In Saki's story "Dusk," was the "elderly gentleman" also a con artist? If not, why could he have been so sure he had lost his cake of soap by Gortsby's bench and not someplace else?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In her story "Roman Fever," Edith Wharton writes of dusk, "It was the moment when afternoon and evening hang balanced in mid-heaven." And, at this time, Mrs. Slade, one of the two matrons on holiday from the high society of New York, stands up at the parapet overlooking the Colosseum and "fill[s] her eyes with the tranquilizing magic of the hour." It would seem, also, that Norman Grotsky, although he prides himself on his ability to discern the character of strangers, is subject to this same "tranquilizing magic of the hour" in Saki's story as he later assumes that he has misjudged the youthful grifter who has plopped down beside him with a story of misfortune.

But, what of this old gentleman to whom Grotsky has given a mere glance? Saki describes him,

He belonged unmistakably to that forlorn orchestra to whose piping no one dances; he was one of the world's lamenters who induce no responsive weeping.

Indeed, as he sits on the bench beside Grotsky, he appears disillusioned with a "drooping air of defiance that was probably the remaining vestige of self-respect in an individual who had ceased to defy anybody or anything." So, from this description an argument can be made that the elderly gentleman may have let the soap slip from his pocket unnoticed because his eyes were filled with "the tranquilizing magic of the hour," too, and his drooping spirit was unaware of what has occurred. Further, an argument could be made that in his "drooping air of defiance," the gentleman wishes to play a trick on the judgmental Grotsky, but only if he remains on the bench to listen as the young man weaves his tale of misfortune. Still, another argument can be proposed; that is, the contention that the elderly man knows that the young man will approach and sets the soap on the ground so that Grotsky will find it after the grifter departs. Given these conditions, Grotsky will guiltily rush to give the young man some money. However, the flaw to this argument lies in the young man's reaction to Grotsky's offer of a sovereign: 

"Lucky thing your finding it," said the youth, and then, with a catch in his voice, he blurted out a word or two of thanks and fled headlong in the direction of Knightsbridge.

Thus, the young man's reactions point to some shame in his trickery, guilty feelings that seem to contradict the theory of the elderly gentleman's complicity in the hoax.

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