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 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 to-night 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 but a surly response to his "Good night."
The bicyclists went by him like grey ghosts with fog-horns; 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 hall. 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
He walked up the path of patent-glazed tiles, and listened. No sign of
life. He passed into the hall. 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. Every one 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.
As he stood, dazed, in front of the door, it opened, and she came out.
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
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
"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 prayer-book, and a lace
handkerchief on the dressing-table. Why, I even noticed the almanack on
the mantelpiece—October 21. At least it couldn't be that, because this
is May. And yet it was. Your almanac is at October 21, 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 quite 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 inquiring if any one 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
Now the curious and quite inexplicable part of this story is that when
she came down to breakfast on the morning of the 22nd of 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