The Midnight Visitor By Robert Arthur

Ausable did not fit any description of a secret agent Fowler had ever read. Following him down the musty corridor of the gloomy French hotel where Ausable had a room, Fowler felt let down. It was a small room, on the sixth and top floor, and scarcely a setting for a romantic adventure.

Ausable, for one thing, fat. Very fat. And there was his accent. Though he spoke French and German passably, he had never altogether lost the American accent he brought to Paris from Boston twenty years ago.

“You are disappointed,” Ausable said wheezily over his shoulder. “You were told that I was a secret agent, a spy, dealing in espionage and danger. You wished to meet me because you are a writer, young and romantic. You envisioned mysterious figures in the night, the crack of pistols, drugs in the wine.”

“Instead, you have spent a dull evening in a French music hall with a sloppy fat man, who instead of having messages, slipped into his hand by dark-eyed beauties, gets only a prosaic telephone call making an appointment in his room.  You have been bored!”  That fat man chuckled to himself as he unlocked the door of his room and stood aside to let his frustrated guest enter.”

“You are disillusioned,” Ausable told him. “But take cheer, my young friend. Presently you will see a paper, a quite important paper for which several men and women risked their lives, come to me.”  Some day soon, that paper may well affect the course of history. In that thought is drama, is there not?

As he spoke, Ausable closed the door behind him.  Then he switched on the light.

And as the light came on, Fowler had his first authentic thrill of the day. For halfway across the room, small automatic pistol in his hand, stood a man.

Ausable blinked a few times.

“Max, he wheezed, “you gave me quite a start. I thought you were in Berlin. What are you doing in my room?”

Max was slender, a little less than tall, with features that suggested slightly the crafty, pointed countenance of a fox.  There was about him – aside from the gun – nothing especially menacing.

“The report,” he murmured. “The report that is being brought to you tonight concerning some new missiles. I thought I would take it from you. It will be easier in my hands than in yours.”

Ausable moved to an armchair and sat down heavily. “I am going to raise the devil with the management this time, and you can bet on it,” he said grimly. “This is the second time in a month that somebody has got into my room through that nuisance of a balcony.” Fowler’s eyes went into the single window of the room. It was an ordinary window, against which now the night was pressing blackly.

“Balcony?”, Max said, with a rising inflection. “No, a passkey.  I did not know about the balcony. It might have saved me some trouble had I known.”

“It is not my balcony,” Ausable said with extreme irritation. “It belongs to the next apartment.” He glanced explanatorily at Fowler. “You see, he said”, “this room used to be part of a large unit, and the  next room – through that door there – used to be the living room. It had the balcony which extends under my window now.  You can get onto it from the empty room two doors down – and somebody did, last month. The management promised me to block it off. But they haven’t.”

Max glanced at Fowler who was standing stiffly not far from Ausable, and waved the gun with a commanding gesture. “Please sit down,” he said.  We have a wait of half an hour, I think.”

“Thirty-one minutes,” Ausable said moodily. “The appointment was for twelve-thirty.  I wish I knew how you learned about the report, Max.”

The little spy smiled evilly. “And we wish we knew how your people got the report. But no harm has been done. I will get it back tonight. What is that? Who is at the door?

Fowler jumped at the sudden knocking at the door. Ausable just smiled. “That will be the police,” he said. “I thought that such an important paper as the one we are waiting for should have a little extra protection. I told them to check on me to make sure everything was alright.”

Max bit his lip nervously. The knocking was repeated.

“What will you do now, Max?” Ausable asked. “I do not answer the door, they will enter anyway. The door is unlocked. And they will not hesitate to shoot.”

Max’s face was black with anger as he backed swiftly towards the window. He swung the leg over the sill. “Send them away!” He warned. “I will wait on the balcony.  Send them away or I’ll shoot and take my chances.”

The knocking at the door became louder and a voice was raised. “Mr. Ausable!, Mr. Ausable!”

Keeping his body twisted so that his gun still covered the fat man and his guest, the man at the window grasped the frame with his free hand to support himself. Then he swung his leg up and over the window- sill.

The doorknob turned. Swiftly Max pushed with his left hand to free himself from the sill and drop to the balcony And as he dropped, he screamed once, shrilly.

The door opened and a waiter stood there with a tray, a bottle and two glasses.  “Here is the drink you ordered for when you returned,” he said, and set the tray on the table, deftly uncorked the bottle, and left the room.

White-faced, Fowler stared after him. “But…” he stammered, “the police…”

“There were no police.” Ausable sighed. “Only Henry, whom I was expecting.”

“But wont’ that man out on the balcony…?” Fowler began.

“No,” said Ausable, “he won’t return. You see, my young friend, there is no balcony.

Summary of the Chapter

Meeting of Secret Agent Ausable and Writer Fowler

Ausable was the smart secret agent, but did not look like one at all, being short and very fat. Fowler was a young writer who wanted to write about Ausable and so spent an evening with him. Fowler feeling disappointed so far, as he could not find any characteristic of a secret agent in Ausable.

Another Secret Agent Max seen with a Pistol

When both Ausable and Fowler entered Ausable’s hotel room, another secret agent named Max was waiting in the room with an automatic pistol pointed at them. Max was there because he had come to know that Ausable was going to receive an important report about some new missiles that night. Max threatened to shoot if Ausable tried to act smart.

Ausable Confuses Max

To ensure the report’s safety as well as his own and the writer’s safety, Ausable invented a story about anybody entering his home easily through a balcony just below the window in his room. Actually there was no balcony- if anybody climbed out from the window, he would fall to his death, as the room was on the sixth floor. However, Max told them that he had entered the room through the door using a pass key.

Max Jumps in the Non-existing Balcony and Dies

Suddenly, there was a knocking on the door and Ausable pretended that it was the local police, who had been asked to provide an extra security for the important document he was about to receive. When the knocking was repeated, Max become angry at Ausable and decided to wait in the balcony (which he thought existed) until the police went away. He stepped out of the window and fell to his death.

When the door opened, a waiter came in with drinks which Ausable had ordered to be delivered to his room when he had returned to the hotel.

Chapter Sketch

Ausable, a secret agent, is expecting to get a very important report. Another secret agent, Max, threats him with a pistol, demanding the report. This story tells how Ausable outwits (deceives) Max by making up convincing stories.

About the Characters

Ausable: He is a secret agent who does not look like one at all, but shows great presence of mind to outwit another agent.

Fowler: He is a young and romantic writer who is looking for some excitement in the company of secret agent like Ausable.

Max: A rival secret agent who is fooled by Ausable and falls to his death.

Chapter Highlights

1. Ausable was a smart secret agent, but did not look like one at all, being short and very fat. Fowler was a young writer who wanted to write about Ausable and so spent an evening with him.

2. When both of them returned to Ausable’s sixth floor hotel room, another secret agent named Max was waiting for them with a gun so that he could take the important report on new missiles from Ausable.

3. To ensure the report’s and their own safety, Ausable invented a story about anybody entering his room easily through a balcony just below the window in his room. Actually, there was no balcony.

4. Suddenly, there was a knocking on the door and Ausable pretended that it was the local police.

5. When the knocking was repeated, Max decided to wait in the balcony (which he thought existed) until the police went away. He stepped out of the window and fell to his death.

6. When the door opened, a waiter came in with drinks, which Ausable had ordered to be delivered to his room when he had returned to the hotel.

Word Meanings

musty: smelling of mould/fungus

gloomy: cheerless

let down: disappointed

setting: place

romantic adventure: exciting happening

accent: way of pronouncing words in a language

passably: just well enough to be understood

wheezily: with a whistling sound

espionage: spying

envisioned: imagined.

music hall: hall where musical programmers are held

sloppy: carelessly dressed

slipped: passed

beauties: beautiful women

prosaic: routine/ordinary

chuckled: laughed quietly without opening the mouth

frustrated: bored

disillusioned:  disappointed.

take cheer: be happy

presently: soon

come: will be delivered.

affect the course of history: change what happens

drama: excitement

authentic thrill: real feeling of excitement

wheezed: spoke breathing noisily and heavily

start: shock

slender: gracefully thin

crafty, pointed countenance: cunning look

menacing: dangerous

missiles: directed weapons

heavily: with force

raise the devil: make a strong protest

grimly: seriously

nuisance: causing arrogance

pressing blackly: showing total darkness

inflection: change of tone

passkey: duplicate key

block it off: close it

moodily: sadly

evilly: wickedly

protection: security

check on: meet

backed swiftly: went back quickly

take my chances: depend  on my luck

shrilly: piercing/at a high pitch

deftly: neatly and skilfully

uncorked: removed the top cover

white-faced: pale from fear

 

Questions and Answers

NCERT Solutions

Read and Find Out

1. How is Ausable different from other secret agents?

or

What great qualities made Ausable a successful secret agent? or How was Ausable different from other secret agents?

or

How is Ausable different from other secret agents? How does he deal with Max?

Answer:  Ausable is different from other secret agents in more ways than one. He has a small room in the musty corridor of a gloomy French hotel. It was on the sixth and top floor and it was scarcely the setting for a romantic adventure. He was extremely fat. In spite of living in Paris for over twenty years, he spoke French and Germany with difficulty and has an American accent. Instead of getting messages passed secretly to him by beautiful girls, he got only a routine telephone call making an appointment. In these ways, he was different from the conventional notion (belief) of a secret agent.

He dealt with Max by inventing some stories and convincing Max to act on them, so that he could get rid of Max permanently.

2.  Who is Fowler and what is his first authentic thrill of the day?

Answer: Fowler is a writer and he had come to meet Ausable. His first authentic thrill of the day came when he saw a man in Ausable’s room pointing a pistol towards Ausable and himself.

3. How has Max got in?

Answer: Max had got into the room using a passkey or master key.

4. How does Ausable say he got in?

Answer: Ausable said that he thought Max had got into the room through the balcony. He said that it was the second-time in a month that somebody has got into his room this way.

Think About It

1. “Ausable did not fit any description of a secret agent Fowler has ever read.” What do secret agents in books and films look like, in your opinion? Discuss in groups or in class some stories or movies featuring spies, detectives and secret agents, and compare their appearance with that of Ausable in this story. (You may mention characters from fiction in languages other than English. In English, fiction you may have come across Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, or Miss Marple. have you watched any movies featuring James Bond?

Answer: Secret agents in fiction are projected like ideal men. ‘Tall, dark and handsome’. They are usually well-built and keep beautiful women for company.  They would smoke a pipe (like Sherlock Holmes) or a cigar and execute death-defying  stunts (like James Bond). Movies based on James Bond show hi-tech gadgets which assist the detective in countering villains. However, there are some exceptions to this appearance of a secret agent also.  A character named Feluda was created by Satyajit Ray, the famous Bengali filmmaker. Feluda was a tall athletic figure who relied on his superb analytical ability and observation skill.

2. How does Ausable manage to make max believe that there is a balcony attached to his room? Look back at his detailed description of it. What makes it a convincing story?

Answer: Ausable creates a detailed description of how his office was part of a bigger apartment and how the next room had a direct connection with a balcony. His statement that somebody else also broke into his office through that balcony earlier made it a convincing story. Ausable’s ability to think quickly and calmly in a situation of panic makes it convincing.

3. Looking back at the story when do you think Ausable thought up his plan for getting rid of Max? Do you think he had worked out his plan in detail right from the beginning? Or did he make up a plan taking advantage of events as they happened?

Answer: No, I don’t think that he had worked out his plan in detail earlier. He took advantage of events as they happened.  Ausable made up a story of the balcony outside the room and as there was a knock at the door, he said that it would be the police. All these made Max desperate. He became restless and without seeing below, jumped out of the window.

Talk About It

1. In this story, Ausable shows great ‘presence of mind’, or the ability to think quickly and act calmly and wisely in a situation of danger and surprise. Give examples from your own experience, or narrate a story, which shows someone’s presence of mind.

Answer: This story refers to  the play ‘If I were you’. Gerrard was held hostage by a criminal. However, Gerrard treated the criminal as a guest and trapped him with his confidence.  He managed to convince the criminal to run away as the police is behind him. He told him to run through the exit door, which was actually a cupboard door. The criminal exited through the door and was trapped in the cupboard.

2. Discuss what you would do in the situations described below.  Remember that presence of mind comes out of a state of mental preparedness. If you have thought about possible problems or dangers, and about how to act in such situation, you have a better chance of dealing with such situation if they do arise.

(i) A small fire starts in your kitchen.

(ii) A child starts to choke on a piece of food.

(iii) An electrical appliance starts to hiss and gives out sparks.

(iv) A bicycle knocks down a pedestrian.

(v) It rains continuously for more than twenty-four hours.

(iv) A member of  your family does not return home at the usual or expected time.

You may suggest other such situations.

Answer:

(i) If a blanket is available, it should be put over the fire to shut out the air. If the fire is not due to an electrical problem, water can be thrown on it. If it is due to a short-circuit, electricity must be disconnected immediately from everything in the kitchen before taking any other measure.

(ii) The child’s back must be thumped slowly until the piece of food stuck is vomited out. However, in case it continues, the child should be given trained medical aid immediately.

(iii) Electricity to the appliance should be immediately disconnected. If it is plugged into a socket, the plug must be removed from the socket. Later on the appliance may be repaired by an authorised person.

(iv) First aid should given to the pedestrian at once. Public help may also be asked, if necessary. Depending on the seriousness of the injury, the affected person may be shifted to hospital.

(v) Flooding may be caused by a heavy downpour, so all necessary precautions for saving various possessions should be taken, besides informing the concerned authorities to take preventive actions.

(iv) A family member not returning home at the usual time should enquired for at the place he or she was expected to visit. If her or she was with friends, these friends or the friends’ family should be contacted. If there is no result from these enquires as a last resort (choice), the local police may be informed.

Extra Questions

Extract Based Questions

Read the following extracts carefully and choose the correct option.

1. And then there was his accent. Though he spoke French and German passably, he had never altogether lost the American accent he had brought to Paris from Boston twenty years ago.

(i) Who is ‘he’ in the above extract?

(a) Max

(b) Fowler

(c) Henry

(d) Ausable

(ii) Where is ‘he’ at present?

(a) In a church

(b) In a hospital

(c) In a school

(d) In a hotel

(iii) Which word in the extract is the opposite of ‘fluency’?

(a) Accent

(b) Greatly

(c) Passably

(d) Slowly

Answer: (i)  (d) Ausable.

(ii) (d) In a hotel.

(iii) (c) Passably.

(iv) (c) Way of speaking.

2. “You are disillusioned”, Ausable told him. “But take cheer, my young friend. Presently you will see a paper, a quite important paper for which several men and women have risked their lives, come to me.  Some day soon that paper may well affect the course of history. In that thought is drama, is there not”?

(i) ‘My young friend’ in the above extract is

(a) Max

(b) Fowler

(c) Ausable

(d) Henry

(ii) The ‘important paper’ referred in the extract is

(a) A report regarding new missiles

(b) A report regarding new hotels

(c) A report regarding new proposals

(d) A report regarding new phones.

(iii) Which word in the extract means the same as ‘disapppointed’?

(a) Cheer

(b) Quite

(c) Presently

(d) Disillusioned.

(iv) The word ‘quite’ in the extract is a ?

(a) Adjective

(b) Noun

(c) Preposition.

(d) Adverb.

Answer: (i)  (b) Fowler

(ii) (a) A report regarding new missiles

(iii) (d) Disillusioned

(iv) (d) Adverb

3. And as the light came on, Fowler had his first authentic thrill of the day. For halfway across the room, a small automatic pistol in his hand, stood a man.

(i) The ‘man’ in the extract is

(a) Max

(b) Ausable

(c) Fowler

(d) Henry

(ii) The ‘man’ had a pistol in his hand because

(a) he wanted to shoot himself

(b) he wanted to forcibly take Ausable’s money

(c) he wanted to shoot Fowler

(d) he wanted to forcibly take the report on new missiles from Ausable

(iii) Which word in the extract means the same as ‘real’ ?

(a) Thrill

(b) Authentic

(c) Genuine

(d) First

(iv) Select the opposite of ‘automatic’

(a) verbal

(b) manual

(c) scalable

(d) viable

Answer:  (i) (a) Max

(ii) (d) he wanted to forcibly take the report on new missiles from Ausable

(iii) (b) Authentic

(iv) (b) manual

4. “You can get onto it from the empty room two doors down – and somebody did, last month. The management promised to block it off. But they haven’t.”

(i) Who is speaking these words and to whom?

(a) Ausable to Max

(b) Max to Fowler

(c) Ausable to Fowler

(d) Fowler to Ausable

(ii) What is ‘it’ in the above extract?

(a) Terrace

(b) Drawer

(c) Window

(d) Balcony

(iii) Which word in the extract is the opposite of ‘open’ ?

(a) Unlock

(b) Block

(c) Close

(d) Off

(iv) The  word ‘onto’ in the extract is a

(a) Preposition

(b) Conjunction

(c) noun

(d) article

Answer: (i)  (c) Ausable to Fowler

(ii) (d) Balcony

(iii) (b) Block

(iv) (a) preposition

Short Questions and Answers

1. Why had Fowler wanted to meet Ausable?

 Answer: Fowler was a writer and he had wanted to meet Ausable, a renowned secret agent. Fowler wanted to know how Ausable trackled dangerous situations. He was disappointed when he saw Ausable as he didn’t look like what Fowler thought a secret agent should look like.

2. Describe Fowler’s reaction after entering Ausable’s hotel room?

Answer: Initially, Ausable got a shock to see Max in his room. But he remained calm. Max also had a pistol with him, so Ausable didn’t try anything fishy. He just kept himself cool and calm fooled Max by using his brain to invent stories.

3. “Ausable shows great presence of mind in a situation of danger and surprise. Do you agree with the statement? If yes, why?

Answer: Yes, I agree with the statement, as Ausable showed great presence of mind when Max pointed a gun at him when he entered the hotel room with Fowler, which surprised and endangered both of them. He remained calm and cool, inventing stories as required to fool Max into jumping to his death.

4. Why did Max’s face turn black with anger? What did he want Ausable to do?

Answer: Max’s face turned black with anger because he felt that his plan of extracting the important document from Ausable was in danger of failing due to the knocking of the door, which Ausable identified as the police. He wanted Ausable to send the police away.

5. Why did Ausable frame the story of the balcony?

Answer: Ausable framed the story of the balcony to counter the use of the pistol by the rival secret agent Max to threaten him.  The rival would have been able to get the important report about the new missiles if Ausable had not concocted  (created) this story.

6. How does Ausable manage to make Max believe that there is a balcony attached to his room?

Answer: Ausable  creates a detailed description of how his office was part of a bigger apartment and how the next door room had a direct connection with the balcony. His statement that somebody else had also broken into his office through that balcony made it a convincing story.

7. Who actually had knocked at the door of Ausable’s room? Why did he come there?

Answer:   The waiter in the hotel where Ausable stayed knocked at the door of Ausable’s room. He had brought the drinks which Ausable had ordered when he arrived in the hotel with Fowler. So, in this way, he was doing his duty of serving customer of his hotel.

Long Questions and Answers

1. What information Ausable did give about the  imaginary balcony? Why did he do so?

Answer: Ausable created a detailed description of how his room was part of a bigger apartment and how the next room had a direct connection with a balcony.  His statement that somebody else had also broken into his office through that balcony made it a convincing story. Ausable did this to fool Max into thinking that a balcony existed just outside the window, as he knew that soon the waiter bringing the drinks he had ordered would be knocking at the door, which may prompt Max to jump into the imaginary balcony to hide and when the waiter knocked at the door, Ausable  again befooled Max by saying that it was police who wanted to come inside to provide protection. Max wanted to run away to avoid the police and jumps to his death into that non-existent balcony.

2. Ausable was a clever secret agent. Do you agree with the statement? Justify your answer.

Answer: Ausable  did not look at all like the conventional image of a secret agent. He was short and very fat. Besides, he spoke French and German which lacked fluency as well as the right accent; The American accent was quite palpable (noticeable) in his speech. However, Ausable  had a very sharp and active mind because he invented two stories – one about a non-existent balcony outside his hotel window and another about the police arriving to give extra security to some important documents he was about to receive. He was an intelligent man and a clever secret agent to be able to invent such stories on the spur of the moment in the face of imminent (coming) danger in the form of Max, a rival secret agent. So, it proves that  Ausable who  befooled Max by a false story and made him to jump out of the window, only to crash the ground, was a clever secret agent.

3. Why did Max scream  shrilly  when he dropped to the balcony?

Answer:  A person screams shrilly when something unexpected happens to him. Here, Max  screamed shrilly when he dropped to the ‘balcony’, because actually there was no balcony at all; it was only a figment of Ausable’s  imagination. He befooled Max by describing it because he wanted to make an impression on Fowler who doubted on him as a secret agent and wanted to prove his worth. Ausable had described it so vividly, including its history and use, that Max was convinced  there was a balcony just outside  the window and tried to jump onto it without looking. As the room was on the 6th floor, Max  would certainly have been died by falling from such a height.

4.  A calm mind  can help you tackle direst stress. Explain.

Answer:  Certainly,  a calm mind can help us to tackle direst  stress.  If Ausable panicked and done something fishy, then Max probably would have killed him. But Ausable kept his cool. Apart from this story, there can be some real life examples also.

We are always told to focus when we are appearing for exams or not to panic in a different situation because such things hamper our thinking ability.  We are not able to  take proper decisions at this time. When we are in problems or in a situation which looks dangerous, we often  lose hopes and don’t even try to recover from the situation.  Our minds does not function properly at the very moment. But to find solution to overcome with that we have to calm our nerves and cool our mind. If we keep our mind cool and focus, then only can we find ways to get out of crunch situations.

5. Presence of mind is basically mental preparedness or the ability to think and act wisely in a dangerous or surprising station. How would you react to the situation if you see a small child being knocked down by a speeding motorcycle or car, which speeds away after hitting the child?

Answer: First aid should be given to the child at once.  public help may also be asked, if necessary. Depending on the seriousness of the injury, the child may be shifted to hospital.  Simultaneously, we should try to note the license plate number of the offending vehicle, so that the police may be intimated to arrest the criminal.  If the child is conscious and can talk coherently, we should try to find out the name and telephone number of any of its family members to inform them about the mishap.

People keep themselves away from these situations because they don’t want to be in danger as they are afraid of police investigations, trials and other problems. They believe that it is not their duty to help  someone who is hit by a bike or car, as this will be a police case and  they might be falling in danger.

But it is our duty as a human being to help someone in need and give them a medical help if there is someone who gets hit by a bike or car. To save someone’s life is an angelic act.