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If a stranger asks us for money on any pretext, our instinct is to say "No." We don't like to part with our money. But we sometimes tell ourselves that we are being too selfish, too negative, too cynical, too stingy, too suspicious. In "Dusk," the viewpoint character Norman Gortsby is feeling unsympathetic towards the unfortunate people he sees wandering about in the twilight.
He had failed in a more subtle ambition, and for the moment he was heartsore and disilllusioned, and not disiinclined to take a certain cynical pleasure in observing and labelling his fellow wanderers as they went their ways in the dark stretches between the lamp-lights.
When the young man plops down beside him on the park bench, Gortsby is probably anticipating a hard-luck story, and no doubt he takes "a certain cynical pleasure" in listening. The fact that he obviously has spent many evenings observing people and "labelling his fellow wanderers" strongly suggests that he has heard so many hard-luck stories that he has become a connoisseur. He probably has no intention of giving or lending the young stranger any money, regardless of whether or not his story about losing his hotel is true. In the end he takes a rather cruel pleasure in pointing out the story's fatal flaw.
"Of course," said Gortsby slowly, "the weak point of your story is that you can't produce the soap."
When the young stranger leaves in a huff and Gortsby accidentally discovers a cake of soap by the bench, he is overcome with remorse. He feels guilty and ashamed for rejecting and embarrassing a fellow man who was in a jam and was really only asking for a loan. Gortsby catches up with the stranger and gives him a sovereign and the cake of soap.
Gortsby feels better about himself and about the world. He resolves to become more humane. The whole story is about the lessons a young man learns from experience.
"It's a lesson to me not to be too clever in judging by circumstances."
Then when he discovers that the cake of soap he found actually belonged to the elderly gentleman who had been sitting beside him earlier, Gortsby realizes he has been played for a sucker. This is the negative aspect of Saki's story. He is showing that Gortsby was right in the first place and wrong in trusting a stranger and giving away his hard-earned money.
Saki has been described as a Tory and a reactionary. He was not the type of man to favor any programs for helping the unfortunate. He is suggesting that most of the so-called "defeated" are in that condition because of laziness or vices. The young man who conned Gortsby out of a sovereign is just one of the many who don't want to work at honest jobs. The elderly gentleman who lost his soap is probably another con artist who left it there deliberately because he intended to come back and use it as a pretext for starting a conversation. The fact that the old man is searching so intently in just that one area seems to prove he deliberately left it there.
As Gortsby retraced his steps past the seat where the little drama had taken place he saw an elderly gentleman poking and peering beneath it and on all sides of it, and recognised his earlier fellow occupant.
The fact that the young man did not lose a cake of soap proves he is a con artist, while the fact that the elderly gentleman actually did lose a cake of soap strongly suggests that he is another con artist. Saki's is saying: Don't trust anybody. Look out for Number One. Life is a battle of all against all.
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