Student Question

Why did the young man in "Dusk" spontaneously fabricate his story at the park?

Expert Answers

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If you want to take the position that the young stranger who sat down beside Norman Gortsby had just made up his hard-luck story on the spur of the moment, there are several clues you can offer. For one thing, there is the soap. If he had rehearsed his story and prepared himself to tell it to a likely- looking stranger, it should have occurred to him that he ought to invest a little money in a cake of soap just in case he was asked to produce it. Norman easily catches him off guard and embarrasses him when he asks about the soap which the young stranger had supposedly just gone out to buy. Then there is the young con-man's awkward and guilty behavior when he can't produce the vital evidence.

"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.

It would have been hard for this young man to make up such a complex story on the spur of the moment, but he might have already been using some of the elements to make an impression on strangers. There are some people who are congenital liars. They do it just for the pleasure of making an impression of strangers. The young con-man may have told many strangers that he was a country gentleman, that he had traveled in foreign countries and stayed at the best hotels, and even that he had been to Eton and Oxford. It might have occurred to him on the spur of the moment to put his various lies together to see if he could make money from his creative imagination.

There is something about this young man's story that seems experimental. When he rushes off after having been outed by Gortsby, one feels that this will not be the last time the con-man tries his story. He is a little bit unsure of himself, but he is also bold, aggressive, and ambitious. If he could pick up a sovereign every day just for telling a little story, he would have a better income than most men his age in London. A sovereign was equivalent to a pound. Most clerks were earning one pound a week in those days, but this enterprising youth could be earning six or seven pounds a week if only he could perfect his story. No doubt when he flees from the bench where he met his first setback, he is already thinking of how he can improve his story. It is a case of trial and error--and there are millions of people on whom he can try the hard-luck story, as long as he doesn't get discouraged and lose his cool. For one thing he would certainly be planning to buy a cake of soap, and he might even be thinking of actually showing the soap to his next potential victim.

The would-be confidence trickster may have been toying with his story for a long time before he actually got up the nerve to try it out. Unfortunately for him, Norman Gortsby was quite familiar with hard-luck stories. He was not just sitting there for a rest. He was in the habit of sitting there every evening for an hour or two before going home. He was familiar with all the types of people to be seen in that vicinity, and he was an exceptionally hard prospect for this novice con-man who was not experienced in choosing "marks," or suckers, either. Gortsby enjoys hearing these stories. They interest and amuse him. After the other man leaves, Gortsby even considers the story's faults and merits.

"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."

By the sheerest coincidence, Gortsby finds a cake of soap and goes rushing after the young stranger, thinking it must be his. The way the other man reacts shows he is a novice and must have invented his hard-luck story quite recently, if not on the spur of the moment.

"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.

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