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August 28 , 2010

Collected Stories


I had the pleasure of an invitation to one of those reunions or séances at the house, in a fashionable quarter, of my distant connection, Lady Barbara Grille, whereat it was my hostess's humor to gather together those many birds of alien feather and incongruous habit that will flock from the hedgerows to the least little flattering crumb of attention. And scarce one of them but thinks the simple feast is spread for him alone. And with so cheap a bait may a title lure.
That reference to so charming a personality should be in this place is a digression. She affects my narrative only inasmuch as I happened to meet at her house a gentleman who for a time exerted a considerable influence over my fortunes.
The next morning after the séance, my landlady entered with a card, which she presented to my consideration:
Major James Shrike.
H. M. Prison, D –
All astonishment, I bade my visitor up.
He entered briskly, fur-collared, hat in hand, and bowed as he stood on the threshold. He was a very short man – snub-nosed; rusty-whiskered; indubitably and unimpressively a cockney in appearance. He might have walked out of a Cruikshank etching.
I was beginning, 'May I enquire – ' when the other took me up with a vehement frankness that I found engaging at once.
'This is a great intrusion. Will you pardon me? I heard some remarks of yours last night that deeply interested me. I obtained your name and address from our hostess, and took the liberty of – '
'Oh! pray be seated. Say no more. My kinswoman's introduction is all-sufficient. I am happy in having caught your attention in so motley a crowd.'
'She doesn't – forgive the impertinence – take herself seriously enough.'
'Lady Barbara? Then you've found her out?'
'Ah! – you're not offended?'
'Not in the least.'
'Good. It was a motley assemblage, as you say. Yet I'm inclined to think I found my pearl in the oyster. I'm afraid I interrupted – eh?'
'No, no, not at all. Only some idle scribbling. I'd finished.'

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