THE HAUNTED HOTEL
A Mystery of Modern Venice
by Wilkie Collins (1824-1889)
(after the edition of Chatto & Windus, London, 1879)
THE FIRST PART
In the year 1860, the reputation of Doctor Wybrow as a London physician reached its highest point. It was reported on good authority that he was in receipt of one of the largest incomes derived from the practice of medicine in modern times.
One afternoon, towards the close of the London season, the Doctor had just taken his luncheon after a specially hard morning’s work in his consulting-room, and with a formidable list of visits to patients at their own houses to fill up the rest of his day– when the servant announced that a lady wished to speak to him.
‘Who is she?’ the Doctor asked. ‘A stranger?’
‘I see no strangers out of consulting-hours. Tell her what the hours are, and send her away.’
‘I have told her, sir.’
‘And she won’t go.’
‘Won’t go?’ The Doctor smiled as he repeated the words. He was a humourist in his way; and there was an absurd side to the situation which rather amused him. ‘Has this obstinate lady given you her name?’ he inquired.
‘No, sir. She refused to give any name–she said she wouldn’t keep you five minutes, and the matter was too important to wait till to-morrow. There she is in the consulting-room; and how to get her out again is more than I know.’
Doctor Wybrow considered for a moment. His knowledge of women (professionally speaking) rested on the ripe experience of more than thirty years; he had met with them in all their varieties– especially the variety which knows nothing of the value of time, and never hesitates at sheltering itself behind the privileges of its sex. A glance at his watch informed him that he must soon begin his rounds among the patients who were waiting for him at their own houses. He decided forthwith on taking the only wise course that was open under the circumstances. In other words, he decided on taking to flight.
‘Is the carriage at the door?’ he asked.
‘Very well. Open the house-door for me without making any noise, and leave the lady in undisturbed possession of the consulting-room. When she gets tired of waiting, you know what to tell her. If she asks when I am expected to return, say that I dine at my club, and spend the evening at the theatre. Now then, softly, Thomas! If your shoes creak, I am a lost man.’
He noiselessly led the way into the hall, followed by the servant on tip-toe.
Did the lady in the consulting-room suspect him? or did Thomas’s shoes creak, and was her sense of hearing unusually keen? Whatever the explanation may be, the event that actually happened was beyond all doubt. Exactly as Doctor Wybrow passed his consulting-room, the door opened–the lady appeared on the threshold– and laid her hand on his arm.
‘I entreat you, sir, not to go away without letting me speak to you first.’
The accent was foreign; the tone was low and firm. Her fingers closed gently, and yet resolutely, on the Doctor’s arm.
Neither her language nor her action had the slightest effect in inclining him to grant her request. The influence that instantly stopped him, on the way to his carriage, was the silent influence of her face. The startling contrast between the corpse-like pallor of her complexion and the overpowering life and light, the glittering metallic brightness in her large black eyes, held him literally spell-bound. She was dressed in dark colours, with perfect taste; she was of middle height, and (apparently) of middle age–say a year or two over thirty. Her lower features–the nose, mouth, and chin– possessed the fineness and delicacy of form which is oftener seen among women of foreign races than among women of English birth. She was unquestionably a handsome person–with the one serious drawback of her ghastly complexion, and with the less noticeable defect of a total want of tenderness in the expression of her eyes. Apart from his first emotion of surprise, the feeling she produced in the Doctor may be described as an overpowering feeling of professional curiosity. The case might prove to be something entirely new in his professional experience. ‘It looks like it,’ he thought; ‘and it’s worth waiting for.’
She perceived that she she had produced a strong impression of some kind upon him, and dropped her hold on his arm.
‘You have comforted many miserable women in your time,’ she said. ‘Comfort one more, to-day.’
Without waiting to be answered, she led the way back into the room.
The Doctor followed her, and closed the door. He placed her in the patients’ chair, opposite the windows. Even in London the sun, on that summer afternoon, was dazzlingly bright. The radiant light flowed in on her. Her eyes met it unflinchingly, with the steely steadiness of the eyes of an eagle. The smooth pallor of her unwrinkled skin looked more fearfully white than ever. For the first time, for many a long year past, the Doctor felt his pulse quicken its beat in the presence of a patient.
Having possessed herself of his attention, she appeared, strangely enough, to have nothing to say to him. A curious apathy seemed to have taken possession of this resolute woman. Forced to speak first, the Doctor merely inquired, in the conventional phrase, what he could do for her.
The sound of his voice seemed to rouse her. Still looking straight at the light, she said abruptly: ‘I have a painful question to ask.’
‘What is it?’
Her eyes travelled slowly from the window to the Doctor’s face. Without the slightest outward appearance of agitation, she put the ‘painful question’ in these extraordinary words:
‘I want to know, if you please, whether I am in danger of going mad?’
Some men might have been amused, and some might have been alarmed. Doctor Wybrow was only conscious of a sense of disappointment. Was this the rare case that he had anticipated, judging rashly by appearances? Was the new patient only a hypochondriacal woman, whose malady was a disordered stomach and whose misfortune was a weak brain? ‘Why do you come to me?’ he asked sharply. ‘Why don’t you consult a doctor whose special employment is the treatment of the insane?’
She had her answer ready on the instant.
‘I don’t go to a doctor of that sort,’ she said, ‘for the very reason that he is a specialist: he has the fatal habit of judging everybody by lines and rules of his own laying down. I come to you, because my case is outside of all lines and rules, and because you are famous in your profession for the discovery of mysteries in disease. Are you satisfied?’
He was more than satisfied–his first idea had been the right idea, after all. Besides, she was correctly informed as to his professional position. The capacity which had raised him to fame and fortune was his capacity (unrivalled among his brethren) for the discovery of remote disease.
‘I am at your disposal,’ he answered. ‘Let me try if I can find out what is the matter with you.’
He put his medical questions. They were promptly and plainly answered; and they led to no other conclusion than that the strange lady was, mentally and physically, in excellent health. Not satisfied with questions, he carefully examined the great organs of life. Neither his hand nor his stethoscope could discover anything that was amiss. With the admirable patience and devotion to his art which had distinguished him from the time when he was a student, he still subjected her to one test after another. The result was always the same. Not only was there no tendency to brain disease– there was not even a perceptible derangement of the nervous system. ‘I can find nothing the matter with you,’ he said. ‘I can’t even account for the extraordinary pallor of your complexion. You completely puzzle me.’
‘The pallor of my complexion is nothing,’ she answered a little impatiently. ‘In my early life I had a narrow escape from death by poisoning. I have never had a complexion since–and my skin is so delicate, I cannot paint without producing a hideous rash. But that is of no importance. I wanted your opinion given positively. I believed in you, and you have disappointed me.’ Her head dropped on her breast. ‘And so it ends!’ she said to herself bitterly.
The Doctor’s sympathies were touched. Perhaps it might be more correct to say that his professional pride was a little hurt. ‘It may end in the right way yet,’ he remarked, ‘if you choose to help me.’
She looked up again with flashing eyes, ‘Speak plainly,’ she said. ‘How can I help you?’
‘Plainly, madam, you come to me as an enigma, and you leave me to make the right guess by the unaided efforts of my art. My art will do much, but not all. For example, something must have occurred– something quite unconnected with the state of your bodily health– to frighten you about yourself, or you would never have come here to consult me. Is that true?’
She clasped her hands in her lap. ‘That is true!’ she said eagerly. ‘I begin to believe in you again.’
‘Very well. You can’t expect me to find out the moral cause which has alarmed you. I can positively discover that there is no physical cause of alarm; and (unless you admit me to your confidence) I can do no more.’
She rose, and took a turn in the room. ‘Suppose I tell you?’ she said. ‘But, mind, I shall mention no names!’
‘There is no need to mention names. The facts are all I want.’
‘The facts are nothing,’ she rejoined. ‘I have only my own impressions to confess–and you will very likely think me a fanciful fool when you hear what they are. No matter. I will do my best to content you– I will begin with the facts that you want. Take my word for it, they won’t do much to help you.’
She sat down again. In the plainest possible words, she began the strangest and wildest confession that had ever reached the Doctor’s ears.
‘It is one fact, sir, that I am a widow,’ she said. ‘It is another fact, that I am going to be married again.’
There she paused, and smiled at some thought that occurred to her. Doctor Wybrow was not favourably impressed by her smile– there was something at once sad and cruel in it. It came slowly, and it went away suddenly. He began to doubt whether he had been wise in acting on his first impression. His mind reverted to the commonplace patients and the discoverable maladies that were waiting for him, with a certain tender regret.
The lady went on.
‘My approaching marriage,’ she said, ‘has one embarrassing circumstance connected with it. The gentleman whose wife I am to be, was engaged to another lady when he happened to meet with me, abroad: that lady, mind, being of his own blood and family, related to him as his cousin. I have innocently robbed her of her lover, and destroyed her prospects in life. Innocently, I say–because he told me nothing of his engagement until after I had accepted him. When we next met in England–and when there was danger, no doubt, of the affair coming to my knowledge–he told me the truth. I was naturally indignant. He had his excuse ready; he showed me a letter from the lady herself, releasing him from his engagement. A more noble, a more high-minded letter, I never read in my life. I cried over it–I who have no tears in me for sorrows of my own! If the letter had left him any hope of being forgiven, I would have positively refused to marry him. But the firmness of it– without anger, without a word of reproach, with heartfelt wishes even for his happiness–the firmness of it, I say, left him no hope. He appealed to my compassion; he appealed to his love for me. You know what women are. I too was soft-hearted–I said, Very well: yes! In a week more (I tremble as I think of it) we are to be married.’
She did really tremble–she was obliged to pause and compose herself, before she could go on. The Doctor, waiting for more facts, began to fear that he stood committed to a long story. ‘Forgive me for reminding you that I have suffering persons waiting to see me,’ he said. ‘The sooner you can come to the point, the better for my patients and for me.’
The strange smile–at once so sad and so cruel–showed itself again on the lady’s lips. ‘Every word I have said is to the point,’ she answered. ‘You will see it yourself in a moment more.’
She resumed her narrative.
‘Yesterday–you need fear no long story, sir; only yesterday– I was among the visitors at one of your English luncheon parties. A lady, a perfect stranger to me, came in late–after we had left the table, and had retired to the drawing-room. She happened to take a chair near me; and we were presented to each other. I knew her by name, as she knew me. It was the woman whom I had robbed of her lover, the woman who had written the noble letter. Now listen! You were impatient with me for not interesting you in what I said just now. I said it to satisfy your mind that I had no enmity of feeling towards the lady, on my side. I admired her, I felt for her–I had no cause to reproach myself. This is very important, as you will presently see. On her side, I have reason to be assured that the circumstances had been truly explained to her, and that she understood I was in no way to blame. Now, knowing all these necessary things as you do, explain to me, if you can, why, when I rose and met that woman’s eyes looking at me, I turned cold from head to foot, and shuddered, and shivered, and knew what a deadly panic of fear was, for the first time in my life.’
The Doctor began to feel interested at last.
‘Was there anything remarkable in the lady’s personal appearance?’ he asked.
‘Nothing whatever!’ was the vehement reply. ‘Here is the true description of her:–The ordinary English lady; the clear cold blue eyes, the fine rosy complexion, the inanimately polite manner, the large good-humoured mouth, the too plump cheeks and chin: these, and nothing more.’
‘Was there anything in her expression, when you first looked at her, that took you by surprise?’
‘There was natural curiosity to see the woman who had been preferred to her; and perhaps some astonishment also, not to see a more engaging and more beautiful person; both those feelings restrained within the limits of good breeding, and both not lasting for more than a few moments–so far as I could see. I say, “so far,” because the horrible agitation that she communicated to me disturbed my judgment. If I could have got to the door, I would have run out of the room, she frightened me so! I was not even able to stand up– I sank back in my chair; I stared horror-struck at the calm blue eyes that were only looking at me with a gentle surprise. To say they affected me like the eyes of a serpent is to say nothing. I felt her soul in them, looking into mine–looking, if such a thing can be, unconsciously to her own mortal self. I tell you my impression, in all its horror and in all its folly! That woman is destined (without knowing it herself) to be the evil genius of my life. Her innocent eyes saw hidden capabilities of wickedness in me that I was not aware of myself, until I felt them stirring under her look. If I commit faults in my life to come–if I am even guilty of crimes– she will bring the retribution, without (as I firmly believe) any conscious exercise of her own will. In one indescribable moment I felt all this–and I suppose my face showed it. The good artless creature was inspired by a sort of gentle alarm for me. “I am afraid the heat of the room is too much for you; will you try my smelling bottle?” I heard her say those kind words; and I remember nothing else–I fainted. When I recovered my senses, the company had all gone; only the lady of the house was with me. For the moment I could say nothing to her; the dreadful impression that I have tried to describe to you came back to me with the coming back of my life. As soon I could speak, I implored her to tell me the whole truth about the woman whom I had supplanted. You see, I had a faint hope that her good character might not really be deserved, that her noble letter was a skilful piece of hypocrisy–in short, that she secretly hated me, and was cunning enough to hide it. No! the lady had been her friend from her girlhood, was as familiar with her as if they had been sisters–knew her positively to be as good, as innocent, as incapable of hating anybody, as the greatest saint that ever lived. My one last hope, that I had only felt an ordinary forewarning of danger in the presence of an ordinary enemy, was a hope destroyed for ever. There was one more effort I could make, and I made it. I went next to the man whom I am to marry. I implored him to release me from my promise. He refused. I declared I would break my engagement. He showed me letters from his sisters, letters from his brothers, and his dear friends– all entreating him to think again before he made me his wife; all repeating reports of me in Paris, Vienna, and London, which are so many vile lies. “If you refuse to marry me,” he said, “you admit that these reports are true–you admit that you are afraid to face society in the character of my wife.” What could I answer? There was no contradicting him–he was plainly right: if I persisted in my refusal, the utter destruction of my reputation would be the result. I consented to let the wedding take place as we had arranged it– and left him. The night has passed. I am here, with my fixed conviction– that innocent woman is ordained to have a fatal influence over my life. I am here with my one question to put, to the one man who can answer it. For the last time, sir, what am I–a demon who has seen the avenging angel? or only a poor mad woman, misled by the delusion of a deranged mind?’
Doctor Wybrow rose from his chair, determined to close the interview.
He was strongly and painfully impressed by what he had heard. The longer he had listened to her, the more irresistibly the conviction of the woman’s wickedness had forced itself on him. He tried vainly to think of her as a person to be pitied–a person with a morbidly sensitive imagination, conscious of the capacities for evil which lie dormant in us all, and striving earnestly to open her heart to the counter-influence of her own better nature; the effort was beyond him. A perverse instinct in him said, as if in words, Beware how you believe in her!
‘I have already given you my opinion,’ he said. ‘There is no sign of your intellect being deranged, or being likely to be deranged, that medical science can discover–as I understand it. As for the impressions you have confided to me, I can only say that yours is a case (as I venture to think) for spiritual rather than for medical advice. Of one thing be assured: what you have said to me in this room shall not pass out of it. Your confession is safe in my keeping.’
She heard him, with a certain dogged resignation, to the end.
‘Is that all?’ she asked.
‘That is all,’ he answered.
She put a little paper packet of money on the table. ‘Thank you, sir. There is your fee.’
With those words she rose. Her wild black eyes looked upward, with an expression of despair so defiant and so horrible in its silent agony that the Doctor turned away his head, unable to endure the sight of it. The bare idea of taking anything from her–not money only, but anything even that she had touched–suddenly revolted him. Still without looking at her, he said, ‘Take it back; I don’t want my fee.’
She neither heeded nor heard him. Still looking upward, she said slowly to herself, ‘Let the end come. I have done with the struggle: I submit.’
She drew her veil over her face, bowed to the Doctor, and left the room.
He rang the bell, and followed her into the hall. As the servant closed the door on her, a sudden impulse of curiosity– utterly unworthy of him, and at the same time utterly irresistible– sprang up in the Doctor’s mind. Blushing like a boy, he said to the servant, ‘Follow her home, and find out her name.’ For one moment the man looked at his master, doubting if his own ears had not deceived him. Doctor Wybrow looked back at him in silence. The submissive servant knew what that silence meant–he took his hat and hurried into the street.
The Doctor went back to the consulting-room. A sudden revulsion of feeling swept over his mind. Had the woman left an infection of wickedness in the house, and had he caught it? What devil had possessed him to degrade himself in the eyes of his own servant? He had behaved infamously–he had asked an honest man, a man who had served him faithfully for years, to turn spy! Stung by the bare thought of it, he ran out into the hall again, and opened the door. The servant had disappeared; it was too late to call him back. But one refuge from his contempt for himself was now open to him– the refuge of work. He got into his carriage and went his rounds among his patients.
If the famous physician could have shaken his own reputation, he would have done it that afternoon. Never before had he made himself so little welcome at the bedside. Never before had he put off until to-morrow the prescription which ought to have been written, the opinion which ought to have been given, to-day. He went home earlier than usual–unutterably dissatisfied with himself.
The servant had returned. Dr. Wybrow was ashamed to question him. The man reported the result of his errand, without waiting to be asked.
‘The lady’s name is the Countess Narona. She lives at–‘
Without waiting to hear where she lived, the Doctor acknowledged the all-important discovery of her name by a silent bend of the head, and entered his consulting-room. The fee that he had vainly refused still lay in its little white paper covering on the table. He sealed it up in an envelope; addressed it to the ‘Poor-box’ of the nearest police-court; and, calling the servant in, directed him to take it to the magistrate the next morning. Faithful to his duties, the servant waited to ask the customary question, ‘Do you dine at home to-day, sir?’
After a moment’s hesitation he said, ‘No: I shall dine at the club.’
The most easily deteriorated of all the moral qualities is the quality called ‘conscience.’ In one state of a man’s mind, his conscience is the severest judge that can pass sentence on him. In another state, he and his conscience are on the best possible terms with each other in the comfortable capacity of accomplices. When Doctor Wybrow left his house for the second time, he did not even attempt to conceal from himself that his sole object, in dining at the club, was to hear what the world said of the Countess Narona.
There was a time when a man in search of the pleasures of gossip sought the society of ladies. The man knows better now. He goes to the smoking-room of his club.
Doctor Wybrow lit his cigar, and looked round him at his brethren in social conclave assembled. The room was well filled; but the flow of talk was still languid. The Doctor innocently applied the stimulant that was wanted. When he inquired if anybody knew the Countess Narona, he was answered by something like a shout of astonishment. Never (the conclave agreed) had such an absurd question been asked before! Every human creature, with the slightest claim to a place in society, knew the Countess Narona. An adventuress with a European reputation of the blackest possible colour– such was the general description of the woman with the deathlike complexion and the glittering eyes.
Descending to particulars, each member of the club contributed his own little stock of scandal to the memoirs of the Countess. It was doubtful whether she was really, what she called herself, a Dalmatian lady. It was doubtful whether she had ever been married to the Count whose widow she assumed to be. It was doubtful whether the man who accompanied her in her travels (under the name of Baron Rivar, and in the character of her brother) was her brother at all. Report pointed to the Baron as a gambler at every ‘table’ on the Continent. Report whispered that his so-called sister had narrowly escaped being implicated in a famous trial for poisoning at Vienna–that she had been known at Milan as a spy in the interests of Austria–that her ‘apartment’ in Paris had been denounced to the police as nothing less than a private gambling-house– and that her present appearance in England was the natural result of the discovery. Only one member of the assembly in the smoking-room took the part of this much-abused woman, and declared that her character had been most cruelly and most unjustly assailed. But as the man was a lawyer, his interference went for nothing: it was naturally attributed to the spirit of contradiction inherent in his profession. He was asked derisively what he thought of the circumstances under which the Countess had become engaged to be married; and he made the characteristic answer, that he thought the circumstances highly creditable to both parties, and that he looked on the lady’s future husband as a most enviable man.
Hearing this, the Doctor raised another shout of astonishment by inquiring the name of the gentleman whom the Countess was about to marry.
His friends in the smoking-room decided unanimously that the celebrated physician must be a second ‘Rip-van-Winkle,’ and that he had just awakened from a supernatural sleep of twenty years. It was all very well to say that he was devoted to his profession, and that he had neither time nor inclination to pick up fragments of gossip at dinner-parties and balls. A man who did not know that the Countess Narona had borrowed money at Homburg of no less a person than Lord Montbarry, and had then deluded him into making her a proposal of marriage, was a man who had probably never heard of Lord Montbarry himself. The younger members of the club, humouring the joke, sent a waiter for the ‘Peerage’; and read aloud the memoir of the nobleman in question, for the Doctor’s benefit– with illustrative morsels of information interpolated by themselves.
‘Herbert John Westwick. First Baron Montbarry, of Montbarry, King’s County, Ireland. Created a Peer for distinguished military services in India. Born, 1812. Forty-eight years old, Doctor, at the present time. Not married. Will be married next week, Doctor, to the delightful creature we have been talking about. Heir presumptive, his lordship’s next brother, Stephen Robert, married to Ella, youngest daughter of the Reverend Silas Marden, Rector of Runnigate, and has issue, three daughters. Younger brothers of his lordship, Francis and Henry, unmarried. Sisters of his lordship, Lady Barville, married to Sir Theodore Barville, Bart.; and Anne, widow of the late Peter Norbury, Esq., of Norbury Cross. Bear his lordship’s relations well in mind, Doctor. Three brothers Westwick, Stephen, Francis, and Henry; and two sisters, Lady Barville and Mrs. Norbury. Not one of the five will be present at the marriage; and not one of the five will leave a stone unturned to stop it, if the Countess will only give them a chance. Add to these hostile members of the family another offended relative not mentioned in the ‘Peerage,’ a young lady–‘
A sudden outburst of protest in more than one part of the room stopped the coming disclosure, and released the Doctor from further persecution.
‘Don’t mention the poor girl’s name; it’s too bad to make a joke of that part of the business; she has behaved nobly under shameful provocation; there is but one excuse for Montbarry–he is either a madman or a fool.’ In these terms the protest expressed itself on all sides. Speaking confidentially to his next neighbour, the Doctor discovered that the lady referred to was already known to him (through the Countess’s confession) as the lady deserted by Lord Montbarry. Her name was Agnes Lockwood. She was described as being the superior of the Countess in personal attraction, and as being also by some years the younger woman of the two. Making all allowance for the follies that men committed every day in their relations with women, Montbarry’s delusion was still the most monstrous delusion on record. In this expression of opinion every man present agreed–the lawyer even included. Not one of them could call to mind the innumerable instances in which the sexual influence has proved irresistible in the persons of women without even the pretension to beauty. The very members of the club whom the Countess (in spite of her personal disadvantages) could have most easily fascinated, if she had thought it worth her while, were the members who wondered most loudly at Montbarry’s choice of a wife.
While the topic of the Countess’s marriage was still the one topic of conversation, a member of the club entered the smoking-room whose appearance instantly produced a dead silence. Doctor Wybrow’s next neighbour whispered to him, ‘Montbarry’s brother– Henry Westwick!’
The new-comer looked round him slowly, with a bitter smile.
‘You are all talking of my brother,’he said. ‘Don’t mind me. Not one of you can despise him more heartily than I do. Go on, gentlemen–go on!’
But one man present took the speaker at his word. That man was the lawyer who had already undertaken the defence of the Countess.
‘I stand alone in my opinion,’ he said, ‘and I am not ashamed of repeating it in anybody’s hearing. I consider the Countess Narona to be a cruelly-treated woman. Why shouldn’t she be Lord Montbarry’s wife? Who can say she has a mercenary motive in marrying him?’
Montbarry’s brother turned sharply on the speaker. ‘I say it!’ he answered.
The reply might have shaken some men. The lawyer stood on his ground as firmly as ever.
‘I believe I am right,’ he rejoined, ‘in stating that his lordship’s income is not more than sufficient to support his station in life; also that it is an income derived almost entirely from landed property in Ireland, every acre of which is entailed.’
Montbarry’s brother made a sign, admitting that he had no objection to offer so far.
‘If his lordship dies first,’ the lawyer proceeded, ‘I have been informed that the only provision he can make for his widow consists in a rent-charge on the property of no more than four hundred a year. His retiring pension and allowances, it is well known, die with him. Four hundred a year is therefore all that he can leave to the Countess, if he leaves her a widow.’
‘Four hundred a year is not all,’ was the reply to this. ‘My brother has insured his life for ten thousand pounds; and he has settled the whole of it on the Countess, in the event of his death.’
This announcement produced a strong sensation. Men looked at each other, and repeated the three startling words, ‘Ten thousand pounds!’ Driven fairly to the wall, the lawyer made a last effort to defend his position.
‘May I ask who made that settlement a condition of the marriage?’ he said. ‘Surely it was not the Countess herself?.’
Henry Westwick answered, ‘it was the Countess’s brother’; and added, ‘which comes to the same thing.’
After that, there was no more to be said–so long, at least, as Montbarry’s brother was present. The talk flowed into other channels; and the Doctor went home.
But his morbid curiosity about the Countess was not set at rest yet. In his leisure moments he found himself wondering whether Lord Montbarry’s family would succeed in stopping the marriage after all. And more than this, he was conscious of a growing desire to see the infatuated man himself. Every day during the brief interval before the wedding, he looked in at the club, on the chance of hearing some news. Nothing had happened, so far as the club knew. The Countess’s position was secure; Montbarry’s resolution to be her husband was unshaken. They were both Roman Catholics, and they were to be married at the chapel in Spanish Place. So much the Doctor discovered about them– and no more.
On the day of the wedding, after a feeble struggle with himself, he actually sacrificed his patients and their guineas, and slipped away secretly to see the marriage. To the end of his life, he was angry with anybody who reminded him of what he had done on that day!
The wedding was strictly private. A close carriage stood at the church door; a few people, mostly of the lower class, and mostly old women, were scattered about the interior of the building. Here and there Doctor Wybrow detected the faces of some of his brethren of the club, attracted by curiosity, like himself. Four persons only stood before the altar–the bride and bridegroom and their two witnesses. One of these last was an elderly woman, who might have been the Countess’s companion or maid; the other was undoubtedly her brother, Baron Rivar. The bridal party (the bride herself included) wore their ordinary morning costume. Lord Montbarry, personally viewed, was a middle-aged military man of the ordinary type: nothing in the least remarkable distinguished him either in face or figure. Baron Rivar, again, in his way was another conventional representative of another well-known type. One sees his finely-pointed moustache, his bold eyes, his crisply-curling hair, and his dashing carriage of the head, repeated hundreds of times over on the Boulevards of Paris. The only noteworthy point about him was of the negative sort– he was not in the least like his sister. Even the officiating priest was only a harmless, humble-looking old man, who went through his duties resignedly, and felt visible rheumatic difficulties every time he bent his knees. The one remarkable person, the Countess herself, only raised her veil at the beginning of the ceremony, and presented nothing in her plain dress that was worth a second look. Never, on the face of it, was there a less interesting and less romantic marriage than this. From time to time the Doctor glanced round at the door or up at the galleries, vaguely anticipating the appearance of some protesting stranger, in possession of some terrible secret, commissioned to forbid the progress of the service. Nothing in the shape of an event occurred– nothing extraordinary, nothing dramatic. Bound fast together as man and wife, the two disappeared, followed by their witnesses, to sign the registers; and still Doctor Wybrow waited, and still he cherished the obstinate hope that something worth seeing must certainly happen yet.
The interval passed, and the married couple, returning to the church, walked together down the nave to the door. Doctor Wybrow drew back as they approached. To his confusion and surprise, the Countess discovered him. He heard her say to her husband, ‘One moment; I see a friend.’ Lord Montbarry bowed and waited. She stepped up to the Doctor, took his hand, and wrung it hard. He felt her overpowering black eyes looking at him through her veil. ‘One step more, you see, on the way to the end!’ She whispered those strange words, and returned to her husband. Before the Doctor could recover himself and follow her, Lord and Lady Montbarry had stepped into their carriage, and had driven away.
Outside the church door stood the three or four members of the club who, like Doctor Wybrow, had watched the ceremony out of curiosity. Near them was the bride’s brother, waiting alone. He was evidently bent on seeing the man whom his sister had spoken to, in broad daylight. His bold eyes rested on the Doctor’s face, with a momentary flash of suspicion in them. The cloud suddenly cleared away; the Baron smiled with charming courtesy, lifted his hat to his sister’s friend, and walked off.
The members constituted themselves into a club conclave on the church steps. They began with the Baron. ‘Damned ill-looking rascal!’ They went on with Montbarry. ‘Is he going to take that horrid woman with him to Ireland?’ ‘Not he! he can’t face the tenantry; they know about Agnes Lockwood.’ ‘Well, but where is he going?’ ‘To Scotland.’ ‘Does she like that?’ ‘It’s only for a fortnight; they come back to London, and go abroad.’ ‘And they will never return to England, eh?’ ‘Who can tell? Did you see how she looked at Montbarry, when she had to lift her veil at the beginning of the service? In his place, I should have bolted. Did you see her, Doctor?’ By this time, Doctor Wybrow had remembered his patients, and had heard enough of the club gossip. He followed the example of Baron Rivar, and walked off.
‘One step more, you see, on the way to the end,’ he repeated to himself, on his way home. ‘What end?’
On the day of the marriage Agnes Lockwood sat alone in the little drawing-room of her London lodgings, burning the letters which had been written to her by Montbarry in the bygone time.
The Countess’s maliciously smart description of her, addressed to Doctor Wybrow, had not even hinted at the charm that most distinguished Agnes–the artless expression of goodness and purity which instantly attracted everyone who approached her. She looked by many years younger than she really was. With her fair complexion and her shy manner, it seemed only natural to speak of her as ‘a girl,’ although she was now really advancing towards thirty years of age. She lived alone with an old nurse devoted to her, on a modest little income which was just enough to support the two. There were none of the ordinary signs of grief in her face, as she slowly tore the letters of her false lover in two, and threw the pieces into the small fire which had been lit to consume them. Unhappily for herself, she was one of those women who feel too deeply to find relief in tears. Pale and quiet, with cold trembling fingers, she destroyed the letters one by one without daring to read them again. She had torn the last of the series, and was still shrinking from throwing it after the rest into the swiftly destroying flame, when the old nurse came in, and asked if she would see ‘Master Henry,’– meaning that youngest member of the Westwick family, who had publicly declared his contempt for his brother in the smoking-room of the club.
Agnes hesitated. A faint tinge of colour stole over her face.
There had been a long past time when Henry Westwick had owned that he loved her. She had made her confession to him, acknowledging that her heart was given to his eldest brother. He had submitted to his disappointment; and they had met thenceforth as cousins and friends. Never before had she associated the idea of him with embarrassing recollections. But now, on the very day when his brother’s marriage to another woman had consummated his brother’s treason towards her, there was something vaguely repellent in the prospect of seeing him. The old nurse (who remembered them both in their cradles) observed her hesitation; and sympathising of course with the man, put in a timely word for Henry. ‘He says, he’s going away, my dear; and he only wants to shake hands, and say good-bye.’ This plain statement of the case had its effect. Agnes decided on receiving her cousin.
He entered the room so rapidly that he surprised her in the act of throwing the fragments of Montbarry’s last letter into the fire. She hurriedly spoke first.
‘You are leaving London very suddenly, Henry. Is it business? or pleasure?’
Instead of answering her, he pointed to the flaming letter, and to some black ashes of burnt paper lying lightly in the lower part of the fireplace.
‘Are you burning letters?’
He took her hand gently. ‘I had no idea I was intruding on you, at a time when you must wish to be alone. Forgive me, Agnes–I shall see you when I return.’
She signed to him, with a faint smile, to take a chair.
‘We have known one another since we were children,’ she said. ‘Why should I feel a foolish pride about myself in your presence? why should I have any secrets from you? I sent back all your brother’s gifts to me some time ago. I have been advised to do more, to keep nothing that can remind me of him–in short, to burn his letters. I have taken the advice; but I own I shrank a little from destroying the last of the letters. No–not because it was the last, but because it had this in it.’ She opened her hand, and showed him a lock of Montbarry’s hair, tied with a morsel of golden cord. ‘Well! well! let it go with the rest.’
She dropped it into the flame. For a while, she stood with her back to Henry, leaning on the mantel-piece, and looking into the fire. He took the chair to which she had pointed, with a strange contradiction of expression in his face: the tears were in his eyes, while the brows above were knit close in an angry frown. He muttered to himself, ‘Damn him!’
She rallied her courage, and looked at him again when she spoke. ‘Well, Henry, and why are you going away?’
‘I am out of spirits, Agnes, and I want a change.’
She paused before she spoke again. His face told her plainly that he was thinking of her when he made that reply. She was grateful to him, but her mind was not with him: her mind was still with the man who had deserted her. She turned round again to the fire.
‘Is it true,’ she asked, after a long silence, ‘that they have been married to-day?’
He answered ungraciously in the one necessary word:–‘Yes.’
‘Did you go to the church?’
He resented the question with an expression of indignant surprise. ‘Go to the church?’ he repeated. ‘I would as soon go to–‘ He checked himself there. ‘How can you ask?’ he added in lower tones. ‘I have never spoken to Montbarry, I have not even seen him, since he treated you like the scoundrel and the fool that he is.’
She looked at him suddenly, without saying a word. He understood her, and begged her pardon. But he was still angry. ‘The reckoning comes to some men,’ he said, ‘even in this world. He will live to rue the day when he married that woman!’
Agnes took a chair by his side, and looked at him with a gentle surprise.
‘Is it quite reasonable to be so angry with her, because your brother preferred her to me?’ she asked.
Henry turned on her sharply. ‘Do you defend the Countess, of all the people in the world?’
‘Why not?’ Agnes answered. ‘I know nothing against her. On the only occasion when we met, she appeared to be a singularly timid, nervous person, looking dreadfully ill; and being indeed so ill that she fainted under the heat of my room. Why should we not do her justice? We know that she was innocent of any intention to wrong me; we know that she was not aware of my engagement–‘
Henry lifted his hand impatiently, and stopped her. ‘There is such a thing as being too just and too forgiving!’ he interposed. ‘I can’t bear to hear you talk in that patient way, after the scandalously cruel manner in which you have been treated. Try to forget them both, Agnes. I wish to God I could help you to do it!’
Agnes laid her hand on his arm. ‘You are very good to me, Henry; but you don’t quite understand me. I was thinking of myself and my trouble in quite a different way, when you came in. I was wondering whether anything which has so entirely filled my heart, and so absorbed all that is best and truest in me, as my feeling for your brother, can really pass away as if it had never existed. I have destroyed the last visible things that remind me of him. In this world I shall see him no more. But is the tie that once bound us, completely broken? Am I as entirely parted from the good and evil fortune of his life as if we had never met and never loved? What do you think, Henry? I can hardly believe it.’
‘If you could bring the retribution on him that he has deserved,’ Henry Westwick answered sternly, ‘I might be inclined to agree with you.’
As that reply passed his lips, the old nurse appeared again at the door, announcing another visitor.
‘I’m sorry to disturb you, my dear. But here is little Mrs. Ferrari wanting to know when she may say a few words to you.’
Agnes turned to Henry, before she replied. ‘You remember Emily Bidwell, my favourite pupil years ago at the village school, and afterwards my maid? She left me, to marry an Italian courier, named Ferrari–and I am afraid it has not turned out very well. Do you mind my having her in here for a minute or two?’
Henry rose to take his leave. ‘I should be glad to see Emily again at any other time,’ he said. ‘But it is best that I should go now. My mind is disturbed, Agnes; I might say things to you, if I stayed here any longer, which–which are better not said now. I shall cross the Channel by the mail to-night, and see how a few weeks’ change will help me.’ He took her hand. ‘Is there anything in the world that I can do for you?’ he asked very earnestly. She thanked him, and tried to release her hand. He held it with a tremulous lingering grasp. ‘God bless you, Agnes!’ he said in faltering tones, with his eyes on the ground. Her face flushed again, and the next instant turned paler than ever; she knew his heart as well as he knew it himself– she was too distressed to speak. He lifted her hand to his lips, kissed it fervently, and, without looking at her again, left the room. The nurse hobbled after him to the head of the stairs: she had not forgotten the time when the younger brother had been the unsuccessful rival of the elder for the hand of Agnes. ‘Don’t be down-hearted, Master Henry,’ whispered the old woman, with the unscrupulous common sense of persons in the lower rank of life. ‘Try her again, when you come back!’
Left alone for a few moments, Agnes took a turn in the room, trying to compose herself. She paused before a little water-colour drawing on the wall, which had belonged to her mother: it was her own portrait when she was a child. ‘How much happier we should be,’ she thought to herself sadly, ‘if we never grew up!’
The courier’s wife was shown in–a little meek melancholy woman, with white eyelashes, and watery eyes, who curtseyed deferentially and was troubled with a small chronic cough. Agnes shook hands with her kindly. ‘Well, Emily, what can I do for you?’
The courier’s wife made rather a strange answer: ‘I’m afraid to tell you, Miss.’
‘Is it such a very difficult favour to grant? Sit down, and let me hear how you are going on. Perhaps the petition will slip out while we are talking. How does your husband behave to you?’
Emily’s light grey eyes looked more watery than ever. She shook her head and sighed resignedly. ‘I have no positive complaint to make against him, Miss. But I’m afraid he doesn’t care about me; and he seems to take no interest in his home– I may almost say he’s tired of his home. It might be better for both of us, Miss, if he went travelling for a while– not to mention the money, which is beginning to be wanted sadly.’ She put her handkerchief to her eyes, and sighed again more resignedly than ever.
‘I don’t quite understand,’ said Agnes. ‘I thought your husband had an engagement to take some ladies to Switzerland and Italy?’
‘That was his ill-luck, Miss. One of the ladies fell ill– and the others wouldn’t go without her. They paid him a month’s salary as compensation. But they had engaged him for the autumn and winter– and the loss is serious.’
‘I am sorry to hear it, Emily. Let us hope he will soon have another chance.’
‘It’s not his turn, Miss, to be recommended when the next applications come to the couriers’ office. You see, there are so many of them out of employment just now. If he could be privately recommended–‘ She stopped, and left the unfinished sentence to speak for itself.
Agnes understood her directly. ‘You want my recommendation,’ she rejoined. ‘Why couldn’t you say so at once?’
Emily blushed. ‘It would be such a chance for my husband,’ she answered confusedly. ‘A letter, inquiring for a good courier (a six months’ engagement, Miss!) came to the office this morning. It’s another man’s turn to be chosen–and the secretary will recommend him. If my husband could only send his testimonials by the same post–with just a word in your name, Miss–it might turn the scale, as they say. A private recommendation between gentlefolks goes so far.’ She stopped again, and sighed again, and looked down at the carpet, as if she had some private reason for feeling a little ashamed of herself.
Agnes began to be rather weary of the persistent tone of mystery in which her visitor spoke. ‘If you want my interest with any friend of mine,’ she said, ‘why can’t you tell me the name?’
The courier’s wife began to cry. ‘I’m ashamed to tell you, Miss.’
For the first time, Agnes spoke sharply. ‘Nonsense, Emily! Tell me the name directly–or drop the subject–whichever you like best.’
Emily made a last desperate effort. She wrung her handkerchief hard in her lap, and let off the name as if she had been letting off a loaded gun:–‘Lord Montbarry!’
Agnes rose and looked at her.
‘You have disappointed me,’ she said very quietly, but with a look which the courier’s wife had never seen in her face before. ‘Knowing what you know, you ought to be aware that it is impossible for me to communicate with Lord Montbarry. I always supposed you had some delicacy of feeling. I am sorry to find that I have been mistaken.’
Weak as she was, Emily had spirit enough to feel the reproof. She walked in her meek noiseless way to the door. ‘I beg your pardon, Miss. I am not quite so bad as you think me. But I beg your pardon, all the same.’
She opened the door. Agnes called her back. There was something in the woman’s apology that appealed irresistibly to her just and generous nature. ‘Come,’ she said; ‘we must not part in this way. Let me not misunderstand you. What is it that you expected me to do?’
Emily was wise enough to answer this time without any reserve. ‘My husband will send his testimonials, Miss, to Lord Montbarry in Scotland. I only wanted you to let him say in his letter that his wife has been known to you since she was a child, and that you feel some little interest in his welfare on that account. I don’t ask it now, Miss. You have made me understand that I was wrong.’
Had she really been wrong? Past remembrances, as well as present troubles, pleaded powerfully with Agnes for the courier’s wife. ‘It seems only a small favour to ask,’ she said, speaking under the impulse of kindness which was the strongest impulse in her nature. ‘But I am not sure that I ought to allow my name to be mentioned in your husband’s letter. Let me hear again exactly what he wishes to say.’ Emily repeated the words–and then offered one of those suggestions, which have a special value of their own to persons unaccustomed to the use of their pens. ‘Suppose you try, Miss, how it looks in writing?’ Childish as the idea was, Agnes tried the experiment. ‘If I let you mention me,’ she said, ‘we must at least decide what you are to say.’ She wrote the words in the briefest and plainest form:–‘I venture to state that my wife has been known from her childhood to Miss Agnes Lockwood, who feels some little interest in my welfare on that account.’ Reduced to this one sentence, there was surely nothing in the reference to her name which implied that Agnes had permitted it, or that she was even aware of it. After a last struggle with herself, she handed the written paper to Emily. ‘Your husband must copy it exactly, without altering anything,’ she stipulated. ‘On that condition, I grant your request.’ Emily was not only thankful–she was really touched. Agnes hurried the little woman out of the room. ‘Don’t give me time to repent and take it back again,’ she said. Emily vanished.
‘Is the tie that once bound us completely broken? Am I as entirely parted from the good and evil fortune of his life as if we had never met and never loved?’ Agnes looked at the clock on the mantel-piece. Not ten minutes since, those serious questions had been on her lips. It almost shocked her to think of the common-place manner in which they had already met with their reply. The mail of that night would appeal once more to Montbarry’s remembrance of her– in the choice of a servant.
Two days later, the post brought a few grateful lines from Emily. Her husband had got the place. Ferrari was engaged, for six months certain, as Lord Montbarry’s courier.
THE SECOND PART
After only one week of travelling in Scotland, my lord and my lady returned unexpectedly to London. Introduced to the mountains and lakes of the Highlands, her ladyship positively declined to improve her acquaintance with them. When she was asked for her reason, she answered with a Roman brevity, ‘I have seen Switzerland.’
For a week more, the newly-married couple remained in London, in the strictest retirement. On one day in that week the nurse returned in a state of most uncustomary excitement from an errand on which Agnes had sent her. Passing the door of a fashionable dentist, she had met Lord Montbarry himself just leaving the house. The good woman’s report described him, with malicious pleasure, as looking wretchedly ill. ‘His cheeks are getting hollow, my dear, and his beard is turning grey. I hope the dentist hurt him!’
Knowing how heartily her faithful old servant hated the man who had deserted her, Agnes made due allowance for a large infusion of exaggeration in the picture presented to her. The main impression produced on her mind was an impression of nervous uneasiness. If she trusted herself in the streets by daylight while Lord Montbarry remained in London, how could she be sure that his next chance-meeting might not be a meeting with herself? She waited at home, privately ashamed of her own undignified conduct, for the next two days. On the third day the fashionable intelligence of the newspapers announced the departure of Lord and Lady Montbarry for Paris, on their way to Italy.
Mrs. Ferrari, calling the same evening, informed Agnes that her husband had left her with all reasonable expression of conjugal kindness; his temper being improved by the prospect of going abroad. But one other servant accompanied the travellers–Lady Montbarry’s maid, rather a silent, unsociable woman, so far as Emily had heard. Her ladyship’s brother, Baron Rivar, was already on the Continent. It had been arranged that he was to meet his sister and her husband at Rome.
One by one the dull weeks succeeded each other in the life of Agnes. She faced her position with admirable courage, seeing her friends, keeping herself occupied in her leisure hours with reading and drawing, leaving no means untried of diverting her mind from the melancholy remembrance of the past. But she had loved too faithfully, she had been wounded too deeply, to feel in any adequate degree the influence of the moral remedies which she employed. Persons who met with her in the ordinary relations of life, deceived by her outward serenity of manner, agreed that ‘Miss Lockwood seemed to be getting over her disappointment.’ But an old friend and school companion who happened to see her during a brief visit to London, was inexpressibly distressed by the change that she detected in Agnes. This lady was Mrs. Westwick, the wife of that brother of Lord Montbarry who came next to him in age, and who was described in the ‘Peerage’ as presumptive heir to the title. He was then away, looking after his interests in some mining property which he possessed in America. Mrs. Westwick insisted on taking Agnes back with her to her home in Ireland. ‘Come and keep me company while my husband is away. My three little girls will make you their playfellow, and the only stranger you will meet is the governess, whom I answer for your liking beforehand. Pack up your things, and I will call for you to-morrow on my way to the train.’ In those hearty terms the invitation was given. Agnes thankfully accepted it. For three happy months she lived under the roof of her friend. The girls hung round her in tears at her departure; the youngest of them wanted to go back with Agnes to London. Half in jest, half in earnest, she said to her old friend at parting, ‘If your governess leaves you, keep the place open for me.’ Mrs. Westwick laughed. The wiser children took it seriously, and promised to let Agnes know.
On the very day when Miss Lockwood returned to London, she was recalled to those associations with the past which she was most anxious to forget. After the first kissings and greetings were over, the old nurse (who had been left in charge at the lodgings) had some startling information to communicate, derived from the courier’s wife.
‘Here has been little Mrs. Ferrari, my dear, in a dreadful state of mind, inquiring when you would be back. Her husband has left Lord Montbarry, without a word of warning–and nobody knows what has become of him.’
Agnes looked at her in astonishment. ‘Are you sure of what you are saying?’ she asked.
The nurse was quite sure. ‘Why, Lord bless you! the news comes from the couriers’ office in Golden Square–from the secretary, Miss Agnes, the secretary himself!’ Hearing this, Agnes began to feel alarmed as well as surprised. It was still early in the evening. She at once sent a message to Mrs. Ferrari, to say that she had returned.
In an hour more the courier’s wife appeared, in a state of agitation which it was not easy to control. Her narrative, when she was at last able to speak connectedly, entirely confirmed the nurse’s report of it.
After hearing from her husband with tolerable regularity from Paris, Rome, and Venice, Emily had twice written to him afterwards– and had received no reply. Feeling uneasy, she had gone to the office in Golden Square, to inquire if he had been heard of there. The post of the morning had brought a letter to the secretary from a courier then at Venice. It contained startling news of Ferrari. His wife had been allowed to take a copy of it, which she now handed to Agnes to read.
The writer stated that he had recently arrived in Venice. He had previously heard that Ferrari was with Lord and Lady Montbarry, at one of the old Venetian palaces which they had hired for a term. Being a friend of Ferrari, he had gone to pay him a visit. Ringing at the door that opened on the canal, and failing to make anyone hear him, he had gone round to a side entrance opening on one of the narrow lanes of Venice. Here, standing at the door (as if she was waiting for him to try that way next), he found a pale woman with magnificent dark eyes, who proved to be no other than Lady Montbarry herself.
She asked, in Italian, what he wanted. He answered that he wanted to see the courier Ferrari, if it was quite convenient. She at once informed him that Ferrari had left the palace, without assigning any reason, and without even leaving an address at which his monthly salary (then due to him) could be paid. Amazed at this reply, the courier inquired if any person had offended Ferrari, or quarrelled with him. The lady answered, ‘To my knowledge, certainly not. I am Lady Montbarry; and I can positively assure you that Ferrari was treated with the greatest kindness in this house. We are as much astonished as you are at his extraordinary disappearance. If you should hear of him, pray let us know, so that we may at least pay him the money which is due.’
After one or two more questions (quite readily answered) relating to the date and the time of day at which Ferrari had left the palace, the courier took his leave.
He at once entered on the necessary investigations–without the slightest result so far as Ferrari was concerned. Nobody had seen him. Nobody appeared to have been taken into his confidence. Nobody knew anything (that is to say, anything of the slightest importance) even about persons so distinguished as Lord and Lady Montbarry. It was reported that her ladyship’s English maid had left her, before the disappearance of Ferrari, to return to her relatives in her own country, and that Lady Montbarry had taken no steps to supply her place. His lordship was described as being in delicate health. He lived in the strictest retirement–nobody was admitted to him, not even his own countrymen. A stupid old woman was discovered who did the housework at the palace, arriving in the morning and going away again at night. She had never seen the lost courier– she had never even seen Lord Montbarry, who was then confined to his room. Her ladyship, ‘a most gracious and adorable mistress,’ was in constant attendance on her noble husband. There was no other servant then in the house (so far as the old woman knew) but herself. The meals were sent in from a restaurant. My lord, it was said, disliked strangers. My lord’s brother-in-law, the Baron, was generally shut up in a remote part of the palace, occupied (the gracious mistress said) with experiments in chemistry. The experiments sometimes made a nasty smell. A doctor had latterly been called in to his lordship–an Italian doctor, long resident in Venice. Inquiries being addressed to this gentleman (a physician of undoubted capacity and respectability), it turned out that he also had never seen Ferrari, having been summoned to the palace (as his memorandum book showed) at a date subsequent to the courier’s disappearance. The doctor described Lord Montbarry’s malady as bronchitis. So far, there was no reason to feel any anxiety, though the attack was a sharp one. If alarming symptoms should appear, he had arranged with her ladyship to call in another physician. For the rest, it was impossible to speak too highly of my lady; night and day, she was at her lord’s bedside.
With these particulars began and ended the discoveries made by Ferrari’s courier-friend. The police were on the look-out for the lost man– and that was the only hope which could be held forth for the present, to Ferrari’s wife.
‘What do you think of it, Miss?’ the poor woman asked eagerly. ‘What would you advise me to do?’
Agnes was at a loss how to answer her; it was an effort even to listen to what Emily was saying. The references in the courier’s letter to Montbarry–the report of his illness, the melancholy picture of his secluded life–had reopened the old wound. She was not even thinking of the lost Ferrari; her mind was at Venice, by the sick man’s bedside.
‘I hardly know what to say,’ she answered. ‘I have had no experience in serious matters of this kind.’
‘Do you think it would help you, Miss, if you read my husband’s letters to me? There are only three of them–they won’t take long to read.’
Agnes compassionately read the letters.
They were not written in a very tender tone. ‘Dear Emily,’ and ‘Yours affectionately’–these conventional phrases, were the only phrases of endearment which they contained. In the first letter, Lord Montbarry was not very favourably spoken of:–‘We leave Paris to-morrow. I don’t much like my lord. He is proud and cold, and, between ourselves, stingy in money matters. I have had to dispute such trifles as a few centimes in the hotel bill; and twice already, some sharp remarks have passed between the newly-married couple, in consequence of her ladyship’s freedom in purchasing pretty tempting things at the shops in Paris. “I can’t afford it; you must keep to your allowance.” She has had to hear those words already. For my part, I like her. She has the nice, easy foreign manners–she talks to me as if I was a human being like herself.’
The second letter was dated from Rome.
‘My lord’s caprices’ (Ferrari wrote) ‘have kept us perpetually on the move. He is becoming incurably restless. I suspect he is uneasy in his mind. Painful recollections, I should say–I find him constantly reading old letters, when her ladyship is not present. We were to have stopped at Genoa, but he hurried us on. The same thing at Florence. Here, at Rome, my lady insists on resting. Her brother has met us at this place. There has been a quarrel already (the lady’s maid tells me) between my lord and the Baron. The latter wanted to borrow money of the former. His lordship refused in language which offended Baron Rivar. My lady pacified them, and made them shake hands.’
The third, and last letter, was from Venice.
‘More of my lord’s economy! Instead of staying at the hotel, we have hired a damp, mouldy, rambling old palace. My lady insists on having the best suites of rooms wherever we go–and the palace comes cheaper for a two months’ term. My lord tried to get it for longer; he says the quiet of Venice is good for his nerves. But a foreign speculator has secured the palace, and is going to turn it into an hotel. The Baron is still with us, and there have been more disagreements about money matters. I don’t like the Baron– and I don’t find the attractions of my lady grow on me. She was much nicer before the Baron joined us. My lord is a punctual paymaster; it’s a matter of honour with him; he hates parting with his money, but he does it because he has given his word. I receive my salary regularly at the end of each month–not a franc extra, though I have done many things which are not part of a courier’s proper work. Fancy the Baron trying to borrow money of me! he is an inveterate gambler. I didn’t believe it when my lady’s maid first told me so– but I have seen enough since to satisfy me that she was right. I have seen other things besides, which–well! which don’t increase my respect for my lady and the Baron. The maid says she means to give warning to leave. She is a respectable British female, and doesn’t take things quite so easily as I do. It is a dull life here. No going into company–no company at home–not a creature sees my lord– not even the consul, or the banker. When he goes out, he goes alone, and generally towards nightfall. Indoors, he shuts himself up in his own room with his books, and sees as little of his wife and the Baron as possible. I fancy things are coming to a crisis here. If my lord’s suspicions are once awakened, the consequences will be terrible. Under certain provocations, the noble Montbarry is a man who would stick at nothing. However, the pay is good– and I can’t afford to talk of leaving the place, like my lady’s maid.’
Agnes handed back the letters–so suggestive of the penalty paid already for his own infatuation by the man who had deserted her!– with feelings of shame and distress, which made her no fit counsellor for the helpless woman who depended on her advice.
‘The one thing I can suggest,’ she said, after first speaking some kind words of comfort and hope, ‘is that we should consult a person of greater experience than ours. Suppose I write and ask my lawyer (who is also my friend and trustee) to come and advise us to-morrow after his business hours?’
Emily eagerly and gratefully accepted the suggestion. An hour was arranged for the meeting on the next day; the correspondence was left under the care of Agnes; and the courier’s wife took her leave.
Weary and heartsick, Agnes lay down on the sofa, to rest and compose herself. The careful nurse brought in a reviving cup of tea. Her quaint gossip about herself and her occupations while Agnes had been away, acted as a relief to her mistress’s overburdened mind. They were still talking quietly, when they were startled by a loud knock at the house door. Hurried footsteps ascended the stairs. The door of the sitting-room was thrown open violently; the courier’s wife rushed in like a mad woman. ‘He’s dead! They’ve murdered him!’ Those wild words were all she could say. She dropped on her knees at the foot of the sofa–held out her hand with something clasped in it–and fell back in a swoon.
The nurse, signing to Agnes to open the window, took the necessary measures to restore the fainting woman. ‘What’s this?’ she exclaimed. ‘Here’s a letter in her hand. See what it is, Miss.’
The open envelope was addressed (evidently in a feigned hand-writing) to ‘Mrs. Ferrari.’ The post-mark was ‘Venice.’ The contents of the envelope were a sheet of foreign note-paper, and a folded enclosure.
On the note-paper, one line only was written. It was again in a feigned handwriting, and it contained these words:
‘To console you for the loss of your husband’
Agnes opened the enclosure next.
It was a Bank of England note for a thousand pounds.
The next day, the friend and legal adviser of Agnes Lockwood, Mr. Troy, called on her by appointment in the evening.
Mrs. Ferrari–still persisting in the conviction of her husband’s death– had sufficiently recovered to be present at the consultation. Assisted by Agnes, she told the lawyer the little that was known relating to Ferrari’s disappearance, and then produced the correspondence connected with that event. Mr. Troy read (first) the three letters addressed by Ferrari to his wife; (secondly) the letter written by Ferrari’s courier-friend, describing his visit to the palace and his interview with Lady Montbarry; and (thirdly) the one line of anonymous writing which had accompanied the extraordinary gift of a thousand pounds to Ferrari’s wife.
Well known, at a later period, as the lawyer who acted for Lady Lydiard, in the case of theft, generally described as the case of ‘My Lady’s Money,’ Mr. Troy was not only a man of learning and experience in his profession– he was also a man who had seen something of society at home and abroad. He possessed a keen eye for character, a quaint humour, and a kindly nature which had not been deteriorated even by a lawyer’s professional experience of mankind. With all these personal advantages, it is a question, nevertheless, whether he was the fittest adviser whom Agnes could have chosen under the circumstances. Little Mrs. Ferrari, with many domestic merits, was an essentially commonplace woman. Mr. Troy was the last person living who was likely to attract her sympathies–he was the exact opposite of a commonplace man.
‘She looks very ill, poor thing!’ In these words the lawyer opened the business of the evening, referring to Mrs. Ferrari as unceremoniously as if she had been out of the room.
‘She has suffered a terrible shock,’ Agnes answered.
Mr. Troy turned to Mrs. Ferrari, and looked at her again, with the interest due to the victim of a shock. He drummed absently with his fingers on the table. At last he spoke to her.
‘My good lady, you don’t really believe that your husband is dead?’
Mrs. Ferrari put her handkerchief to her eyes. The word ‘dead’ was ineffectual to express her feelings. ‘Murdered!’ she said sternly, behind her handkerchief.
‘Why? And by whom?’ Mr. Troy asked.
Mrs. Ferrari seemed to have some difficulty in answering. ‘You have read my husband’s letters, sir,’ she began. ‘I believe he discovered–‘ She got as far as that, and there she stopped.
‘What did he discover?’
There are limits to human patience–even the patience of a bereaved wife. This cool question irritated Mrs. Ferrari into expressing herself plainly at last.
‘He discovered Lady Montbarry and the Baron!’ she answered, with a burst of hysterical vehemence. ‘The Baron is no more that vile woman’s brother than I am. The wickedness of those two wretches came to my poor dear husband’s knowledge. The lady’s maid left her place on account of it. If Ferrari had gone away too, he would have been alive at this moment. They have killed him. I say they have killed him, to prevent it from getting to Lord Montbarry’s ears.’ So, in short sharp sentences, and in louder and louder accents, Mrs. Ferrari stated her opinion of the case.
Still keeping his own view in reserve, Mr. Troy listened with an expression of satirical approval.
‘Very strongly stated, Mrs. Ferrari,’ he said. ‘You build up your sentences well; you clinch your conclusions in a workmanlike manner. If you had been a man, you would have made a good lawyer– you would have taken juries by the scruff of their necks. Complete the case, my good lady–complete the case. Tell us next who sent you this letter, enclosing the bank-note. The “two wretches” who murdered Mr. Ferrari would hardly put their hands in their pockets and send you a thousand pounds. Who is it–eh? I see the post-mark on the letter is “Venice.” Have you any friend in that interesting city, with a large heart, and a purse to correspond, who has been let into the secret and who wishes to console you anonymously?’
It was not easy to reply to this. Mrs. Ferrari began to feel the first inward approaches of something like hatred towards Mr. Troy. ‘I don’t understand you, sir,’ she answered. ‘I don’t think this is a joking matter.’
Agnes interfered, for the first time. She drew her chair a little nearer to her legal counsellor and friend.
‘What is the most probable explanation, in your opinion?’ she asked.
‘I shall offend Mrs. Ferrari if I tell you,’ Mr. Troy answered.
‘No, sir, you won’t!’ cried Mrs. Ferrari, hating Mr. Troy undisguisedly by this time.
The lawyer leaned back in his chair. ‘Very well,’ he said, in his most good-humoured manner. ‘Let’s have it out. Observe, madam, I don’t dispute your view of the position of affairs at the palace in Venice. You have your husband’s letters to justify you; and you have also the significant fact that Lady Montbarry’s maid did really leave the house. We will say, then, that Lord Montbarry has presumably been made the victim of a foul wrong– that Mr. Ferrari was the first to find it out–and that the guilty persons had reason to fear, not only that he would acquaint Lord Montbarry with his discovery, but that he would be a principal witness against them if the scandal was made public in a court of law. Now mark! Admitting all this, I draw a totally different conclusion from the conclusion at which you have arrived. Here is your husband left in this miserable household of three, under very awkward circumstances for him. What does he do? But for the bank-note and the written message sent to you with it, I should say that he had wisely withdrawn himself from association with a disgraceful discovery and exposure, by taking secretly to flight. The money modifies this view–unfavourably so far as Mr. Ferrari is concerned. I still believe he is keeping out of the way. But I now say he is paid for keeping out of the way–and that bank-note there on the table is the price of his absence, sent by the guilty persons to his wife.’
Mrs. Ferrari’s watery grey eyes brightened suddenly; Mrs. Ferrari’s dull drab-coloured complexion became enlivened by a glow of brilliant red.
‘It’s false!’ she cried. ‘It’s a burning shame to speak of my husband in that way!’
‘I told you I should offend you!’ said Mr. Troy.
Agnes interposed once more–in the interests of peace. She took the offended wife’s hand; she appealed to the lawyer to reconsider that side of his theory which reflected harshly on Ferrari. While she was still speaking, the servant interrupted her by entering the room with a visiting-card. It was the card of Henry Westwick; and there was an ominous request written on it in pencil. ‘I bring bad news. Let me see you for a minute downstairs.’ Agnes immediately left the room.
Alone with Mrs. Ferrari, Mr. Troy permitted his natural kindness of heart to show itself on the surface at last. He tried to make his peace with the courier’s wife.
‘You have every claim, my good soul, to resent a reflection cast upon your husband,’ he began. ‘I may even say that I respect you for speaking so warmly in his defence. At the same time, remember, that I am bound, in such a serious matter as this, to tell you what is really in my mind. I can have no intention of offending you, seeing that I am a total stranger to you and to Mr. Ferrari. A thousand pounds is a large sum of money; and a poor man may excusably be tempted by it to do nothing worse than to keep out of the way for a while. My only interest, acting on your behalf, is to get at the truth. If you will give me time, I see no reason to despair of finding your husband yet.’
Ferrari’s wife listened, without being convinced: her narrow little mind, filled to its extreme capacity by her unfavourable opinion of Mr. Troy, had no room left for the process of correcting its first impression. ‘I am much obliged to you, sir,’ was all she said. Her eyes were more communicative–her eyes added, in their language, ‘You may say what you please; I will never forgive you to my dying day.’
Mr. Troy gave it up. He composedly wheeled his chair around, put his hands in his pockets, and looked out of window.
After an interval of silence, the drawing-room door was opened.
Mr. Troy wheeled round again briskly to the table, expecting to see Agnes. To his surprise there appeared, in her place, a perfect stranger to him– a gentleman, in the prime of life, with a marked expression of pain and embarrassment on his handsome face. He looked at Mr. Troy, and bowed gravely.
‘I am so unfortunate as to have brought news to Miss Agnes Lockwood which has greatly distressed her,’ he said. ‘She has retired to her room. I am requested to make her excuses, and to speak to you in her place.’
Having introduced himself in those terms, he noticed Mrs. Ferrari, and held out his hand to her kindly. ‘It is some years since we last met, Emily,’ he said. ‘I am afraid you have almost forgotten the “Master Henry” of old times.’ Emily, in some little confusion, made her acknowledgments, and begged to know if she could be of any use to Miss Lockwood. ‘The old nurse is with her,’ Henry answered; ‘they will be better left together.’ He turned once more to Mr. Troy. ‘I ought to tell you,’ he said, ‘that my name is Henry Westwick. I am the younger brother of the late Lord Montbarry.’
‘The late Lord Montbarry!’ Mr. Troy exclaimed.
‘My brother died at Venice yesterday evening. There is the telegram.’ With that startling answer, he handed the paper to Mr. Troy.
The message was in these words:
‘Lady Montbarry, Venice. To Stephen Robert Westwick, Newbury’s Hotel, London. It is useless to take the journey. Lord Montbarry died of bronchitis, at 8.40 this evening. All needful details by post.’
‘Was this expected, sir?’ the lawyer asked.
‘I cannot say that it has taken us entirely by surprise, Henry answered. ‘My brother Stephen (who is now the head of the family) received a telegram three days since, informing him that alarming symptoms had declared themselves, and that a second physician had been called in. He telegraphed back to say that he had left Ireland for London, on his way to Venice, and to direct that any further message might be sent to his hotel. The reply came in a second telegram. It announced that Lord Montbarry was in a state of insensibility, and that, in his brief intervals of consciousness, he recognised nobody. My brother was advised to wait in London for later information. The third telegram is now in your hands. That is all I know, up to the present time.’
Happening to look at the courier’s wife, Mr. Troy was struck by the expression of blank fear which showed itself in the woman’s face.
‘Mrs. Ferrari,’ he said, ‘have you heard what Mr. Westwick has just told me?’
‘Every word of it, sir.’
‘Have you any questions to ask?’
‘You seem to be alarmed,’ the lawyer persisted. ‘Is it still about your husband?’
‘I shall never see my husband again, sir. I have thought so all along, as you know. I feel sure of it now.’
‘Sure of it, after what you have just heard?’
‘Can you tell me why?’
‘No, sir. It’s a feeling I have. I can’t tell why.’
‘Oh, a feeling?’ Mr. Troy repeated, in a tone of compassionate contempt. ‘When it comes to feelings, my good soul–!’ He left the sentence unfinished, and rose to take his leave of Mr. Westwick. The truth is, he began to feel puzzled himself, and he did not choose to let Mrs. Ferrari see it. ‘Accept the expression of my sympathy, sir,’ he said to Mr. Westwick politely. ‘I wish you good evening.’
Henry turned to Mrs. Ferrari as the lawyer closed the door. ‘I have heard of your trouble, Emily, from Miss Lockwood. Is there anything I can do to help you?’
‘Nothing, sir, thank you. Perhaps, I had better go home after what has happened? I will call to-morrow, and see if I can be of any use to Miss Agnes. I am very sorry for her.’ She stole away, with her formal curtsey, her noiseless step, and her obstinate resolution to take the gloomiest view of her husband’s case.
Henry Westwick looked round him in the solitude of the little drawing-room. There was nothing to keep him in the house, and yet he lingered in it. It was something to be even near Agnes–to see the things belonging to her that were scattered about the room. There, in the corner, was her chair, with her embroidery on the work-table by its side. On the little easel near the window was her last drawing, not quite finished yet. The book she had been reading lay on the sofa, with her tiny pencil-case in it to mark the place at which she had left off. One after another, he looked at the objects that reminded him of the woman whom he loved–took them up tenderly– and laid them down again with a sigh. Ah, how far, how unattainably far from him, she was still! ‘She will never forget Montbarry,’ he thought to himself as he took up his hat to go. ‘Not one of us feels his death as she feels it. Miserable, miserable wretch–how she loved him!’
In the street, as Henry closed the house-door, he was stopped by a passing acquaintance–a wearisome inquisitive man– doubly unwelcome to him, at that moment. ‘Sad news, Westwick, this about your brother. Rather an unexpected death, wasn’t it? We never heard at the club that Montbarry’s lungs were weak. What will the insurance offices do?’
Henry started; he had never thought of his brother’s life insurance. What could the offices do but pay? A death by bronchitis, certified by two physicians, was surely the least disputable of all deaths. ‘I wish you hadn’t put that question into my head!’ he broke out irritably. ‘Ah!’ said his friend, ‘you think the widow will get the money? So do I! so do I!’
Some days later, the insurance offices (two in number) received the formal announcement of Lord Montbarry’s death, from her ladyship’s London solicitors. The sum insured in each office was five thousand pounds–on which one year’s premium only had been paid. In the face of such a pecuniary emergency as this, the Directors thought it desirable to consider their position. The medical advisers of the two offices, who had recommended the insurance of Lord Montbarry’s life, were called into council over their own reports. The result excited some interest among persons connected with the business of life insurance. Without absolutely declining to pay the money, the two offices (acting in concert) decided on sending a commission of inquiry to Venice, ‘for the purpose of obtaining further information.’
Mr. Troy received the earliest intelligence of what was going on. He wrote at once to communicate his news to Agnes; adding, what he considered to be a valuable hint, in these words:
‘You are intimately acquainted, I know, with Lady Barville, the late Lord Montbarry’s eldest sister. The solicitors employed by her husband are also the solicitors to one of the two insurance offices. There may possibly be something in the report of the commission of inquiry touching on Ferrari’s disappearance. Ordinary persons would not be permitted, of course, to see such a document. But a sister of the late lord is so near a relative as to be an exception to general rules. If Sir Theodore Barville puts it on that footing, the lawyers, even if they do not allow his wife to look at the report, will at least answer any discreet questions she may ask referring to it. Let me hear what you think of this suggestion, at your earliest convenience.’
The reply was received by return of post. Agnes declined to avail herself of Mr. Troy’s proposal.
‘My interference, innocent as it was,’ she wrote, ‘has already been productive of such deplorable results, that I cannot and dare not stir any further in the case of Ferrari. If I had not consented to let that unfortunate man refer to me by name, the late Lord Montbarry would never have engaged him, and his wife would have been spared the misery and suspense from which she is suffering now. I would not even look at the report to which you allude if it was placed in my hands–I have heard more than enough already of that hideous life in the palace at Venice. If Mrs. Ferrari chooses to address herself to Lady Barville (with your assistance), that is of course quite another thing. But, even in this case, I must make it a positive condition that my name shall not be mentioned. Forgive me, dear Mr. Troy! I am very unhappy, and very unreasonable–but I am only a woman, and you must not expect too much from me.’
Foiled in this direction, the lawyer next advised making the attempt to discover the present address of Lady Montbarry’s English maid. This excellent suggestion had one drawback: it could only be carried out by spending money–and there was no money to spend. Mrs. Ferrari shrank from the bare idea of making any use of the thousand-pound note. It had been deposited in the safe keeping of a bank. If it was even mentioned in her hearing, she shuddered and referred to it, with melodramatic fervour, as ‘my husband’s blood-money!’
So, under stress of circumstances, the attempt to solve the mystery of Ferrari’s disappearance was suspended for a while.
It was the last month of the year 1860. The commission of inquiry was already at work; having begun its investigations on December 6. On the 10th, the term for which the late Lord Montbarry had hired the Venetian palace, expired. News by telegram reached the insurance offices that Lady Montbarry had been advised by her lawyers to leave for London with as little delay as possible. Baron Rivar, it was believed, would accompany her to England, but would not remain in that country, unless his services were absolutely required by her ladyship. The Baron, ‘well known as an enthusiastic student of chemistry,’ had heard of certain recent discoveries in connection with that science in the United States, and was anxious to investigate them personally.
These items of news, collected by Mr. Troy, were duly communicated to Mrs. Ferrari, whose anxiety about her husband made her a frequent, a too frequent, visitor at the lawyer’s office. She attempted to relate what she had heard to her good friend and protectress. Agnes steadily refused to listen, and positively forbade any further conversation relating to Lord Montbarry’s wife, now that Lord Montbarry was no more. ‘You have Mr. Troy to advise you,’ she said; ‘and you are welcome to what little money I can spare, if money is wanted. All I ask in return is that you will not distress me. I am trying to separate myself from remembrances–‘her voice faltered; she paused to control herself–‘from remembrances,’ she resumed, ‘which are sadder than ever since I have heard of Lord Montbarry’s death. Help me by your silence to recover my spirits, if I can. Let me hear nothing more, until I can rejoice with you that your husband is found.’
Time advanced to the 13th of the month; and more information of the interesting sort reached Mr. Troy. The labours of the insurance commission had come to an end–the report had been received from Venice on that day.
On the 14th the Directors and their legal advisers met for the reading of the report, with closed doors. These were the terms in which the Commissioners related the results of their inquiry: ‘Private and confidential.
‘We have the honour to inform our Directors that we arrived in Venice on December 6, 1860. On the same day we proceeded to the palace inhabited by Lord Montbarry at the time of his last illness and death.
‘We were received with all possible courtesy by Lady Montbarry’s brother, Baron Rivar. “My sister was her husband’s only attendant throughout his illness,” the Baron informed us. “She is overwhelmed by grief and fatigue–or she would have been here to receive you personally. What are your wishes, gentlemen? and what can I do for you in her ladyship’s place?”
‘In accordance with our instructions, we answered that the death and burial of Lord Montbarry abroad made it desirable to obtain more complete information relating to his illness, and to the circumstances which had attended it, than could be conveyed in writing. We explained that the law provided for the lapse of a certain interval of time before the payment of the sum assured, and we expressed our wish to conduct the inquiry with the most respectful consideration for her ladyship’s feelings, and for the convenience of any other members of the family inhabiting the house.
‘To this the Baron replied, “I am the only member of the family living here, and I and the palace are entirely at your disposal.” From first to last we found this gentleman perfectly straighforward, and most amiably willing to assist us.
‘With the one exception of her ladyship’s room, we went over the whole of the palace the same day. It is an immense place only partially furnished. The first floor and part of the second floor were the portions of it that had been inhabited by Lord Montbarry and the members of the household. We saw the bedchamber, at one extremity of the palace, in which his lordship died, and the small room communicating with it, which he used as a study. Next to this was a large apartment or hall, the doors of which he habitually kept locked, his object being (as we were informed) to pursue his studies uninterruptedly in perfect solitude. On the other side of the large hall were the bedchamber occupied by her ladyship, and the dressing-room in which the maid slept previous to her departure for England. Beyond these were the dining and reception rooms, opening into an antechamber, which gave access to the grand staircase of the palace.
‘The only inhabited rooms on the second floor were the sitting-room and bedroom occupied by Baron Rivar, and another room at some distance from it, which had been the bedroom of the courier Ferrari.
‘The rooms on the third floor and on the basement were completely unfurnished, and in a condition of great neglect. We inquired if there was anything to be seen below the basement– and we were at once informed that there were vaults beneath, which we were at perfect liberty to visit.
‘We went down, so as to leave no part of the palace unexplored. The vaults were, it was believed, used as dungeons in the old times– say, some centuries since. Air and light were only partially admitted to these dismal places by two long shafts of winding construction, which communicated with the back yard of the palace, and the openings of which, high above the ground, were protected by iron gratings. The stone stairs leading down into the vaults could be closed at will by a heavy trap-door in the back hall, which we found open. The Baron himself led the way down the stairs. We remarked that it might be awkward if that trap-door fell down and closed the opening behind us. The Baron smiled at the idea. “Don’t be alarmed, gentlemen,” he said; “the door is safe. I had an interest in seeing to it myself, when we first inhabited the palace. My favourite study is the study of experimental chemistry–and my workshop, since we have been in Venice, is down here.”
‘These last words explained a curious smell in the vaults, which we noticed the moment we entered them. We can only describe the smell by saying that it was of a twofold sort–faintly aromatic, as it were, in its first effect, but with some after-odour very sickening in our nostrils. The Baron’s furnaces and retorts, and other things, were all there to speak for themselves, together with some packages of chemicals, having the name and address of the person who had supplied them plainly visible on their labels. “Not a pleasant place for study,” Baron Rivar observed, “but my sister is timid. She has a horror of chemical smells and explosions– and she has banished me to these lower regions, so that my experiments may neither be smelt nor heard.” He held out his hands, on which we had noticed that he wore gloves in the house. “Accidents will happen sometimes,” he said, “no matter how careful a man may be. I burnt my hands severely in trying a new combination the other day, and they are only recovering now.”
‘We mention these otherwise unimportant incidents, in order to show that our exploration of the palace was not impeded by any attempt at concealment. We were even admitted to her ladyship’s own room– on a subsequent occasion, when she went out to take the air. Our instructions recommended us to examine his lordship’s residence, because the extreme privacy of his life at Venice, and the remarkable departure of the only two servants in the house, might have some suspicious connection with the nature of his death. We found nothing to justify suspicion.
‘As to his lordship’s retired way of life, we have conversed on the subject with the consul and the banker–the only two strangers who held any communication with him. He called once at the bank to obtain money on his letter of credit, and excused himself from accepting an invitation to visit the banker at his private residence, on the ground of delicate health. His lordship wrote to the same effect on sending his card to the consul, to excuse himself from personally returning that gentleman’s visit to the palace. We have seen the letter, and we beg to offer the following copy of it. “Many years passed in India have injured my constitution. I have ceased to go into society; the one occupation of my life now is the study of Oriental literature. The air of Italy is better for me than the air of England, or I should never have left home. Pray accept the apologies of a student and an invalid. The active part of my life is at an end.” The self-seclusion of his lordship seems to us to be explained in these brief lines. We have not, however, on that account spared our inquiries in other directions. Nothing to excite a suspicion of anything wrong has come to our knowledge.
‘As to the departure of the lady’s maid, we have seen the woman’s receipt for her wages, in which it is expressly stated that she left Lady Montbarry’s service because she disliked the Continent, and wished to get back to her own country. This is not an uncommon result of taking English servants to foreign parts. Lady Montbarry has informed us that she abstained from engaging another maid in consequence of the extreme dislike which his lordship expressed to having strangers in the house, in the state of his health at that time.
‘The disappearance of the courier Ferrari is, in itself, unquestionably a suspicious circumstance. Neither her ladyship nor the Baron can explain it; and no investigation that we could make has thrown the smallest light on this event, or has justified us in associating it, directly or indirectly, with the object of our inquiry. We have even gone the length of examining the portmanteau which Ferrari left behind him. It contains nothing but clothes and linen– no money, and not even a scrap of paper in the pockets of the clothes. The portmanteau remains in charge of the police.
‘We have also found opportunities of speaking privately to the old woman who attends to the rooms occupied by her ladyship and the Baron. She was recommended to fill this situation by the keeper of the restaurant who has supplied the meals to the family throughout the period of their residence at the palace. Her character is most favourably spoken of. Unfortunately, her limited intelligence makes her of no value as a witness. We were patient and careful in questioning her, and we found her perfectly willing to answer us; but we could elicit nothing which is worth including in the present report.
‘On the second day of our inquiries, we had the honour of an interview with Lady Montbarry. Her ladyship looked miserably worn and ill, and seemed to be quite at a loss to understand what we wanted with her. Baron Rivar, who introduced us, explained the nature of our errand in Venice, and took pains to assure her that it was a purely formal duty on which we were engaged. Having satisfied her ladyship on this point, he discreetly left the room.
‘The questions which we addressed to Lady Montbarry related mainly, of course, to his lordship’s illness. The answers, given with great nervousness of manner, but without the slightest appearance of reserve, informed us of the facts that follow:
‘Lord Montbarry had been out of order for some time past– nervous and irritable. He first complained of having taken cold on November 13 last; he passed a wakeful and feverish night, and remained in bed the next day. Her ladyship proposed sending for medical advice. He refused to allow her to do this, saying that he could quite easily be his own doctor in such a trifling matter as a cold. Some hot lemonade was made at his request, with a view to producing perspiration. Lady Montbarry’s maid having left her at that time, the courier Ferrari (then the only servant in the house) went out to buy the lemons. Her ladyship made the drink with her own hands. It was successful in producing perspiration–and Lord Montbarry had some hours of sleep afterwards. Later in the day, having need of Ferrari’s services, Lady Montbarry rang for him. The bell was not answered. Baron Rivar searched for the man, in the palace and out of it, in vain. From that time forth not a trace of Ferrari could be discovered. This happened on November 14.
‘On the night of the 14th, the feverish symptoms accompanying his lordship’s cold returned. They were in part perhaps attributable to the annoyance and alarm caused by Ferrari’s mysterious disappearance. It had been impossible to conceal the circumstance, as his lordship rang repeatedly for the courier; insisting that the man should relieve Lady Montbarry and the Baron by taking their places during the night at his bedside.
‘On the 15th (the day on which the old woman first came to do the housework), his lordship complained of sore throat, and of a feeling of oppression on the chest. On this day, and again on the 16th, her ladyship and the Baron entreated him to see a doctor. He still refused. “I don’t want strange faces about me; my cold will run its course, in spite of the doctor,”– that was his answer. On the 17th he was so much worse that it was decided to send for medical help whether he liked it or not.