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The Haunted Hotel

Chapter 3
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
 
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