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Gerald Biss - The Door Of The Unreal

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Gerald Biss - The Door Of The Unreal

The Door of the Unreal

    By Gerald Biss

    Part I

    THE BRICHTON ROAD

    My name is Lincoln Osgood, my age thirty, my nationality American, my means—well, such as never to cause me a moment‟s anxiety or the negation of any fad; my hobbies have always been travel and science, the latter more particularly in its human than in its mechanical aspects. I am not, if I may say so, in any way the “Yankee millionaire” of popular fiction or even of fact. I both write and talk the King‟s English, I trust; and to tell the truth, I was educated up at Christ Church, Oxford, which is my first link with these extraordinary incidents, which it has now fallen to my lot to chronicle.

    It was up at Oxford ten years ago that I first met Burgess Clymping, with whom, from the first night we sat next to each other in the wonderful old hall of the House with its centuries of historical portraits, I struck up the great friendship of my life. He was a year younger than I, the owner of a nice property in Sussex and had seen but little of life in those days, whereas I had travelled a lot even then for my age. It is the accident of this long friendship and my travels in obscure and unfrequented parts that brought me into the circle of the strange doings I am about to relateto which, by good luck, I held the key. I am in no way the hero of the pieceif hero, in the conventional sense,

    there be at allnot even the protagonist, as the Greeks used to call it. I am merely the “handy man” of the play, so to speak, who chanced into the middle of this unconventional drama at its height, and helped to see it through to a conclusion as strange as anything which has ever occurred in the whole annals of this country; and I have been asked by the other actors in this bizarre play in very real life to collate the facts and document them for themselves and such others as may be interested in these things beyond the door of the unreal, though, for reasons which will become obvious, they can hardly be released for general indiscriminate publication.

    To the ordinary stay-at-home person of both sexes, who does not travel, eats eggs and bacon for breakfast every day, and does not realize a yard outside “Little England,” they will seem merely absurd, the imaginings of an ill-balanced mind. Yet none the less they happened actually on and within a very few miles of the Brighton Road in the second decade of this modern age of motoring.

    I am no expert at telling an extraordinary story and making it convincing; but I have an instinctive feeling that, in trying to do so, one has a better chance of carrying conviction by telling it as far as possible in the first person without too much underlining of the capital “I‟s” or seeking the limelight for oneself, filling up the inevitable gaps

    and interstices with actual documents and statements by such other immediate actors in the drama as can tell their part of the story firsthand. So, when this story ceases to be direct and straightforward, it will be documented, vouched for and, as far as possible, dated. This is my apology for obtruding myselfat the express desire of the others

    concerned in these extraordinary happenings.

    I

DOCUMENT

    From The Sussex Daily Times, February 4, 19

    THE MYSTERY OF THE BRIGHTON ROAD

    During the early hours of yesterday morning, too late to be reported in our issue of yesterday, a two-seated car was discovered apparently abandoned nearly half-way up Handcross Hill. It was in the ditch on the left-hand side of the road and had wedged itself securely. The tail-lamp and off-side lamps were still burning; but the engine had stopped. It was discovered by a Mr. Holmes, who was motoring back to London from Brighton. He stopped and called out; but, getting no reply, he concluded that the occupants had run into the ditch and, being unable to get the car out again, had gone in search of help.

    It was full moon and a very clear night: and, as there was no sign of anything wrong or anybody hurt, Mr. Holmes, being late, drove on. He stopped, however, at the police-station at Handcross and notified the officer in charge.

    A constable was dispatched upon a bicycle, and returned in due course to report that apparently there was nothing wrong. He had found the rug lying a short distance from the car and had re?placed it on the seat. He saw no sign of anybody, though he had cooeed and blown his whistle several times. He was sent back to take charge; and, as the necessary lamps were burning and the car was on its own side of the road, he apparently made himself as comfortable as possible with the rug wrapped round him, and dozed off and on in the car.

    As soon as it grew light enough a breakdown party was dispatched, and the car was extricated from the ditch. It proved not to have been much damaged and was taken to the station, where the first sign of anything seriously wrong became evident.

    On the cord upholstery of the seat there was a large stain of congealed blood frozen hard. This placed a totally different complexion upon the matter: and steps were immediately taken to in?form the higher authorities.

    The car, which was a 12-h.p. Rover, bore the identification number “B.P. 318726,” showing that it was a local one, “B.P.” being the identification letters for West Sussex: and in the course of the morning it was discovered to be the property of Mr. George Bolsover, a young gentleman

farmer, of Heighbury Farm, near Crawley.

    Inquiries elicited that he had gone out the evening before, about 5.80, in his car with his wife to spend the evening with a friend at HassocksMr.

    Glentyre of Orchard Place. He had arrived at Orchard Place with Mrs. Bolsover shortly after six o‟clock, and had played billiards with his host until dinner-time. Alter dinner Mr. and Mrs. Bolsover and Mr. and Mrs. Glentyre had played bridge until just upon midnight. The Bolsovers had left in the highest of spirits in the car; and Mr. Glentyre himself had tucked the rug found by the car, which he identified, round Mrs. Bolsover. From that time up to going to press nothing has been seen or heard of either Mr. or Mrs. Bolsover, who appear to have vanished completely.

    The whole country round is being scoured by the police: but the hard frost of the last ten days precludes any material assistance, such as footprints or similar traces, which would help to guide the police or give any clue as to what happened either before or after the car was ditched.

    All railway stations and ports are being closely watched: and all reports of strangers are being immediately followed up.

    So far there is not the slightest clue and the whole affair of the Brighton Road is wrapt in the deepest mystery.

    Sonic strange scratches have been found upon the paint-work of the car, according to the hates; message by telephone from our chief reporter, who has been on the spot all day.

    The police, who are very reticent, have a theory, and anticipate shortly to be in a position to throw light upon the extraordinary disappearance of Mr. and Mrs. Bolsover, which is complicated by the bloodstain upon the upholstery of the car.

    The case is in the eminently efficient hands of Chief Inspector Mutton. II

    DOCUMENT

    MEMORANDUM BY LINCOLN OSGOOD

    It would be hopeless to try to convey the sensation, the rumours, and the columns in the press with reference to “The Mystery of the Brighton Road,” which immediately captivated the imagination of the public. A

    volume of Hansard would not contain a tithe of what was written round the disappearance of the Bolsovers, the false reports, the theories, the letters to the papers from indignant public and assiduous amateur detectives alike, and so forth. The mystery gripped and fascinated the public as happens from time to time and there was a strange undercurrent of nervousness behind much of the indignation. It seemed so impossible that in well-administered, twentieth-century England a, man and his wife could disappear without a trace out of their own car on the most motored road in the country.

    Murder, highway robbery, kidnapping were all put forward; but nothing was discovered to justify in the least any of the theories. A deliberately planned and cleverly executed double disappearance was favoured by many: but there was the bloodstain to be accounted for. Again, there was no motive, no incentive for any such disappearance. The Bolsovers were a most devoted couple and had only been married a few months. They had no monetary troubles—in fact, were in “affluent

    circumstances,” as the reporters put it, They were leading the ideal life of their own choice in a nice old house, farming sufficiently without making a burden of it, hunting a couple of days a week, shooting, motoring into Brighton to shop, and generally putting in a good time with plenty of friends.

    There never was an affair so motiveless and therefore so sensational. But, do what the authorities could, never a trace nor a clue turned up that led to anything or even afforded a shadow of a solution. Within a few weeks the sensation burnt itself out by its own intensity and died a natural death; and other happenings, in their turn, ousted this “Mystery of the Brighton Road” from a foremost place in the papers and the public mind.

    At Scotland Yard it was duly collated and docketed: and the dossier was filed in the limbo of undiscovered crimes. Yet at the same time, apart from the ominous bloodstain, there was nothing tangible to point to the fact that it was actually a crime at all.

    And that was the last of the poor devoted young Bolsoversa dear little

    woman and a genial good fellow without an enemy in the world. III

From Town Tit Bits, March 20, 19.

    QUERIES PERTINENT AND IMPERTINENT

    . . . Whether the Upper Chamber and the Footlights are once more about to unite forces?

    . . . Whether Wuffies and Tony are taking the situation as seriously as some other less interested folk?

    . . . Whether Manager King of the “Castle” regards the latest Town Tit Bit as a good “ad” or a lost star?

    IV

    DOCUMENT

    CONTRIBUTED BY WILLIAM WELLINGHAM, 2nd

    LIEUT., COLDSTREAM GUARDS

    I never was much of a hand at writing, and am a bit nervous about trying to tell my portion of this weird story: but Lincoln Osgood says that I have got to, and that‟s all there is to it. It is up to either Harry Verjoyce or me, and Harry says be is worse at it even than I am; and

    Osgood has promised to put my statement shipshape. But he wants it told direct and in my own words, as I was on the spot throughout this particular bit of this incredible tale, which frankly I wouldn‟t believe myself if I hadn‟t been through it: and old Harry is ready to swear to it as gospel.

    My name is William Wellingham, commonly called “Bill,” aged twenty-one,

    and a subaltern in the Coldstream. So are Tony Bullingdon and Harry Verjoyce, and the same age as myself. We were in the same house at Eton, and pals from the very start: and we went on to Sandhurst together, and from there were all gazetted into the Coldstream. Tony is what they call in novelettes a “belted earl” and “the catch of the season,” as he owns three big places and a substantial slab of London property, which he inherited from a whole line of rigidly pious ancestors, who never did anything to cause him a moment‟s anxiety by gambling or mortgaging as much as a single acre. Moreover, the whole lot had the additional advantage of accumulating for years “during the minority of the young Earl of Bullingdon,” as the society papers said when he

    came of age last year, and we celebrated it by the big theatrical dance at the Savoy, which made all the uninvited people in London green with envy: but that‟s another story, as one of the minor prophets or minor poets once said. But it is really not altogether outside the radius of this statement of mine, as it was at his own coming-of-age dance that Tony first met poor old Wuffles, as Miss Yvette St. Clair, the leading lady in the “Castle” revue, was always called amongst her pals

    and the people who wanted to pretend to be smart.

    It was a sort of what people call an infatuation on both sidesmore

    on his than on hers perhaps; and there was no end of talk about it in town during the winter, and lots of people thought he was going to marry her, and some of the impertinent rags began to get quite rottenly personal about it before the end. Tony is a good-looking chapnot too

    big, but very smart and full of life. So was Wuffles, who was as pretty as they make ‟em, off as well as on, which you can‟t say for every girl on the stage, and a jolly good sort into the bargain, as straight as a die and no nonsense of that sort about her. That‟s what makes a lot of these theatrical marriages nowadays, and set inquisitive people guessing in this particular case: but that‟s none of my business. Poor Wuffles has goneand it makes me sick to think of itand poor old Tony

    almost went too: and now that he is fit and about again and there are other things in the air, I would not have referred to the matter, if it hadn‟t been what the lawyers call relevant. Anyhow, it was the talk of the town, and things were stoking up that Sunday, April 1 (this is no April fool yarn, I give you my word!) when we went on that fatal run to Brighton and ended up with a top-hole jolly dinner at the Royal York before returning to town by moonlight.

    Tony was driving Wuffles in his 90-h.p. Napier, the one he used to race at Brooklands, and I always used to think she must have been jolly uncomfortable in it on the road, as it was hardly the most suitable machine for a girl: but it was his favourite, and she always pretended to like it. The rest of the partythat is, Harry and myself with Cissie Saxon and Clemence Rayne, also of the “Castle”—were in Harry‟s new Daimler, a topper, the latest model just delivered; and, if we had to take his dust on the road, we were at any rate a jolly sight more comfortable. People may think, by the way, that I am a bit indiscreet in mentioning names, and so on; but, though it may seem a trifle off and a bit embarrassing, there are no two ways to it, and that little party, all said and done, has been well enough advertised in every quarter of the uncivilized world a hundred thousand times by now. As I have said, we had a top-hole jolly dinner with plenty of “boy,”

    though not enough to make any difference to the driving. Tony was always jolly particular when he was driving the big Napier, as she was a bit of a handful on the road. But we were all very merry and bright, and chipped Tony and Wuffles quite a hot about the paragraphs in Town Tit Bits; and there is no saying what it mightn‟t have led to, if it hadn‟t been for the ghastly sequel.

    Closing-time came all too soon, but with one thing and another it was eleven o‟clock before we were all tucked in and ready to start. I heard

    the clock strike as we waved and shouted good night to a few kindred souls, who had come out to see us off. It was a ripping night, cold and frosty and almost as clear as daylight in the full moon. Harry, of course, was driving his own ‟bus with Clemence up in front beside him; and Cissie and I were in the back, well wrapped up, and all as jolly as sand-boys.

    There was a bit of a delay while Tony got his big engine goinga beast

    to start when it was cold; and we got off ahead of him, thinking how riled be would be if we reached town first. But we hadn‟t got more than four or five miles out, when we heard him roaring up behind us: so we slowed down and drew to the side to let him pass. As they flashed by Wuffles waved her hand triumphantly, and shouted something we could not catch because of the noise of his engine with its open exhaust. That was the last ever seen of Wuffles, poor girl; and who is to say what might not have happened to us if Tony had been delayed a bit longer, and we had kept in front as far as Handcross Hill?

    We slowed down almost to a walking pace for a mile or two to avoid their dust, just jogging along till it got a bit clear: and Cissie and I not unnaturally got talking about the extraordinary disappearance of the Bolsovers, as I suppose everyone else motoring on the Brighton Road had done for the past two months. We had both of us passed the spot a dozen times since the event; but somehow the place and the subject

    had a curious fascination of its own. And it was hardly surprising considering how full the papers had been of it: but that was nothing to what was to come, when they fairly got their glut of it. After a bit the fog of dust began to clear, and we could see our way almost like day by the light of the full moon: so we began to put the pace on a bit not to get left too far behind. It was a topping night for speeding up, with a clear road; and Harry soon let the car right out, impatient after having had to hang about so long. The Daimler, though not a racing machine, was pretty fast too; and it did not seem long before we found ourselves beginning to climb Handcross Hill. “Funny light ahead,” called out Harry from the wheel.

    “Looks like a fire,” I shouted back. “Hope it‟s not the old Napier!”

    But sure enough it was; and there the tragedy began.

    In a moment we were right up to itnot in the road or in the ditch,

    but blazing in a field the other side of the hedge within a few yards of the Bolsover business. It was for all the world as though something had gone wrong with the steering-gear; and it was not till later in the develop?ment of the story that we learnt the whole horrible truth. “Good God,” Harry ejaculated, putting on his brakes pretty hard and nearly taking a dry skid.

    The girls began to scream, and I thought Cissie was going to faint: but I hadn‟t much time for that sort of truck just then, and was out of my side of the car almost before we had stopped. Harry was only a second after me, as he had to disentangle himself from the wheel and Clemence, who clutched hold of him in her fright and horror. There was a great gash torn in the hedge, through which we jumped: and on the other side in the ploughed field, which was frozen hard, lay what was left of the Napieron its side blazing for all it was worth. It was obviously impossible to save the car or do anything to it, and we dashed forward to see if we could rescue Tony and Wuffles, or whether they had been thrown clear.

    A glance showed that there was no sign of either of them in or under the car. The holocaust had not gone far enough to leave any doubt of that, although some of the wooden-headed police tried to insist first go off that they had been burnt but both Harry and I were firm on the point.

    “Thank God,” we both exclaimed at the thought that they had at least escaped such an awful death: and then we started to draw the ground round to see where they had been thrown. A few feet from the car I trod on Tony‟s cap; but, strange to say, there was no sign of them anywhere within reasonable radius.

    They had both disappeared as totally and absolutely as the Bolsovers! There was no lack of light between the moon and the blazing car; and there was no doubt about it.

“You take this side of the hedge,” I called out to Harry, as I dashed

    back through the gap, “and I‟ll take the other.”

    The girls, white as death and sobbing hysterically, were hanging on to each other against the side of the car.

    “No sign of either of them,” I shouted, trying to buck them up. “At any rate they aren‟t burnt.”

    And no sign of them there was either. Harry and I drew the hedge on both sides, the road, the ditches, and again the field, making wider and wider detours, till we felt that it was pretty hopeless and made our way hack to the blazing car, which was getting red-hot and beginning to buckle about the frame.

    We looked into each other‟s faces.

    All he said was, “Good God, Bill”; and all I said was, “Good God, Harry”—both feeling that there was something deeper behind it, something intangible and uncanny, something beyond our crude ken. And we made our way slowly back to the girls: and in the minds of both of us was the memory of the Bolsover mystery.

    * * *

    As we got back to the old Daimler, we heard the sound of another car hooting as it came tearing up the hill; and Harry and I jumped out into the road and yelled to it to stop. The driver was already slowing down at the sight of the blaze on the other side of the hedge; and he turned out to be an awfully good chapFitzroy Manders by name, as I found out afterwards. He had a pal with him called Greville: and there were two ladies in the back of the car.

    I explained to him as shortly as I could what had happened, though in rather disjointed fashion, I‟m afraid; and I saw his face grow pretty

    grave in the white light.

    “It looks devilish fishy,” was all he remarked; and he went back to his own car and said a few words to the ladies. The one on the near side got out; and he beckoned me to join them and intro?duced me. “My wife, Mr. Wellingham,” he said without any frills, as I raised my cap.

    “My wife and her sister will look after the girls with you,” he added. “Naturally they must be frightfully upset by this extraordinary business. They had better get into my car, and Greville will drive them up to Handcross and leave the ladies at the Red Lion; and then he can bring the police back with him.”

    He had a strong, managing way about him which was very welcome after the shock, which I don‟t mind admitting had knocked me out a bit—and

    old Harry, toowhile the girls were a jolly sight worse, and on the verge of hysterics. Mrs. Manders proved a topper, and took them in hand with a few kind words, and had them in her car before you could say knife, tucked in securely between her sister and herself to give them

a nice sense of companionship and protection

    Greville jumped into the driver‟s seat, while Manders cranked the engine.

    “Drive like the devil,” I overheard him say to Greville. “There is no saying what may not be out on this ill-omened hill to-night.”

    And off they went as though there were no hill at all. “Now,” said Manders curtly, “draw your car well in on its own side; and then we‟ll have another search.”

    There was little left by that time of the famous old racing Napier save red hot iron and distorted metal. So that did not delay us long, and under Manders‟ direction we started a methodical search: but all to no purpose, and not a trace of anything, except poor old Tony‟s cap, could we discover.

    We found ourselves back on the road again and searched it up and down once more without the faintest result.

    Manders lit a cigarette and passed us his case; and I noticed Harry‟s hand was a bit shaky, as though he had had a late night. So was mine, I don‟t mind confessing.

    “There is something damned funny at work somewhere,” said Manders, in a detached sort of way, as though he were thinking hard, “especially coming on top of the Bolsover case. Hullo! there‟s the car”—and we heard

    it hooting down the hill, hell for leather.

    Two minutes later it was alongside of us; and out jumped a sergeant and a couple of policemen almost before Greville had drawn up. “I have telephoned Chief Inspector Mutton, sir,” said the sergeant, saluting Manders, “and have left orders to advise Scotland Yard

    immediately: and I have telephoned to Crawley to send assistance by car without a moment‟s delay.”

    “Excellent,” said Manders, and he explained the whole situation to the sergeant in as few words as possible; and I couldn‟t help marvelling at the clear concise way he put things. But then it turned out afterwards that he is a barrister, you see; so I could hardly be expected to compete. “It looks on all fours with the Bolsover case,” said the sergeant, when Manders had finished. “I had a good deal to do with that business myself,

    and know the ground pretty well. If you don‟t mind, sir, I think we had better have another search.”

    And after he had examined the car, which had nearly burnt itself out, he organized the seven of us, and we drew every inch methodically in an ever-widening circle.

    Help was not long in arriving from Crawley, and in little over an hour Chief Inspector Mutton was on the spot and had taken over from Sergeant Handcock. And by daybreak the whole place was alive with all sorts of people.

    * * *

    Lincoln Osgood says that I can now hand over to him and retire, as I have shot my bolt, and I am jolly glad, as not only do I hate writing, but it is particularly hard to write about that awful night, which will always remain a nightmare in my mind.

    V

    DOCUMENT

    CONTRIBUTED BY SIR HENRY VERJOYCE, PART., 2nd LIEUT., COLDSTREAM GUARDS I am a worse hand even than Bill Wellingham at writing; and Lincoln Osgood says that there is no need for me to go over the ground again, as Bill has already covered fully the only part I could deal with first hand. So all I have got to do is to testify that every word of his statement is gospel truth; and to this I herewith append my signature for what it is worth by way of corroboration.

    (Signed) HARRY NERJOYCE

    MEMORANDUM

    By LINCOLN OSGOOD

    I do not enter the story of these strange events directly at this point, but I feel that a memorandum collated by myself will, at this juncture, save the publication of a burdensome number of documents from the press and other sources, and help to state the position concisely and put things in perspective.

    This naïve, but convincing statement, contri buted from direct participation and observation by young Wellingham, brings the evolution of this chronicle to a point infinitely more sensational than the disappearance of the comparatively obscure Bolsovers; and it is hard even to suggest the enormous and unparalleled excitement, not only in Great Britain, but all over the world. It may almost be said that even the more sober section of the press thoroughly let themselves go over it, while the “yellow” oracles fairly went mad over such a sensation as the disappearance of the richest and most eligible parti in the peerage and the most popular leading lady in revue, whose names had been coupled together by gossip under such romantic

    circumstancesespecially under such inexplicable and extraordinary conditions following so close upon the heels of the Bolsover mystery. The very familiarity of the spot at which these tragedies had occurred added fuel to the flames of excitement: and, moreover, a new element of fear had entered the realms of commonplace everyday life and gripped the public imagination.

    The sub-editors of the halfpenny papers ran riot over the new mystery of the Brighton Road, and “featured” it with headlines suggestive of some of the organs of my native country: and no Wild or fatuous rumour was considered too impossible or foolish to find a place. The reporters made high holiday all over the country, especially between London and Brighton, and Sussex was obsessed day and night by “specials” and

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