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The Fatal Gift
by [?]

People say to me sometimes, “Oh, you know Woolman, don’t you?” I acknowledge that I do, and, after the silence that always ensues, I add, “If you want to say anything against him, please go on.” You can almost hear the sigh of relief that goes up. “I thought he was a friend of yours,” they say cheerfully. “But, of course, if–” and then they begin.

I think it is time I explained my supposed friendship for Ernest Merrowby Woolman–confound him.

The affair began in a taxicab two years ago. Andrew had been dining with me that night; we walked out to the cab-rank together; I told the driver where to go, and Andrew stepped in, waved good-bye to me from the window, and sat down suddenly upon something hard. He drew it from beneath him, and found it was an extremely massive (and quite new) silver cigar-case. He put it in his pocket with the intention of giving it to the driver when he got out, but quite naturally forgot. Next morning he found it on his dressing-table. So he put it in his pocket again, meaning to leave it at Scotland Yard on his way to the City.

Next morning it was on his dressing-table again.

This went on for some days. After a week or so Andrew saw that it was hopeless to try to get a cigar-case back to Scotland Yard in this casual sort of way; it must be taken there deliberately by somebody who had a morning to spare and was willing to devote it to this special purpose. He placed the case, therefore, prominently on a small table in the dining-room to await the occasion; calling also the attention of his family to it, as an excuse for an outing when they were not otherwise engaged.

At times he used to say, “I must really take that cigar-case to Scotland Yard to-morrow.”

At other times he would say, “Somebody must really take that cigar-case to Scotland Yard to-day.”

And so the weeks rolled on….

It was about a year later that I first got mixed up with the thing. I must have dined with the Andrews several times without noticing the cigar-case, but on this occasion it caught my eye as we wandered out to join the ladies, and I picked it up carelessly. Well, not exactly carelessly; it was too heavy for that.

“Why didn’t you tell me,” I said, “that you had stood for Parliament and that your supporters had consoled you with a large piece of plate? Hallo, they’ve put the wrong initials on it. How unbusiness-like.”

“Oh, that?” said Andrew. “Is it still there?”

“Why not? It’s quite a solid little table. But you haven’t explained why your constituents, who must have seen your name on hundreds of posters, thought your initials were E.M.W.”

Andrew explained.

“Then it isn’t yours at all?” I said in amazement.

“Of course not.”

“But, my dear man, this is theft. Stealing by finding, they call it. You could get”–I looked at him almost with admiration–“you could get two years for this”; and I weighed the cigar-case in my hand. “I believe you’re the only one of my friends who could be certain of two years,” I went on musingly. “Let’s see, there’s–“

“Nonsense,” said Andrew uneasily. “But still, perhaps I’d better take it back to Scotland Yard to-morrow.”

“And tell them you’ve kept it for a year? They’d run you in at once. No, what you want to do is to get rid of it without their knowledge. But how–that’s the question. You can’t give it away because of the initials.”

“It’s easy enough. I can leave it in another cab, or drop it in the river.”

“Andrew, Andrew,” I cried, “you’re determined to go to prison! Don’t you know from all the humorous articles you’ve ever read that, if you try to lose anything, then you never can? It’s one of the stock remarks one makes to women in the endeavour to keep them amused. No, you must think of some more subtle way of disposing of it.”