|WANTED.—A few young men for a light, genteel employment. Address J. W., P. O.|
In the same paper, of same date, in another column:—
|TO LET.—That commodious and elegant family mansion, No. 27 Limehouse Road, Pultneyville, will be rented low to a respectable tenant if applied for immediately, the family being about to remove to the Continent.|
Under the local intelligence, in another column:—
|MISSING.—An unknown elderly gentleman a week ago left his lodgings in the Kent Road, since which nothing has been heard of him. He left no trace of his identity except a portmanteau containing a couple of shirts marked “209, Ward.”|
To find the connection between the mysterious disappearance of the elderly gentleman and the anonymous communication, the relevancy of both these incidents to the letting of a commodious family mansion, and the dead secret involved in the three occurrences, is the task of the writer of this history.
A slim young man with spectacles, a large hat, drab gaiters, and a notebook, sat late that night with a copy of the “Times” before him, and a pencil which he rattled nervously between his teeth in the coffee-room of the Blue Dragon.
MARY JONES’S NARRATIVE
I am upper housemaid to the family that live at No. 27 Limehouse Road, Pultneyville. I have been requested by Mr. Wilkey Collings, which I takes the liberty of here stating is a gentleman born and bred, and has some consideration for the feelings of servants, and is not above rewarding them for their trouble, which is more than you can say for some who ask questions and gets short answers enough, gracious knows, to tell what I know about them. I have been requested to tell my story in my own langwidge, though, being no schollard, mind cannot conceive. I think my master is a brute. Do not know that he has ever attempted to poison my missus,—which is too good for him, and how she ever came to marry him, heart only can tell,—but believe him to be capable of any such hatrosity. Have heard him swear dreadful because of not having his shaving-water at nine o’clock precisely. Do not know whether he ever forged a will or tried to get my missus’s property, although, not having confidence in the man, should not be surprised if he had done so. Believe that there was always something mysterious in his conduct. Remember distinctly how the family left home to go abroad. Was putting up my back hair, last Saturday morning, when I heard a ring. Says cook, “That’s missus’s bell, and mind you hurry or the master ’ill know why.” Says I, “Humbly thanking you, mem, but taking advice of them as is competent to give it, I’ll take my time.” Found missus dressing herself and master growling as usual. Says missus, quite carm and easy-like, “Mary, we begin to pack to-day.” “What for, mem?” says I, taken aback. “What’s that hussy asking?” says master from the bedclothes quite savage-like. “For the Continent—Italy,” says missus. “Can you go, Mary?” Her voice was quite gentle and saintlike, but I knew the struggle it cost, and says I, “With you, mem, to India’s torrid clime, if required, but with African Gorillas,” says I, looking toward the bed, “never.” “Leave the room,” says master, starting up and catching of his bootjack. “Why, Charles!” says missus, “how you talk!” affecting surprise. “Do go, Mary,” says she, slipping a half-crown into my hand. I left the room, scorning to take notice of the odious wretch’s conduct.
Cannot say whether my master and missus were ever legally married. What with the dreadful state of morals nowadays and them stories in the circulating libraries, innocent girls don’t know into what society they might be obliged to take situations. Never saw missus’s marriage certificate, though I have quite accidental-like looked in her desk when open, and would have seen it. Do not know of any lovers missus might have had. Believe she had a liking for John Thomas, footman, for she was always spiteful-like—poor lady—when we were together—though there was nothing between us, as cook well knows, and dare not deny, and missus needn’t have been jealous. Have never seen arsenic or Prussian acid in any of the private drawers—but have seen paregoric and camphor. One of my master’s friends was a Count Moscow, a Russian papist—which I detested.
THE SLIM YOUNG MAN’S STORY
I am by profession a reporter, and writer for the press. I live at Pultneyville. I have always had a passion for the marvelous, and have been distinguished for my facility in tracing out mysteries, and solving enigmatical occurrences. On the night of the 17th June, 1845, I left my office and walked homeward. The night was bright and starlight. I was revolving in my mind the words of a singular item I had just read in the “Times.” I had reached the darkest portion of the road, and found myself mechanically repeating: “An elderly gentleman a week ago left his lodgings on the Kent Road,” when suddenly I heard a step behind me.
I turned quickly, with an expression of horror in my face, and by the light of the newly risen moon beheld an elderly gentleman, with green cotton umbrella, approaching me. His hair, which was snow white, was parted over a broad, open forehead. The expression of his face, which was slightly flushed, was that of amiability verging almost upon imbecility. There was a strange, inquiring look about the widely opened mild blue eye,—a look that might have been intensified to insanity or modified to idiocy. As he passed me, he paused and partly turned his face, with a gesture of inquiry. I see him still, his white locks blowing in the evening breeze, his hat a little on the back of his head, and his figure painted in relief against the dark blue sky.
Suddenly he turned his mild eye full upon me. A weak smile played about his thin lips. In a voice which had something of the tremulousness of age and the self-satisfied chuckle of imbecility in it, he asked, pointing to the rising moon, “Why?—Hush!”
He had dodged behind me, and appeared to be looking anxiously down the road. I could feel his aged frame shaking with terror as he laid his thin hands upon my shoulders and faced me in the direction of the supposed danger.
“Hush! did you not hear them coming?”
I listened; there was no sound but the soughing of the roadside trees in the evening wind. I endeavored to reassure him, with such success that in a few moments the old weak smile appeared on his benevolent face.
“Why?”—But the look of interrogation was succeeded by a hopeless blankness.
“Why?” I repeated with assuring accents.
“Why,” he said, a gleam of intelligence flickering over his face, “is yonder moon, as she sails in the blue empyrean, casting a flood of light o’er hill and dale, like—Why,” he repeated, with a feeble smile, “is yonder moon, as she sails in the blue empyrean”—He hesitated,—stammered,—and gazed at me hopelessly, with the tears dripping from his moist and widely opened eyes.
I took his hand kindly in my own. “Casting a shadow o’er hill and dale,” I repeated quietly, leading him up to the subject, “like—Come, now.”
“Ah!” he said, pressing my hand tremulously, “you know it?”
“I do. Why is it like—the—eh—the commodious mansion on the Limehouse Road?”
A blank stare only followed. He shook his head sadly.
“Like the young men wanted for a light, genteel employment?”
He wagged his feeble old head cunningly.
“Or, Mr. Ward,” I said, with bold confidence, “like the mysterious disappearance from the Kent Road?” The moment was full of suspense. He did not seem to hear me. Suddenly he turned.
I darted forward. But he had vanished in the darkness.
NO. 27 LIMEHOUSE ROAD
It was a hot midsummer evening. Limehouse Road was deserted save by dust and a few rattling butchers’ carts, and the bell of the muffin and crumpet man. A commodious mansion, which stood on the right of the road as you enter Pultneyville, surrounded by stately poplars and a high fence surmounted by a cheval de frise of broken glass, looked to the passing and footsore pedestrian like the genius of seclusion and solitude. A bill announcing in the usual terms that the house was to let hung from the bell at the servants’ entrance.
As the shades of evening closed, and the long shadows of the poplars stretched across the road, a man carrying a small kettle stopped and gazed, first at the bill and then at the house. When he had reached the corner of the fence, he again stopped and looked cautiously up and down the road. Apparently satisfied with the result of his scrutiny, he deliberately sat himself down in the dark shadow of the fence, and at once busied himself in some employment, so well concealed as to be invisible to the gaze of passers-by. At the end of an hour he retired cautiously.
But not altogether unseen. A slim young man, with spectacles and notebook, stepped from behind a tree as the retreating figure of the intruder was lost in the twilight, and transferred from the fence to his notebook the freshly stenciled inscription, “S—T—1860—X.”
COUNT MOSCOW’S NARRATIVE
I am a foreigner. Observe! To be a foreigner in England is to be mysterious, suspicious, intriguing. M. Collins has requested the history of my complicity with certain occurrences. It is nothing, bah! absolutely nothing. I write with ease and fluency. Why should I not write? Tra-la-la! I am what you English call corpulent. Ha, ha! I am a pupil of Macchiavelli. I find it much better to disbelieve everything, and to approach my subject and wishes circuitously than in a direct manner. You have observed that playful animal, the cat. Call it, and it does not come to you directly, but rubs itself against all the furniture in the room, and reaches you finally—and scratches. Ah, ha, scratches! I am of the feline species. People call me a villain—bah!
I know the family living No. 27 Limehouse Road. I respect the gentleman,—a fine, burly specimen of your Englishman,—and madame, charming, ravishing, delightful. When it became known to me that they designed to let their delightful residence, and visit foreign shores, I at once called upon them. I kissed the hand of madame. I embraced the great Englishman. Madame blushed slightly. The great Englishman shook my hand like a mastiff.
I began in that dexterous, insinuating manner of which I am truly proud. I thought madame was ill. Ah, no. A change, then, was all that was required. I sat down at the piano and sang. In a few minutes madame retired. I was alone with my friend.
Seizing his hand, I began with every demonstration of courteous sympathy. I do not repeat my words, for my intention was conveyed more in accent, emphasis, and manner, than speech. I hinted to him that he had another wife living. I suggested that this was balanced—ha!—by his wife’s lover. That, possibly, he wished to fly; hence the letting of his delightful mansion. That he regularly and systematically beat his wife in the English manner, and that she repeatedly deceived him. I talked of hope, of consolation, of remedy. I carelessly produced a bottle of strychnine and a small vial of stramonium from my pocket, and enlarged on the efficiency of drugs. His face, which had gradually become convulsed, suddenly became fixed with a frightful expression. He started to his feet, and roared, “You d—d Frenchman!”
I instantly changed my tactics, and endeavored to embrace him. He kicked me twice, violently. I begged permission to kiss madame’s hand. He replied by throwing me downstairs.
I am in bed with my head bound up, and beefsteaks upon my eyes, but still confident and buoyant. I have not lost faith in Macchiavelli. Tra-la-la! as they sing in the opera. I kiss everybody’s hands.
DR. DIGGS’S STATEMENT
My name is David Diggs. I am a surgeon, living at No. 9 Tottenham Court. On the 15th of June, 1854, I was called to see an elderly gentleman lodging on the Kent Road. Found him highly excited, with strong febrile symptoms, pulse 120, increasing. Repeated incoherently what I judged to be the popular form of a conundrum. On closer examination found acute hydrocephalus, and both lobes of the brain rapidly filling with water. In consultation with an eminent phrenologist, it was further discovered that all the organs were more or less obliterated, except that of Comparison. Hence the patient was enabled to only distinguish the most common points of resemblance between objects, without drawing upon other faculties, such as Ideality or Language, for assistance. Later in the day found him sinking,—being evidently unable to carry the most ordinary conundrum to a successful issue. Exhibited Tinct. Val., Ext. Opii, and Camphor, and prescribed quiet and emollients. On the 17th the patient was missing.
STATEMENT OF THE PUBLISHER
On the 18th of June, Mr. Wilkie Collins left a roll of manuscript with us for publication, without title or direction, since which time he has not been heard from. In spite of the care of the proof-readers, and valuable literary assistance, it is feared that the continuity of the story has been destroyed by some accidental misplacing of chapters during its progress. How and what chapters are so misplaced, the publisher leaves to an indulgent public to discover.