The Haunted Hotel, by Wilkie Collins

Chapter IX

‘Now, my good creature, whatever you have to say to me, out with it at once! I don’t want to hurry you needlessly; but these are business hours, and I have other people’s affairs to attend to besides yours.’

Addressing Ferrari’s wife, with his usual blunt good-humour, in these terms, Mr. Troy registered the lapse of time by a glance at the watch on his desk, and then waited to hear what his client had to say to him.

‘It’s something more, sir, about the letter with the thousand-pound note,’ Mrs. Ferrari began. ‘I have found out who sent it to me.’

Mr. Troy started. ‘This is news indeed!’ he said. ‘Who sent you the letter?’

‘Lord Montbarry sent it, sir.’

It was not easy to take Mr. Troy by surprise. But Mrs. Ferrari threw him completely off his balance. For a while he could only look at her in silent surprise. ‘Nonsense!’ he said, as soon as he had recovered himself. ‘There is some mistake — it can’t be!’

‘There is no mistake,’ Mrs. Ferrari rejoined, in her most positive manner. ‘Two gentlemen from the insurance offices called on me this morning, to see the letter. They were completely puzzled — especially when they heard of the bank-note inside. But they know who sent the letter. His lordship’s doctor in Venice posted it at his lordship’s request. Go to the gentlemen yourself, sir, if you don’t believe me. They were polite enough to ask if I could account for Lord Montbarry’s writing to me and sending me the money. I gave them my opinion directly — I said it was like his lordship’s kindness.’

‘Like his lordship’s kindness?’ Mr. Troy repeated, in blank amazement.

‘Yes, sir! Lord Montbarry knew me, like all the other members of his family, when I was at school on the estate in Ireland. If he could have done it, he would have protected my poor dear husband. But he was helpless himself in the hands of my lady and the Baron — and the only kind thing he could do was to provide for me in my widowhood, like the true nobleman he was!’

‘A very pretty explanation!’ said Mr. Troy. ‘What did your visitors from the insurance offices think of it?’

‘They asked if I had any proof of my husband’s death.’

‘And what did you say?’

‘I said, “I give you better than proof, gentlemen; I give you my positive opinion.”’

‘That satisfied them, of course?’

‘They didn’t say so in words, sir. They looked at each other — and wished me good-morning.’

‘Well, Mrs. Ferrari, unless you have some more extraordinary news for me, I think I shall wish you good-morning too. I can take a note of your information (very startling information, I own); and, in the absence of proof, I can do no more.’

‘I can provide you with proof, sir — if that is all you want,’ said Mrs. Ferrari, with great dignity. ‘I only wish to know, first, whether the law justifies me in doing it. You may have seen in the fashionable intelligence of the newspapers, that Lady Montbarry has arrived in London, at Newbury’s Hotel. I propose to go and see her.’

‘The deuce you do! May I ask for what purpose?’

Mrs. Ferrari answered in a mysterious whisper. ‘For the purpose of catching her in a trap! I shan’t send in my name — I shall announce myself as a person on business, and the first words I say to her will be these: “I come, my lady, to acknowledge the receipt of the money sent to Ferrari’s widow.” Ah! you may well start, Mr. Troy! It almost takes you off your guard, doesn’t it? Make your mind easy, sir; I shall find the proof that everybody asks me for in her guilty face. Let her only change colour by the shadow of a shade — let her eyes only drop for half an instant — I shall discover her! The one thing I want to know is, does the law permit it?’

‘The law permits it,’ Mr. Troy answered gravely; ‘but whether her ladyship will permit it, is quite another question. Have you really courage enough, Mrs. Ferrari, to carry out this notable scheme of yours? You have been described to me, by Miss Lockwood, as rather a nervous, timid sort of person — and, if I may trust my own observation, I should say you justify the description.’

‘If you had lived in the country, sir, instead of living in London,’ Mrs. Ferrari replied, ‘you would sometimes have seen even a sheep turn on a dog. I am far from saying that I am a bold woman — quite the reverse. But when I stand in that wretch’s presence, and think of my murdered husband, the one of us two who is likely to be frightened is not me. I am going there now, sir. You shall hear how it ends. I wish you good-morning.’

With those brave words the courier’s wife gathered her mantle about her, and walked out of the room.

Mr. Troy smiled — not satirically, but compassionately. ‘The little simpleton!’ he thought to himself. ‘If half of what they say of Lady Montbarry is true, Mrs. Ferrari and her trap have but a poor prospect before them. I wonder how it will end?’

All Mr. Troy’s experience failed to forewarn him of how it did end.

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Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:29