Part 3 out of 4
'I have been asking about the hotel, at the servants'
supper to-night,' she said. 'The valet of one of the gentlemen
staying here has heard that the late Lord Montbarry was the last
person who lived in the palace, before it was made into an hotel.
The room he died in, ma'am, was the room you slept in last night.
Your room tonight is the room just above it. I said nothing for fear
of frightening you. For my own part, I have passed the night as
you see, keeping my light on, and reading my Bible. In my opinion,
no member of your family can hope to be happy or comfortable in
'What do you mean?'
'Please to let me explain myself, ma'am. When Mr. Henry
Westwick was here (I have this from the valet, too) he occupied
the room his brother died in (without knowing it), like you.
For two nights he never closed his eyes. Without any reason for it
(the valet heard him tell the gentlemen in the coffee-room)
he could not sleep; he felt so low and so wretched in himself.
And what is more, when daytime came, he couldn't even eat while he was
under this roof You may laugh at me, ma'am--but even a servant
may draw her own conclusions. It's my conclusion that something
happened to my lord, which we none of us know about, when he died
in this house. His ghost walks in torment until he can tell it--
and the living persons related to him are the persons who feel
he is near them. Those persons may yet see him in the time to come.
Don't, pray don't stay any longer in this dreadful place! I wouldn't
stay another night here myself--no, not for anything that could be
Mrs. Norbury at once set her servant's mind at ease on this last point.
'I don't think about it as you do,' she said gravely.
'But I should like to speak to my brother of what has happened.
We will go back to Milan.'
Some hours necessarily elapsed before they could leave the hotel,
by the first train in the forenoon.
In that interval, Mrs. Norbury's maid found an opportunity of
confidentially informing the valet of what had passed between her
mistress and herself. The valet had other friends to whom he related
the circumstances in his turn. In due course of time, the narrative,
passing from mouth to mouth, reached the ears of the manager.
He instantly saw that the credit of the hotel was in danger,
unless something was done to retrieve the character of the room
numbered Fourteen. English travellers, well acquainted with the peerage
of their native country, informed him that Henry Westwick and
Mrs. Norbury were by no means the only members of the Montbarry family.
Curiosity might bring more of them to the hotel, after hearing
what had happened. The manager's ingenuity easily hit on the obvious
means of misleading them, in this case. The numbers of all the rooms
were enamelled in blue, on white china plates, screwed to the doors.
He ordered a new plate to be prepared, bearing the number, '13 A';
and he kept the room empty, after its tenant for the time being had
gone away, until the plate was ready. He then re-numbered the room;
placing the removed Number Fourteen on the door of his own room
(on the second floor), which, not being to let, had not previously been
numbered at all. By this device, Number Fourteen disappeared at once
and for ever from the books of the hotel, as the number of a bedroom
Having warned the servants to beware of gossiping with travellers,
on the subject of the changed numbers, under penalty of being dismissed,
the manager composed his mind with the reflection that he had done his
duty to his employers. 'Now,' he thought to himself, with an excusable
sense of triumph, 'let the whole family come here if they like!
The hotel is a match for them.'
Before the end of the week, the manager found himself in relations
with 'the family' once more. A telegram from Milan announced
that Mr. Francis Westwick would arrive in Venice on the next day;
and would be obliged if Number Fourteen, on the first floor,
could be reserved for him, in the event of its being vacant at
The manager paused to consider, before he issued his directions.
The re-numbered room had been last let to a French gentleman.
It would be occupied on the day of Mr. Francis Westwick's arrival,
but it would be empty again on the day after. Would it be well to
reserve the room for the special occupation of Mr. Francis? and when
he had passed the night unsuspiciously and comfortably in 'No. 13 A,'
to ask him in the presence of witnesses how he liked his bedchamber?
In this case, if the reputation of the room happened to be called
in question again, the answer would vindicate it, on the evidence
of a member of the very family which had first given Number Fourteen
a bad name. After a little reflection, the manager decided
on trying the experiment, and directed that '13 A' should be
On the next day, Francis Westwick arrived in excellent spirits.
He had signed agreements with the most popular dancer in Italy;
he had transferred the charge of Mrs. Norbury to his brother Henry,
who had joined him in Milan; and he was now at full liberty to amuse
himself by testing in every possible way the extraordinary influence
exercised over his relatives by the new hotel. When his brother
and sister first told him what their experience had been, he instantly
declared that he would go to Venice in the interest of his theatre.
The circumstances related to him contained invaluable hints
for a ghost-drama. The title occurred to him in the railway:
'The Haunted Hotel.' Post that in red letters six feet high, on a
black ground, all over London--and trust the excitable public to crowd
into the theatre!
Received with the politest attention by the manager, Francis met
with a disappointment on entering the hotel. 'Some mistake, sir.
No such room on the first floor as Number Fourteen. The room bearing
that number is on the second floor, and has been occupied by me,
from the day when the hotel opened. Perhaps you meant number 13 A,
on the first floor? It will be at your service to-morrow--
a charming room. In the mean time, we will do the best we can
for you, to-night.'
A man who is the successful manager of a theatre is probably
the last man in the civilized universe who is capable of being
impressed with favourable opinions of his fellow-creatures.
Francis privately set the manager down as a humbug, and the story
about the numbering of the rooms as a lie.
On the day of his arrival, he dined by himself in the restaurant,
before the hour of the table d'hote, for the express purpose of questioning
the waiter, without being overheard by anybody. The answer led him
to the conclusion that '13 A' occupied the situation in the hotel which
had been described by his brother and sister as the situation of '14.'
He asked next for the Visitors' List; and found that the French gentleman
who then occupied '13 A,' was the proprietor of a theatre in Paris,
personally well known to him. Was the gentleman then in the hotel?
He had gone out, but would certainly return for the table d'hote.
When the public dinner was over, Francis entered the room, and was
welcomed by his Parisian colleague, literally, with open arms.
'Come and have a cigar in my room,' said the friendly Frenchman.
'I want to hear whether you have really engaged that woman at Milan
or not.' In this easy way, Francis found his opportunity of comparing
the interior of the room with the description which he had heard of it
Arriving at the door, the Frenchman bethought himself of his
travelling companion. 'My scene-painter is here with me,' he said,
'on the look-out for materials. An excellent fellow, who will take it
as a kindness if we ask him to join us. I'll tell the porter to send
him up when he comes in.' He handed the key of his room to Francis.
'I will be back in a minute. It's at the end of the corridor--
Francis entered the room alone. There were the decorations on
the walls and the ceiling, exactly as they had been described to him!
He had just time to perceive this at a glance, before his attention
was diverted to himself and his own sensations, by a grotesquely
disagreeable occurrence which took him completely by surprise.
He became conscious of a mysteriously offensive odour in the room,
entirely new in his experience of revolting smells. It was composed
(if such a thing could be) of two mingling exhalations,
which were separately-discoverable exhalations nevertheless.
This strange blending of odours consisted of something faintly
and unpleasantly aromatic, mixed with another underlying smell,
so unutterably sickening that he threw open the window, and put his
head out into the fresh air, unable to endure the horribly infected
atmosphere for a moment longer.
The French proprietor joined his English friend, with his cigar
already lit. He started back in dismay at a sight terrible to his
countrymen in general--the sight of an open window. 'You English
people are perfectly mad on the subject of fresh air!' he exclaimed.
'We shall catch our deaths of cold.'
Francis turned, and looked at him in astonishment. 'Are you really
not aware of the smell there is in the room?' he asked.
'Smell!' repeated his brother-manager. 'I smell my own good cigar.
Try one yourself. And for Heaven's sake shut the window!'
Francis declined the cigar by a sign. 'Forgive me,' he said.
'I will leave you to close the window. I feel faint and giddy--
I had better go out.' He put his handkerchief over his nose and mouth,
and crossed the room to the door.
The Frenchman followed the movements of Francis, in such a state
of bewilderment that he actually forgot to seize the opportunity
of shutting out the fresh air. 'Is it so nasty as that?' he asked,
with a broad stare of amazement.
'Horrible!' Francis muttered behind his handkerchief.
'I never smelt anything like it in my life!'
There was a knock at the door. The scene-painter appeared.
His employer instantly asked him if he smelt anything.
'I smell your cigar. Delicious! Give me one directly!'
'Wait a minute. Besides my cigar, do you smell anything else--vile,
abominable, overpowering, indescribable, never-never-never-smelt before?'
The scene-painter appeared to be puzzled by the vehement energy
of the language addressed to him. 'The room is as fresh and sweet
as a room can be,' he answered. As he spoke, he looked back with
astonishment at Francis Westwick, standing outside in the corridor,
and eyeing the interior of the bedchamber with an expression
of undisguised disgust.
The Parisian director approached his English colleague, and looked
at him with grave and anxious scrutiny.
'You see, my friend, here are two of us, with as good noses as yours,
who smell nothing. If you want evidence from more noses, look there!'
He pointed to two little English girls, at play in the corridor.
'The door of my room is wide open--and you know how fast a smell
can travel. Now listen, while I appeal to these innocent noses,
in the language of their own dismal island. My little loves,
do you sniff a nasty smell here--ha?' The children burst out laughing,
and answered emphatically, 'No.' 'My good Westwick,' the Frenchman
resumed, in his own language, 'the conclusion is surely plain?
There is something wrong, very wrong, with your own nose. I recommend you
to see a medical man.'
Having given that advice, he returned to his room, and shut
out the horrid fresh air with a loud exclamation of relief.
Francis left the hotel, by the lanes that led to the Square of St. Mark.
The night-breeze soon revived him. He was able to light a cigar,
and to think quietly over what had happened.
Avoiding the crowd under the colonnades, Francis walked slowly up
and down the noble open space of the square, bathed in the light
of the rising moon.
Without being aware of it himself, he was a thorough materialist.
The strange effect produced on him by the room--following on the other
strange effects produced on the other relatives of his dead brother--
exercised no perplexing influence over the mind of this sensible man.
'Perhaps,' he reflected, 'my temperament is more imaginative than I
supposed it to be--and this is a trick played on me by my own fancy?
Or, perhaps, my friend is right; something is physically amiss with me?
I don't feel ill, certainly. But that is no safe criterion sometimes.
I am not going to sleep in that abominable room to-night--
I can well wait till to-morrow to decide whether I shall speak
to a doctor or not. In the mean time, the hotel doesn't seem likely
to supply me with the subject of a piece. A terrible smell from an
invisible ghost is a perfectly new idea. But it has one drawback.
If I realise it on the stage, I shall drive the audience out of
As his strong common sense arrived at this facetious conclusion,
he became aware of a lady, dressed entirely in black, who was
observing him with marked attention. 'Am I right in supposing
you to be Mr. Francis Westwick?' the lady asked, at the moment
when he looked at her.
'That is my name, madam. May I inquire to whom I have the honour
'We have only met once,' she answered a little evasively, 'when your late
brother introduced me to the members of his family. I wonder if you
have quite forgotten my big black eyes and my hideous complexion?'
She lifted her veil as she spoke, and turned so that the moonlight
rested on her face.
Francis recognised at a glance the woman of all others whom
he most cordially disliked--the widow of his dead brother,
the first Lord Montbarry. He frowned as he looked at her.
His experience on the stage, gathered at innumerable rehearsals
with actresses who had sorely tried his temper, had accustomed
him to speak roughly to women who were distasteful to him.
'I remember you,' he said. 'I thought you were in America!'
She took no notice of his ungracious tone and manner; she simply
stopped him when he lifted his hat, and turned to leave her.
'Let me walk with you for a few minutes,' she quietly replied.
'I have something to say to you.'
He showed her his cigar. 'I am smoking,'he said.
'I don't mind smoking.'
After that, there was nothing to be done (short of downright brutality)
but to yield. He did it with the worst possible grace.
'Well?' he resumed. 'What do you want of me?'
'You shall hear directly, Mr. Westwick. Let me first
tell you what my position is. I am alone in the world.
To the loss of my husband has now been added another bereavement,
the loss of my companion in America, my brother--Baron Rivar.'
The reputation of the Baron, and the doubt which scandal had thrown on
his assumed relationship to the Countess, were well known to Francis.
'Shot in a gambling-saloon?' he asked brutally.
'The question is a perfectly natural one on your part,' she said,
with the impenetrably ironical manner which she could assume on
certain occasions. 'As a native of horse-racing England, you belong
to a nation of gamblers. My brother died no extraordinary death,
Mr. Westwick. He sank, with many other unfortunate people,
under a fever prevalent in a Western city which we happened to visit.
The calamity of his loss made the United States unendurable to me.
I left by the first steamer that sailed from New York--a French vessel
which brought me to Havre. I continued my lonely journey to the South
of France. And then I went on to Venice.'
'What does all this matter to me?' Francis thought to himself.
She paused, evidently expecting him to say something. 'So you have come
to Venice?' he said carelessly. 'Why?'
'Because I couldn't help it,' she answered.
Francis looked at her with cynical curiosity. 'That sounds odd,'
he remarked. 'Why couldn't you help it?'
'Women are accustomed to act on impulse,' she explained.
'Suppose we say that an impulse has directed my journey? And yet,
this is the last place in the world that I wish to find myself in.
Associations that I detest are connected with it in my mind.
If I had a will of my own, I would never see it again.
I hate Venice. As you see, however, I am here. When did you
meet with such an unreasonable woman before? Never, I am sure!'
She stopped, eyed him for a moment, and suddenly altered her tone.
'When is Miss Agnes Lockwood expected to be in Venice?'
It was not easy to throw Francis off his balance,
but that extraordinary question did it. 'How the
devil did you know that Miss Lockwood was coming to Venice?' he exclaimed.
She laughed--a bitter mocking laugh. 'Say, I guessed it!'
Something in her tone, or perhaps something in the audacious
defiance of her eyes as they rested on him, roused the quick
temper that was in Francis Warwick. 'Lady Montbarry--!' he began.
'Stop there!' she interposed. 'Your brother Stephen's wife calls
herself Lady Montbarry now. I share my title with no woman.
Call me by my name before I committed the fatal mistake of marrying
your brother. Address me, if you please, as Countess Narona.'
'Countess Narona,' Francis resumed, 'if your object in claiming
my acquaintance is to mystify me, you have come to the wrong man.
Speak plainly, or permit me to wish you good evening.'
'If your object is to keep Miss Lockwood's arrival in Venice a secret,'
she retorted, 'speak plainly, Mr. Westwick, on your side,
and say so.'
Her intention was evidently to irritate him; and she succeeded.
'Nonsense!' he broke out petulantly. 'My brother's travelling
arrangements are secrets to nobody. He brings Miss Lockwood here,
with Lady Montbarry and the children. As you seem so well informed,
perhaps you know why she is coming to Venice?'
The Countess had suddenly become grave and thoughtful. She made no reply.
The two strangely associated companions, having reached one extremity
of the square, were now standing before the church of St. Mark.
The moonlight was bright enough to show the architecture
of the grand cathedral in its wonderful variety of detail.
Even the pigeons of St. Mark were visible, in dark closely packed rows,
roosting in the archways of the great entrance doors.
'I never saw the old church look so beautiful by moonlight,'
the Countess said quietly; speaking, not to Francis, but to herself.
'Good-bye, St. Mark's by moonlight! I shall not see you again.'
She turned away from the church, and saw Francis listening
to her with wondering looks. 'No,' she resumed, placidly picking
up the lost thread of the conversation, 'I don't know why Miss
Lockwood is coming here, I only know that we are to meet in Venice.'
'By previous appointment?'
'By Destiny,' she answered, with her head on her breast, and her
eyes on the ground. Francis burst out laughing. 'Or, if you like
it better,' she instantly resumed, 'by what fools call Chance.'
Francis answered easily, out of the depths of his strong common sense.
'Chance seems to be taking a queer way of bringing the meeting about,'
he said. 'We have all arranged to meet at the Palace Hotel.
How is it that your name is not on the Visitors' List? Destiny ought
to have brought you to the Palace Hotel too.'
She abruptly pulled down her veil. 'Destiny may do that yet!' she said.
'The Palace Hotel?' she repeated, speaking once more to herself.
'The old hell, transformed into the new purgatory. The place itself!
Jesu Maria! the place itself!' She paused and laid her hand on her
companion's arm. 'Perhaps Miss Lockwood is not going there with the rest
of you?' she burst out with sudden eagerness. 'Are you positively
sure she will be at the hotel?'
'Positively! Haven't I told you that Miss Lockwood travels with Lord
and Lady Montbarry? and don't you know that she is a member of the family?
You will have to move, Countess, to our hotel.'
She was perfectly impenetrable to the bantering tone in which he spoke.
'Yes,' she said faintly, 'I shall have to move to your hotel.'
Her hand was still on his arm--he could feel her shivering from head
to foot while she spoke. Heartily as he disliked and distrusted her,
the common instinct of humanity obliged him to ask if she
'Yes,' she said. 'Cold and faint.'
'Cold and faint, Countess, on such a night as this?'
'The night has nothing to do with it, Mr. Westwick. How do you suppose
the criminal feels on the scaffold, while the hangman is putting
the rope around his neck? Cold and faint, too, I should think.
Excuse my grim fancy. You see, Destiny has got the rope round my neck--
and I feel it.'
She looked about her. They were at that moment close to the famous
cafe known as 'Florian's.' 'Take me in there,' she said;
'I must have something to revive me. You had better not hesitate.
You are interested in reviving me. I have not said what I wanted to say
to you yet. It's business, and it's connected with your theatre.'
Wondering inwardly what she could possibly want with his theatre,
Francis reluctantly yielded to the necessities of the situation,
and took her into the cafe. He found a quiet corner in which they could
take their places without attracting notice. 'What will you have?'
he inquired resignedly. She gave her own orders to the waiter,
without troubling him to speak for her.
'Maraschino. And a pot of tea.'
The waiter stared; Francis stared. The tea was a novelty
(in connection with maraschino) to both of them. Careless whether
she surprised them or not, she instructed the waiter, when her
directions had been complied with, to pour a large wine-glass-full
of the liqueur into a tumbler, and to fill it up from the teapot.
'I can't do it for myself,' she remarked, 'my hand trembles so.'
She drank the strange mixture eagerly, hot as it was. 'Maraschino punch--
will you taste some of it?' she said. 'I inherit the discovery
of this drink. When your English Queen Caroline was on the Continent,
my mother was attached to her Court. That much injured Royal
Person invented, in her happier hours, maraschino punch.
Fondly attached to her gracious mistress, my mother shared her tastes.
And I, in my turn, learnt from my mother. Now, Mr. Westwick,
suppose I tell you what my business is. You are manager of a theatre.
Do you want a new play?'
'I always want a new play--provided it's a good one.'
'And you pay, if it's a good one?'
'I pay liberally--in my own interests.'
'If I write the play, will you read it?'
Francis hesitated. 'What has put writing a play into your head?'
'Mere accident,' she answered. 'I had once occasion to tell my late
brother of a visit which I paid to Miss Lockwood, when I was last
in England. He took no interest at what happened at the interview,
but something struck him in my way of relating it. He said,
"You describe what passed between you and the lady with the point
and contrast of good stage dialogue. You have the dramatic instinct--
try if you can write a play. You might make money." That put it into
Those last words seemed to startle Francis. 'Surely you don't
want money!' he exclaimed.
'I always want money. My tastes are expensive. I have nothing
but my poor little four hundred a year--and the wreck that is left
of the other money: about two hundred pounds in circular notes--
Francis knew that she was referring to the ten thousand pounds paid
by the insurance offices. 'All those thousands gone already!'
She blew a little puff of air over her fingers. 'Gone like that!'
she answered coolly.
She looked at him with a flash of anger in her hard black eyes.
'My affairs are my own secret, Mr. Westwick. I have made you
a proposal--and you have not answered me yet. Don't say No,
without thinking first. Remember what a life mine has been.
I have seen more of the world than most people, playwrights included.
I have had strange adventures; I have heard remarkable stories;
I have observed; I have remembered. Are there no materials, here in
my head, for writing a play--if the opportunity is granted to me?'
She waited a moment, and suddenly repeated her strange question
'When is Miss Lockwood expected to be in Venice?'
'What has that to do with your new play, Countess?'
The Countess appeared to feel some difficulty in giving that question
its fit reply. She mixed another tumbler full of maraschino punch,
and drank one good half of it before she spoke again.
'It has everything to do with my new play,' was all she said.
'Answer me.' Francis answered her.
'Miss Lockwood may be here in a week. Or, for all I know
to the contrary, sooner than that.'
'Very well. If I am a living woman and a free woman in a week's time--
or if I am in possession of my senses in a week's time (don't interrupt me;
I know what I am talking about)--I shall have a sketch or outline
of my play ready, as a specimen of what I can do. Once again,
will you read it?'
'I will certainly read it. But, Countess, I don't understand--'
She held up her hand for silence, and finished the second tumbler
of maraschino punch.
'I am a living enigma--and you want to know the right reading of me,'
she said. 'Here is the reading, as your English phrase goes,
in a nutshell. There is a foolish idea in the minds of many persons
that the natives of the warm climates are imaginative people.
There never was a greater mistake. You will find no such
unimaginative people anywhere as you find in Italy, Spain, Greece,
and the other Southern countries. To anything fanciful,
to anything spiritual, their minds are deaf and blind by nature.
Now and then, in the course of centuries, a great genius springs
up among them; and he is the exception which proves the rule.
Now see! I, though I am no genius--I am, in my little way
(as I suppose), an exception too. To my sorrow, I have some of that
imagination which is so common among the English and the Germans--
so rare among the Italians, the Spaniards, and the rest of them!
And what is the result? I think it has become a disease in me.
I am filled with presentiments which make this wicked life of mine
one long terror to me. It doesn't matter, just now, what they are.
Enough that they absolutely govern me--they drive me over land
and sea at their own horrible will; they are in me, and torturing me,
at this moment! Why don't I resist them? Ha! but I do resist them.
I am trying (with the help of the good punch) to resist them now.
At intervals I cultivate the difficult virtue of common sense.
Sometimes, sound sense makes a hopeful woman of me. At one time,
I had the hope that what seemed reality to me was only mad delusion,
after all--I even asked the question of an English doctor!
At other times, other sensible doubts of myself beset me.
Never mind dwelling on them now--it always ends in the old terrors
and superstitions taking possession of me again. In a week's time,
I shall know whether Destiny does indeed decide my future for me,
or whether I decide it for myself. In the last case, my resolution
is to absorb this self-tormenting fancy of mine in the occupation
that I have told you of already. Do you understand me a little
better now? And, our business being settled, dear Mr. Westwick,
shall we get out of this hot room into the nice cool air
They rose to leave the cafe. Francis privately concluded that
the maraschino punch offered the only discoverable explanation
of what the Countess had said to him.
'Shall I see you again?' she asked, as she held out her hand
to take leave. 'It is quite understood between us, I suppose,
about the play?'
Francis recalled his extraordinary experience of that evening in
the re-numbered room. 'My stay in Venice is uncertain,' he replied.
'If you have anything more to say about this dramatic venture of yours,
it may be as well to say it now. Have you decided on a subject already?
I know the public taste in England better than you do--I might save
you some waste of time and trouble, if you have not chosen your
'I don't care what subject I write about, so long as I write,'
she answered carelessly. 'If you have got a subject in your head,
give it to me. I answer for the characters and the dialogue.'
'You answer for the characters and the dialogue,' Francis repeated.
'That's a bold way of speaking for a beginner! I wonder if I
should shake your sublime confidence in yourself, if I suggested
the most ticklish subject to handle which is known to the stage?
What do you say, Countess, to entering the lists with Shakespeare,
and trying a drama with a ghost in it? A true story, mind! founded
on events in this very city in which you and I are interested.'
She caught him by the arm, and drew him away from the crowded
colonnade into the solitary middle space of the square.
'Now tell me!' she said eagerly. 'Here, where nobody is near us.
How am I interested in it? How? how?'
Still holding his arm, she shook him in her impatience to hear
the coming disclosure. For a moment he hesitated. Thus far,
amused by her ignorant belief in herself, he had merely spoken in jest.
Now, for the first time, impressed by her irresistible earnestness,
he began to consider what he was about from a more serious point of view.
With her knowledge of all that had passed in the old palace,
before its transformation into an hotel, it was surely possible that she
might suggest some explanation of what had happened to his brother,
and sister, and himself. Or, failing to do this, she might accidentally
reveal some event in her own experience which, acting as a hint
to a competent dramatist, might prove to be the making of a play.
The prosperity of his theatre was his one serious object in life.
'I may be on the trace of another "Corsican Brothers,"' he thought.
'A new piece of that sort would be ten thousand pounds in my pocket,
With these motives (worthy of the single-hearted devotion
to dramatic business which made Francis a successful manager)
he related, without further hesitation, what his own experience
had been, and what the experience of his relatives had been,
in the haunted hotel. He even described the outbreak of superstitious
terror which had escaped Mrs. Norbury's ignorant maid.
'Sad stuff, if you look at it reasonably,' he remarked.
'But there is something dramatic in the notion of the ghostly influence
making itself felt by the relations in succession, as they one after
another enter the fatal room--until the one chosen relative comes
who will see the Unearthly Creature, and know the terrible truth.
Material for a play, Countess--first-rate material for a play!'
There he paused. She neither moved nor spoke. He stooped and looked
closer at her.
What impression had he produced? It was an impression which his
utmost ingenuity had failed to anticipate. She stood by his side--
just as she had stood before Agnes when her question about Ferrari
was plainly answered at last--like a woman turned to stone.
Her eyes were vacant and rigid; all the life in her face had faded
out of it. Francis took her by the hand. Her hand was as cold
as the pavement that they were standing on. He asked her if she
Not a muscle in her moved. He might as well have spoken to the dead.
'Surely,' he said, 'you are not foolish enough to take what I
have been telling you seriously?'
Her lips moved slowly. As it seemed, she was making an effort
to speak to him.
'Louder,' he said. 'I can't hear you.'
She struggled to recover possession of herself. A faint light began
to soften the dull cold stare of her eyes. In a moment more she
spoke so that he could hear her.
'I never thought of the other world,' she murmured, in low dull tones,
like a woman talking in her sleep.
Her mind had gone back to the day of her last memorable interview
with Agnes; she was slowly recalling the confession that had escaped her,
the warning words which she had spoken at that past time.
Necessarily incapable of understanding this, Francis looked
at her in perplexity. She went on in the same dull vacant tone,
steadily following out her own train of thought, with her heedless
eyes on his face, and her wandering mind far away from him.
'I said some trifling event would bring us together the next time.
I was wrong. No trifling event will bring us together.
I said I might be the person who told her what had become of Ferrari,
if she forced me to it. Shall I feel some other influence than hers?
Will he force me to it? When she sees him, shall I see
Her head sank a little; her heavy eyelids dropped slowly;
she heaved a long low weary sigh. Francis put her arm in his,
and made an attempt to rouse her.
'Come, Countess, you are weary and over-wrought. We have had
enough talking to-night. Let me see you safe back to your hotel.
Is it far from here?'
She started when he moved, and obliged her to move with him,
as if he had suddenly awakened her out of a deep sleep.
'Not far,' she said faintly. 'The old hotel on the quay.
My mind's in a strange state; I have forgotten the name.'
He led her on slowly. She accompanied him in silence as far
as the end of the Piazzetta. There, when the full view of
the moonlit Lagoon revealed itself, she stopped him as he turned
towards the Riva degli Schiavoni. 'I have something to ask you.
I want to wait and think.'
She recovered her lost idea, after a long pause.
'Are you going to sleep in the room to-night?' she asked.
He told her that another traveller was in possession of the room
that night. 'But the manager has reserved it for me to-morrow,'
he added, 'if I wish to have it.'
'No,' she said. 'You must give it up.'
He started. 'After what I have told you, do you really wish
to sleep in that room to-morrow night?'
'I must sleep in it.'
'Are you not afraid?'
'I am horribly afraid.'
'So I should have thought, after what I have observed in you to-night.
Why should you take the room? you are not obliged to occupy it,
unless you like.'
'I was not obliged to go to Venice, when I left America,' she answered.
'And yet I came here. I must take the room, and keep the room, until--'
She broke off at those words. 'Never mind the rest,' she said.
'It doesn't interest you.'
It was useless to dispute with her. Francis changed the subject.
'We can do nothing to-night,' he said. 'I will call on you
to-morrow morning, and hear what you think of it then.'
They moved on again to the hotel. As they approached the door,
Francis asked if she was staying in Venice under her own name.
She shook her head. 'As your brother's widow, I am known here.
As Countess Narona, I am known here. I want to be unknown, this time,
to strangers in Venice; I am travelling under a common English name.'
She hesitated, and stood still. 'What has come to me?'
she muttered to herself. 'Some things I remember; and some I forget.
I forgot Danieli's--and now I forget my English name.'
She drew him hurriedly into the hall of the hotel, on the wall
of which hung a list of visitors' names. Running her finger
slowly down the list, she pointed to the English name that she had
'Remember that when you call to-morrow,' she said. 'My head is heavy.
Francis went back to his own hotel, wondering what the events
of the next day would bring forth. A new turn in his affairs
had taken place in his absence. As he crossed the hall, he was
requested by one of the servants to walk into the private office.
The manager was waiting there with a gravely pre-occupied manner,
as if he had something serious to say. He regretted to hear
that Mr. Francis Westwick had, like other members of the family,
discovered serious sources of discomfort in the new hotel.
He had been informed in strict confidence of Mr. Westwick's
extraordinary objection to the atmosphere of the bedroom upstairs.
Without presuming to discuss the matter, he must beg to be excused
from reserving the room for Mr. Westwick after what had happened.
Francis answered sharply, a little ruffled by the tone in
which the manager had spoken to him. 'I might, very possibly,
have declined to sleep in the room, if you had reserved it,' he said.
'Do you wish me to leave the hotel?'
The manager saw the error that he had committed, and hastened
to repair it. 'Certainly not, sir! We will do our best to make
you comfortable while you stay with us. I beg your pardon,
if I have said anything to offend you. The reputation of an
establishment like this is a matter of very serious importance.
May I hope that you will do us the great favour to say nothing about
what has happened upstairs? The two French gentlemen have kindly
promised to keep it a secret.'
This apology left Francis no polite alternative but to grant
the manager's request. 'There is an end to the Countess's
wild scheme,' he thought to himself, as he retired for the night.
'So much the better for the Countess!'
He rose late the next morning. Inquiring for his Parisian friends,
he was informed that both the French gentlemen had left for Milan.
As he crossed the hall, on his way to the restaurant,
he noticed the head porter chalking the numbers of the rooms
on some articles of luggage which were waiting to go upstairs.
One trunk attracted his attention by the extraordinary number
of old travelling labels left on it. The porter was marking it
at the moment--and the number was, '13 A.' Francis instantly looked
at the card fastened on the lid. It bore the common English name,
'Mrs. James'! He at once inquired about the lady. She had arrived
early that morning, and she was then in the Reading Room.
Looking into the room, he discovered a lady in it alone.
Advancing a little nearer, he found himself face to face with
She was seated in a dark corner, with her head down and her arms crossed
over her bosom. 'Yes,' she said, in a tone of weary impatience,
before Francis could speak to her. 'I thought it best not to wait
for you--I determined to get here before anybody else could take
'Have you taken it for long?' Francis asked.
'You told me Miss Lockwood would be here in a week's time.
I have taken it for a week.'
'What has Miss Lockwood to do with it?'
'She has everything to do with it--she must sleep in the room.
I shall give the room up to her when she comes here.'
Francis began to understand the superstitious purpose that she
had in view. 'Are you (an educated woman) really of the same
opinion as my sister's maid!' he exclaimed. 'Assuming your absurd
superstition to be a serious thing, you are taking the wrong means
to prove it true. If I and my brother and sister have seen nothing,
how should Agnes Lockwood discover what was not revealed to us?
She is only distantly related to the Montbarrys--she is only
'She was nearer to the heart of the Montbarry who is dead than
any of you,' the Countess answered sternly. 'To the last day
of his life, my miserable husband repented his desertion of her.
She will see what none of you have seen--she shall have the room.'
Francis listened, utterly at a loss to account for the motives
that animated her. 'I don't see what interest you have in trying
this extraordinary experiment,' he said.
'It is my interest not to try it! It is my interest to fly from Venice,
and never set eyes on Agnes Lockwood or any of your family again!'
'What prevents you from doing that?'
She started to her feet and looked at him wildly. 'I know no more what
prevents me than you do!' she burst out. 'Some will that is stronger
than mine drives me on to my destruction, in spite of my own self!'
She suddenly sat down again, and waved her hand for him to go.
'Leave me,' she said. 'Leave me to my thoughts.'
Francis left her, firmly persuaded by this time that she was out
of her senses. For the rest of the day, he saw nothing of her.
The night, so far as he knew, passed quietly. The next morning
he breakfasted early, determining to wait in the restaurant
for the appearance of the Countess. She came in and ordered
her breakfast quietly, looking dull and worn and self-absorbed,
as she had looked when he last saw her. He hastened to her table,
and asked if anything had happened in the night.
'Nothing,' she answered.
'You have rested as well as usual?'
'Quite as well as usual. Have you had any letters this morning?
Have you heard when she is coming?'
'I have had no letters. Are you really going to stay here?
Has your experience of last night not altered the opinion which you
expressed to me yesterday?'
'Not in the least.'
The momentary gleam of animation which had crossed her face when she
questioned him about Agnes, died out of it again when he answered her.
She looked, she spoke, she eat her breakfast, with a vacant resignation,
like a woman who had done with hopes, done with interests,
done with everything but the mechanical movements and instincts
Francis went out, on the customary travellers' pilgrimage to
the shrines of Titian and Tintoret. After some hours of absence,
he found a letter waiting for him when he got back to the hotel.
It was written by his brother Henry, and it recommended him to
return to Milan immediately. The proprietor of a French theatre,
recently arrived from Venice, was trying to induce the famous dancer
whom Francis had engaged to break faith with him and accept a
Having made this startling announcement, Henry proceeded to inform
his brother that Lord and Lady Montbarry, with Agnes and the children,
would arrive in Venice in three days more. 'They know nothing
of our adventures at the hotel,' Henry wrote; 'and they have
telegraphed to the manager for the accommodation that they want.
There would be something absurdly superstitious in our giving them
a warning which would frighten the ladies and children out of the best
hotel in Venice. We shall be a strong party this time--too strong
a party for ghosts! I shall meet the travellers on their arrival,
of course, and try my luck again at what you call the Haunted Hotel.
Arthur Barville and his wife have already got as far on their way as Trent;
and two of the lady's relations have arranged to accompany them on
the journey to Venice.'
Naturally indignant at the conduct of his Parisian colleague,
Francis made his preparations for returning to Milan by the train
of that day.
On his way out, he asked the manager if his brother's telegram had
been received. The telegram had arrived, and, to the surprise of Francis,
the rooms were already reserved. 'I thought you would refuse to let
any more of the family into the house,' he said satirically.
The manager answered (with the due dash of respect) in the same tone.
'Number 13 A is safe, sir, in the occupation of a stranger.
I am the servant of the Company; and I dare not turn money out of
Hearing this, Francis said good-bye--and said nothing more.
He was ashamed to acknowledge it to himself, but he felt an
irresistible curiosity to know what would happen when Agnes arrived
at the hotel. Besides, 'Mrs. James' had reposed a confidence in him.
He got into his gondola, respecting the confidence of 'Mrs. James.'
Towards evening on the third day, Lord Montbarry and his travelling
companions arrived, punctual to their appointment.
'Mrs. James,' sitting at the window of her room watching for them,
saw the new Lord land from the gondola first. He handed his wife
to the steps. The three children were next committed to his care.
Last of all, Agnes appeared in the little black doorway of the
gondola cabin, and, taking Lord Montbarry's hand, passed in her
turn to the steps. She wore no veil. As she ascended to the door
of the hotel, the Countess (eyeing her through an opera-glass)
noticed that she paused to look at the outside of the building,
and that her face was very pale.
Lord and Lady Montbarry were received by the housekeeper;
the manager being absent for a day or two on business connected
with the affairs of the hotel.
The rooms reserved for the travellers on the first floor were
three in number; consisting of two bedrooms opening into each other,
and communicating on the left with a drawing-room. Complete so far,
the arrangements proved to be less satisfactory in reference
to the third bedroom required for Agnes and for the eldest daughter
of Lord Montbarry, who usually slept with her on their travels.
The bed-chamber on the right of the drawing-room was already occupied
by an English widow lady. Other bedchambers at the other end
of the corridor were also let in every case. There was accordingly
no alternative but to place at the disposal of Agnes a comfortable
room on the second floor. Lady Montbarry vainly complained of this
separation of one of the members of her travelling party from the rest.
The housekeeper politely hinted that it was impossible for her
to ask other travellers to give up their rooms. She could only
express her regret, and assure Miss Lockwood that her bed-chamber
on the second floor was one of the best rooms in that part of
On the retirement of the housekeeper, Lady Montbarry noticed
that Agnes had seated herself apart, feeling apparently no interest
in the question of the bedrooms. Was she ill? No; she felt
a little unnerved by the railway journey, and that was all.
Hearing this, Lord Montbarry proposed that she should go out with him,
and try the experiment of half an hour's walk in the cool evening air.
Agnes gladly accepted the suggestion. They directed their steps
towards the square of St. Mark, so as to enjoy the breeze blowing
over the lagoon. It was the first visit of Agnes to Venice.
The fascination of the wonderful city of the waters exerted its
full influence over her sensitive nature. The proposed half-hour
of the walk had passed away, and was fast expanding to half
an hour more, before Lord Montbarry could persuade his companion
to remember that dinner was waiting for them. As they returned,
passing under the colonnade, neither of them noticed a lady
in deep mourning, loitering in the open space of the square.
She started as she recognised Agnes walking with the new Lord Montbarry--
hesitated for a moment--and then followed them, at a discreet distance,
back to the hotel.
Lady Montbarry received Agnes in high spirits--with news of an event
which had happened in her absence.
She had not left the hotel more than ten minutes, before a little
note in pencil was brought to Lady Montbarry by the housekeeper.
The writer proved to be no less a person than the widow lady
who occupied the room on the other side of the drawing-room,
which her ladyship had vainly hoped to secure for Agnes.
Writing under the name of Mrs. James, the polite widow explained
that she had heard from the housekeeper of the disappointment
experienced by Lady Montbarry in the matter of the rooms.
Mrs. James was quite alone; and as long as her bed-chamber was airy
and comfortable, it mattered nothing to her whether she slept on
the first or the second floor of the house. She had accordingly
much pleasure in proposing to change rooms with Miss Lockwood.
Her luggage had already been removed, and Miss Lockwood had only to
take possession of the room (Number 13 A), which was now entirely at
'I immediately proposed to see Mrs. James,' Lady Montbarry continued,
'and to thank her personally for her extreme kindness.
But I was informed that she had gone out, without leaving word
at what hour she might be expected to return. I have written
a little note of thanks, saying that we hope to have the pleasure
of personally expressing our sense of Mrs. James's courtesy
to-morrow. In the mean time, Agnes, I have ordered your boxes
to be removed downstairs. Go!--and judge for yourself, my dear,
if that good lady has not given up to you the prettiest room
in the house!'
With those words, Lady Montbarry left Miss Lockwood to make a hasty
toilet for dinner.
The new room at once produced a favourable impression on Agnes.
The large window, opening into a balcony, commanded an admirable
view of the canal. The decorations on the walls and ceiling were
skilfully copied from the exquisitely graceful designs of Raphael
in the Vatican. The massive wardrobe possessed compartments
of unusual size, in which double the number of dresses that Agnes
possessed might have been conveniently hung at full length.
In the inner corner of the room, near the head of the bedstead,
there was a recess which had been turned into a little dressing-room,
and which opened by a second door on the inferior staircase of
the hotel, commonly used by the servants. Noticing these aspects
of the room at a glance, Agnes made the necessary change in her dress,
as quickly as possible. On her way back to the drawing-room she was
addressed by a chambermaid in the corridor who asked for her key.
'I will put your room tidy for the night, Miss,' the woman said,
'and I will then bring the key back to you in the drawing-room.'
While the chambermaid was at her work, a solitary lady, loitering about
the corridor of the second storey, was watching her over the bannisters.
After a while, the maid appeared, with her pail in her hand,
leaving the room by way of the dressing-room and the back stairs.
As she passed out of sight, the lady on the second floor (no other,
it is needless to add, than the Countess herself) ran swiftly
down the stairs, entered the bed-chamber by the principal door,
and hid herself in the empty side compartment of the wardrobe.
The chambermaid returned, completed her work, locked the door
of the dressing-room on the inner side, locked the principal
entrance-door on leaving the room, and returned the key to Agnes in the
The travellers were just sitting down to their late dinner,
when one of the children noticed that Agnes was not wearing her watch.
Had she left it in her bed-chamber in the hurry of changing her dress?
She rose from the table at once in search of her watch; Lady Montbarry
advising her, as she went out, to see to the security of her bed-chamber,
in the event of there being thieves in the house. Agnes found
her watch, forgotten on the toilet table, as she had anticipated.
Before leaving the room again she acted on Lady Montbarry's advice,
and tried the key in the lock of the dressing-room door. It was
properly secured. She left the bed-chamber, locking the main door
Immediately on her departure, the Countess, oppressed by the confined
air in the wardrobe, ventured on stepping out of her hiding place
into the empty room.
Entering the dressing-room, she listened at the door, until the silence
outside informed her that the corridor was empty. Upon this,
she unlocked the door, and, passing out, closed it again softly;
leaving it to all appearance (when viewed on the inner side)
as carefully secured as Agnes had seen it when she tried the key in
the lock with her own hand.
While the Montbarrys were still at dinner, Henry Westwick joined them,
arriving from Milan.
When he entered the room, and again when he advanced to shake hands
with her, Agnes was conscious of a latent feeling which secretly
reciprocated Henry's unconcealed pleasure on meeting her again.
For a moment only, she returned his look; and in that moment her own
observation told her that she had silently encouraged him to hope.
She saw it in the sudden glow of happiness which overspread his face;
and she confusedly took refuge in the usual conventional inquiries relating
to the relatives whom he had left at Milan.
Taking his place at the table, Henry gave a most amusing account
of the position of his brother Francis between the mercenary
opera-dancer on one side, and the unscrupulous manager of the French
theatre on the other. Matters had proceeded to such extremities,
that the law had been called on to interfere, and had decided the dispute
in favour of Francis. On winning the victory the English manager had
at once left Milan, recalled to London by the affairs of his theatre.
He was accompanied on the journey back, as he had been accompanied
on the journey out, by his sister. Resolved, after passing two
nights of terror in the Venetian hotel, never to enter it again,
Mrs. Norbury asked to be excused from appearing at the family festival,
on the ground of ill-health. At her age, travelling fatigued her,
and she was glad to take advantage of her brother's escort to return
While the talk at the dinner-table flowed easily onward,
the evening-time advanced to night--and it became necessary
to think of sending the children to bed.
As Agnes rose to leave the room, accompanied by the eldest girl,
she observed with surprise that Henry's manner suddenly changed.
He looked serious and pre-occupied; and when his niece wished him
good night, he abruptly said to her, 'Marian, I want to know what
part of the hotel you sleep in?' Marian, puzzled by the question,
answered that she was going to sleep, as usual, with 'Aunt Agnes.'
Not satisfied with that reply, Henry next inquired whether the bedroom
was near the rooms occupied by the other members of the travelling party.
Answering for the child, and wondering what Henry's object could
possibly be, Agnes mentioned the polite sacrifice made to her
convenience by Mrs. James. 'Thanks to that lady's kindness,'
she said, 'Marian and I are only on the other side of the drawing-room.'
Henry made no remark; he looked incomprehensibly discontented
as he opened the door for Agnes and her companion to pass out.
After wishing them good night, he waited in the corridor
until he saw them enter the fatal corner-room--and then
he called abruptly to his brother, 'Come out, Stephen, and let
As soon as the two brothers were at liberty to speak together privately,
Henry explained the motive which had led to his strange inquiries
about the bedrooms. Francis had informed him of the meeting with
the Countess at Venice, and of all that had followed it; and Henry now
carefully repeated the narrative to his brother in all its details.
'I am not satisfied,' he added, 'about that woman's purpose in giving
up her room. Without alarming the ladies by telling them what I
have just told you, can you not warn Agnes to be careful in securing
Lord Montbarry replied, that the warning had been already
given by his wife, and that Agnes might be trusted to take
good care of herself and her little bed-fellow. For the rest,
he looked upon the story of the Countess and her superstitions
as a piece of theatrical exaggeration, amusing enough in itself,
but unworthy of a moment's serious attention.
While the gentlemen were absent from the hotel, the room which had
been already associated with so many startling circumstances,
became the scene of another strange event in which Lady Montbarry's
eldest child was concerned.
Little Marian had been got ready for bed as usual, and had
(so far) taken hardly any notice of the new room. As she knelt
down to say her prayers, she happened to look up at that part
of the ceiling above her which was just over the head of the bed.
The next instant she alarmed Agnes, by starting to her feet
with a cry of terror, and pointing to a small brown spot
on one of the white panelled spaces of the carved ceiling.
'It's a spot of blood!' the child exclaimed. 'Take me away!
I won't sleep here!'
Seeing plainly that it would be useless to reason with her while she
was in the room, Agnes hurriedly wrapped Marian in a dressing-gown,
and carried her back to her mother in the drawing-room. Here,
the ladies did their best to soothe and reassure the trembling girl.
The effort proved to be useless; the impression that had been
produced on the young and sensitive mind was not to be removed
by persuasion. Marian could give no explanation of the panic
of terror that had seized her. She was quite unable to say why
the spot on the ceiling looked like the colour of a spot of blood.
She only knew that she should die of terror if she saw it again.
Under these circumstances, but one alternative was left. It was
arranged that the child should pass the night in the room occupied
by her two younger sisters and the nurse.
In half an hour more, Marian was peacefully asleep with her arm
around her sister's neck. Lady Montbarry went back with Agnes
to her room to see the spot on the ceiling which had so strangely
frightened the child. It was so small as to be only just perceptible,
and it had in all probability been caused by the carelessness
of a workman, or by a dripping from water accidentally spilt
on the floor of the room above.
'I really cannot understand why Marian should place such a shocking
interpretation on such a trifling thing,' Lady Montbarry remarked.
'I suspect the nurse is in some way answerable for what has happened,'
Agnes suggested. 'She may quite possibly have been telling
Marian some tragic nursery story which has left its mischievous
impression behind it. Persons in her position are sadly ignorant
of the danger of exciting a child's imagination. You had better
caution the nurse to-morrow.'
Lady Montbarry looked round the room with admiration. 'Is it
not prettily decorated?' she said. 'I suppose, Agnes, you don't
mind sleeping here by yourself.?'
Agnes laughed. 'I feel so tired,' she replied, 'that I was thinking
of bidding you good-night, instead of going back to the drawing-room.'
Lady Montbarry turned towards the door. 'I see your jewel-case on
the table,' she resumed. 'Don't forget to lock the other door there,
in the dressing-room.'
'I have already seen to it, and tried the key myself,' said Agnes.
'Can I be of any use to you before I go to bed?'
'No, my dear, thank you; I feel sleepy enough to follow your example.
Good night, Agnes--and pleasant dreams on your first night
Having closed and secured the door on Lady Montbarry's departure,
Agnes put on her dressing-gown, and, turning to her open boxes,
began the business of unpacking. In the hurry of making her toilet
for dinner, she had taken the first dress that lay uppermost
in the trunk, and had thrown her travelling costume on the bed.
She now opened the doors of the wardrobe for the first time,
and began to hang her dresses on the hooks in the large compartment on
After a few minutes only of this occupation, she grew weary of it,
and decided on leaving the trunks as they were, until the next morning.
The oppressive south wind, which had blown throughout the day,
still prevailed at night. The atmosphere of the room felt close;
Agnes threw a shawl over her head and shoulders, and, opening the window,
stepped into the balcony to look at the view.
The night was heavy and overcast: nothing could be distinctly seen.
The canal beneath the window looked like a black gulf;
the opposite houses were barely visible as a row of shadows,
dimly relieved against the starless and moonless sky.
At long intervals, the warning cry of a belated gondolier was
just audible, as he turned the corner of a distant canal, and called
to invisible boats which might be approaching him in the darkness.
Now and then, the nearer dip of an oar in the water told of the viewless
passage of other gondolas bringing guests back to the hotel.
Excepting these rare sounds, the mysterious night-silence of Venice was
literally the silence of the grave.
Leaning on the parapet of the balcony, Agnes looked vacantly into
the black void beneath. Her thoughts reverted to the miserable man
who had broken his pledged faith to her, and who had died in that house.
Some change seemed to have come over her since her arrival in Venice;
some new influence appeared to be at work. For the first time
in her experience of herself, compassion and regret were not the only
emotions aroused in her by the remembrance of the dead Montbarry.
A keen sense of the wrong that she had suffered, never yet
felt by that gentle and forgiving nature, was felt by it now.
She found herself thinking of the bygone days of her humiliation
almost as harshly as Henry Westwick had thought of them--
she who had rebuked him the last time he had spoken slightingly
of his brother in her presence! A sudden fear and doubt of herself,
startled her physically as well as morally. She turned from the shadowy
abyss of the dark water as if the mystery and the gloom of it had
been answerable for the emotions which had taken her by surprise.
Abruptly closing the window, she threw aside her shawl, and lit
the candles on the mantelpiece, impelled by a sudden craving for light in
the solitude of her room.
The cheering brightness round her, contrasting with the black
gloom outside, restored her spirits. She felt herself enjoying
the light like a child!
Would it be well (she asked herself) to get ready for bed? No! The sense
of drowsy fatigue that she had felt half an hour since was gone.
She returned to the dull employment of unpacking her boxes.
After a few minutes only, the occupation became irksome to her once more.
She sat down by the table, and took up a guide-book. 'Suppose I
inform myself,' she thought, 'on the subject of Venice?'
Her attention wandered from the book, before she had turned
the first page of it.
The image of Henry Westwick was the presiding image in her memory now.
Recalling the minutest incidents and details of the evening,
she could think of nothing which presented him under other than
a favourable and interesting aspect. She smiled to herself softly,
her colour rose by fine gradations, as she felt the full luxury
of dwelling on the perfect truth and modesty of his devotion to her.
Was the depression of spirits from which she had suffered so
persistently on her travels attributable, by any chance, to their
long separation from each other--embittered perhaps by her own vain
regret when she remembered her harsh reception of him in Paris?
Suddenly conscious of this bold question, and of the self-abandonment
which it implied, she returned mechanically to her book,
distrusting the unrestrained liberty of her own thoughts.
What lurking temptations to forbidden tenderness find their hiding-places
in a woman's dressing-gown, when she is alone in her room at night!
With her heart in the tomb of the dead Montbarry, could Agnes even think
of another man, and think of love? How shameful! how unworthy of her!
For the second time, she tried to interest herself in the guide-book--
and once more she tried in vain. Throwing the book aside,
she turned desperately to the one resource that was left,
to her luggage--resolved to fatigue herself without mercy,
until she was weary enough and sleepy enough to find a safe refuge
For some little time, she persisted in the monotonous occupation
of transferring her clothes from her trunk to the wardrobe.
The large clock in the hall, striking mid-night, reminded her that it
was getting late. She sat down for a moment in an arm-chair by
the bedside, to rest.
The silence in the house now caught her attention, and held it--
held it disagreeably. Was everybody in bed and asleep but herself?
Surely it was time for her to follow the general example? With a
certain irritable nervous haste, she rose again and undressed herself.
'I have lost two hours of rest,' she thought, frowning at the reflection
of herself in the glass, as she arranged her hair for the night.
'I shall be good for nothing to-morrow!'
She lit the night-light, and extinguished the candles--
with one exception, which she removed to a little table, placed on
the side of the bed opposite to the side occupied by the arm-chair.
Having put her travelling-box of matches and the guide-book near
the candle, in case she might be sleepless and might want to read,
she blew out the light, and laid her head on the pillow.
The curtains of the bed were looped back to let the air pass
freely over her. Lying on her left side, with her face turned
away from the table, she could see the arm-chair by the dim
night-light. It had a chintz covering--representing large
bunches of roses scattered over a pale green ground. She tried
to weary herself into drowsiness by counting over and over again
the bunches of roses that were visible from her point of view.
Twice her attention was distracted from the counting, by sounds outside--
by the clock chiming the half-hour past twelve; and then again,
by the fall of a pair of boots on the upper floor, thrown out to
be cleaned, with that barbarous disregard of the comfort of others
which is observable in humanity when it inhabits an hotel.
In the silence that followed these passing disturbances, Agnes went on
counting the roses on the arm-chair, more and more slowly. Before long,
she confused herself in the figures--tried to begin counting again--
thought she would wait a little first--felt her eyelids drooping,
and her head reclining lower and lower on the pillow--sighed faintly--
and sank into sleep.
How long that first sleep lasted, she never knew. She could
only remember, in the after-time, that she woke instantly.
Every faculty and perception in her passed the boundary line
between insensibility and consciousness, so to speak, at a leap.
Without knowing why, she sat up suddenly in the bed,
listening for she knew not what. Her head was in a whirl; her heart
beat furiously, without any assignable cause. But one trivial
event had happened during the interval while she had been asleep.
The night-light had gone out; and the room, as a matter of course,
was in total darkness.
She felt for the match-box, and paused after finding it.
A vague sense of confusion was still in her mind. She was in no hurry
to light the match. The pause in the darkness was, for the moment,
agreeable to her.
In the quieter flow of her thoughts during this interval,
she could ask herself the natural question:--What cause had
awakened her so suddenly, and had so strangely shaken her nerves?
Had it been the influence of a dream? She had not dreamed
at all--or, to speak more correctly, she had no waking remembrance
of having dreamed. The mystery was beyond her fathoming:
the darkness began to oppress her. She struck the match on the box,
and lit her candle.
As the welcome light diffused itself over the room, she turned
from the table and looked towards the other side of the bed.
In the moment when she turned, the chill of a sudden terror gripped
her round the heart, as with the clasp of an icy hand.
She was not alone in her room!
There--in the chair at the bedside--there, suddenly revealed under
the flow of light from the candle, was the figure of a woman, reclining.
Her head lay back over the chair. Her face, turned up to the ceiling,
had the eyes closed, as if she was wrapped in a deep sleep.
The shock of the discovery held Agnes speechless and helpless.
Her first conscious action, when she was in some degree mistress of
herself again, was to lean over the bed, and to look closer at the woman
who had so incomprehensibly stolen into her room in the dead of night.
One glance was enough: she started back with a cry of amazement.
The person in the chair was no other than the widow of the dead Montbarry--
the woman who had warned her that they were to meet again,
and that the place might be Venice!
Her courage returned to her, stung into action by the natural sense
of indignation which the presence of the Countess provoked.
'Wake up!' she called out. 'How dare you come here? How did you get in?
Leave the room--or I will call for help!'
She raised her voice at the last words. It produced no effect.
Leaning farther over the bed, she boldly took the Countess
by the shoulder and shook her. Not even this effort succeeded
in rousing the sleeping woman. She still lay back in the chair,
possessed by a torpor like the torpor of death--insensible to sound,
insensible to touch. Was she really sleeping? Or had she fainted?
Agnes looked closer at her. She had not fainted. Her breathing
was audible, rising and falling in deep heavy gasps. At intervals
she ground her teeth savagely. Beads of perspiration stood thickly
on her forehead. Her clenched hands rose and fell slowly from time
to time on her lap. Was she in the agony of a dream? or was she
spiritually conscious of something hidden in the room?
The doubt involved in that last question was unendurable.
Agnes determined to rouse the servants who kept watch in the hotel
The bell-handle was fixed to the wall, on the side of the bed
by which the table stood.
She raised herself from the crouching position which she had assumed
in looking close at the Countess; and, turning towards the other side
of the bed, stretched out her hand to the bell. At the same instant,
she stopped and looked upward. Her hand fell helplessly at her side.
She shuddered, and sank back on the pillow.
What had she seen?
She had seen another intruder in her room.
Midway between her face and the ceiling, there hovered a human head--
severed at the neck, like a head struck from the body by the guillotine.
Nothing visible, nothing audible, had given her any intelligible
warning of its appearance. Silently and suddenly, the head had
taken its place above her. No supernatural change had passed
over the room, or was perceptible in it now. The dumbly-tortured
figure in the chair; the broad window opposite the foot of the bed,
with the black night beyond it; the candle burning on the table--
these, and all other objects in the room, remained unaltered.
One object more, unutterably horrid, had been added to the rest.
That was the only change--no more, no less.
By the yellow candlelight she saw the head distinctly,
hovering in mid-air above her. She looked at it steadfastly,
spell-bound by the terror that held her.
The flesh of the face was gone. The shrivelled skin was darkened
in hue, like the skin of an Egyptian mummy--except at the neck.
There it was of a lighter colour; there it showed spots and splashes
of the hue of that brown spot on the ceiling, which the child's
fanciful terror had distorted into the likeness of a spot of blood.
Thin remains of a discoloured moustache and whiskers, hanging over
the upper lip, and over the hollows where the cheeks had once been,
made the head just recognisable as the head of a man. Over all
the features death and time had done their obliterating work.
The eyelids were closed. The hair on the skull, discoloured like
the hair on the face, had been burnt away in places. The bluish lips,
parted in a fixed grin, showed the double row of teeth.
By slow degrees, the hovering head (perfectly still when she
first saw it) began to descend towards Agnes as she lay beneath.
By slow degrees, that strange doubly-blended odour, which the
Commissioners had discovered in the vaults of the old palace--
which had sickened Francis Westwick in the bed-chamber of
the new hotel--spread its fetid exhalations over the room.
Downward and downward the hideous apparition made its slow progress,
until it stopped close over Agnes--stopped, and turned slowly,
so that the face of it confronted the upturned face of the woman in
There was a pause. Then, a supernatural movement disturbed the rigid
repose of the dead face.
The closed eyelids opened slowly. The eyes revealed themselves,
bright with the glassy film of death--and fixed their dreadful look
on the woman in the chair.
Agnes saw that look; saw the eyelids of the living woman open slowly
like the eyelids of the dead; saw her rise, as if in obedience
to some silent command--and saw no more.
Her next conscious impression was of the sunlight pouring in at
the window; of the friendly presence of Lady Montbarry at the bedside;
and of the children's wondering faces peeping in at the door.
'...You have some influence over Agnes. Try what you
can do, Henry, to make her take a sensible view of the matter.
There is really nothing to make a fuss about. My wife's maid knocked
at her door early in the morning, with the customary cup of tea.
Getting no answer, she went round to the dressing-room--found the door
on that side unlocked--and discovered Agnes on the bed in a fainting fit.
With my wife's help, they brought her to herself again; and she
told the extraordinary story which I have just repeated to you.
You must have seen for yourself that she has been over-fatigued,
poor thing, by our long railway journeys: her nerves are out of order--
and she is just the person to be easily terrified by a dream.
She obstinately refuses, however, to accept this rational view.
Don't suppose that I have been severe with her! All that a man
can do to humour her I have done. I have written to the Countess
(in her assumed name) offering to restore the room to her.
She writes back, positively declining to return to it.
I have accordingly arranged (so as not to have the thing
known in the hotel) to occupy the room for one or two nights,
and to leave Agnes to recover her spirits under my wife's care.
Is there anything more that I can do? Whatever questions Agnes has
asked of me I have answered to the best of my ability; she knows
all that you told me about Francis and the Countess last night.
But try as I may I can't quiet her mind. I have given up the attempt
in despair, and left her in the drawing-room. Go, like a good fellow,
and try what you can do to compose her.'
In those words, Lord Montbarry stated the case to his brother
from the rational point of view. Henry made no remark, he went
straight to the drawing-room.
He found Agnes walking rapidly backwards and forwards,
flushed and excited. 'If you come here to say what your brother
has been saying to me,' she broke out, before he could speak,
'spare yourself the trouble. I don't want common sense--
I want a true friend who will believe in me.'
'I am that friend, Agnes,' Henry answered quietly, 'and you know it.'
'You really believe that I am not deluded by a dream?'
I know that you are not deluded--in one particular, at least.'
'In what particular?'
'In what you have said of the Countess. It is perfectly true--'
Agnes stopped him there. 'Why do I only hear this morning
that the Countess and Mrs. James are one and the same person?'
she asked distrustfully. 'Why was I not told of it last night?'
'You forget that you had accepted the exchange of rooms before I
reached Venice,' Henry replied. 'I felt strongly tempted to tell you,
even then--but your sleeping arrangements for the night were
all made; I should only have inconvenienced and alarmed you.
I waited till the morning, after hearing from my brother that
you had yourself seen to your security from any intrusion.
How that intrusion was accomplished it is impossible to say.
I can only declare that the Countess's presence by your bedside
last night was no dream of yours. On her own authority I can testify
that it was a reality.'
'On her own authority?' Agnes repeated eagerly. 'Have you seen
her this morning?'
'I have seen her not ten minutes since.'
'What was she doing?'
She was busily engaged in writing. I could not even get her to look
at me until I thought of mentioning your name.'
'She remembered me, of course?'
'She remembered you with some difficulty. Finding that she wouldn't answer
me on any other terms, I questioned her as if I had come direct from you.
Then she spoke. She not only admitted that she had the same superstitious
motive for placing you in that room which she had acknowledged
to Francis--she even owned that she had been by your bedside,
watching through the night, "to see what you saw," as she expressed it.
Hearing this, I tried to persuade her to tell me how she got into
the room. Unluckily, her manuscript on the table caught her eye;
she returned to her writing. "The Baron wants money," she said;
"I must get on with my play." What she saw or dreamed while she was
in your room last night, it is at present impossible to discover.
But judging by my brother's account of her, as well as by what I
remember of her myself, some recent influence has been at work which
has produced a marked change in this wretched woman for the worse.
Her mind (since last night, perhaps) is partially deranged.
One proof of it is that she spoke to me of the Baron as if he were
still a living man. When Francis saw her, she declared that the Baron
was dead, which is the truth. The United States Consul at Milan
showed us the announcement of the death in an American newspaper.
So far as I can see, such sense as she still possesses seems to be
entirely absorbed in one absurd idea--the idea of writing a play
for Francis to bring out at his theatre. He admits that he encouraged
her to hope she might get money in this way. I think he did wrong.
Don't you agree with me?'
Without heeding the question, Agnes rose abruptly from her chair.
'Do me one more kindness, Henry,' she said. 'Take me to the Countess
Henry hesitated. 'Are you composed enough to see her, after the shock
that you have suffered?' he asked.
She trembled, the flush on her face died away, and left it deadly pale.
But she held to her resolution. 'You have heard of what I saw last night?'
she said faintly.
'Don't speak of it!' Henry interposed. 'Don't uselessly
'I must speak! My mind is full of horrid questions about it.
I know I can't identify it--and yet I ask myself over and over again,
in whose likeness did it appear? Was it in the likeness of Ferrari?
or was it--?' she stopped, shuddering. 'The Countess knows, I must
see the Countess!' she resumed vehemently. 'Whether my courage fails
me or not, I must make the attempt. Take me to her before I have time
to feel afraid of it!'
Henry looked at her anxiously. 'If you are really sure of your
own resolution,' he said, 'I agree with you--the sooner you see
her the better. You remember how strangely she talked of your
influence over her, when she forced her way into your room in London?'
'I remember it perfectly. Why do you ask?'
'For this reason. In the present state of her mind, I doubt if she
will be much longer capable of realizing her wild idea of you as the
avenging angel who is to bring her to a reckoning for her evil deeds.
It may be well to try what your influence can do while she is still
capable of feeling it.'
He waited to hear what Agnes would say. She took his arm and led
him in silence to the door.
They ascended to the second floor, and, after knocking,
entered the Countess's room.
She was still busily engaged in writing. When she looked up from
the paper, and saw Agnes, a vacant expression of doubt was the only
expression in her wild black eyes. After a few moments, the lost
remembrances and associations appeared to return slowly to her mind.
The pen dropped from her hand. Haggard and trembling, she looked closer
at Agnes, and recognised her at last. 'Has the time come already?'
she said in low awe-struck tones. 'Give me a little longer respite,
I haven't done my writing yet!'
She dropped on her knees, and held out her clasped hands entreatingly.
Agnes was far from having recovered, after the shock that she had
suffered in the night: her nerves were far from being equal to the
strain that was now laid on them. She was so startled by the change
in the Countess, that she was at a loss what to say or to do next.
Henry was obliged to speak to her. 'Put your questions while you
have the chance,' he said, lowering his voice. 'See! the vacant look
is coming over her face again.'
Agnes tried to rally her courage. 'You were in my room last night--'
she began. Before she could add a word more, the Countess lifted
her hands, and wrung them above her head with a low moan of horror.
Agnes shrank back, and turned as if to leave the room. Henry stopped her,
and whispered to her to try again. She obeyed him after an effort.
'I slept last night in the room that you gave up to me,' she resumed.
The Countess suddenly rose to her feet. 'No more of that,' she cried.
'Oh, Jesu Maria! do you think I want to be told what you saw?
Do you think I don't know what it means for you and for me?
Decide for yourself, Miss. Examine your own mind. Are you well
assured that the day of reckoning has come at last? Are you ready
to follow me back, through the crimes of the past, to the secrets of
She returned again to the writing-table, without waiting to be answered.
Her eyes flashed; she looked like her old self once more as she spoke.
It was only for a moment. The old ardour and impetuosity were
nearly worn out. Her head sank; she sighed heavily as she unlocked
a desk which stood on the table. Opening a drawer in the desk,
she took out a leaf of vellum, covered with faded writing.
Some ragged ends of silken thread were still attached to the leaf,
as if it had been torn out of a book.
'Can you read Italian?' she asked, handing the leaf to Agnes.
Agnes answered silently by an inclination of her head.
'The leaf,' the Countess proceeded, 'once belonged to a book in the old
library of the palace, while this building was still a palace.
By whom it was torn out you have no need to know. For what purpose
it was torn out you may discover for yourself, if you will.
Read it first--at the fifth line from the top of the page.'
Agnes felt the serious necessity of composing herself.
'Give me a chair,' she said to Henry; 'and I will do my best.'
He placed himself behind her chair so that he could look over her
shoulder and help her to understand the writing on the leaf.
Rendered into English, it ran as follows:--
I have now completed my literary survey of the first
floor of the palace. At the desire of my noble and gracious patron,
the lord of this glorious edifice, I next ascend to the second floor,
and continue my catalogue or description of the pictures,
decorations, and other treasures of art therein contained.
Let me begin with the corner room at the western extremity of the palace,
called the Room of the Caryatides, from the statues which support
the mantel-piece. This work is of comparatively recent execution:
it dates from the eighteenth century only, and reveals the corrupt
taste of the period in every part of it. Still, there is a certain
interest which attaches to the mantel-piece: it conceals a cleverly
constructed hiding-place, between the floor of the room and the ceiling
of the room beneath, which was made during the last evil days
of the Inquisition in Venice, and which is reported to have saved
an ancestor of my gracious lord pursued by that terrible tribunal.
The machinery of this curious place of concealment has been kept
in good order by the present lord, as a species of curiosity.
He condescended to show me the method of working it.
Approaching the two Caryatides, rest your hand on the forehead
(midway between the eyebrows) of the figure which is on your left
as you stand opposite to the fireplace, then press the head inwards
as if you were pushing it against the wall behind. By doing this,
you set in motion the hidden machinery in the wall which turns
the hearthstone on a pivot, and discloses the hollow place below.
There is room enough in it for a man to lie easily at full length.
The method of closing the cavity again is equally simple. Place both
your hands on the temples of the figures; pull as if you were pulling
it towards you--and the hearthstone will revolve into its proper
'You need read no farther,' said the Countess. 'Be careful
to remember what you have read.'
She put back the page of vellum in her writing-desk, locked it,
and led the way to the door.
'Come!' she said; 'and see what the mocking Frenchman called "The
beginning of the end." '
Agnes was barely able to rise from her chair; she trembled from head
to foot. Henry gave her his arm to support her. 'Fear nothing,'
he whispered; 'I shall be with you.'
The Countess proceeded along the westward corridor, and stopped
at the door numbered Thirty-eight. This was the room which had
been inhabited by Baron Rivar in the old days of the palace:
it was situated immediately over the bedchamber in which Agnes had
passed the night. For the last two days the room had been empty.
The absence of luggage in it, when they opened the door, showed that it
had not yet been let.
'You see?' said the Countess, pointing to the carved figure at
the fire-place; 'and you know what to do. Have I deserved that you
should temper justice with mercy?' she went on in lower tones.
'Give me a few hours more to myself. The Baron wants money--
I must get on with my play.'
She smiled vacantly, and imitated the action of writing with her right
hand as she pronounced the last words. The effort of concentrating
her weakened mind on other and less familiar topics than the constant
want of money in the Baron's lifetime, and the vague prospect
of gain from the still unfinished play, had evidently exhausted
her poor reserves of strength. When her request had been granted,
she addressed no expressions of gratitude to Agnes; she only said,
'Feel no fear, miss, of my attempting to escape you. Where you are,
there I must be till the end comes.'
Her eyes wandered round the room with a last weary and stupefied look.
She returned to her writing with slow and feeble steps, like the steps
of an old woman.
Henry and Agnes were left alone in the Room of the Caryatides.
The person who had written the description of the palace--
probably a poor author or artist--had correctly pointed out
the defects of the mantel-piece. Bad taste, exhibiting itself
on the most costly and splendid scale, was visible in every part
of the work. It was nevertheless greatly admired by ignorant
travellers of all classes; partly on account of its imposing size,
and partly on account of the number of variously-coloured marbles
which the sculptor had contrived to introduce into his design.
Photographs of the mantel-piece were exhibited in the public rooms,
and found a ready sale among English and American visitors to
Henry led Agnes to the figure on the left, as they stood facing the empty
fire-place. 'Shall I try the experiment,' he asked, 'or will you?'
She abruptly drew her arm away from him, and turned back to the door.
'I can't even look at it,' she said. 'That merciless marble face
Henry put his hand on the forehead of the figure. 'What is there
to alarm you, my dear, in this conventionally classical face?'
he asked jestingly. Before he could press the head inwards,
Agnes hurriedly opened the door. 'Wait till I am out of the room!'
she cried. 'The bare idea of what you may find there horrifies me!'
She looked back into the room as she crossed the threshold.
'I won't leave you altogether,' she said, 'I will wait outside.'
She closed the door. Left by himself, Henry lifted his hand once
more to the marble forehead of the figure.
For the second time, he was checked on the point of setting
the machinery of the hiding-place in motion. On this occasion,
the interruption came from an outbreak of friendly voices
in the corridor. A woman's voice exclaimed, 'Dearest Agnes,
how glad I am to see you again!' A man's voice followed,
offering to introduce some friend to 'Miss Lockwood.' A third voice
(which Henry recognised as the voice of the manager of the hotel)
became audible next, directing the housekeeper to show the ladies
and gentlemen the vacant apartments at the other end of the corridor.
'If more accommodation is wanted,' the manager went on, 'I have a
charming room to let here.' He opened the door as he spoke, and found
himself face to face with Henry Westwick.
'This is indeed an agreeable surprise, sir!' said the manager cheerfully.
'You are admiring our famous chimney-piece, I see. May I ask,
Mr. Westwick, how you find yourself in the hotel, this time?
Have the supernatural influences affected your appetite again?'
'The supernatural influences have spared me, this time,' Henry answered.
'Perhaps you may yet find that they have affected some other member
of the family.' He spoke gravely, resenting the familiar tone in
which the manager had referred to his previous visit to the hotel.
'Have you just returned?' he asked, by way of changing the topic.
'Just this minute, sir. I had the honour of travelling in the same
train with friends of yours who have arrived at the hotel--
Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Barville, and their travelling companions.
Miss Lockwood is with them, looking at the rooms. They will be here
before long, if they find it convenient to have an extra room at
This announcement decided Henry on exploring the hiding-place,
before the interruption occurred. It had crossed his mind,
when Agnes left him, that he ought perhaps to have a witness,
in the not very probable event of some alarming discovery taking place.
The too-familiar manager, suspecting nothing, was there at his disposal.
He turned again to the Caryan figure, maliciously resolving to make
the manager his witness.
'I am delighted to hear that our friends have arrived at last,' he said.
'Before I shake hands with them, let me ask you a question about
this queer work of art here. I see photographs of it downstairs.
Are they for sale?'
'Certainly, Mr. Westwick!'
'Do you think the chimney-piece is as solid as it looks?'
Henry proceeded. 'When you came in, I was just wondering whether this
figure here had not accidentally got loosened from the wall behind it.'
He laid his hand on the marble forehead, for the third time.
'To my eye, it looks a little out of the perpendicular.
I almost fancied I could jog the head just now, when I touched it.'
He pressed the head inwards as he said those words.
A sound of jarring iron was instantly audible behind the wall.
The solid hearthstone in front of the fire-place turned slowly
at the feet of the two men, and disclosed a dark cavity below.
At the same moment, the strange and sickening combination of odours,
hitherto associated with the vaults of the old palace and with the
bed-chamber beneath, now floated up from the open recess, and filled
The manager started back. 'Good God, Mr. Westwick!' he exclaimed,
'what does this mean?'
Remembering, not only what his brother Francis had felt
in the room beneath, but what the experience of Agnes had been
on the previous night, Henry was determined to be on his guard.
'I am as much surprised as you are,' was his only reply.
'Wait for me one moment, sir,' said the manager. 'I must stop
the ladies and gentlemen outside from coming in.'
He hurried away--not forgetting to close the door after him.
Henry opened the window, and waited there breathing the purer air.
Vague apprehensions of the next discovery to come, filled his mind
for the first time. He was doubly resolved, now, not to stir a step in
the investigation without a witness.
The manager returned with a wax taper in his hand, which he lighted
as soon as he entered the room.
'We need fear no interruption now,' he said. 'Be so kind,
Mr. Westwick, as to hold the light. It is my business to find
out what this extraordinary discovery means.'
Henry held the taper. Looking into the cavity, by the dim and
flickering light, they both detected a dark object at the bottom of it.
'I think I can reach the thing,' the manager remarked, 'if I lie down,
and put my hand into the hole.'
He knelt on the floor--and hesitated. 'Might I ask you, sir, to give
me my gloves?' he said. 'They are in my hat, on the chair behind you.'
Henry gave him the gloves. 'I don't know what I may be going
to take hold of,' the manager explained, smiling rather uneasily
as he put on his right glove.
He stretched himself at full length on the floor, and passed his right
arm into the cavity. 'I can't say exactly what I have got hold of,'
he said. 'But I have got it.'
Half raising himself, he drew his hand out.
The next instant, he started to his feet with a shriek of terror.
A human head dropped from his nerveless grasp on the floor,
and rolled to Henry's feet. It was the hideous head that Agnes
had seen hovering above her, in the vision of the night!
The two men looked at each other, both struck speechless by the same
emotion of horror. The manager was the first to control himself.
'See to the door, for God's sake!' he said. 'Some of the people
outside may have heard me.'
Henry moved mechanically to the door.
Even when he had his hand on the key, ready to turn it in the lock
in case of necessity, he still looked back at the appalling object
on the floor. There was no possibility of identifying those decayed
and distorted features with any living creature whom he had seen--
and, yet, he was conscious of feeling a vague and awful doubt
which shook him to the soul. The questions which had tortured
the mind of Agnes, were now his questions too. He asked himself,
'In whose likeness might I have recognised it before the decay set in?
The likeness of Ferrari? or the likeness of--?' He paused trembling,
as Agnes had paused trembling before him. Agnes! The name,
of all women's names the dearest to him, was a terror to him now!
What was he to say to her? What might be the consequence if he trusted her
with the terrible truth?
No footsteps approached the door; no voices were audible outside.
The travellers were still occupied in the rooms at the eastern end of
In the brief interval that had passed, the manager had sufficiently
recovered himself to be able to think once more of the first
and foremost interests of his life--the interests of the hotel.
He approached Henry anxiously.
'If this frightful discovery becomes known,' he said, 'the closing
of the hotel and the ruin of the Company will be the inevitable results.
I feel sure that I can trust your discretion, sir, so far?'
'You can certainly trust me,' Henry answered. 'But surely discretion
has its limits,' he added, 'after such a discovery as we have made?'
The manager understood that the duty which they owed to the community,
as honest and law-abiding men, was the duty to which Henry now referred.
'I will at once find the means,' he said, 'of conveying the remains
privately out of the house, and I will myself place them in the care
of the police authorities. Will you leave the room with me? or do you
not object to keep watch here, and help me when I return?'
While he was speaking, the voices of the travellers made themselves
heard again at the end of the corridor. Henry instantly consented
to wait in the room. He shrank from facing the inevitable meeting
with Agnes if he showed himself in the corridor at that moment.
The manager hastened his departure, in the hope of escaping notice.
He was discovered by his guests before he could reach the head
of the stairs. Henry heard the voices plainly as he turned the key.
While the terrible drama of discovery was in progress on one side
of the door, trivial questions about the amusements of Venice,
and facetious discussions on the relative merits of French and
Italian cookery, were proceeding on the other. Little by little,
the sound of the talking grew fainter. The visitors, having arranged
their plans of amusement for the day, were on their way out of the hotel.
In a minute or two, there was silence once more.
Henry turned to the window, thinking to relieve his mind by looking
at the bright view over the canal. He soon grew wearied of the
familiar scene. The morbid fascination which seems to be exercised by all
horrible sights, drew him back again to the ghastly object on the floor.
Dream or reality, how had Agnes survived the sight of it?
As the question passed through his mind, he noticed for the first
time something lying on the floor near the head. Looking closer,
he perceived a thin little plate of gold, with three false teeth
attached to it, which had apparently dropped out (loosened by the shock)
when the manager let the head fall on the floor.
The importance of this discovery, and the necessity of not too
readily communicating it to others, instantly struck Henry.
Here surely was a chance--if any chance remained--of identifying
the shocking relic of humanity which lay before him, the dumb witness
of a crime! Acting on this idea, he took possession of the teeth,
purposing to use them as a last means of inquiry when other attempts
at investigation had been tried and had failed.
He went back again to the window: the solitude of the room began
to weigh on his spirits. As he looked out again at the view,
there was a soft knock at the door. He hastened to open it--
and checked himself in the act. A doubt occurred to him. Was it
the manager who had knocked? He called out, 'Who is there?'
The voice of Agnes answered him. 'Have you anything to tell me, Henry?'
He was hardly able to reply. 'Not just now,' he said, confusedly.
'Forgive me if I don't open the door. I will speak to you
a little later.'
The sweet voice made itself heard again, pleading with him piteously.
'Don't leave me alone, Henry! I can't go back to the happy
How could he resist that appeal? He heard her sigh--he heard the rustling
of her dress as she moved away in despair. The very thing that he had
shrunk from doing but a few minutes since was the thing that he did now!
He joined Agnes in the corridor. She turned as she heard him,
and pointed, trembling, in the direction of the closed room.
'Is it so terrible as that?' she asked faintly.