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The Purloined Letter
Edgar Allan Poe



Nil sapientiae odiosius acumine nimio.

--_Seneca_.


At Paris, just after dark one gusty evening in the autumn of 18-,
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 troisiême, No. 33, Rue Dunôt, Faubourg St.
Germain. For one hour at least we had maintained a profound silence;
while each, to any casual observer, might have seemed intently and
exclusively occupied with the curling eddies of smoke that oppressed
the atmosphere of the chamber. For myself, however, I was mentally
discussing certain topics which had formed matter for conversation
between us at an earlier period of the evening; I mean the affair of
the Rue Morgue, and the mystery attending the murder of Marie Rogêt.
I looked upon it, therefore, as something of a coincidence, when the
door of our apartment was thrown open and admitted our old
acquaintance, Monsieur G--, the Prefect of the Parisian police.

We gave him a hearty welcome; for there was nearly half as much of
the entertaining as of the contemptible about the man, and we had not
seen him for several years. We had been sitting in the dark, and
Dupin now arose for the purpose of lighting a lamp, but sat down
again, without doing so, upon G.'s saying that he had called to
consult us, or rather to ask the opinion of my friend, about some
official business which had occasioned a great deal of trouble.

"If it is any point requiring reflection," observed Dupin, as he
forebore to enkindle the wick, "we shall examine it to better purpose
in the dark."

"That is another of your odd notions," said the Prefect, who had a
fashion of calling every thing "odd" that was beyond his comprehension,
and thus lived amid an absolute legion of "oddities."

"Very true," said Dupin, as he supplied his visiter with a pipe, and
rolled towards him a comfortable chair.

"And what is the difficulty now?" I asked. "Nothing more in the
assassination way, I hope?"

"Oh no; nothing of that nature. The fact is, the business is very
simple indeed, and I make no doubt that we can manage it sufficiently
well ourselves; but then I thought Dupin would like to hear the
details of it, because it is so excessively odd."

"Simple and odd," said Dupin.

"Why, yes; and not exactly that, either. The fact is, we have all
been a good deal puzzled because the affair is so simple, and yet
baffles us altogether."

"Perhaps it is the very simplicity of the thing which puts you at
fault," said my friend.

"What nonsense you do talk!" replied the Prefect, laughing heartily.

"Perhaps the mystery is a little too plain," said Dupin.

"Oh, good heavens! who ever heard of such an idea?"

"A little too self-evident."

"Ha! ha! ha--ha! ha! ha!--ho! ho! ho!" roared our visiter,
profoundly amused, "oh, Dupin, you will be the death of me yet!"

"And what, after all, is the matter on hand?" I asked.

"Why, I will tell you," replied the Prefect, as he gave a long,
steady and contemplative puff, and settled himself in his chair. "I
will tell you in a few words; but, before I begin, let me caution you
that this is an affair demanding the greatest secrecy, and that I
should most probably lose the position I now hold, were it known that
I confided it to any one."

"Proceed," said I.

"Or not," said Dupin.

"Well, then; I have received personal information, from a very high
quarter, that a certain document of the last importance, has been
purloined from the royal apartments. The individual who purloined it
is known; this beyond a doubt; he was seen to take it. It is known,
also, that it still remains in his possession."

"How is this known?" asked Dupin.

"It is clearly inferred," replied the Prefect, "from the nature of
the document, and from the non-appearance of certain results which
would at once arise from its passing out of the robber's possession;
that is to say, from his employing it as he must design in the end to
employ it."

"Be a little more explicit," I said.

"Well, I may venture so far as to say that the paper gives its holder
a certain power in a certain quarter where such power is immensely
valuable." The Prefect was fond of the cant of diplomacy.

"Still I do not quite understand," said Dupin.

"No? Well; the disclosure of the document to a third person, who
shall be nameless, would bring in question the honor of a personage
of most exalted station; and this fact gives the holder of the
document an ascendancy over the illustrious personage whose honor and
peace are so jeopardized."

"But this ascendancy," I interposed, "would depend upon the robber's
knowledge of the loser's knowledge of the robber. Who would dare--"

"The thief," said G., "is the Minister D--, who dares all things,
those unbecoming as well as those becoming a man. The method of the
theft was not less ingenious than bold. The document in question--a
letter, to be frank--had been received by the personage robbed while
alone in the royal boudoir. During its perusal she was suddenly
interrupted by the entrance of the other exalted personage from whom
especially it was her wish to conceal it. After a hurried and vain
endeavor to thrust it in a drawer, she was forced to place it, open
as it was, upon a table. The address, however, was uppermost, and,
the contents thus unexposed, the letter escaped notice. At this
juncture enters the Minister D--. His lynx eye immediately perceives
the paper, recognises the handwriting of the address, observes the
confusion of the personage addressed, and fathoms her secret. After
some business transactions, hurried through in his ordinary manner,
he produces a letter somewhat similar to the one in question, opens
it, pretends to read it, and then places it in close juxtaposition to
the other. Again he converses, for some fifteen minutes, upon the
public affairs. At length, in taking leave, he takes also from the
table the letter to which he had no claim. Its rightful owner saw,
but, of course, dared not call attention to the act, in the presence
of the third personage who stood at her elbow. The minister decamped;
leaving his own letter--one of no importance--upon the table."

"Here, then," said Dupin to me, "you have precisely what you demand
to make the ascendancy complete--the robber's knowledge of the
loser's knowledge of the robber."

"Yes," replied the Prefect; "and the power thus attained has, for
some months past, been wielded, for political purposes, to a very
dangerous extent. The personage robbed is more thoroughly convinced,
every day, of the necessity of reclaiming her letter. But this, of
course, cannot be done openly. In fine, driven to despair, she has
committed the matter to me."

"Than whom," said Dupin, amid a perfect whirlwind of smoke, "no more
sagacious agent could, I suppose, be desired, or even imagined."

"You flatter me," replied the Prefect; "but it is possible that some
such opinion may have been entertained."

"It is clear," said I, "as you observe, that the letter is still in
possession of the minister; since it is this possession, and not any
employment of the letter, which bestows the power. With the
employment the power departs."

"True," said G.; "and upon this conviction I proceeded. My first care
was to make thorough search of the minister's hotel; and here my
chief embarrassment lay in the necessity of searching without his
knowledge. Beyond all things, I have been warned of the danger which
would result from giving him reason to suspect our design."

"But," said I, "you are quite au fait in these investigations. The
Parisian police have done this thing often before."

"O yes; and for this reason I did not despair. The habits of the
minister gave me, too, a great advantage. He is frequently absent
from home all night. His servants are by no means numerous. They
sleep at a distance from their master's apartment, and, being chiefly
Neapolitans, are readily made drunk. I have keys, as you know, with
which I can open any chamber or cabinet in Paris. For three months a
night has not passed, during the greater part of which I have not
been engaged, personally, in ransacking the D---Hotel. My honor is
interested, and, to mention a great secret, the reward is enormous.
So I did not abandon the search until I had become fully satisfied
that the thief is a more astute man than myself. I fancy that I have
investigated every nook and corner of the premises in which it is
possible that the paper can be concealed."

"But is it not possible," I suggested, "that although the letter may
be in possession of the minister, as it unquestionably is, he may
have concealed it elsewhere than upon his own premises?"

"This is barely possible," said Dupin. "The present peculiar
condition of affairs at court, and especially of those intrigues in
which D---is known to be involved, would render the instant
availability of the document--its susceptibility of being produced
at a moment's notice--a point of nearly equal importance with its
possession."

"Its susceptibility of being produced?" said I.

"That is to say, of being destroyed," said Dupin.

"True," I observed; "the paper is clearly then upon the premises. As
for its being upon the person of the minister, we may consider that
as out of the question."

"Entirely," said the Prefect. "He has been twice waylaid, as if by
footpads, and his person rigorously searched under my own
inspection."

"You might have spared yourself this trouble," said Dupin. "D--, I
presume, is not altogether a fool, and, if not, must have anticipated
these waylayings, as a matter of course."

"Not altogether a fool," said G., "but then he's a poet, which I take
to be only one remove from a fool."

"True," said Dupin, after a long and thoughtful whiff from

his meerschaum, "although I have been guilty of certain doggrel
myself."

"Suppose you detail," said I, "the particulars of your search."

"Why the fact is, we took our time, and we searched every where. I
have had long experience in these affairs. I took the entire
building, room by room; devoting the nights of a whole week to each.
We examined, first, the furniture of each apartment. We opened every
possible drawer; and I presume you know that, to a properly trained
police agent, such a thing as a secret drawer is impossible. Any man
is a dolt who permits a 'secret' drawer to escape him in a search of
this kind. The thing is so plain. There is a certain amount of bulk--
of space--to be accounted for in every cabinet. Then we have
accurate rules. The fiftieth part of a line could not escape us.
After the cabinets we took the chairs. The cushions we probed with
the fine long needles you have seen me employ. From the tables we
removed the tops."

"Why so?"

"Sometimes the top of a table, or other similarly arranged piece of
furniture, is removed by the person wishing to conceal an article;
then the leg is excavated, the article deposited within the cavity,
and the top replaced. The bottoms and tops of bedposts are employed
in the same way."

"But could not the cavity be detected by sounding?" I asked.

"By no means, if, when the article is deposited, a sufficient wadding
of cotton be placed around it. Besides, in our case, we were obliged
to proceed without noise."

"But you could not have removed--you could not have taken to pieces
all articles of furniture in which it would have been possible to
make a deposit in the manner you mention. A letter may be compressed
into a thin spiral roll, not differing much in shape or bulk from a
large knitting-needle, and in this form it might be inserted into the
rung of a chair, for example. You did not take to pieces all the
chairs?"

"Certainly not; but we did better--we examined the rungs of every
chair in the hotel, and, indeed the jointings of every description of
furniture, by the aid of a most powerful microscope. Had there been
any traces of recent disturbance we should not have failed to detect
it instantly. A single grain of gimlet-dust, for example, would have
been as obvious as an apple. Any disorder in the glueing--any unusual
gaping in the joints--would have sufficed to insure detection."

"I presume you looked to the mirrors, between the boards and the
plates, and you probed the beds and the bed-clothes, as well as the
curtains and carpets."

"That of course; and when we had absolutely completed every particle
of the furniture in this way, then we examined the house itself. We
divided its entire surface into compartments, which we numbered, so
that none might be missed; then we scrutinized each individual square
inch throughout the premises, including the two houses immediately
adjoining, with the microscope, as before."

"The two houses adjoining!" I exclaimed; "you must have had a great
deal of trouble."

"We had; but the reward offered is prodigious!"

"You include the grounds about the houses?"

"All the grounds are paved with brick. They gave us comparatively
little trouble. We examined the moss between the bricks, and found it
undisturbed."

"You looked among D--'s papers, of course, and into the books of the
library?"

"Certainly; we opened every package and parcel; we not only opened
every book, but we turned over every leaf in each volume, not
contenting ourselves with a mere shake, according to the fashion of
some of our police officers. We also measured the thickness of every
book-cover, with the most accurate admeasurement, and applied to each
the most jealous scrutiny of the microscope. Had any of the bindings
been recently meddled with, it would have been utterly impossible
that the fact should have escaped observation. Some five or six
volumes, just from the hands of the binder, we carefully probed,
longitudinally, with the needles."

"You explored the floors beneath the carpets?"

"Beyond doubt. We removed every carpet, and examined the boards with
the microscope."

"And the paper on the walls?"

"Yes."

"You looked into the cellars?"

"We did."

"Then," I said, "you have been making a miscalculation, and the
letter is not upon the premises, as you suppose."

"I fear you are right there," said the Prefect. "And now, Dupin, what
would you advise me to do?"

"To make a thorough re-search of the premises."

"That is absolutely needless," replied G--. "I am not more sure that
I breathe than I am that the letter is not at the Hotel."

"I have no better advice to give you," said Dupin. "You have, of
course, an accurate description of the letter?"

"Oh yes!"--And here the Prefect, producing a memorandum-book
proceeded to read aloud a minute account of the internal, and
especially of the external appearance of the missing document. Soon
after finishing the perusal of this description, he took his
departure, more entirely depressed in spirits than I had ever known
the good gentleman before. In about a month afterwards he paid us
another visit, and found us occupied very nearly as before. He took a
pipe and a chair and entered into some ordinary conversation. At
length I said,--

"Well, but G--, what of the purloined letter? I presume you have at
last made up your mind that there is no such thing as overreaching
the Minister?"

"Confound him, say I--yes; I made the re-examination, however, as
Dupin suggested--but it was all labor lost, as I knew it would be."

"How much was the reward offered, did you say?" asked Dupin.

"Why, a very great deal--a very liberal reward--I don't like to say
how much, precisely; but one thing I will say, that I wouldn't mind
giving my individual check for fifty thousand francs to any one who
could obtain me that letter. The fact is, it is becoming of more and
more importance every day; and the reward has been lately doubled. If
it were trebled, however, I could do no more than I have done."

"Why, yes," said Dupin, drawlingly, between the whiffs of his
meerschaum, "I really--think, G--, you have not exerted yourself--
to the utmost in this matter. You might--do a little more, I think,
eh?"

"How?--in what way?'

"Why--puff, puff--you might--puff, puff--employ counsel in the
matter, eh?--puff, puff, puff. Do you remember the story they tell
of Abernethy?"

"No; hang Abernethy!"

"To be sure! hang him and welcome. But, once upon a time, a certain
rich miser conceived the design of spunging upon this Abernethy for a
medical opinion. Getting up, for this purpose, an ordinary
conversation in a private company, he insinuated his case to the
physician, as that of an imaginary individual.

" 'We will suppose,' said the miser, 'that his symptoms are such and
such; now, doctor, what would you have directed him to take?'

" 'Take!' said Abernethy, 'why, take advice, to be sure.' "

"But," said the Prefect, a little discomposed, "I am perfectly
willing to take advice, and to pay for it. I would really give fifty
thousand francs to any one who would aid me in the matter."

"In that case," replied Dupin, opening a drawer, and producing a
check-book, "you may as well fill me up a check for the amount
mentioned. When you have signed it, I will hand you the letter."

I was astounded. The Prefect appeared absolutely thunder-stricken.
For some minutes he remained speechless and motionless, looking
incredulously at my friend with open mouth, and eyes that seemed
starting from their sockets; then, apparently recovering himself in
some measure, he seized a pen, and after several pauses and vacant
stares, finally filled up and signed a check for fifty thousand
francs, and handed it across the table to Dupin. The latter examined
it carefully and deposited it in his pocket-book; then, unlocking an
escritoire, took thence a letter and gave it to the Prefect. This
functionary grasped it in a perfect agony of joy, opened it with a
trembling hand, cast a rapid glance at its contents, and then,
scrambling and struggling to the door, rushed at length
unceremoniously from the room and from the house, without having
uttered a syllable since Dupin had requested him to fill up the
check.

When he had gone, my friend entered into some explanations.

"The Parisian police," he said, "are exceedingly able in their way.
They are persevering, ingenious, cunning, and thoroughly versed in
the knowledge which their duties seem chiefly to demand. Thus, when
G---detailed to us his made of searching the premises at the Hotel
D--, I felt entire confidence in his having made a satisfactory
investigation--so far as his labors extended."

"So far as his labors extended?" said I.

"Yes," said Dupin. "The measures adopted were not only the best of
their kind, but carried out to absolute perfection. Had the letter
been deposited within the range of their search, these fellows would,
beyond a question, have found it."

I merely laughed--but he seemed quite serious in all that he said.

"The measures, then," he continued, "were good in their kind, and
well executed; their defect lay in their being inapplicable to the
case, and to the man. A certain set of highly ingenious resources
are, with the Prefect, a sort of Procrustean bed, to which he
forcibly adapts his designs. But he perpetually errs by being too
deep or too shallow, for the matter in hand; and many a schoolboy is
a better reasoner than he. I knew one about eight years of age, whose
success at guessing in the game of 'even and odd' attracted universal
admiration. This game is simple, and is played with marbles. One
player holds in his hand a number of these toys, and demands of
another whether that number is even or odd. If the guess is right,
the guesser wins one; if wrong, he loses one. The boy to whom I
allude won all the marbles of the school. Of course he had some
principle of guessing; and this lay in mere observation and
admeasurement of the astuteness of his opponents. For example, an
arrant simpleton is his opponent, and, holding up his closed hand,
asks, 'are they even or odd?' 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 odd;'--he guesses odd, and wins.
Now, with a simpleton a degree above the first, he would have
reasoned thus: 'This fellow finds that in the first instance I
guessed odd, and, in the second, he will propose to himself, upon 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 upon putting it even
as before. I will therefore guess even;'--he guesses even, and wins.
Now this mode of reasoning in the schoolboy, whom his fellows termed
'lucky,'--what, in its last analysis, is it?"

"It is merely," I said, "an identification of the reasoner's
intellect with that of his opponent."

"It is," said Dupin; "and, upon inquiring, of the boy by what means
he effected the thorough identification in which his success
consisted, I received answer as follows: 'When I wish to find out how
wise, or how stupid, or how good, or how wicked is any one, or what
are his thoughts at the moment, I fashion the expression of my face,
as accurately as possible, in accordance with the expression of his,
and then wait to see what thoughts or sentiments arise in my mind or
heart, as if to match or correspond with the expression.' This
response of the schoolboy lies at the bottom of all the spurious
profundity which has been attributed to Rochefoucault, to La Bougive,
to Machiavelli, and to Campanella."

"And the identification," I said, "of the reasoner's intellect with
that of his opponent, depends, if I understand you aright, upon the
accuracy with which the opponent's intellect is admeasured."

"For its practical value it depends upon this," replied Dupin; "and
the Prefect and his cohort fail so frequently, first, by default of
this identification, and, secondly, by ill-admeasurement, or rather
through non-admeasurement, of the intellect with which they are
engaged. They consider only their own ideas of ingenuity; and, in
searching for anything hidden, advert only to the modes in which they
would have hidden it. They are right in this much--that their own
ingenuity is a faithful representative of that of the mass; but when
the cunning of the individual felon is diverse in character from
their own, the felon foils them, of course. This always happens when
it is above their own, and very usually when it is below. They have
no variation of principle in their investigations; at best, when
urged by some unusual emergency--by some extraordinary reward--they
extend or exaggerate their old modes of practice, without touching
their principles. What, for example, in this case of D--, has been
done to vary the principle of action? What is all this boring, and
probing, and sounding, and scrutinizing with the microscope and
dividing the surface of the building into registered square inches--
what is it all but an exaggeration of the application of the one
principle or set of principles of search, which are based upon the
one set of notions regarding human ingenuity, to which the Prefect,
in the long routine of his duty, has been accustomed? Do you not see
he has taken it for granted that all men proceed to conceal a letter,
--not exactly in a gimlet hole bored in a chair-leg--but, at least,
in some out-of-the-way hole or corner suggested by the same tenor of
thought which would urge a man to secrete a letter in a gimlet-hole
bored in a chair-leg? And do you not see also, that such recherchés
nooks for concealment are adapted only for ordinary occasions, and
would be adopted only by ordinary intellects; for, in all cases of
concealment, a disposal of the article concealed--a disposal of it
in this recherché manner,--is, in the very first instance,
presumable and presumed; and thus its discovery depends, not at all
upon the acumen, but altogether upon the mere care, patience, and
determination of the seekers; and where the case is of importance--
or, what amounts to the same thing in the policial eyes, when the
reward is of magnitude,--the qualities in question have never been
known to fail. You will now understand what I meant in suggesting
that, had the purloined letter been hidden any where within the
limits of the Prefect's examination--in other words, had the
principle of its concealment been comprehended within the principles
of the Prefect--its discovery would have been a matter altogether
beyond question. This functionary, however, has been thoroughly
mystified; and the remote source of his defeat lies in the
supposition that the Minister is a fool, because he has acquired
renown as a poet. All fools are poets; this the Prefect feels; and he
is merely guilty of a non distributio medii in thence inferring that
all poets are fools."

"But is this really the poet?" I asked. "There are two brothers, I
know; and both have attained reputation in letters. The Minister I
believe has written learnedly on the Differential Calculus. He is a
mathematician, and no poet."

"You are mistaken; I know him well; he is both. As poet and
mathematician, he would reason well; as mere mathematician, he could
not have reasoned at all, and thus would have been at the mercy of
the Prefect."

"You surprise me," I said, "by these opinions, which have been
contradicted by the voice of the world. You do not mean to set at
naught the well-digested idea of centuries. The mathematical reason
has long been regarded as the reason par excellence."

" 'Il y a à parièr,' " replied Dupin, quoting from Chamfort, " 'que
toute idée publique, toute convention reçue est une sottise, car elle
a convenue au plus grand nombre.' The mathematicians, I grant you,
have done their best to promulgate the popular error to which you
allude, and which is none the less an error for its promulgation as
truth. With an art worthy a better cause, for example, they have
insinuated the term 'analysis' into application to algebra. The
French are the originators of this particular deception; but if a
term is of any importance--if words derive any value from
applicability--then 'analysis' conveys 'algebra' about as much as,
in Latin, 'ambitus' implies 'ambition,' 'religio' 'religion,' or
'homines honesti,' a set of honorablemen."

"You have a quarrel on hand, I see," said I, "with some of the
algebraists of Paris; but proceed."

"I dispute the availability, and thus the value, of that reason which
is cultivated in any especial form other than the abstractly logical.
I dispute, in particular, the reason educed by mathematical study.
The mathematics are the science of form and quantity; mathematical
reasoning is merely logic applied to observation upon form and
quantity. The great error lies in supposing that even the truths of
what is called pure algebra, are abstract or general truths. And this
error is so egregious that I am confounded at the universality with
which it has been received. Mathematical axioms are not axioms of
general truth. What is true of relation--of form and quantity--is
often grossly false in regard to morals, for example. In this latter
science it is very usually untrue that the aggregated parts are equal
to the whole. In chemistry also the axiom fails. In the consideration
of motive it fails; for two motives, each of a given value, have not,
necessarily, a value when united, equal to the sum of their values
apart. There are numerous other mathematical truths which are only
truths within the limits of relation. But the mathematician argues,
from his finite truths, through habit, as if they were of an
absolutely general applicability--as the world indeed imagines them
to be. Bryant, in his very learned 'Mythology,' mentions an analogous
source of error, when he says that 'although the Pagan fables are not
believed, yet we forget ourselves continually, and make inferences
from them as existing realities.' With the algebraists, however, who
are Pagans themselves, the 'Pagan fables' are believed, and the
inferences are made, not so much through lapse of memory, as through
an unaccountable addling of the brains. In short, I never yet
encountered the mere mathematician who could be trusted out of equal
roots, or one who did not clandestinely hold it as a point of his
faith that x2+px was absolutely and unconditionally equal to q. Say
to one of these gentlemen, by way of experiment, if you please, that
you believe occasions may occur where x2+px is not altogether equal
to q, and, having made him understand what you mean, get out of his
reach as speedily as convenient, for, beyond doubt, he will endeavor
to knock you down.

"I mean to say," continued Dupin, while I merely laughed at his last
observations, "that if the Minister had been no more than a
mathematician, the Prefect would have been under no necessity of
giving me this check. I know him, however, as both mathematician and
poet, and my measures were adapted to his capacity, with reference to
the circumstances by which he was surrounded. I knew him as a
courtier, too, and as a bold intriguant. Such a man, I considered,
could not fail to be aware of the ordinary policial modes of action.
He could not have failed to anticipate--and events have proved that
he did not fail to anticipate--the waylayings to which he was
subjected. He must have foreseen, I reflected, the secret
investigations of his premises. His frequent absences from home at
night, which were hailed by the Prefect as certain aids to his
success, I regarded only as ruses, to afford opportunity for thorough
search to the police, and thus the sooner to impress them with the
conviction to which G--, in fact, did finally arrive--the conviction
that the letter was not upon the premises. I felt, also, that the
whole train of thought, which I was at some pains in detailing to you
just now, concerning the invariable principle of policial action in
searches for articles concealed--I felt that this whole train of
thought would necessarily pass through the mind of the Minister. It
would imperatively lead him to despise all the ordinary nooks of
concealment. He could not, I reflected, be so weak as not to see that
the most intricate and remote recess of his hotel would be as open as
his commonest closets to the eyes, to the probes, to the gimlets, and
to the microscopes of the Prefect. I saw, in fine, that he would be
driven, as a matter of course, to simplicity, if not deliberately
induced to it as a matter of choice. You will remember, perhaps, how
desperately the Prefect laughed when I suggested, upon our first
interview, that it was just possible this mystery troubled him so
much on account of its being so very self-evident."

"Yes," said I, "I remember his merriment well. I really thought he
would have fallen into convulsions."

"The material world," continued Dupin, "abounds with very strict
analogies to the immaterial; and thus some color of truth has been
given to the rhetorical dogma, that metaphor, or simile, may be made
to strengthen an argument, as well as to embellish a description. The
principle of the vis inertiæ, for example, seems to be identical in
physics and metaphysics. It is not more true in the former, that a
large body is with more difficulty set in motion than a smaller one,
and that its subsequent momentum is commensurate with this
difficulty, than it is, in the latter, that intellects of the vaster
capacity, while more forcible, more constant, and more eventful in
their movements than those of inferior grade, are yet the less
readily moved, and more embarrassed and full of hesitation in the
first few steps of their progress. Again: have you ever noticed which
of the street signs, over the shop--doors, are the most attractive of
attention?"

"I have never given the matter a thought," I said.

"There is a game of puzzles," he resumed, "which is played upon a
map. One party playing requires another to find a given word--the
name of town, river, state or empire--any word, in short, upon the
motley and perplexed surface of the chart. A novice in the game
generally seeks to embarrass his opponents by giving them the most
minutely lettered names; but the adept selects such words as stretch,
in large characters, from one end of the chart to the other. These,
like the over-largely lettered signs and placards of the street,
escape observation by dint of being excessively obvious; and here the
physical oversight is precisely analogous with the moral
inapprehension by which the intellect suffers to pass unnoticed those
considerations which are too obtrusively and too palpably
self-evident. But this is a point, it appears, somewhat above or
beneath the understanding of the Prefect. He never once thought it
probable, or possible, that the Minister had deposited the letter
immediately beneath the nose of the whole world, by way of best
preventing any portion of that world from perceiving it.

"But the more I reflected upon the daring, dashing, and
discriminating ingenuity of D--; upon the fact that the document must
always have been at hand, if he intended to use it to good purpose;
and upon the decisive evidence, obtained by the Prefect, that it was
not hidden within the limits of that dignitary's ordinary search--
the more satisfied I became that, to conceal this letter, the
Minister had resorted to the comprehensive and sagacious expedient of
not attempting to conceal it at all.

"Full of these ideas, I prepared myself with a pair of green
spectacles, and called one fine morning, quite by accident, at the
Ministerial hotel. I found D---at home, yawning, lounging, and
dawdling, as usual, and pretending to be in the last extremity of
ennui. He is, perhaps, the most really energetic human being now
alive--but that is only when nobody sees him.

"To be even with him, I complained of my weak eyes, and lamented the
necessity of the spectacles, under cover of which I cautiously and
thoroughly surveyed the whole apartment, while seemingly intent only
upon the conversation of my host.

"I paid especial attention to a large writing-table near which he
sat, and upon which lay confusedly, some miscellaneous letters and
other papers, with one or two musical instruments and a few books.
Here, however, after a long and very deliberate scrutiny, I saw
nothing to excite particular suspicion.

"At length my eyes, in going the circuit of the room, fell upon a
trumpery fillagree card-rack of pasteboard, that hung dangling by a
dirty blue ribbon, from a little brass knob just beneath the middle
of the mantel-piece. In this rack, which had three or four
compartments, were five or six visiting cards and a solitary letter.
This last was much soiled and crumpled. It was torn nearly in two,
across the middle--as if a design, in the first instance, to tear it
entirely up as worthless, had been altered, or stayed, in the second.
It had a large black seal, bearing the D---cipher very conspicuously,
and was addressed, in a diminutive female hand, to D--, the minister,
himself. It was thrust carelessly, and even, as it seemed,
contemptuously, into one of the uppermost divisions of the rack.

"No sooner had I glanced at this letter, than I concluded it to be
that of which I was in search. To be sure, it was, to all appearance,
radically different from the one of which the Prefect had read us so
minute a description. Here the seal was large and black, with the D--
cipher; there it was small and red, with the ducal arms of the S--
family. Here, the address, to the Minister, diminutive and feminine;
there the superscription, to a certain royal personage, was markedly
bold and decided; the size alone formed a point of correspondence.
But, then, the radicalness of these differences, which was excessive;
the dirt; the soiled and torn condition of the paper, so inconsistent
with the true methodical habits of D--, and so suggestive of a design
to delude the beholder into an idea of the worthlessness of the
document; these things, together with the hyper-obtrusive situation
of this document, full in the view of every visiter, and thus exactly
in accordance with the conclusions to which I had previously arrived;
these things, I say, were strongly corroborative of suspicion, in one
who came with the intention to suspect.

"I protracted my visit as long as possible, and, while I maintained a
most animated discussion with the Minister upon a topic which I knew
well had never failed to interest and excite him, I kept my attention
really riveted upon the letter. In this examination, I committed to
memory its external appearance and arrangement in the rack; and also
fell, at length, upon a discovery which set at rest whatever trivial
doubt I might have entertained. In scrutinizing the edges of the
paper, I observed them to be more chafed than seemed necessary. They
presented the broken appearance which is manifested when a stiff
paper, having been once folded and pressed with a folder, is refolded
in a reversed direction, in the same creases or edges which had
formed the original fold. This discovery was sufficient. It was clear
to me that the letter had been turned, as a glove, inside out,
re-directed, and re-sealed. I bade the Minister good morning, and
took my departure at once, leaving a gold snuff-box upon the table.

"The next morning I called for the snuff-box, when we resumed, quite
eagerly, the conversation of the preceding day. While thus engaged,
however, a loud report, as if of a pistol, was heard immediately
beneath the windows of the hotel, and was succeeded by a series of
fearful screams, and the shoutings of a terrified mob. D---rushed to
a casement, threw it open, and looked out. In the meantime, I stepped
to the card-rack took the letter, put it in my pocket, and replaced
it by a fac-simile, (so far as regards externals,) which I had
carefully prepared at my lodgings--imitating the D---cipher, very
readily, by means of a seal formed of bread.

"The disturbance in the street had been occasioned by the frantic
behavior of a man with a musket. He had fired it among a crowd of
women and children. It proved, however, to have been without ball,
and the fellow was suffered to go his way as a lunatic or a drunkard.
When he had gone, D---came from the window, whither I had followed
him immediately upon securing the object in view. Soon afterwards I
bade him farewell. The pretended lunatic was a man in my own pay."

"But what purpose had you," I asked, "in replacing the letter by a
fac-simile? Would it not have been better, at the first visit, to
have seized it openly, and departed?"

"D--," replied Dupin, "is a desperate man, and a man of nerve. His
hotel, too, is not without attendants devoted to his interests. Had I
made the wild attempt you suggest, I might never have left the
Ministerial presence alive. The good people of Paris might have heard
of me no more. But I had an object apart from these considerations.
You know my political prepossessions. In this matter, I act as a
partisan of the lady concerned. For eighteen months the Minister has
had her in his power. She has now him in hers--since, being unaware
that the letter is not in his possession, he will proceed with his
exactions as if it was. Thus will he inevitably commit himself, at
once, to his political destruction. His downfall, too, will not be
more precipitate than awkward. It is all very well to talk about the
facilis descensus Averni; but in all kinds of climbing, as Catalani
said of singing, it is far more easy to get up than to come down. In
the present instance I have no sympathy--at least no pity--for him
who descends. He is that monstrum horrendum, an unprincipled man of
genius. I confess, however, that I should like very well to know the
precise character of his thoughts, when, being defied by her whom the
Prefect terms 'a certain personage' he is reduced to opening the
letter which I left for him in the card-rack."

"How? did you put any thing particular in it?"

"Why--it did not seem altogether right to leave the interior blank--
that would have been insulting. D--, at Vienna once, did me an evil
turn, which I told him, quite good-humoredly, that I should remember.
So, as I knew he would feel some curiosity in regard to the identity
of the person who had outwitted him, I thought it 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 funeste, S'il n'est digne d'Atrée, est digne
de Thyeste.

They are to be found in Crebillon's 'Atrée.'"



THE END




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