"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