Part 6 out of 6
"I found it among my husband's papers," she said. "He was a great
chemist, as you know. It might be interesting to you."
He still hesitated.
"Are _you_ acquainted with chemical science?" he asked.
"I am perfectly ignorant of chemical science."
"Then what interest can you have in interpreting the cipher?"
"I have a very serious interest. There may be something dangerous in it,
if it fell into unscrupulous hands. I want to know if I ought to destroy
He suddenly took the paper from her. It felt stiff, like a sheet of
"You shall hear," he said. "In case of necessity, I will destroy it
myself. Anything more?"
"One thing more. Does Jack go to the cemetery with you and Mr. Keller?"
Walking away rapidly to overtake Mr. Keller, he looked behind him once or
twice. The street was dimly lit, in those days, by a few oil lamps. He
might be mistaken--but he thought that Madame Fontaine was following him.
On leaving the city, the lanterns were lit to guide the hearse along the
road that led to the cemetery. The overseer met the bearers at the gates.
They passed, under a Doric portico, into a central hall. At its
right-hand extremity, an open door revealed a room for the accommodation
of mourners. Beyond this there was a courtyard; and, farther still, the
range of apartments devoted to the residence of the cemetery-overseer.
Turning from the right-hand division of the building, the bearers led the
way to the opposite extremity of the hall; passed through a second room
for mourners; crossed a second courtyard beyond it; and, turning into a
narrow passage, knocked at a closed door.
The door was opened by a watchman. He admitted them into a long room,
situated between the courtyard at one end, and the cemetery at the other,
and having ten side recesses which opened out of it. The long room was
the Watchman's Chamber. The recesses were the cells which held the dead.
The couch was set down in the Watchman's Chamber. It was a novelty in the
Deadhouse; and the overseer asked for an explanation. Doctor Dormann
informed him that the change had been made, with his full approval, to
satisfy a surviving friend, and that the coffin would be provided before
the certificate was granted for the burial.
While the persons present were all gathered round the doctor and the
overseer, Madame Fontaine softly pushed open the door from the courtyard.
After a look at the recesses--situated, five on either side of the length
of the room, and closed by black curtains--she parted the curtains of the
nearest recess to her, on her left hand; and stepped in without being
noticed by anyone.
"You take the responsibility of the couch, doctor, if the authorities
raise any objection?" said the overseer.
This condition being complied with, he addressed himself to the watchman.
"The cells are all empty to-night, Duntzer, are they not?"
"Are you off duty, early or late this evening?"
"I am off duty in half an hour, sir."
The overseer pointed to the couch. "You can attend to this," he said.
"Take the cell that is the nearest to you, where the watchman's chair is
He referred to the fifth recess, at the upper end of the room on the
right, counting from the courtyard door. The watchman looped up the black
curtains, while the bearers placed the couch in the cell. This done, the
bearers were dismissed.
Doctor Dormann pointed through the parted curtains to the lofty cell,
ventilated from the top, and warmed (like the Watchman's Chamber) by an
apparatus under the flooring. In the middle of the cell was a stand,
placed there to support the coffin. Above the stand a horizontal bar
projected, which was fixed over the doorway. It was furnished with a
pulley, through which passed a long thin string hanging loosely downward
at one end, and attached at the other to a small alarm-bell, placed over
the door on the outer side--that is to say, on the side of the Watchman's
"All the cells are equal in size," said the doctor to Mr. Keller, "and
are equally clean, and well warmed. The hot bath, in another room, is
always ready; and a cabinet, filled with restorative applications, is
close by. Now look at the watchman, and mark the care that is taken--in
the event, for instance, of a cataleptic trance, and of a revival
Duntzer led the way into the cell. He took the loose end of the string,
hanging from above, and attached to it two shorter and lighter strings,
each of which terminated in five loose ends.
From these ten ends hung ten little thimble-shaped objects, made of
First slightly altering the position of the couch on the stand, Duntzer
lifted the dead hands--fitted the ten brass thimbles to the fingers and
the thumbs--and gently laid the hands back on the breast of the corpse.
When he had looked up, and had satisfied himself of the exact connection
between the hands and the line communicating with the alarm-bell outside,
his duty was done. He left the cell; and, seating himself in his chair,
waited the arrival of the night-watchman who was to relieve him.
Mr. Keller came out into the chamber, and spoke to the overseer.
"Is all done now?"
"All is done."
"I should like, while I am here, to speak to you about the grave."
The overseer bowed. "You can see the plan of the cemetery," he said, "in
my office on the other side of the building."
Mr. Keller looked back into the cell. Jack had taken his place in it,
when the couch had been carried in; and Doctor Dormann was quietly
observing him. Mr. Keller beckoned to Jack. "I am waiting for you," he
"And leave Mistress?" Jack answered. "Never!"
Mr. Keller was on the point of stepping into the cell, when Doctor
Dormann took his arm, and led him away out of hearing.
"I want to ask you a question," said the doctor. "Was that poor
creature's madness violent madness, when Mrs. Wagner took him out of the
"I have heard her say so."
"Be careful what you do with him. Mrs. Wagner's death has tried his weak
brain seriously. I am afraid of a relapse into that violent
madness--leave him to me."
Mr. Keller left the room with the overseer. Doctor Dormann returned to
"Listen to me, Jack," he said. "If your mistress revives (as you think),
I want you to see for yourself how she will tell it to the man who is on
the watch." He turned, and spoke to Duntzer. "Is the alarm-bell set?"
The doctor addressed himself once more to Jack.
"Now look, and listen!" he said.
He delicately touched one of the brass thimbles, fitted to the fingers of
the corpse. The bell rang instantly in the Watchman's Chamber.
"The moment the man hears that," he resumed, "he will make the signal,
which calls the overseer and the nurses to help your mistress back to
life. At the same time, a messenger will be sent to Mr. Keller's house to
tell you what has happened. You see how well she is taken care of--and
you will behave sensibly, I am sure? I am going away. Come with me."
Jack answered as he had answered Mr. Keller.
"Never!" he said.
He flung himself on the floor, and clasped his arms round one of the
pillars supporting the stand on which the couch was placed. "Tear my arms
out of their sockets," he cried--"you won't get me away till you've done
Before the doctor could answer, footsteps were heard in the Watchman's
Chamber. A jolly voice asked a question. "Any report for the night,
Jack seemed to recognize the voice. He looked round eagerly.
"A corpse in Number Five," Duntzer answered. "And strangers in the cell.
Contrary to the order for the night, as you know. I have reported them;
it's your duty to send them away. Good night."
A red-nosed old man looked in at the doorway of the cell. Jack started to
his feet. "Here's Schwartz!" he cried--"leave me with Schwartz!"
The discovery of Jack agreeably surprised Schwartz, without in the least
His little friend (as he reasoned) had, no doubt, remembered the
invitation to the Deadhouse, and had obtained admission through the
interference of the strange gentleman who was with him. But who was the
gentleman? The deputy night-watchman (though he might carry messages for
his relative the nurse) was not personally acquainted with his sister's
medical patrons in Frankfort. He looked at the doctor with an expression
of considerable doubt.
"I beg your pardon, sir," he ventured to say, "you're not a member of the
city council, are you?"
"I have nothing to do with the city council."
"And nothing to do with managing the Deadhouse?"
"Nothing. I am Doctor Dormann."
Schwartz snapped his clumsy fingers, as an appropriate expression of
relief. "All right, sir! Leave the little man with me--I'll take care of
"Do you know this person?" asked the doctor, turning to Jack.
"Yes! yes! leave me here with him," Jack answered eagerly. "Good-night,
Doctor Dormann looked again at Jack's friend.
"I thought strangers were not allowed here at night," he said.
"It's against the rules," Schwartz admitted. "But, Lord love you, sir,
think of the dullness of this place! Besides, I'm only a deputy. In three
nights more, the regular man will come on duty again. It's an awful job,
doctor, watching alone here, all night. One of the men actually went mad,
and hanged himself. To be sure he was a poet in his way, which makes it
less remarkable. I'm not a poet myself--I'm only a sociable creature.
Leave little Jack with me! I'll send him home safe and sound--I feel like
a father to him."
The doctor hesitated. What was he to do? Jack had already returned to the
cell in which his mistress lay. To remove him by the brutal exercise of
main force was a proceeding from which Doctor Dormann's delicacy of
feeling naturally recoiled--to say nothing of the danger of provoking
that outbreak of madness against which the doctor had himself warned Mr.
Keller. Persuasion he had already tried in vain. Delegated authority to
control Jack had not been conferred on him. There seemed to be no other
course than to yield.
"If you persist in your obstinacy," he said to Jack, "I must return alone
to Mr. Keller's house, and tell him that I have left you here with your
Jack was already absorbed in his own thoughts. He only repeated vacantly,
Doctor Dormann left the room. Schwartz looked in at his guest. "Wait
there for the present," he said. "The porter will be here directly: I
don't want him to see you."
The porter came in after an interval. "All right for the night?" he
"All right," Schwartz answered.
The porter withdrew in silence. The night-watchman's reply was his
authority for closing the gates of the Deadhouse until the next morning.
Schwartz returned to Jack--still watching patiently by the side of the
couch. "Was she a relation of yours?" he asked.
"All the relations in the world to me!" Jack burst out passionately.
"Father and mother--and brother and sister and wife."
"Aye, aye? Five relations in one is what I call an economical family,"
said Schwartz. "Come out here, to the table. You stood treat last
time--my turn now. I've got the wine handy. Yes, yes--she was a fine
woman in her time, I dare say. Why haven't you put her into a coffin like
"Why?" Jack repeated indignantly. "I couldn't prevent them from bringing
her here; but I could have burnt the house down over their heads, if they
had dared to put her into a coffin! Are you stupid enough to suppose that
Mistress is dead? Don't you know that I'm watching and waiting here till
she wakes? Ah! I beg your pardon--you don't know. The rest of them would
have let her die. I saved her life. Come here, and I'll tell you how."
He dragged Schwartz into the cell. As the watchman disappeared from view,
the wild white face of Madame Fontaine appeared between the curtains of
her hiding-place, listening to Jack's narrative of the opening of the
cupboard, and the discovery that had followed.
Schwartz humored his little friend (evidently, as he now concluded, his
crazy little friend), by listening in respectful silence. Instead of
making any remark at the end, he mentioned once more that the wine was
handy. "Come!" he reiterated; "come to the table!"
Madame Fontaine drew back again behind the curtains. Jack remained
obstinately in the cell. "I mean to see it," he said, "the moment she
"Do you think your eyes will tell you?" Schwartz remonstrated. "You look
dead-beat already; your eyes will get tired. Trust the bell here, over
the door. Brass and steel don't get tired; brass and steel don't fall
asleep; brass and steel will ring, and call you to her. Take a rest and a
These words reminded Jack of the doctor's experiment with the alarm-bell.
He could not disguise from himself the stealthily-growing sense of
fatigue in his head and his limbs. "I'm afraid you're right," he said
sadly. "I wish I was a stronger man." He joined Schwartz at the table,
and dropped wearily into the watchman's chair.
His head sank on his breast, his eyes closed. He started up again. "She
may want help when she wakes!" he cried, with a look of terror. "What
must we do? Can we carry her home between us? Oh! Schwartz, I was so
confident in myself a little while since--and it seems all to have left
"Don't worry that weary little head of yours about nothing," Schwartz
answered, with rough good-nature. "Come along with me, and I'll show you
where help's to be got when help's wanted. No! no! you won't be out of
hearing of the bell--if it rings. We'll leave the door open. It's only on
the other side of the passage here."
He lighted a lantern, and led Jack out.
Leaving the courtyard and the waiting-room on their left hand, he
advanced along the right-hand side of the passage, and opened the door of
a bed-chamber, always kept ready for use. A second door in the
bed-chamber led to a bath-room. Here, opposite the bath, stood the
cabinet in which the restorative applications were kept, under the care
of the overseer.
When the two men had gone out, Madame Fontaine ventured into the
Watchman's Chamber. Her eyes turned towards the one terrible cell, at the
farther end of the row of black curtains. She advanced towards it; and
stopped, lifting her hands to her head in the desperate effort to compose
The terror of impending discovery had never left her, since Jack had
owned the use to which he had put the contents of the blue-glass bottle.
Animated by that all-mastering dread, she had thrown away every poison in
the medicine-chest--had broken the bottles into fragments--and had taken
those fragments out with her, when she left the house to follow Doctor
Dormann. On the way to the cemetery, she had scattered the morsels of
broken glass and torn paper on the dark road outside the city gate.
Nothing now remained but the empty medicine-chest, and the writing in
cipher, once rolled round the poison called the "Looking-Glass Drops."
Under these altered circumstances, she had risked asking Doctor Dormann
to interpret the mysterious characters, on the bare chance of their
containing some warning by which she might profit, in her present
ignorance of the results which Jack's ignorant interference might
Acting under the same vague terror of that possible revival, to which
Jack looked forward with such certain hope, she had followed him to the
Deadhouse, and had waited, hidden in the cells, to hear what dangerous
confidences he might repose in the doctor or in Mr. Keller, and to combat
on the spot the suspicion which he might ignorantly rouse in their minds.
Still in the same agony of doubt, she now stood, with her eyes on the
cell, trying to summon the resolution to judge for herself. One look at
the dead woman, while the solitude in the room gave her the chance--one
look might assure her of the livid pallor of death, or warn her of the
terrible possibilities of awakening life. She hurried headlong over the
intervening space, and looked in.
There, grand and still, lay her murderous work! There, ghostly white on
the ground of the black robe, were the rigid hands, topped by the hideous
machinery which was to betray them, if they trembled under the mysterious
return of life!
In the instant when she saw it, the sight overwhelmed her with horror.
She turned distractedly, and fled through the open door. She crossed the
courtyard, like a deeper shadow creeping swiftly through the darkness of
the winter night. On the threshold of the solitary waiting-room,
exhausted nature claimed its rest. She wavered--groped with her hands at
the empty air--and sank insensible on the floor.
In the meantime, Schwartz revealed the purpose of his visit to the
The glass doors which protected the upper division of the cabinet were
locked; the key being in the possession of the overseer. The cupboard in
the lower division, containing towels and flannel wrappers, was left
unsecured. Opening the door, the watchman drew out a bottle and an old
traveling flask, concealed behind the bath-linen. "I call this my
cellar," he explained. "Cheer up, Jacky; we'll have a jolly night of it
"I don't want to see your cellar!" said Jack impatiently. "I want to be
of use to Mistress--show me the place where we call for help."
"Call?" repeated Schwartz, with a roar of laughter. "Do you think they
can hear us at the overseer's, through a courtyard, and a waiting-room,
and a grand hall, and another courtyard, and another waiting-room beyond?
Not if we were twenty men all bawling together till we were hoarse! I'll
show you how we can make the master hear us--if that miraculous revival
of yours happens," he added facetiously in a whisper to himself.
He led the way back into the passage, and held up his lantern so as to
show the cornice. A row of fire-buckets was suspended there by books.
Midway between them, a stout rope hung through a metal-lined hole in the
"Do you see that?" said Schwartz. "You have only to pull, and there's an
iron tongue in the belfry above that will speak loud enough to be heard
at the city gate. The overseer will come tumbling in, with his bunch of
keys, as if the devil was at his heels, and the two women-servants after
him--old and ugly, Jack!--they attend to the bath, you know, when a woman
wants it. Wait a bit! Take the light into the bedroom, and get a chair
for yourself--we haven't much accommodation for evening visitors. Got it?
that's right. Would you like to see where the mad watchman hung himself?
On the last hook at the end of the row there. We've got a song he made
about the Deadhouse. I think it's in the drawer of the table. A gentleman
had it printed and sold, for the benefit of the widow and children. Wait
till we are well warmed with our liquor, and I'll tell you what I'll
do--I'll sing you the mad watchman's song; and Jacky, my man, you shall
sing the chorus! Tow-row-rub-a-dub-boom--that's the tune. Pretty, isn't
it? Come along back to our snuggery." He led the way to the Watchman's
Jack looked eagerly into the cell again. There was no change--not a sign
of that happy waking in which he so firmly believed.
Schwartz opened the drawer of the table. Tobacco and pipes; two or three
small drinking-glasses; a dirty pack of playing-cards; the mad watchman's
song, with a woodcut illustration of the suicide--all lay huddled
together. He took from the drawer the song, and two of the
drinking-glasses, and called to his little guest to come out of the cell.
"There;" he said, filling the glasses, "you never tasted such wine as
that in all your life. Off with it!"
Jack turned away with a look of disgust. "What did you say of wine, when
I drank with you the other night?" he asked reproachfully. "You said it
would warm my heart, and make a man of me. And what did it do? I couldn't
stand on my legs. I couldn't hold up my head--I was so sleepy and stupid
that Joseph had to take me upstairs to bed. I hate your wine! Your wine's
a liar, who promises and doesn't perform! I'm weary enough, and wretched
enough in my mind, as it is. No more wine for me!"
"Wrong!" remarked Schwartz, emptying his glass, and smacking his lips
"You made a serious mistake the other night--you didn't drink half
enough. Give the good liquor a fair chance, my son. No, you won't? Must I
try a little gentle persuasion before you will come back to your chair?"
Suiting the action to the word, he put his arm round Jack. "What's this I
feel under my hand?" he asked. "A bottle?" He took it out of Jack's
breast-pocket. "Lord help us!" he exclaimed; "it looks like physic!"
Jack snatched it away from him, with a cry of delight. "The very thing
for me--and I never thought of it!"
It was the phial which Madame Fontaine had repentantly kept to herself,
after having expressly filled it for him with the fatal dose of
"Alexander's Wine"--the phial which he had found, when he first opened
the "Pink-Room Cupboard." In the astonishment and delight of finding the
blue-glass bottle immediately afterwards, he had entirely forgotten it.
Nothing had since happened to remind him that it was in his pocket, until
Schwartz had stumbled on the discovery.
"It cures you when you are tired or troubled in your mind," Jack
announced in his grandest manner, repeating Madame Fontaine's own words.
"Is there any water here?"
"Not a drop, thank Heaven!" said Schwartz, devoutly.
"Give me my glass, then. I once tried the remedy by itself, and it stung
me as it went down. The wine won't hurt me, with this splendid stuff in
it. I'll take it in the wine."
"Who told you to take it?" Schwartz asked, holding back the glass.
"Mrs. Housekeeper told me."
"A woman!" growled Schwartz, in a tone of sovereign contempt. "How dare
you let a woman physic you, when you've got me for a doctor? Jack! I'm
ashamed of you."
Jack defended his manhood. "Oh, I don't care what she says! I despise
her--she's mad. You don't suppose she made this? I wouldn't touch it, if
she had. No, no; her husband made it--a wonderful man! the greatest man
He reached across the table and secured his glass of wine. Before it was
possible to interfere, he had emptied the contents of the phial into it,
and had raised it to his lips. At that moment, Schwartz's restraining
hand found its way to his wrist. The deputy watchman had far too sincere
a regard for good wine to permit it to be drunk, in combination with
physic, at his own table.
"Put it down!" he said gruffly. "You're my visitor, ain't you? Do you
think I'm going to let housekeeper's cat-lap be drunk at my table? Look
He held up his traveling-flask, with the metal drinking-cup taken off, so
as to show the liquor through the glass. The rich amber color of it
fascinated Jack. He put his wine-glass back on the table. "What is it?"
he asked eagerly.
"Drinkable gold, Jack! _My_ physic. Brandy!"
He poured out a dram into the metal cup. "Try that," he said, "and don't
let me hear any more about the housekeeper's physic."
Jack tasted it. The water came into his eyes--he put his hands on his
throat. "Fire!" he gasped faintly.
"Wait!" said Schwartz.
Jack waited. The fiery grip of the brandy relaxed; the genial warmth of
it was wafted through him persuasively from head to foot. He took another
sip. His eyes began to glitter. "What divine being made this?" he asked.
Without waiting to be answered, he tried it again, and emptied the cup.
"More!" he cried. "I never felt so big, I never felt so strong, I never
felt so clever, as I feel now!"
Schwartz, drinking freely from his own bottle, recovered, and more than
recovered, his Bacchanalian good humor. He clapped Jack on the shoulder.
"Who's the right doctor now?" he asked cheerfully. "A drab of a
housekeeper? or Father Schwartz? Your health, my jolly boy! When the
bottle's empty, I'll help you to finish the flask. Drink away! and the
devil take all heel-taps!"
The next dose of brandy fired Jack's excitable brain with a new idea. He
fell on his knees at the table, and clasped his hands in a sudden fervor
of devotion. "Silence!" he commanded sternly. Your wine's only a poor
devil. Your drinkable gold is a god. Take your cap off, Schwartz--I'm
worshipping drinkable gold!"
Schwartz, highly diverted, threw his cap up to the ceiling. "Drinkable
gold, ora pro nobis!" he shouted, profanely adapting himself to Jack's
humor. "You shall be Pope, my boy--and I'll be the Pope's butler. Allow
me to help your sacred majesty back to your chair."
Jack's answer betrayed another change in him. His tones were lofty; his
manner was distant. "I prefer the floor," he said; "hand me down my mug."
As he reached up to take it, the alarm-bell over the door caught his eye.
Debased as he was by the fiery strength of the drink, his ineradicable
love for his mistress made its noble influence felt through the coarse
fumes that were mounting to his brain. "Stop!" he cried. "I must be where
I can see the bell--I must be ready for her, the instant it rings."
He crawled across the floor, and seated himself with his back against the
wall of one of the empty cells, on the left-hand side of the room.
Schwartz, shaking his fat sides with laughter, handed down the cup to his
guest. Jack took no notice of it. His eyes, reddened already by the
brandy, were fixed on the bell opposite to him. "I want to know about
it," he said. "What's that steel thing there, under the brass cover?"
"What's the use of asking?" Schwartz replied, returning to his bottle.
"I want to know!"
"Patience, Jack--patience. Follow my fore-finger. My hand seems to shake
a little; but it's as honest a hand as ever was. That steel thing there,
is the bell hammer, you know. And, bless your heart, the hammer's
everything. Cost, Lord knows how much. Another toast, my son, Good luck
to the bell!"
Jack changed again; he began to cry. "She's sleeping too long on that
sofa, in there," he said sadly. "I want her to speak to me; I want to
hear her scold me for drinking in this horrid place. My heart's all cold
again. Where's the mug?" He found it, as he spoke; the fire of the brandy
went down his throat once more, and lashed him into frantic high spirits.
"I'm up in the clouds!" he shouted; "I'm riding on a whirlwind. Sing,
Schwartz! Ha! there are the stars twinkling through the skylight! Sing
the stars down from heaven!"
Schwartz emptied his bottle, without the ceremony of using the glass.
"Now we are primed!" he said--"now for the mad watchman's song!" He
snatched up the paper from the table, and roared out hoarsely the first
The moon was shining, cold and bright, In the Frankfort Deadhouse, on New
Year's night And I was the watchman, left alone, While the rest to feast
and dance were gone; I envied their lot, and cursed my own-- Poor me!
"Chorus, Jack! 'I envied their lot and cursed my own'----"
The last words of the verse were lost in a yell of drunken terror.
Schwartz started out of his chair, and pointed, panic-stricken, to the
lower end of the room. "A ghost!" he screamed. "A ghost in black, at the
Jack looked round, and burst out laughing. "Sit down again, you old
fool," he said. "It's only Mrs. Housekeeper. We are singing, Mrs.
Housekeeper! You haven't heard my voice yet--I'm the finest singer in
Madame Fontaine approached him humbly. "You have a kind heart, Jack--I am
sure you will help me," she said. "Show me how to get out of this
"The devil take you!" growled Schwartz, recovering himself. How did you
"She's a witch!" shouted Jack. "She rode in on a broomstick--she crept in
through the keyhole. Where's the fire? Let's take her downstairs, and
Schwartz applied himself to the brandy-flask, and began to laugh again.
"There never was such good company as Jack," he said, in his oiliest
tones. "You can't get out to-night, Mrs. Witch. The gates are locked--and
they don't trust me with the key. Walk in, ma'am. Plenty of accommodation
for you, on that side of the room where Jack sits. We are slack of guests
for the grave, to-night. Walk in."
She renewed her entreaties. "I'll give you all the money I have about me!
Who can I go to for the key? Jack! Jack! speak for me!"
"Go on with the song!" cried Jack.
She appealed again in her despair to Schwartz. "Oh, sir, have mercy on
me! I fainted, out there--and, when I came to myself, I tried to open the
gates--and I called, and called, and nobody heard me."
Schwartz's sense of humor was tickled by this. "If you could bellow like
a bull," he said, "nobody would hear you. Take a seat, ma'am."
"Go on with the song!" Jack reiterated. "I'm tired of waiting."
Madame Fontaine looked wildly from one to the other of them. "Oh, God,
I'm locked in with an idiot and a drunkard!" The thought of it maddened
her as it crossed her mind. Once more, she fled from the room. Again, and
again, in the outer darkness, she shrieked for help.
Schwartz advanced staggering towards the door, with Jack's empty chair in
his hand. "Perhaps you'll be able to pipe a little higher, ma'am, if you
come back, and sit down? Now for the song, Jack!"
He burst out with the second verse:
Backwards and forwards, with silent tread, I walked on my watch by the
doors of the dead. And I said, It's hard, on this New Year, While the
rest are dancing to leave me here, Alone with death and cold and fear--
"Chorus, Jack! Chorus, Mrs. Housekeeper! Ho! ho! look at her! She can't
resist the music--she has come back to us already. What can we do for
you, ma'am? The flask's not quite drained yet. Come and have a drink."
She had returned, recoiling from the outer darkness and silence, giddy
with the sickening sense of faintness which was creeping over her again.
When Schwartz spoke she advanced with tottering steps. "Water!" she
exclaimed, gasping for breath. "I'm faint--water! water!"
"Not a drop in the place, ma'am! Brandy, if you like?"
"I forbid it!" cried Jack, with a peremptory sign of the hand. Drinkable
gold is for us--not for her!"
The glass of wine which Schwartz had prevented him from drinking caught
his notice. To give Madame Fontaine her own "remedy," stolen from her own
room, was just the sort of trick to please Jack in his present humor. He
pointed to the glass, and winked at the watchman. After a momentary
hesitation, Schwartz's muddled brain absorbed the new idea. "Here's a
drop of wine left, ma'am," he said. "Suppose you try it?"
She leaned one hand on the table to support herself. Her heart sank lower
and lower; a cold perspiration bedewed her face. "Quick! quick!" she
murmured faintly. She seized the glass, and emptied it eagerly to the
Schwartz and Jack eyed her with malicious curiosity. The idea of getting
away was still in her mind. "I think I can walk now," she said. "For
God's sake, let me out!"
"Haven't I told you already? I can't get out myself."
At that brutal answer, she shrank back. Slowly and feebly she made her
way to the chair, and dropped on it.
"Cheer up, ma'am!" said Schwartz. "You shall have more music to help
you--you shall hear how the mad watchman lost his wits. Another drop of
the drinkable gold, Jack. A dram for you and a dram for me--and here
goes!" He roared out the last verses of the song:--
Any company's better than none, I said: If I can't have the living, I'd
like the dead. In one terrific moment more, The corpse-bell rang at each
cell door, The moonlight shivered on the floor-- Poor me!
The curtains gaped; there stood a ghost, On every threshold, as white as
frost, You called us, they shrieked, and we gathered soon; Dance with
your guests by the New Year's moon! I danced till I dropped in a deadly
swoon-- Poor me!
And since that night I've lost my wits, And I shake with ceaseless
ague-fits: For the ghosts they turned me cold as stone, On that New
Year's night when the white moon shone, And I walked on my watch, all,
all alone-- Poor me!
And, oh, when I lie in my coffin-bed, Heap thick the earth above my head!
Or I shall come back, and dance once more, With frantic feet on the
Deadhouse floor, And a ghost for a partner at every door-- Poor me!
The night had cleared. While Schwartz was singing, the moon shone in at
the skylight. At the last verse of the song, a ray of the cold yellow
light streamed across Jack's face. The fire of the brandy leapt into
flame--the madness broke out in him, with a burst of its by-gone fury. He
sprang, screaming, to his feet.
"The moon!" he shouted--"the mad watchman's moon! The mad watchman
himself is coming back. There he is, sliding down on the slanting light!
Do you see the brown earth of the grave dropping from him, and the rope
round his neck? Ha! how he skips, and twists, and twirls! He's dancing
again with the dead ones. Make way there! I mean to dance with them too.
Come on, mad watchman--come on! I'm as mad as you are!"
He whirled round and round with the fancied ghost for a partner in the
dance. The coarse laughter of Schwartz burst out again at the terrible
sight. He called, with drunken triumph, to Madame Fontaine. "Look at
Jacky, ma'am. There's a dancer for you! There's good company for a dull
winter night!" She neither looked nor moved--she sat crouched on the
chair, spellbound with terror. Jack threw up his arms, turned giddily
once or twice, and sank exhausted on the floor. "The cold of him creeps
up my hands," he said, still possessed by the vision of the watchman. "He
cools my eyes, he calms my heart, he stuns my head. I'm dying, dying,
dying--going back with him to the grave. Poor me! poor me!"
He lay hushed in a strange repose; his eyes wide open, staring up at the
moon. Schwartz drained the last drop of brandy out of the flask. "Jack's
name ought to be Solomon," he pronounced with drowsy solemnity; "Solomon
was wise; and Jack's wise. Jack goes to sleep, when the liquor's done.
Take away the bottle, before the overseer comes in. If any man says I am
not sober, that man lies. The Rhine wine has a way of humming in one's
head. That's all, Mr. Overseer--that's all. Do I see the sun rising, up
there in the skylight? I wish you good-night; I wish--you--good--night."
He laid his heavy arms on the table; his head dropped on them--he slept.
The time passed. No sound broke the silence but the lumpish snoring of
Schwartz. No change appeared in Jack; there he lay, staring up at the
Somewhere in the building (unheard thus far in the uproar) a clock struck
the first hour of the morning.
Madame Fontaine started. The sound shook her with a new fear--a fear that
expressed itself in a furtive look at the cell in which the dead woman
lay. If the corpse-bell rang, would the stroke of it be like the single
stroke of the clock?
"Jack!" she whispered. "Do you hear the clock? Oh, Jack, the stillness is
dreadful--speak to me.
He slowly raised himself. Perhaps the striking of the clock--perhaps some
inner prompting--had roused him. He neither answered Madame Fontaine, nor
looked at her. With his arms clasped round his knees, he sat on the floor
in the attitude of a savage. His eyes, which had stared at the moon, now
stared with the same rigid, glassy look at the alarm-bell over the
The time went on. Again the oppression of silence became more than Madame
Fontaine could endure. Again she tried to make Jack speak to her.
"What are you looking at?" she asked. "What are you waiting for? Is
it----?" The rest of the sentence died away on her lips: the words that
would finish it were words too terrible to be spoken.
The sound of her voice produced no visible impression on Jack. Had it
influenced him, in some unseen way? Something did certainly disturb the
strange torpor that held him. He spoke. The tones were slow and
mechanical--the tones of a man searching his memory with pain and
difficulty; repeating his recollections, one by one, as he recovered
them, to himself.
"When she moves," he muttered, "her hands pull the string. Her hands send
a message up: up and up to the bell." He paused, and pointed to the
The action had a horrible suggestiveness to the guilty wretch who was
"Don't do that!" she cried. "Don't point _there!"_
His hand never moved; he pursued his newly-found recollections of what
the doctor had shown to him.
"Up and up to the bell," he repeated. "And the bell feels it. The steel
thing moves. The bell speaks. Good bell! Faithful bell!"
The clock struck the half-hour past one. Madame Fontaine shrieked at the
sound--her senses knew no distinction between the clock and the bell.
She saw his pointing hand drop back, and clasp itself with the other
hand, round his knees. He spoke--softly and tenderly now--he was speaking
to the dead. "Rise Mistress, rise! Dear soul, the time is long; and poor
Jack is waiting for you!"
She thought the closed curtains moved: the delusion was reality to her.
She tried to rouse Schwartz.
"Watchman! watchman! Wake up!"
He slept on as heavily as ever.
She half rose from her chair. She was almost on her feet--when she sank
back again. Jack had moved. He got up on his knees. "Mistress hears me!"
he said. The light of vivid expression showed itself in his eyes. Their
vacancy was gone: they looked longingly at the door of the cell. He got
on his feet--he pressed both hands over his bosom. "Come!" he said. "Oh,
There was a sound--a faint premonitory rustling sound--over the door.
The steel hammer moved--rose--struck the metal globe. The bell rang.
He stood rooted to the floor, sobbing hysterically. The iron grasp of
suspense held him.
Not a cry, not a movement escaped Madame Fontaine. The life seemed to
have been struck out of her by the stroke of the bell. It woke Schwartz.
Except that he looked up, he too never moved: he too was like a living
creature turned to stone.
A minute passed.
The curtains swayed gently. Tremulous fingers crept out, parting them.
Slowly, over the black surface of the curtain, a fair naked arm showed
itself, widening the gap.
The figure appeared, in its velvet pall. On the pale face the stillness
of repose was barely ruffled yet. The eyes alone were conscious of
returning life. They looked out on the room, softly surprised and
perplexed--no more. They looked downwards: the lips trembled sweetly into
a smile. She saw Jack, kneeling in ecstasy at her feet.
And now again, there was stillness in the room. Unutterable happiness
rejoiced, unutterable dread suffered, in the same silence.
The first sound heard came suddenly from the lonely outer hall. Hurrying
footsteps swept over the courtyard. The flash of lights flew along the
dark passage. Voices of men and women, mingled together, poured into the
MR. DAVID GLENNEY RETURNS TO FRANKFORT, AND CLOSES THE STORY
On the twelfth of December, I received a letter from Mrs. Wagner,
informing me that the marriage of Fritz and Minna had been deferred until
the thirteenth of January. Shortly afterwards I left London, on my way to
My departure was hurried, to afford me time to transact business with
some of our correspondents in France and in Northern Germany. Our
head-clerk, Mr. Hartrey (directing the London house in Mrs. Wagner's
absence), had his own old-fashioned notions of doing nothing in a hurry.
He insisted on allowing me a far larger margin of time, for treating with
our correspondents, than I was likely to require. The good man little
suspected to what motive my ready submission to him was due. I was eager
to see my aunt and the charming Minna once more. Without neglecting any
of my duties (and with the occasional sacrifice of traveling by night), I
contrived to reach Frankfort a week before I was expected--that is to
say, in the forenoon of the fourth of January.
Joseph's face, when he opened the door, at once informed me that
something extraordinary was going on in the house.
"Anything wrong?" I asked.
Joseph looked at me in a state of bewilderment. "You had better speak to
the doctor," he said.
"The doctor! Who is ill? My aunt? Mr. Keller? Who is it?" In my
impatience, I took him by the collar of his coat, and shook him. I shook
out nothing but the former answer, a little abridged:--
"Speak to the doctor."
The office-door was close by me. I asked one of the clerks if Mr. Keller
was in his room. The clerk informed me that Mr. Keller was upstairs with
the doctor. In the extremity of my suspense, I inquired again if my aunt
was ill. The man opened his eyes. "Is it possible you haven't heard?" he
"Is she dead or alive?" I burst out, losing all patience.
"Both," answered the clerk.
I began--not unnaturally, I think--to wonder whether I was in Mr.
Keller's house, or in an asylum for idiots. Returning to the hall, I
collared Joseph for the second time. "Take me up to the doctor
instantly!" I said.
Joseph led the way upstairs--not on my aunt's side of the house, to my
infinite relief. On the first landing, he made a mysterious
communication. "Mr. David, I have given notice to leave," he said. "There
are some things that no servant can put up with. While a person lives, I
expect a person to live. When a person dies, I expect a person to die.
There must be no confusion on such a serious subject as life and death. I
blame nobody--I understand nothing--I merely go. Follow me, if you
Had he been drinking? He led the way up the next flight of stairs,
steadily and quietly. He knocked discreetly at Madame Fontaine's door.
"Mr. David Glenney," he announced, "to see Doctor Dormann."
Mr. Keller came out first, closing the door behind him. He embraced me,
with a demonstrative affection far from characteristic of him at other
times. His face was disturbed; his voice faltered, as he spoke his first
words to me.
"Welcome back, David--more welcome than ever!"
"My aunt is well, I hope?"
He clasped his hands fervently. "God is merciful," he said. "Thank God!"
"Is Madame Fontaine ill?"
Before he could answer, the door was opened again. Doctor Dormann came
"The very man I want!" he exclaimed. "You could not possibly have arrived
at a better time." He turned to Mr. Keller. "Where can I find
writing-materials? In the drawing-room? Come down, Mr. Glenney. Come
down, Mr. Keller."
In the drawing-room, he wrote a few lines rapidly. "See us sign our
names," he said. He handed the pen to Mr. Keller after he had signed
himself--and then gave me the paper to read.
To my unspeakable amazement, the writing certified that, "the suspended
vital forces in Mrs. Wagner had recovered their action, in the Deadhouse
of Frankfort, at half-past one o'clock on the morning of the fourth of
January; that he had professionally superintended the restoration to
life; and that he thereby relieved the magistrates from any further
necessity for pursuing a private inquiry, the motive for which no longer
existed." To this statement there was a line added, declaring that Mr.
Keller withdrew his application to the magistrates; authenticated by Mr.
I stood with the paper in my hand, looking from one to the other of them,
as completely bewildered as Joseph himself.
"I can't leave Madame Fontaine," said the doctor; "I am professionally
interested in watching the case. Otherwise, I would have made my
statement in person. Mr. Keller has been terribly shaken, and stands in
urgent need of rest and quiet. You will do us both a service if you will
take that paper to the town-hall, and declare before the magistrates that
you know us personally, and have seen us sign our names. On your return,
you shall have every explanation that I can give; and you shall see for
yourself that you need feel no uneasiness on the subject of your aunt."
Having arrived at the town-hall, I made the personal statement to which
the doctor had referred. Among the questions put to me, I was asked if I
had any direct interest in the matter--either as regarded Mrs. Wagner or
any other person. Having answered that I was Mrs. Wagner's nephew, I was
instructed to declare in writing, that I approved (as Mrs. Wagner's
representative) of the doctor's statement and of Mr. Keller's withdrawal
of his application.
With this, the formal proceedings terminated, and I was free to return to
Joseph had his orders, this time. He spoke like a reasonable being--he
said the doctor was waiting for me, in Madame Fontaine's room. The place
of the appointment rather surprised me.
The doctor opened the door--but paused before he admitted me.
"I think you were the first person," he said, "who saw Mr. Keller, on the
morning when he was taken ill?"
"After the late Mr. Engelman," I answered, "I was the first person.
"Come in, then. I want you to look at Madame Fontaine."
He led me to the bedside. The instant I looked at her, I saw Mr. Keller's
illness reproduced, in every symptom. There she lay, in the same apathy;
with the same wan look on her face, and the same intermittent trembling
of her hands. When I recovered the first shock of the discovery, I was
able to notice poor Minna, kneeling at the opposite side of the bed,
weeping bitterly. "Oh, my dear one!" she cried, in a passion of grief,
"look at me! speak to me!"
The mother opened her eyes for a moment--looked at Minna--and closed them
again wearily. "Leave me quiet," she said, in tones of fretful entreaty.
Minna rose and bent over the pillow tenderly. "Your poor lips look so
parched," she said; "let me give you some lemonade?" Madame Fontaine only
repeated the words, "Leave me quiet." The same reluctance to raise her
heavy eyelids, the same entreaty to be left undisturbed, which had
alarmed me on the memorable morning when I had entered Mr. Keller's room!
Doctor Dormann signed to me to follow him out. As he opened the door, the
nurse inquired if he had any further instructions for her. "Send for me,
the moment you see a change," he answered; "I shall be in the
drawing-room, with Mr. Glenney." I silently pressed poor Minna's hand,
before I left her. Who could have presumed, at that moment, to express
sympathy in words?
The doctor and I descended the stairs together. "Does her illness remind
you of anything?" he asked.
"Of Mr. Keller's illness," I answered, "exactly as I remember it."
He made no further remark. We entered the drawing-room. I inquired if I
could see my aunt.
"You must wait a little," he said. "Mrs. Wagner is asleep. The longer she
sleeps the more complete her recovery will be. My main anxiety is about
Jack. He is quiet enough now, keeping watch outside her door; but he has
given me some trouble. I wish I knew more of his early history. From all
I can learn, he was only what is called "half-witted," when they received
him at the asylum in London. The cruel repressive treatment in that place
aggravated his imbecility into violent madness--and such madness has a
tendency to recur. Mrs. Wagner's influence, which has already done so
much, is my main hope for the future. Sit down, and let me explain the
strange position in which you find us here, as well as I can."
"Do you remember how Mr. Keller's illness was cured?" the doctor began.
Those words instantly reminded me, not only of Doctor Dormann's
mysterious suspicions at the time of the illness, but of Jack's
extraordinary question to me, on the morning when I left Frankfort. The
doctor saw that I answered him with some little embarrassment.
"Let us open our minds to each other, without reserve," he said. "I have
set you thinking of something. What is it?"
I replied, concealing nothing. Doctor Dormann was equally candid on his
side. He spoke to me, exactly as he is reported to have spoken to Mr.
Keller, in the Second Part of this narrative.
"You now know," he proceeded, "what I thought of Mr. Keller's
extraordinary recovery, and what I feared when I found Mrs. Wagner (as I
then firmly believed) dead. My suspicions of poisoning pointed to the
poisoner. Madame Fontaine's wonderful cure of Mr. Keller, by means of her
own mysterious remedy, made me suspect Madame Fontaine. My motive, in
refusing to give the burial certificate, was to provoke the legal
inquiry, which I knew that Mr. Keller would institute, on the mere
expression of a doubt, on my part, whether your aunt had died a natural
death. At that time, I had not the slightest anticipation of the event
that has actually occurred. Before, however, we had removed the remains
to the Deadhouse, I must own I was a little startled--prepare yourself
for a surprise--by a private communication, addressed to me by Jack."
He repeated Jack's narrative of the opening of the Pink-Room cupboard,
and the administration of the antidote to Mrs. Wagner.
"You will understand," he went on, "that I was too well aware of the
marked difference between Mr. Keller's illness and Mrs. Wagner's illness
to suppose for a moment that the same poison had been given to both of
them. I was, therefore, far from sharing Jack's blind confidence in the
efficacy of the blue-glass bottle, in the case of his mistress. But I
tell you, honestly, my mind was disturbed about it. Towards night, my
thoughts were again directed to the subject, under mysterious
circumstances. Mr. Keller and I accompanied the hearse to the Deadhouse.
On our way through the streets, I was followed and stopped by Madame
Fontaine. She had something to give me. Here it is."
He laid on the table a sheet of thick paper, closely covered with writing
"Whose writing is this?" I asked.
"The writing of Madame Fontaine's late husband."
"And she put it into your hands!"
"Yes--and asked me to interpret the cipher for her."
"It's simply incomprehensible."
"Not in the least. She knew the use to which Jack had put her antidote,
and (in her ignorance of chemistry) she was eager to be prepared for any
consequences which might follow. Can you guess on what chance I
calculated, when I consented to interpret the cipher?"
"On the chance that it might tell you what poison she had given to Mrs.
"Well guessed, Mr. Glenney!"
"And you have actually discovered the meaning of these hieroglyphics?"
He laid a second sheet of paper on the table.
"There is but one cipher that defies interpretation," he said. "If you
and your correspondent privately arrange to consult the same edition of
the same book, and if your cipher, or his, refers to a given page and to
certain lines on that page, no ingenuity can discover you, unaided by a
previous discovery of the book. All other ciphers, so far as I know, are
at the mercy of skill and patience. In this case I began (to save time
and trouble) by trying the rule for interpreting the most simple, and
most elementary, of all ciphers--that is to say, the use of the ordinary
language of correspondence, concealed under arbitrary signs. The right
way to read these signs can be described in two words. On examination of
the cipher, you will find that some signs will be more often repeated
than others. Count the separate signs, and ascertain, by simple addition,
which especial sign occurs oftenest--which follows next in point of
number--and so on. These comparisons established, ask yourself what vowel
occurs oftenest, and what consonant occurs oftenest, in the language in
which you suppose the cipher to be written. The result is merely a
question of time and patience."
"And this is the result?" I said, pointing to the second sheet of paper.
"Read it," he answered; "and judge for yourself."
The opening sentence of the interpreted cipher appeared to be intended by
Doctor Fontaine to serve the purpose of a memorandum; repeating privately
the instructions already attached by labels to the poison called
"Alexander's Wine," and to its antidote.
The paragraphs that followed were of a far more interesting kind. They
alluded to the second poison, called "The Looking-Glass Drops;" and they
related the result of one of the Professor's most remarkable experiments
in the following words:--
"The Looking-Glass Drops. Fatal Dose, as discovered by experiments on
animals, the same as in the case of Alexander's Wine. But the effect, in
producing death, more rapid, and more indistinguishable, in respect of
presenting traces on post-mortem examination.
"After many patient trials, I can discover no trustworthy antidote to
this infernal poison. Under these circumstances, I dare not attempt to
modify it for medical use. I would throw it away--but I don't like to be
beaten. If I live a little longer, I will try once more, with my mind
refreshed by other studies.
"A month after writing these lines (which I have repeated in plain
characters, on the bottle, for fear of accidents), I tried again--and
failed again. Annoyed by this new disappointment, I did something
unworthy of me as a scientific man.
"After first poisoning an animal with the Looking-Glass Drops, I
administered a dose from the blue bottle, containing the antidote to
Alexander's Wine--knowing perfectly well the different nature of the two
poisons; expecting nothing of any scientific importance to follow; and
yet trusting stupidly to chance to help me.
"The result was startling in the last degree. It was nothing less than
the complete suspension of all the signs of life (as we know them) for a
day, and a night, and part of another day. I only knew that the animal
was not really dead, by observing, on the morning of the second day, that
no signs of decomposition had set in--the season being summer, and the
laboratory badly ventilated.
"An hour after the first symptoms of revival had astonished me, the
creature was as lively again as usual, and ate with a good appetite.
After a lapse of ten days, it is still in perfect health. This
extraordinary example of the action and reaction of the ingredients of
the poison and the ingredients of the antidote on each other, and on the
sources of life, deserves, and shall have, the most careful
investigation. May I live to carry the inquiry through to some good use,
and to record it on another page!"
There was no other page, and no further record. The Professor's last
scientific aspiration had not been fulfilled.
"It was past midnight," said the doctor, "when I made the discovery, with
which you are now acquainted. I went at once to Mr. Keller. He had
fortunately not gone to bed; and he accompanied me to the Deadhouse.
Knowing the overseer's private door, at the side of the building, I was
able to rouse him with very little delay. In the excitement that
possessed me, I spoke of the revival as a possible thing in the hearing
of the servants. The whole household accompanied us to the Deadhouse, at
the opposite extremity of the building. What we saw there, I am utterly
incapable of describing to you. I was in time to take the necessary
measures for keeping Mrs. Wagner composed, and for removing her without
injury to Mr. Keller's house. Having successfully accomplished this, I
presumed that my anxieties were at an end. I was completely mistaken."
"You refer to Madame Fontaine, I suppose?"
"No; I refer to Jack. The poor wretch's ignorant faith had unquestionably
saved his mistress's life. I should never have ventured (even if I had
been acquainted with the result of the Professor's experiment, at an
earlier hour) to run the desperate risk, which Jack confronted without
hesitation. The events of the night (aggravated by the brandy that
Schwartz had given to him) had completely overthrown the balance of his
feeble brain. He was as mad, for the time being, as ever he could have
been in Bedlam. With some difficulty, I prevailed on him to take a
composing mixture. He objected irritably to trust me; and, even when the
mixture had begun to quiet him, he was ungrateful enough to speak
contemptuously of what I had done for him. 'I had a much better remedy
than yours,' he said, 'made by a man who was worth a hundred of you.
Schwartz and I were fools enough to give it to Mrs. Housekeeper, last
night.' I thought nothing of this--it was one of the eccentricities which
were to be expected from him, in his condition. I left him quietly
asleep; and I was about to go home, and get a little rest myself--when
Mr. Keller's son stopped me in the hall. 'Do go and see Madame Fontaine,'
he said; 'Minna is alarmed about her mother.' I went upstairs again
"Had you noticed anything remarkable in Madame Fontaine," I asked,
"before Fritz spoke to you?"
"I noticed, at the Deadhouse, that she looked frightened out of her
senses; and I was a little surprised--holding the opinion I did of
her--that such a woman should show so much sensibility. Mr. Keller took
charge of her, on our way back to the house. I was quite unprepared for
what I saw afterwards, when I went to her room at Fritz's request.
"Did you discover the resemblance to Mr. Keller's illness?"
"No--not till afterwards. She sent her daughter out of the room; and I
thought she looked at me strangely, when we were alone. 'I want the paper
that I gave you in the street, last night,' she said. I asked her why she
wanted it. She seemed not to know how to reply; she became excited and
confused. 'To destroy it, to be sure!' she burst out suddenly. 'Every
bottle my husband left is destroyed--strewed here, there, and everywhere,
from the Gate to the Deadhouse. Oh, I know what you think of me--I defy
you!' She seemed to forget what she had said, the moment she had said
it--she turned away, and opened a drawer, and took out a book closed by
metal clasps. My presence in the room appeared to be a lost perception in
her mind. The clasps of the book, as well as I could make it out, opened
by touching some spring. I noticed that her hands trembled as they tried
to find the spring. I attributed the trembling to the terrors of the
night, and offered to help her. 'Let my secrets alone,' she said--and
pushed the book under the pillow of her bed. It was my professional duty
to assist her, if I could. Though I attached no sort of importance to
what Jack had said, I thought it desirable, before I prescribed for her,
to discover whether she had really taken some medicine of her own or not.
She staggered back from me, on my repeating what I had heard from Jack,
as if I had terrified her. 'What remedy does he mean? I drank nothing but
a glass of wine. Send for him directly--I must, and will speak to him!' I
told her this was impossible; I could not permit his sleep to be
disturbed. 'The watchman!' she cried; 'the drunken brute! send for him.'
By this time I began to conclude that there was really something wrong. I
called in her daughter to look after her while I was away, and then left
the room to consult with Fritz. The only hope of finding Schwartz (the
night-watch at the Deadhouse being over by that time) was to apply to his
sister the nurse. I knew where she lived; and Fritz most kindly offered
to go to her. By the time Schwartz was found, and brought to the house,
Madame Fontaine was just able to understand what he said, and no more. I
began to recognize the symptoms of Mr. Keller's illness. The apathy which
you remember was showing itself already. 'Leave me to die,' she said
quietly; 'I deserve it.' The last effort of the distracted mind, rousing
for a moment the sinking body, was made almost immediately afterwards.
She raised herself on the pillow, and seized my arm. 'Mind!' she said,
'Minna is to be married on the thirteenth!' Her eyes rested steadily on
me, while she spoke. At the last word, she sank back, and relapsed into
the condition in which you have just seen her."
"Can you do nothing for her?"
"Nothing. Our modern science is absolutely ignorant of the poisons which
Professor Fontaine's fatal ingenuity revived. Slow poisoning by
reiterated doses, in small quantities, we understand. But slow poisoning
by one dose is so entirely beyond our experience, that medical men in
general refuse to believe in it."
"Are you sure that she is poisoned?" I asked.
"After what Jack told me this morning when he woke, I have no doubt she
is poisoned by 'Alexander's Wine.' She appears to have treacherously
offered it to him as a remedy--and to have hesitated, at the last moment,
to let him have it. As a remedy, Jack's ignorant faith gave it to her by
the hands of Schwartz. When we have more time before us, you shall hear
the details. In the meanwhile, I can only tell you that the retribution
is complete. Madame Fontaine might even now be saved, if Jack had not
given all that remained of the antidote to Mrs. Wagner.
"Is there any objection to my asking Jack for the particulars?"
"The strongest possible objection. It is of the utmost importance to
discourage him from touching on the subject, in the future. He has
already told Mrs. Wagner that he has saved her life; and, just before you
came in, I found him comforting Minna. 'Your mamma has taken her own good
medicine, Missy; she will soon get well.' I have been obliged--God
forgive me!--to tell your aunt and Minna that he is misled by insane
delusions, and that they are not to believe one word of what he has said
"No doubt your motive justifies you," I said--not penetrating his motive
at the moment.
"You will understand me directly," he answered. "I trust to your honor
under any circumstances. Why have I taken you into my confidence, under
_these_ circumstances? For a very serious reason, Mr. David. You are
likely to be closely associated, in the time to come, with your aunt and
Minna--and I look to you to help the good work which I have begun. Mrs.
Wagner's future life must not be darkened by a horrible recollection.
That sweet girl must enjoy the happy years that are in store for her,
unembittered by the knowledge of her mother's guilt. Do you understand,
now, why I am compelled to speak unjustly of poor Jack?"
As a proof that I understood him, I promised the secrecy which he had
every right to expect from me.
The entrance of the nurse closed our conference. She reported Madame
Fontaine's malady to be already altering for the worse.
The doctor watched the case. At intervals, I too saw her again.
Although it happened long ago, I cannot prevail upon myself to dwell on
the deliberate progress of the hellish Borgia poison, in undermining the
forces of life. The nervous shudderings reached their climax, and then
declined as gradually as they had arisen. For hours afterwards, she lay
in a state of complete prostration. Not a last word, not a last look,
rewarded the devoted girl, watching faithfully at the bedside. No more of
it--no more! Late in the afternoon of the next day, Doctor Dormann,
gently, most gently, removed Minna from the room. Mr. Keller and I looked
at each other in silence. We knew that Madame Fontaine was dead.
I had not forgotten the clasped book that she had tried vainly to open,
in Doctor Dormann's presence. Taking it myself from under the pillow, I
left Mr. Keller and the doctor to say if I should give it, unopened, to
"Certainly not!" said the doctor.
"Because it will tell her what she must never know. I believe that book
to be a Diary. Open it, and see."
I found the spring and opened the clasps. It _was_ a Diary.
"You judged, I suppose, from the appearance of the book?" I said.
"Not at all. I judged from my own experience, at the time when I was
Medical Officer at the prison here. An educated criminal is almost
invariably an inveterate egotist. We are all interesting to
ourselves--but the more vile we are, the more intensely we are absorbed
in ourselves. The very people who have, logically speaking, the most
indisputable interest in concealing their crimes, are also the very
people who, almost without exception, yield to the temptation of looking
at themselves in the pages of a Diary."
"I don't doubt your experience, doctor. But your results puzzle me."
"Think a little, Mr. David, and you will not find the riddle so very hard
to read. The better we are, the more unselfishly we are interested in
others. The worse we are, the more inveterately our interest is
concentrated on ourselves. Look at your aunt as an example of what I say.
This morning there were some letters waiting for her, on the subject of
those reforms in the treatment of mad people, which she is as resolute as
ever to promote--in this country as well as in England. It was with the
greatest difficulty that I prevailed on her not to answer those letters
just yet: in other words, not to excite her brain and nervous system,
after such an ordeal as she has just passed through. Do you think a
wicked woman--with letters relating merely to the interests of other
people waiting for her--would have stood in any need of my interference?
Not she! The wicked woman would have thought only of herself, and would
have been far too much interested in her own recovery to run the risk of
a relapse. Open that book of Madame Fontaine's at any of the later
entries. You will find the miserable woman self-betrayed in every page.
It was true! Every record of Madame Fontaine's most secret moments,
presented in this narrative, was first found in her Diary.
As an example:-- Her Diary records, in the fullest detail, the infernal
ingenuity of the stratagem by which she usurped her title to Mr. Keller's
confidence, as the preserver of his life. "I have only to give him the
Alexander's Wine," she writes, "to make sure, by means of the antidote,
of curing the illness which I have myself produced. After that, Minna's
mother becomes Mr. Keller's guardian angel, and Minna's marriage is a
On a later page, she is similarly self described--in Mrs. Wagner's
case--as acting from an exactly opposite motive, in choosing the
Looking-Glass Drops. "They not only kill soonest, and most surely defy
detection," she proceeds, "but I have it on the authority of the label,
that my husband has tried to find the antidote to these Drops, and has
tried in vain. If my heart fails me, when the deed is done, there can be
no reprieve for the woman whose tongue I must silence for ever--or, after
all I have sacrificed, my child's future is ruined."
There is little doubt that she intended to destroy these compromising
pages, on her return to Mr. Keller's house--and that she would have
carried out her intention, but for those first symptoms of the poison,
which showed themselves in the wandering of her mind, and the helpless
trembling of her hands.
The final entry in the Diary has an interest of its own, which I think
justifies the presentation of it in this place. It shows the purifying
influence of the maternal instinct in a wicked nature, surviving to the
last. Even Madame Fontaine's nature preserved, in this way, a softer
side. On the memorable occasion of her meeting with Mr. Keller in the
hall, she had acted as imprudently as if she had been the most foolish
woman living, in her eagerness to plead Minna's cause with the man on
whom Minna's marriage depended. She had shrunk from poisoning harmless
Jack, even for her own protection. She would not even seduce Minna into
telling a lie, when a lie would have served them both at the most
critical moment of their lives.
Are such redeeming features unnatural in an otherwise wicked woman? Think
of your own "inconsistencies." Read these last words of a sinner--and
thank God that you were not tempted as she was:
". . . Sent Minna out of my room, and hurt my sensitive girl cruelly. I
am afraid of her! This last crime seems to separate me from that pure
creature--all the more, because it has been committed in her dearest
interests, and for her sweet sake. Every time she looks at me, I am
afraid she may see what I have done for her, in my face. Oh, how I long
to take her in my arms, and devour her with kisses! I daren't do it--I
daren't do it."
Lord, have mercy on her--miserable sinner!
The night is getting on; and the lamp I am writing by grows dim.
My mind wanders away from Frankfort, and from all that once happened
there. The picture now in my memory presents an English scene.
I am at the house of business in London. Two friends are waiting for me.
One of them is Fritz. The other is the most popular person in the
neighborhood; a happy, harmless creature, known to everyone by the
undignified nickname of Jack Straw. Thanks to my aunt's influence, and to
the change of scene, no return of the relapse at Frankfort has shown
itself. We are easy about the future of our little friend.
As to the past, we have made no romantic discoveries, relating to the
earlier years of Jack's life. Who were his parents; whether they died or
whether they deserted him; how he lived, and what he suffered, before he
drifted into the service of the chemistry-professor at Wurzburg--these,
and other questions like them, remain unanswered. Jack himself feels no
sort of interest in our inquiries. He either will not or cannot rouse his
feeble memory to help us. "What does it matter now?" he says. "I began to
live when Mistress first came to see me. I don't remember, and won't
remember, anything before that."
So the memoirs of Jack remain unwritten, for want of materials--like the
memoirs of many another foundling, in real life.
While I am speaking of Jack, I am keeping my two friends waiting in the
reception-room. I dress myself in my best clothes and join them. Fritz is
silent and nervous; unreasonably impatient for the arrival of the
carriage at the door. Jack promenades the room, with a superb nosegay in
the button-hole of a glorious blue coat. He has a watch; he carries a
cane; he wears white gloves, and tight nankeen pantaloons. He struts out
before us, when the carriage comes at last. "I don't deny that Fritz is a
figure in the festival," he says, when we drive away; "but I positively
assert that the thing is not complete without Me. If my dress fails in
any respect to do me justice, for Heaven's sake mention it, one of you,
before we pass the tailor's door!" I answer Jack, by telling him that he
is in all respects perfect. And Jack answers me, "David, you have your
faults; but your taste is invariably correct. Give me a little more room;
I can't face Mistress with crumpled coat-tails."
We reach a little village in the neighborhood of London, and stop at the
gate of the old church.
We walk up to the altar-rails, and wait there. All the women in the place
are waiting also. They merely glance at Fritz and at me--their whole
attention is concentrated on Jack. They take him for the bridegroom. Jack
discovers it; and is better pleased with himself than ever.
The organist plays a wedding-march. The bride, simply and unpretendingly
dressed, just fluttered enough to make her eyes irresistible, and her
complexion lovely, enters the church, leaning on Mr. Keller's arm.
Our good partner looks younger than usual. At his own earnest request,
the business in Frankfort has been sold; the head-partner first
stipulating for the employment of a given number of reputable young women
in the office. Removed from associations which are inexpressibly
repellent to him, Mr. Keller is building a house, near Mrs. Wagner's
pretty cottage, on the hill above the village. Here he proposes to pass
the rest of his days peacefully, with his two married children.
On their way to the altar, Mr. Keller and Minna are followed by Doctor
Dormann (taking his annual holiday, this year, in England). The doctor
gives his arm to the woman of all women whom Jack worships and loves. My
kind and dear aunt--with the old bright charm in her face; the firm
friend of all friendless creatures--why does my calmness desert me, when
I try to draw my little portrait of her; Minna's second mother, standing
by Minna's side, on the greatest day of her life?
I can't even see the paper. Nearly fifty years have passed, since that
wedding-day. Oh, my coevals, who have outlived your dearest friends, like
me, _you_ know what is the matter with my eyes! I must take out my
handkerchief, and put down my pen--and leave some of you younger ones to
finish the story of the marriage for yourself.