The Detective by Jerome K Jerome

Story type: Essay

Ah! he is a cute one, he is. Possibly in real life he would not be deemed anything extraordinary, but by contrast with the average of stage men and women, any one who is not a born fool naturally appears somewhat Machiavellian.

He is the only man in the play who does not swallow all the villain tells him and believe it, and come up with his mouth open for more. He is the only man who can see through the disguise of an overcoat and a new hat.

There is something very wonderful about the disguising power of cloaks and hats upon the stage. This comes from the habit people on the stage have of recognizing their friends, not by their faces and voices, but by their cloaks and hats.

A married man on the stage knows his wife, because he knows she wears a blue ulster and a red bonnet. The moment she leaves off that blue ulster and red bonnet he is lost and does not know where she is.

She puts on a yellow cloak and a green hat, and coming in at another door says she is a lady from the country, and does he want a housekeeper?

Having lost his beloved wife, and feeling that there is no one now to keep the children quiet, he engages her. She puzzles him a good deal, this new housekeeper. There is something about her that strangely reminds him of his darling Nell–maybe her boots and dress, which she has not had time to change.

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Sadly the slow acts pass away until one day, as it is getting near closing-time, she puts on the blue ulster and the red bonnet again and comes in at the old original door.

Then he recognizes her and asks her where she has been all these cruel years.

Even the bad people, who as a rule do possess a little sense–indeed, they are the only persons in the play who ever pretend to any–are deceived by singularly thin disguises.

The detective comes in to their secret councils, with his hat drawn down over his eyes, and followed by the hero speaking in a squeaky voice; and the villains mistake them for members of the band and tell them all their plans.

If the villains can’t get themselves found out that way, then they go into a public tea-garden and recount their crimes to one another in a loud tone of voice.

They evidently think that it is only fair to give the detective a chance.

The detective must not be confounded with the policeman. The stage policeman is always on the side of the villain; the detective backs virtue.

The stage detective is, in fact, the earthly agent of a discerning and benevolent Providence. He stands by and allows vice to be triumphant and the good people to be persecuted for awhile without interference. Then when he considers that we have all had about enough of it (to which conclusion, by the bye, he arrives somewhat late) he comes forward, handcuffs the bad people, sorts out and gives back to the good people all their various estates and wives, promises the chief villain twenty years’ penal servitude, and all is joy.

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