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Act IV--The Clock-Lock
The pleasant scene was Neuchatel; the pleasant month was April; the pleasant place was
a notary's office; the pleasant person in it was the notary: a rosy, hearty, handsome old
man, chief notary of Neuchatel, known far and wide in the canton as Maitre Voigt.
Professionally and personally, the notary was a popular citizen. His innumerable
kindnesses and his innumerable oddities had for years made him one of the recognised
public characters of the pleasant Swiss town. His long brown frock-coat and his black
skull- cap, were among the institutions of the place: and he carried a snuff-box which, in
point of size, was popularly believed to be without a parallel in Europe.
There was another person in the notary's office, not so pleasant as the notary. This was
An oddly pastoral kind of office it was, and one that would never have answered in
England. It stood in a neat back yard, fenced off from a pretty flower-garden. Goats
browsed in the doorway, and a cow was within half-a-dozen feet of keeping company
with the clerk. Maitre Voigt's room was a bright and varnished little room, with panelled
walls, like a toy-chamber. According to the seasons of the year, roses, sunflowers,
hollyhocks, peeped in at the windows. Maitre Voigt's bees hummed through the office all
the summer, in at this window and out at that, taking it frequently in their day's work, as
if honey were to be made from Maitre Voigt's sweet disposition. A large musical box on
the chimney-piece often trilled away at the Overture to Fra Diavolo, or a Selection from
William Tell, with a chirruping liveliness that had to be stopped by force on the entrance
of a client, and irrepressibly broke out again the moment his back was turned.
"Courage, courage, my good fellow!" said Maitre Voigt, patting Obenreizer on the knee,
in a fatherly and comforting way. "You will begin a new life to-morrow morning in my
Obenreizer--dressed in mourning, and subdued in manner--lifted his hand, with a white
handkerchief in it, to the region of his heart. "The gratitude is here," he said. "But the
words to express it are not here."
"Ta-ta-ta! Don't talk to me about gratitude!" said Maitre Voigt. "I hate to see a man
oppressed. I see you oppressed, and I hold out my hand to you by instinct. Besides, I am
not too old yet, to remember my young days. Your father sent me my first client. (It was
on a question of half an acre of vineyard that seldom bore any grapes.) Do I owe nothing
to your father's son? I owe him a debt of friendly obligation, and I pay it to you. That's
rather neatly expressed, I think," added Maitre Voigt, in high good humour with himself.
"Permit me to reward my own merit with a pinch of snuff!"
Obenreizer dropped his eyes to the ground, as though he were not even worthy to see the
notary take snuff.
"Do me one last favour, sir," he said, when he raised his eyes. "Do not act on impulse.
Thus far, you have only a general knowledge of my position. Hear the case for and