The Twin Sisters Page 01
The Twin Sisters
Originally appeared in Bentley's Miscellany, March 1851. Signed 'W. Wilkie Collins, Author of Antonina.' It is purportedly based on a 'True Story', though it is unclear what episode lies behind it. Never reprinted.
AMONG THOSE who attended the first of the King's levées, during the London season of 18--, was an unmarried gentleman of large fortune, named Streatfield. While his carriage was proceeding slowly down St. James's Street, he naturally sought such amusement and occupation as he could find in looking on the brilliant scene around him. The day was unusually fine; crowds of spectators thronged the street and the balconies of the houses on either side of it, all gazing at the different equipages with as eager a curiosity and interest, as if fine vehicles and fine people inside them were the rarest objects of contemplation in the whole metropolis. Proceeding at a slower and slower pace, Mr Streatfield's carriage had just arrived at the middle of the street, when a longer stoppage than usual occurred. He looked carelessly up at the nearest balcony; and there, among some eight or ten ladies, all strangers to him, he saw one face that riveted his attention immediately.
He had never beheld anything so beautiful,anything which struck him with such strange, mingled, and sudden sensations, as this face. He gazed and gazed on it, hardly knowing where he was, or what he was doing, until the line of vehicles began again to move on. Then -- after first ascertaining the number of the house -- he flung himself back in the carriage, and tried to examine his feelings, to reason himself into self-possession; but it was all in vain. He was seized with that amiable form of social monomania, called 'love at first sight.'
He entered the palace, greeted his friends, and performed all the necessary Court ceremonies, feeling the whole time like a man in a trance. He spoke mechanically, and moved mechanically -- the lovely face in the balcony occupied his thoughts to the exclusion of everything else. On his return home, he had engagements for the afternoon and evening -- he forgot and broke them all; and walked back to St. James's Street as soon as he had changed his dress.
The balcony was empty; the sight-seers who had filled it but a few hours before, had departed -- but obstacles of all sorts now tended only to stimulate Mr Streatfield; he was determined to ascertain the parentage of the young lady, determined to look on the lovely face again -- the thermometer of his heart had risen already to Fever Heat! Without loss of time, the shopkeeper to whom the house belonged was bribed to loquacity by a purchase. All that he could tell, in answer to inquiries, was that he had let his lodgings to an elderly gentleman and his wife, from the country, who had asked some friends into their balcony to see the carriages go to the levée. Nothing daunted, Mr Streatfield questioned and questioned again. What was the old gentleman's name? -- Dimsdale. -- Could he see Mr Dimsdale's servant? -- The obsequious shopkeeper had no doubt that he could: Mr Dimsdale's servant should be sent for immediately.
In a few minutes the servant, the all-important link in the chain of Love's evidence, made his appearance. He was a pompous, portly man, who listened with solemn attention, with a stern judicial calmness, to Mr Streatfield's rapid and somewhat confused inquiries, which were accompanied by a minute description of the young lady, and by several explanatory statements, all very fictitious, and all very plausible. Stupid as the servant was, and suspicious as all stupid people are, he had nevertheless sense enough to perceive that he was addressed by a gentleman, and gratitude enough to feel considerably mollified by the handsome douceur which was quietly slipped into his hand. After much pondering and doubting, he at last arrived at the conclusion that the fair object of Mr Streatfield's inquiries was a Miss Langley, who joined the party in the balcony that morning, with her sister; and who was the daughter of Mr Langley, of Langley Hall, in -- shire. The family were now staying in London, at -- Street. More information than this, the servant stated that he could not afford -- he was certain that he had made no mistake, for the Miss Langleys were the only very young ladies in the house that morning -- however, if Mr Streatfield wished to speak to his master, he was ready to carry any message with which he might be charged.
But Mr Streatfield had already heard enough for his purpose, and departed at once for his club, determined to discover some means of being introduced in due form to Miss Langley, before he slept that night -- though he should travel round the whole circle of his acquaintance -- high and low, rich and poor -- on making the attempt. Arrived at the club, he began to inquire resolutely, in all directions, for a friend who knew Mr Langley, of Langley Hall. He disturbed gastronomic gentlemen at their dinner; he interrupted agricultural gentlemen who were deep in the moaning over the prospects of the harvest; he startled literary gentlemen who were deep in the critical mysteries of the last Review; he invaded billiard-room, dressing-room, smoking-room; he was more like a frantic ministerial whipper-in, hunting up stray members for a division than an ordinary man; and the oftener he was defeated in his object, the more determined he was to succeed.