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THERE is nothing so deceptive as a half-truth. The half that is true has a certain suggestive power that lends to the other half a plausibility and a credibility that it does not possess in its own right. This interesting psychological fact was realized, at least subconsciously, by Mr. Didbury Toke. For Mr. Toke was a collector of antique and other works of art, a connoisseur and a dealer. He really was. It was not a pose or a pretence. He was a bona fide collector, and a connoisseur who had that genuine love of fine and beautiful works that is the indispensable condition of real connoisseurship. But Mr. Toke was also a fence. And that was where the illusory element came in.
Any person who, not being a known collector and a recognized dealer, should have been seen, as he frequently was, in the company of definitely shady characters, would inevitably have attracted the attention of the guardians of the law. But everyone knows that the really enthusiastic collector must needs seek his quarry where it is most likely to be found; and there is no need to watch him, for no crook or fence would be so foolish as to sell doubtful merchandise to a collector who is going to expose it forthwith in his show-cases, or a dealer who is going to offer it in the open market. So Mr. Didbury Toke went about his lawful occasions unmolested and unsuspected, and, under the cover of them, did a little unlawful business if it happened to come his way.
It came his way pretty often in these latter days.
But this was a comparatively new development. For many years he had carried on his activities in the most scrupulously correct manner. And so he might have continued to the end, but for some exceptional circumstance. We are all, indeed, the creatures of circumstance. But circumstances are not entirely beyond human control. Their control is, however, largely proportionate to our control of ourselves. And that was where Mr. Toke had failed. At a critical moment he found himself unable to resist a sudden temptation. But let us have done with generalities and consider the circumstances in detail.
The descent to Avernus is proverbially easy; and, in practice, it is usually somewhat gradual. But there are exceptions; and the case of Mr. Didbury Toke furnishes an example. For his start upon that famous decline was the result of an incident quite unforeseen and, to a certain extent, beyond his control. At any rate, the determining cause —or perhaps we should say the predisposing cause —was a convulsion of nature for which he certainly could not be held responsible; being, in fact, no less than a thunderstorm. Mr. Toke did not like thunderstorms.