The office hours, in the winter-time, began at nine o'clock. From the head-clerk to the
messenger, not one of the persons employed slept in the house: it was Mr. Keller's wish
that they should all be absolutely free to do what they liked with their leisure time in the
evening: "I know that I can trust them, from the oldest to the youngest man in my
service," he used to say; "and I like to show it."
Under these circumstances, Mrs. Wagner had only to rise earlier than usual, to be sure of
having the whole range of the offices entirely to herself. At eight o'clock, with Jack in
attendance, she was seated at her desk, carefully examining the different objects that it
Nothing was missing; nothing had been moved out of its customary place. No money was
kept in the desk. But her valuable watch, which had stopped on the previous day, had
been put there, to remind her that it must be sent to be cleaned. The watch, like
everything else, was found in its place. If some person had really opened her desk in the
night, no common thief had been concerned, and no common object had been in view.
She took the key of the iron safe from its pigeon-hole, and opened the door. Her
knowledge of the contents of this repository was far from being accurate. The partners
each possessed a key, but Mr. Keller had many more occasions than Mrs. Wagner for
visiting the safe. And to make a trustworthy examination more difficult still, the mist of
the early morning was fast turning into a dense white fog.
Of one thing, however, Mrs. Wagner was well aware--a certain sum of money, in notes
and securities, was always kept in this safe as a reserve fund. She took the tin box in
which the paper money was placed close to the light, and counted its contents. Then,
replacing it in the safe, she opened the private ledger next, to compare the result of her
counting with the entry relating to the Fund.
Being unwilling to cause surprise, perhaps to excite suspicion, by calling for a candle
before the office hours had begun, she carried the ledger also to the window. There was
just light enough to see the sum total in figures. To her infinite relief, it exactly
corresponded with the result of her counting. She secured everything again in its proper
place; and, after finally locking the desk, handed the key to Jack. He shook his head, and
refused to take it. More extraordinary still, he placed his bag, with all the other keys in it,
on the desk, and said, "Please keep it for me; I'm afraid to keep it myself."
Mrs. Wagner looked at him with a first feeling of alarm, which changed instantly to
compassion. The tears were in his eyes; his sensitive vanity was cruelly wounded. "My
poor boy," she said gently, "what is it that troubles you?"
The tears rolled down Jack's face. "I'm a wretched creature," he said; "I'm not fit to keep
the keys, after letting a thief steal them last night. Take them back, Mistress--I'm quite
broken-hearted. Please try me again, in London."