A Set of Six
THE INFORMER - An Ironic Tale
Mr. X came to me, preceded by a letter of introduction from a good friend of mine in
Paris, specifically to see my collection of Chinese bronzes and porcelain.
"My friend in Paris is a collector, too. He collects neither porcelain, nor bronzes, nor
pictures, nor medals, nor stamps, nor anything that could be profitably dispersed under an
auctioneer's hammer. He would reject, with genuine surprise, the name of a collector.
Nevertheless, that's what he is by temperament. He collects acquaintances. It is delicate
work. He brings to it the patience, the passion, the determination of a true collector of
curiosities. His collection does not contain any royal personages. I don't think he
considers them sufficiently rare and interesting; but, with that exception, he has met with
and talked to everyone worth knowing on any conceivable ground. He observes them,
listens to them, penetrates them, measures them, and puts the memory away in the
galleries of his mind. He has schemed, plotted, and travelled all over Europe in order to
add to his collection of distinguished personal acquaintances.
"As he is wealthy, well connected, and unprejudiced, his collection is pretty complete,
including objects (or should I say subjects?) whose value is unappreciated by the vulgar,
and often unknown to popular fame. Of trevolte of modern times. The world knows him
as a revolutionary writer whose savage irony has laid bare the rottenness of the most
respectable institutions. He has scalped every venerated head, and has mangled at the
stake of his wit every received opinion and every recognized principle of conduct and
policy. Who does not remember his flaming red revolutionary pamphlets? Their sudden
swarmings used to overwhelm the powers of every Continental police like a plague of
crimson gadflies. But this extreme writer has been also the active inspirer of secret
societies, the mysterious unknown Number One of desperate conspiracies suspected and
unsuspected, matured or baffled. And the world at large has never had an inkling of that
fact! This accounts for him going about amongst us to this day, a veteran of many
subterranean campaigns, standing aside now, safe within his reputation of merely the
greatest destructive publicist that ever lived."
Thus wrote my friend, adding that Mr. X was an enlightened connoisseur of bronzes and
china, and asking me to show him my collection.
X turned up in due course. My treasures are disposed in three large rooms without carpets
and curtains. There is no other furniture than the etagres and the glass cases whose
contents shall be worth a fortune to my heirs. I allow no fires to be lighted, for fear of
accidents, and a fire-proof door separates them from the rest of the house.
It was a bitter cold day. We kept on our overcoats and hats. Middle-sized and spare, his
eyes alert in a long, Roman-nosed countenance, X walked on his neat little feet, with
short steps, and looked at my collection intelligently. I hope I looked at him intelligently,
too. A snow-white moustache and imperial made his nutbrown complexion appear darker
than it really was. In his fur coat and shiny tall hat that terrible man looked fashionable. I