The Face at the Window of Number 16 by SG
The Face at the Window of Number 16
Standing on a quiet corner, situated within a Victorian square in south London, a one-time four storey family home now stood empty. A couple that had married as the Second World War ended raised five daughters there. Then one by one over the years, family members left, never to return. This once-vibrant, noisy house now stood empty for the first time in seventy-five years.
Only, sightings of a little girl dressed in Victorian clothes standing at a window at the top of the house began being reported to the office of the landlord, old Mr. Capon. Removal men sent in to collect the last of the furniture that had been left behind, and many of its neighbours, swore they had seen her in the last few days.
Mr. Capon knew it must be nonsense. However, he also knew he just had to see for himself.
As he opened the front door he recognised the familiar musty smell that old houses often have. But everything else was clean and in order. He walked up the narrow flight of stairs to the top room. The house had five main bedrooms and this was the smallest room, just large enough for a bed and a chair. Nothing there out of the ordinary, though he noticed that a corner of the carpet was loose. He made a mental note to himself to have it seen to. Having searched the rest of the house, and found no sign of anyone still living there, he left.
The head of the family who had lived at No 16 was not a contented man. On the face of it he had every reason to be satisfied: he had five lovely daughters, all of whom had grown up at No 16 in South London. Four of them were happily married. But his main sorrow in life was his youngest, Denise. She was a beautiful redhead, and had a carefree spirit, all of which made her very attractive to men. Not least a member of the landed gentry she had met at a party. He was much older than her, and had never married. He was much taken by this young, vivacious woman.
“Let me introduce you” said their hostess.”Denise, this gentleman comes from one of the most respected families in the land. He has everything, including a magnificent stately home in the country!”
“Not quite everything, dear lady” He replied. “What is missing is someone to share it all with, and a child to carry on the family name when I am gone”.
“Fancy that!” Denise said, giving him a sweet smile “Despite the vast difference between your station in life and mine, we share something in common. I too want nothing more than a partner, and a little one to gladden our hearts”.
After a short engagement they were married. Amongst high society, the wedding was the talk of the year. It was billed as a latter-day fairy tale. But soon things began to go wrong. She failed to conceive and, after two years of trying, she was told by a doctor that she was sterile. Her husband promptly divorced her, and she went back to living with her parents at No 16.
Over time, she became increasingly depressed and started to behave as if she was pregnant. She would buy children’s clothes in preparation for the child’s birth but everyone knew of course that it was just her imagination. Her father took her to see a psychiatrist, but none of the treatments he recommended made any difference. He became resigned to the situation and set up a Trust in Denise’s name in case anything should happen to him and his wife. He named his eldest daughter, Jane, as the Trustee and left the house at No 16, moving up North to give Denise a change of scene.
Despite his recent visit to No 16, Mr Capon still received reports of the sighting of the face. Eventually, he knocked on the house next door. The neighbour, a Mrs Weston, welcomed him warmly as they had known each other for years.
“Ah Mr Capon” she said”. “A nice surprise! What brings you here today?”
“Well, its these funny sightings that I hear you and others have been having”.
“Yes, mighty peculiar it is too”. She replied.
Mr Capon became increasingly intrigued now that his trusted friend confirmed what he had been hearing.
“What does she look like, this little girl I mean?” He asked.
“Well she is about four or five years old I would say, with curly, russet hair. And she wears a red dress that buttons up at the front.”
“When did you first see her?”
“It’s funny you should ask that. I remember the exact day, it was March 21st”.
“How can you be so sure?” He queried, somewhat sceptically.
“Well it’s around the time of the equinox you know. The day when the length of the day is the same as the length of the night. I always mark it in my diary”.
After she had left No 16 with her parents, Denise’s condition continued to worsen. She made a number of suicide attempts, and was admitted several times to the local psychiatric hospital. She started to binge-eat large quantities of food, mostly cakes, chocolate bars and pastries. Her once graceful body started to balloon, and her belly swelled to twice its normal size. For a while, her father thought she might actually be pregnant despite the doctor’s gloomy prognosis in that respect. This followed a previous stay in the asylum. So he filed a complaint against the hospital authorities, alleging that they had allowed one of the other patients, or perhaps even a member of staff, to take advantage of her. But nothing came of it because, after a while, it became clear that she was not carrying a child at all.
Her treating psychiatrist said. “I am afraid we have tried every treatment and now the care and love of her family is the only remedy”.
A few weeks after his visit to see Mrs Weston, Mr Capon received a parcel in the post. Inside was a letter. It was from Jane who, he recalled, was one of the daughters who had once lived at No 16.
“Dear Mr Capon,
As you know, I am one of five sisters. It grieves me to have to tell you the youngest of them, Denise, passed away a few weeks ago. She took her own life. She had become increasingly depressed because she did not have a child.
A few days before she died, she began keeping a diary. She told me that, if anything should happen to her, she would want you to have it. She said that the time she had spent growing up at No 16 had been the happiest of her life. She had been born in the room at the top of the house, and grew up there. Even when she was little she had a doll which she used to dress up and call her ”My daughter”. She would often sit in her room and dream of having a husband and a family of her own.
Out of respect for her wishes I am sending you the diary.
May God rest her soul.
Mr Capon opened the diary. There were only three entries:
- “My darling daughter is five years old now. As a gift, I have given her the dress that I was given when I was her age. It goes with the colour of her hair. My mother in turn wore it on her 5th birthday, and so on back through the generations. My daughter is the light of my life and everything I could ever have hoped for.”
- “Calamity has befallen us. My darling has contracted scarlet fever. If anything should happen to her I do not know what I would do.”
- “The worst has happened. My daughter died today. Now there is nothing left for me in this life but to leave it and join her in the afterword….”
Mr Capon stopped reading. He glanced at the date of the final entry: “March 21st”. He closed the diary and left his office. Returning to No 16, he went up to the top room. Placing the diary on the floor, he locked the door and left.
He placed the house on the market, offering it at rate much below the normal asking price. But he made one proviso in the instructions to the agent managing the sale. Whoever bought the house must give a written undertaking to leave the room at the top of the house empty and undisturbed. The house stayed on the market for many months but no buyer came forward. The face at the window was never seen again.