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IN the 1880s there lived a solitary man with a disfigured face at a house in 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 had 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 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 Kingsley to be a ghost.

Around Christmas 1885, Kingsley apparently became enamoured with a beautiful young lady named Imogen Roberts, who was employed as a tutor in the house facing. Kingsley was often seen spying on Miss Roberts, much to the annoyance of her Scottish fiance, 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 forced to hide his grotesque face from the world.

Yet his heart yearned for Imogen and the love letters continued to arrive - until Alistair Balfour intercepted one. His world was shaken when he saw a draft of a reply letter to Kingsley, written by Imogen.

He threw her across the room and demanded to know how she could love a disfigured voyeur, and Imogen was unable to reply, but sobbed.

Balfour told his friend William Bowness, a gentleman of Kensington, about the situation, and Bowness produced two rapier swords and suggested a duel, saying 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 Kingsley answered the door, his face swathed in bandages, and Balfour challenged him to a duel on his doorstep. The rivals 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.

Kingsley 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 seen, fencing for a long-dead woman.

Tom Slemen is at the Wavertree Cricketers club tomorrow at 7.30pm, giving an illustrated talk on the 'Man from the Pru' murder case. Admission pounds 5.
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Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jan 21, 2006
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