The young man who sits down on the bench beside Norman Gortsby tells him that he couldn't find his hotel after going out to buy a cake of soap. Since he had left most of his money in his hotel room, he now only had a couple of pennies in his pocket after paying for the soap and a drink at a pub. Then the young man makes his pitch.
"Unless I can find some decent chap to swallow my story and lend me some money I seem likely to spend the night on the Embankment."
Gortsby is accustomed to sitting on these park benches at dusk and, consequently has been approached by many strangers with hard-luck stories. He senses this will be another one of them and has no intention of parting with any money. But he lets the young man tells his whole story because it amuses him and because he is a little sadistic. Then:
"Of course," said Gortsby slowly, "the weak point of your story is that you can't produce the soap."
The young man sat forward hurriedly, felt rapidly in the pockets of his overcoat, and then jumped to his feet.
"I must have lost it," he muttered angrily.
"To lose an hotel and a cake of soap on one afternoon suggests wilful carelessness," said Gortsby, but the young man scarcely waited to hear the end of the remark. He flitted away down the path, his head held high, with an air of somewhat jaded jauntiness.
The young con-man is miffed to realize that he has been wasting his valuable time. It is already dusk, and the park will soon be depopulated. The fact that he hadn't had the foresight to purchase a cake of soap suggests that he is a novice who has just recently thought of an idea which could make him a pound a day rather than the pound a week he would be earning as a typical office clerk. No doubt he would have subsequently bought a cake of soap to have to show his next prospect if he should be asked for proof. But Gortsby has found the cake of soap dropped by his bench by the elderly gentleman, and he has given it to the young apprentice con-artist along with a gold sovereign.
The story had been crafted in such a way that it would suggest that Gortsby was being given an opportunity to make a friend of a young country gentleman who didn't know a soul in London and who might be expected to show his gratitude by inviting him to lunch and perhaps inviting him down to his parents' manor house for a weekend of riding and shooting. The con-man was only asking for a short-term loan. He supposedly had plenty of money but couldn't get at it until tomorrow because he couldn't find his hotel. And meanwhile it was dusk and darkness was closing in. Gortsby, who was something of a connoisseur of hard-luck stories, reflected that the young stranger's pitch was really very good.
"It was a pity," mused Gortsby; "the going out to get one's own soap was the one convincing touch in the whole story, and yet it was just that little detail that brought him to grief. If he had had the brilliant forethought to provide himself with a cake of soap, wrapped and sealed with all the solicitude of the chemist's counter, he would have been a genius in his particular line. In his particular line genius certainly consists of an infinite capacity for taking precautions."