At the end of the week we found the widow waiting to receive us.
To describe her personally, she was a little lady, with a remarkably pretty figure, a clear
pale complexion, a broad low forehead, and large, steady, brightly-intelligent gray eyes.
Having married a man very much older than herself, she was still (after many years of
wedded life) a notably attractive woman. But she never seemed to be conscious of her
personal advantages, or vain of the very remarkable abilities which she did
unquestionably possess. Under ordinary circumstances, she was a singularly gentle,
unobtrusive creature. But let the occasion call for it, and the reserves of resolution in her
showed themselves instantly. In all my experience I have never met with such a firm
woman, when she was once roused.
She entered on her business with us, wasting no time in preliminary words. Her face
showed plain signs, poor soul, of a wakeful and tearful night. But she claimed no
indulgence on that account. When she spoke of her dead husband--excepting a slight
unsteadiness in her voice--she controlled herself with a courage which was at once
pitiable and admirable to see.
"You both know," she began, "that Mr. Wagner was a man who thought for himself. He
had ideas of his duty to his poor and afflicted fellow-creatures which are in advance of
received opinions in the world about us. I love and revere his memory--and (please God)
I mean to carry out his ideas."
The lawyer began to look uneasy. "Do you refer, madam, to Mr. Wagner's political
opinions?" he inquired.
Fifty years ago, my old master's political opinions were considered to be nothing less
than revolutionary. In these days--when his Opinions have been sanctioned by Acts of
Parliament, with the general approval of the nation--people would have called him a
"Moderate Liberal," and would have set him down as a discreetly deliberate man in the
march of modern progress.
"I have nothing to say about politics," my aunt answered. "I wish to speak to you, in the
first place, of my husband's opinions on the employment of women.
Here, again, after a lapse of half a century, my master's heresies of the year 1828 have
become the orthodox principles of the year 1878. Thinking the subject over in his own
independent way, he had arrived at the conclusion that there were many employments
reserved exclusively for men, which might with perfect propriety be also thrown open to
capable and deserving women. To recognize the claims of justice was, with a man of Mr.
Wagner's character, to act on his convictions without a moment's needless delay.
Enlarging his London business at the time, he divided the new employments at his
disposal impartially between men and women alike. The scandal produced in the city by
this daring innovation is remembered to the present day by old men like me. My master's
audacious experiment prospered nevertheless, in spite of scandal.