of the thief in the offices. Was there any person in the house, from
the honest servants upwards, whom it would be reasonably possible to
suspect of theft? Mrs. Wagner returned to her bed. She was not a woman to
be daunted by trifles--but on this occasion her courage failed her when
she was confronted by her own question.
The office hours, in the winter-time, began at nine o'clock. From the
head-clerk to the messenger, not one of the persons employed slept in the
house: it was Mr. Keller's wish that they should all be absolutely free
to do what they liked with their leisure time in the evening: "I know
that I can trust them, from the oldest to the youngest man in my
service," he used to say; "and I like to show it."
Under these circumstances, Mrs. Wagner had only to rise earlier than
usual, to be sure of having the whole range of the offices entirely to
herself. At eight o'clock, with Jack in attendance, she was seated at her
desk, carefully examining the different objects that it contained.
Nothing was missing; nothing had been moved out of its customary place.
No money was kept in the desk. But her valuable watch, which had stopped
on the previous day, had been put there, to remind her that it must be
sent to be cleaned. The watch, like everything else, was found in its
place. If some person had really opened her desk in the night, no common
thief had been concerned, and no common object had been in view.
She took the key of the iron safe from its pigeon-hole, and opened the
door. Her knowledge of the contents of this repository was far from being
accurate. The partners each possessed a key, but Mr. Keller had many more
occasions than Mrs. Wagner for visiting the safe. And to make a
trustworthy examination more difficult still, the mist of the early
morning was fast turning into a dense white fog.
Of one thing, however, Mrs. Wagner was well aware--a certain sum of
money, in notes and securities, was always kept in this safe as a reserve
fund. She took the tin box in which the paper money was placed close to
the light, and counted its contents. Then, replacing it in the safe, she
opened the private ledger next, to compare the result of her counting
with the entry relating to the Fund.
Being unwilling to cause surprise, perhaps to excite suspicion, by
calling for a candle before the office hours had begun, she carried the
ledger also to the window. There was just light enough to see the sum
total in figures. To her infinite relief, it exactly corresponded with
the result of her counting. She secured everything again in its proper
place; and, after finally locking the desk, handed the key to Jack. He
shook his head, and refused to take it. More extraordinary still, he
placed his bag, with all the other keys in it, on the desk, and said,
"Please keep it for me; I'm afraid to keep it myself."
Mrs. Wagner looked at him with a first feeling of alarm, which changed
instantly to compassion. The tears were in his eyes; his sensitive vanity
was cruelly wounded. "My poor boy," she said gently, "what is it that
The tears rolled down Jack's face. "I'm a wretched creature," he said;
"I'm not fit to keep the keys, after letting a thief steal them last
night. Take them back, Mistress--I'm quite broken-hearted. Please try me
again, in London."
"A thief?" Mrs. Wagner repeated. "Haven't you seen me examine everything?
And mind, if there _had_ been any dishonest person about the house last
night, the key of my desk is the only key that a thief would have thought
worth stealing. I happen to be sure of that. Come! come! don't be
down-hearted. You know I never deceive you--and I say you are quite wrong
in suspecting that your bag was stolen last night."
Jack solemnly lifted his hand, as his custom was in the great emergencies
of his life. "And _I_ say," he reiterated, "there is a thief in the
house. And you will find it out before long. When we are back in London
again, I will be Keeper of the Keys. Never, never, never more, here!"
It was useless to contend with him; the one wise course was to wait until
his humor changed. Mrs. Wagner locked up his bag, and put the key of the
desk back in her pocket. She was not very willing to own it even to
herself--Jack's intense earnestness had a little shaken her.
After breakfast that morning, Minna lingered at the table, instead of
following her mother upstairs as usual. When Mr. Keller also had left the
room, she addressed a little request of her own to Mrs. Wagner.
"I have got a very difficult letter to write," she said, "and Fritz
thought you might be kind enough to help me."
"With the greatest pleasure, my dear. Does your mother know of this
"Yes; it was mamma who said I ought to write it. But she is going out
this morning; and, when I asked for a word of advice, she shook her head.
'They will think it comes from me,' she said, 'and the whole effect of it
will be spoilt.' It's a letter, Mrs. Wagner, announcing my marriage to
mamma's relations here, who have behaved so badly to her--and she says
they may do something for me, if I write to them as if I had done it all
out of my own head. I don't know whether I make myself understood?"
"Perfectly, Minna. Come to my writing-room, and we will see what we can
Mrs. Wagner led the way out. As she opened the door, Madame Fontaine
passed her in the hall, in walking costume, with a small paper-packet in
"There is a pen, Minna. Sit down by me, and write what I tell you."
The ink-bottle had been replenished by the person charged with that duty;
and he had filled it a little too full. In a hurry to write the first
words dictated, Minna dipped her pen too deeply in the bottle. On
withdrawing it she not only blotted the paper but scattered some of the
superfluous ink over the sleeve of Mrs. Wagner's dress. "Oh, how awkward
I am!" she exclaimed. "Excuse me for one minute. Mamma has got something
in her dressing-case which will take out the marks directly."
She ran upstairs, and returned with the powder which her mother had used,
in erasing the first sentences on the label attached to the blue-glass
bottle. Mrs. Wagner looked at the printed instructions on the little
paper box, when the stains had been removed from her dress, with some
curiosity. "Macula Exstinctor," she read, "or Destroyer of Stains.
Partially dissolve the powder in a teaspoonful of water; rub it well over
the place, and the stain will disappear, without taking out the color of
the dress. This extraordinary specific may also be used for erasing
written characters without in any way injuring the paper, otherwise than
by leaving a slight shine on the surface."
"Is this to be got in Frankfort?" asked Mrs. Wagner. "I only know
lemon-juice as a remedy against ink-marks, when I get them on my dress or
"Keep it, dear Mrs. Wagner. I can easily buy another box for mamma where
we got this one, at a chemist's in the Zeil. See how easily I can take
off the blot that I dropped on the paper! Unless you look very close, you
can hardly see the shine--and the ink has completely disappeared."
"Thank you, my dear. But your mother might meet with some little
accident, and might want your wonderful powder when I am out of the way.
Take it back when we have done our letter. And we will go to the chemist
together and buy another box in a day or two."
On the thirtieth of December, after dinner, Mr. Keller proposed a
toast--"Success to the adjourned wedding-day!" There was a general effort
to be cheerful, which was not rewarded by success. Nobody knew why; but
the fact remained that nobody was really merry.
On the thirty-first, there was more hard work at the office. The last day
of the old year was the day on which the balance was struck.
Towards noon, Mr. Keller appeared in Mrs. Wagner's office, and opened the
"We must see about the Reserve Fund," he said; "I will count the money,
if you will open the ledger and see that the entry is right. I don't know
what you think, but my idea is that we keep too much money lying idle in
these prosperous times. What do you say to using half of the customary
fund for investment? By the by, our day for dividing the profits is not
your day in London. When my father founded this business, the sixth of
January was the chosen date--being one way, among others, of celebrating
his birthday. We have kept to the old custom, out of regard for his
memory; and your worthy husband entirely approved of our conduct. I am
sure you agree with him?"
"With all my heart," said Mrs. Wagner. "Whatever my good husband thought,
Mr. Keller proceeded to count the Fund. "Fifteen thousand florins," he
announced. "I thought it had been more than that. If poor dear Engelman
had been here--Never mind! What does the ledger say?"
"Fifteen thousand florins," Mrs. Wagner answered.
"Ah, very well, my memory must have deceived me. This used to be
Engelman's business; and you are as careful as he was--I can say no
Mr. Keller replaced the money in the safe, and hastened back to his own
Mrs. Wagner raised one side of the ledger off the desk to close the
book--stopped to think--and laid it back again.
The extraordinary accuracy of Mr. Keller's memory was proverbial in the
office. Remembering the compliment which he had paid to her sense of
responsibility as Mr. Engelman's successor, Mrs. Wagner was not quite
satisfied to take it for granted that he had made a mistake--even on the
plain evidence of the ledger. A reference to the duplicate entry, in her
private account-book, would at once remove even the shadow of a doubt.
The last day of the old year was bright and frosty; the clear midday
light fell on the open page before her. She looked again at the entry,
thus recorded in figures--"15,000 florins"--and observed a trifling
circumstance which had previously escaped her.
The strokes which represented the figures "15" were unquestionably a
little, a very little, thicker than the strokes which represented the
three zeros or "noughts" that followed. Had a hair got into the pen of
the head-clerk, who had made the entry? or was there some trifling defect
in the paper, at that particular part of the page?
She once more raised one side of the ledger so that the light fell at an
angle on the writing. There was a difference between that part of the
paper on which the figures "15" were written, and the rest of the
page--and the difference consisted in a slight shine on the surface.
The side of the ledger dropped from her hand on the desk. She left the
office, and ran upstairs to her own room. Her private account-book had
not been wanted lately--it was locked up in her dressing-case. She took
it out, and referred to it. There was the entry as she had copied it, and
compared it with the ledger--"20,000 florins."
"Madame Fontaine!" she said to herself in a whisper.
The New Year had come.
On the morning of the second of January, Mrs. Wagner (on her way to the
office at the customary hour) was stopped at the lower flight of stairs
by Madame Fontaine--evidently waiting with a purpose.
"Pardon me," said the widow, "I must speak to you."
"These are business hours, madam; I have no time to spare."
Without paying the slightest heed to this reply--impenetrable, in the
petrifying despair that possessed her, to all that looks, tones, and
words could say--Madame Fontaine stood her ground, and obstinately
repeated, "I must speak to you."
Mrs. Wagner once more refused. "All that need be said between us has been
said," she answered. "Have you replaced the money?"
"That is what I want to speak about?"
"Have you replaced the money?"
"Don't drive me mad, Mrs. Wagner! As you hope for mercy yourself, at the
hour of your death, show mercy to the miserable woman who implores you to
listen to her! Return with me as far as the drawing-room. At this time of
day, nobody will disturb us there. Give me five minutes!"
Mrs. Wagner looked at her watch.
"I will give you five minutes. And mind, I mean five minutes. Even in
trifles, I speak the truth."
They returned up the stairs, Mrs. Wagner leading the way.
There were two doors of entrance to the drawing-room--one, which opened
from the landing, and a smaller door, situated at the farther end of the
corridor. This second entrance communicated with a sort of alcove, in
which a piano was placed, and which was only separated by curtains from
the spacious room beyond. Mrs. Wagner entered by the main door, and
paused, standing near the fire-place. Madame Fontaine, following her,
turned aside to the curtains, and looked through. Having assured herself
that no person was in the recess, she approached the fire-place, and said
her first words.
"You told me just now, madam, that _you_ spoke the truth. Does that imply
a doubt of the voluntary confession----?"
"You made no voluntary confession," Mrs. Wagner interposed. "I had
positive proof of the theft that you have committed, when I entered your
room. I showed you my private account-book, and when you attempted to
defend yourself, I pointed to the means of falsifying the figures in the
ledger which lay before me in your own dressing-case. What do you mean by
talking of a voluntary confession, after that?"
"You mistake me, madam. I was speaking of the confession of my
motives--the motives which, in my dreadful position, forced me to take
the money, or to sacrifice the future of my daughter's life. I declare
that I have concealed nothing from you. As you are a Christian woman,
don't be hard on me!"
Mrs. Wagner drew back, and eyed her with an expression of contemptuous
"Hard on you?" she repeated. "Do you know what you are saying? Have you
forgotten already how I have consented to degrade myself? Must I once
more remind you of _my_ position? I am bound to tell Mr. Keller that his
money and mine has been stolen; I am bound to tell him that he has taken
into his house, and has respected and trusted, a thief. There is my plain
duty--and I have consented to trifle with it. Are you lost to all sense
of decency? Have you no idea of the shame that an honest woman must feel,
when she knows that her unworthy silence makes her--for the time at
least--the accomplice of your crime? Do you think it was for your
sake--not to be hard on You--that I have consented to this intolerable
sacrifice? In the instant when I discovered you I would have sent for Mr.
Keller, but for the sweet girl whose misfortune it is to be your child.
Once for all, have you anything to say which it is absolutely necessary
that I should hear? Have you, or have you not, complied with the
conditions on which I consented--God help me!--to be what I am?"
Her voice faltered. She turned away proudly to compose herself. The look
that flashed out at her from the widow's eyes, the suppressed fury
struggling to force its way in words through the widow's lips, escaped
her notice. It was the first, and last, warning of what was to come--and
she missed it.
"I wished to speak to you of your conditions," Madame Fontaine resumed,
after a pause. "Your conditions are impossibilities. I entreat you, in
Minna's interests--oh! not in mine!--to modify them."
The tone in which those words fell from her lips was so unnaturally
quiet, that Mrs. Wagner suddenly turned again with a start, and faced
"What do you mean by impossibilities? Explain yourself."
"You are an honest woman, and I am a thief," Madame Fontaine answered,
with the same ominous composure. "How can explanations pass between you
and me? Have I not spoken plainly enough already? In my position, I say
again, your conditions are impossibilities--especially the first of
There was something in the bitterly ironical manner which accompanied
this reply that was almost insolent. Mrs. Wagner's color began to rise
for the first time. "Honest conditions are always possible conditions to
honest people," she said.
Perfectly unmoved by the reproof implied in those words, Madame Fontaine
persisted in pressing her request. "I only ask you to modify your terms,"
she explained. "Let us understand each other. Do you still insist on my
replacing what I have taken, by the morning of the sixth of this month?"
"I still insist."
"Do you still expect me to resign my position here as director of the
household, on the day when Fritz and Minna have become man and wife?"
"I still expect that."
"Permit me to set the second condition aside for awhile. Suppose I fail
to replace the five thousand florins in your reserve fund?"
"If you fail, I shall do my duty to Mr. Keller, when we divide profits on
the sixth of the month."
"And you will expose me in this way, knowing that you make the marriage
impossible--knowing that you doom my daughter to shame and misery for the
rest of her life?"
"I shall expose you, knowing that I have kept your guilty secret to the
last moment--and knowing what I owe to my partner and to myself. You have
still four days to spare. Make the most of your time."
"I can do absolutely nothing in the time."
"Have you tried?"
The suppressed fury in Madame Fontaine began to get beyond her control.
"Do you think I should have exposed myself to the insults that you have
heaped upon me if I had _not_ tried?" she asked. "Can I get the money
back from the man to whom it was paid at Wurzburg, when my note fell due
on the last day of the old year? Do I know anybody who will lend me five
thousand florins? Will my father do it? His house has been closed to me
for twenty years--and my mother, who might have interceded for me, is
dead. Can I appeal to the sympathy and compassion (once already refused
in the hardest terms) of my merciless relatives in this city? I have
appealed! I forced my way to them yesterday--I owned that I owed a sum of
money which was more, far more, than I could pay. I drank the bitter cup
of humiliation to the dregs--I even offered my daughter's necklace as
security for a loan. Do you want to know what reply I received? The
master of the house turned his back on me; the mistress told me to my
face that she believed I had stolen the necklace. Was the punishment of
my offense severe enough, when I heard those words? Surely I have
asserted some claim to your pity, at last? I only want more time. With a
few months before me--with my salary as housekeeper, and the sale of my
little valuables, and the proceeds of my work for the picture-dealers--I
can, and will, replace the money. You are rich. What is a loan of five
thousand florins to you? Help me to pass through the terrible ordeal of
your day of reckoning on the sixth of the month! Help me to see Minna
married and happy! And if you still doubt my word, take the pearl
necklace as security that you will suffer no loss."
Struck speechless by the outrageous audacity of this proposal, Mrs.
Wagner answered by a look, and advanced to the door. Madame Fontaine
instantly stopped her.
Wait!" cried the desperate creature. "Think--before you refuse me!"
Mrs. Wagner's indignation found its way at last into words. "I deserved
this," she said, "when I allowed you to speak to me. Let me pass, if you
Madame Fontaine made a last effort--she fell on her knees. "Your hard
words have roused my pride," she said; "I have forgotten that I am a
disgraced woman; I have not spoken humbly enough. See! I am humbled
now--I implore your mercy on my knees. This is not only _my_ last chance;
it is Minna's last chance. Don't blight my poor girl's life, for my
"For the second time, Madame Fontaine, I request you to let me pass.
"Without an answer to my entreaties? Am I not even worthy of an answer?"
"Your entreaties are an insult. I forgive you the insult."
Madame Fontaine rose to her feet. Every trace of agitation disappeared
from her face and her manner. "Yes," she said, with the unnatural
composure that was so strangely out of harmony with the terrible position
in which she stood--"Yes, from your point of view, I can't deny that it
may seem like an insult. When a thief, who has already robbed a person of
money, asks that same person to lend her more money, by way of atoning
for the theft, there is something very audacious (on the surface) in such
a request. I can't fairly expect you to understand the despair which
wears such an insolent look. Accept my apologies, madam; I didn't see it
at first in that light. I must do what I can, while your merciful silence
still protects me from discovery--I must do what I can between this and
the sixth of the month. Permit me to open the door for you." She opened
the drawing-room door, and waited.
Mrs. Wagner's heart suddenly quickened its beat.
Under what influence? Could it be fear? She was indignant with herself at
the bare suspicion of it. Her face flushed deeply, under the momentary
apprehension that some outward change might betray her. She left the
room, without even trusting herself to look at the woman who stood by the
open door, and bowed to her with an impenetrable assumption of respect as
she passed out.
Madame Fontaine remained in the drawing-room.
She violently closed the door with a stroke of her hand--staggered across
the room to a sofa--and dropped on it. A hoarse cry of rage and despair
burst from her, now that she was alone. In the fear that someone might
hear her, she forced her handkerchief into her mouth, and fastened her
teeth into it. The paroxysm passed, she sat up on the sofa, and wiped the
perspiration from her face, and smiled to herself. "It was well I stopped
here," she thought; "I might have met someone on the stairs."
As she rose to leave the drawing-room, Fritz's voice reached her from the
far end of the corridor.
"You are out of spirits, Minna. Come in, and let us try what a little
music will do for you."
The door leading into the recess was opened. Minna's voice became audible
next, on the inner side of the curtains.
"I am afraid I can't sing to-day, Fritz. I am very unhappy about mamma.
She looks so anxious and so ill; and when I ask what is troubling her,
she puts me off with an excuse."
The melody of those fresh young tones, the faithful love and sympathy
which the few simple words expressed, seemed to wring with an unendurable
pain the whole being of the mother who heard them. She lifted her hands
above her head, and clenched them in the agony which could only venture
to seek that silent means of relief. With swift steps, as if the sound of
her daughter's voice was unendurable to her, she made for the door. But
her movements, on ordinary occasions the perfection of easy grace, felt
the disturbing influence of the agitation that possessed her. In avoiding
a table on one side, as she passed it, she struck against a chair on the
Fritz instantly opened the curtains, and looked through. "Why, here is
mamma!" he exclaimed, in his hearty boyish way.
Minna instantly closed the piano, and hastened to her mother. When Madame
Fontaine looked at her, she paused, with an expression of alarm. "Oh, how
dreadfully pale and ill you look!" She advanced again, and tried to throw
her arms round her mother, and kiss her. Gently, very gently, Madame
Fontaine signed to her to draw back.
"Mamma! what have I done to offend you?"
"Nothing, my dear."
"Then why won't you let me come to you?"
"No time now, Minna. I have something to do. Wait till I have done it."
"Not even one little kiss, mamma?"
Madame Fontaine hurried out of the room without answering and ran up the
stairs without looking back. Minna's eyes filled with tears. Fritz stood
at the open door, bewildered.
"I wouldn't have believed it, if anybody had told me," he said; "your
mother seems to be afraid to let you touch her."
Fritz had made many mistaken guesses in his time--but, for once, he had
guessed right. She _was_ afraid.
As the presiding genius of the household, Madame Fontaine was always
first in the room when the table was laid for the early German dinner. A
knife with a speck on the blade, a plate with a suspicion of dirt on it,
never once succeeded in escaping her observation. If Joseph folded a
napkin carelessly, Joseph not only heard of it, but suffered the
indignity of seeing his work performed for him to perfection by the
housekeeper's dexterous hands.
On the second day of the New Year, she was at her post as usual, and
Joseph stood convicted of being wasteful in the matter of wine.
He had put one bottle of Ohligsberger on the table, at the place occupied
by Madame Fontaine. The wine had already been used at the dinner and the
supper of the previous day. At least two-thirds of it had been drunk.
Joseph set down a second bottle on the opposite side of the table, and
produced his corkscrew. Madame Fontaine took it out of his hand.
"Why do you open that bottle, before you are sure it will be wanted?" She
asked sharply. "You know that Mr. Keller and his son prefer beer."
"There is so little left in the other bottle," Joseph pleaded; "not a
full tumbler altogether."
"It may be enough, little as it is, for Mrs. Wagner and for me." With
that reply she pointed to the door. Joseph retired, leaving her alone at
the table, until the dinner was ready to be brought into the room.
In five minutes more, the family assembled at their meal.
Joseph performed his customary duties sulkily, resenting the
housekeeper's reproof. When the time came for filling the glasses, he had
the satisfaction of hearing Madame Fontaine herself give him orders to
draw the cork of a new bottle, after all.
Mrs. Wagner turned to Jack, standing behind her chair as usual, and asked
for some wine. Madame Fontaine instantly took up the nearly empty bottle
by her side, and, half-filling a glass, handed it with grave politeness
across the table. "If you have no objection," she said, "we will finish
one bottle, before we open another."
Mrs. Wagner drank her small portion of wine at a draught. "It doesn't
seem to keep well, after it has once been opened, she remarked, as she
set down her glass. "The wine has quite lost the good flavor it had
"It ought to keep well," said Mr. Keller, speaking from his place at the
top of the table. "It's old wine, and good wine. Let me taste what is
Joseph advanced to carry the remains of the wine to his master. But
Madame Fontaine was beforehand with him. "Open the other bottle
directly," she said--and rose so hurriedly to take the wine herself to
Mr. Keller, that she caught her foot in her dress. In saving herself from
falling, she lost her hold of the bottle. It broke in two pieces, and the
little wine left in it ran out on the floor.
"Pray forgive me," she said, smiling faintly. "It is the first thing I
have broken since I have been in the house."
The wine from the new bottle was offered to Mrs. Wagner. She declined to
take any: and she left her dinner unfinished on her plate.
"My appetite is very easily spoilt," she said. "I dare say there might
have been something I didn't notice in the glass--or perhaps my taste may
be out of order."
"Very likely," said Mr. Keller. "You didn't find anything wrong with the
wine yesterday. And there is certainly nothing to complain of in the new
bottle," he added, after tasting it. "Let us have your opinion, Madame
He filled the housekeeper's glass. "I am a poor judge of wine," she
remarked humbly. "It seems to me to be delicious."
She put her glass down, and noticed that Jack's eyes were fixed on her,
with a solemn and scrutinizing attention. "Do you see anything remarkable
in me?" she asked lightly.
"I was thinking," Jack answered.
"Thinking of what?"
"This is the first time I ever saw you in danger of tumbling down. It
used to be a remark of mine, at Wurzburg, that you were as sure-footed as
a cat. That's all."
"Don't you know that there are exceptions to all rules?" said Madame
Fontaine, as amiably as ever. "I notice an exception in You," she
continued, suddenly changing the subject. "What has become of your
leather bag? May I ask if you have taken away his keys, Mrs. Wagner?"
She had noticed Jack's pride in his character as "Keeper of the Keys."
There would be no fear of his returning to the subject of what he had
remarked at Wurzburg, if she stung him in _that_ tender place. The result
did not fail to justify her anticipations. In fierce excitement, Jack
jumped up on the hind rail of his mistress's chair, eager for the most
commanding position that he could obtain, and opened his lips to tell the
story of the night alarm. Before he could utter a word, Mrs. Wagner
stopped him, with a very unusual irritability of look and manner. "The
question was put to _me,"_ she said. "I am taking care of the keys,
Madame Fontaine, at Jack's own request. He can have them back again,
whenever he chooses to ask for them."
"Tell her about the thief," Jack whispered.
Jack was silenced at last. He retired to a corner. When he followed Mrs.
Wagner as usual, on her return to her duties in the office he struck his
favorite place on the window seat with his clenched fist. "The devil take
Frankfort!" he said.
"What do you mean?"
"I hate Frankfort. You were always kind to me in London. You do nothing
but lose your temper with me here. It's really too cruel. Why shouldn't I
have told Mrs. Housekeeper how I lost my keys in the night? Now I come to
think of it, I believe she was the thief."
"Hush! hush! you must not say that. Come and shake hands, Jack, and make
it up. I do feel irritable--I don't know what's the matter with me.
Remember, Mr. Keller doesn't like your joining in the talk at
dinner-time--he thinks it is taking a liberty. That was one reason why I
stopped you. And you might have said something to offend Madame
Fontaine--that was another. It will not be long before we go back to our
dear old London. Now, be a good boy, and leave me to my work."
Jack was not quite satisfied; but he was quiet again.
For awhile he sat watching Mrs. Wagner at her work. His thoughts went
back to the subject of the keys. Other people--the younger clerks and the
servants, for example--might have observed that he was without his bag,
and might have injuriously supposed that the keys had been taken away
from him. Little by little, he reached the conclusion that he had been in
too great a hurry perhaps to give up the bag. Why not prove himself to be
worthier of it than ever, by asking to have it back again, and taking
care always to lock the door of his bedroom at night? He looked at Mrs.
Wagner, to see if she paused over her work, so as to give him an
opportunity of speaking to her.
She was not at work; she was not pausing over it. Her head hung down over
her breast; her hands and arms lay helpless on the desk.
He got up and crossed the room on tiptoe, to look at her.
She was not asleep.
Slowly and silently, she turned her head. Her eyes stared at him awfully.
Her mouth was a little crooked. There was a horrid gray paleness all over
He dropped terrified on his knees, and clasped her dress in both hands.
"Oh, Mistress, Mistress, you are ill! What can I do for you?"
She tried to reassure him by a smile. Her mouth became more crooked
still. "I'm not well," she said, speaking thickly and slowly, with an
effort. "Help me down. Bed. Bed."
He held out his hands. With another effort, she lifted her arms from the
desk, and turned to him on the high office-stool.
"Take hold of me," she said.
"I have got hold of you, Mistress! I have got your hands in my hands.
Don't you feel it?"
"Press me harder."
He closed his hands on hers with all his strength. Did she feel it now?
Yes; she could just feel it now.
Leaning heavily upon him, she set her feet on the floor. She felt with
them as if she was feeling the floor, without quite understanding that
she stood on it. The next moment, she reeled against the desk. "Giddy,"
she said, faintly and thickly. "My head." Her eyes looked at him, cold
and big and staring. They maddened the poor affectionate creature with
terror. The frightful shrillness of the past days in Bedlam was in his
voice, as he screamed for help.
Mr. Keller rushed into the room from his office, followed by the clerks.
"Fetch the doctor, one of you," he cried. "Stop."
He mastered himself directly, and called to mind what he had heard of the
two physicians who had attended him, during his own illness. "Not the old
man," he said. "Fetch Doctor Dormann. Joseph will show you where he
lives." He turned to another of the clerks, supporting Mrs. Wagner in his
arms while he spoke. "Ring the bell in the hall--the upstairs bell for
Madame Fontaine instantly left her room. Alarmed by the violent ringing
of the bell, Minna followed her mother downstairs. The door of the office
was open; they both saw what had happened as soon as they reached the
hall. In sending for Madame Fontaine, Mr. Keller had placed a natural
reliance on the experience and presence of mind of a woman of her age and
character. To his surprise, she seemed to be as little able to control
herself as her daughter. He was obliged to summon the assistance of the
elder of the female servants, in carrying Mrs. Wagner to her room. Jack
went with them, holding one of his mistress's helpless hands.
His first paroxysm of terror had passed away with the appearance of Mr.
Keller and the clerk, and had left his weak mind stunned by the shock
that had fallen on it. He looked about him vacantly. Once or twice, on
the slow sad progress up the stairs, they heard him whispering to
himself, "She won't die--no, no, no; she won't die." His only consolation
seemed to be in that helpless confession of faith. When they laid her on
the bed, he was close at the side of the pillow. With an effort, her eyes
turned on him. With an effort she whispered, "The Key!"
He understood her--the desk downstairs had been left unlocked.
"I'll take care of the key, Mistress; I'll take care of them all," he
As he left the room, he repeated his comforting words, "She won't
die--no, no, no; she won't die." He locked the desk and placed the key
with the rest in his bag.
Leaving the office with the bag slung over his shoulder, he stopped at
the door of the dining-room, on the opposite side of the hall. His head
felt strangely dull. A sudden suspicion that the feeling might show
itself in his face, made him change his mind and pause before he ascended
the stairs. There was a looking-glass in the dining-room. He went
straight to the glass, and stood before it, studying the reflection of
his face with breathless anxiety. "Do I look stupid-mad?" he asked
himself. "They won't let me be with her; they'll send me away, if I look
He turned from the glass, and dropped on his knees before the nearest
chair. "Perhaps God will keep me quiet," he thought, "if I say my
Repeating his few simple words, the poor creature's memory vaguely
recalled to him the happy time when his good mistress had first taught
him his prayers. The one best relief that could come to him, came--the
relief of tears. Mr. Keller, descending to the hall in his impatience for
the arrival of the doctor, found himself unexpectedly confronted by Mrs.
Wagner's crazy attendant.
"May I go upstairs to Mistress?" Jack asked humbly. "I've said my
prayers, sir, and I've had a good cry--and my head's easier now."
Mr. Keller spoke to him more gently than usual. "You had better not
disturb your mistress before the doctor comes."
"May I wait outside her door, sir? I promise to be very quiet."
Mr. Keller consented by a sign. Jack took off his shoes, and noiselessly
ascended the stairs. Before he reached the first landing, he turned and
looked back into the hall. "Mind this!" he announced very earnestly; "I
say she won't die--_I_ say that!"
He went on up the stairs. For the first time Mr. Keller began to pity the
harmless little man whom he had hitherto disliked. "Poor wretch!" he said
to himself, as he paced up and down the hall, "what will become of him,
if she does die?"
In ten minutes more, Doctor Dormann arrived at the house.
His face showed that he thought badly of the case, as soon as he looked
at Mrs. Wagner. He examined her, and made all the necessary inquiries,
with the unremitting attention to details which was part of his
professional character. One of his questions could only be answered
generally. Having declared his opinion that the malady was paralysis, and
that some of the symptoms were far from being common in his medical
experience, he inquired if Mrs. Wagner had suffered from any previous
attack of the disease. Mr. Keller could only reply that he had known her
from the time of her marriage, and that he had never (in the course of a
long and intimate correspondence with her husband) heard of her having
suffered from serious illness of any kind. Doctor Dormann looked at his
patient narrowly, and looked back again at Mr. Keller with unconcealed
"At her age," he said, "I have never seen any first attack of paralysis
so complicated and so serious as this."
"Is there danger?" Mr. Keller asked in a whisper.
"She is not an old woman," the doctor answered; "there is always hope.
The practice in these cases generally is to bleed. In this case, the
surface of the body is cold; the heart's action is feeble--I don't like
to try bleeding, if I can possibly avoid it."
After some further consideration, he directed a system of treatment
which, in some respects, anticipated the practice of a later and wiser
time. Having looked at the women assembled round the bed--and especially
at Madame Fontaine--he said he would provide a competent nurse, and would
return to see the effect of the remedies in two hours.
Looking at Madame Fontaine, after the doctor had gone away, Mr. Keller
felt more perplexed than ever. She presented the appearance of a woman
who was completely unnerved. "I am afraid you are far from well
yourself," he said.
"I have not felt well, sir, for some time past," she answered, without
looking at him.
"You had better try what rest and quiet will do for you," he suggested.
"Yes, I think so." With that reply--not even offering, for the sake of
appearances, to attend on Mrs. Wagner until the nurse arrived--she took
her daughter's arm, and went out.
The woman-servant was fortunately a discreet person. She remembered the
medical instructions, and she undertook all needful duties, until the
nurse relieved her. Jack (who had followed the doctor into the room, and
had watched him attentively) was sent away again for the time. He would
go no farther than the outer side of the door. Mr. Keller passed him,
crouched up on the mat, biting his nails. He was apparently thinking of
the doctor. He said to himself, "That man looked puzzled; that man knows
nothing about it."
In the meantime, Madame Fontaine reached her room.
"Where is Fritz?" she asked, dropping her daughter's arm.
"He has gone out, mamma. Don't send me away! You seem to be almost as ill
as poor Mrs. Wagner--I want to be with you."
Madame Fontaine hesitated. "Do you love me with all your heart and soul?"
she asked suddenly. "Are you worthy of any sacrifice that a mother can
make for her child?"
Before the girl could answer, she spoke more strangely still.
"Are you just as fond of Fritz as ever? would it break your heart if you
Minna placed her mother's hand on her bosom.
"Feel it, mamma," she said quietly. Madame Fontaine took her chair by the
fire-side--seating herself with her back to the light. She beckoned to
her daughter to sit by her. After an interval, Minna ventured to break
"I am very sorry for Mrs. Wagner, mamma; she has always been so kind to
me. Do you think she will die?" Resting her elbows on her knees, staring
into the fire, the widow lifted her head--looked round--and looked back
again at the fire.
"Ask the doctor," she said. "Don't ask me."
There was another long interval of silence. Minna's eyes were fixed
anxiously on her mother. Madame Fontaine remained immovable, still
looking into the fire.
Afraid to speak again, Minna sought refuge from the oppressive stillness
in a little act of attention. She took a fire-screen from the
chimney-piece, and tried to place it gently in her mother's hand.
At that light touch, Madame Fontaine sprang to her feet as if she had
felt the point of a knife. Had she seen some frightful thing? had she
heard some dreadful sound? "I can't bear it!" she cried--"I can't bear it
"Are you in pain, mamma? Will you lie down on the bed?" Her mother only
looked at her. She drew back trembling, and said no more.
Madame Fontaine crossed the room to the wardrobe. When she spoke next,
she was outwardly quite calm again. "I am going out for a walk," she
"A walk, mamma? It's getting dark already."
"Dark or light, my nerves are all on edge--I must have air and exercise."
"Let me go with you?"
She paced backwards and forwards restlessly, before she answered. "The
room isn't half large enough!" she burst out. "I feel suffocated in these
four walls. Space! space! I must have space to breathe in! Did you say
you wished to go out with me? I want a companion, Minna. Don't you mind
"I don't even feel it, in my fur cloak."
"Get ready, then, directly."
In ten minutes more, the mother and daughter were out of the house.
Doctor Dormann was punctual to his appointment. He was accompanied by a
stranger, whom he introduced as a surgeon. As before, Jack slipped into
the room, and waited in a corner, listening and watching attentively.
Instead of improving under the administration of the remedies, the state
of the patient had sensibly deteriorated. On the rare occasions when she
attempted to speak, it was almost impossible to understand her. The sense
of touch seemed to be completely lost--the poor woman could no longer
feel the pressure of a friendly hand. And more ominous still, a new
symptom had appeared; it was with evident difficulty that she performed
the act of swallowing. Doctor Dormann turned resignedly to the surgeon.
"There is no other alternative," he said; "you must bleed her."
At the sight of the lancet and the bandage, Jack started out of his
corner. His teeth were fast set; his eyes glared with rage. Before he
could approach the surgeon Mr. Keller took him sternly by the arm and
pointed to the door. He shook himself free--he saw the point of the
lancet touch the vein. As the blood followed the incision, a cry of
horror burst from him: he ran out of the room.
"Wretches! Tigers! How dare they take her blood from her! Oh, why am I
only a little man? why am I not strong enough to fling the brutes out of
the window? Mistress! Mistress! is there nothing I can do to help you?"
These wild words poured from his lips in the solitude of his little
bedchamber. In the agony that he suffered, as the sense of Mrs. Wagner's
danger now forced itself on him, he rolled on the floor, and struck
himself with his clenched fists. And, again and again, he cried out to
her, "Mistress! Mistress! is there nothing I can do to help you?"
The strap that secured his keys became loosened, as his frantic movements
beat the leather bag, now on one side, and now on the other, upon the
floor. The jingling of the keys rang in his ears. For a moment, he lay
quite still. Then, he sat up on the floor. He tried to think calmly.
There was no candle in the room. The nearest light came from a lamp on
the landing below. He got up, and went softly down the stairs. Alone on
the landing, he held up the bag and looked at it. "There's something in
my mind, trying to speak to me," he said to himself. "Perhaps, I shall
find it in here?"
He knelt down under the light, and shook out the keys on the landing.
One by one he ranged them in a row, with a single exception. The key of
the desk happened to be the first that he took up. He kissed it--it was
_her_ key--and put it back in the bag. Placing the others before him, the
duplicate key was the last in the line. The inscription caught his eye.
He held it to the light and read "Pink-Room Cupboard."
The lost recollection now came back to him in intelligible form. The
"remedy" that Madame Fontaine had locked up--the precious "remedy" made
by the wonderful master who knew everything--was at his disposal. He had
only to open the cupboard, and to have it in his own possession.
He threw the other keys back into the bag. They rattled as he ran down
the lower flight of stairs. Opposite to the offices, he stopped and
buckled them tight with the strap. No noise! Nothing to alarm Mrs.
Housekeeper! He ascended the stairs in the other wing of the house, and
paused again when he approached Madame Fontaine's room. By this time, he
was in the perilous fever of excitement, which was still well remembered
among the authorities of Bedlam. Suppose the widow happened to be in her
room? Suppose she refused to let him have the "remedy"?
He looked at the outstretched fingers of his right hand. "I am strong
enough to throttle a woman," he said, "and I'll do it."
He opened the door without knocking, without stopping to listen outside.
Not a creature was in the room.
In another moment the fatal dose of "Alexander's Wine," which he
innocently believed to be a beneficent remedy, was in his possession.
As he put it into the breast-pocket of his coat, the wooden chest caught
his eye. He reached it down and tried the lid. The lid opened in his
hand, and disclosed the compartments and the bottles placed in them. One
of the bottles rose higher by an inch or two than any of the others. He
drew that one out first to look at it, and discovered--the "blue-glass
From that moment all idea of trying the effect on Mrs. Wagner of the
treacherous "remedy" in his pocket vanished from his mind. He had secured
the inestimable treasure, known to him by his own experience. Here was
the heavenly bottle that had poured life down his throat, when he lay
dying at Wurzburg! This was the true and only doctor who had saved Mr.
Keller's life, when the poor helpless fools about his bed had given him
up for lost! The Mistress, the dear Mistress, was as good as cured
already. Not a drop more of her precious blood should be shed by the
miscreant, who had opened his knife and wounded her. Oh, of all the
colors in the world, there's no color like blue! Of all the friends in
the world, there never was such a good friend as this! He kissed and
hugged the bottle as if it had been a living thing. He jumped up and
danced about the room with it in his arms. Ha! what music there was in
the inner gurgling and splashing of the shaken liquid, which told him
that there was still some left for the Mistress! The striking of the
clock on the mantelpiece sobered him at the height of his ecstasy. It
told him that time was passing. Minute by minute, Death might be getting
nearer and nearer to her; and there he was, with Life in his possession,
wasting the time, far from her bedside.
On his way to the door, he stopped. His eyes turned slowly towards the
inner part of the room. They rested on the open cupboard--and then they
looked at the wooden chest, left on the floor.
Suppose the housekeeper should return, and see the key in the cupboard,
and the chest with one of the bottles missing?
His only counselor at that critical moment was his cunning; stimulated
into action by the closely related motive powers of his inbred vanity,
and his devotion to the benefactress whom he loved.
The chance of being discovered by Madame Fontaine never entered into his
calculations. He cared nothing whether she discovered him or not--he had
got the bottle, and woe to her if she tried to take it away from him!
What he really dreaded was, that the housekeeper might deprive him of the
glory of saving Mrs. Wagner's life, if she found out what had happened.
She might follow him to the bedside; she might claim the blue-glass
bottle as her property; she might say, "I saved Mr. Keller; and now I
have saved Mrs. Wagner. This little man is only the servant who gave the
dose, which any other hand might have poured out in his place."
Until these considerations occurred to him, his purpose had been to
announce his wonderful discovery publicly at Mrs. Wagner's bedside. This
intention he now abandoned, without hesitation. He saw a far more
inviting prospect before him. What a glorious position for him it would
be, if he watched his opportunity of administering the life-giving liquid
privately--if he waited till everybody was astonished at the speedy
recovery of the suffering woman--and then stood up before them all, and
proclaimed himself as the man who had restored her to health!
He replaced the chest, and locked the cupboard; taking the key away with
him. Returning to the door, he listened intently to make sure that nobody
was outside, and kept the blue-glass bottle hidden under his coat when he
ventured at last to leave the room. He reached the other wing of the
house, and ascended the second flight of stairs, without interruption of
any kind. Safe again in his own room, he watched through the half-opened
Before long, Doctor Dormann and the surgeon appeared, followed by Mr.
Keller. The three went downstairs together. On the way, the Doctor
mentioned that he had secured a nurse for the night.
Still keeping the bottle concealed, Jack knocked softly at the door, and
entered Mrs. Wagner's room.
He first looked at the bed. She lay still and helpless, noticing nothing;
to all appearance, poor soul, a dying woman. The servant was engaged in
warming something over the fire. She shook her head gloomily, when Jack
inquired if any favorable change had place in his absence. He sat down,
vainly trying to discover how he might find the safe opportunity of which
he was in search.
The slow minutes followed each other. After a little while the
woman-servant looked at the clock. "It's time Mrs. Wagner had her
medicine," she remarked, still occupied with her employment at the fire.
Jack saw his opportunity in those words. "Please let me give the
medicine," he said.
"Bring it here," she answered; "I mustn't trust anybody to measure it
"Surely I can give it to her, now it's ready?" Jack persisted.
The woman handed the glass to him. "I can't very well leave what I am
about," she said. "Mind you are careful not to spill any of it. She's as
patient as a lamb, poor creature. If she can only swallow it, she won't
give you any trouble."
Jack carried the glass round to the farther side of the bed, so as to
keep the curtains as a screen between himself and the fire-place. He
softly dropped out the contents of the glass on the carpet, and filled it
again from the bottle concealed under his coat. Waiting a moment after
that, he looked towards the door. What if the housekeeper came in, and
saw the blue-glass bottle? He snatched it up--an empty bottle now--and
put it in the side-pocket of his coat, and arranged his handkerchief so
as to hide that part of it which the pocket was not deep enough to
conceal. "Now!" he thought to himself, "now I may venture!" He gently put
his arm round Mrs. Wagner, and raised her on the pillow.
"Your medicine, dear Mistress," he whispered. "You will take it from poor
Jack, won't you?"
The sense of hearing still remained. Her vacant eyes turned towards him
by slow degrees. No outward expression answered to her thought; she could
show him that she submitted, and she could do no more.
He dashed away the tears that blinded him. Supported by the firm belief
that he was saving her life, he took the glass from the bedside-table and
put it to her lips.
With painful efforts, with many intervals of struggling breath, she
swallowed the contents of the glass, by a few drops at a time. He held it
up under the shadowed lamplight, and saw that it was empty.
As he laid her head back on the pillows, he ventured to touch her cold
cheek with his lips. "Has she taken it?" the woman asked. He was just
able to answer "Yes"--just able to look once more at the dear face on the
pillow. The tumult of contending emotions, against which he had struggled
thus far, overpowered his utmost resistance. He ran to hide the
hysterical passion in him, forcing its way to relief in sobs and cries,
on the landing outside.
In the calmer moments that followed, the fear still haunted him that
Madame Fontaine might discover the empty compartment in the
medicine-chest--might search every room in the house for the lost
bottle--and might find it empty. Even if he broke it, and threw the
fragments into the dusthole, the fragments might be remarked for their
beautiful blue color, and the discovery might follow. Where could he hide
While he was still trying to answer that question, the hours of business
came to an end, and the clerks were leaving the offices below. He heard
them talking about the hard frost as they went out. One of them said
there were blocks of ice floating down the river already. The river! It
was within a few minutes' walk of the house. Why not throw the bottle
into the river?
He waited until there was perfect silence below, and then stole
downstairs. As he opened the door, a strange man met him, ascending the
house-steps, with a little traveling bag in his hand.
"Is this Mr. Keller's?" asked the strange man.
He was a jolly-looking old fellow with twinkling black eyes and a big red
nose. His breath was redolent of the smell of wine, and his thick lips
expanded into a broad grin, when he looked at Jack.
"My name's Schwartz," he said; "and here in this bag are my sister's
things for the night."
"Who is your sister?" Jack inquired.
Schwartz laughed. "Quite right, little man, how should you know who she
is? My sister's the nurse. She's hired by Doctor Dormann, and she'll be
here in an hour's time. I say! that's a pretty bottle you're hiding there
under your coat. Is there any wine in it?"
Jack began to tremble. He had been discovered by a stranger. Even the
river might not be deep enough to keep his secret now!
"The cold has got into my inside," proceeded the jolly old man. "Be a
good little fellow--and give us a drop!"
"I haven't got any wine in it," Jack answered.
Schwartz laid his forefinger confidentially along the side of his big red
nose. "I understand," he said, "you were just going out to get some. He
put his sister's bag on one of the chairs in the hall, and took Jack's
arm in the friendliest manner. "Suppose you come along with me?" he
suggested. "I am the man to help you to the best tap of wine in
Frankfort. Bless your heart! you needn't feel ashamed of being in my
company. My sister's a most respectable woman. And what do you think I
am? I'm one of the city officers. Ho! ho! just think of that! I'm not
joking, mind. The regular Night Watchman at the Deadhouse is ill in bed,
and they're obliged to find somebody to take his place till he gets well
again. I'm the Somebody. They tried two other men--but the Deadhouse gave
them the horrors. My respectable sister spoke for me, you know. "The
regular watchman will be well in a week," she says; "try him for a week."
And they tried me. I'm not proud, though I am a city officer. Come
along--and let me carry the bottle."
"The bottle" again! And, just as this intrusive person spoke of it,
Joseph's voice was audible below, and Joseph's footsteps gave notice that
he was ascending the kitchen stairs. In the utter bewilderment of the
moment, Jack ran out, with the one idea of escaping the terrible
possibilities of discovery in the hall. He heard the door closed behind
him--then heavy boots thumping the pavement at a quick trot. Before he
had got twenty yards from the house, the vinous breath of Schwartz puffed
over his shoulder, and the arm of the deputy-night-watchman took
possession of him again.
"Not too fast--I'm nimble on my legs for a man of my age--but not too
fast," said his new friend. "You're just the sort of little man I like.
My sister will tell you I take sudden fancies to people of your
complexion. My sister's a most respectable woman. What's your
name?--Jack? A capital name! Short, with a smack in it like the crack of
a whip. _Do_ give me the bottle!" He took it this time, without waiting
to have it given to him. "There! might drop it, you know," he said. "It's
safe in my friendly hands. Where are you going to? You don't deal, I
hope, at the public-house up that way? A word in your ear--the infernal
scoundrel waters his wine. Here's the turning where the honest publican
lives. I have the truest affection for him. I have the truest affection
for you. Would you like to see the Deadhouse, some night? It's against
the rules; but that don't matter. The cemetery overseer is a deal too
fond of his bed to turn out these cold nights and look after the
watchman. It's just the right place for me. There's nothing to do but to
drink, when you have got the liquor; and to sleep, when you haven't. The
Dead who come our way, my little friend, have one great merit. We are
supposed to help them, if they're perverse enough to come to life again
before they're buried. There they lie in our house, with one end of the
line tied to their fingers, and the other end at the spring of the
alarm-bell. And they have never rung the bell yet--never once, bless
their hearts, since the Deadhouse was built! Come and see me in the
course of the week, and we'll drink a health to our quiet neighbors."
They arrived at the door of the public-house.
"You've got some money about you, I suppose?" said Schwartz.
Madame Fontaine's generosity, when she gave Jack the money to buy a pair
of gloves, had left a small surplus in his pocket. He made a last effort
to escape from the deputy-watchman. "There's the money, he said. "Give me
back the bottle, and go and drink by yourself."
Schwartz took him by the shoulder, and surveyed him from head to foot by
the light of the public-house lamp. "Drink by myself?" he repeated. "Am I
a jolly fellow, or am I not? Yes, or No?"
"Yes," said Jack, trying hard to release himself.
Schwartz tightened his hold. "Did you ever hear of a jolly fellow, who
left his friend at the public-house door?" he asked.
"If you please, sir, I don't drink," Jack pleaded.
Schwartz burst into a great roar of laughter, and kicked open the door of
the public-house. "That's the best joke I ever heard in my life," he
said. "We've got money enough to fill the bottle, and to have a glass
a-piece besides. Come along!"
He dragged Jack into the house. The bottle was filled; the glasses were
filled. "My sister's health! Long life and prosperity to my respectable
sister! You can't refuse to drink the toast." With those words, he put
the fatal glass into his companion's hand.
Jack tasted the wine. It was cool; it was good. Perhaps it was not so
strong as Mr. Keller's wine? He tried it again--and emptied the glass.
An hour later, there was a ring at the door of Mr. Keller's house.
Joseph opened the door, and discovered a red-nosed old man, holding up
another man who seemed to be three parts asleep, and who was quite unable
to stand on his legs without assistance. The light of the hall lamp fell
on this helpless creature's face, and revealed--Jack.
"Put him to bed," said the red-nosed stranger. "And, look here, take
charge of the bottle for him, or he'll break it. Somehow, the wine has
all leaked out. Where's my sister's bag?"
"Do you mean the nurse?"
"Of course I do! I defy the world to produce the nurse's equal. Has she
Joseph held up his hand with a gesture of grave reproof.
"Not so loud," he said. "The nurse has come too late."
"Has the lady got well again?"
"The lady is dead."
Doctor Dormann had behaved very strangely.
He was the first person who made the terrible discovery of the death.
When he came to the house, on his evening visit to his patient, Mr.
Keller was in the room. Half an hour before, Mrs. Wagner had spoken to
him. Seeing a slight movement of her lips, he had bent over her, and had
just succeeded in hearing her few last words, "Be kind to Jack." Her
eyelids dropped wearily, after the struggle to speak. Mr. Keller and the
servant in attendance both supposed that she had fallen asleep. The
doctor's examination was not only prolonged beyond all customary limits
of time in such cases--it was the examination (judging by certain
expressions which escaped him) of a man who seemed to be unwilling to
trust his own experience. The new nurse arrived, before he had definitely
expressed his opinion; and the servant was instructed to keep her waiting
downstairs. In expectation of the doctor's report, Mr. Keller remained in
the bedroom. Doctor Dormann might not have noticed this circumstance, or
might not have cared to conceal what was passing in his mind. In either
case, when he spoke at last, he expressed himself in these extraordinary
"The second suspicious illness in this house! And the second
incomprehensible end to it!"
Mr. Keller at once stepped forward, and showed himself.
"Did you mean me to hear what you have just said?" he asked.
The doctor looked at him gravely and sadly. "I must speak to you
privately, Mr. Keller. Before we leave the room, permit me to send for
the nurse. You may safely trust her to perform the last sad duties."
Mr. Keller started. "Good God!" he exclaimed, "is Mrs. Wagner dead?"
"To my astonishment, she is dead." He laid a strong emphasis on the first
part of his reply.
The nurse having received her instructions, Mr. Keller led the way to his
private room. "In my responsible position," he said, "I may not
unreasonably expect that you will explain yourself without reserve."
"On such a serious matter as this," Doctor Dormann answered, "it is my
duty to speak without reserve. The person whom you employ to direct the
funeral will ask you for the customary certificate. I refuse to give it."
This startling declaration roused a feeling of anger, rather than of
alarm, in a man of Mr. Keller's resolute character. "For what reason do
you refuse?" he asked sternly.
"I am not satisfied, sir, that Mrs. Wagner has died a natural death. My
experience entirely fails to account for the suddenly fatal termination
of the disease, in the case of a patient of her healthy constitution, and
at her comparatively early age."
"Doctor Dormann, do you suspect there is a poisoner in my house?"
"In plain words, I do."
"In plain words on my side, I ask why?"
"I have already given you my reason."
"Is your experience infallible? Have you never made a mistake?"
"I made a mistake, Mr. Keller (as it appeared at the time), in regard to
your own illness."
"What! you suspected foul play in my case too?"
"Yes; and, by way of giving you another reason, I will own that the
suspicion is still in my mind. After what I have seen this evening--and
only after that, observe--I say the circumstances of your recovery are
suspicious circumstances in themselves. Remember, if you please, that
neither I nor my colleague really understood what was the matter with
you; and that you were cured by a remedy, not prescribed by either of us.
You were rapidly sinking; and your regular physician had left you. I had
to choose between the certainty of your death, and the risk of letting
you try a remedy, with the nature of which (though I did my best to
analyze it) I was imperfectly acquainted. I ran the risk. The result has
justified me--and up to this day, I have kept my misgivings to myself. I
now find them renewed by Mrs. Wagner's death--and I speak."
Mr. Keller's manner began to change. His tone was sensibly subdued. He
understood the respect which was due to the doctor's motives at last.
"May I ask if the symptoms of my illness resembled the symptoms of Mrs.
Wagner's illness?" he said.
"Far from it. Excepting the nervous derangement, in both cases, there was
no other resemblance in the symptoms. The conclusion, to my mind, is not
altered by this circumstance. It simply leads me to the inference that
more than one poison may have been used. I don't attempt to solve the
mystery. I have no idea why your life has been saved, and Mrs. Wagner's
life sacrificed--or what motives have been at work in the dark. Ask
yourself--don't ask me--in what direction suspicion points. I refuse to
sign the certificate of death; and I have told you why."
"Give me a moment," said Mr. Keller, "I don't shrink from my
responsibility; I only ask for time to compose myself."
It was the pride of his life to lean on nobody for help. He walked to the
window; hiding all outward betrayal of the consternation that shook him
to the soul. When he returned to his chair, he scrupulously avoided even
the appearance of asking Doctor Dormann for advice.
"My course is plain," he said quietly. "I must communicate your decision
to the authorities; and I must afford every assistance in my power to the
investigation that will follow. It shall be done, when the magistrates
meet to-morrow morning."
"We will go together to the town-hall, Mr. Keller. It is my duty to
inform the burgomaster that this is a case for the special safeguards,
sanctioned by the city regulations. I must also guarantee that there is
no danger to the public health, in the removal of the body from your
"The immediate removal?" Mr. Keller asked.
"No! The removal twenty-four hours after death."
"To what place?"
"To the Deadhouse."
Acting on the doctor's information, the burgomaster issued his order. At
eight o'clock in the evening, on the third of January, the remains of
Mrs. Wagner were to be removed to the cemetery-building, outside the
Friedberg Gate of Frankfort.
Long before the present century, the dread of premature
interment--excited by traditions of persons accidentally buried
alive--was a widely-spread feeling among the people of Germany. In other
cities besides Frankfort, the municipal authorities devised laws, the
object of which was to make this frightful catastrophe impossible. In the
early part of the present century, these laws were re-enacted and revised
by the City of Frankfort. The Deadhouse was attached to the cemetery,
with a double purpose. First, to afford a decent resting-place for the
corpse, when death occurred among the crowded residences of the poorer
class of the population. Secondly, to provide as perfect a safeguard as
possible against the chances of premature burial. The use of the
Deadhouse (strictly confined to the Christian portion of the inhabitants)
was left to the free choice of surviving relatives or
representatives--excepting only those cases in which a doctor's
certificate justified the magistrate in pronouncing an absolute decision.
Even in the event of valid objections to the Deadhouse as a last
resting-place on the way to the grave, the doctor in attendance on the
deceased person was subjected to certain restrictions in issuing his
certificate. He was allowed to certify the death informally, for the
purpose of facilitating the funeral arrangements. But he was absolutely
forbidden to give his written authority for the burial, before the
expiration of three nights from the time of the death; and he was further
bound to certify that the signs of decomposition had actually begun to
show themselves. Have these multiplied precautions, patiently applied in
many German cities, through a long lapse of years, ever yet detected a
case in which Death has failed to complete its unintelligible work? Let
the answer be found in the cells of the dead. Pass, with the mourners,
through the iron gates--hear and see!
On the evening of the third, as the time approached for the arrival of
the hearse, the melancholy stillness in the house was only broken by Mr.
Keller's servants, below-stairs. Collecting together in one room, they
talked confidentially, in low voices. An instinctive horror of silence,
in moments of domestic distress, is, in all civilized nations, one of the
marked characteristics of their class.
"In ten minutes," said Joseph, "the men from the cemetery will be here to
take her away. It will be no easy matter to carry her downstairs on the
"Why is she not put in her coffin, like other dead people?" the housemaid
"Because the crazy creature she brought with her from London is allowed
to have his own way in the house," Joseph answered irritably. "If I had
been brought to the door drunk last night, I should have been sent away
this morning. If I had been mad enough to screech out, 'She isn't dead;
not one of you shall put her in a coffin!'--I should have richly deserved
a place in the town asylum, and I should have got my deserts. Nothing of
the sort for Master Jack. Mr. Keller only tells him to be quiet, and
looks distressed. The doctor takes him away, and speaks to him in another
room--and actually comes back converted to Jack's opinion!"
"You don't mean to tell us," exclaimed the cook, "that the doctor said
she wasn't dead?"
"Of course not. It was he who first found out that she _was_ dead--I only
mean that he let Jack have his own way. He asked me for a foot rule, and
he measured the little couch in the bedroom. 'It's no longer than the
coffin' (he says); 'and I see no objection to the body being laid on it,
till the time comes for the burial.' Those were his own words; and when
the nurse objected to it, what do you think he said?--'Hold your tongue!
A couch is a pleasanter thing all the world over than a coffin.' "
"Blasphemous!" said the cook--"that's what I call it."
"Ah, well, well!" the housemaid remarked, "couch or coffin, she looks
beautiful, poor soul, in her black velvet robe, with the winter flowers
in her pretty white hands. Who got the flowers? Madame Fontaine, do you
"Bah! Madame Fontaine, indeed! Little Crazybrains went out (instead of
eating the good dinner I cooked for him), and got the flowers. He
wouldn't let anybody put them into her hands but himself--at least, so
the nurse said. Has anybody seen Madame Housekeeper? Was she downstairs
at dinner to-day, Joseph?"
"Not she! You mark my words," said Joseph, "there's some very serious
reason for her keeping her room, on pretense of being ill."
"Can you give any guess what it is?"
"You shall judge for yourself," Joseph answered. "Did I tell you what
happened yesterday evening, before Jack was brought home by the nurse's
brother? I answered a ring at the door-bell--and there was Mr. Fritz in a
towering passion, with Miss Minna on his arm looking ready to drop with
fatigue. They rang for some wine; and I heard what he said to his father.
It seems that Madame Fontaine had gone out walking in the dark and the
cold (and her daughter with her), without rhyme or reason. Mr. Fritz met
them, and insisted on taking Miss Minna home. Her mother didn't seem to
care what he said or did. She went on walking by herself, as hard as she
could lay her feet to the ground. And what do you suppose her excuse was?
Her nerves were out of order! Mr. Fritz's notion is that there is
something weighing on her mind. An hour afterwards she came back to the
house--and I found reason to agree with Mr. Fritz."
"Tell us all about it, Joseph! What did she do?"
"You shall hear. It happened, just after I had seen crazy Jack safe in
his bed. When I heard the bell, I was on my way downstairs, with a
certain bottle in my hand. One of you saw the nurse's brother give it to
me, I think? How he and Crazybrains came into possession of it, mind you,
is more than I know."
"It looked just like the big medicine-bottle that cured Mr. Keller," said
"It _was_ the bottle; and, what is more, it smelt of wine, instead of
medicine, and it was empty. Well, I opened the door to Madame
Housekeeper, with the bottle in my hand. The instant she set eyes on it,
she snatched it away from me. She looked--I give you my word of honor,
she looked as if she could have cut my throat. "You wretch!"--nice
language to use to a respectable servant, eh?--"You wretch" (she says),
"how did you come by this?" I made her a low bow. I said, "Civility costs
nothing, ma'am; and sometimes buys a great deal" (severe, eh?). I told
her exactly what had happened, and exactly what Schwartz had said. And
then I ended with another hard hit. "The next time anything of yours is
put into my hands," I said, "I shall leave it to take care of itself." I
don't know whether she heard me; she was holding the bottle up to the
light. When she saw it was empty--well! I can't tell you, of course, what
was passing in her mind. But this I can swear; she shivered and shuddered
as if she had got a fit of the ague; and pale as she was when I let her
into the house, I do assure you she turned paler still. I thought I
should have to take _her_ upstairs next. My good creatures, she's made of
iron! Upstairs she went. I followed her as far as the first landing, and
saw Mr. Keller waiting--to tell her the news of Mrs. Wagner's death, I
suppose. What passed between them I can't say. Mr. Fritz tells me she has
never left her room since; and his father has not even sent a message to
know how she is. What do you think of that?"
"I think Mr. Fritz was mistaken, when he told you she had never left her
room," said the housemaid. "I am next to certain I heard her whispering,
early this morning, with crazy Jack. Do you think she will follow the
hearse to the Deadhouse, with Mr. Keller and the doctor?"
"Hush!" said Joseph. As he spoke, the heavy wheels of the hearse were
heard in the street. He led the way to the top of the kitchen stairs.
"Wait here," he whispered, "while I answer the door--and you will see."
Upstairs, in the drawing-room, Fritz and Minna were alone. Madame
Fontaine's door, closed to everyone, was a closed door even to her
Fritz had refused to let Minna ask a second time to be let in. "It will
soon be your husband's privilege, my darling, to take care of you and
comfort you," he said. "At this dreadful time, there must be no
separation between you and me."
His arm was round her; her head rested on his shoulder. She looked up at
"Are you not going with them to the cemetery?" she asked.
"I am going to stay with you, Minna."
"You were angry yesterday, Fritz, when you met me with my mother. Don't
think the worse of her, because she is ill and troubled in her mind. You
will make allowances for her as I do--won't you?"
"My sweet girl, there is nothing I won't do to please you! Kiss me,
Minna. Again! again!"
On the higher floor of the house, Mr. Keller and the doctor were waiting
in the chamber of death.
Jack kept his silent watch by the side of the couch, on which the one
human creature who had befriended him lay hushed in the last earthly
repose. Still, from time to time, he whispered to himself the sad
senseless words, "No, no, no--not dead, Mistress! Not dead yet!"
There was a soft knock at the door. The doctor opened it. Madame Fontaine
stood before him. She spoke in dull monotonous tones--standing in the
doorway; refusing, when she was invited by a gesture, to enter the room.
"The hearse has stopped at the door," she said. "The men wish to ask you
if they can come in."
It was Joseph's duty to make this announcement. Her motive for
forestalling him showed itself dimly in her eyes. They were not on Mr.
Keller; not on the doctor; not on the couch. From the moment when the
door had been opened to her, she fixed her steady look on Jack. It never
moved until the bearers of the dead hid him from her when they entered
The procession passed out. Jack, at Mr. Keller's command, followed last.
Standing back at the doorway, Madame Fontaine caught him by the arm as he
"You were half asleep this morning," she whispered. "You are not half
asleep now. How did you get the blue-glass bottle? I insist on knowing."
"I won't tell you!"
Madame Fontaine altered her tone.
"Will you tell me who emptied the bottle? I have always been kind to
you--it isn't much to ask. Who emptied it?"
His variable temper changed; he lifted his head proudly. Absolutely sure
of his mistress's recovery, he now claimed the merit that was his due.
_"I_ emptied it!"
"How did you empty it?" she asked faintly. "Did you throw away what was
in it? Did you give it to anybody?"
He seized her in his turn--and dragged her to the railing of the
corridor. "Look there!" he cried, pointing to the bearers, slowly
carrying their burden down the stairs. "Do you see her, resting on her
little sofa till she recovers? I gave it to her!"
He left her, and descended the stairs. She staggered back against the
wall of the corridor. Her sight seemed to be affected. She groped for the
stair-rail, and held by it. The air was wafted up through the open
street-door. It helped her to rally her energies. She went down steadily,
step by step, to the first landing--paused, and went down again. Arrived
in the hall, she advanced to Mr. Keller, and spoke to him.
"Are you going to see the body laid in the Deadhouse?"
"Is there any objection to my seeing it too?"
"The authorities have no objection to admitting friends of the deceased
person," Mr. Keller answered. He looked at her searchingly, and added,
"Do _you_ go as a friend?"
It was rashly said; and he knew it. The magistrates had decided that the
first inquiries should be conducted with the greatest secrecy. For that
day, at least, the inmates of the house were to enjoy their usual liberty
of action (under private superintendence), so that no suspicion might be
excited in the mind of the guilty person. Conscious of having trifled
with the serious necessity of keeping a guard over his tongue, Mr. Keller
waited anxiously for Madame Fontaine's reply.
Not a word fell from her lips. There was a slight hardening of her face,
and no more. In ominous silence, she turned about and ascended the stairs
The departure from the house was interrupted by an unforeseen cause of
Jack refused to follow the hearse, with Doctor Dormann and Mr. Keller. "I
won't lose sight of her!" he cried--"no! not for a moment! Of all living
creatures, I must be the first to see her when she wakes."
Mr. Keller turned to the doctor. "What does he mean?"
The doctor, standing back in the shadow of the house, seemed to have some
reason for not answering otherwise than by gesture. He touched his
forehead significantly; and, stepping out into the road, took Jack by the
hand. The canopy of the hearse, closed at the sides, was open at either
end. From the driver's seat, the couch became easily visible on looking
round. With inexhaustible patience the doctor quieted the rising
excitement in Jack, and gained him permission to take his place by the
driver's side. Always grateful for kindness, he thanked Doctor Dormann,
with the tears falling fast over his cheeks. "I'm not crying for _her,"_
said the poor little man; "she will soon be herself again. But it's so
dreadful, sir, to go out driving with her in such a carriage as this!"
The hearse moved away.
Doctor Dormann, walking with Mr. Keller, felt his arm touched, and,
looking round, saw the dimly-outlined figure of a woman beckoning to him.
He drew back, after a word of apology to his companion, who continued to
follow the hearse. The woman met him half way. He recognized Madame
"You are a learned man," she began abruptly. "Do you understand writing
"If you have half an hour to spare this evening, look at that--and do me
the favor of telling me what it means."
She offered something to him, which appeared in the dim light to be only
a sheet of paper. He hesitated to take it from her. She tried to press it