The Haunted Hotel, by Wilkie Collins

Chapter 6

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?’

‘No, sir.’

‘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?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘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!’

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Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:30