October, 1994 Etext #170
Part 4 out of 4
He put his arm round her to support her. A thought came to him
as he looked at her, waiting in doubt and fear for his reply.
'You shall know what I have discovered,' he said, 'if you will first put
on your hat and cloak, and come out with me.'
She was naturally surprised. 'Can you tell me your object in going out?'
He owned what his object was unreservedly. 'I want, before all things,'
he said, 'to satisfy your mind and mine, on the subject of
Montbarry's death. I am going to take you to the doctor who attended
him in his illness, and to the consul who followed him to the grave.'
Her eyes rested on Henry gratefully. 'Oh, how well you understand me!'
she said. The manager joined them at the same moment, on his way
up the stairs. Henry gave him the key of the room, and then called
to the servants in the hall to have a gondola ready at the steps.
'Are you leaving the hotel?' the manager asked. 'In search of evidence,'
Henry whispered, pointing to the key. 'If the authorities want me,
I shall be back in an hour.'
The day had advanced to evening. Lord Montbarry and the bridal
party had gone to the Opera. Agnes alone, pleading the excuse
of fatigue, remained at the hotel. Having kept up appearances
by accompanying his friends to the theatre, Henry Westwick slipped
away after the first act, and joined Agnes in the drawing-room.
'Have you thought of what I said to you earlier in the day?'
he asked, taking a chair at her side. 'Do you agree with me
that the one dreadful doubt which oppressed us both is at least set
Agnes shook her head sadly. 'I wish I could agree with you, Henry--
I wish I could honestly say that my mind is at ease.'
The answer would have discouraged most men. Henry's patience
(where Agnes was concerned) was equal to any demands on it.
'If you will only look back at the events of the day,' he said,
'you must surely admit that we have not been completely baffled.
Remember how Dr. Bruno disposed of our doubts:--"After thirty years
of medical practice, do you think I am likely to mistake the symptoms
of death by bronchitis?" If ever there was an unanswerable question,
there it is! Was the consul's testimony doubtful in any part of it?
He called at the palace to offer his services, after hearing of Lord
Montbarry's death; he arrived at the time when the coffin was in the house;
he himself saw the corpse placed in it, and the lid screwed down.
The evidence of the priest is equally beyond dispute. He remained
in the room with the coffin, reciting the prayers for the dead,
until the funeral left the palace. Bear all these statements
in mind, Agnes; and how can you deny that the question of Montbarry's
death and burial is a question set at rest? We have really
but one doubt left: we have still to ask ourselves whether
the remains which I discovered are the remains of the lost courier,
or not. There is the case, as I understand it. Have I stated
Agnes could not deny that he had stated it fairly.
"Then what prevents you from experiencing the same sense of relief
that I feel?' Henry asked.
'What I saw last night prevents me,' Agnes answered. 'When we spoke
of this subject, after our inquiries were over, you reproached me
with taking what you called the superstitious view. I don't quite
admit that--but I do acknowledge that I should find the superstitious
view intelligible if I heard it expressed by some other person.
Remembering what your brother and I once were to each other in the
bygone time, I can understand the apparition making itself visible
to me, to claim the mercy of Christian burial, and the vengeance due
to a crime. I can even perceive some faint possibility of truth
in the explanation which you described as the mesmeric theory--
that what I saw might be the result of magnetic influence communicated
to me, as I lay between the remains of the murdered husband above me
and the guilty wife suffering the tortures of remorse at my bedside.
But what I do not understand is, that I should have passed through
that dreadful ordeal; having no previous knowledge of the murdered
man in his lifetime, or only knowing him (if you suppose that I saw
the apparition of Ferrari) through the interest which I took in his wife.
I can't dispute your reasoning, Henry. But I feel in my heart
of hearts that you are deceived. Nothing will shake my belief
that we are still as far from having discovered the dreadful truth
Henry made no further attempt to dispute with her. She had
impressed him with a certain reluctant respect for her own opinion,
in spite of himself.
'Have you thought of any better way of arriving at the truth?'
he asked. 'Who is to help us? No doubt there is the Countess,
who has the clue to the mystery in her own hands. But, in the present
state of her mind, is her testimony to be trusted--even if she
were willing to speak? Judging by my own experience, I should say
'You don't mean that you have seen her again?' Agnes eagerly interposed.
'Yes. I disturbed her once more over her endless writing;
and I insisted on her speaking out plainly.'
'Then you told her what you found when you opened the hiding-place?'
'Of course I did!' Henry replied. 'I said that I held her responsible
for the discovery, though I had not mentioned her connection with it
to the authorities as yet. She went on with her writing as if I had
spoken in an unknown tongue! I was equally obstinate, on my side.
I told her plainly that the head had been placed under the care
of the police, and that the manager and I had signed our declarations
and given our evidence. She paid not the slightest heed to me.
By way of tempting her to speak, I added that the whole investigation
was to be kept a secret, and that she might depend on my discretion.
For the moment I thought I had succeeded. She looked up
from her writing with a passing flash of curiosity, and said,
"What are they going to do with it?"--meaning, I suppose, the head.
I answered that it was to be privately buried, after photographs
of it had first been taken. I even went the length of communicating
the opinion of the surgeon consulted, that some chemical means of
arresting decomposition had been used and had only partially succeeded--
and I asked her point-blank if the surgeon was right? The trap was not
a bad one--but it completely failed. She said in the coolest manner,
"Now you are here, I should like to consult you about my play;
I am at a loss for some new incidents." Mind! there was nothing
satirical in this. She was really eager to read her wonderful
work to me--evidently supposing that I took a special interest
in such things, because my brother is the manager of a theatre!
I left her, making the first excuse that occurred to me.
So far as I am concerned, I can do nothing with her.
But it is possible that your influence may succeed with her again,
as it has succeeded already. Will you make the attempt, to satisfy
your own mind? She is still upstairs; and I am quite ready to
Agnes shuddered at the bare suggestion of another interview
with the Countess.
'I can't! I daren't!' she exclaimed. 'After what has happened
in that horrible room, she is more repellent to me than ever.
Don't ask me to do it, Henry! Feel my hand--you have turned me as cold
as death only with talking of it!'
She was not exaggerating the terror that possessed her.
Henry hastened to change the subject.
'Let us talk of something more interesting,' he said. 'I have
a question to ask you about yourself. Am I right in believing
that the sooner you get away from Venice the happier you will be?'
'Right?' she repeated excitedly. 'You are more than right!
No words can say how I long to be away from this horrible place.
But you know how I am situated--you heard what Lord Montbarry said
'Suppose he has altered his plans, since dinner-time?' Henry suggested.
Agnes looked surprised. 'I thought he had received letters from
England which obliged him to leave Venice to-morrow,' she said.
'Quite true,' Henry admitted. 'He had arranged to start
for England to-morrow, and to leave you and Lady Montbarry
and the children to enjoy your holiday in Venice, under my care.
Circumstances have occurred, however, which have forced him
to alter his plans. He must take you all back with him to-morrow
because I am not able to assume the charge of you. I am obliged
to give up my holiday in Italy, and return to England too.'
Agnes looked at him in some little perplexity: she was not quite
sure whether she understood him or not.
'Are you really obliged to go back?' she asked.
Henry smiled as he answered her. 'Keep the secret,' he said,
'or Montbarry will never forgive me!'
She read the rest in his face. 'Oh!' she exclaimed, blushing brightly,
'you have not given up your pleasant holiday in Italy on my account?'
'I shall go back with you to England, Agnes. That will be holiday
enough for me.'
She took his hand in an irrepressible outburst of gratitude.
'How good you are to me!' she murmured tenderly. 'What should I have
done in the troubles that have come to me, without your sympathy?
I can't tell you, Henry, how I feel your kindness.'
She tried impulsively to lift his hand to her lips. He gently
stopped her. 'Agnes,' he said, 'are you beginning to understand
how truly I love you?'
That simple question found its own way to her heart. She owned
the whole truth, without saying a word. She looked at him--
and then looked away again.
He drew her nearer to him. 'My own darling!' he whispered--
and kissed her. Softly and tremulously, the sweet lips lingered,
and touched his lips in return. Then her head drooped.
She put her arms round his neck, and hid her face on his bosom.
They spoke no more.
The charmed silence had lasted but a little while, when it was
mercilessly broken by a knock at the door.
Agnes started to her feet. She placed herself at the piano;
the instrument being opposite to the door, it was impossible,
when she seated herself on the music-stool, for any person
entering the room to see her face. Henry called out irritably,
The door was not opened. The person on the other side of it asked
a strange question.
'Is Mr. Henry Westwick alone?'
Agnes instantly recognised the voice of the Countess. She hurried
to a second door, which communicated with one of the bedrooms.
'Don't let her come near me!' she whispered nervously. 'Good night,
Henry! good night!'
If Henry could, by an effort of will, have transported the Countess
to the uttermost ends of the earth, he would have made the effort
without remorse. As it was, he only repeated, more irritably than ever,
She entered the room slowly with her everlasting manuscript in her hand.
Her step was unsteady; a dark flush appeared on her face, in place
of its customary pallor; her eyes were bloodshot and widely dilated.
In approaching Henry, she showed a strange incapability of calculating
her distances--she struck against the table near which he happened
to be sitting. When she spoke, her articulation was confused, and her
pronunciation of some of the longer words was hardly intelligible.
Most men would have suspected her of being under the influence of some
intoxicating liquor. Henry took a truer view--he said, as he placed
a chair for her, 'Countess, I am afraid you have been working too hard:
you look as if you wanted rest.'
She put her hand to her head. 'My invention has gone,' she said.
'I can't write my fourth act. It's all a blank--all a blank!'
Henry advised her to wait till the next day. 'Go to bed,' he suggested;
and try to sleep.'
She waved her hand impatiently. 'I must finish the play,'
she answered. 'I only want a hint from you. You must know
something about plays. Your brother has got a theatre.
You must often have heard him talk about fourth and fifth acts--
you must have seen rehearsals, and all the rest of it.'
She abruptly thrust the manuscript into Henry's hand. 'I can't read
it to you,' she said; 'I feel giddy when I look at my own writing.
Just run your eye over it, there's a good fellow--and give me
Henry glanced at the manuscript. He happened to look at the list
of the persons of the drama. As he read the list he started and turned
abruptly to the Countess, intending to ask her for some explanation.
The words were suspended on his lips. It was but too plainly useless
to speak to her. Her head lay back on the rail of the chair.
She seemed to be half asleep already. The flush on her face
had deepened: she looked like a woman who was in danger of having
He rang the bell, and directed the man who answered it to send
one of the chambermaids upstairs. His voice seemed to partially
rouse the Countess; she opened her eyes in a slow drowsy way.
'Have you read it?' she asked.
It was necessary as a mere act of humanity to humour her.
'I will read it willingly,' said Henry, 'if you will go upstairs
to bed. You shall hear what I think of it to-morrow morning.
Our heads will be clearer, we shall be better able to make the fourth
act in the morning.'
The chambermaid came in while he was speaking. 'I am afraid
the lady is ill,' Henry whispered. 'Take her up to her room.'
The woman looked at the Countess and whispered back, 'Shall we send
for a doctor, sir?'
Henry advised taking her upstairs first, and then asking
the manager's opinion. There was great difficulty in persuading
her to rise, and accept the support of the chambermaid's arm.
It was only by reiterated promises to read the play that night,
and to make the fourth act in the morning, that Henry prevailed on
the Countess to return to her room.
Left to himself, he began to feel a certain languid curiosity
in relation to the manuscript. He looked over the pages, reading a
line here and a line there. Suddenly he changed colour as he read--
and looked up from the manuscript like a man bewildered.
'Good God! what does this mean?' he said to himself.
His eyes turned nervously to the door by which Agnes had left him.
She might return to the drawing-room, she might want to see what
the Countess had written. He looked back again at the passage
which had startled him--considered with himself for a moment--
and, snatching up the unfinished play, suddenly and softly left
Entering his own room on the upper floor, Henry placed the
manuscript on his table, open at the first leaf. His nerves were
unquestionably shaken; his hand trembled as he turned the pages,
he started at chance noises on the staircase of the hotel.
The scenario, or outline, of the Countess's play began with no
formal prefatory phrases. She presented herself and her work
with the easy familiarity of an old friend.
'Allow me, dear Mr. Francis Westwick, to introduce to you the persons
in my proposed Play. Behold them, arranged symmetrically in a line.
'My Lord. The Baron. The Courier. The Doctor. The Countess.
'I don't trouble myself, you see, to invest fictitious family names.
My characters are sufficiently distinguished by their social titles,
and by the striking contrast which they present one with another.
The First Act opens--
'No! Before I open the First Act, I must announce, injustice to myself,
that this Play is entirely the work of my own invention. I scorn
to borrow from actual events; and, what is more extraordinary still,
I have not stolen one of my ideas from the Modern French drama.
As the manager of an English theatre, you will naturally refuse to
believe this. It doesn't matter. Nothing matters--except the opening
of my first act.
'We are at Homburg, in the famous Salon d'Or, at the height of the season.
The Countess (exquisitely dressed) is seated at the green table.
Strangers of all nations are standing behind the players, venturing
their money or only looking on. My Lord is among the strangers.
He is struck by the Countess's personal appearance, in which beauties
and defects are fantastically mingled in the most attractive manner.
He watches the Countess's game, and places his money where he sees
her deposit her own little stake. She looks round at him, and says,
"Don't trust to my colour; I have been unlucky the whole evening.
Place your stake on the other colour, and you may have a chance
of winning." My Lord (a true Englishman) blushes, bows, and obeys.
The Countess proves to be a prophet. She loses again. My Lord wins twice
the sum that he has risked.
'The Countess rises from the table. She has no more money,
and she offers my Lord her chair.
'Instead of taking it, he politely places his winnings in her hand,
and begs her to accept the loan as a favour to himself.
The Countess stakes again, and loses again. My Lord smiles superbly,
and presses a second loan on her. From that moment her luck turns.
She wins, and wins largely. Her brother, the Baron, trying his fortune
in another room, hears of what is going on, and joins my Lord and
'Pay attention, if you please, to the Baron. He is delineated
as a remarkable and interesting character.
'This noble person has begun life with a single-minded devotion
to the science of experimental chemistry, very surprising in a young
and handsome man with a brilliant future before him. A profound
knowledge of the occult sciences has persuaded the Baron that it is
possible to solve the famous problem called the "Philosopher's Stone."
His own pecuniary resources have long since been exhausted by his
costly experiments. His sister has next supplied him with the small
fortune at her disposal: reserving only the family jewels,
placed in the charge of her banker and friend at Frankfort.
The Countess's fortune also being swallowed up, the Baron has
in a fatal moment sought for new supplies at the gaming table.
He proves, at starting on his perilous career, to be a favourite
of fortune; wins largely, and, alas! profanes his noble enthusiasm
for science by yielding his soul to the all-debasing passion of
'At the period of the Play, the Baron's good fortune has deserted him.
He sees his way to a crowning experiment in the fatal search
after the secret of transmuting the baser elements into gold.
But how is he to pay the preliminary expenses? Destiny, like a
mocking echo, answers, How?
'Will his sister's winnings (with my Lord's money) prove large enough
to help him? Eager for this result, he gives the Countess his advice
how to play. From that disastrous moment the infection of his own
adverse fortune spreads to his sister. She loses again, and again--
loses to the last farthing.
'The amiable and wealthy Lord offers a third loan;
but the scrupulous Countess positively refuses to take it.
On leaving the table, she presents her brother to my Lord.
The gentlemen fall into pleasant talk. My Lord asks leave to pay
his respects to the Countess, the next morning, at her hotel.
The Baron hospitably invites him to breakfast. My Lord accepts,
with a last admiring glance at the Countess which does not escape her
brother's observation, and takes his leave for the night.
'Alone with his sister, the Baron speaks out plainly. "Our affairs,"
he says, "are in a desperate condition, and must find a desperate remedy.
Wait for me here, while I make inquiries about my Lord.
You have evidently produced a strong impression on him. If we
can turn that impression into money, no matter at what sacrifice,
the thing must be done."
'The Countess now occupies the stage alone, and indulges
in a soliloquy which develops her character.
'It is at once a dangerous and attractive character.
Immense capacities for good are implanted in her nature,
side by side with equally remarkable capacities for evil.
It rests with circumstances to develop either the one or the other.
Being a person who produces a sensation wherever she goes, this noble
lady is naturally made the subject of all sorts of scandalous reports.
To one of these reports (which falsely and abominably points to the Baron
as her lover instead of her brother) she now refers with just indignation.
She has just expressed her desire to leave Homburg, as the place
in which the vile calumny first took its rise, when the Baron returns,
overhears her last words, and says to her, "Yes, leave Homburg
by all means; provided you leave it in the character of my Lord's
'The Countess is startled and shocked. She protests that she
does not reciprocate my Lord's admiration for her. She even goes
the length of refusing to see him again. The Baron answers,
"I must positively have command of money. Take your choice,
between marrying my Lord's income, in the interest of my grand discovery--
or leave me to sell myself and my title to the first rich woman
of low degree who is ready to buy me."
'The Countess listens in surprise and dismay. Is it possible
that the Baron is in earnest? He is horribly in earnest.
"The woman who will buy me," he says, "is in the next room to us
at this moment. She is the wealthy widow of a Jewish usurer.
She has the money I want to reach the solution of the great problem.
I have only to be that woman's husband, and to make myself master of untold
millions of gold. Take five minutes to consider what I have said to you,
and tell me on my return which of us is to marry for the money I want,
you or I."
'As he turns away, the Countess stops him.
'All the noblest sentiments in her nature are exalted to
the highest pitch. "Where is the true woman," she exclaims,
"who wants time to consummate the sacrifice of herself, when the man
to whom she is devoted demands it? She does not want five minutes--
she does not want five seconds--she holds out her hand to him,
and she says, Sacrifice me on the altar of your glory! Take as
stepping-stones on the way to your triumph, my love, my liberty,
and my life!"
'On this grand situation the curtain falls. Judging by my first act,
Mr. Westwick, tell me truly, and don't be afraid of turning my head:--
Am I not capable of writing a good play?'
Henry paused between the First and Second Acts; reflecting, not on
the merits of the play, but on the strange resemblance which
the incidents so far presented to the incidents that had attended
the disastrous marriage of the first Lord Montbarry.
Was it possible that the Countess, in the present condition of her mind,
supposed herself to be exercising her invention when she was only
exercising her memory?
The question involved considerations too serious to be made
the subject of a hasty decision. Reserving his opinion, Henry turned
the page, and devoted himself to the reading of the next act.
The manuscript proceeded as follows:--
'The Second Act opens at Venice. An interval of four months
has elapsed since the date of the scene at the gambling table.
The action now takes place in the reception-room of one of the
'The Baron is discovered, alone, on the stage. He reverts to
the events which have happened since the close of the First Act.
The Countess has sacrificed herself; the mercenary marriage has
taken place--but not without obstacles, caused by difference of opinion
on the question of marriage settlements.
'Private inquiries, instituted in England, have informed the Baron that my
Lord's income is derived chiefly from what is called entailed property.
In case of accidents, he is surely bound to do something for his bride?
Let him, for example, insure his life, for a sum proposed by the Baron,
and let him so settle the money that his widow shall have it,
if he dies first.
'My Lord hesitates. The Baron wastes no time in useless discussion.
"Let us by all means" (he says) "consider the marriage as broken off."
My Lord shifts his ground, and pleads for a smaller sum than
the sum proposed. The Baron briefly replies, "I never bargain."
My lord is in love; the natural result follows--he gives way.
'So far, the Baron has no cause to complain. But my Lord's turn comes,
when the marriage has been celebrated, and when the honeymoon is over.
The Baron has joined the married pair at a palace which they
have hired in Venice. He is still bent on solving the problem
of the "Philosopher's Stone." His laboratory is set up in the vaults
beneath the palace--so that smells from chemical experiments may
not incommode the Countess, in the higher regions of the house.
The one obstacle in the way of his grand discovery is, as usual,
the want of money. His position at the present time has become
truly critical. He owes debts of honour to gentlemen in his own
rank of life, which must positively be paid; and he proposes,
in his own friendly manner, to borrow the money of my Lord.
My Lord positively refuses, in the rudest terms. The Baron applies
to his sister to exercise her conjugal influence. She can only answer
that her noble husband (being no longer distractedly in love with her)
now appears in his true character, as one of the meanest men living.
The sacrifice of the marriage has been made, and has already
'Such is the state of affairs at the opening of the Second Act.
'The entrance of the Countess suddenly disturbs the Baron's reflections.
She is in a state bordering on frenzy. Incoherent expressions of rage
burst from her lips: it is some time before she can sufficiently
control herself to speak plainly. She has been doubly insulted--
first, by a menial person in her employment; secondly, by her husband.
Her maid, an Englishwoman, has declared that she will serve
the Countess no longer. She will give up her wages, and return at
once to England. Being asked her reason for this strange proceeding,
she insolently hints that the Countess's service is no service
for an honest woman, since the Baron has entered the house.
The Countess does, what any lady in her position would do;
she indignantly dismisses the wretch on the spot.
'My Lord, hearing his wife's voice raised in anger, leaves the study
in which he is accustomed to shut himself up over his books,
and asks what this disturbance means. The Countess informs
him of the outrageous language and conduct of her maid.
My Lord not only declares his entire approval of the woman's conduct,
but expresses his own abominable doubts of his wife's fidelity
in language of such horrible brutality that no lady could pollute
her lips by repeating it. "If I had been a man," the Countess says,
"and if I had had a weapon in my hand, I would have struck him dead
at my feet!"
'The Baron, listening silently so far, now speaks. "Permit me
to finish the sentence for you," he says. "You would have struck
your husband dead at your feet; and by that rash act, you would
have deprived yourself of the insurance money settled on the widow--
the very money which is wanted to relieve your brother from
the unendurable pecuniary position which he now occupies!"
'The Countess gravely reminds the Baron that this is no joking matter.
After what my Lord has said to her, she has little doubt that he will
communicate his infamous suspicions to his lawyers in England.
If nothing is done to prevent it, she may be divorced and disgraced,
and thrown on the world, with no resource but the sale of her jewels to
keep her from starving.
'At this moment, the Courier who has been engaged to travel with my Lord
from England crosses the stage with a letter to take to the post.
The Countess stops him, and asks to look at the address on the letter.
She takes it from him for a moment, and shows it to her brother.
The handwriting is my Lord's; and the letter is directed to his lawyers
'The Courier proceeds to the post-office. The Baron and the
Countess look at each other in silence. No words are needed.
They thoroughly understand the position in which they are placed;
they clearly see the terrible remedy for it. What is the plain
alternative before them? Disgrace and ruin--or, my Lord's death
and the insurance money!
'The Baron walks backwards and forwards in great agitation,
talking to himself. The Countess hears fragments of what he is saying.
He speaks of my Lord's constitution, probably weakened in India--
of a cold which my Lord has caught two or three days since--
of the remarkable manner in which such slight things as colds
sometimes end in serious illness and death.
'He observes that the Countess is listening to him, and asks if she
has anything to propose. She is a woman who, with many defects,
has the great merit of speaking out. "Is there no such thing
as a serious illness," she asks, "corked up in one of those bottles
of yours in the vaults downstairs?"
'The Baron answers by gravely shaking his head. What is he afraid of?--
a possible examination of the body after death? No: he can
set any post-mortem examination at defiance. It is the process
of administering the poison that he dreads. A man so distinguished
as my Lord cannot be taken seriously ill without medical attendance.
Where there is a Doctor, there is always danger of discovery.
Then, again, there is the Courier, faithful to my Lord as long
as my Lord pays him. Even if the Doctor sees nothing suspicious,
the Courier may discover something. The poison, to do its work with
the necessary secrecy, must be repeatedly administered in graduated doses.
One trifling miscalculation or mistake may rouse suspicion.
The insurance offices may hear of it, and may refuse to pay the money.
As things are, the Baron will not risk it, and will not allow his sister to
risk it in his place.
'My Lord himself is the next character who appears. He has
repeatedly rung for the Courier, and the bell has not been answered.
"What does this insolence mean?"
'The Countess (speaking with quiet dignity--for why should her
infamous husband have the satisfaction of knowing how deeply he has
wounded her?) reminds my Lord that the Courier has gone to the post.
My Lord asks suspiciously if she has looked at the letter.
The Countess informs him coldly that she has no curiosity about
his letters. Referring to the cold from which he is suffering,
she inquires if he thinks of consulting a medical man.
My Lord answers roughly that he is quite old enough to be capable of
'As he makes this reply, the Courier appears, returning from the post.
My Lord gives him orders to go out again and buy some lemons.
He proposes to try hot lemonade as a means of inducing perspiration
in bed. In that way he has formerly cured colds, and in that way
he will cure the cold from which he is suffering now.
'The Courier obeys in silence. Judging by appearances, he goes
very reluctantly on this second errand.
'My Lord turns to the Baron (who has thus far taken no part
in the conversation) and asks him, in a sneering tone, how much
longer he proposes to prolong his stay in Venice. The Baron
answers quietly, "Let us speak plainly to one another, my Lord.
If you wish me to leave your house, you have only to say the word,
and I go." My Lord turns to his wife, and asks if she can support
the calamity of her brother's absence--laying a grossly insulting
emphasis on the word "brother." The Countess preserves her
impenetrable composure; nothing in her betrays the deadly hatred
with which she regards the titled ruffian who has insulted her.
"You are master in this house, my Lord," is all she says. "Do as
'My Lord looks at his wife; looks at the Baron--and suddenly alters
his tone. Does he perceive in the composure of the Countess and her
brother something lurking under the surface that threatens him?
This is at least certain, he makes a clumsy apology for the language
that he has used. (Abject wretch!)
'My Lord's excuses are interrupted by the return of the Courier
with the lemons and hot water.
'The Countess observes for the first time that the man looks ill.
His hands tremble as he places the tray on the table. My Lord orders
his Courier to follow him, and make the lemonade in the bedroom.
The Countess remarks that the Courier seems hardly capable of obeying
his orders. Hearing this, the man admits that he is ill. He, too,
is suffering from a cold; he has been kept waiting in a draught
at the shop where he bought the lemons; he feels alternately hot
and cold, and he begs permission to lie down for a little while on
'Feeling her humanity appealed to, the Countess volunteers
to make the lemonade herself. My Lord takes the Courier
by the arm, leads him aside, and whispers these words to him:
"Watch her, and see that she puts nothing into the lemonade;
then bring it to me with your own hands; and, then, go to bed,
if you like."
'Without a word more to his wife, or to the Baron, my Lord leaves
'The Countess makes the lemonade, and the Courier takes it to his master.
'Returning, on the way to his own room, he is so weak, and feels,
he says, so giddy, that he is obliged to support himself
by the backs of the chairs as he passes them. The Baron,
always considerate to persons of low degree, offers his arm.
"I am afraid, my poor fellow," he says, "that you are really ill."
The Courier makes this extraordinary answer: "It's all over with me, Sir:
I have caught my death."
'The Countess is naturally startled. "You are not an old man,"
she says, trying to rouse the Courier's spirits. "At your age,
catching cold doesn't surely mean catching your death?" The Courier
fixes his eyes despairingly on the Countess.
"My lungs are weak, my Lady," he says; "I have already had two attacks
of bronchitis. The second time, a great physician joined my own doctor
in attendance on me. He considered my recovery almost in the light
of a miracle. Take care of yourself," he said. "If you have a
third attack of bronchitis, as certainly as two and two make four,
you will be a dead man. I feel the same inward shivering, my Lady,
that I felt on those two former occasions--and I tell you again,
I have caught my death in Venice."
'Speaking some comforting words, the Baron leads him to his room.
The Countess is left alone on the stage.
'She seats herself, and looks towards the door by which the Courier
has been led out. "Ah! my poor fellow," she says, "if you could
only change constitutions with my Lord, what a happy result would
follow for the Baron and for me! If you could only get cured
of a trumpery cold with a little hot lemonade, and if he could
only catch his death in your place--!"
'She suddenly pauses--considers for a while--and springs
to her feet, with a cry of triumphant surprise: the wonderful,
the unparalleled idea has crossed her mind like a flash of lightning.
Make the two men change names and places--and the deed is done!
Where are the obstacles? Remove my Lord (by fair means or foul)
from his room; and keep him secretly prisoner in the palace,
to live or die as future necessity may determine. Place the Courier
in the vacant bed, and call in the doctor to see him--ill, in my
Lord's character, and (if he dies) dying under my Lord's name!'
The manuscript dropped from Henry's hands. A sickening sense of
horror overpowered him. The question which had occurred to his mind
at the close of the First Act of the Play assumed a new and terrible
interest now. As far as the scene of the Countess's soliloquy,
the incidents of the Second Act had reflected the events of his late
brother's life as faithfully as the incidents of the First Act.
Was the monstrous plot, revealed in the lines which he had just read,
the offspring of the Countess's morbid imagination? or had she,
in this case also, deluded herself with the idea that she was
inventing when she was really writing under the influence of her own
guilty remembrances of the past? If the latter interpretation were
the true one, he had just read the narrative of the contemplated
murder of his brother, planned in cold blood by a woman who was at
that moment inhabiting the same house with him. While, to make
the fatality complete, Agnes herself had innocently provided
the conspirators with the one man who was fitted to be the passive
agent of their crime.
Even the bare doubt that it might be so was more than he could endure.
He left his room; resolved to force the truth out of the Countess,
or to denounce her before the authorities as a murderess at large.
Arrived at her door, he was met by a person just leaving the room.
The person was the manager. He was hardly recognisable; he looked
and spoke like a man in a state of desperation.
'Oh, go in, if you like!' he said to Henry. 'Mark this, sir!
I am not a superstitious man; but I do begin to believe that crimes
carry their own curse with them. This hotel is under a curse.
What happens in the morning? We discover a crime committed in the old
days of the palace. The night comes, and brings another dreadful
event with it--a death; a sudden and shocking death, in the house.
Go in, and see for yourself! I shall resign my situation,
Mr. Westwick: I can't contend with the fatalities that pursue
Henry entered the room.
The Countess was stretched on her bed. The doctor on one side,
and the chambermaid on the other, were standing looking at her.
From time to time, she drew a heavy stertorous breath,
like a person oppressed in sleeping. 'Is she likely to die?'
'She is dead,' the doctor answered. 'Dead of the rupture of a blood-vessel
on the brain. Those sounds that you hear are purely mechanical--
they may go on for hours.'
Henry looked at the chambermaid. She had little to tell.
The Countess had refused to go to bed, and had placed herself at her
desk to proceed with her writing. Finding it useless to remonstrate
with her, the maid had left the room to speak to the manager.
In the shortest possible time, the doctor was summoned to the hotel,
and found the Countess dead on the floor. There was this to tell--
and no more.
Looking at the writing-table as he went out, Henry saw the sheet
of paper on which the Countess had traced her last lines of writing.
The characters were almost illegible. Henry could just distinguish
the words, 'First Act,' and 'Persons of the Drama.' The lost wretch
had been thinking of her Play to the last, and had begun it all
Henry returned to his room.
His first impulse was to throw aside the manuscript, and never to look
at it again. The one chance of relieving his mind from the dreadful
uncertainty that oppressed it, by obtaining positive evidence
of the truth, was a chance annihilated by the Countess's death.
What good purpose could be served, what relief could he anticipate,
if he read more?
He walked up and down the room. After an interval, his thoughts
took a new direction; the question of the manuscript presented
itself under another point of view. Thus far, his reading
had only informed him that the conspiracy had been planned.
How did he know that the plan had been put in execution?
The manuscript lay just before him on the floor. He hesitated;
then picked it up; and, returning to the table, read on as follows,
from the point at which he had left off.
'While the Countess is still absorbed in the bold yet simple combination
of circumstances which she has discovered, the Baron returns.
He takes a serious view of the case of the Courier; it may be necessary,
he thinks, to send for medical advice. No servant is left in the palace,
now the English maid has taken her departure. The Baron himself
must fetch the doctor, if the doctor is really needed.
' "Let us have medical help, by all means," his sister replies.
"But wait and hear something that I have to say to you first."
She then electrifies the Baron by communicating her idea
to him. What danger of discovery have they to dread?
My Lord's life in Venice has been a life of absolute seclusion:
nobody but his banker knows him, even by personal appearance.
He has presented his letter of credit as a perfect stranger;
and he and his banker have never seen each other since that
first visit. He has given no parties, and gone to no parties.
On the few occasions when he has hired a gondola or taken a walk,
he has always been alone. Thanks to the atrocious suspicion
which makes him ashamed of being seen with his wife, he has
led the very life which makes the proposed enterprise easy
'The cautious Baron listens--but gives no positive opinion, as yet.
"See what you can do with the Courier," he says; "and I will decide
when I hear the result. One valuable hint I may give you before you go.
Your man is easily tempted by money--if you only offer him enough.
The other day, I asked him, in jest, what he would do for a
thousand pounds. He answered, 'Anything.' Bear that in mind; and offer
your highest bid without bargaining."
'The scene changes to the Courier's room, and shows the poor wretch
with a photographic portrait of his wife in his hand, crying.
The Countess enters.
'She wisely begins by sympathising with her contemplated accomplice.
He is duly grateful; he confides his sorrows to his gracious mistress.
Now that he believes himself to be on his death-bed, he feels remorse
for his neglectful treatment of his wife. He could resign himself to die;
but despair overpowers him when he remembers that he has saved no money,
and that he will leave his widow, without resources, to the mercy of
'On this hint, the Countess speaks. "Suppose you were asked to do
a perfectly easy thing," she says; "and suppose you were rewarded for
doing it by a present of a thousand pounds, as a legacy for your widow?"
'The Courier raises himself on his pillow, and looks at the Countess
with an expression of incredulous surprise. She can hardly be
cruel enough (he thinks) to joke with a man in his miserable plight.
Will she say plainly what this perfectly easy thing is, the doing
of which will meet with such a magnificent reward?
'The Countess answers that question by confiding her project
to the Courier, without the slightest reserve.
'Some minutes of silence follow when she has done. The Courier
is not weak enough yet to speak without stopping to think first.
Still keeping his eyes on the Countess, he makes a quaintly
insolent remark on what he has just heard. "I have not hitherto
been a religious man; but I feel myself on the way to it.
Since your ladyship has spoken to me, I believe in the Devil."
It is the Countess's interest to see the humorous side of this
confession of faith. She takes no offence. She only says,
"I will give you half an hour by yourself, to think over my proposal.
You are in danger of death. Decide, in your wife's interests, whether you
will die worth nothing, or die worth a thousand pounds."
'Left alone, the Courier seriously considers his position--
and decides. He rises with difficulty; writes a few lines on a leaf
taken from his pocket-book; and, with slow and faltering steps,
leaves the room.
'The Countess, returning at the expiration of the half-hour's interval,
finds the room empty. While she is wondering, the Courier opens
the door. What has he been doing out of his bed? He answers,
"I have been protecting my own life, my lady, on the bare chance
that I may recover from the bronchitis for the third time.
If you or the Baron attempts to hurry me out of this world,
or to deprive me of my thousand pounds reward, I shall tell the doctor
where he will find a few lines of writing, which describe your
ladyship's plot. I may not have strength enough, in the case supposed,
to betray you by making a complete confession with my own lips;
but I can employ my last breath to speak the half-dozen words
which will tell the doctor where he is to look. Those words,
it is needless to add, will be addressed to your Ladyship, if I find
your engagements towards me faithfully kept."
'With this audacious preface, he proceeds to state the conditions on
which he will play his part in the conspiracy, and die (if he does die)
worth a thousand pounds.
'Either the Countess or the Baron are to taste the food and drink
brought to his bedside, in his presence, and even the medicines which
the doctor may prescribe for him. As for the promised sum of money,
it is to be produced in one bank-note, folded in a sheet of paper,
on which a line is to be written, dictated by the Courier.
The two enclosures are then to be sealed up in an envelope,
addressed to his wife, and stamped ready for the post. This done,
the letter is to be placed under his pillow; the Baron or the Countess
being at liberty to satisfy themselves, day by day, at their own time,
that the letter remains in its place, with the seal unbroken,
as long as the doctor has any hope of his patient's recovery.
The last stipulation follows. The Courier has a conscience; and with
a view to keeping it easy, insists that he shall be left in ignorance
of that part of the plot which relates to the sequestration of my Lord.
Not that he cares particularly what becomes of his miserly master--
but he does dislike taking other people's responsibilities on his
'These conditions being agreed to, the Countess calls in the Baron,
who has been waiting events in the next room.
'He is informed that the Courier has yielded to temptation;
but he is still too cautious to make any compromising remarks.
Keeping his back turned on the bed, he shows a bottle to the Countess.
It is labelled "Chloroform." She understands that my Lord is to be
removed from his room in a convenient state of insensibility.
In what part of the palace is he to be hidden? As they open
the door to go out, the Countess whispers that question
to the Baron. The Baron whispers back, "In the vaults!"
The curtain falls.'
So the Second Act ended.
Turning to the Third Act, Henry looked wearily at the pages
as he let them slip through his fingers. Both in mind and body,
he began to feel the need of repose.
In one important respect, the later portion of the manuscript
differed from the pages which he had just been reading.
Signs of an overwrought brain showed themselves, here and there,
as the outline of the play approached its end. The handwriting grew
worse and worse. Some of the longer sentences were left unfinished.
In the exchange of dialogue, questions and answers were not always
attributed respectively to the right speaker. At certain intervals
the writer's failing intelligence seemed to recover itself for a while;
only to relapse again, and to lose the thread of the narrative more
hopelessly than ever.
After reading one or two of the more coherent passages Henry recoiled
from the ever-darkening horror of the story. He closed the manuscript,
heartsick and exhausted, and threw himself on his bed to rest.
The door opened almost at the same moment. Lord Montbarry entered
'We have just returned from the Opera,' he said; 'and we have heard
the news of that miserable woman's death. They say you spoke
to her in her last moments; and I want to hear how it happened.'
'You shall hear how it happened,' Henry answered; 'and more than that.
You are now the head of the family, Stephen; and I feel bound,
in the position which oppresses me, to leave you to decide what ought
to be done.'
With those introductory words, he told his brother how the Countess's
play had come into his hands. 'Read the first few pages,' he said.
'I am anxious to know whether the same impression is produced on both
Before Lord Montbarry had got half-way through the First Act,
he stopped, and looked at his brother. 'What does she mean
by boasting of this as her own invention?' he asked. 'Was she
too crazy to remember that these things really happened?'
This was enough for Henry: the same impression had been produced
on both of them. 'You will do as you please,' he said.
'But if you will be guided by me, spare yourself the reading
of those pages to come, which describe our brother's terrible
expiation of his heartless marriage.'
'Have you read it all, Henry?'
'Not all. I shrank from reading some of the latter part of it.
Neither you nor I saw much of our elder brother after we left school;
and, for my part, I felt, and never scrupled to express my feeling,
that he behaved infamously to Agnes. But when I read that unconscious
confession of the murderous conspiracy to which he fell a victim,
I remembered, with something like remorse, that the same mother bore us.
I have felt for him to-night, what I am ashamed to think I never felt for
Lord Montbarry took his brother's hand.
'You are a good fellow, Henry,' he said; 'but are you quite
sure that you have not been needlessly distressing yourself?
Because some of this crazy creature's writing accidentally tells
what we know to be the truth, does it follow that all the rest is
to be relied on to the end?'
'There is no possible doubt of it,' Henry replied.
'No possible doubt?' his brother repeated. 'I shall go
on with my reading, Henry--and see what justification
there may be for that confident conclusion of yours.'
He read on steadily, until he had reached the end of the Second Act.
Then he looked up.
'Do you really believe that the mutilated remains which you
discovered this morning are the remains of our brother?' he asked.
'And do you believe it on such evidence as this?'
Henry answered silently by a sign in the affirmative.
Lord Montbarry checked himself--evidently on the point of entering
an indignant protest.
'You acknowledge that you have not read the later scenes
of the piece,' he said. 'Don't be childish, Henry! If you
persist in pinning your faith on such stuff as this, the least
you can do is to make yourself thoroughly acquainted with it.
Will you read the Third Act? No? Then I shall read it to you.'
He turned to the Third Act, and ran over those fragmentary passages
which were clearly enough written and expressed to be intelligible
to the mind of a stranger.
'Here is a scene in the vaults of the palace,' he began. 'The victim
of the conspiracy is sleeping on his miserable bed; and the Baron
and the Countess are considering the position in which they stand.
The Countess (as well as I can make it out) has raised the money
that is wanted by borrowing on the security of her jewels at Frankfort;
and the Courier upstairs is still declared by the Doctor to have
a chance of recovery. What are the conspirators to do, if the man
does recover? The cautious Baron suggests setting the prisoner free.
If he ventures to appeal to the law, it is easy to declare that he is
subject to insane delusion, and to call his own wife as witness.
On the other hand, if the Courier dies, how is the sequestrated
and unknown nobleman to be put out of the way? Passively, by letting
him starve in his prison? No: the Baron is a man of refined tastes;
he dislikes needless cruelty. The active policy remains--
say, assassination by the knife of a hired bravo? The Baron
objects to trusting an accomplice; also to spending money on anyone
but himself. Shall they drop their prisoner into the canal?
The Baron declines to trust water; water will show him on the surface.
Shall they set his bed on fire? An excellent idea; but the smoke
might be seen. No: the circumstances being now entirely altered,
poisoning him presents the easiest way out of it. He has simply
become a superfluous person. The cheapest poison will do.--
Is it possible, Henry, that you believe this consultation really
Henry made no reply. The succession of the questions that had just
been read to him, exactly followed the succession of the dreams
that had terrified Mrs. Norbury, on the two nights which she had
passed in the hotel. It was useless to point out this coincidence
to his brother. He only said, 'Go on.'
Lord Montbarry turned the pages until he came to the next
'Here,' he proceeded, 'is a double scene on the stage--so far as I can
understand the sketch of it. The Doctor is upstairs, innocently writing
his certificate of my Lord's decease, by the dead Courier's bedside.
Down in the vaults, the Baron stands by the corpse of the poisoned lord,
preparing the strong chemical acids which are to reduce it
to a heap of ashes--Surely, it is not worth while to trouble
ourselves with deciphering such melodramatic horrors as these?
Let us get on! let us get on!'
He turned the leaves again; attempting vainly to discover the meaning
of the confused scenes that followed. On the last page but one,
he found the last intelligible sentences.
'The Third Act seems to be divided,' he said, 'into two Parts
or Tableaux. I think I can read the writing at the beginning
of the Second Part. The Baron and the Countess open the scene.
The Baron's hands are mysteriously concealed by gloves.
He has reduced the body to ashes by his own system of cremation,
with the exception of the head--'
Henry interrupted his brother there. 'Don't read any more!'
'Let us do the Countess justice,' Lord Montbarry persisted.
'There are not half a dozen lines more that I can make out!
The accidental breaking of his jar of acid has burnt the Baron's
hands severely. He is still unable to proceed to the destruction
of the head--and the Countess is woman enough (with all her wickedness)
to shrink from attempting to take his place--when the first news
is received of the coming arrival of the commission of inquiry
despatched by the insurance offices. The Baron feels no alarm.
Inquire as the commission may, it is the natural death of the Courier
(in my Lord's character) that they are blindly investigating.
The head not being destroyed, the obvious alternative is to hide it--
and the Baron is equal to the occasion. His studies in the old library
have informed him of a safe place of concealment in the palace.
The Countess may recoil from handling the acids and watching the process
of cremation; but she can surely sprinkle a little disinfecting
'No more!' Henry reiterated. 'No more!'
'There is no more that can be read, my dear fellow. The last page
looks like sheer delirium. She may well have told you that her
invention had failed her!'
'Face the truth honestly, Stephen, and say her memory.'
Lord Montbarry rose from the table at which he had been sitting,
and looked at his brother with pitying eyes.
'Your nerves are out of order, Henry,' he said. 'And no wonder,
after that frightful discovery under the hearth-stone. We won't dispute
about it; we will wait a day or two until you are quite yourself again.
In the meantime, let us understand each other on one point at least.
You leave the question of what is to be done with these pages of writing
to me, as the head of the family?'
Lord Montbarry quietly took up the manuscript, and threw it
into the fire. 'Let this rubbish be of some use,' he said,
holding the pages down with the poker. 'The room is getting chilly--
the Countess's play will set some of these charred logs flaming again.'
He waited a little at the fire-place, and returned to his brother.
'Now, Henry, I have a last word to say, and then I have done.
I am ready to admit that you have stumbled, by an unlucky chance,
on the proof of a crime committed in the old days of the palace,
nobody knows how long ago. With that one concession, I dispute
everything else. Rather than agree in the opinion you have formed,
I won't believe anything that has happened. The supernatural
influences that some of us felt when we first slept in this hotel--
your loss of appetite, our sister's dreadful dreams, the smell that
overpowered Francis, and the head that appeared to Agnes--I declare them
all to be sheer delusions! I believe in nothing, nothing, nothing!'
He opened the door to go out, and looked back into the room.
'Yes,' he resumed, 'there is one thing I believe in. My wife has
committed a breach of confidence--I believe Agnes will marry you.
Good night, Henry. We leave Venice the first thing to-morrow
So Lord Montbarry disposed of the mystery of The Haunted Hotel.
A last chance of deciding the difference of opinion between
the two brothers remained in Henry's possession. He had his own
idea of the use to which he might put the false teeth as a means
of inquiry when he and Ms fellow-travellers returned to England.
The only surviving depositary of the domestic history of
the family in past years, was Agnes Lockwood's old nurse.
Henry took his first opportunity of trying to revive her personal
recollections of the deceased Lord Montbarry. But the nurse had never
forgiven the great man of the family for his desertion of Agnes;
she flatly refused to consult her memory. 'Even the bare sight
of my lord, when I last saw him in London,' said the old woman,
'made my finger-nails itch to set their mark on his face.
I was sent on an errand by Miss Agnes; and I met him coming out
of his dentist's door--and, thank God, that's the last I ever saw
Thanks to the nurse's quick temper and quaint way of expressing
herself, the object of Henry's inquiries was gained already!
He ventured on asking if she had noticed the situation of the house.
She had noticed, and still remembered the situation--
did Master Henry suppose she had lost the use of her senses,
because she happened to be nigh on eighty years old? The same day,
he took the false teeth to the dentist, and set all further doubt
(if doubt had still been possible) at rest for ever. The teeth had
been made for the first Lord Montbarry.
Henry never revealed the existence of this last link in the chain
of discovery to any living creature, his brother Stephen included.
He carried his terrible secret with him to the grave.
There was one other event in the memorable past on which he preserved
the same compassionate silence. Little Mrs. Ferrari never knew that
her husband had been--not, as she supposed, the Countess's victim--
but the Countess's accomplice. She still believed that the late Lord
Montbarry had sent her the thousand-pound note, and still recoiled
from making use of a present which she persisted in declaring had
'the stain of her husband's blood on it.' Agnes, with the widow's
entire approval, took the money to the Children's Hospital;
and spent it in adding to the number of the beds.
In the spring of the new year, the marriage took place.
At the special request of Agnes, the members of the family were the only
persons present at the ceremony. There was no wedding breakfast--
and the honeymoon was spent in the retirement of a cottage on
the banks of the Thames.
During the last few days of the residence of the newly married
couple by the riverside, Lady Montbarry's children were invited
to enjoy a day's play in the garden. The eldest girl overheard
(and reported to her mother) a little conjugal dialogue which touched
on the topic of The Haunted Hotel.
'Henry, I want you to give me a kiss.'
'There it is, my dear.'
'Now I am your wife, may I speak to you about something?'
'What is it?'
'Something that happened the day before we left Venice.
You saw the Countess, during the last hours of her life.
Won't you tell me whether she made any confession to you?'
'No conscious confession, Agnes--and therefore no confession that I
need distress you by repeating.'
'Did she say nothing about what she saw or heard, on that dreadful
night in my room?'
'Nothing. We only know that her mind never recovered the terror
Agnes was not quite satisfied. The subject troubled her.
Even her own brief intercourse with her miserable rival
of other days suggested questions that perplexed her.
She remembered the Countess's prediction. 'You have to bring me
to the day of discovery, and to the punishment that is my doom.'
Had the prediction simply faded, like other mortal prophecies?--
or had it been fulfilled on the terrible night when she had seen
the apparition, and when she had innocently tempted the Countess
to watch her in her room?
Let it, however, be recorded, among the other virtues of Mrs. Henry
Westwick, that she never again attempted to persuade her husband
into betraying his secrets. Other men's wives, hearing of this
extraordinary conduct (and being trained in the modern school of morals
and manners), naturally regarded her with compassionate contempt. They
spoke of Agnes, from that time forth, as 'rather an old-fashioned person.'
Is that all?
That is all.
Is there no explanation of the mystery of The Haunted Hotel?
Ask yourself if there is any explanation of the mystery of your own
life and death.--Farewell.
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