Love's Random Shot


Wilkie Collins

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Love's Random Shot


The story appeared in Love's Random Shot and Other Stories by Wilkie Collins (New York: George Munro's Sons, possibly 1894). 'Love's Random Shot' is one of the stories Collins did not want reprinted after his death.



The scene is a famous city in Scotland.

The chief personage is the best police-officer we had in the time when I served the office of Sheriff.

He was an old man, about to retire on a well-earned pension at the period of his life to which my narrative refers. A theft of a priceless picture, which had escaped discovery by the other members of our police force, roused old Benjamin Parley to exert himself for the last time. The money motive was not the motive that mainly influenced him, although the large reward originally offered for the recovery of the picture had been doubled. 'If the rest of you can't find the thief,' he said, 'I must take the case in hand, for the honour of Scotland.'

Having arrived at this decision, Parley presented himself at my house. I gave him a letter of introduction to the proprietor of the picture -- then on the point of applying for help to London.

You have heard of Lord Dalton's famous gallery. A Madonna, by Raphael, was the gem of the collection. Early one morning the servants discovered the empty frame, without finding a trace of the means by which the audacious robbery had been committed. Having allowed our veteran officer to make his own preliminary investigations, my lord (a man of rare ability and of marked originality of character) was at once impressed by the startling novelty of the conclusion at which Parley arrived, and by the daring nature of the plan that he devised for solving the mystery of the theft.

Lord Dalton pointed to a letter on his library table, addressed to the Chief of the London Detective Police Force.

'I will delay posting this for a week,' he said. 'If, at the end of the time, you send me a sufficiently encouraging first report, the case shall be left unreservedly in your hands.'

At the end of the week the report was sent in. Lord Dalton first destroyed his letter to London, and then spoke to Parley on the subject of the reward.

'As a well-informed police-officer,' he said, 'you are no doubt aware that I am one of the three richest men in Scotland. Have you also heard that I am a stingy man?'

'I have heard exactly the contrary, my lord,' Parley answered, with perfect truth.

'Very good. You will be inclined to believe me, when I tell you that the money value of my picture (large as it may be) is the least part of its value in my estimation. The sheriff tells me that you have a wife and two daughters at home, and that you were about to retire on a pension when you offered your services. At your age, I must take that circumstance into consideration. Do you mind telling me what income you have to look forward to; adding your other pecuniary resources (if you have any) to your pension?'

Parley answered the question without hesitation, and without reserve. Ha was not an easy man to astonish; but Lord Dalton's next words literally struck him speechless.

'Put my Raphael back in the frame, within a month from this day,' said his lordship, 'and I will treble your income, and secure it to your widow and children after you.'

In less than three weeks from that date, Benjamin Parley (just arrived from Brussels) walked into the picture gallery, and put the Raphael back into the frame with his own hands. He refused to say how he had recovered the picture. But he announced, with an appearance of self-reproach which entirely failed to deceive Lord Dalton, the disastrous escape of his prisoner on the journey to Scotland. At a later period, scandal whispered that this same prisoner was a vagabond member of my lord's family, and that Parley's success had been due, in the first instance, to his wise courage in daring to suspect a nobleman's relative. I don't know what your experience may be. For my own part, I have now and then found scandal building on a well-secured foundation.

II In relating the circumstances which made the generous nobleman and the skilled police-officer acquainted with each other, I have borne in mind certain results, the importance of which you have yet to estimate. The day on which Benjamin Parley received his magnificent reward proved to be the fatal day in his life.

He had originally planned to retire to the village in Perthshire in which he had been born. Being now possessed of an income which enabled him to indulge the ambition of his wife and daughters, it was decided that he should fix his residence in one of the suburbs of the city. Mrs Parley and her two girls, established in 'a genteel villa,' assumed the position of 'ladies'; and old Benjamin, when time hung heavy on his hands, was within half an hour's walk of his colleagues in the police force. 'But for my lord's generosity,' his wife remarked, 'he would not have had the resource.

Wilkie Collins

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