by EV Lucas
My personal note: I read this story in school when I was in 7th class. Today while giving a mock test I read a passage from this story. This brought back the nostalgia to school and English textbooks. This tremendously enthralling and captivating plot is full of twists and turns. I do not intend any copyright violations, I just wanted to share a story with everyone, a story that completely fascinates me. Now without much ado, read on 😉
I still tingle with mortification over an experience at Dabney’s last evening, the only satisfaction being that others tingle with me. We were talking of the supernatural — that unprofitable but endlessly alluring theme — and most of us had cited an instance, without, however, producing much effect. Among the strangers to me was a little man with an anxious white face, whom Rudson-Wayte had brought, and he watched each speaker with the closest attention, but said nothing. Then Dabney, wishing to include him in the talk, turned to him and asked if he had no experience to relate, no story that contained an inexplicable element.
He thought a moment. “Well,” he said, “not a story in the ordinary sense of the word: nothing, that is, from hearsay, like most of your examples. Truth, I always hold, is not only vastly stranger than fiction, but also vastly more interesting. I could tell you an occurrence which happened to me person ally and which oddly enough completed itself only this afternoon.”
We begged him to begin.
“A year or two ago,” he said, “I was in rooms in Great Ormond Street — an old house on the Holborn side. The bedroom walls had been distempered by a previous tenant, but the place was damp and great patches of discolouration, had broken out. One of these — as indeed often happens — was exactly like a human face; but more faithfully and startlingly than is customary? Lying in bed in the morning putting off getting up, I used to watch it and watch it, and gradually I came to think of it as real — as my fellow lodger, in fact. The odd thing was that while the patches on the walls grew larger and changed their contours, this never did. It remained identically the same.
“While there, I had a very bad attack of influenza, with complications, and all day long I had nothing to do but read or meditate, and it was then that this face began to get a firmer hold of me. It grew more and more real and remarkable. I may say that it dominated my thoughts day and night.There was a curious turn to the nose, and the slant of the forehead was unique. It was, in fact, full of individuality: the face of a man apart, a man in a thousand.
“Well, I got better, but the face still controlled me. I found myself searching the streets for one like it. Somewhere, I was convinced, the real man must exist, and him I must meet. Why, I had no notion; I only knew that he and I were in some way linked by fate. I frequented places where men congregate in large numbers — political meetings, football matches, the railway stations when the suburban trains pour forth their legions on the City in the morning and receive them again in the evening. But all in vain. I had never before realised as I then did how many different faces of man there are and how few. For all differ, and yet, classified, they belong to only as many groups as you count on your hands.
“The search became a mania with me. I neglected everything else. I stood at busy corners watching the crowd until people thought me crazy, and the police began to know me and be suspicious. Women I never glanced at: men, men, and men, all the time.”
He passed his hand wearily over his brow. “And then,” he continued, “at last I saw him. He was in a taxi driving east along Piccadilly. I turned and ran beside it for a little way and then saw an empty one coming. ‘Follow that taxi,’ I gasped, and leaped in. The driver managed to keep it in sight and it took us to Charing Cross. I rushed on to the platform and found my man with two ladies and a little girl. They were going to France by the 2.20. I hung about to try and get a word with him, but in vain. Other friends had joined theparty, and they moved to the train in a solid body.
“I hastily purchased a ticket to Folkestone, hoping that I should catch him on the boat before it sailed; but at Folkestone he got on board before me with his friends, and they disappeared into a large private saloon, several cabins thrown into one. Evidently he was a man of wealth.
“Again I was foiled; but I determined to cross too, feeling certain that when the voyage had begun he would leave the ladies and come out for a stroll on the deck. I had only just enough fare to Boulogne, but nothing could shake me now. I took up my position opposite the saloon door and waited. After half an hour the door opened and he came out, but with the little girl. My heart beat so that it seemed to shake the boat more than the propeller. There was no mistaking the face — every line was the same. He glanced at me and moved towards the companion-way for the upper deck. It was nowor never, I felt.
“Excuse me,” I stammered, “but do you mind giving me your card? I have a very important reason for wishing to communicate with you.”
“He seemed to be astonished, as indeed well he might; but he complied. With extreme deliberation he took out his case and handed me his card and hurried on with the little girl. It was clear that he thought me a lunatic and considered it wiser to humour me than not.
“Clutching the card I hurried to a deserted corner of the ship and read it. My eyes dimmed; my head swam; for on it were the words: Mr Ormond Wall with an address at Pittsburg, U.S.A. I remember no more until I found myself at Boulogne. There I lay in a broken condition for some weeks, and only a month ago did I return.”
He was silent.
We looked at him and at one another and waited. All the other talk of the evening was nothing compared with the story of the little pale man.
“I went back,” he resumed after a moment or so, “to Great Ormond Street and set to work to discover all I could about this American in whose life I had so mysteriously intervened. I wrote to Pittsburg; I wrote to American editors; I cultivated the society of Americans in London; but all that I could find out was that he was a millionaire with English parents who had resided in London. But where? To that question I received no answer.
“And so the time went on until yesterday morning. I had gone to bed more than usually tired and slept till late. When I woke the sun was streaming into the room. As I always do, I looked at once at the wall on which the face is to be seen. I rubbed my eyes and sprang up in alarm. It was only faintly visible. Last night it had been as clear as ever — almost I could hear it speak. And now it was but a ghost of itself.
“I got up dazed and dejected and went out. The early editions of the newspapers were already out, and on the contents bill I saw ‘American millionaire’s Motor Accident’. You must all of you have seen it. I bought it and read at once what I knew I should read. Mr Ormond Wall, the Pittsburg millionaire, and party, motoring from Spezzia to Pisa, had come into collision with a wagon and were overturned; Mr Wall’s condition was critical.
“I went back to my room still dazed, and sat on the bed looking with unseeing eyes at the face on the wall. And even as I looked, suddenly it completely disappeared.
“Later I found that Mr Wall had succumbed to his injuries at what I take to be that very moment.”
Again he was silent.
“Most remarkable,” we said; “most extraordinary,” and so forth, and we meant it too.
“Yes,” said the stranger. “There are three extraordinary, three most remarkable things about my story. One is that it should be possible for the discolouration in a lodging-house in London not only to form the features of a gentleman in America, but to have this intimate association with his existence. It will take Science some time to explain that. Another is that that gentleman’s name should bear any relation to the spot on which his features were being so curiously reproduced by some mysterious agency. Is it not so?”
We agreed with him, and our original discussion on supernatural manifestations set in again with increased excitement, during which the narrator of the amazing experience rose and said good-night. Just as he was at the door, one of the company — I rejoice to think it was Spanton —recalled us to the cause of our excited debate by asking him, before he left, what he considered the third extraordinary thing in connection with his deeply interesting story. “You said three things, you know,” Spanton reminded him.
“Oh, the third thing,” he said, as he opened the door, “I was forgetting that. The third extraordinary thing about the story is that I made it up about half an hour ago; Good-night, again.”
After coming to our senses we looked round for Rudson-Wayte, who had brought this snake to bite our bosoms, but he too had disappeared.