THE GHOSTLY DUELLISTS

In the 1880s, there lived a solitary man with no face at a house on Huskisson Street. No one knew his identity, but there were rumours he was John Henry Kingsley, a wealthy gentleman who had vanished from society many years before. According to local gossip, Kingsley answered the door one Sunday morning, ready to leave for church, when a man threw a large quantity of vitriol into his face. The acid attack was in response to Kingsley having an affair with a married woman, and it left him grossly disfigured. Only his eyes remained intact. Kingsley shut himself away in his home after sacking the servants, and could often be seen looking out the upper curtained windows of the Huskisson Street house with opera glasses, perhaps surveying the pretty females he once courted so freely. It was an eerie sight, seeing a bandaged head peering down at the street, and the children believed Kinglsey to be a ghost.
Around Christmastide 1885, Mr Kinglsey apparently became enamoured with a beautiful young lady named Imogen Roberts, who was employed as a tutor in the house facing. Kinglsley was often seen spying on Miss Roberts, much to the annoyance of her Scottish fiancé, Alistair Balfour, a short-tempered quixotic man. Imogen received envelopes decorated with designs of elaborate hearts and flowers, containing the most romantic words she had ever read, all from Kingsley. He said he expected no reply, and that he felt a fool, being a man forced to hide his grotesque face from the world. Yet, his heart yearned for Imogen, and the love letters continued to arrive each day – until Alistair Balfour intercepted one. His world was shaken when he saw a draft of a reply letter to Kingsley, written by his beloved Imogen. He threw her across the room and demanded to know how she could love such a disfigured voyeur, and Imogen was unable to reply, but merely sobbed.
Balfour told his friend William Bowness, a gentleman of Kensington, about the situation, and Bowness produced two rapier swords and suggested a duel. Balfour said he would prefer pistols to settle the matter, but Bowness said swords were traditionally used to resolve matters where the love of a lady was at stake. In a drunken state, Balfour showed Imogen the rapiers and told her how he would cut Kingsley to pieces, and she screamed and fainted. The fiery Scotsman crossed the midnight street and hammered on Kingsley’s door as William Bowness turned up. The duel was supposed to take place in Sefton Park at dawn, not on the streets at night. It was too late to intervene. Kinglsey answered the door, his face swathed in bandages, and Balfour challenged him to a duel on his doorstep. The rivals in love were soon fencing, and the swordplay was spectacular. Kingsley’s lung was punctured, and Balfour lost two fingers. The duel ended when a neighbour came into the street and fired a pistol. Kinglsey died from his injuries days later, alone in his house. He was found in a room he had converted into a nursery, apparently believing he would have a family with Imogen one day. Balfour ironically died when he fell from a horse on the day before his intended wedding to Imogen in the summer. Miss Roberts died a spinster in Edwardian times. It is said that upon certain nights, the ringing of steel blades is heard on Huskisson Street, and the ghosts of Kingsley and Balfour are vividly seen, fencing for a long-dead woman.


©Tom Slemen 2006. First published in the Liverpool Echo'sTales from the Past.