(Original title: "The Greuze").
By Freeman Wills Crofts (1879-1957).
First appearance: Pearson's Magazine, December 1921.
Collected in The Mystery of the Sleeping Car Express and Other Stories (1956; described HERE).
Anthologized in Volume 3 of The World's Best One Hundred Detective Stories (1929; for sale HERE).
Reprinted in EQMM, October 1949; EQMM (Australia), November 1950; and AHMM, September 1987.
Short story (19 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).
"You—thief! If you don't shell out within ten seconds I'll send you straight to hell!"It seems like an utterly straightforward transaction for Mr. Lumley, the go-between, to purchase a rare picture from an impoverished aristo on behalf of a harried American limited by a tight schedule—and so it would have been except for those nettlesome inconsistencies about the deal that keep obtruding into Mr. Lumley's thoughts, and, most noteworthy, that "small, evil-looking automatic pistol" pointed at his head.
~ Nicholas Lumley: A commission agent (see Appendix below).
~ Silas S. Snaith: "An American of the nouveau riche type."
~ Lord Arthur Wentworth: A financially straitened aristocrat who'd be right at home at Downton Abbey.
~ Dobbs: Lumley's old acquaintance.
~ Frank L. Mitchell: Not in the directory.
~ Inspector Niblock: Of, you know, the Yard. (Note: In this version Inspector French does not appear.)
Notable turns of phrase:
He was well dressed in dark clothes of American cut, but an ornate watchchain, ruby tiepin, and diamond sleevelinks seemed to point to a larger endowment of money than taste.
"For all he's a member of the effete British aristocracy, and about as ro-bust as a wisp of hay at that, he's all awake is Lord Arthur. A hard nut, as maybe you'll find."
"You're so plaguey set on your dignity."
Comments: This is one of those very readable mysteries in which all the events are filtered through one individual's limited consciousness, leaving both that person and the reader pretty much in the dark about what's really going on. Our only complaint: the introduction of facts at the tail end of the story which could have been unobtrusively introduced much earlier, giving the reader a fighting chance to sort it all out. If they ever film this one, they should start with the last two pages. Definitely not fair play.
- Lots more about Freeman Wills Crofts and some of his other works can be found HERE (Mike Grost), HERE (Vintage Pop Fictions), HERE (Noah Stewart), HERE (At the Scene of the Crime), and HERE and HERE (ONTOS).
Appendix—Commission Agents: The Basics:
In general, commission agents purchase and sell items on behalf of a principal, usually a company. The nature of the job depends on the field of employment. Agriculture produce commission agents who work for small businesses, for instance, travel to farms and orchards, purchasing fruits, vegetables and dairy products for principals such as grocers and restaurants, or sell such items to grocers and restaurants on behalf of farmers. These individuals work inde-pendently as contracted, third-party workers, not employees of their principals. Commission agents conduct business under their own names, which affords a measure of anonymity to their principals while allowing the agents a certain degree of autonomy. As experts in their field, commission agents can assist small businesses in making the most of their limited budgets. — Will Gish, Houston Chronicle
The bottom line: "Lead us not into temptation."
— The Bible