"For heaven's sake, sir, allow me to go!"
"On no account, Madame Fontaine. If you won't remain here, in justice to yourself,
remain as a favor to me."
When I opened my bedroom door the next morning, the widow and Mr. Keller were on
the landing outside, and those were the words exchanged between them.
Mr. Keller approached, and spoke to me.
"What do you know, David, about the disappearance of Mr. Engelman?"
"Disappearance?" I repeated. "I was with him yesterday evening--and I bade him good-
night in his own room."
"He must have left the house before the servants were up this morning," said Mr. Keller.
He handed me a morsel of paper with writing on it in pencil:--
"Forgive me, dear friend and partner, for leaving you without saying good-bye; also for
burdening you with the direction of business, before you are perhaps strong enough to
accept the charge. My mind is in such a state of confusion that I should be worse than
useless in the office. While I write this, my poor weak head burns as if there was fire in it.
I cannot face her, I cannot face you--I must go, before I lose all control over myself.
Don't attempt to trace me. If change and absence restore me to myself I will return. If not,
a man at my age and in my state of mind is willing to die. Please tell Madame Fontaine
that I ask her pardon with all my heart. Good-bye--and God bless and prosper you."
I was unaffectedly distressed. There was something terrible in this sudden break-up of
poor Engelman's harmless life--something cruel and shocking in the passion of love
fixing its relentless hold on an innocent old man, fast nearing the end of his days. There
are hundreds of examples of this deplorable anomaly in real life; and yet, when we meet
with it in our own experience, we are always taken by surprise, and always ready to
express doubt or derision when we hear of it in the experience of others.
Madame Fontaine behaved admirably. She sat down on the window-seat at the end of the
landing, and wrung her hands with a gesture of despair.
"Oh!" she said, "if he had asked me for anything else! If I could have made any other
sacrifice to him! God knows I never dreamed of it; I never gave him the smallest
encouragement. We might have all been so happy together here--and I, who would have
gone to the world's end to serve Mr. Keller and Mr. Engelman, I am the unhappy creature
who has broken up the household!"