The New Year had come.
On the morning of the second of January, Mrs. Wagner (on her way to the office at the
customary hour) was stopped at the lower flight of stairs by Madame Fontaine--evidently
waiting with a purpose.
"Pardon me," said the widow, "I must speak to you."
"These are business hours, madam; I have no time to spare."
Without paying the slightest heed to this reply--impenetrable, in the petrifying despair
that possessed her, to all that looks, tones, and words could say--Madame Fontaine stood
her ground, and obstinately repeated, "I must speak to you."
Mrs. Wagner once more refused. "All that need be said between us has been said," she
answered. "Have you replaced the money?"
"That is what I want to speak about?"
"Have you replaced the money?"
"Don't drive me mad, Mrs. Wagner! As you hope for mercy yourself, at the hour of your
death, show mercy to the miserable woman who implores you to listen to her! Return
with me as far as the drawing-room. At this time of day, nobody will disturb us there.
Give me five minutes!"
Mrs. Wagner looked at her watch.
"I will give you five minutes. And mind, I mean five minutes. Even in trifles, I speak the
They returned up the stairs, Mrs. Wagner leading the way.
There were two doors of entrance to the drawing-room--one, which opened from the
landing, and a smaller door, situated at the farther end of the corridor. This second
entrance communicated with a sort of alcove, in which a piano was placed, and which
was only separated by curtains from the spacious room beyond. Mrs. Wagner entered by
the main door, and paused, standing near the fire-place. Madame Fontaine, following her,
turned aside to the curtains, and looked through. Having assured herself that no person
was in the recess, she approached the fire-place, and said her first words.
"You told me just now, madam, that you spoke the truth. Does that imply a doubt of the