The Queen of Hearts, by Wilkie Collins

The Sixth Day

AN oppressively mild temperature, and steady, soft, settled rain — dismal weather for idle people in the country. Miss Jessie, after looking longingly out of the window, resigned herself to circumstances, and gave up all hope of a ride. The gardener, the conservatory, the rabbits, the raven, the housekeeper, and, as a last resource, even the neglected piano, were all laid under contribution to help her through the time. It was a long day, but thanks to her own talent for trifling, she contrived to occupy it pleasantly enough.

Still no news of my son. The time was getting on now, and it was surely not unreasonable to look for some tidings of him.

To-day Morgan and I both finished our third and last stories. I corrected my brother’s contribution with no very great difficulty on this occasion, and numbered it Nine. My own story came next, and was thus accidentally distinguished as the last of the series — Number Ten. When I dropped the two corresponding cards into the bowl, the thought that there would be now no more to add seemed to quicken my prevailing sense of anxiety on the subject of George’s return. A heavy depression hung upon my spirits, and I went out desperately in the rain to shake my mind free of oppressing influences by dint of hard bodily exercise.

The number drawn this evening was Three. On the production of the corresponding manuscript it proved to be my turn to read again.

“I can promise you a little variety to-night,” I said, addressing our fair guest, “if I can promise nothing else. This time it is not a story of my own writing that I am about to read, but a copy of a very curious correspondence which I found among my professional papers.”

Jessie’s countenance fell. “Is there no story in it?” she asked, rather discontentedly.

“Certainly there is a story in it,” I replied —“a story of a much lighter kind than any we have yet read, and which may, on that account, prove acceptable, by way of contrast and relief, even if it fails to attract you by other means. I obtained the original correspondence, I must tell you, from the office of the Detective Police of London.”

Jessie’s face brightened. “That promises something to begin with,” she said.

“Some years since,” I continued, “there was a desire at headquarters to increase the numbers and efficiency of the Detective Police, and I had the honor of being one of the persons privately consulted on that occasion. The chief obstacle to the plan proposed lay in the difficulty of finding new recruits. The ordinary rank and file of the police of London are sober, trustworthy, and courageous men, but as a body they are sadly wanting in intelligence. Knowing this, the authorities took into consideration a scheme, which looked plausible enough on paper, for availing themselves of the services of that proverbially sharp class of men, the experienced clerks in attorney’s offices. Among the persons whose advice was sought on this point, I was the only one who dissented from the arrangement proposed. I felt certain that the really experienced clerks intrusted with conducting private investigations and hunting up lost evidence, were too well paid and too independently situated in their various offices to care about entering the ranks of the Detective Police, and submitting themselves to the rigid discipline of Scotland Yard, and I ventured to predict that the inferior clerks only, whose discretion was not to be trusted, would prove to be the men who volunteered for detective employment. My advice was not taken and the experiment of enlisting the clerks was tried in two or three cases. I was naturally interested in the result, and in due course of time I applied for information in the right quarter. In reply, the originals of the letters of which I am now about to read the copies were sent to me, with an intimation that the correspondence in this particular instance offered a fair specimen of the results of the experiment in the other cases. The letters amused me, and I obtained permission to copy them before I sent them back. You will now hear, therefore, by his own statement, how a certain attorney’s clerk succeeded in conducting a very delicate investigation, and how the regular members of the Detective Police contrived to help him through his first experiment.”

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Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:30