The Countess proceeded along the westward corridor, and stopped at the door numbered Thirty-eight. This was the room which had been inhabited by Baron Rivar in the old days of the palace: it was situated immediately over the bedchamber in which Agnes had passed the night. For the last two days the room had been empty. The absence of luggage in it, when they opened the door, showed that it had not yet been let.
‘You see?’ said the Countess, pointing to the carved figure at the fire-place; ’and you know what to do. Have I deserved that you should temper justice with mercy?’ she went on in lower tones. ’Give me a few hours more to myself. The Baron wants money— I must get on with my play.’
She smiled vacantly, and imitated the action of writing with her right hand as she pronounced the last words. The effort of concentrating her weakened mind on other and less familiar topics than the constant want of money in the Baron’s lifetime, and the vague prospect of gain from the still unfinished play, had evidently exhausted her poor reserves of strength. When her request had been granted, she addressed no expressions of gratitude to Agnes; she only said, ’Feel no fear, miss, of my attempting to escape you. Where you are, there I must be till the end comes.’
Her eyes wandered round the room with a last weary and stupefied look. She returned to her writing with slow and feeble steps, like the steps of an old woman.
Henry and Agnes were left alone in the Room of the Caryatides.
The person who had written the description of the palace— probably a poor author or artist—had correctly pointed out the defects of the mantel-piece. Bad taste, exhibiting itself on the most costly and splendid scale, was visible in every part of the work. It was nevertheless greatly admired by ignorant travellers of all classes; partly on account of its imposing size, and partly on account of the number of variously-coloured marbles which the sculptor had contrived to introduce into his design. Photographs of the mantel-piece were exhibited in the public rooms, and found a ready sale among English and American visitors to the hotel.
Henry led Agnes to the figure on the left, as they stood facing the empty fire-place. ‘Shall I try the experiment,’ he asked, ‘or will you?’ She abruptly drew her arm away from him, and turned back to the door. ‘I can’t even look at it,’ she said. ’That merciless marble face frightens me!’
Henry put his hand on the forehead of the figure. ’What is there to alarm you, my dear, in this conventionally classical face?’ he asked jestingly. Before he could press the head inwards, Agnes hurriedly opened the door. ‘Wait till I am out of the room!’ she cried. ‘The bare idea of what you may find there horrifies me!’ She looked back into the room as she crossed the threshold. ‘I won’t leave you altogether,’ she said, ‘I will wait outside.’