Davis' Short Stories Vol. 1 HTML version

The Amateur
It was February off the Banks, and so thick was the weather that, on the upper decks, one
could have driven a sleigh. Inside the smoking-room Austin Ford, as securely sheltered
from the blizzard as though he had been sitting in front of a wood fire at his club, ordered
hot gin for himself and the ship's doctor. The ship's doctor had gone below on another
"hurry call" from the widow. At the first luncheon on board the widow had sat on the
right of Doctor Sparrow, with Austin Ford facing her. But since then, except to the
doctor, she had been invisible. So, at frequent intervals, the ill health of the widow had
deprived Ford of the society of the doctor. That it deprived him, also, of the society of the
widow did not concern him. HER life had not been spent upon ocean liners; she could not
remember when state-rooms were named after the States of the Union. She could not tell
him of shipwrecks and salvage, of smugglers and of the modern pirates who found their
victims in the smoking-room.
Ford was on his way to England to act as the London correspondent of the New York
Republic. For three years on that most sensational of the New York dailies he had been
the star man, the chief muckraker, the chief sleuth. His interest was in crime. Not in
crimes committed in passion or inspired by drink, but in such offences against law and
society as are perpetrated with nice intelligence. The murderer, the burglar, the strong-
arm men who, in side streets, waylay respectable citizens did not appeal to him. The man
he studied, pursued, and exposed was the cashier who evolved a new method of covering
up his peculations, the dishonest president of an insurance company, the confidence man
who used no concealed weapon other than his wit. Toward the criminals he pursued
young Ford felt no personal animosity. He harassed them as he would have shot a hawk
killing chickens. Not because he disliked the hawk, but because the battle was unequal,
and because he felt sorry for the chickens.
Had you called Austin Ford an amateur detective he would have been greatly annoyed.
He argued that his position was similar to that of the dramatic critic. The dramatic critic
warned the public against bad plays; Ford warned it against bad men. Having done that,
he left it to the public to determine whether the bad man should thrive or perish.
When the managing editor told him of his appointment to London, Ford had protested
that his work lay in New York; that of London and the English, except as a tourist and
sight-seer, he knew nothing.
"That's just why we are sending you," explained the managing editor. "Our readers are
ignorant. To make them read about London you've got to tell them about themselves in
London. They like to know who's been presented at court, about the American girls who
have married dukes; and which ones opened a bazaar, and which one opened a hat shop,
and which is getting a divorce. Don't send us anything concerning suffragettes and