'The Haunted Hotel' is a suspenseful and captivating story of a family who has been told of their relative's sudden death whilst on his honeymoon in Italy. Feeling rather suspicious of his new wife, Countess Narona, they decide to set out to Italy themselves to uncover the mystery behind his death. On reaching his palace of residence in Venice which is converted into a hotel after his death each of them starts experiencing something strange and paranormal, and they begin to question whether their relative, Lord Montbarry, really died in the way that have been described to them...
William Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) was an English novelist, playwright and short story writer best known for 'The Woman in White' (1859) and 'The Moonstone' (1868). The last has been called the first modern English detective novel. Born to the family of a painter, William Collins, in London, he grew up in Italy and France, learning French and Italian. He began work as a clerk for a tea merchant. After his first novel, 'Antonina', appeared in 1850, he met Charles Dickens, who became a close friend and mentor. Collins achieved financial stability and an international following with his best known works in the 1860s. His works were classified at the time as 'sensation novels', a genre seen nowadays as the precursor to detective and suspense fiction.
CHAPTER II Table of Contents
'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...