There has evidently been a mistake somewhere, but surely that is all. If Mr. Wilson gave me an envelope--and I remember now that he did--I still have it."
He took one out of his pocket, opened it, glanced at it, looked surprised and worried, and stood silent a few moments. Then he waved his hand in a wandering and mechanical way, and made an effort or two to say something, then gave it up, despondently. Several voices cried out:
"Read it! read it! What is it?"
So he began, in a dazed and sleep-walker fashion:
"'The remark which I made to the unhappy stranger was this: "You are far from being a bad man. [The house gazed at him marvelling.] Go, and reform."' [Murmurs: "Amazing! what can this mean?"] This one," said the Chair, "is signed Thurlow G. Wilson."
"There!" cried Wilson, "I reckon that settles it! I knew perfectly well my note was purloined."
"Purloined!" retorted Billson. "I'll let you know that neither you nor any man of your kidney must venture to--"
The Chair: "Order, gentlemen, order! Take your seats, both of you, please."
They obeyed, shaking their heads and grumbling angrily. The house was profoundly puzzled; it did not know what to do with this curious emergency. Presently Thompson got up. Thompson was the hatter. He would have liked to be a Nineteener; but such was not for him; his stock of hats was not considerable enough for the position. He said:
"Mr. Chairman, if I may be permitted to make a suggestion, can both of these gentlemen be right? I put it to you, sir, can both have happened to say the very same words to the stranger? It seems to me--"
The tanner got up and interrupted him. The tanner was a disgruntled man; he believed himself entitled to be a Nineteener, but he couldn't get recognition. It made him a little unpleasant in his ways and speech. Said he:
"Sho, THAT'S not the point! THAT could happen--twice in a hundred years--but not the other thing. NEITHER of them gave the twenty dollars!" [A ripple of applause.]
Billson. "I did!"
Wilson. "I did!"
Then each accused the other of pilfering.
The Chair. "Order! Sit down, if you please--both of you. Neither of the notes has been out of my possession at any moment."
A Voice. "Good--that settles THAT!"
The Tanner. "Mr. Chairman, one thing is now plain: one of these men has been eavesdropping under the other one's bed, and filching family secrets. If it is not unparliamentary to suggest it, I will remark that both are equal to it. [The Chair. "Order! order!"] I withdraw the remark, sir, and will confine myself to suggesting that IF one of them has overheard the other reveal the test-remark to his wife, we shall catch him now."
A Voice. "How?"
The Tanner. "Easily. The two have not quoted the remark in exactly the same words. You would have noticed that, if there hadn't been a considerable stretch of time and an exciting quarrel inserted between the two readings."
A Voice. "Name the difference."
The Tanner. "The word VERY is in Billson's note, and not in the other."
Many Voices. "That's so--he's right!"
The Tanner. "And so, if the Chair will examine the test-remark in the sack, we shall know which of these two frauds--[The Chair. "Order!"]--which of these two adventurers--[The Chair. "Order! order!"]--which of these two gentlemen--[laughter and applause]--is entitled to wear the belt as being the first dishonest blatherskite ever bred in this town--which he has dishonoured, and which will be a sultry place for him from now out!" [Vigorous applause.]
Many Voices. "Open it!--open the sack!"
Mr. Burgess made a slit in the sack, slid his hand in, and brought out an envelope. In it were a couple of folded notes. He said:
"One of these is marked, 'Not to be examined until all written communications which have been addressed to the Chair--if any--shall have been read.' The other is marked 'THE TEST.' Allow me. It is worded--to wit:
"'I do not require that the first half of the remark which was made to me by my benefactor shall be quoted with exactness, for it was not striking, and could be forgotten; but its closing fifteen words are quite striking, and I think easily rememberable; unless THESE shall be accurately reproduced, let the applicant be regarded as an impostor.