By S. B. BANCROFT.
“THEN you never were in Rome, Mr. Bancroft?”
“Never. You seem surprised, Lady A — . Why?”
” I’ll tell you after luncheon,” replied my hostess.
This conversation occurred, I remember, one day last May, just before the end of the revival of “Caste.”
A little later I was in the drawing-room, turning over an album of photographs, when
I came to an excellent likeness of Mrs. C__ , the eldest daughter of the mistress of the house. I asked where she was. My hostess said:
“In Rome, with her husband; and this letter, which I received from her last week, will tell you why I was surprised at your saying you had never been there, for I certainly thought ‘Captain Hawtree’ and ‘Polly Eccles’ had been taking a holiday. Read what Emily says on the last page.”
As she spoke. Lady A__ handed me a letter, which she had taken from a writing-
table, and I read this paragraph:
” ‘By-the-bye, mother dear, do find out how we have offended the Bancrofts. We met them face to face the day before yesterday in the Piazza del Populo, and they cut us dead — a ceremony which was most effectually repeated last night at the theatre. Jack is quite hurt about it, and so am I.’ ”
For a moment I was bewildered, then a light suddenly broke in upon me.
“My dear Lady A ,” I said, ” this is more than vexing; pray tell Mr. and Mrs. C__ at once that neither Mrs. Bancroft nor myself have ever been in Rome, that we have acted every night since January, and that they must have seen our doubles.”
“Our doubles. Yes; there is an unexplained mystery here; and I am so perplexed with an indescribable doubt that I must tell you a little story — though that is hardly the word, for it is only the beginning of one. Who can tell how it will end?”
* * * *
“In the autumn of 1874, we had recommenced work at the little theatre, after a holiday abroad, when one day I received a letter from a debt-collector living in Camden Town, stating that he was instructed by Mr.__ , the proprietor of the ___ Hotel, and also of some livery stables, at Ventnor, to apply to me for immediate payment of an account for the hire of carriages and horses in the previous September, while staying at the said hotel, and left unpaid when I went away. Having passed the whole of my holiday in Switzerland and Venice, and never having been in Ventnor in my life, I was a little puzzled by this application; at first, I thought it must be a practical joke, but eventually I answered the letter — rather angrily, I think — pointing out the mistake which had been made, and stating my real whereabouts at the time I was charged with driving about the Isle of Wight.
“From the debt-collector I heard no more. But one evening a few weeks later, when I
had arrived at the theatre, and was reading some letters before dressing for the stage, the
hall-porter knocked at the door of my room,said that a gentleman wanted to see me, and
handed me a card.
“You may guess my surprise when I read that my visitor was the proprietor of the ___ Hotel, Ventnor. I at once told the hall-keeper to show him into the green-room,
which, so early in the evening, was unoccupied, and in a few minutes I went downstairs.
” ‘Good evening.’
” ‘Good evening, sir.’
” ‘You have asked to see me. I am Mr. Bancroft.’
” ‘So I see, sir,’ said ‘mine host’ cheerfully, and with a decidedly provincial accent.
“I looked at him well — his face was frank and honest, and his manner self-possessed.
” ‘You have applied to me,’ I next said, ” ‘for money you say I owe you?’
” ‘Yes, sir ; the amount remained unpaid when you left my hotel in September.’
” ‘When I left your hotel! Do you mean to assert that my appearance has not at once convinced you there must be some mistake?’
” ‘Not on my side, I think, sir.’
“‘Do you mean to say,’ I still asked — fairly amazed — ‘that you believe you recognize in
me the person who owes you this money?’
” ‘I see no difference,’ was the immediate reply, ‘except that he had a moustache.’
“At this time, and throughout my holiday, my face was clean-shaven, for I was acting the part of ‘Joseph Surface.’
” ‘Tell me something more of this,’ I said; ‘for your manner, at any rate, convinces me of your honesty.’
” ‘I thank you, sir,’ replied my visitor,’ and, but for your straightforward denial, I would have sworn in any witness-box that you were the person who, with a lady, passed at my house for nearly a month as Mr. and Mrs.Bancroft, of the Prince of Wales’ Theatre.’
“Here, I thought, was my chance of convincing the man he had been imposed upon.
I turned up the gas, directly under a large photograph of my wife, and said, ‘That is a portrait of Mrs. Bancroft.’
“My visitor rose, looked at it well, then said, ‘Yes, and a very good likeness, too!’
“I was nearly paralyzed with amazement, and hardly remember what passed next, but
I feel certain that the landlord — although his eyesight was throughout the interview my
enemy — became as impressed by the honesty of my repudiation as I was by the frankness
of his assertions.
“I learnt that our doubles had lived for a month on the best his house afforded; that at the end of their stay there was a little difficulty about the bill — they said they could not pay then, but would send the money from London, as the theatre was about to re-open (a statement which agreed with the newspaper advertisements), and that they must go.
“To this proposal ‘mine host’ naturally objected. Eventually, the man was allowed
to depart alone, leaving the lady with her luggage to be redeemed. The money for the
hotel bill, it seems, was sent in a few days, and the hostage released, the claim sent in to
me being for carriage and horse hire which had been overlooked at the time, the livery-stable business being separate from that of the hotel.
“When at last my visitor went away he left, I feel assured, full of conflicting emotions, hardly knowing which of his senses he best could trust.”
* * * *
“My dear Mr. Bancroft,” said my listener, when I had finished, “I wish there had been
a shorthand writer in the room, for I shall never be able to tell all this to Emily when I
try to explain that she only saw your ghosts.How extraordinary! Not merely a striking
resemblance to one of you — but to both! I wonder if these people are still in Rome! What did you do?”
“Nothing. At first I resolved upon a warning advertisement to hotel-keepers in the
Times, thought afterwards that I would wait patiently until I heard of our doubles again.Until to-day not a word of them has reached me for more than four years. What other mischief has been done, I cannot say; at the least, you see that my credit has been tarnished, and the friendship of your daughter and her husband imperilled. Should any
sequel happen, I promise you shall know it — whether I am sent for some day to a gaol to receive a penitent confession — whether we ever receive a legacy intended for them. Till then this little episode in but one way resembles an important story, it can only be “concluded in our next.”