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Title: The Mystery of the Semi-Detached
Author: Edith Nesbit
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0602591.txt
Edition: 1
Language: English
Character set encoding: Latin-1(ISO-8859-1)--8 bit
Date first posted: July 2006
Date most recently updated: July 2006

This eBook was produced by: Richard Scott

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The Mystery of the Semi-Detached
By Edith Nesbit



He was waiting for her, he had been waiting an hour and a half in a
dusty suburban lane, with a row of big elms on one side and some
eligible building sites on the other-and far away to the south-west
the twinkling yellow lights of the Crystal Palace. It was not quite
like a country lane, for it had a pavement and lamp-posts, but it was
not a bad place for a meeting all the same: and farther up, towards
the cemetery, it was really quite rural, and almost pretty, especially
in twilight But twilight had long deepened into the night, and still
he waited. He loved her, and he was engaged to be married to her, with
the complete disapproval of every reasonable person who had been
consulted. And this half-clandestine meeting was tonight to take the
place of the grudgingly sanctioned weekly interview-because a certain
rich uncle was visiting at her house, and her mother was not the woman
to acknowledge to a moneyed uncle, who might "go off" any day, a match
so deeply ineligible as hers with him.

So he waited for her, and the chill of an unusually severe May evening
entered into his bones.

The policeman passed him with a surly response to his "Good night".
The bicyclists went by him like grey ghosts with foghorns; and it was
nearly ten o'clock, and she had not come.

He shrugged his shoulders and turned towards his lodgings. His road
led him by her house--desirable, commodious, semi-detached-and he
walked slowly as he neared it She might, even now, be coming out But
she was not There was no sign of movement about the house, no sign of
life, no lights even in the windows. And her people were not early
people.

He paused by the gate, wondering.

Then he noticed that the front door was open-wide open-and the street
lamp shone a little way into the dark hail. There was something about
all this that did not please him-that scared him a little, indeed. The
house had a gloomy and deserted air. It was obviously impossible that
it harboured a rich uncle. The old man must have left early. In which
case-

He walked up the path of patent glazed dies, and listened. No sign of
life. He passed into the hail. There was no light anywhere. Where was
everybody, and why was the front door open? There was no one in the
drawing room, the dining room and the study (nine feet by seven) were
equally blank. Everyone was out, evidently. But the unpleasant sense
that he was, perhaps, not the first casual visitor to walk through
that open door impelled him to look through the house before he went
away and closed it after him. So he went upstairs, and at the door of
the first bedroom he came to he struck a wax match, as he had done in
the sitting rooms. Even as he did so he felt that he was not alone.
And he was prepared to see something but for what he saw he was not
prepared. For what he saw lay on the bed, in a white loose gown-and it
was his sweetheart, and its throat was cut from ear to ear. He doesn't
know what happened then, nor how he got downstairs and into the
street; but he got out somehow, and the policeman found him in a fit,
under the lamp-post at the corner of the street He couldn't speak when
they picked him up, and he passed the night in the police cells,
because the policeman had seen plenty of drunken men before, but never
one in a fit.

The next morning he was better, though still very white and shaky. But
the tale he told the magistrate was convincing, and they sent a couple
of constables with him to her house.

There was no crowd about it as he had fancied there would be, and the
blinds were not down.

He held on to the door-post for support...

"She's all right, you see," said the constable, who had found him
under the lamp. "I told you you was drunk, but you would know best-"

When he was alone with her he told her-not all-for that would not bear
telling-but how he had come into the commodious semi-detached, and how
he had found the door open and the lights out, and that he had been
into that long back room facing the stairs, and had seen something-in
even trying to hint at which he turned sick and broke down and had to
have brandy given him.

"But, my dearest," she said, "I dare say the house was dark, for we
were all at the Crystal Palace with my uncle, and no doubt the door
was open, for the maids will run out if they're left. But you could
not have been in that room, because I locked it when I came away, and
the key was in my pocket. I dressed in a hurry and I left all my odds
and ends lying about."

"I know," he said; "I saw a green scarf on a chair, and some long
brown gloves, and a lot of hairpins and ribbons, and a prayerbook, and
a lace handkerchief on the dressing table. Why, I even noticed the
almanack on the mantelpiece-21 October. At least it couldn't be that,
because this is May. And yet it was. Your almanack is at 21 October,
isn't it?"

"No, of course it isn't," she said, smiling rather anxiously; "but all
the other things were just as you say. You must have had a dream, or a
vision, or something."

He was a very ordinary, commonplace, City young man, and he didn't
believe in visions, but he never rested day or night till he got his
sweetheart and her mother away from that commodious semi-detached, and
settled them in a quiet distant suburb. In the course of the removal
he incidentally married her, and the mother went on living with them.

His nerves must have been a good bit shaken, because he was very queer
for a long time, and was always enquiring if anyone had taken the
desirable semi-detached; and when an old stockbroker with a family
took it, he went the length of calling on the old gentleman and
imploring him by all that he held dear, not to live in that fatal
house.

"Why?" said the stockbroker, not unnaturally.

And then he got so vague and confused, between trying to tell why and
trying not to tell why, that the stockbroker showed him out, and
thanked his God he was not such a fool as to allow a lunatic to stand
in the way of his taking that really remarkably cheap and desirable
semi-detached residence.

Now the curious and quite inexplicable part of this story is that when
she came down to breakfast on the morning of the 22 October she found
him looking like death, with the morning paper in his hand. He caught
hers--he couldn't speak, and pointed to the paper. And there she read
that on the night of the 21st a young lady, the stockbroker's
daughter, had been found, with her throat cut from ear to ear, on the
bed in the long back bedroom facing the stairs of that desirable semi-
detached.



THE END




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