TO ALBERTO CACCIA
Let me begin by informing you, that this new novel does not present the proposed sequel to my last work of fiction–“The Fallen Leaves.”
The first part of that story has, through circumstances connected with the various forms of publications adopted thus far, addressed itself to a comparatively limited class of readers in England. When the book is finally reprinted in its cheapest form–then, and then only, it will appeal to the great audience of the English people. I am waiting for that time, to complete my design by writing the second part of “The Fallen Leaves.”
Your knowledge of English Literature–to which I am indebted for the first faithful and intelligent translation of my novels into the Italian language–has long since informed you, that there are certain important social topics which are held to be forbidden to the English novelist (no matter how seriously and how delicately he may treat them), by a narrow-minded minority of readers, and by the critics who flatter their prejudices. You also know, having done me the honor to read my books, that I respect my art far too sincerely to permit limits to be wantonly assigned to it, which are imposed in no other civilized country on the face of the earth. When my work is undertaken with a pure purpose, I claim the same liberty which is accorded to a writer in a newspaper, or to a clergyman in a pulpit; knowing, by previous experience, that the increase of readers and the lapse of time will assuredly do me justice, if I have only written well enough to deserve it.
In the prejudiced quarters to which I have alluded, one of the characters in “The Fallen Leaves” offended susceptibilities of the sort felt by Tartuffe, when he took out his handkerchief, and requested Dorine to cover her bosom. I not only decline to defend myself, under such circumstances as these–I say plainly, that I have never asserted a truer claim to the best and noblest sympathies of Christian readers than in presenting to them, in my last novel, the character of the innocent victim of infamy, rescued and purified from the contamination of the streets. I remember what the nasty posterity of Tartuffe, in this country, said of “Basil,” of “Armadale,” of “The New Magdalen,” and I know that the wholesome audience of the nation at large has done liberal justice to those books. For this reason, I wait to write the second part of “The Fallen Leaves,” until the first part of the story has found its way to the people.
Turning for a moment to the present novel, you will (I hope) find two interesting studies of humanity in these pages.
In the character called “Jack Straw,” you have the exhibition of an enfeebled intellect, tenderly shown under its lightest and happiest aspect, and used as a means of relief in some of the darkest scenes of terror and suspense occurring in this story. Again, in “Madame Fontaine,” I have endeavored to work out the interesting moral problem, which takes for its groundwork the strongest of all instincts in a woman, the instinct of maternal love, and traces to its solution the restraining and purifying influence of this one virtue over an otherwise cruel, false, and degraded nature.
The events in which these two chief personages play their parts have been combined with all possible care, and have been derived, to the best of my ability, from natural and simple causes. In view of the distrust which certain readers feel, when a novelist builds his fiction on a foundation of fact, it may not be amiss to mention (before I close these lines), that the accessories of the scenes in the Deadhouse of Frankfort have been studied on the spot. The published rules and ground-plans of that curious mortuary establishment have also been laid on my desk, as aids to memory while I was writing the closing passages of the story.
With this, I commend “Jezebel’s Daughter” to my good friend and brother in the art–who will present this last work also to the notice of Italian readers.
Gloucester Place, London:
February 9, 1880.
MR. DAVID GLENNEY CONSULTS HIS MEMORY AND OPENS THE STORY
In the matter of Jezebel’s Daughter, my recollections begin with the deaths of two foreign gentlemen, in two different countries, on the same day of the same year.
They were both men of some importance in their way, and both strangers to each other.
Mr. Ephraim Wagner, merchant (formerly of Frankfort-on-the-Main), died in London on the third day of September, 1828.
Doctor Fontaine–famous in his time for discoveries in experimental chemistry–died at Wurzburg on the third day of September, 1828.
Both the merchant and the doctor left widows. The merchant’s widow (an Englishwoman) was childless. The doctor’s widow (of a South German family) had a daughter to console her.
At that distant time–I am writing these lines in the year 1878, and looking back through half a century–I was a lad employed in Mr. Wagner’s office. Being his wife’s nephew, he most kindly received me as a member of his household. What I am now about to relate I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears. My memory is to be depended on. Like other old men, I recollect events which happened at the beginning of my career far more clearly than events which happened only two or three years since.
Good Mr. Wagner had been ailing for many months; but the doctors had no immediate fear of his death. He proved the doctors to be mistaken; and took the liberty of dying at a time when they all declared that there was every reasonable hope of his recovery. When this affliction fell upon his wife, I was absent from the office in London on a business errand to our branch-establishment at Frankfort-on-the-Main, directed by Mr. Wagner’s partners. The day of my return happened to be the day after the funeral. It was also the occasion chosen for the reading of the will. Mr. Wagner, I should add, had been a naturalized British citizen, and his will was drawn by an English lawyer.
The fourth, fifth, and sixth clauses of the will are the only portions of the document which it is necessary to mention in this place.
The fourth clause left the whole of the testator’s property, in lands and in money, absolutely to his widow. In the fifth clause he added a new proof of his implicit confidence in her–he appointed her sole executrix of his will.
The sixth and last clause began in these words:–
“During my long illness, my dear wife has acted as my secretary and representative. She has made herself so thoroughly well acquainted with the system on which I have conducted my business, that she is the fittest person to succeed me. I not only prove the fullness of my trust in her and the sincerity of my gratitude towards her, but I really act in the best interests of the firm of which I am the head, when I hereby appoint my widow as my sole successor in the business, with all the powers and privileges appertaining thereto.”
The lawyer and I both looked at my aunt. She had sunk back in her chair; her face was hidden in her handkerchief. We waited respectfully until she might be sufficiently recovered to communicate her wishes to us. The expression of her husband’s love and respect, contained in the last words of the will, had completely overwhelmed her. It was only after she had been relieved by a burst of tears that she was conscious of our presence, and was composed enough to speak to us.
“I shall be calmer in a few days’ time,” she said. “Come to me at the end of the week. I have something important to say to both of you.”
The lawyer ventured on putting a question. “Does it relate in any way to the will?” he inquired.
She shook her head. “It relates,” she answered, “to my husband’s last wishes.
She bowed to us, and went away to her own room.
The lawyer looked after her gravely and doubtfully as she disappeared. “My long experience in my profession,” he said, turning to me, “has taught me many useful lessons. Your aunt has just called one of those lessons to my mind.
“May I ask what it is, sir?”
“Certainly.” He took my arm and waited to repeat the lesson until we had left the house; “Always distrust a man’s last wishes on his death-bed–unless they are communicated to his lawyer, and expressed in his will.”
At the time, I thought this rather a narrow view to take. How could I foresee that coming events in the future life of my aunt would prove the lawyer to be right? If she had only been content to leave her husband’s plans and projects where he had left them at his death, and if she had never taken that rash journey to our branch office at Frankfort–but what is the use of speculating on what might or might not have happened? My business in these pages is to describe what did happen. Let me return to my business.
At the end of the week we found the widow waiting to receive us.
To describe her personally, she was a little lady, with a remarkably pretty figure, a clear pale complexion, a broad low forehead, and large, steady, brightly-intelligent gray eyes. Having married a man very much older than herself, she was still (after many years of wedded life) a notably attractive woman. But she never seemed to be conscious of her personal advantages, or vain of the very remarkable abilities which she did unquestionably possess. Under ordinary circumstances, she was a singularly gentle, unobtrusive creature. But let the occasion call for it, and the reserves of resolution in her showed themselves instantly. In all my experience I have never met with such a firm woman, when she was once roused.
She entered on her business with us, wasting no time in preliminary words. Her face showed plain signs, poor soul, of a wakeful and tearful night. But she claimed no indulgence on that account. When she spoke of her dead husband–excepting a slight unsteadiness in her voice–she controlled herself with a courage which was at once pitiable and admirable to see.
“You both know,” she began, “that Mr. Wagner was a man who thought for himself. He had ideas of his duty to his poor and afflicted fellow-creatures which are in advance of received opinions in the world about us. I love and revere his memory–and (please God) I mean to carry out his ideas.”
The lawyer began to look uneasy. “Do you refer, madam, to Mr. Wagner’s political opinions?” he inquired.
Fifty years ago, my old master’s political opinions were considered to be nothing less than revolutionary. In these days–when his Opinions have been sanctioned by Acts of Parliament, with the general approval of the nation–people would have called him a “Moderate Liberal,” and would have set him down as a discreetly deliberate man in the march of modern progress.
“I have nothing to say about politics,” my aunt answered. “I wish to speak to you, in the first place, of my husband’s opinions on the employment of women.
Here, again, after a lapse of half a century, my master’s heresies of the year 1828 have become the orthodox principles of the year 1878. Thinking the subject over in his own independent way, he had arrived at the conclusion that there were many employments reserved exclusively for men, which might with perfect propriety be also thrown open to capable and deserving women. To recognize the claims of justice was, with a man of Mr. Wagner’s character, to act on his convictions without a moment’s needless delay. Enlarging his London business at the time, he divided the new employments at his disposal impartially between men and women alike. The scandal produced in the city by this daring innovation is remembered to the present day by old men like me. My master’s audacious experiment prospered nevertheless, in spite of scandal.
“If my husband had lived,” my aunt continued, “it was his intention to follow the example, which he has already set in London, in our house at Frankfort. There also our business is increasing, and we mean to add to the number of our clerks. As soon as I am able to exert myself, I shall go to Frankfort, and give German women the same opportunities which my husband has already given to English women in London. I have his notes on the best manner of carrying out this reform to guide me. And I think of sending you, David,” she added, turning to me, “to our partners in Frankfort, Mr. Keller and Mr. Engelman, with instructions which will keep some of the vacant situations in the office open, until I can follow you.” She paused, and looked at the lawyer. “Do you see any objection to what I propose?” she said.
“I see some risks,” he answered, cautiously.
“In London, madam, the late Mr. Wagner had special means of investigating the characters of the women whom he took into his office. It may not be so easy for you, in a strange place like Frankfort, to guard against the danger—-” He hesitated, at a loss for the moment to express himself with sufficient plainness and sufficient delicacy.
My aunt made no allowances for his embarrassment.
“Don’t be afraid to speak out, sir,” she said, a little coldly. “What danger are you afraid of?”
“Yours is a generous nature, madam: and generous natures are easily imposed upon. I am afraid of women with bad characters, or, worse still, of other women—-”
He stopped again. This time there was a positive interruption. We heard a knock at the door.
Our head-clerk was the person who presented himself at the summons to come in. My aunt held up her hand. “Excuse me, Mr. Hartrey–I will attend to you in one moment.” She turned to the lawyer. “What other women are likely to impose on me?” she asked.
“Women, otherwise worthy of your kindness, who may be associated with disreputable connections,” the lawyer replied. “The very women, if I know anything of your quick sympathies, whom you would be most anxious to help, and who might nevertheless be a source of constant trouble and anxiety, under pernicious influences at home.”
My aunt made no answer. For the moment, the lawyer’s objections seemed to annoy her. She addressed herself to Mr. Hartrey; asking rather abruptly what he had to say to her.
Our head-clerk was a methodical gentleman of the old school. He began by confusedly apologizing for his intrusion; and ended by producing a letter.
“When you are able to attend to business, madam, honor me by reading this letter. And, in the meantime, will you forgive me for taking a liberty in the office, rather than intrude on your grief so soon after the death of my dear and honored master?” The phrases were formal enough; but there was true feeling in the man’s voice as he spoke. My aunt gave him her hand. He kissed it, with the tears in his eyes.
“Whatever you have done has been well done, I am sure,” she said kindly. “Who is the letter from?”
“From Mr. Keller, of Frankfort, madam.”
My aunt instantly took the letter from him, and read it attentively. It has a very serious bearing on passages in the present narrative which are yet to come. I accordingly present a copy of it in this place:
“Private and confidential.
“Dear Mr. Hartrey,–It is impossible for me to address myself to Mrs. Wagner, in the first days of the affliction that has fallen on her. I am troubled by a pressing anxiety; and I venture to write to you, as the person now in charge at our London office.
“My only son Fritz is finishing his education at the university of Wurzburg. He has, I regret to say, formed an attachment to a young woman, the daughter of a doctor at Wurzburg, who has recently died. I believe the girl to be a perfectly reputable and virtuous young person. But her father has not only left her in poverty, he has done worse–he has died in debt. Besides this, her mother’s character does not stand high in the town. It is said, among other things, that her extravagance is mainly answerable for her late husband’s debts. Under these circumstances, I wish to break off the connection while the two young people are separated for the time by the event of the doctor’s recent death. Fritz has given up the idea of entering the medical profession, and has accepted my proposal that he shall succeed me in our business. I have decided on sending him to London, to learn something of commercial affairs, at headquarters, in your office.
“My son obeys me reluctantly; but he is a good and dutiful lad–and he yields to his father’s wishes. You may expect him in a day or two after receipt of these lines. Oblige me by making a little opening for him in one of your official departments, and by keeping him as much as possible under your own eye, until I can venture on communicating directly with Mrs. Wagner–to whom pray convey the expression of my most sincere and respectful sympathy.”
My aunt handed back the letter. “Has the young man arrived yet?” she asked.
“He arrived yesterday, madam.”
“And have you found some employment for him?”
“I have ventured to place him in our corresponding department, the head-clerk answered. “For the present he will assist in copying letters; and, after business-hours, he will have a room (until further orders) in my house. I hope you think I have done right, madam?”
“You have done admirably, Mr. Hartrey. At the same time, I will relieve you of some of the responsibility. No grief of mine shall interfere with my duty to my husband’s partner. I will speak to the young man myself. Bring him here this evening, after business-hours. And don’t leave us just yet; I want to put a question to you relating to my husband’s affairs, in which I am deeply interested.” Mr. Hartrey returned to his chair. After a momentary hesitation, my aunt put her question in terms which took us all three by surprise.
“My husband was connected with many charitable institutions,” the widow began. “Am I right in believing that he was one of the governors of Bethlehem Hospital?”
At this reference to the famous asylum for insane persons, popularly known among the inhabitants of London as “Bedlam,” I saw the lawyer start, and exchange a look with the head-clerk. Mr. Hartrey answered with evident reluctance; he said, “Quite right, madam”–and said no more. The lawyer, being the bolder man of the two, added a word of warning, addressed directly to my aunt.
“I venture to suggest,” he said, “that there are circumstances connected with the late Mr. Wagner’s position at the Hospital, which make it desirable not to pursue the subject any farther. Mr. Hartrey will confirm what I say, when I tell you that Mr. Wagner’s proposals for a reformation in the treatment of the patients—-”
“Were the proposals of a merciful man,” my aunt interposed “who abhorred cruelty in all its forms, and who held the torturing of the poor mad patients by whips and chains to be an outrage on humanity. I entirely agree with him. Though I am only a woman, I will not let the matter drop. I shall go to the Hospital on Monday morning next–and my business with you to-day is to request that you will accompany me.”
“In what capacity am I to have the honor of accompanying you?” the lawyer asked, in his coldest manner.
“In your professional capacity,” my aunt replied. “I may have a proposal to address to the governors; and I shall look to your experience to express it in the proper form.”
The lawyer was not satisfied yet. “Excuse me if I venture on making another inquiry,” he persisted. “Do you propose to visit the madhouse in consequence of any wish expressed by the late Mr. Wagner?”
“Certainly not! My husband always avoided speaking to me on that melancholy subject. As you have heard, he even left me in doubt whether he was one of the governing body at the asylum. No reference to any circumstance in his life which might alarm or distress me ever passed his lips.” Her voice failed her as she paid that tribute to her husband’s memory. She waited to recover herself. “But, on the night before his death,” she resumed, “when be was half waking, half dreaming, I heard him talking to himself of something that he was anxious to do, if the chance of recovery had been still left to him. Since that time I have looked at his private diary; and I have found entries in it which explain to me what I failed to understand clearly at his bedside. I know for certain that the obstinate hostility of his colleagues had determined him on trying the effect of patience and kindness in the treatment of mad people, at his sole risk and expense. There is now in Bethlehem Hospital a wretched man–a friendless outcast, found in the streets–whom my noble husband had chosen as the first subject of his humane experiment, and whose release from a life of torment he had the hope of effecting through the influence of a person in authority in the Royal Household. You know already that the memory of my husband’s plans and wishes is a sacred memory to me. I am resolved to see that poor chained creature whom he would have rescued if he had lived; and I will certainly complete his work of mercy, if my conscience tells me that a woman should do it.”
Hearing this bold announcement–I am almost ashamed to confess it, in these enlightened days–we all three protested. Modest Mr. Hartrey was almost as loud and as eloquent as the lawyer, and I was not far behind Mr. Hartrey. It is perhaps to be pleaded as an excuse for us that some of the highest authorities, in the early part of the present century, would have been just as prejudiced and just as ignorant as we were. Say what we might, however, our remonstrances produced no effect on my aunt. We merely roused the resolute side of her character to assert itself.
“I won’t detain you any longer,” she said to the lawyer. “Take the rest of the day to decide what you will do. If you decline to accompany me, I shall go by myself. If you accept my proposal, send me a line this evening to say so.”
In that way the conference came to an end.
Early in the evening young Mr. Keller made his appearance, and was introduced to my aunt and to me. We both took a liking to him from the first. He was a handsome young man, with light hair and florid complexion, and with a frank ingratiating manner–a little sad and subdued, in consequence, no doubt, of his enforced separation from his beloved young lady at Wurzburg. My aunt, with her customary kindness and consideration, offered him a room next to mine, in place of his room in Mr. Hartrey’s house. “My nephew David speaks German; and he will help to make your life among us pleasant to you.” With those words our good mistress left us together.
Fritz opened the conversation with the easy self-confidence of a German student.
“It is one bond of union between us that you speak my language,” he began. “I am good at reading and writing English, but I speak badly. Have we any other sympathies in common? Is it possible that you smoke?”
Poor Mr. Wagner had taught me to smoke. I answered by offering my new acquaintance a cigar.
“Another bond between us,” cried Fritz. “We must be friends from this moment. Give me your hand.” We shook hands. He lit his cigar, looked at me very attentively, looked away again, and puffed out his first mouthful of smoke with a heavy sigh.
“I wonder whether we are united by a third bond?” he said thoughtfully. “Are you a stiff Englishman? Tell me, friend David, may I speak to you with the freedom of a supremely wretched man?”
“As freely as you like,” I answered. He still hesitated.
“I want to be encouraged,” he said. “Be familiar with me. Call me Fritz.”
I called him “Fritz.” He drew his chair close to mine, and laid his hand affectionately on my shoulder. I began to think I had perhaps encouraged him a little too readily.
“Are you in love, David?” He put the question just as coolly as if he had asked me what o’clock it was.
I was young enough to blush. Fritz accepted the blush as a sufficient answer. “Every moment I pass in your society,” he cried with enthusiasm, “I like you better–find you more eminently sympathetic. You are in love. One word more–are there any obstacles in your way?”
There _were_ obstacles in my way. She was too old for me, and too poor for me–and it all came to nothing in due course of time. I admitted the obstacles; abstaining, with an Englishman’s shyness, from entering into details. My reply was enough, and more than enough, for Fritz. “Good Heavens!” he exclaimed; “our destinies exactly resemble each other! We are both supremely wretched men. David, I can restrain myself no longer; I must positively embrace you!”
I resisted to the best of my ability–but he was the stronger man of the two. His long arms almost strangled me; his bristly mustache scratched my cheek. In my first involuntary impulse of disgust, I clenched my fist. Young Mr. Keller never suspected (my English brethren alone will understand) how very near my fist and his head were to becoming personally and violently acquainted. Different nations–different customs. I can smile as I write about it now.
Fritz took his seat again. “My heart is at ease; I can pour myself out freely, he said. “Never, my friend, was there such an interesting love-story as mine. She is the sweetest girl living. Dark, slim, gracious, delightful, desirable, just eighteen. The image, I should suppose, of what her widowed mother was at her age. Her name is Minna. Daughter and only child of Madame Fontaine. Madame Fontaine is a truly grand creature, a Roman matron. She is the victim of envy and scandal. Would you believe it? There are wretches in Wurzburg (her husband the doctor was professor of chemistry at the University)–there are wretches, I say, who call my Minna’s mother “Jezebel,” and my Minna herself ‘Jezebel’s Daughter!’ I have fought three duels with my fellow-students to avenge that one insult. Alas, David, there is another person who is influenced by those odious calumnies!–a person sacred to me–the honored author of my being. Is it not dreadful? My good father turns tyrant in this one thing; declares I shall never marry ‘Jezebel’s Daughter;’ exiles me, by his paternal commands, to this foreign country; and perches me on a high stool to copy letters. Ha! he little knows my heart. I am my Minna’s and my Minna is mine. In body and soul, in time and in eternity, we are one. Do you see my tears? Do my tears speak for me? The heart’s relief is in crying freely. There is a German song to that effect. When I recover myself, I will sing it to you. Music is a great comforter; music is the friend of love. There is another German song to _that_ effect.” He suddenly dried his eyes, and got on his feet; some new idea had apparently occurred to him. “It is dreadfully dull here,” he said; “I am not used to evenings at home. Have you any music in London? Help me to forget Minna for an hour or two. Take me to the music.”
Having, by this time, heard quite enough of his raptures, I was eager on my side for a change of any kind. I helped him to forget Minna at a Vauxhall Concert. He thought our English orchestra wanting in subtlety and spirit. On the other hand, he did full justice, afterwards, to our English bottled beer. When we left the Gardens he sang me that German song, ‘My heart’s relief is crying freely,’ with a fervor of sentiment which must have awakened every light sleeper in the neighborhood.
Retiring to my bedchamber, I found an open letter on my toilet-table. It was addressed to my aunt by the lawyer; and it announced that he had decided on accompanying her to the madhouse–without pledging himself to any further concession. In leaving the letter for me to read, my aunt had written across it a line in pencil: “You can go with us, David, if you like.”
My curiosity was strongly aroused. It is needless to say I decided on being present at the visit to Bedlam.
On the appointed Monday we were ready to accompany my aunt to the madhouse.
Whether she distrusted her own unaided judgment, or whether she wished to have as many witnesses as possible to the rash action in which she was about to engage, I cannot say. In either case, her first proceeding was to include Mr. Hartrey and Fritz Keller in the invitation already extended to the lawyer and myself.
They both declined to accompany us. The head-clerk made the affairs of the office serve for his apology, it was foreign post day, and he could not possibly be absent from his desk. Fritz invented no excuses; he confessed the truth, in his own outspoken manner. “I have a horror of mad people,” he said, “they so frighten and distress me, that they make me feel half mad myself. Don’t ask me to go with you–and oh, dear lady, don’t go yourself.”
My aunt smiled sadly–and led the way out.
We had a special order of admission to the Hospital which placed the resident superintendent himself at our disposal. He received my aunt with the utmost politeness, and proposed a scheme of his own for conducting us over the whole building; with an invitation to take luncheon with him afterwards at his private residence.
“At another time, sir, I shall be happy to avail myself of your kindness,” my aunt said, when he had done. “For the present, my object is to see one person only among the unfortunate creatures in this asylum.”
“One person only?” repeated the superintendent. “One of our patients of the higher rank, I suppose?”
“On the contrary,” my aunt replied, “I wish to see a poor friendless creature, found in the streets; known here, as I am informed, by no better name than Jack Straw.
The superintendent looked at her in blank amazement.
“Good Heavens, madam!” he exclaimed; “are you aware that Jack Straw is one of the most dangerous lunatics we have in the house?”
“I have heard that he bears the character you describe,” my aunt quietly admitted.
“And yet you wish to see him?”
“I am here for that purpose–and no other.”
The superintendent looked round at the lawyer and at me, appealing to us silently to explain, if we could, this incomprehensible desire to see Jack Straw. The lawyer spoke for both of us. He reminded the superintendent of the late Mr. Wagner’s peculiar opinions on the treatment of the insane, and of the interest which he had taken in this particular case. To which my aunt added: “And Mr. Wagner’s widow feels the same interest, and inherits her late husband’s opinions.” Hearing this, the superintendent bowed with his best grace, and resigned himself to circumstances. “Pardon me if I keep you waiting for a minute or two,” he said, and rang a bell.
A man-servant appeared at the door.
“Are Yarcombe and Foss on duty on the south side?” the superintendent asked.
“Send one of them here directly.”
We waited a few minutes–and then a gruff voice became audible on the outer side of the door. “Present, sir,” growled the gruff voice.
The superintendent courteously offered his arm to my aunt. “Permit me to escort you to Jack Straw,” he said, with a touch of playful irony in his tone.
We left the room. The lawyer and I followed my aunt and her escort. A man, whom we found posted on the door-mat, brought up the rear. Whether he was Yarcombe or whether he was Foss, mattered but little. In either case he was a hulking, scowling, hideously ill-looking brute. “One of our assistants,” we heard the superintendent explain. “It is possible, madam, that we may want two of them, if we are to make things pleasant at your introduction to Jack Straw.”
We ascended some stairs, shut off from the lower floor by a massive locked door, and passed along some dreary stone passages, protected by more doors. Cries of rage and pain, at one time distant and at another close by, varied by yelling laughter, more terrible even than the cries, sounded on either side of us. We passed through a last door, the most solid of all, which shut out these dreadful noises, and found ourselves in a little circular hall. Here the superintendent stopped, and listened for a moment. There was dead silence. He beckoned to the attendant, and pointed to a heavily nailed oaken door.
“Look in,” he said.
The man drew aside a little shutter in the door, and looked through the bars which guarded the opening.
“Is he waking or sleeping?” the superintendent asked.
“Is he at work?”
The superintendent turned to my aunt.
“You are fortunate, madam–you will see him in his quiet moments. He amuses himself by making hats, baskets, and table-mats, out of his straw. Very neatly put together, I assure you. One of our visiting physicians, a man with a most remarkable sense of humor, gave him his nickname from his work. Shall we open the door?”
My aunt had turned very pale; I could see that she was struggling with violent agitation. “Give me a minute or two first,” she said; “I want to compose myself before I see him.”
She sat down on a stone bench outside the door. “Tell me what you know about this poor man?” she said. “I don’t ask out of idle curiosity–I have a better motive than that. Is he young or old?”
“Judging by his teeth,” the superintendent answered, as if he had been speaking of a horse, “he is certainly young. But his complexion is completely gone, and his hair has turned gray. So far as we have been able to make out (when he is willing to speak of himself), these peculiarities in his personal appearance are due to a narrow escape from poisoning by accident. But how the accident occurred, and where it occurred, he either cannot or will not tell us. We know nothing about him, except that he is absolutely friendless. He speaks English–but it is with an odd kind of accent–and we don’t know whether he is a foreigner or not. You are to understand, madam, that he is here on sufferance. This is a royal institution, and, as a rule, we only receive lunatics of the educated class. But Jack Straw has had wonderful luck. Being too mad, I suppose, to take care of himself, he was run over in one of the streets in our neighborhood by the carriage of an exalted personage, whom it would be an indiscretion on my part even to name. The personage (an illustrious lady, I may inform you) was so distressed by the accident–without the slightest need, for the man was not seriously hurt–that she actually had him brought here in her carriage, and laid her commands on us to receive him. Ah, Mrs. Wagner, her highness’s heart is worthy of her highness’s rank. She occasionally sends to inquire after the lucky lunatic who rolled under her horse’s feet. We don’t tell her what a trouble and expense he is to us. We have had irons specially invented to control him; and, if I am not mistaken,” said the superintendent, turning to the assistant, “a new whip was required only last week.”
The man put his hand into the big pocket of his coat, and produced a horrible whip, of many lashes. He exhibited this instrument of torture with every appearance of pride and pleasure. “This is what keeps him in order, my lady,” said the brute, cheerfully. “Just take it in your hand.”
My aunt sprang to her feet. She was so indignant that I believe she would have laid the whip across the man’s shoulders, if his master had not pushed him back without ceremony. “A zealous servant,” said the superintendent, smiling pleasantly. “Please excuse him.”
My aunt pointed to the cell door.
“Open it,” she said, “Let me see _anything,_ rather than set eyes on that monster again!”
The firmness of her tone evidently surprised the superintendent. He knew nothing of the reserves of resolution in her, which the mere sight of the whip had called forth. The pallor had left her face; she trembled no longer; her fine gray eyes were bright and steady. “That brute has roused her,” said the lawyer, looking back at the assistant, and whispering to me; “nothing will restrain her, David–she will have her way now.”
The superintendent opened the cell door with his own hand.
We found ourselves in a narrow, lofty prison, like an apartment in a tower. High up, in one corner, the grim stone walls were pierced by a grated opening, which let in air and light. Seated on the floor, in the angle formed by the junction of two walls, we saw the superintendent’s “lucky lunatic” at work, with a truss of loose straw on either side of him. The slanting rays of light from the high window streamed down on his prematurely gray hair, and showed us the strange yellow pallor of his complexion, and the youthful symmetry of his hands, nimbly occupied with their work. A heavy chain held him to the wall. It was not only fastened round his waist, it also fettered his legs between the knee and the ankle. At the same time, it was long enough to allow him a range of crippled movement, within a circle of five or six feet, as well as I could calculate at the time. Above his head, ready for use if required, hung a small chain evidently intended to confine his hands at the wrists. Unless I was deceived by his crouching attitude, he was small in stature. His ragged dress barely covered his emaciated form. In other and happier days, he must have been a well-made little man; his feet and ankles, like his hands, were finely and delicately formed. He was so absorbed in his employment that he had evidently not heard the talking outside his cell. It was only when the door was banged to by the assistant (who kept behind us, at a sign from the superintendent) that he looked up. We now saw his large vacantly-patient brown eyes, the haggard outline of his face, and his nervously sensitive lips. For a moment, he looked from one to the other of the visitors with a quiet childish curiosity. Then his wandering glances detected the assistant, waiting behind us with the whip still in his hand.
In an instant the whole expression of the madman’s face changed. Ferocious hatred glittered in his eyes; his lips, suddenly retracted, showed his teeth like the teeth of a wild beast. My aunt perceived the direction in which he was looking, and altered her position so as to conceal from him the hateful figure with the whip, and to concentrate his attention on herself. With startling abruptness, the poor creature’s expression changed once more. His eyes softened, a faint sad smile trembled on his lips. He dropped the straw which he had been plaiting, and lifted his hands with a gesture of admiration. “The pretty lady!” he whispered to himself. “Oh, the pretty lady!”
He attempted to crawl out from the wall, as far as his chain would let him. At a sign from the superintendent he stopped, and sighed bitterly. “I wouldn’t hurt the lady for the world,” he said; “I beg your pardon, Mistress, if I have frightened you.”
His voice was wonderfully gentle. But there was something strange in his accent–and there was perhaps a foreign formality in his addressing my aunt as “Mistress.” Englishmen in general would have called her “ma’am.”
We men kept our places at a safe distance from his chain. My aunt, with a woman’s impulsive contempt of danger when her compassion is strongly moved, stepped forward to him. The superintendent caught her by the arm and checked her. “Take care,” he said. “You don’t know him as well as we do.”
Jack’s eyes turned on the superintendent, dilating slowly. His lips began to part again–I feared to see the ferocious expression in his face once more. I was wrong. In the very moment of another outbreak of rage, the unhappy man showed that he was still capable, under strong internal influence, of restraining himself. He seized the chain that held him to the wall in both hands, and wrung it with such convulsive energy that I almost expected to see the bones of his fingers start through the skin. His head dropped on his breast, his wasted figure quivered. It was only for an instant. When he looked up again, his poor vacant brown eyes turned on my aunt, dim with tears. She instantly shook off the superintendent’s hold on her arm. Before it was possible to interfere, she was bending over Jack Straw, with one of her pretty white hands laid gently on his head.
“How your head burns, poor Jack!” she said simply. “Does my hand cool it?”
Still holding desperately by the chain, he answered like a timid child. “Yes, Mistress; your hand cools it. Thank you.”
She took up a little straw hat on which he had been working when his door was opened. “This is very nicely done, Jack,” she went on. “Tell me how you first came to make these pretty things with your straw.”
He looked up at her with a sudden accession of confidence; her interest in the hat had flattered him.
“Once,” he said, “there was a time when my hands were the maddest things about me. They used to turn against me and tear my hair and my flesh. An angel in a dream told me how to keep them quiet. An angel said, “Let them work at your straw.” All day long I plaited my straw. I would have gone on all night too, if they would only have given me a light. My nights are bad, my nights are dreadful. The raw air eats into me, the black darkness frightens me. Shall I tell you what is the greatest blessing in the world? Daylight! Daylight!! Daylight!!!”
At each repetition of the word his voice rose. He was on the point of breaking into a scream, when he took a tighter turn of his chain and instantly silenced himself. “I am quiet, sir,” he said, before the superintendent could reprove him.
My aunt added a word in his favor. “Jack has promised not to frighten me; and I am sure he will keep his word. Have you never had parents or friends to be kind to you, my poor fellow?” she asked, turning to him again.
He looked up at her. “Never,” he said, “till you came here to see me.” As he spoke, there was a flash of intelligence in the bright gratitude of his eyes. “Ask me something else,” he pleaded; “and see how quietly I can answer you.”
“Is it true, Jack, that you were once poisoned by accident, and nearly killed by it?”
“Where was it?”
“Far away in another country. In the doctor’s big room. In the time when I was the doctor’s man.”
“Who was the doctor?”
He put his hand to his head, “Give me more time,” he said. “It hurts me when I try to remember too much. Let me finish my hat first. I want to give you my hat when it’s done. You don’t know how clever I am with my fingers and thumbs. Just look and see!”
He set to work on the hat; perfectly happy while my aunt was looking at him. The lawyer was the unlucky person who produced a change for the worse. Having hitherto remained passive, this worthy gentleman seemed to think it was due to his own importance to take a prominent part in the proceedings. “My professional experience will come in well here,” he said; “I mean to treat him as an unwilling witness; you will see we shall get something out of him in that way. Jack!”
The unwilling witness went on impenetrably with his work. The lawyer (keeping well out of reach of the range of the chain) raised his voice. “Hullo, there!” he cried, “you’re not deaf, are you?”
Jack looked up, with an impish expression of mischief in his eyes. A man with a modest opinion of himself would have taken warning, and would have said no more. The lawyer persisted.
“Now, my man! let us have a little talk. ‘Jack Straw’ can’t be your proper name. What is your name?”
“Anything you like,” said Jack. “What’s yours?”
“Oh, come! that won’t do. You must have had a father and mother.”
“Not that I know of.”
“Where were you born?”
“In the gutter.”
“How were you brought up?”
“Sometimes with a cuff on the head.”
“And at other times?”
“At other times with a kick. Do be quiet, and let me finish my hat.”
The discomfited lawyer tried a bribe as a last resource. He held up a shilling. “Do you see this?”
“No, I don’t. I see nothing but my hat.”
This reply brought the examination to an end. The lawyer looked at the superintendent, and said, “A hopeless case, sir.” The superintendent looked at the lawyer, and answered, “Perfectly hopeless.”
Jack finished his hat, and gave it to my aunt. “Do you like it, now it’s done?” he asked.
“I like it very much,” she answered: “and one of these days I shall trim it with ribbons, and wear it for your sake.”
She appealed to the superintendent, holding out the hat to him.
“Look,” she said. “There is not a false turn anywhere in all this intricate plaiting. Poor Jack is sane enough to fix his attention to this subtle work. Do you give him up as incurable, when he can do that?”
The superintendent waved away the question with his hand. “Purely mechanical,” he replied. “It means nothing.”
Jack touched my aunt. “I want to whisper,” he said. She bent down to him, and listened.
I saw her smile, and asked, after we had left the asylum, what he had said. Jack had stated his opinion of the principal officer of Bethlehem Hospital in these words: “Don’t you listen to him, Mistress; he’s a poor half-witted creature. And short, too–not above six inches taller than I am!”
But my aunt had not done with Jack’s enemy yet.
“I am sorry to trouble you, sir,” she resumed–“I have something more to say before I go, and I wish to say it privately. Can you spare me a few minutes?”
The amiable superintendent declared that he was entirely at her service. She turned to Jack to say good-bye. The sudden discovery that she was about to leave him was more than he could sustain; he lost his self-control.
“Stay with me!” cried the poor wretch, seizing her by both hands. “Oh, be merciful, and stay with me!”
She preserved her presence of mind–she would permit no interference to protect her. Without starting back, without even attempting to release herself, she spoke to him quietly.
“Let us shake hands for to-day,” she said; “you have kept your promise, Jack–you have been quiet and good. I must leave you for a while. Let me go.”
He obstinately shook his head, and still held her.
“Look at me,” she persisted, without showing any fear of him. “I want to tell you something. You are no longer a friendless creature, Jack. You have a friend in me. Look up.”
Her clear firm tones had their effect on him; he looked up. Their eyes met.
“Now, let me go, as I told you.”
He dropped her hand, and threw himself back in his corner and burst out crying.
“I shall never see her again,” he moaned to himself. “Never, never, never again!”
“You shall see me to-morrow,” she said.
He looked at her through his tears, and looked away again with an abrupt change to distrust. “She doesn’t mean it,” he muttered, still speaking to himself; “she only says it to pacify me.”
“You shall see me to-morrow,” my aunt reiterated; “I promise it.”
He was cowed, but not convinced; he crawled to the full length of his chain, and lay down at her feet like a dog. She considered for a moment–and found her way to his confidence at last.
“Shall I leave you something to keep for me until I see you again?”
The idea struck him like a revelation: he lifted his head, and eyed her with breathless interest. She gave him a little ornamental handbag, in which she was accustomed to carry her handkerchief, and purse, and smelling-bottle.
“I trust it entirely to you, Jack: you shall give it back to me when we meet to-morrow.”
Those simple words more than reconciled him to her departure–they subtly flattered his self-esteem.
“You will find your bag torn to pieces, to-morrow,” the superintendent whispered, as the door was opened for us to go out.
“Pardon me, sir,” my aunt replied; “I believe I shall find it quite safe.”
The last we saw of poor Jack, before the door closed on him, he was hugging the bag in both arms, and kissing it.
On our return to home, I found Fritz Keller smoking his pipe in the walled garden at the back of the house.
In those days, it may not be amiss to remark that merchants of the old-fashioned sort still lived over their counting-houses in the city. The late Mr. Wagner’s place of business included two spacious houses standing together, with internal means of communication. One of these buildings was devoted to the offices and warehouses. The other (having the garden at the back) was the private residence.
Fritz advanced to meet me, and stopped, with a sudden change in his manner. “Something has happened,” he said–“I see it in your face! Has the madman anything to do with it?”
“Yes. Shall I tell you what has happened, Fritz?”
“Not for the world. My ears are closed to all dreadful and distressing narratives. I will imagine the madman–let us talk of something else.”
“You will probably see him, Fritz, in a few weeks’ time.”
“You don’t mean to tell me he is coming into this house?”
“I am afraid it’s likely, to say the least of it.”
Fritz looked at me like a man thunderstruck. “There are some disclosures,” he said, in his quaint way, “which are too overwhelming to be received on one’s legs. Let us sit down.”
He led the way to a summer-house at the end of the garden. On the wooden table, I observed a bottle of the English beer which my friend prized so highly, with glasses on either side of it.
“I had a presentiment that we should want a consoling something of this sort,” said Fritz. “Fill your glass, David, and let out the worst of it at once, before we get to the end of the bottle.”
I let out the best of it first–that is to say, I told him what I have related in the preceding pages. Fritz was deeply interested: full of compassion for Jack Straw, but not in the least converted to my aunt’s confidence in him.
“Jack is supremely pitiable,” he remarked; “but Jack is also a smoldering volcano–and smoldering volcanos burst into eruption when the laws of nature compel them. My only hope is in Mr. Superintendent. Surely he will not let this madman loose on us, with nobody but your aunt to hold the chain? What did she really say, when you left Jack, and had your private talk in the reception-room? One minute, my friend, before you begin,” said Fritz, groping under the bench upon which we were seated. “I had a second presentiment that we might want a second bottle–and here it is! Fill your glass; and let us establish ourselves in our respective positions–you to administer, and I to sustain, a severe shock to the moral sense. I think, David, this second bottle is even more deliciously brisk than the first. Well, and what did your aunt say?”
My aunt had said much more than I could possibly tell him.
In substance it had come to this:–After seeing the whip, and seeing the chains, and seeing the man–she had actually determined to commit herself to the perilous experiment which her husband would have tried, if he had lived! As to the means of procuring Jack Straw’s liberation from the Hospital, the powerful influence which had insisted on his being received by the Institution, in defiance of rules, could also insist on his release, and could be approached by the intercession of the same official person, whose interest in the matter had been aroused by Mr. Wagner in the last days of his life. Having set forth her plans for the future in these terms, my aunt appealed to the lawyer to state the expression of her wishes and intentions, in formal writing, as a preliminary act of submission towards the governors of the asylum.
“And what did the lawyer say to it?” Fritz inquired, after I had reported my aunt’s proceedings thus far.
“The lawyer declined, Fritz, to comply with her request. He said, ‘It would be inexcusable, even in a man, to run such a risk–I don’t believe there is another woman in England who would think of such a thing.’ Those were his words.”
“Did they have any effect on her?”
“Not the least in the world. She apologized for having wasted his valuable time, and wished him good morning. ‘If nobody will help me,’ she said, quietly, ‘I must help myself.’ Then she turned to me. ‘You have seen how carefully and delicately poor Jack can work,’ she said; ‘you have seen him tempted to break out, and yet capable of restraining himself in my presence. And, more than that, on the one occasion when he did lose his self-control, you saw how he recovered himself when he was calmly and kindly reasoned with. Are you content, David, to leave such a man for the rest of his life to the chains and the whip?’ What could I say? She was too considerate to press me; she only asked me to think of it. I have been trying to think of it ever since–and the more I try, the more I dread the consequences if that madman is brought into the house.”
Fritz shuddered at the prospect.
“On the day when Jack comes into the house, I shall go out of it,” he said. The social consequences of my aunt’s contemplated experiment suddenly struck him while he spoke. “What will Mrs. Wagner’s friends think?” he asked piteously. “They will refuse to visit her–they will say she’s mad herself.”
“Don’t let that distress you, gentlemen–I shan’t mind what my friends say of me.”
We both started in confusion to our feet. My aunt herself was standing at the open door of the summer-house with a letter in her hand.
“News from Germany, just come for you, Fritz.”
With those words, she handed him the letter, and left us.
We looked at each other thoroughly ashamed of ourselves, if the truth must be told. Fritz cast an uneasy glance at the letter, and recognized the handwriting on the address. “From my father!” he said. As he opened the envelope a second letter enclosed fell out on the floor. He changed color as he picked it up, and looked at it. The seal was unbroken–the postmark was Wurzburg.
Fritz kept the letter from Wurzburg unopened in his hand.
“It’s not from Minna,” he said; “the handwriting is strange to me. Perhaps my father knows something about it.” He turned to his father’s letter; read it; and handed it to me without a word of remark.
Mr. Keller wrote briefly as follows:–
“The enclosed letter has reached me by post, as you perceive, with written instructions to forward it to my son. The laws of honor guide me just as absolutely in my relations with my son as in my relations with any other gentleman. I forward the letter to you exactly as I have received it. But I cannot avoid noticing the postmark of the city in which the Widow Fontaine and her daughter are still living. If either Minna or her mother be the person who writes to you, I must say plainly that I forbid your entering into any correspondence with them. The two families shall never be connected by marriage while I live. Understand, my dear son, that this is said in your own best interests, and said, therefore, from the heart of your father who loves you.”
While I was reading these lines Fritz had opened the letter from Wurzburg. “It’s long enough, at any rate,” he said, turning over the closely-written pages to find the signature at the end.
“Well?” I asked.
“Well,” Fritz repeated, “it’s an anonymous letter. The signature is ‘Your Unknown Friend.’ ”
“Perhaps it relates to Miss Minna, or to her mother,” I suggested. Fritz turned back to the first page and looked up at me, red with anger. “More abominable slanders! More lies about Minna’s mother!” he burst out. “Come here, David. Look at it with me. What do you say? Is it the writing of a woman or a man?”
The writing was so carefully disguised that it was impossible to answer his question. The letter (like the rest of the correspondence connected with this narrative) has been copied in duplicate and placed at my disposal. I reproduce it here for reasons which will presently explain themselves–altering nothing, not even the vulgar familiarity of the address.
“My good fellow, you once did me a kindness a long time since. Never mind what it was or who I am. I mean to do you a kindness in return. Let that be enough.
“You are in love with ‘Jezebel’s Daughter.’ Now, don’t be angry! I know you believe Jezebel to be a deeply-injured woman; I know you have been foolish enough to fight duels at Wurzburg in defense of her character.
“It is enough for you that she is a fond mother, and that her innocent daughter loves her dearly. I don’t deny that she is a fond mother; but is the maternal instinct enough of itself to answer for a woman? Why, Fritz, a cat is a fond mother; but a cat scratches and swears for all that! And poor simple little Minna, who can see no harm in anybody, who can’t discover wickedness when it stares her in the face–is _she_ a trustworthy witness to the widow’s character? Bah!
“Don’t tear up my letter in a rage; I am not going to argue the question with you any further. Certain criminal circumstances have come to my knowledge, which point straight to this woman. I shall plainly relate those circumstances, out of my true regard for you, in the fervent hope that I may open your eyes to the truth.
“Let us go back to the death of Doctor-Professor Fontaine, at his apartments in the University of Wurzburg, on the 3rd of September, in the present year 1828.
“The poor man died of typhoid fever, as you know–and died in debt, through no extravagance on his own part, as you also know. He had outlived all his own relatives, and had no pecuniary hopes or expectations from anyone. Under these circumstances, he could only leave the written expression of his last wishes, in place of a will.
“This document committed his widow and child to the care of his widow’s relations, in terms of respectful entreaty. Speaking next of himself, he directed that he should be buried with the strictest economy, so that he might cost the University as little as possible. Thirdly, and lastly, he appointed one of his brother professors to act as his sole executor, in disposing of those contents of his laboratory which were his own property at the time of his death.
“The written instructions to his executor are of such serious importance that I feel it my duty to copy them for you, word for word.
“Thus they begin:–
” ‘I hereby appoint my dear old friend and colleague, Professor Stein–now absent for a while at Munich, on University business–to act as my sole representative in the disposal of the contents of my laboratory, after my death. The various objects used in my chemical investigations, which are my own private property, will be all found arranged on the long deal table that stands between the two windows. They are to be offered for sale to my successor, in the first instance. If he declines to purchase them, they can then be sent to Munich, to be sold separately by the manufacturer, as occasion may offer. The furniture of the laboratory, both movable and stationary, belongs entirely to the University, excepting the contents of an iron safe built into the south wall of the room. As to these, which are my own sole property, I seriously enjoin my executor and representative to follow my instructions to the letter:–
” ‘(1) Professor Stein will take care to be accompanied by a competent witness, when he opens the safe in the wall.
” ‘(2) The witness will take down in writing, from the dictation of Professor Stein, an exact list of the contents of the safe. These are:–Bottles containing drugs, tin cases containing powders, and a small medicine-chest, having six compartments, each occupied by a labeled bottle, holding a liquid preparation.
” ‘(3) The written list being complete, I desire Professor Stein to empty every one of the bottles and cases, including the bottles in the medicine-chest, into the laboratory sink, with his own hands. He is also to be especially careful to destroy the labels on the bottles in the medicine-chest. These things done, he will sign the list, stating that the work of destruction is accomplished; and the witness present will add his signature. The document, thus attested, is to be placed in the care of the Secretary to the University.
” ‘My object in leaving these instructions is simply to prevent the dangerous results which might follow any meddling with my chemical preparations, after my death.
” ‘In almost every instance, these preparations are of a poisonous nature. Having made this statement, let me add, in justice to myself, that the sole motive for my investigations has been the good of my fellow-creatures.
” ‘I have been anxious, in the first place, to enlarge the list of curative medicines having poison for one of their ingredients. I have attempted, in the second place, to discover antidotes to the deadly action of those poisons, which (in cases of crime or accident) might be the means of saving life.
” ‘If I had been spared for a few years longer, I should so far have completed my labors as to have ventured on leaving them to be introduced to the medical profession by my successor. As it is–excepting one instance, in which I ran the risk, and was happily enabled to preserve the life of a poisoned man–I have not had time so completely to verify my theories, by practical experiment, as to justify me in revealing my discoveries to the scientific world for the benefit of mankind.
” ‘Under these circumstances, I am resigned to the sacrifice of my ambition–I only desire to do no harm. If any of my preparations, and more particularly those in the medicine-chest, fell into ignorant or wicked hands, I tremble when I think of the consequences which might follow. My one regret is, that I have not strength enough to rise from my bed, and do the good work of destruction myself. My friend and executor will take my place.
” ‘The key of the laboratory door, and the key of the safe, will be secured this day in the presence of my medical attendant, in a small wooden box. The box will be sealed (before the same witness) with my own seal. I shall keep it under my pillow, to give it myself to Professor Stein, if I live until he returns from Munich.
” ‘If I die while my executor is still absent, my beloved wife is the one person in the world whom I can implicitly trust to take charge of the sealed box. She will give it to Professor Stein, immediately on his return to Wurzburg; together with these instructions, which will be placed in the box along with the keys.’
“There are the instructions, friend Fritz! They are no secret now. The Professor has felt it his duty to make them public in a court of law, in consequence of the events which followed Doctor Fontaine’s death. You are interested in those events, and you shall be made acquainted with them before I close my letter.
“Professor Stein returned from Munich too late to receive the box from the hands of his friend and colleague. It was presented to him by the Widow Fontaine, in accordance with her late husband’s wishes.
“The Professor broke the seal. Having read his Instructions, he followed them to the letter, the same day.
“Accompanied by the Secretary to the University, as a witness, he opened the laboratory door. Leaving the sale of the objects on the table to be provided for at a later date, he proceeded at once to take the list of the bottles and cases, whose contents he was bound to destroy. On opening the safe, these objects were found as the Instructions led him to anticipate: the dust lying thick on them vouched for their having been left undisturbed. The list being completed, the contents of the bottles and cases were thereupon thrown away by the Professor’s own hand.
“On looking next, however, for the medicine-chest, no such thing was to be discovered in the safe. The laboratory was searched from end to end, on the chance that some mistake had been made. Still no medicine-chest was to be found.
“Upon this the Widow Fontaine was questioned. Did she know what had become of the medicine-chest? She was not even aware that such a thing existed. Had she been careful to keep the sealed box so safely that no other person could get at it? Certainly! She had kept it locked in one of her drawers, and the key in her pocket.
“The lock of the drawer, and the locks of the laboratory door and the safe, were examined. They showed no sign of having been tampered with. Persons employed in the University, who were certain to know, were asked if duplicate keys existed, and all united in answering in the negative. The medical attendant was examined, and declared that it was physically impossible for Doctor Fontaine to have left his bed, and visited the laboratory, between the time of writing his Instructions and the time of his death.
“While these investigations were proceeding, Doctor Fontaine’s senior assistant obtained leave to examine through a microscope the sealing-wax left on the box which had contained the keys.
“The result of this examination, and of the chemical analyses which followed, proved that two different kinds of sealing-wax (both of the same red color, superficially viewed) had been used on the seal of the box–an undermost layer of one kind of wax, and an uppermost layer of another, mingled with the undermost in certain places only. The plain inference followed that the doctor’s sealing-wax had been softened by heat so as to allow of the opening of the box, and that new sealing-wax had been afterwards added, and impressed by the Doctor’s seal so that the executor might suspect nothing. Here, again, the evidence of the medical attendant (present at the time) proved that Doctor Fontaine had only used one stick of sealing-wax to secure the box. The seal itself was found in the possession of the widow; placed carelessly in the china tray in which she kept her rings after taking them off for the night.
“The affair is still under judicial investigation. I will not trouble you by reporting the further proceedings in detail.
“Of course, Widow Fontaine awaits the result of the investigation with the composure of conscious innocence. Of course, she has not only submitted to an examination of her lodgings, but has insisted on it. Of course, no red sealing-wax and no medicine-chest have been found. Of course, some thief unknown, for some purpose quite inconceivable, got at the box and the seal, between the Doctor’s death and the return of the Professor from Munich, and read the Instructions and stole the terrible medicine-chest. Such is the theory adopted by the defense. If you can believe it–then I have written in vain. If, on the other hand, you are the sensible young man I take you to be, follow my advice. Pity poor little Minna as much as you please, but look out for another young lady with an unimpeachable mother; and think yourself lucky to have two such advisers as your excellent father, and Your Unknown Friend.”
“I will lay any wager you like,” said Fritz, when we had come to the end of the letter, “that the wretch who has written this is a woman.”
“What makes you think so?”
“Because all the false reports about poor Madame Fontaine, when I was at Wurzburg, were traced to women. They envy and hate Minna’s mother. She is superior to them in everything; handsome, distinguished, dresses to perfection, possesses all the accomplishments–a star, I tell you, a brilliant star among a set of dowdy domestic drudges. Isn’t it infamous, without an atom of evidence against her, to take it for granted that she is guilty? False to her dead husband’s confidence in her, a breaker of seals, a stealer of poisons–what an accusation against a defenseless woman! Oh, my poor dear Minna! how she must feel it; she doesn’t possess her mother’s strength of mind. I shall fly to Wurzburg to comfort her. My father may say what he pleases; I can’t leave these two persecuted women without a friend. Suppose the legal decision goes against the widow? How do I know that judgment has not been pronounced already? The suspense is intolerable. Do you mean to tell me I am bound to obey my father, when his conduct is neither just nor reasonable?”
“I tell you, David, I can prove what I say. Just listen to this. My father has never even seen Minna’s mother; he blindly believes the scandals afloat about her–he denies that any woman can be generally disliked and distrusted among her neighbors without some good reason for it. I assure you, on my honor, he has no better excuse for forbidding me to marry Minna than that. Is it just, is it reasonable, to condemn a woman without first hearing what she has to say in her own defense? Ah, now indeed I feel the loss of my own dear mother! If she had been alive she would have exerted her influence, and have made my father ashamed of his own narrow prejudices. My position is maddening; my head whirls when I think of it. If I go to Wurzburg, my father will never speak to me again. If I stay here, I shall cut my throat.”
There was still a little beer left in the bottom of the second bottle. Fritz poured it out, with a gloomy resolution to absorb it to the last drop.
I took advantage of this momentary pause of silence to recommend the virtue of patience to the consideration of my friend. News from Wurzburg, I reminded him, might be obtained in our immediate neighborhood by consulting a file of German journals, kept at a foreign coffee-house. By way of strengthening the good influence of this suggestion, I informed Fritz that I expected to be shortly sent to Frankfort, as the bearer of a business communication addressed to Mr. Keller by my aunt; and I offered privately to make inquiries, and (if possible) even to take messages to Wurzburg–if he would only engage to wait patiently for the brighter prospects that might show themselves in the time to come.
I had barely succeeded in tranquilizing Fritz, when my attention was claimed by the more serious and pressing subject of the liberation of Jack Straw. My aunt sent to say that she wished to see me.
I found her at her writing-table, with the head-clerk established at the desk opposite.
Mr. Hartrey was quite as strongly opposed as the lawyer to any meddling with the treatment of mad people on the part of my aunt. But he placed his duty to his employer before all other considerations; and he rendered, under respectful protest, such services as were required of him. He was now engaged in drawing out the necessary memorials and statements, under the instructions of my aunt. Her object in sending for me was to inquire if I objected to making fair copies of the rough drafts thus produced. In the present stage of the affair, she was unwilling to take the clerks at the office into her confidence. As a matter of course, I followed Mr. Hartrey’s example, and duly subordinated my own opinions to my aunt’s convenience.
On the next day, she paid her promised visit to poor Jack.
The bag which she had committed to his care was returned to her without the slightest injury. Naturally enough, she welcomed this circumstance as offering a new encouragement to the design that she had in view. Mad Jack could not only understand a responsibility, but could prove himself worthy of it. The superintendent smiled, and said, in his finely ironical way, “I never denied, madam, that Jack was cunning.”
From that date, my aunt’s venturesome enterprise advanced towards completion with a rapidity that astonished us.
Applying, in the first instance, to the friend of her late husband, holding a position in the Royal Household, she was met once more by the inevitable objections to her design. She vainly pleaded that her purpose was to try the experiment modestly in the one pitiable case of Jack Straw, and that she would willingly leave any further development of her husband’s humane project to persons better qualified to encounter dangers and difficulties than herself. The only concession that she could obtain was an appointment for a second interview, in the presence of a gentleman whose opinion it would be important to consult. He was one of the physicians attached to the Court, and he was known to be a man of liberal views in his profession. Mrs. Wagner would do well, in her own interests, to be guided by his disinterested advice.
Keeping this second appointment, my aunt provided herself with a special means of persuasion in the shape of her husband’s diary, containing his unfinished notes on the treatment of insanity by moral influence.
As she had anticipated, the physician invited to advise her was readier to read the notes than to listen to her own imperfect explanation of the object in view. He was strongly impressed by the novelty and good sense of the ideas that her husband advocated, and was candid enough openly to acknowledge it. But he, too, protested against any attempt on the part of a woman to carry out any part of the proposed reform, even on the smallest scale. Exasperated by these new remonstrances, my aunt’s patience gave way. Refusing to submit herself to the physician’s advice, she argued the question boldly from her own point of view. The discussion was at its height, when the door of the room was suddenly opened from without. A lady in walking-costume appeared, with two ladies in attendance on her. The two gentlemen started to their feet, and whispered to my aunt, “The Princess!”
This was the exalted personage whom the superintendent at Bethlehem had been too discreet to describe more particularly as a daughter of George the Third. Passing the door on her way to the Palace-gardens, the Princess had heard the contending voices, and the name of Jack distinctly pronounced in a woman’s tones. Inheriting unusually vigorous impulses of curiosity from her august father, her Highness opened the door and joined the party without ceremony.
“What are you quarreling about?” inquired the Princess. “And who is this lady?”
Mrs. Wagner was presented, to answer for herself. She made the best of the golden opportunity that had fallen into her hands. The Princess was first astonished, then interested, then converted to my aunt’s view of the case. In the monotonous routine of Court life, here was a romantic adventure in which even the King’s daughter could take some share. Her Highness quoted Boadicea, Queen Elizabeth, and Joan of Arc, as women who had matched the men on their own ground–and complimented Mrs. Wagner as a heroine of the same type.
“You are a fine creature,” said the Princess, “and you may trust to me to help you with all my heart. Come to my apartments tomorrow at this time–and tell poor Jack that I have not forgotten him.”
Assailed by Royal influence, all the technical obstacles that lawyers, doctors, and governors could raise to the liberation of Jack Straw were set aside by an ingenious appeal to the letter of the law, originating in a suggestion made by the Princess herself.
“It lies in a nutshell, my dear,” said her Highness to my aunt. “They tell me I broke the rules when I insisted on having Jack admitted to the Hospital. Now, your late husband was one of the governors; and you are his sole executor. Very good. As your husband’s representative, complain of the violation of the rules, and insist on the discharge of Jack. He occupies a place which ought to be filled by an educated patient in a higher rank of life. Oh, never mind me! I shall express my regret for disregarding the regulations–and, to prove my sincerity, I shall consent to the poor creature’s dismissal, and assume the whole responsibility of providing for him myself. There is the way out of our difficulty. Take it–and you shall have Jack whenever you want him.”
In three weeks from that time, the “dangerous lunatic” was free (as our friend the lawyer put it) to “murder Mrs. Wagner, and to burn the house down.”
How my aunt’s perilous experiment was conducted–in what particulars it succeeded and in what particulars it failed–I am unable to state as an eyewitness, owing to my absence at the time. This curious portion of the narrative will be found related by Jack himself, on a page still to come. In the meanwhile, the course of events compels me to revert to the circumstances which led to my departure from London.
While Mrs. Wagner was still in attendance at the palace, a letter reached her from Mr. Keller, stating the necessity of increasing the number of clerks at the Frankfort branch of our business. Closely occupied as she then was, she found time to provide me with those instructions to her German partners, preparing them for the coming employment of women in their office, to which she had first alluded when the lawyer and I had our interview with her after the reading of the will.
“The cause of the women,” she said to me, “must not suffer because I happen to be just now devoted to the cause of poor Jack. Go at once to Frankfort, David. I have written enough to prepare my partners there for a change in the administration of the office, and to defer for the present the proposed enlargement of our staff of clerks. The rest you can yourself explain from your own knowledge of the plans that I have in contemplation. Start on your journey as soon as possible–and understand that you are to say No positively, if Fritz proposes to accompany you. He is not to leave London without the express permission of his father.”
Fritz did propose to accompany me, the moment he heard of my journey. I must own that I thought the circumstances excused him.
On the previous evening, we had consulted the German newspapers at the coffee-house, and had found news from Wurzburg which quite overwhelmed my excitable friend.
Being called upon to deliver their judgment, the authorities presiding at the legal inquiry into the violation of the seals and the loss of the medicine-chest failed to agree in opinion, and thus brought the investigation to a most unsatisfactory end. The moral effect of this division among the magistrates was unquestionably to cast a slur on the reputation of Widow Fontaine. She was not pronounced to be guilty–but she was also not declared to be innocent. Feeling, no doubt, that her position among her neighbors had now become unendurable, she and her daughter had left Wurzburg. The newspaper narrative added that their departure had been privately accomplished. No information could be obtained of the place of their retreat.
But for this last circumstance, I believe Fritz would have insisted on traveling with me. Ignorant of what direction to begin the search for Minna and her mother, he consented to leave me to look for traces of them in Germany, while he remained behind to inquire at the different foreign hotels, on the chance that they might have taken refuge in London.
The next morning I started for Frankfort.
My spirits were high as I left the shores of England. I had a young man’s hearty and natural enjoyment of change. Besides, it flattered my self-esteem to feel that I was my aunt’s business-representative; and I was almost equally proud to be Fritz’s confidential friend. Never could any poor human creature have been a more innocent instrument of mischief in the hands of Destiny than I was, on that fatal journey. The day was dark, when the old weary way of traveling brought me at last to Frankfort. The unseen prospect, at the moment when I stepped out of the mail-post-carriage, was darker still.
I had just given a porter the necessary directions for taking my portmanteau to Mr. Keller’s house, when I heard a woman’s voice behind me asking the way to the Poste Restante–or, in our roundabout English phrase, the office of letters to be left till called for.
The voice was delightfully fresh and sweet, with an undertone of sadness, which made it additionally interesting. I did what most other young men in my place would have done–I looked round directly.
Yes! the promise of the voice was abundantly kept by the person. She was quite a young girl, modest and ladylike; a little pale and careworn, poor thing, as if her experience of life had its sad side already. Her face was animated by soft sensitive eyes–the figure supple and slight, the dress of the plainest material, but so neatly made and so perfectly worn that I should have doubted her being a German girl, if I had not heard the purely South-German accent in which she put her question. It was answered, briefly and civilly, by the conductor of the post-carriage in which I had traveled. But, at that hour, the old court-yard of the post-office was thronged with people arriving and departing, meeting their friends and posting their letters. The girl was evidently not used to crowds. She was nervous and confused. After advancing a few steps in the direction pointed out to her, she stopped in bewilderment, hustled by busy people, and evidently in doubt already about which way she was to turn next.
If I had followed the strict line of duty, I suppose I should have turned my steps in the direction of Mr. Keller’s house. I followed my instincts instead, and offered my services to the young lady. Blame the laws of Nature and the attraction between the sexes. Don’t blame me.
“I heard you asking for the post-office,” I said. “Will you allow me to show you the way?”
She looked at me, and hesitated. I felt that I was paying the double penalty of being a young man, and of being perhaps a little too eager as well.
“Forgive me for venturing to speak to you,” I pleaded. “It is not very pleasant for a young lady to find herself alone in such a crowded place as this. I only ask permission to make myself of some trifling use to you.”
She looked at me again, and altered her first opinion.
“You are very kind, sir; I will thankfully accept your assistance.”
“May I offer you my arm?”
She declined this proposal–with perfect amiability, however. “Thank you, sir, I will follow you, if you please.”
I pushed my way through the crowd, with the charming stranger close at my heels. Arrived at the post-office, I drew aside to let her make her own inquiries. Would she mention her name? No; she handed in a passport, and asked if there was a letter waiting for the person named in it. The letter was found; but was not immediately delivered. As well as I could understand, the postage had been insufficiently paid, and the customary double-rate was due. The young lady searched in the pocket of her dress–a cry of alarm escaped her. “Oh!” she exclaimed, “I have lost my purse, and the letter is so important!”
It occurred to me immediately that she had had her pocket picked by some thief in the crowd. The clerk thought so too. He looked at the clock. “You must be quick about it if you return for the letter,” he said, “the office closes in ten minutes.”
She clasped her hands in despair. “It’s more than ten minutes’ walk,” she said, “before I can get home.”
I immediately offered to lend her the money. “It is such a very small sum,” I reminded her, “that it would be absurd to consider yourself under any obligation to me.
Between her eagerness to get possession of the letter, and her doubt of the propriety of accepting my offer, she looked sadly embarrassed, poor soul.
“You are very good to me,” she said confusedly; “but I am afraid it might not be quite right in me to borrow money of a stranger, however little it may be. And, even if I did venture, how am I—-?” She looked at me shyly, and shrank from finishing the sentence.
“How are you to pay it back?” I suggested.
“Oh, it’s not worth the trouble of paying back. Give it to the first poor person you meet with to-morrow.” I said this, with the intention of reconciling her to the loan of the money. It had exactly the contrary effect on this singularly delicate and scrupulous girl. She drew back a step directly.
“No, I couldn’t do that,” she said. “I could only accept your kindness, if—-” She stopped again. The clerk looked once more at the clock. “Make up your mind, Miss, before it’s too late.”
In her terror of not getting the letter that day, she spoke out plainly at last. “Will you kindly tell me, sir, to what address I can return the money when I get home?”
I paid for the letter first, and then answered the question.
“If you will be so good as to send it to Mr. Keller’s house—-”
Before I could add the name of the street, her pale face suddenly flushed. “Oh!” she exclaimed impulsively, “do you know Mr. Keller?”
A presentiment of the truth occurred to my mind for the first time.
“Yes,” I said; “and his son Fritz too.”
She trembled; the color that had risen in her face left it instantly; she looked away from me with a pained, humiliated expression. Doubt was no longer possible. The charming stranger was Fritz’s sweetheart–and “Jezebel’s Daughter.”
My respect for the young lady forbade me to attempt any concealment of the discovery that I had made. I said at once, “I believe I have the honor of speaking to Miss Minna Fontaine?”
She looked at me in wonder, not unmixed with distrust.
“How do you know who I am?” she asked.
“I can easily tell you, Miss Minna. I am David Glenney, nephew of Mrs. Wagner, of London. Fritz is staying in her house, and he and I have talked about you by the hour together.”
The poor girl’s face, so pale and sad the moment before, became radiant with happiness. “Oh!” she cried innocently, “has Fritz not forgotten me?”
Even at this distance of time, my memory recalls her lovely dark eyes riveted in breathless interest on my face, as I spoke of Fritz’s love and devotion, and told her that she was still the one dear image in his thoughts by day, in his dreams by night. All her shyness vanished. She impulsively gave me her hand. “How can I be grateful enough to the good angel who has brought us together!” she exclaimed. “If we were not in the street, I do believe, Mr. David, I should go down on my knees to thank you! You have made me the happiest girl living.” Her voice suddenly failed her; she drew her veil down. “Don’t mind me,” she said; “I can’t help crying for joy.”
Shall I confess what my emotions were? For the moment, I forgot my own little love affair in England–and envied Fritz from the bottom of my heart.
The chance-passengers in the street began to pause and look at us. I offered Minna my arm, and asked permission to attend her on the way home.
“I should like it,” she answered, with a friendly frankness that charmed me. “But you are expected at Mr. Keller’s–you must go there first.”
“May I call and see you to-morrow?” I persisted, “and save you the trouble of sending my money to Mr. Keller’s?”
She lifted her veil and smiled at me brightly through her tears. “Yes,” she said; “come to-morrow and be introduced to my mother. Oh! how glad my dear mother will be to see you, when I tell her what has happened! I am a selfish wretch; I have not borne my sorrow and suspense as I ought; I have made her miserable about me, because I was miserable about Fritz. It’s all over now. Thank you again and again. There is our address on that card. No, no, we must say good-bye till to-morrow. My mother is waiting for her letter; and Mr. Keller is wondering what has become of you.” She pressed my hand warmly and left me.
On my way alone to Mr. Keller’s house, I was not quite satisfied with myself. The fear occurred to me that I might have spoken about Fritz a little too freely, and might have excited hopes which could never be realized. The contemplation of the doubtful future began to oppress my mind. Minna might have reason to regret that she had ever met with me.
I was received by Mr. Keller with truly German cordiality. He and his partner Mr. Engelman–one a widower, the other an old bachelor –lived together in the ancient building, in Main Street, near the river, which served for house and for offices alike.
The two old gentlemen offered the completest personal contrast imaginable. Mr. Keller was lean, tall, and wiry–a man of considerable attainments beyond the limits of his business, capable (when his hot temper was not excited) of speaking sensibly and strongly on any subject in which he was interested. Mr. Engelman, short and fat, devoted to the office during the hours of business, had never read a book in his life, and had no aspiration beyond the limits of his garden and his pipe. “In my leisure moments,” he used to say, “give me my flowers, my pipe, and my peace of mind–and I ask no more.” Widely as they differed in character, the two partners had the truest regard for one another. Mr. Engelman believed Mr. Keller to be the most accomplished and remarkable man in Germany. Mr. Keller was as firmly persuaded, on his side, that Mr. Engelman was an angel in sweetness of temper, and a model of modest and unassuming good sense. Mr. Engelman listened to Mr. Keller’s learned talk with an ignorant admiration which knew no limit. Mr. Keller, detesting tobacco in all its forms, and taking no sort of interest in horticulture, submitted to the fumes of Mr. Engelman’s pipe, and passed hours in Mr. Engelman’s garden without knowing the names of nine-tenths of the flowers that grew in it. There are still such men to be found in Germany and in England; but, oh! dear me, the older I get the fewer I find there are of them.
The two old friends and partners were waiting for me to join them at their early German supper. Specimens of Mr. Engelman’s flowers adorned the table in honor of my arrival. He presented me with a rose from the nosegay when I entered the room.
“And how did you leave dear Mrs. Wagner?” he inquired.
“And how is my boy Fritz?” asked Mr. Keller.
I answered in terms which satisfied them both, and the supper proceeded gaily. But when the table was cleared, and Mr. Engelman had lit his pipe, and I had kept him company with a cigar, then Mr. Keller put the fatal question. “And now tell me, David, do you come to us on business or do you come to us on pleasure?”
I had no alternative but to produce my instructions, and to announce the contemplated invasion of the office by a select army of female clerks. The effect produced by the disclosure was highly characteristic of the widely different temperaments of the two partners.
Mild Mr. Engelman laid down his pipe, and looked at Mr. Keller in helpless silence.
Irritable Mr. Keller struck his fist on the table, and appealed to Mr. Engelman with fury in his looks.
“What did I tell you,” he asked, “when we first heard that Mr. Wagner’s widow was appointed head-partner in the business? How many opinions of philosophers on the moral and physical incapacities of women did I quote? Did I, or did I not, begin with the ancient Egyptians, and end with Doctor Bernastrokius, our neighbor in the next street?”
Poor Mr. Engelman looked frightened.
“Don’t be angry, my dear friend,” he said softly.
“Angry?” repeated Mr. Keller, more furiously than ever. “My good Engelman, you never were more absurdly mistaken in your life! I am delighted. Exactly what I expected, exactly what I predicted, has come to pass. Put down your pipe! I can bear a great deal–but tobacco smoke is beyond me at such a crisis as this. And do for once overcome your constitutional indolence. Consult your memory; recall my own words when we were first informed that we had a woman for head-partner.”
“She was a very pretty woman when I first saw her,” Mr. Engelman remarked.
“Pooh!” cried Mr. Keller.
“I didn’t mean to offend you,” said Mr. Engelman. “Allow me to present you with one of my roses as a peace-offering.”
_”Will_ you be quiet, and let me speak?”
“My dear Keller, I am always too glad to hear you speak! You put ideas into my poor head, and my poor head lets them out, and then you put them in again. What noble perseverance! If I live a while longer I do really think you will make a clever man of me. Let me put the rose in your buttonhole for you. And I say, I wish you would allow me to go on with my pipe.”
Mr. Keller made a gesture of resignation, and gave up his partner in despair. “I appeal to _you,_ David,” he said, and poured the full flow of his learning and his indignation into my unlucky ears.
Mr. Engelman, enveloped in clouds of tobacco-smoke, enjoyed in silence the composing influence of his pipe. I said, “Yes, sir,” and “No, sir,” at the right intervals in the flow of Mr. Keller’s eloquence. At this distance of time, I cannot pretend to report the long harangue of which I was made the victim. In substance, Mr. Keller held that there were two irremediable vices in the composition of women. Their dispositions presented, morally speaking, a disastrous mixture of the imitativeness of a monkey and the restlessness of a child. Having proved this by copious references to the highest authorities, Mr. Keller logically claimed my aunt as a woman, and, as such, not only incapable of “letting well alone,” but naturally disposed to imitate her husband on the most superficial and defective sides of his character. “I predicted, David, that the fatal disturbance of our steady old business was now only a question of time–and there, in Mrs. Wagner’s ridiculous instructions, is the fulfillment of my prophecy!”
Before we went to bed that night, the partners arrived at two resolutions. Mr. Keller resolved to address a written remonstrance to my aunt. Mr. Engelman resolved to show me his garden the first thing in the morning.
On the afternoon of the next day, while my two good friends were still occupied by the duties of the office, I stole out to pay my promised visit to Minna and Minna’s mother.
It was impossible not to arrive at the conclusion that they were indeed in straitened circumstances. Their lodgings were in the cheap suburban quarter of Frankfort on the left bank of the river. Everything was scrupulously neat, and the poor furniture was arranged with taste–but no dexterity of management could disguise the squalid shabbiness of the sitting-room into which I was shown. I could not help thinking how distressed Fritz would feel, if he could have seen his charming Minna in a place so unworthy of her as this.
The rickety door opened, and the “Jezebel” of the anonymous letter (followed by her daughter) entered the room.
There are certain remarkable women in all countries who, whatever sphere they may be seen in, fill that sphere as completely as a great actor fills the stage. Widow Fontaine was one of these noteworthy persons. The wretched little room seemed to disappear when she softly glided into it; and even the pretty Minna herself receded into partial obscurity in her mother’s presence. And yet there was nothing in the least obtrusive in the manner of Madame Fontaine, and nothing remarkable in her stature. Her figure, reaching to no more than the middle height, was the well-rounded figure of a woman approaching forty years of age. The influence she exercised was, in part, attributable, as I suppose, to the supple grace of all her movements; in part, to the commanding composure of her expression and the indescribable witchery of her manner. Her dark eyes, never fully opened in my remembrance, looked at me under heavy overhanging upper eyelids. Her enemies saw something sensual in their strange expression. To my mind it was rather something furtively cruel–except when she looked at her daughter. Sensuality shows itself most plainly in the excessive development of the lower part of the face. Madame Fontaine’s lips were thin, and her chin was too small. Her profuse black hair was just beginning to be streaked with gray. Her complexion wanted color. In spite of these drawbacks, she was still a striking, I might almost say a startling, creature, when you first looked at her. And, though she only wore the plainest widow’s weeds, I don’t scruple to assert that she was the most perfectly dressed woman I ever saw.
Minna made a modest attempt to present me in due form. Her mother put her aside playfully, and held out both her long white powerful hands to me as cordially as if we had known each other for years.
“I wait to prove other people before I accept them for my friends,” she said. “Mr. David, you have been more than kind to my daughter–and _you_ are my friend at our first meeting.”
I believe I repeat the words exactly. I wish I could give any adequate idea of the exquisite charm of voice and manner which accompanied them.
And yet, I was not at my ease with her–I was not drawn to her irresistibly, as I had felt drawn to her daughter. Those dark, steady, heavy-lidded eyes of hers seemed to be looking straight into my heart, and surprising all my secrets. To say that I actually distrusted and disliked her would be far from the truth. Distrust and dislike would have
protected me, in some degree at least, from feeling her influence as I certainly did feel it. How that influence was exerted–whether it was through her eyes, or through her manner, or, to speak the jargon of these latter days, through some “magnetic emanation” from her, which invisibly overpowered me–is more than I can possibly say. I can only report that she contrived by slow degrees to subject the action of my will more and more completely to the action of hers, until I found myself answering her most insidious questions as unreservedly as if she had been in very truth my intimate and trusted friend.
“And is this your first visit to Frankfort, Mr. David?” she began.
“Oh, no, madam! I have been at Frankfort on two former occasions.”
“Ah, indeed? And have you always stayed with Mr. Keller?”
She looked unaccountably interested when she heard that reply, brief as it was.
“Then, of course, you are intimate with him,” she said. “Intimate enough, perhaps, to ask a favor or to introduce a friend?”
I made a futile attempt to answer this cautiously.
“As intimate, madam, as a young clerk in the business can hope to be with a partner,” I said.
“A clerk in the business?” she repeated. “I thought you lived in London, with your aunt.
Here Minna interposed for the first time.
“You forget, mamma, that there are three names in the business. The inscription over the door in Main Street is Wagner, Keller, and Engelman. Fritz once told me that the office here in Frankfort was only the small office–and the grand business was Mr. Wagner’s business in London. Am I right, Mr. David?”
“Quite right, Miss Minna. But we have no such magnificent flower-garden at the London house as Mr. Engelman’s flower-garden here. May I offer you a nosegay which he allowed me to gather?”
I had hoped to make the flowers a means of turning the conversation to more interesting topics. But the widow resumed her questions, while Minna