American Detective Fiction    Prior to July 1891

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  Published in
Harper's New Monthly Magazine, February 1855.

Harper's attributed this story to Charles Dickens; however, the real author is Wilkie Collins and the original title is “The Fourth Poor Traveller.” It was published in “The Seven Poor Travellers,” the Extra Christmas Number of Household Words for December 1854.

A shortened version was also included as “The Stolen Letter: A Lawyer’s Story” in Water’s Diary of a Detective Police Officer in 1864, with the prefatory parenthetical “[The following story related to me by a lawyer, although not coming directly within the sphere of my operations as a Detective, I think entitled to a place in these “Recollections,” for the curious phase of criminal life which it presents. I give it in the lawyer’s own words.]”.

A Lawyer’s Story

  at home for a little while, and then there got spread about all our neighborhood, a report that he had fallen in love, as the saying is, with his young sister's governess, and that his mind was made up to marry her. You want to know her name, don’t you? What do you think of Smith?

Speaking as a lawyer, I consider Report, in a general way, to be a fool and a liar. But, in this case, report turned out to be something very different.  Frank told me he was really in love, and said upon his honor (an absurd expression which young chaps of his age are always using) he was determined to marry Smith the governess—the sweet, darling girl, as he called her; but I’m not sentimental and I call her Smith the governess. Frank's father, being as proud as Lucifer, said “No,” as to marrying the governess, when Frank wanted him to say “Yes.” He was a man of business, was old Gatliffe, and he took the proper business course. He sent the governess away with a . . .


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    I served my time—never mind in whose office;—and started in business for myself in one of our English country towns—I decline stating which. I hadn’t a quarter of the capital I ought to have had to begin with; and my friends in the neighborhood were poor and useless enough, with one exception. That exception was Mr. Frank Gatliffe, son of Mr. Gatliffe, member for the county, the richest man and the proudest for many a mile round about our parts. You won’t trace any particulars by the name of Gatliffe. I’m not bound to commit myself or anybody else by mentioning names. I have given you the first that came into my head.

Well! Mr. Frank was a stanch friend of mine, and ready to recommend me whenever he got the chance. I had given him a little timely help—for a consideration of course—in borrowing money at a fair rate of interest: in fact, I had saved him from the Jews. The money was borrowed while Mr. Frank was at college. He came back from college and stopped




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