BY A. S. W. ROSENBACH
COPYRIGHT 1917 BY
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES
BY THE VAIL-BALLOU COMPANY
BINGHAMTON - - NEW YORK
The Unpublishable Memoirs
The Three Trees
The Purple Hawthorn
The Disappearance of Shakespeare
The Colonial Secretary
In Defence of His Name
"The Hundred and First Story"
The Lady of the Breviary
The Evasive Pamphlet
The Great Discovery
The Fifteen Joys of Marriage
THE UNPUBLISHABLE MEMOIRS
It was very cruel.
He was dickering for one of the things he had desired for a life-time.
It was in New York at one of the famous book-stores of the metropolis. The proprietor had offered to him for one hundred and sixty dollars—exactly the amount he had in bank—the first and only edition of the "Unpublishable Memoirs" of Beau Brummel, a little volume issued in London in 1790, and one of two copies known, the other being in the famous "hidden library" of the British Museum.
It was a scandalous chronicle of fashionable life in the eighteenth century, and many brilliant names were implicated therein; distinguished and reputable families, that had long been honored in the history of England, were ruthlessly depicted with a black and venomous pen. He had coveted this book for years, and here it was within his grasp! He had just told the proprietor that he would take it.
Robert Hooker was a book-collector. With not a great deal of money, he had acquired a few of the world's most sought-after treasures. He had laboriously saved his pennies, and had, with the magic of the bibliophile, turned them into rare volumes! He was about to put the evil little book into his pocket when he was interrupted.
A large, portly man, known to book-lovers the world over, had entered the shop and asked Mr. Rodd if he might examine the Beau Brummel Memoirs. He had looked at it before, he said, but on that occasion had merely remarked that he would call again. He saw the volume on the table in front of Hooker, picked it up without ceremony, and told the owner of the shop that he would purchase it.
"Excuse me," exclaimed Hooker, "but I have just bought it."
"What!" said the opulent John Fenn, "I came especially to get it."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Fenn," returned the proprietor, "Mr. Hooker, here, has just said that he would take it."
"Now, look here, Rodd, I've always been a good customer of yours. I've spent thousands in this very shop during the last few years. I'll give you two hundred dollars for it."
"No," said Rodd.
"Three hundred!" said Fenn.
"I'll give you five hundred dollars for it, and if you do not take it, I shall never enter this place again!"
Without another word Rodd nodded, and Fenn quickly grasped the little book, and placed it in the inside pocket of his coat. Hooker became angry and threatened to take it by bodily force. A scuffle ensued. Two clerks came to the rescue, and Fenn departed triumphantly with the secrets of the noble families of Great Britain securely in his possession.
Rodd, in an ingratiating manner, declared to Hooker that no money had passed between them, and consequently there had been no sale. Hooker, disappointed, angry, and beaten, could do nothing but retire.
At home, among his books, his anger increased. It was the old, old case of the rich collector gobbling up the small one. It was outrageous! He would get even—if it cost him everything. He dwelt long and bitterly upon his experience. A thought struck him. Why not prey upon the fancies of the wealthy! He would enter the lists with them; he would match his skill against their money, his knowledge against their purse.
Hooker was brought up in the mystic lore of books, for he was the son of a collector's son. He had always been a student, and half his time had been spent in the bookseller's shops, dreaming of the wonderful editions of Chaucer, of Shakespeare, of rare Ben Jonson, that some day he might call his own. He would now secure the priceless things dearest to the hearts of men, at no cost to himself!
He would not limit his choice to books, which were his first love, but he would help himself to the fair things that have always delighted the soul,—pictures, like those of Raphael and da Vinci; jewels, like Cellini's; little bronzes, like Donatello's; etchings of Rembrandt; the porcelains (True Ming!) of old China; the rugs of Persia the magnificent!
The idea struck him at first as ludicrous and impossible. The more he thought of it, the more feasible it became. He had always been a good mimic, a fair amateur actor, a linguist, and a man of parts. He possessed scholarly attainments of a high order. He would use all of his resources in the game he was about to play. For nothing deceives like education!
And it had another side—a brighter, more fantastic side. Think of the fun he would get out of it! This appealed to him. Not only could he add to his collections the most beautiful treasures of the world, but he would now taste the keenest of joys—he would laugh and grow fat at the other man's expense. It was always intensely humorous to observe the discomfiture of others.
With particular pleasure Hooker read that evening in the Post this insignificant paragraph:
"John Fenn, President of the Tenth National Bank of Chicago, departs for home to-night."
He laid the paper down immediately, telephoned to the railroad office for a reservation in the sleeping-car leaving at midnight, and prepared for his first "banquet." Hooker shaved off his moustache, changed his clothes and his accent, and took the train for Chicago.
As luck would have it, John Fenn was seated next to him in the smoking-car, reading the evening papers. Hooker took from his pocket a book catalogue, issued by one of the great English auction houses. He knew that was the best bait! No book-lover that ever lived could