CBSE Class X – Footprints without Feet-The Midnight Visitor – Explanation with Q and A

The Midnight Visitor by Robert Arthur

The different characters in the short story

Ausable .. A man living in a small hotel in Paris. He is a spy.
Fowler .. A visitor who has nothing to do with espionage. Out of curiosity, he has come to meet Ausable to understand the secretive world spies. He speaks with American accent because he is from Boston in the U.S. He has a strong presence of mind.
Max .. Another spy, possibly a professional rival of Ausable.
Henry .. The hotel’s waiter.

The story ..

Fowler is a young writer fascinated with the world of secret agents, and the murky business of intelligence agents. He has fixed an appointment with Ausable over phone. He has never met him before. He has thought that Ausable would be living in luxury hotels where espionage agents indulge in their activities in the midst of much glamour and glitz.
When he meets Ausable and is escorted to the latter’s tiny sixth-floor ordinary room in a very ordinary hotel in Paris, he is clearly underwhelmed. To add to his disappointment, Ausable turns out to be an obese man with little charm, and no smart youthful look. Ausable tells Fowler that he should be disappointed to see a spy living in such an ordinary environment.

Fowler, a bit surprised to see a short fat man in the profession of spies, follows Ausable to his room. As soon as Ausable switches on the light, he is shocked to sees a strange intruder in his room pointing a pistol at him. It soon becomes clear that it is Max, who stands menacingly with his pistol in his hand. The target is Ausable.

Ausable asks Max matter-of-factly how he is there when he is supposed to be in Berlin. Ausable is irked to see Max in the room, and makes no attempt to hide it.

Max sternly tells Ausable that he has come in to take away the report about some missile that was to come to Ausable that night.

Read and find out ..

  1. How has Max got in?   Max has made his way in using a passkey.
  2. How does Ausable say he got in? .. Ausable said that Max had intruded into the room climbing the balcony just under the window.

The quick-thinking Ausable sits down on a sofa and murmurs that he is going to remonstrate with the hotel’s manager for the unauthorized entry of a visitor (Max) into his room. It appears, there is a balcony near the window that allows entry by strangers into the room. For Ausable, this was the second such incident. He expresses his disgust with the manager for not having closed that way for entry way despite his assurances to plug it. Ausable says all these words within the earshot of Max.

Max is surprised to hear that there is a balcony that he could have used to make his way in. Instead, he used a passkey that was not so easy.

Ausable says that the balcony belongs to the adjoining room of which his room was once a part. The large room has been divided to make two separate rooms, but the balcony still remains accessible from Ausable’s room.

Max hears this attentively. Fowler still stands terrified aside Ausable. Max waves him to sit down as they have to wait for 30 minutes more. Ausable calmly corrects Max that it is going to be thirty one minutes, not thirty. This shows that Ausable very well knows that a visitor is due to come there soon.


Suddenly, they hear a knock on the door. Everyone, especially Max appears very scared.  He fears it’s the police. There is great danger. Ausable adds to Max’s fear saying that the police won’t wait very long. They will barge in, as the door is unlocked. The knock becomes louder. Max is angry at the unexpected turn of events. He vents his anger on Ausable for having called in the police. Quickly he makes his plan to flee, using the balcony exit that Ausable had described moments ago. With pistol still pointing at Ausable, he turns his body, raises his leg to keep it on the window sill, and prepares to jump down to the balcony that he thinks is there below. 

He is very angry with Ausable for calling in the police to foil his plan. Raising his voice, he asks Ausable to send back the police. He says he will wait in the balcony till the cops are gone, and then return to collect the papers. 

The knocking becomes louder and louder. Someone from outside calls out, “Ausable, Ausable! Max can wait no longer. He plunges to the balcony. In the meanwhile, the waiter, Henry, comes in with his bottle of wine, uncorks it, and leaves after putting the bottle on the table.

Fowler is totally confused and surprised to see the waiter in instead of the police.  Ausable chuckles and says there was no police. He knew it is Henry at the door as he had ordered the drink. Fowler is worried about Max returning to create trouble. Ausable calmly assures him that Max won’t return, because there is no balcony, and Max has jumped to death.

Think about it …

  1. “Ausable didn’t fit any description ……………………………featuring James Bond?) … Secret  agents are generally smart tall figures, suave and soft-spoken. They speak multiple languages, and conduct themselves unobtrusively. Behind their sweet demeanour, they hide their masculine and steely nature.
  2. How does Ausable manage to make …. Ausable was a quick-witted person who could contrive the non-existent balcony to trick Max. Quite effortlessly, he said how his own room and the adjoining one formed part of a single room earlier. The balcony covered both. Ausable said in an angry tone that he had asked the manager to block the balcony so that no one could come into his room from that end. Ausable spoke so naturally that Max assumed there was indeed a balcony.
  3. Looking back at the story …… When Max spoke belligerently to demand the secret document from Ausable, the latter decided to cunningly get rid of him. He quickly thought of the balcony plot then and there and spoke in very natural voice to successfully trick Max. Poor Max jumped to his death.

     Talk about it ..

  1. In the story, Ausable shows ….. I was a boy of 13 and was going to play cricket with my fiends on a Sunday morning. Since I was late, I decided to reach the ground by walking along the rail track instead of taking the road that led to the ground. I was wearing my favourite red T-shirt. While jumping merrily from one sleeper to another I found, to my great horror, that a 6-inch length of the track had been cut out from the train track. I quickly realized it was a sabotage meant to derail the train. Running to the station to alert the station master would have taken 20 minutes at the least. I was shocked to see a train approaching. I was at my wit’s end. I wanted to stop the train, but how? I took out my red tT-shirt and waived it frantically. The driver saw me, and sensed something wong. He stopped the train. A major accident was avoided.
  2. Describe what you would do ……

a.  A small fire starts in the kitchen .. Remove the gas cylinder outside, scream to alert my                                                                              mother and neighbours.

b. A child begins to choke on a piece of food .. Insert my finger down his throat and make                                                                              him vomit, so that the stuck piece is ejected.

c.  An electrical appliance ………………. Switch off the main switch

d. A bicycle …………… Help the pedestrian back to his feet, take him to a safe place and                                                                                     comfort him.

e. It rains ………………………………. Switch on the TV/ radio and listen to the weather                                                                                              warnings, if any. go out and see if the streets are flooded.

f. A member of your family …………….. Call the police station and lodge a missing person                                                                                complaint.



Q1.   Do you think Ausable was a spy with remarkable presence of mind? Justify your answer?

Answer .. Ausabl, contrary to his rotund build, was very quick-witted. He was a great actor too, who could hide his fear and unease with remarkable ease. He knew Max was a hostile trespasser who had come to take away the highly classified missile file from him. Max had a pistol, so there was no way, he could be deterred or made to leave the room. Quite sharply, he thought of an idea to give an impression to Max that there was a balcony adjoining to the window, where as there was no balcony at all. By posing as if he was very annoyed with the hotel manager for not having closed it despite many requests, he convinced Max that there was indeed a balcony that could be an emergency escape route. Ausable knew it was the hotel steward Henry at the door, but he gave Max to understand that it was the police. When he was reeling off such contrived information, he remained cool, so as not to create any doubt in the mind of Max about the non-existent balcony or the police. Finally, Henry’s knocks became louder, and Max panicked. To evade arrest, he jumped to the balcony, but it was fatal jump to the ground.

Q2. How was Fowler convinced that Ausable was indeed an ace sleuth?

Answer .. All spies are extremely sharp-witted and have great presence of mind. These attributes help them to wriggle out of difficult situations and avoid being killed or intercepted. Ausable was a plump guy, not the least like the smart-looking stereotypes we see in James Bond films. His plump and obese appearance helped him to skirt prying eyes. When Fowler found that Ausable had eliminated Max without firing a bullet or giving him a single blow through a quick-thinking plot, he became convinced that Ausable was, indeed, an ace intelligence man.



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