The Old Man in the Corner
XII. The Liverpool Mystery
"A title--a foreign title, I mean--is always very useful for purposes of swindles and
frauds," remarked the man in the corner to Polly one day. "The cleverest robberies of
modern times were perpetrated lately in Vienna by a man who dubbed himself Lord
Seymour; whilst over here the same class of thief calls himself Count Something ending
in 'o,' or Prince the other, ending in 'off.'"
"Fortunately for our hotel and lodging-house keepers over here," she replied, "they are
beginning to be more alive to the ways of foreign swindlers, and look upon all titled
gentry who speak broken English as possible swindlers or thieves."
"The result sometimes being exceedingly unpleasant to the real _grands seigneurs_ who
honour this country at times with their visits," replied the man in the corner. "Now, take
the case of Prince Semionicz, a man whose sixteen quarterings are duly recorded in
Gotha, who carried enough luggage with him to pay for the use of every room in an hotel
for at least a week, whose gold cigarette case with diamond and turquoise ornament was
actually stolen without his taking the slightest trouble to try and recover it; that same man
was undoubtedly looked upon with suspicion by the manager of the Liverpool North-
Western Hotel from the moment that his secretary--a dapper, somewhat vulgar little
Frenchman--bespoke on behalf of his employer, with himself and a valet, the best suite of
rooms the hotel contained.
"Obviously those suspicions were unfounded, for the little secretary, as soon as Prince
Semionicz had arrived, deposited with the manager a pile of bank notes, also papers and
bonds, the value of which would exceed tenfold the most outrageous bill that could
possibly be placed before the noble visitor. Moreover, M. Albert Lambert explained that
the Prince, who only meant to stay in Liverpool a few days, was on his way to Chicago,
where he wished to visit Princess Anna Semionicz, his sister, who was married to Mr.
Girwan, the great copper king and multi-millionaire.
"Yet, as I told you before, in spite of all these undoubted securities, suspicion of the
wealthy Russian Prince lurked in the minds of most Liverpudlians who came in business
contact with him. He had been at the North-Western two days when he sent his secretary
to Window and Vassall, the jewellers of Bold Street, with a request that they would
kindly send a representative round to the hotel with some nice pieces of jewellery,
diamonds and pearls chiefly, which he was desirous of taking as a present to his sister in
"Mr. Winslow took the order from M. Albert with a pleasant bow. Then he went to his
inner office and consulted with his partner, Mr. Vassall, as to the best course to adopt.
Both the gentlemen were desirous of doing business, for business had been very slack
lately: neither wished to refuse a possible customer, or to offend Mr. Pettitt, the manager
of the North-Western, who had recommended them to the Prince. But that foreign title
and the vulgar little French secretary stuck in the throats of the two pompous and worthy