Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"He Was a Very Fit and Proper Person to Be Made into an Awful Example, and So They Set the Mill of the Law in Motion"

"The Banknote Forger."
By C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne (1866-1944).
First appearance: The Harmsworth Monthly Pictorial Magazine, September 1899.
Short story (10 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF) and Vintage Short Mystery Classics HERE (PDF).
"Of course, it isn't often that he comes into use; but I'll give him credit for working up some cases into a win which would otherwise have turned out an absolute fizzle."
Master Willie Cope inherited quite a fortune in his youth and began squandering it almost immediately; even now, a little older but no wiser, he's still disposing of it at an amazing rate (his "domestic motto" being, according to his defence counsel, Grayson, QC, "Whilst we live, don't let's have any doubt about it").

Such a situation can go on only so long before the debt bubble bursts; in Willie Cope's case, the joyride has terminated not simply in incipient impoverishment but also in scandal and the threat of imprisonment:
". . . It was when, in his own particular line, Cope [relates Grayson] had created himself the biggest celebrity in the country, that his earthquake arrived. He was accused of systematically uttering forged Bank of England thousand-pound notes. It seemed that he had negotiated at least fifty-four of them, and there might be others which had not yet come in.  . . .  this is a crime which, in the British decalogue, comes very little short of brutal murder . . ."
Grayson and Barnes, Master Cope's counsellors, both agree that their client isn't smart enough to pull off these forgeries:
". . . it's too big an order for Cope. His inventive faculties are stimulated just now; he's got as good and solid a scare in him as a man can well carry amongst his ribs without tumbling down; but even that hasn't screwed him to the necessary pitch. He no more knows how those notes got into his pocket than Elk, your clerk, does."
But, while he may not know everything, Elk does know his onions, so to speak, with his personal hobby, an interest in photography, leading him to the very person who has been forging the bills, an individual with "small and nicely shaped" hands who makes one—just one—critical error with them.

- C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne isn't as well known for his SF/Fantasy and crime fiction as he is for his mainstream novels: Wikipedia HERE, the GAD Wiki HERE, the SFE HERE, and the ISFDb HERE.
- Photography is essential to our story; a short history of the technique is on Wikipedia HERE, while Victorian Web has a timeline of 19th century photography HERE.
- Master Cope would have been prosecuted under the Forgery Act of 1870, which, if you're of a mind to, you can read HERE.
- Hyne's short story about an indefatigable ship's purser named Mr. Horrocks, "The Looting of the Specie Room" (1900), was adapted for the second season of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (1973); go HERE and behold the IMDb title error.

The bottom line:
   Hast thou betrai'd my credulous innocence
   With visor'd falshood and base forgery?
   — Milton

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