G.K. Chesterton’s short story “The Invisible Man” is a mystery that opens in front of a confectioner’s shop in the London district of Camden Town. The shop’s colorful window attracts many passersby, including vagrants who gape at the deliciously enticing cakes, candies, and sweetmeats on display. Four things seen through the shop window are:
- chocolates in red, gold, and green metallic wrapping
- an enormous white wedding cake
- two decanters
Within the opening paragraph, the narrator spots the first two items (the chocolates and the wedding cake) in the window. Only after John Turnbull Angus—a customer and potential suitor to the shop proprietress Laura Hope—enters does the reader learn other specific items in the window. Angus jokingly removes from the window display the chocolates which were artfully arranged in a pyramid, “several plates of sandwiches,” and the decanters “containing that mysterious port and sherry which are peculiar to pastry-cooks.” He then places them on a table as if he were setting up a meal. In the center he places the giant wedding cake; he is staging a ceremonial wedding meal that he wishes will take place between him and Laura.
Shortly afterward (within fifteen minutes or so), a “long strip of paper” appears pasted against the outside of the window with the ominous message written in “in straggly characters, ‘If you marry Smythe, he will die.’ ” The fact that this threatening note scrawled on a “yard and a half of stamp paper” appears mysteriously—no witnesses or perpetrators are found on the scene—is quite upsetting to the Laura, Angus, and Isidore Smythe. Smythe is the character who spots and notifies Laura of the note ... and is another one of her suitors. The chilling detail that this huge piece of paper was “carefully gummed along the glass” on the street in plain daylight makes this crime even more perplexing and eerie. How did the perpetrator get away with the deed undetected?
Two of the objects from the window are significant. The chocolates wrapped in red, gold, and green are later recalled by the perpetrator who is found dressed up in red, gold, and blue. The wedding cake is an ongoing motif reminding the reader that Angus, Smythe, and the perpetrator all want Laura’s hand in marriage.