There are certain resemblances between the affair of Grimaldi’s brother and the disappearance and reappearance of Emily Weston at Stafford in the years 1849–50. Emily Weston was the only child of Samuel Weston, a shopkeeper and dealer in that pleasant town, which differs so happily from those other Staffordshire towns which make up the Potteries. Weston’s shop was somewhere in that back quarter of Stafford which is near the eighteenth century theatre; a very modest looking place, as I recollect seeing it about twenty-five years ago, with a bulging window divided into small squares of glass. Within the stock was various: sides of bacon, large cheeses, mops and brooms, clusters of tallow candles hanging from a beam in the ceiling, rat-traps, tea in canisters, and some sacks of flour; in fact, as the old man who was my informant described it, the characteristic general shop of small country places, where, oddly enough, very solid sums of money were once made. Here, then, behind the little dark shop in the narrow street, lived Weston, his daughter Emily, and an old servant, who had been in the family for forty years. In 1849, Emily was twenty-three years old, and was considered to be, not exactly handsome, but decidedly attractive. She bore the best of characters, sang in the choir of the parish church, and was supposed to look favourably on the addresses of the son of the principal chemist of the town, named Elgie. One night in December, 1849, she told her father that she was going to a choir practice that was to be held in the church at nine o’clock. There was to be a new anthem for Christmas Day, “Unto us a Child,” and the organist was rather anxious as to the solos. So the supper — bread, cheese, butter, and an openwork raspberry tart — was served at 8.30 instead of 9, the usual hour; and at five minutes to 9 Emily started for the church, which is about five minutes’ walk from Weston’s shop. Mary Williams, the old servant, was to call for her at 10 o’clock. But Mary was delayed by some household business at the last moment, and it was eight or ten minutes past ten when she got to the church. The windows were all dark, and the rector was locking the door. The servant said she supposed Miss Emily had gone home by the other way.
“Indeed,” said the rector, “she has not been at practice to-night. We feared she was ill. Do you say that she started from her home to come to practice?”. . . .
Emily Weston did not come home that night. No trace of her was to be found. A woman said she thought that a person who passed her close to the church soon after nine was Emily; but the lighting of Stafford in those days was far from brilliant, and the veil that was then generally worn made identification difficult, if not impossible. Week after week went by; still no Emily. Her father offered a reward of £100 to anyone who would find the girl, living or dead: there was no result. The police seemed helpless in the matter.
It was almost a year — a year within three days, I believe — before Emily Weston returned, as her father always declared. It was late at night — for that household — actually about half-past ten, when old Weston, who had been sitting up over some accounts, heard a gentle tapping at the door. Mary Williams, the servant, had been in bed for half an hour or more, and Weston went to the shop door and slowly unbolted, unchained, and unlocked it. While he did so he had put down the candle on the counter. By the dim light he could see a woman standing on the doorstep. He took the candle and held it up, peering at the figure before him. He saw that the woman was richly dressed in silk and furs; but he did not recognise her.
“Who are you?” said the old man, “And what can I have the pleasure of doing for you? It’s rather late at night.”
The woman raised her veil.
“Father,” she exclaimed, “don’t you know me? It’s Emily.”
“Even then,” the old man said afterwards, “I didn’t recognise her for a moment. Everything she wore was so splendid, and pearls and diamonds and all, that I could scarcely believe it was my Emily. But then when she smiled at me, I knew her to be sure, and brought her in, and lit the other candle in the parlour, and began to ask her all the questions I could think of. And all she would say was: ‘Wait a bit, father, wait a bit. I’ll tell you all about it; but I’ve come a very long way, and I feel tired.’” Samuel Weston was overwhelmed with joy at his daughter’s return. He was so excited, as he said, that he did not know what to do with himself. He could “scarce believe his eyes,” and insisted on knocking up Mr. and Mrs. Dales, neighbours and old friends, who lived two doors off. According to his account, when he at last brought Mr. Dales to his bedroom window, he called out that he and his wife must dress and come down at once, as Emily had come back. The two friends came down at length, heavy with sleep, and “mazed” as they said; and Mr. Weston opened a bottle of some very old sherry that he kept for great festivals, and the party sat together far into the night. At last the visitors went back to their beds, and Mr. Weston kissed his daughter good night at her bedroom door. She told him that he should hear everything in the morning.
Now it seems odd that Weston, who knocked up the Dales, should not have roused the old servant. So it was, however; and the next morning when the old man came down to breakfast, he found the table laid for one, as usual.
“What are you about, Mary?” he said. “Don’t you know that Emily has come back? Lay her place, and tell her that breakfast is ready.”
Old Mary Williams shrieked and fainted. Mr. Weston rushed upstairs, and knocked at; his daughter’s door. There was no answer, and when he went into the room it was empty. The bed had not been slept in. And Emily Weston was never seen again. And here is an odd circumstance. The Dales, the people who were roused from sleep by Weston, declared that to the best of their recollection, the old man did not mention his daughter. They thought he said, “I have got somebody you would like to see,” but were not sure. They remembered going round and seeing a beautiful lady, beautifully dressed, who was very pleasant and talked about a wonderful country a long way off where she had been; but they didn’t think it was Emily Weston, though as Mrs. Dales said, “There was a look of her.”
That is all. There is an explanation, but I leave that to the ingenuity of the reader.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53