“A safe journey and a pleasant one.”
The train began to move. Miss Kitty Belwhistle distributed a farewell series of nods and smiles.
She felt quite fond of the Cholmondeleys, now that she was leaving them. They were sorry to lose their guest undoubtedly.
Their brother sorrowed also, but not as one without hope. Business of a pressing nature was likely to take him up to London in the course of a week or so.
Kitty, experienced hand that she was, had not spent three weeks at Northwitch Grange for nothing. The understanding between herself and the heir of the Northwitch acres was pretty definite, that young gentleman flattered himself. They were almost, if not exactly, engaged.
Kitty had made the usual stipulation.
If, within the space of twelve months from date, she met somebody else she liked better than dear Chubbington, all that had passed between them was henceforth to be regarded as an idle dream. If on the other hand, she did not, then—
Kitty pulled up the window and sank back into her comfortable corner seat. The first-class compartment contained no other passenger than the charming young lady in the sealskin coat and crimson-leathered toque who consulted her complexion in the strip of looking glass before she fell to overhauling her bags and packages.
The journey was tedious, and would be certain to be a cold one upon this keen, frosty January day.
But Kitty, who always was distinguished by admirable forethought in matters where her own well-being was concerned, had got all her little comforts around her.
“Eau de cologne? Yes, the housemaid put it in. How stupid of Parker to catch bronchitis! Of course, I was obliged to leave her behind. If I had insisted on her traveling she would have been sure to incur a fresh chill and die on me out of spite.
“If anything in the shape of an adventure could possibly present itself in the course of the humdrum seven hours’ railway journey between Norwich and Liverpool, I should be inclined to welcome it, unless it came in the form of a railway smash. Ugh! The bare idea makes one shudder.
“Let me just peep at the luncheon basket. Tongue and turkey sandwiches, bard-boiled eggs and anchovy ditto, a bottle of cold tea, half a pint and a bag of macaroons. Perhaps Chubby superintended the arrangement! Poor Chubby!”
And Kitty smiled a heartless little smile at the remembrance of Chubby’s pink tinged nose and tearful eyes. Then she opened a brand now railway novel, “The Fang of the Adder,” and immersed herself in the most thrilling chapter of that electrical work:
“Forked and lurid flashes of lightning silently played over the midnight azure. A low peal of thunder rumbled overhead as Paulina gained the churchyard. She reached the lonely resting place of the man whom her heart had worshiped, the man whom her relentless hand had guided to his doom.
“Did he but know it, Cherrington Chim was bitterly avenged.
“As sobs thickened in his murderess’s strangling throat and she sank forward amid the matted and tangled grasses—what happened?
“A hand touched her on the shoulder. A voice said hoarsely”—
“Kimpton, Kimpton! Change ‘ere for Carbury and Walsing.”
The train slowed and stopped, with a jerk. Kitty shut the book and let down the window.
Something darkened the carriage door. A dark-faced mustached, fur-coated stranger got in hurriedly. He trampled on Miss Belwhistle’s toes and apologized floridly. His tone offended her cars ; the perfume which exhaled from his garments offended a still more sensitive perception.
He trampled on Kitty’s toes again as he received into his arms a heavy bundle, the helpless figure of another man, and deposited it in a further corner of the compartment, with evident difficulty.
Another mustached, scented and fur-coated stranger followed and sat himself down in the seat immediately opposite Miss Belwhistle.
Kitty, in a state of freezing indifference to the admiring manifestations of her vis-a-vis, resumed her perusal of “The Fang of the Adder.”
The two mustached and fur-coated individuals interchanged a sentence or two in an undertone and then settled down to their respective news-papers. The invalid lay back helplessly in his corner, swaying from side to side with the motion of the carriage.
He was small of stature and slight of limb. He wore a gray-flapped traveling cap, tied under the chin, and a long gray ulster. From underneath the edge of the ulster peeped a pair of tiny little feet in patent-leather boots.
As much of his profile as was visible to Kitty’s observation was perfectly regular and of a waxen delicacy. The ungloved right hand, which rested stiffly on his knee, was small and dazzlingly white.
“Oh,” exclaimed Miss Belwhistle involuntarily as the express rounded a curve and the invalid lurched violently to the right.
The mustached and scented strangers looked over their newspapers. Kitty had half risen from her seat.
“Anything wrong, miss?” inquired No. 1 in accents of oily vulgarity.
The train steadied; the invalid left off wobbling. Kitty sank among her rugs and parcels.
“I–I beg your pardon. I–I was afraid the–your friend was going to faint.” she breathed. To cover her confusion she stooped for her book, which lay sprawling on the floor.
“The young lady thought Mr. Walker might be feeling ill, Sig. Denzo,” remarked No. 2. “Tell him to answer hisself if he’s got any manners in him,” the signor added, and looked at the invalid. Immediately Mr. Walker spoke in a queer, highly pitched voice, which seemed to come from under the seat which ho occupied.
“I thank you, miss, for your kind inquiries and beg to say I am quite well.”
Kitty began to regret the exclamation of alarm into which she had been betrayed. She began to wonder how long it would be before the next stoppage would afford her an opportunity of exchanging to another carriage, This horrible pair were evidently bent upon improving the occasion.
Rosenbaum offered her a comic paper. Declined with thanks.
The signor produced a silver flask of cognac, which might have contained about a quart, and audaciously invited the young lady to test the quality of its contents. Declined with thanks.
Upon which both the signor and Mr. Rosenbaum applied themselves to the liquor with great good will. They produced huge packages of sandwiches and ate with gusto and without offering the invalid a share of their supplies.
Kitty burned with indignation and was conscious of a yearning in the direction of her well filled luncheon basket, but dread of provoking the civilities of her companions staid her. She would change at the next station they stopped at, and then–
Thank goodness an old town rising out of the snowy landscape! The empty noise and bustle of a station succeeding. She collected her luggage hastily; she peered anxiously out of the window searching for a porter,
“By your leave, miss, said the odious voice of Rosenbaum. He opened the door and jumped out upon the platform. The signor followed. They vanished, arm in arm, into the refreshment room.
“Porter.” cried Miss Belwhistle, but no functionary responded to her call. She leaned out of the window. She waved her muff. She called to the porter again without success.
There was a dull crash, a sickening thud, behind her. She turned. The invalid Mr. Walker had tumbled out of his seat and lay prostrate on the floor. Before the affrighted girl could utter a scream for help the express moved on. Where, where were those callous companions of the sick man? Doubtless Rosenbaum and the signor had been left.
She raised the head of the insensible man. He was lighter than she had expected and strangely, strangely stiffer. She opened his collar with a shaking hand.
She got out the bottle of tea and endeavored to pour a little down his throat. Useless. The rigid lips were not to be forced apart. She removed the traveling cap and wet his fore head and temples with eau de cologne. He showed no signs of reviving. She wiped his face with her handkerchief and–oh, horror!
The faint color vanished from his checks, his lips turned pale. The sick man had been painted.
She looked at him more closely, The strange light blue eyes that maintained their horrible unwinking stare. the deadly color of the face and the icy coldness of its contact struck chill to her. She felt at his heart, Not a beat! Mr. Walker was dead–dead!
Had his murderer–they must be his murderers–painted the dead face with the hues of life, deceived her eye with rouge and powder as they had deceived her ears with a ventriloquial trick? Had they not made good their escape, leaving their helpless dupe alone–alone with their victim?
And at last the express slackened speed, jolted, stopped. They were at Ely. She might scream now, and she did.
“What’s here? Gentleman ill, miss? What do you say?”
Thus the guard.
“There has been murder here,” she said, looking out upon the throng of faces that surrounded the carriage door. “Telegraph to the last stopping place. I can describe the guilty wretches who have done this awful deed. Ah, there they are!”
Here they were indeed, the guilty wretches. Dared they brazen it out? Did they mean to deny all knowledge of the dead man?
“This is a serious charge, you know, gentlemen. I must trouble you to come along with me.”
“With pleasure, Mr. Polizeman,” said the signor, with horrible lightness. “But we look at this corpo morto here first, with your kind obligement. Why will pretty young ladies shriek at everything? My good Rosenbaum, you have better the English language Please explain.
Rosenbaum drew a large poster from the bulging pocket of his fur coat. He gravely handed it to the station-master. It bore this inscription:
At the Temple of Varieties, Ely.
Herr Rosenbaum and Sig. Denzo,
The Marvelous Conjurors and Ventriloquists
In Their Unparalleled Entertainment,
In which the ANIMATED DUMMY will also
“This here jointed wooden figure with the wax face and hands,” went on Rosenbaum, “is the dummy. He usually travels in the guard’s van, but the guard couldn’t guarantee his reaching Ely in condition to appear before the public, having a fox-terrier pup in charge as was given to worrying. So we took him in the carriage with us. At the last station we stopped at, me and the signor, gets out for a drink, and the train having started sooner than we bargained for we whipped into second-class compartment. Sorry the young lady has been frightened. Ain’t you, signor?”
“Estremamente!” said Sig. Denzo.
Forest Republication [Tionesta PA] 24 October 1894: p. 1
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: “Why will pretty young ladies shriek at everything?” Mrs Daffodil raises her eyebrows at this impertinence. The conjurors/ventriloquists had their nerve, considering that the duo went out of their way to hoodwink the young lady, so fearless in matters of the heart, but so timid when faced with cognac-swilling, sandwich-guzzling, fur-coated showmen and a wooden dummy.
One cannot entirely blame the young person; for a lady travelling without a companion, the individual railway carriage compartment was fraught with danger. Miss Belwhistle was fortunate that her travelling companions were not fast young gentlemen.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.