How does Alan know how to find the old man's shop?

Alan Austen is an intelligent but lonely young man who has been given a tip about a shop in the city that sells love potions and poisons. The old man is so cautious that he will not give out his name or address except to those who come recommended by others. He is so discreet he operates under the guise of selling love potions, when his true business is disposing of wives. Alan went straight to New York to find the old man's shop and buy a love potion for himself. In addition to the young woman who works in the shop, there is also a young salesman, who seems to be also an employee of the old man.

Expert Answers

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The old man is operating an illegal business in a run-down building in New York. He does not advertise and obviously keeps a low profile. He depends for customers on recommendations of others who have been satisfied with the effects of his potions, both the original love potion and later with the "chaser." We know that Alan Austen has been given the old man's name and address in confidence.

Alan, without a word, handed him the card he had been given.

There probably is no law against selling love potions, but there must certainly be laws against selling undetectable poisons to men who want to dispose of their wives. As Emerson wrote:

If you build a better mousetrap the world will beat a path to your door.

Some things in stories have to be taken as "givens." We have to accept the author's specification that there is actually an old man who deals in love potions and poisons. The French call this a donnée, which means a premise the reader must accept if he wants to appreciate the story. There are many stories with farfetched assumptions, or données, such as the assumption that a man like General Zaroff actually hunts humans on Ship Trap Island in "The Most Dangerous Game."

The author of "The Chaser" made many farfetched assumptions, and they provide delight for his fans. In one of his stories collected in Fancies and Goodnights, Collier tells about a poet who manages to survive in the big city by posing as a mannequin in a department store during business hours and being free to roam the store and write his poetry by night. He finds out that all the other mannequins are people doing the same thing.

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