Money Goes to Money
The most interesting feature of "Dusk" is the fact that the young con man poses as a sort of aristocrat rather than a panhandler. Supposedly he has plenty of money but is just in a temporary fix because he can't find the hotel where he left his wallet. Gortsby does not give him the sovereign because he feels sorry for him, but rather because he thinks he might be able to get in good with a young man who belongs to a higher social class and is a newcomer to the city. That is why Gortsby rushes after him to give him the money and the cake of soap and why he apologizes for having doubted him. He wants this phony aristocrat to think he is a "decent chap."
"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, in effect, buying approval whether or not he succeeds in forming a valuable friendship. He expects to get his sovereign back in the mail, but he is hoping the stranger will include a thank-you note and invite him to have a drink at his hotel. It seems to be human nature to want to oblige people who are above us but to despise those below us. We must give money to people because we seek their approval. Those who look as if they are in the greatest need of a handout are the ones who have the hardest time getting it. George Hurstwood learns this through bitter experience in Theodore Dreiser's great novel Sister Carrie. When Hurstwood is really down and out, starving and freezing, it seems impossible to get a dime from anybody.
Both Saki in "Dusk" and Roald Dahl in "The Umbrella Man" have illustrated this same truth. We often hear people say, "Money goes to money," and "The rich get richer." The con man in Dahl's "The Umbrella Man" also poses as a sort of aristocrat who has plenty of money but is just in a temporary bind. Shakespeare expressed this ironic truth about human nature through his character Jaques in As You Like It.
'Poor deer,' quoth he, 'thou mak'st a testament As worldlings do, giving thy sum of more To that which had too much'
The young con man in "Dusk" is smart but not experienced. He doesn't want to go around asking for money because he knows he could only collect a shilling at a time, at best, and suffer many rejections in the process. Also, he would be sure to attract the attention of a policeman and might get sent to jail for vagrancy, loitering, or panhandling. His whole act and the story that goes with it are intended to bring him a pound in one lump sum. His great and surprising success with Norman Gortsby will encourage him to continue using his story on others. Only now he will be sure to have a cake of soap to produce if another person should ask about it.