On the twelfth of December, I received a letter from Mrs. Wagner, informing me that the marriage of Fritz and Minna had been deferred until the thirteenth of January. Shortly afterwards I left London, on my way to Frankfort.
My departure was hurried, to afford me time to transact business with some of our correspondents in France and in Northern Germany. Our head-clerk, Mr. Hartrey (directing the London house in Mrs. Wagner’s absence), had his own old-fashioned notions of doing nothing in a hurry. He insisted on allowing me a far larger margin of time, for treating with our correspondents, than I was likely to require. The good man little suspected to what motive my ready submission to him was due. I was eager to see my aunt and the charming Minna once more. Without neglecting any of my duties (and with the occasional sacrifice of traveling by night), I contrived to reach Frankfort a week before I was expected — that is to say, in the forenoon of the fourth of January.
Joseph’s face, when he opened the door, at once informed me that something extraordinary was going on in the house.
“Anything wrong?” I asked.
Joseph looked at me in a state of bewilderment. “You had better speak to the doctor,” he said.
“The doctor! Who is ill? My aunt? Mr. Keller? Who is it?” In my impatience, I took him by the collar of his coat, and shook him. I shook out nothing but the former answer, a little abridged:—
“Speak to the doctor.”
The office-door was close by me. I asked one of the clerks if Mr. Keller was in his room. The clerk informed me that Mr. Keller was upstairs with the doctor. In the extremity of my suspense, I inquired again if my aunt was ill. The man opened his eyes. “Is it possible you haven’t heard?” he said.
“Is she dead or alive?” I burst out, losing all patience.
“Both,” answered the clerk.
I began — not unnaturally, I think — to wonder whether I was in Mr. Keller’s house, or in an asylum for idiots. Returning to the hall, I collared Joseph for the second time. “Take me up to the doctor instantly!” I said.
Joseph led the way upstairs — not on my aunt’s side of the house, to my infinite relief. On the first landing, he made a mysterious communication. “Mr. David, I have given notice to leave,” he said. “There are some things that no servant can put up with. While a person lives, I expect a person to live. When a person dies, I expect a person to die. There must be no confusion on such a serious subject as life and death. I blame nobody — I understand nothing — I merely go. Follow me, if you please, sir.”
Had he been drinking? He led the way up the next flight of stairs, steadily and quietly. He knocked discreetly at Madame Fontaine’s door. “Mr. David Glenney,” he announced, “to see Doctor Dormann.”
Mr. Keller came out first, closing the door behind him. He embraced me, with a demonstrative affection far from characteristic of him at other times. His face was disturbed; his voice faltered, as he spoke his first words to me.
“Welcome back, David — more welcome than ever!”
“My aunt is well, I hope?”
He clasped his hands fervently. “God is merciful,” he said. “Thank God!”
“Is Madame Fontaine ill?”
Before he could answer, the door was opened again. Doctor Dormann came out.
“The very man I want!” he exclaimed. “You could not possibly have arrived at a better time.” He turned to Mr. Keller. “Where can I find writing-materials? In the drawing-room? Come down, Mr. Glenney. Come down, Mr. Keller.”
In the drawing-room, he wrote a few lines rapidly. “See us sign our names,” he said. He handed the pen to Mr. Keller after he had signed himself — and then gave me the paper to read.
To my unspeakable amazement, the writing certified that, “the suspended vital forces in Mrs. Wagner had recovered their action, in the Deadhouse of Frankfort, at half-past one o’clock on the morning of the fourth of January; that he had professionally superintended the restoration to life; and that he thereby relieved the magistrates from any further necessity for pursuing a private inquiry, the motive for which no longer existed.” To this statement there was a line added, declaring that Mr. Keller withdrew his application to the magistrates; authenticated by Mr. Keller’s signature.
I stood with the paper in my hand, looking from one to the other of them, as completely bewildered as Joseph himself.
“I can’t leave Madame Fontaine,” said the doctor; “I am professionally interested in watching the case. Otherwise, I would have made my statement in person. Mr. Keller has been terribly shaken, and stands in urgent need of rest and quiet. You will do us both a service if you will take that paper to the town-hall, and declare before the magistrates that you know us personally, and have seen us sign our names. On your return, you shall have every explanation that I can give; and you shall see for yourself that you need feel no uneasiness on the subject of your aunt.”
Having arrived at the town-hall, I made the personal statement to which the doctor had referred. Among the questions put to me, I was asked if I had any direct interest in the matter — either as regarded Mrs. Wagner or any other person. Having answered that I was Mrs. Wagner’s nephew, I was instructed to declare in writing, that I approved (as Mrs. Wagner’s representative) of the doctor’s statement and of Mr. Keller’s withdrawal of his application.
With this, the formal proceedings terminated, and I was free to return to the house.
Joseph had his orders, this time. He spoke like a reasonable being — he said the doctor was waiting for me, in Madame Fontaine’s room. The place of the appointment rather surprised me.
The doctor opened the door — but paused before he admitted me.
“I think you were the first person,” he said, “who saw Mr. Keller, on the morning when he was taken ill?”
“After the late Mr. Engelman,” I answered, “I was the first person.
“Come in, then. I want you to look at Madame Fontaine.”
He led me to the bedside. The instant I looked at her, I saw Mr. Keller’s illness reproduced, in every symptom. There she lay, in the same apathy; with the same wan look on her face, and the same intermittent trembling of her hands. When I recovered the first shock of the discovery, I was able to notice poor Minna, kneeling at the opposite side of the bed, weeping bitterly. “Oh, my dear one!” she cried, in a passion of grief, “look at me! speak to me!”
The mother opened her eyes for a moment — looked at Minna — and closed them again wearily. “Leave me quiet,” she said, in tones of fretful entreaty. Minna rose and bent over the pillow tenderly. “Your poor lips look so parched,” she said; “let me give you some lemonade?” Madame Fontaine only repeated the words, “Leave me quiet.” The same reluctance to raise her heavy eyelids, the same entreaty to be left undisturbed, which had alarmed me on the memorable morning when I had entered Mr. Keller’s room!
Doctor Dormann signed to me to follow him out. As he opened the door, the nurse inquired if he had any further instructions for her. “Send for me, the moment you see a change,” he answered; “I shall be in the drawing-room, with Mr. Glenney.” I silently pressed poor Minna’s hand, before I left her. Who could have presumed, at that moment, to express sympathy in words?
The doctor and I descended the stairs together. “Does her illness remind you of anything?” he asked.
“Of Mr. Keller’s illness,” I answered, “exactly as I remember it.”
He made no further remark. We entered the drawing-room. I inquired if I could see my aunt.
“You must wait a little,” he said. “Mrs. Wagner is asleep. The longer she sleeps the more complete her recovery will be. My main anxiety is about Jack. He is quiet enough now, keeping watch outside her door; but he has given me some trouble. I wish I knew more of his early history. From all I can learn, he was only what is called “half-witted,” when they received him at the asylum in London. The cruel repressive treatment in that place aggravated his imbecility into violent madness — and such madness has a tendency to recur. Mrs. Wagner’s influence, which has already done so much, is my main hope for the future. Sit down, and let me explain the strange position in which you find us here, as well as I can.”
“Do you remember how Mr. Keller’s illness was cured?” the doctor began.
Those words instantly reminded me, not only of Doctor Dormann’s mysterious suspicions at the time of the illness, but of Jack’s extraordinary question to me, on the morning when I left Frankfort. The doctor saw that I answered him with some little embarrassment.
“Let us open our minds to each other, without reserve,” he said. “I have set you thinking of something. What is it?”
I replied, concealing nothing. Doctor Dormann was equally candid on his side. He spoke to me, exactly as he is reported to have spoken to Mr. Keller, in the Second Part of this narrative.
“You now know,” he proceeded, “what I thought of Mr. Keller’s extraordinary recovery, and what I feared when I found Mrs. Wagner (as I then firmly believed) dead. My suspicions of poisoning pointed to the poisoner. Madame Fontaine’s wonderful cure of Mr. Keller, by means of her own mysterious remedy, made me suspect Madame Fontaine. My motive, in refusing to give the burial certificate, was to provoke the legal inquiry, which I knew that Mr. Keller would institute, on the mere expression of a doubt, on my part, whether your aunt had died a natural death. At that time, I had not the slightest anticipation of the event that has actually occurred. Before, however, we had removed the remains to the Deadhouse, I must own I was a little startled — prepare yourself for a surprise — by a private communication, addressed to me by Jack.”
He repeated Jack’s narrative of the opening of the Pink–Room cupboard, and the administration of the antidote to Mrs. Wagner.
“You will understand,” he went on, “that I was too well aware of the marked difference between Mr. Keller’s illness and Mrs. Wagner’s illness to suppose for a moment that the same poison had been given to both of them. I was, therefore, far from sharing Jack’s blind confidence in the efficacy of the blue-glass bottle, in the case of his mistress. But I tell you, honestly, my mind was disturbed about it. Towards night, my thoughts were again directed to the subject, under mysterious circumstances. Mr. Keller and I accompanied the hearse to the Deadhouse. On our way through the streets, I was followed and stopped by Madame Fontaine. She had something to give me. Here it is.”
He laid on the table a sheet of thick paper, closely covered with writing in cipher.
“Whose writing is this?” I asked.
“The writing of Madame Fontaine’s late husband.”
“And she put it into your hands!”
“Yes — and asked me to interpret the cipher for her.”
“It’s simply incomprehensible.”
“Not in the least. She knew the use to which Jack had put her antidote, and (in her ignorance of chemistry) she was eager to be prepared for any consequences which might follow. Can you guess on what chance I calculated, when I consented to interpret the cipher?”
“On the chance that it might tell you what poison she had given to Mrs. Wagner?”
“Well guessed, Mr. Glenney!”
“And you have actually discovered the meaning of these hieroglyphics?”
He laid a second sheet of paper on the table.
“There is but one cipher that defies interpretation,” he said. “If you and your correspondent privately arrange to consult the same edition of the same book, and if your cipher, or his, refers to a given page and to certain lines on that page, no ingenuity can discover you, unaided by a previous discovery of the book. All other ciphers, so far as I know, are at the mercy of skill and patience. In this case I began (to save time and trouble) by trying the rule for interpreting the most simple, and most elementary, of all ciphers — that is to say, the use of the ordinary language of correspondence, concealed under arbitrary signs. The right way to read these signs can be described in two words. On examination of the cipher, you will find that some signs will be more often repeated than others. Count the separate signs, and ascertain, by simple addition, which especial sign occurs oftenest — which follows next in point of number — and so on. These comparisons established, ask yourself what vowel occurs oftenest, and what consonant occurs oftenest, in the language in which you suppose the cipher to be written. The result is merely a question of time and patience.”
“And this is the result?” I said, pointing to the second sheet of paper.
“Read it,” he answered; “and judge for yourself.”
The opening sentence of the interpreted cipher appeared to be intended by Doctor Fontaine to serve the purpose of a memorandum; repeating privately the instructions already attached by labels to the poison called “Alexander’s Wine,” and to its antidote.
The paragraphs that followed were of a far more interesting kind. They alluded to the second poison, called “The Looking–Glass Drops;” and they related the result of one of the Professor’s most remarkable experiments in the following words:—
“The Looking–Glass Drops. Fatal Dose, as discovered by experiments on animals, the same as in the case of Alexander’s Wine. But the effect, in producing death, more rapid, and more indistinguishable, in respect of presenting traces on post-mortem examination.
“After many patient trials, I can discover no trustworthy antidote to this infernal poison. Under these circumstances, I dare not attempt to modify it for medical use. I would throw it away — but I don’t like to be beaten. If I live a little longer, I will try once more, with my mind refreshed by other studies.
“A month after writing these lines (which I have repeated in plain characters, on the bottle, for fear of accidents), I tried again — and failed again. Annoyed by this new disappointment, I did something unworthy of me as a scientific man.
“After first poisoning an animal with the Looking–Glass Drops, I administered a dose from the blue bottle, containing the antidote to Alexander’s Wine — knowing perfectly well the different nature of the two poisons; expecting nothing of any scientific importance to follow; and yet trusting stupidly to chance to help me.
“The result was startling in the last degree. It was nothing less than the complete suspension of all the signs of life (as we know them) for a day, and a night, and part of another day. I only knew that the animal was not really dead, by observing, on the morning of the second day, that no signs of decomposition had set in — the season being summer, and the laboratory badly ventilated.
“An hour after the first symptoms of revival had astonished me, the creature was as lively again as usual, and ate with a good appetite. After a lapse of ten days, it is still in perfect health. This extraordinary example of the action and reaction of the ingredients of the poison and the ingredients of the antidote on each other, and on the sources of life, deserves, and shall have, the most careful investigation. May I live to carry the inquiry through to some good use, and to record it on another page!”
There was no other page, and no further record. The Professor’s last scientific aspiration had not been fulfilled.
“It was past midnight,” said the doctor, “when I made the discovery, with which you are now acquainted. I went at once to Mr. Keller. He had fortunately not gone to bed; and he accompanied me to the Deadhouse. Knowing the overseer’s private door, at the side of the building, I was able to rouse him with very little delay. In the excitement that possessed me, I spoke of the revival as a possible thing in the hearing of the servants. The whole household accompanied us to the Deadhouse, at the opposite extremity of the building. What we saw there, I am utterly incapable of describing to you. I was in time to take the necessary measures for keeping Mrs. Wagner composed, and for removing her without injury to Mr. Keller’s house. Having successfully accomplished this, I presumed that my anxieties were at an end. I was completely mistaken.”
“You refer to Madame Fontaine, I suppose?”
“No; I refer to Jack. The poor wretch’s ignorant faith had unquestionably saved his mistress’s life. I should never have ventured (even if I had been acquainted with the result of the Professor’s experiment, at an earlier hour) to run the desperate risk, which Jack confronted without hesitation. The events of the night (aggravated by the brandy that Schwartz had given to him) had completely overthrown the balance of his feeble brain. He was as mad, for the time being, as ever he could have been in Bedlam. With some difficulty, I prevailed on him to take a composing mixture. He objected irritably to trust me; and, even when the mixture had begun to quiet him, he was ungrateful enough to speak contemptuously of what I had done for him. ‘I had a much better remedy than yours,’ he said, ‘made by a man who was worth a hundred of you. Schwartz and I were fools enough to give it to Mrs. Housekeeper, last night.’ I thought nothing of this — it was one of the eccentricities which were to be expected from him, in his condition. I left him quietly asleep; and I was about to go home, and get a little rest myself — when Mr. Keller’s son stopped me in the hall. ‘Do go and see Madame Fontaine,’ he said; ‘Minna is alarmed about her mother.’ I went upstairs again directly.”
“Had you noticed anything remarkable in Madame Fontaine,” I asked, “before Fritz spoke to you?”
“I noticed, at the Deadhouse, that she looked frightened out of her senses; and I was a little surprised — holding the opinion I did of her — that such a woman should show so much sensibility. Mr. Keller took charge of her, on our way back to the house. I was quite unprepared for what I saw afterwards, when I went to her room at Fritz’s request.
“Did you discover the resemblance to Mr. Keller’s illness?”
“No — not till afterwards. She sent her daughter out of the room; and I thought she looked at me strangely, when we were alone. ‘I want the paper that I gave you in the street, last night,’ she said. I asked her why she wanted it. She seemed not to know how to reply; she became excited and confused. ‘To destroy it, to be sure!’ she burst out suddenly. ‘Every bottle my husband left is destroyed — strewed here, there, and everywhere, from the Gate to the Deadhouse. Oh, I know what you think of me — I defy you!’ She seemed to forget what she had said, the moment she had said it — she turned away, and opened a drawer, and took out a book closed by metal clasps. My presence in the room appeared to be a lost perception in her mind. The clasps of the book, as well as I could make it out, opened by touching some spring. I noticed that her hands trembled as they tried to find the spring. I attributed the trembling to the terrors of the night, and offered to help her. ‘Let my secrets alone,’ she said — and pushed the book under the pillow of her bed. It was my professional duty to assist her, if I could. Though I attached no sort of importance to what Jack had said, I thought it desirable, before I prescribed for her, to discover whether she had really taken some medicine of her own or not. She staggered back from me, on my repeating what I had heard from Jack, as if I had terrified her. ‘What remedy does he mean? I drank nothing but a glass of wine. Send for him directly — I must, and will speak to him!’ I told her this was impossible; I could not permit his sleep to be disturbed. ‘The watchman!’ she cried; ‘the drunken brute! send for him.’ By this time I began to conclude that there was really something wrong. I called in her daughter to look after her while I was away, and then left the room to consult with Fritz. The only hope of finding Schwartz (the night-watch at the Deadhouse being over by that time) was to apply to his sister the nurse. I knew where she lived; and Fritz most kindly offered to go to her. By the time Schwartz was found, and brought to the house, Madame Fontaine was just able to understand what he said, and no more. I began to recognize the symptoms of Mr. Keller’s illness. The apathy which you remember was showing itself already. ‘Leave me to die,’ she said quietly; ‘I deserve it.’ The last effort of the distracted mind, rousing for a moment the sinking body, was made almost immediately afterwards. She raised herself on the pillow, and seized my arm. ‘Mind!’ she said, ‘Minna is to be married on the thirteenth!’ Her eyes rested steadily on me, while she spoke. At the last word, she sank back, and relapsed into the condition in which you have just seen her.”
“Can you do nothing for her?”
“Nothing. Our modern science is absolutely ignorant of the poisons which Professor Fontaine’s fatal ingenuity revived. Slow poisoning by reiterated doses, in small quantities, we understand. But slow poisoning by one dose is so entirely beyond our experience, that medical men in general refuse to believe in it.”
“Are you sure that she is poisoned?” I asked.
“After what Jack told me this morning when he woke, I have no doubt she is poisoned by ‘Alexander’s Wine.’ She appears to have treacherously offered it to him as a remedy — and to have hesitated, at the last moment, to let him have it. As a remedy, Jack’s ignorant faith gave it to her by the hands of Schwartz. When we have more time before us, you shall hear the details. In the meanwhile, I can only tell you that the retribution is complete. Madame Fontaine might even now be saved, if Jack had not given all that remained of the antidote to Mrs. Wagner.
“Is there any objection to my asking Jack for the particulars?”
“The strongest possible objection. It is of the utmost importance to discourage him from touching on the subject, in the future. He has already told Mrs. Wagner that he has saved her life; and, just before you came in, I found him comforting Minna. ‘Your mamma has taken her own good medicine, Missy; she will soon get well.’ I have been obliged — God forgive me! — to tell your aunt and Minna that he is misled by insane delusions, and that they are not to believe one word of what he has said to them.”
“No doubt your motive justifies you,” I said — not penetrating his motive at the moment.
“You will understand me directly,” he answered. “I trust to your honor under any circumstances. Why have I taken you into my confidence, under these circumstances? For a very serious reason, Mr. David. You are likely to be closely associated, in the time to come, with your aunt and Minna — and I look to you to help the good work which I have begun. Mrs. Wagner’s future life must not be darkened by a horrible recollection. That sweet girl must enjoy the happy years that are in store for her, unembittered by the knowledge of her mother’s guilt. Do you understand, now, why I am compelled to speak unjustly of poor Jack?”
As a proof that I understood him, I promised the secrecy which he had every right to expect from me.
The entrance of the nurse closed our conference. She reported Madame Fontaine’s malady to be already altering for the worse.
The doctor watched the case. At intervals, I too saw her again.
Although it happened long ago, I cannot prevail upon myself to dwell on the deliberate progress of the hellish Borgia poison, in undermining the forces of life. The nervous shudderings reached their climax, and then declined as gradually as they had arisen. For hours afterwards, she lay in a state of complete prostration. Not a last word, not a last look, rewarded the devoted girl, watching faithfully at the bedside. No more of it — no more! Late in the afternoon of the next day, Doctor Dormann, gently, most gently, removed Minna from the room. Mr. Keller and I looked at each other in silence. We knew that Madame Fontaine was dead.
I had not forgotten the clasped book that she had tried vainly to open, in Doctor Dormann’s presence. Taking it myself from under the pillow, I left Mr. Keller and the doctor to say if I should give it, unopened, to Minna.
“Certainly not!” said the doctor.
“Because it will tell her what she must never know. I believe that book to be a Diary. Open it, and see.”
I found the spring and opened the clasps. It was a Diary.
“You judged, I suppose, from the appearance of the book?” I said.
“Not at all. I judged from my own experience, at the time when I was Medical Officer at the prison here. An educated criminal is almost invariably an inveterate egotist. We are all interesting to ourselves — but the more vile we are, the more intensely we are absorbed in ourselves. The very people who have, logically speaking, the most indisputable interest in concealing their crimes, are also the very people who, almost without exception, yield to the temptation of looking at themselves in the pages of a Diary.”
“I don’t doubt your experience, doctor. But your results puzzle me.”
“Think a little, Mr. David, and you will not find the riddle so very hard to read. The better we are, the more unselfishly we are interested in others. The worse we are, the more inveterately our interest is concentrated on ourselves. Look at your aunt as an example of what I say. This morning there were some letters waiting for her, on the subject of those reforms in the treatment of mad people, which she is as resolute as ever to promote — in this country as well as in England. It was with the greatest difficulty that I prevailed on her not to answer those letters just yet: in other words, not to excite her brain and nervous system, after such an ordeal as she has just passed through. Do you think a wicked woman — with letters relating merely to the interests of other people waiting for her — would have stood in any need of my interference? Not she! The wicked woman would have thought only of herself, and would have been far too much interested in her own recovery to run the risk of a relapse. Open that book of Madame Fontaine’s at any of the later entries. You will find the miserable woman self-betrayed in every page.”
It was true! Every record of Madame Fontaine’s most secret moments, presented in this narrative, was first found in her Diary.
As an example:— Her Diary records, in the fullest detail, the infernal ingenuity of the stratagem by which she usurped her title to Mr. Keller’s confidence, as the preserver of his life. “I have only to give him the Alexander’s Wine,” she writes, “to make sure, by means of the antidote, of curing the illness which I have myself produced. After that, Minna’s mother becomes Mr. Keller’s guardian angel, and Minna’s marriage is a certainty.”
On a later page, she is similarly self described — in Mrs. Wagner’s case — as acting from an exactly opposite motive, in choosing the Looking–Glass Drops. “They not only kill soonest, and most surely defy detection,” she proceeds, “but I have it on the authority of the label, that my husband has tried to find the antidote to these Drops, and has tried in vain. If my heart fails me, when the deed is done, there can be no reprieve for the woman whose tongue I must silence for ever — or, after all I have sacrificed, my child’s future is ruined.”
There is little doubt that she intended to destroy these compromising pages, on her return to Mr. Keller’s house — and that she would have carried out her intention, but for those first symptoms of the poison, which showed themselves in the wandering of her mind, and the helpless trembling of her hands.
The final entry in the Diary has an interest of its own, which I think justifies the presentation of it in this place. It shows the purifying influence of the maternal instinct in a wicked nature, surviving to the last. Even Madame Fontaine’s nature preserved, in this way, a softer side. On the memorable occasion of her meeting with Mr. Keller in the hall, she had acted as imprudently as if she had been the most foolish woman living, in her eagerness to plead Minna’s cause with the man on whom Minna’s marriage depended. She had shrunk from poisoning harmless Jack, even for her own protection. She would not even seduce Minna into telling a lie, when a lie would have served them both at the most critical moment of their lives.
Are such redeeming features unnatural in an otherwise wicked woman? Think of your own “inconsistencies.” Read these last words of a sinner — and thank God that you were not tempted as she was:
“ . . . Sent Minna out of my room, and hurt my sensitive girl cruelly. I am afraid of her! This last crime seems to separate me from that pure creature — all the more, because it has been committed in her dearest interests, and for her sweet sake. Every time she looks at me, I am afraid she may see what I have done for her, in my face. Oh, how I long to take her in my arms, and devour her with kisses! I daren’t do it — I daren’t do it.”
Lord, have mercy on her — miserable sinner!
The night is getting on; and the lamp I am writing by grows dim.
My mind wanders away from Frankfort, and from all that once happened there. The picture now in my memory presents an English scene.
I am at the house of business in London. Two friends are waiting for me. One of them is Fritz. The other is the most popular person in the neighborhood; a happy, harmless creature, known to everyone by the undignified nickname of Jack Straw. Thanks to my aunt’s influence, and to the change of scene, no return of the relapse at Frankfort has shown itself. We are easy about the future of our little friend.
As to the past, we have made no romantic discoveries, relating to the earlier years of Jack’s life. Who were his parents; whether they died or whether they deserted him; how he lived, and what he suffered, before he drifted into the service of the chemistry-professor at Wurzburg — these, and other questions like them, remain unanswered. Jack himself feels no sort of interest in our inquiries. He either will not or cannot rouse his feeble memory to help us. “What does it matter now?” he says. “I began to live when Mistress first came to see me. I don’t remember, and won’t remember, anything before that.”
So the memoirs of Jack remain unwritten, for want of materials — like the memoirs of many another foundling, in real life.
While I am speaking of Jack, I am keeping my two friends waiting in the reception-room. I dress myself in my best clothes and join them. Fritz is silent and nervous; unreasonably impatient for the arrival of the carriage at the door. Jack promenades the room, with a superb nosegay in the button-hole of a glorious blue coat. He has a watch; he carries a cane; he wears white gloves, and tight nankeen pantaloons. He struts out before us, when the carriage comes at last. “I don’t deny that Fritz is a figure in the festival,” he says, when we drive away; “but I positively assert that the thing is not complete without Me. If my dress fails in any respect to do me justice, for Heaven’s sake mention it, one of you, before we pass the tailor’s door!” I answer Jack, by telling him that he is in all respects perfect. And Jack answers me, “David, you have your faults; but your taste is invariably correct. Give me a little more room; I can’t face Mistress with crumpled coat-tails.”
We reach a little village in the neighborhood of London, and stop at the gate of the old church.
We walk up to the altar-rails, and wait there. All the women in the place are waiting also. They merely glance at Fritz and at me — their whole attention is concentrated on Jack. They take him for the bridegroom. Jack discovers it; and is better pleased with himself than ever.
The organist plays a wedding-march. The bride, simply and unpretendingly dressed, just fluttered enough to make her eyes irresistible, and her complexion lovely, enters the church, leaning on Mr. Keller’s arm.
Our good partner looks younger than usual. At his own earnest request, the business in Frankfort has been sold; the head-partner first stipulating for the employment of a given number of reputable young women in the office. Removed from associations which are inexpressibly repellent to him, Mr. Keller is building a house, near Mrs. Wagner’s pretty cottage, on the hill above the village. Here he proposes to pass the rest of his days peacefully, with his two married children.
On their way to the altar, Mr. Keller and Minna are followed by Doctor Dormann (taking his annual holiday, this year, in England). The doctor gives his arm to the woman of all women whom Jack worships and loves. My kind and dear aunt — with the old bright charm in her face; the firm friend of all friendless creatures — why does my calmness desert me, when I try to draw my little portrait of her; Minna’s second mother, standing by Minna’s side, on the greatest day of her life?
I can’t even see the paper. Nearly fifty years have passed, since that wedding-day. Oh, my coevals, who have outlived your dearest friends, like me, you know what is the matter with my eyes! I must take out my handkerchief, and put down my pen — and leave some of you younger ones to finish the story of the marriage for yourself.
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Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06