The Purloined Letter : I was enjoying the twofold luxury of meditation and a meerschaum, in company with my friend, C. Auguste Dupin, in his little back library, or book-closet, au troisime, No. 33 Rue Dunt, Faubourg St. Germain, just after dark one gusty evening in the autumn of 18—, in company with my friend, C. Auguste Dupin, in his little back library, or book-closet, au troisime, No. 33 Rue Dunt,had maintained a profound silence, while each appeared intently and exclusively occupied with the curling eddies of smoke that oppressed the atmosphere of the chamber to any casual observer.
However, I was mentally contemplating certain things that had come up in conversation between us earlier in the evening; I’m referring to the Rue Morgue affair and the mystery surrounding Marie Rogt’s murder. When the door to our flat was forced open and our old acquaintance, Monsieur G——, the Prefect of the Parisian police, was admitted, I took it as a coincidence.
We greeted him warmly, for the man had nearly as much of the entertaining as the despicable about him, and we hadn’t seen him in years. We had been sitting in the dark, and Dupin got up to light a lamp, but sat down again without doing so when G. said he had called to counsel us, or rather to get my friend’s opinion, regarding some official affair that had caused a great deal of bother.
“If there is any point that needs thought,” Dupin noted as he declined to light the wick, “we shall examine it in the dark to better purpose.”
“That’s another of your strange beliefs,” replied the Prefect, who had the habit of labeling everything “weird” that he couldn’t understand and thus lived in a sea of “oddities.”
“Very accurate,” Dupin murmured, as he handed his visitor a pipe and rolled a comfy chair toward him.
“And what’s the problem now?” I inquired. “I hope there’s nothing else in the way of an assassination.”
“Oh, no, nothing like that.” The fact is, the business is extremely easy, and I have no doubt that we can handle it adequately ourselves; nonetheless, I thought Dupin might be interested in hearing the facts because it is so unusual. “
“Simple and strange,” Dupin observed.
“Yes, and no, it’s not precisely that. In reality, we’ve all been perplexed because the matter is so simple, yet it perplexes us completely. “
“Perhaps it’s because of the thing’s simplicity that you’re at fault,” my friend speculated.
“What nonsense you talk!” exclaimed the Prefect, who burst out laughing.
“Perhaps the secret is a touch too simple,” Dupin speculated.
“Oh, my goodness!” Has anyone ever heard of such a concept? “
“Perhaps a tad too self-evident.”
“Ha! ha! ha!” says the narrator. ——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————”Oh, Dupin, you will be the death of me yet!” yelled our pleased guest, “ho! ho! ho!”
“And, after all, what exactly is the problem at hand?” I inquired.
“I’ll tell you,” the prefect said after taking a long, steady, and deliberate puff and settling into his chair. I’ll tell you in a few words. However, before I begin, let me warn you that this is a highly confidential matter, and that if it became known that I had confided in anyone, I would most likely lose my current position.”
“Go ahead,” I said.
“Or not,” Dupin added.
“All right, then; I’ve received firsthand information from a very high source that a very important document has been stolen from the royal quarters.” It is well known who stole it, and he was clearly seen doing it. It is also known that it is still in his possession.
“How is this known?” Dupin inquired.
“It’s easy to figure out,” the Prefect said. “It’s clear from the nature of the document and the fact that certain things didn’t happen right away when the robber lost control of it, or when he used it the way he must have planned to use it in the end.”
“Be a little more specific,” I suggested.
Well, I’ll go so far as to say that the paper grants its holder a certain amount of authority in a certain quarter where such power is extremely valuable.” The Diplomatic Cant was a favorite of the Prefect.
“I still don’t get it,” Dupin confessed.
“No? Well, revealing the document to a third person, who shall remain anonymous, would risk the honor of a personage of the highest rank; and this fact offers the possessor of the document an advantage over the famous personage whose honor and peace are in jeopardy.
However, I interjected, “this ascendancy would be contingent on the robber’s knowledge of the loser’s knowledge of the robber.” Who would dare to do such a thing—”
“The thief,” G. explained, “is Minister D——, who dares anything, both unbecoming and becoming a man.” The heist was both smart and daring in its execution. The robbed personage had gotten the paper in question—a letter, to be precise—while alone in the royal bedroom. She was interrupted in the middle of reading it by the entry of another high personage, from whom she wished to keep it hidden.
She was compelled to place it, open, on a table after a hasty and futile attempt to stuff it into a drawer. The address, on the other hand, was on top, and the letter went unnoticed since the contents were hidden. At this point, Minister D——arrives.His lynx eye detects the paper right away, identifies the handwriting of the address, notices the personage addressed’s befuddlement, and deduces her secret.
He produces a letter that appears to be similar to the one at issue, opens it, pretends to read it, and then sets it in close proximity to the other after completing some business transactions in his usual fashion. He converses about current events for another fifteen minutes.
Finally, as he leaves, he removes the letter from the table, to which he has no claim. Its true owner witnessed the incident but, understandably, did not dare draw attention to it in the presence of the third person who stood at her elbow. The minister walked away, leaving his own letter on the table, which was of little consequence.
“You have exactly what you demand to finish the ascendancy,” Dupin said, “the robber’s knowledge of the loser’s knowledge of the robber’s knowledge of the robber’s knowledge of the robber’s knowledge of the robber’s knowledge of the robber’s knowledge of the robber’s knowledge of the robber’s knowledge of the robber’s knowledge of the robber’s knowledge of the robber’s knowledge of
“Yes,” responded the Prefect, “and the power so obtained has been wielded for some months now to a very dangerous extent for political ends.” Every day, the robbed individual becomes more convinced of the importance of regaining her letter. But, of course, this can not be done in public. In the end, she confided in me because she was distraught. “
“I don’t think you could ask for or even think of a more wise agent,” Dupin said as a beautiful cloud of smoke swirled around him.
“You flatter me,” the Prefect answered, “but it’s possible that such an opinion was formed.”
“It is apparent,” I responded, “that the minister still has the letter in his possession because it is this possession, not any use of the letter, that bestows the power.” “When you get a job, you lose your power.”
“I proceeded based on this conviction,” G. remarked. My initial concern was to conduct a thorough search of the minister’s hotel, and my greatest humiliation sprang from the fact that I had to do so without his knowledge. Above all, I’ve been warned of the dangers that would arise if I gave him reason to doubt our plan. “
However, I countered, “you are well-versed in these investigations.” This isn’t the first time the Parisian police have done something like this.
“Yes, and it was for this reason that I did not despair.” I, too, benefited greatly from the minister’s habits. He frequently spends the night away from home. His servants are not in the least bit numerous. They sleep a long way from their master’s residence and, because they are mostly Neapolitans, are easily hypnotized. As you know, I have keys that allow me to enter any chamber or cabinet in Paris.
For the past three months, not a single night has passed during which I have not been actively involved in ransacking the D—— Hotel. My honor is intrigued, and the incentive to reveal a major secret is immense. So I didn’t give up the hunt until I was certain the thief was a more astute individual than myself. I’m very sure I’ve looked in every nook and cranny of the place for a probable hiding place for the paper. “
But, I argued, “isn’t it possible that, while the letter is certainly in the minister’s possession, he may have hidden it somewhere other than his own premises?”
“It’s scarcely doable,” Dupin replied. “Given the current peculiar state of affairs at court, particularly those intrigues in which D— is suspected of being involved, the instant availability of the document—its susceptibility to being produced at a moment’s notice—would be a point of nearly equal importance to its possession.”
“Is it susceptible to being produced?” I inquired.
“That is to say, of being annihilated,” Dupin explained.
“That’s correct,” I said, “the paper is visibly on the premises.” We can rule out the possibility of it being on the minister’s person.”
“Totally,” the Prefect stated. “He’s been stopped twice, as if by footpads, and his body has been carefully looked over so I can study it.”
“You could have avoided all of this,” Dupin suggested. “I believe D—— isn’t a complete moron, and if he is, he must have foreseen these beheadings as a matter of course.”
“Not entirely an idiot,” G. remarked, “but he is a poet, which I take to be only one step away from being a fool.”
“I have been guilty of certain doggerel myself,” Dupin said after a long and deliberate whiff of his meerschaum.
“Let’s say you detail the specifics of your search,” I said.
“The truth is, we took our time and looked everywhere.” I have a lot of experience in these matters. I went through the entire building room by room, devoting a week’s worth of nights to each. We started by looking at the furniture in each apartment. We opened every available drawer, and I’m sure you’re aware that there is no such thing as a “hidden” drawer to a fully trained police agent.
Any man who allows a “secret” drawer to elude him in a search like this is a moron. The situation is very straightforward. In every cabinet, there is a specific amount of bulk—or space—that must be accounted for. Then there are the precise rules. We couldn’t help but notice the fiftyth segment of a line. Following the cabinets, we moved on to the chairs. We probed the cushions with the fine long needles you’ve seen me use. The tops of the tables were removed.
“A person intending to conceal an article may remove the top of a table, or another similarly arranged piece of furniture; then the leg is excavated, the article inserted within the hollow, and the top restored.” Bedposts’ bottoms and tops are both used in the same way.
“Couldn’t the cavity be noticed through sound?” I inquired.
“By no means, if a sufficient wadding of cotton is placed around the piece when it is deposited.” Furthermore, in our instance, we were required to proceed quietly.
However, you could not have removed—you could not have dismantled all of the objects of furniture in which a deposit could have been made in the manner you specify.” A letter can be compressed into a narrow spiral roll that resembles a huge knitting needle in shape and bulk, and this form can be put into the ring of a chair, for example. “You didn’t dismantle all the chairs?”
“Certainly not, but we went one step further and used a powerful microscope to analyze the rungs of every chair in the hotel, as well as the jointings of every type of furniture.” If there were any, we should have been able to detect any signs of recent disturbance right away. For example, a single grain of gimlet dust would have been as visible as an apple. Any flaw in the glue—any unexpected gap in the joints—would have been enough to alert the authorities. “
“I’m guessing you checked the mattresses, bedsheets, curtains, and carpets. You probably also looked in the mirrors, between the boards, and on the plates.”
“Of course,” says the narrator, “and after we had completely completed every piece of furniture in this manner, we investigated the house itself.” We split its entire surface into compartments, which we numbered to ensure that none were overlooked; then, using the microscope, we examined every single square inch throughout the premises, including the two houses immediately adjacent, as before.
“The two houses are right next to one another!” I remarked, “You must have had a lot of difficulties.”
“We did,” says the narrator, “but the prize is enormous.”
“Did you include the houses’ grounds?”
“All of the grounds are brick-paved. We have a lot less trouble with them. We looked at the moss between the bricks and found it to be undamaged.”
“Of course, you searched through D——’s papers and the library’s books?”
“Certainly, we examined every package and bundle; we not only opened every book, but we turned over every leaf in each volume, not contenting ourselves with a mere shake, as some of our cops do.” We also used the most precise measurements to determine the thickness of each book cover, and scrutinized each one with the microscope. It would have been impossible for the fact that any of the ties had lately been tampered with to go unnoticed. We probed longitudinally with the needles five or six volumes straight from the hands of the binder. “
“Did you go beneath the rugs and look at the floors?”
“Beyond a shadow of a doubt.” Every carpet was removed, and the boards were examined under a microscope. “
“How about the wallpaper?”
“Did you rummage around the cellars?”
“Yes, we did.”
“Then you’ve made a mistake,” I explained, “and the letter isn’t on the grounds as you believe.”
“I’m afraid you’re correct there,” the prefect said. “And now, Dupin, what do you think I should do?”
“To conduct a comprehensive investigation of the premises.”
“That is just unnecessary,” G—— retorted. “I’m not convinced I breathe any more than I’m sure the letter isn’t at the hotel.”
“I can’t give you any better advice,” Dupin remarked. “Of course, you have a detailed description of the letter?”
“Oh, yes!” exclaims the speaker. (— At this point, the prefect produced a memorandum book and proceeded to read aloud a detailed analysis of the missing document’s inside, and especially its external, look. Soon after finishing this explanation, he walked away, more depressed than I had ever seen the kind person before.
He came back about a month later and found us occupied almost just as before. He sat down with a pipe and a chair and began a normal discussion. Finally, I stated,
“But, G., what about the stolen letter?” I assume you’ve finally come to the conclusion that there’s no such thing as overreaching, Minister? “
Confounded him, I say—yeah, I did the re-examination, as Dupin suggested—but it was all for naught, as I expected.”
“Did you indicate how much the reward was?” Dupin inquired.
“Why, a very large sum—a very generous prize—I don’t want to say how much exactly, but one thing I will say is that I wouldn’t mind handing over my personal check for fifty thousand francs to anyone who could receive that letter.” It is true that it is growing increasingly important every day, and the incentive has recently been quadrupled. However, even if it were trebled, I couldn’t do any more. “
“I honestly think, G., you haven’t exerted yourself to the fullest in the matter,” Dupin murmured, drawlingly, between whiffs of his meerschaum. I suppose you could do a little more, eh? “
“How? In what way? “says the narrator.
Why,Do you recall the story of Abernethy that they tell? “
“No, Abernethy must be hanged!”
“Unquestionably!” Welcome to the world of hanging him. However, once upon a time, a particular wealthy miser devised the scheme of consulting Abernethy for medical advice. He insinuated his case to the physician as that of a fictional individual, waking up the usual discourse in a private company for this reason.
“Let’s say, doctor, that his symptoms are such and such. What would you have told him to take?” said the miser.
“‘Seek!’ Abernethy said, “Why, take advice, just to be sure.”
However, “However,” the Prefect remarked, a little agitated, “I am quite happy to accept counsel and pay for it.” I’d be willing to pay fifty thousand francs to anyone who might help me. “
“You may as well fill me up a check for the sum specified,” Dupin said, unlocking a drawer and extracting a checkbook. I’ll hand you the letter once you’ve signed it. “
I was taken aback. The Prefect looked to be struck by lightning. He remained speechless and motionless for several minutes, staring incredulously at my friend with an open mouth and eyes that seemed startled from their sockets; then, after several pauses and vacant stares, he finally filled out and signed a check for fifty thousand francs, which he handed across the table to Dupin.
The latter carefully scrutinized it before depositing it in his pocket-book; then, after unlocking an escritoire, he removed a letter from it and presented it to the Prefect. This official grabbed it in pure joy, opened it with a shaking hand, took a quick look at what was inside, and then rushed out of the room and out of the house without saying a word since Dupin had asked him to fill out the check.
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My friend began to explain himself after he had left.
“The Parisian police are highly capable in their way,” he continued. They are tenacious, inventive, cunning, and well-versed in the knowledge that their jobs appear to necessitate. As a result, when G—— described his method of inspecting the premises at the Hotel D——, I had complete confidence in his ability to conduct an adequate investigation—to the extent that his labors extended.
“How far has his labor taken him?” I inquired.
“Yes,” Dupin replied. The precautions taken were not only the best of their kind, but they were also executed flawlessly. If the letter had been dropped inside their search radius, these guys would have located it without a doubt. “
I just chuckled, but he seemed quite serious in everything he said.
“The measures were good in their sort and well accomplished,” he added, “but their flaw was that they were inapplicable to the circumstances and to the man.” For the Prefect, a set of very inventive resources serves as a type of Procrustean bed, forcing him to adjust his designs.
But he always makes a mistake by being too deep or too shallow for the situation, and many a schoolboy is a greater reasoner than he is. I remember one who was approximately eight years old and whose success at guessing in the game of “even and odd” drew widespread praise.
This is a straightforward game that is played with marbles. One player has a number of these toys in his hand and asks another if the amount is even or odd. If the guess is correct, the guesser receives one point; if incorrect, he forfeits one point. The youngster to whom I’m referring won the entire school’s marbles.
Of course, he had some method of guessing, and it was based on simple observation and estimation of his opponents’ wits. For example, his opponent is an arrant simpleton who asks, “Are they even or odd?” while putting up his closed hand.
Our schoolboy replies, ‘Odd,’ and loses; but upon the second trial he wins, for he then says to himself: ‘The simpleton had them even upon the first trial, and his amount of cunning is just sufficient to make him have them odd upon the second; I will therefore guess ‘; he guesses odd and wins.
‘ This fellow finds that in the first instance I guessed odd, and in the second, he will propose to himself, on the first impulse, a simple variation from even to odd, as did the first simpleton; but then a second thought will suggest that this is too simple a variation, and finally he will decide to put it even as before.As a result, I’ll guess even; he guesses even and wins. Now, what is this method of reasoning in the schoolboy, whom his classmates dubbed “fortunate” in the end?
I explained, “It’s only an identification of the reasoner’s intellect with that of his opponent.”
“It is,” Dupin replied, “and when I asked the boy how he achieved the thorough identification on which his success was based, he replied as follows: “When I want to know how wise, or how stupid, or how good, or how wicked someone is, or what his current thoughts are, I fashion my face, as accurately as possible, in accordance with his expression, and then wait to see what thoughts or sentiments arise in my mind or he.” This schoolboy’s reaction lies at the heart of all the phony profundity attributed to Rochefoucault, La Bougive, Machiavelli, and Campanella. “
And, if I understand you well, the accuracy with which the opponent’s intellect is admeasured rests on the identification of the reasoner’s intellect with that of his opponent, “I remarked.”
“It depends on this for its practical value,” Dupin said, “and the prefect and his cohort fail so frequently, first, by failing to identify themselves, and second, by misjudging, or rather, failing to measure, the intellect with which they are engaged.” They only consider their own ideas of ingenuity, and when looking for something hidden, they only consider the ways they would have hidden it.
They are correct in this regard—their own inventiveness is an accurate representation of that of the masses; nevertheless, when the individual offender’s cunning differs from their own, the felon, of course, foils them. When it’s above their own, and almost always when it’s below, this happens.
They do not vary their principles in their studies; at best, when pressed by an unusual exigency—or an extraordinary reward—they extend or exaggerate their old patterns of practice without changing their principles.
What has been done to change the principle of action, for example, in the case of D——? What is all this boring, probing, and sounding, and dividing the surface of the building into registered square inches, but an exaggeration of the application of the one principle or set of principles of search, which are based on the one set of notions regarding human ingenuity, to which the Prefect has become accustomed in the long routine of his duty?
Do you not see how he has assumed that all men will bury a letter, if not in a gimlet-hole bored in a chair-leg, then in some out-of-the-way hole or corner indicated by the same tenor of thought that would compel a man to bury a letter in a gimlet-hole bored in a chair-leg? And don’t you see that such research nooks for concealment are only suited to ordinary occasions and would be adopted by ordinary intellects?
For, in all cases of concealment, a disposal of the article concealed — a disposal in this recherch manner — is, in the first instance, presumable and presumed; and thus its discovery depends entirely on the seekers’ care, patience, and determination, not on their acumen. You’ll see what I mean when I say that if the purloined letter had been hidden anywhere within the Prefect’s investigation limitations—in other words, if the principle of its hiding had been understood within the Prefect’s principles—its discovery would have been a foregone conclusion.
This functionary, on the other hand, has been completely perplexed; and the distant source of his defeat is the assumption that the Minister is a moron because he is a poet.” Prefect believes that all fools are poets, and that he is only guilty of a non-distributio medii in inferring that all poets are fools.”
“However, is this the poet?” I inquired. “I am aware of two brothers, both of whom have a writing reputation.”I feel the minister has published a well-informed article on differential calculus. He is not a poet, but a mathematician. “
You are misinformed; I am familiar with him and he is both. He would have reasoned well as a poet and a mathematician; as a mere mathematician, he could not have reasoned at all, and so would have been at the Prefect’s mercy. “
“These opinions, which have been refuted by the voice of the world,” I continued, “surprise me.” You don’t plan to throw out centuries of well-considered views.” For a long time, mathematical reason has been regarded as the supreme reason.
“‘Il y a parier,'” Dupin said, quoting Chamfort, “‘that every public idea, every recurrent convention, is a sottise, cor elle a convenue au plus large nombre.” I grant you that mathematicians have done their utmost to propagate the popular fallacy to which you refer, which is no less an error for being propagated as truth.
They have insinuated the term “analysis” into its application to algebra, for example, with an art worthy of a better cause. This particular trick was invented by the French; however, if a term is important—if words have value based on their applicability—then ‘analysis’ conveys’algebra’ about as much as ‘ambition’ conveys’ambition, “religio” religion, ‘or’homines honesti ‘, a group of honorable men’ in Latin.
“I see you have a quarrel on your hands,” I remarked, “with some of Paris’s algebraists; but persevere.”
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“I question the availability, and thus the worth, of reason that is cultivated in any way other than the abstractly logical.” I disagree with the mathematically derived reason in particular. Mathematics is the science of form and quantity, and mathematical reasoning is just logic applied to form and quantity observation. The big mistake is to believe that even the abstract or general truths of pure algebra are abstract or general truths.
And this blunder is so egregious that I’m perplexed by how widely it’s been accepted. Axioms of general truth are not axioms of mathematics. In the case of morals, for example, what is true of relations — of form and quantity — is frequently blatantly wrong.
It is frequently incorrect in this latter study that the sum of the parts equals the whole. The axiom fails in chemistry as well. It fails in the case of motive; two motives, each of a given value, do not necessarily have a value when combined that is equal to the sum of their individual values.
There are a slew of other mathematical truths that are only true within a relation’s bounds. The mathematician, on the other hand, argues from his finite truths as if they were universally applicable—as the world imagines them to be. In his very learned ‘Mythology,’ Bryant mentions an analogous source of error when he says, “although the pagan fables are not believed, we forget ourselves constantly, and make inferences from them as existing realities.
“The “pagan fables” are believed by the algebraists, who are pagans themselves, and the inferences are made not so much through lapses of memory as through an unaccountable addling of the brain.
To put it another way, I’ve never seen a mere mathematician who could be trusted out of equal roots, or who didn’t secretly believe that x2 + px was absolutely and unconditionally equal to q. As an experiment, tell him that you believe there may be times when x2 + px is not entirely equal to q, and then get out of his reach as quickly as possible, because he will undoubtedly try to knock you down.
“I mean to say,” Dupin continued, while I simply laughed at his last remarks, “that if the Minister had been nothing more than a mathematician, the Prefect would not have felt obligated to give me this check.” But I knew him as a mathematician and a poet, so my calculations were tailored to his abilities and the circumstances in which he found himself.
I knew him as a courtier and a bold intriguant as well. Such a man, I reasoned, could not possibly be unaware of common political tactics. The waylayings to which he was exposed could not fail to be anticipated—and events have proven that he did not fail to be anticipated. I reasoned that he must have predicted the secret examinations of his premises.
The frequent absences from home at night, which the Prefect hailed as certain aids to his success, I saw only as ruses, designed to give the police more time to conduct a thorough search and thus impress them with the conviction to which G—— eventually arrived—the conviction that the letter was not on the premises.
I also had the impression that the entire train of thought about the invariable principle of political action in searches for goods concealed, which I was painstakingly describing to you just now, would inevitably pass through the minister’s head. It would compel him to despise all the ordinary nooks and crannies of concealment.
He couldn’t be so blind as not to see that the most intricate and remote recesses of his hotel would be as accessible to the Prefect’s eyes, probes, gimlets, and microscopes as his commonest closets. In the end, I recognized that unless he was consciously encouraged to do it as a matter of choice, he would be forced to simplicity as a matter of course. Perhaps you recall how vehemently the Prefect laughed when I remarked, during our first interview, that it’s likely this enigma bothered him so much because it was so self-evident. “
I admitted, “I recall his merriment well.” I honestly believed he would have gone into convulsions. “
“The material world abounds with very tight comparisons to the spiritual,” Dupin said, “and thus some color of truth has been bestowed upon the rhetorical doctrine that metaphor, or simile, may be used to support an argument as well as to adorn a description.” The vis inertiae principle, for example, appears to be the same in physics and metaphysics.
It is no more true in the former, that a large body is more difficult to set in motion than a small one, and that its subsequent momentum is proportional to this difficulty, than it is in the latter, that greater intellects, while more forceful, constant, and eventful in their movements than those of lower grade, are less easily moved, more embarrassed, and full of hesitation in the first few steps of their progress. “Have you ever noticed which of the street signs above the store doors draws the most attention?”
“I’ve never given it a thought,” I said.
“There is a puzzle game that is played on a map,” he continued. On the motley and puzzled surface of the chart, one party must find a given word—the name of a town, river, state, or empire—any word, in short. A novice in the game will usually try to embarrass his opponents by giving them names with the smallest letters possible. However, an expert will choose words that stretch from one end of the chart to the other in large letters.
These, like the overly lettered street signs and placards, escape observation by being overly obvious; and here the physical oversight is precisely analogous to the moral inapprehension by which the intellect allows those considerations that are too obtrusively and palpably self-evident to pass unnoticed to pass unnoticed.However, it appears that this is an issue that is either above or below the prefect’s comprehension.
He never thought for a second that it was possible or likely that the minister had buried the letter right in front of everyone’s noses so that no one could see it.
But the more I considered D——’s daring, daring, and discriminating ingenuity; the fact that the document must have always been at hand, if he intended to use it for good purpose; and the Prefect’s conclusive evidence that it was not hidden within the limits of that dignitary’s ordinary search — the more convinced I became that, in order to conceal this letter, the minister had resorted to the comprehensive and sage expedient of not at all.
“Full of these ideas, I donned a pair of green spectacles and called, just by chance, at the Ministerial hotel one fine morning. D. yawned, reclining, and dawdled as usual, and pretended to be at the pinnacle of boredom. He is, perhaps, the most truly energetic human being alive right now—but only when no one is looking.
“To be fair to him, I complained about my weak eyes and how I had to wear glasses. Behind them, I carefully and thoroughly checked out the whole apartment, but it looked like I was only interested in what my host was saying.”
I paid particular attention to a large writing table near where he sat, on which was strewn a jumble of letters and other papers, as well as one or two musical instruments and a few books.” However, after a thorough examination, I found nothing to raise any specific suspicions.
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At long last, my eyes landed upon a trumpery filigree card-rack of pasteboard, which dangled dangling from a small brass knob just beneath the middle of the mantelpiece, dangling by a soiled blue ribbon.” There were five or six visiting cards and a single letter in this rack, which had three or four compartments.
The final one was filthy and wrinkled. It was virtually torn in half across the middle, as if a plan to toss it out as worthless in the first case had been changed, or stayed in the second. It featured a huge black seal with the D——cipher prominently displayed, and it was addressed to D——, the minister, personally, in a petite female hand. It was carelessly thrown into one of the rack’s uppermost compartments, almost as if it didn’t matter.
Within seconds of looking at this letter, I knew it was the one I was looking for. To be sure, it appeared to be very different from the one of which the prefect had given us such a detailed description. The seal was huge and black here, with the D——cipher; it was small and read there, with the S——family’s ducal arms.
The address, addressed to the minister, was small and feminine; the superscription, addressed to a certain royal personage, was bold and determined; the size alone was a point of correspondence. The dirt; the soiled and torn condition of the paper, so inconsistent with D’s true methodical habits and so suggestive of a design to deceive the beholder into thinking the document was worthless; — these things, along with the hyperobtrusive situation of this document, full in the view of every visitor, and thus exactly in accordance with the conclusions to which I had previously come;
“I kept my attention really riveted on the letter while maintaining a most animated discussion with the minister, on a topic which I knew well had never failed to interest and excite him.” I committed to memory its external appearance and arrangement in the rack during the examination, and I also made a discovery that put to rest any minor doubts I might have had. When I examined the paper’s edges, I noticed that they were more chafed than seemed required.
They had the broken appearance that occurs when stiff paper is folded and pressed with a folder, then refolded in the opposite direction, in the same creases or edges that formed the original fold. This information was sufficient. It was evident to me that the letter had been turned, like a glove, inside out, re-directed, and re-sealed. I said my goodbyes to the minister and walked out the door, leaving a gold snuffbox on the table.
“The next morning, I summoned the snuffbox, and we eagerly resumed our previous day’s chat. However, a loud report, as if from a pistol, could be heard immediately under the hotel windows, followed by a series of terrified screams and shoutings.D sprinted to a window, flung it open, and peered out. In the meantime, I walked over to the card-rack, took the letter, stuffed it into my pocket, and replaced it with a facsimile, which I had painstakingly prepared at my lodgings—easily imitating the D——cipher with a bread seal.
“The wild behavior of a man with a musket had caused the commotion in the street.” He’d fired it in the midst of a swarm of women and children. It turned out to be a waste of time, and the man was allowed to go his own way as a crazy alcoholic. When he was gone, D—— appeared from the window, where I had immediately followed him after securing the object in view. I bid him farewell shortly after that. “The ostensibly insane man was a man on my payroll.”
However, what purpose did you have in replacing the letter with a facsimile? I inquired. Wouldn’t it have been preferable to seize it openly and leave on the first visit? “
“D—— is a desperate man and a man of nerves,” Dupin replied. His hotel, too, has employees who are dedicated to his needs. I might not have survived the Ministerial presence if I had made the risky attempt you suggest. The wonderful folks of Paris may have forgotten about me. But, aside from these considerations, I had a goal in mind.
You’re aware of my political leanings. In this case, I am a supporter of the lady in question. The Minister has had her under his control for eighteen months. She now has him in her grasp, and despite the fact that he is unaware that the letter is not in his possession, he will proceed with his demands as if it is.
As a result, he will unavoidably commit himself to his political demise right away. His demise, too, will be gradual rather than dramatic. It’s all well and good to talk about the facilis descensus averni, but in all forms of climbing, as Catalani put it, it’s considerably easier to get up than it is to come down. In this case, I have no sympathy — or at least no pity — for the person who descends. He’s that monstrous horrendum, a genius with no morals.
I confess, however, that I’d like to know the exact nature of his thoughts when, after being defied by a woman whom the Prefect refers to as’ a certain personage, ‘he is reduced to opening the letter I left for him in the card-rack. “
“How?” Did you put anything special in there?”
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“Why, it didn’t seem proper to leave the interior blank; it would have been insulting.” D——once gave me an evil turn in Vienna, which I told him I should remember in a lighthearted manner. So, knowing he’d be curious about the identity of the person who had outwitted him, I figured it’d be a pity not to give him a clue. He is well acquainted with my MS., and I just copied into the middle of the blank sheet the words —
“‘———— Un dessein si amusant, n’est digne d’Atre, n’est digne de Thyeste.”
“They can be located in Crbillon’s “Avenue.””
Credit by Edgar Allan Poe