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The Club of Queer Trades

The Club of Queer Trades

Gilbert Keith Chesterton

Update: 2020-04-22

Chapter 1 THE TREMENDOUS ADVENTURES OF MAJOR BROWN

  • Rabelais, or his wild illustrator Gustave Doré, must have had something to d_ith the designing of the things called flats in England and America. There i_omething entirely Gargantuan in the idea of economising spacng houses on to_f each other, front doors and all. And in the chaos and complexity of thos_erpendicular streets anything may dwell or happen, and it is in one of them, I believe, that the inquirer may find the offices of the Club of Queer Trades.
  • It may be thought at the first glance that the name would attract and startl_he passer-by, but nothing attracts or startles in these dim immense hives.
  • The passer-by is only looking for his own melancholy destination, th_ontenegro Shipping Agency or the London office of the Rutland Sentinel, an_asses through the twilight passages as one passes through the twiligh_orridors of a dream. If the Thugs set up a Strangers' Assassination Compan_n one of the great buildings in Norfolk Street, and sent in a mild man i_pectacles to answer inquiries, no inquiries would be made. And the Club o_ueer Trades reigns in a great edifice hidden like a fossil in a mighty clif_f fossils.
  • The nature of this society, such as we afterwards discovered it to be, is soo_nd simply told. It is an eccentric and Bohemian Club, of which the absolut_ondition of membership lies in this, that the candidate must have invente_he method by which he earns his living. It must be an entirely new trade. Th_xact definition of this requirement is given in the two principal rules.
  • First, it must not be a mere application or variation of an existing trade.
  • Thus, for instance, the Club would not admit an insurance agent simply becaus_nstead of insuring men's furniture against being burnt in a fire, he insured, let us say, their trousers against being torn by a mad dog. The principle (a_ir Bradcock Burnaby-Bradcock, in the extraordinarily eloquent and soarin_peech to the club on the occasion of the question being raised in the Stormb_mith affair, said wittily and keenly) is the same. Secondly, the trade mus_e a genuine commercial source of income, the support of its inventor. Thu_he Club would not receive a man simply because he chose to pass his day_ollecting broken sardine tins, unless he could drive a roaring trade in them.
  • Professor Chick made that quite clear. And when one remembers what Professo_hick's own new trade was, one doesn't know whether to laugh or cry.
  • The discovery of this strange society was a curiously refreshing thing; t_ealize that there were ten new trades in the world was like looking at th_irst ship or the first plough. It made a man feel what he should feel, tha_e was still in the childhood of the world. That I should have come at las_pon so singular a body was, I may say without vanity, not altogethe_ingular, for I have a mania for belonging to as many societies as possible: _ay be said to collect clubs, and I have accumulated a vast and fantasti_ariety of specimens ever since, in my audacious youth, I collected th_thenaeum. At some future day, perhaps, I may tell tales of some of the othe_odies to which I have belonged. I will recount the doings of the Dead Man'_hoes Society (that superficially immoral, but darkly justifiable communion); I will explain the curious origin of the Cat and Christian, the name of whic_as been so shamefully misinterpreted; and the world shall know at last wh_he Institute of Typewriters coalesced with the Red Tulip League. Of the Te_eacups, of course I dare not say a word. The first of my revelations, at an_ate, shall be concerned with the Club of Queer Trades, which, as I have said, was one of this class, one which I was almost bound to come across sooner o_ater, because of my singular hobby. The wild youth of the metropolis call m_acetiously 'The King of Clubs'. They also call me 'The Cherub', in allusio_o the roseate and youthful appearance I have presented in my declining years.
  • I only hope the spirits in the better world have as good dinners as I have.
  • But the finding of the Club of Queer Trades has one very curious thing abou_t. The most curious thing about it is that it was not discovered by me; i_as discovered by my friend Basil Grant, a star-gazer, a mystic, and a man wh_carcely stirred out of his attic.
  • Very few people knew anything of Basil; not because he was in the leas_nsociable, for if a man out of the street had walked into his rooms he woul_ave kept him talking till morning. Few people knew him, because, like al_oets, he could do without them; he welcomed a human face as he might welcom_ sudden blend of colour in a sunset; but he no more felt the need of goin_ut to parties than he felt the need of altering the sunset clouds. He live_n a queer and comfortable garret in the roofs of Lambeth. He was surrounde_y a chaos of things that were in odd contrast to the slums around him; ol_antastic books, swords, armour—the whole dust-hole of romanticism. But hi_ace, amid all these quixotic relics, appeared curiously keen and modern—_owerful, legal face. And no one but I knew who he was.
  • Long ago as it is, everyone remembers the terrible and grotesque scene tha_ccurred in—, when one of the most acute and forcible of the English judge_uddenly went mad on the bench. I had my own view of that occurrence; bu_bout the facts themselves there is no question at all. For some months, indeed for some years, people had detected something curious in the judge'_onduct. He seemed to have lost interest in the law, in which he had bee_eyond expression brilliant and terrible as a K.C., and to be occupied i_iving personal and moral advice to the people concerned. He talked more lik_ priest or a doctor, and a very outspoken one at that. The first thrill wa_robably given when he said to a man who had attempted a crime of passion: "_entence you to three years imprisonment, under the firm, and solemn, and God- given conviction, that what you require is three months at the seaside." H_ccused criminals from the bench, not so much of their obvious legal crimes, but of things that had never been heard of in a court of justice, monstrou_goism, lack of humour, and morbidity deliberately encouraged. Things came t_ head in that celebrated diamond case in which the Prime Minister himself, that brilliant patrician, had to come forward, gracefully and reluctantly, t_ive evidence against his valet. After the detailed life of the household ha_een thoroughly exhibited, the judge requested the Premier again to ste_orward, which he did with quiet dignity. The judge then said, in a sudden, grating voice: "Get a new soul. That thing's not fit for a dog. Get a ne_oul." All this, of course, in the eyes of the sagacious, was premonitory o_hat melancholy and farcical day when his wits actually deserted him in ope_ourt. It was a libel case between two very eminent and powerful financiers, against both of whom charges of considerable defalcation were brought. Th_ase was long and complex; the advocates were long and eloquent; but at last, after weeks of work and rhetoric, the time came for the great judge to give _umming-up; and one of his celebrated masterpieces of lucidity and pulverizin_ogic was eagerly looked for. He had spoken very little during the prolonge_ffair, and he looked sad and lowering at the end of it. He was silent for _ew moments, and then burst into a stentorian song. His remarks (as reported) were as follows:
  • > "O Rowty-owty tiddly-owty
  • >
  • > Tiddly-owty tiddly-owty
  • >
  • > Highty-ighty tiddly-ighty
  • >
  • > Tiddly-ighty ow."
  • He then retired from public life and took the garret in Lambeth.
  • I was sitting there one evening, about six o'clock, over a glass of tha_orgeous Burgundy which he kept behind a pile of black-letter folios; he wa_triding about the room, fingering, after a habit of his, one of the grea_words in his collection; the red glare of the strong fire struck his squar_eatures and his fierce grey hair; his blue eyes were even unusually full o_reams, and he had opened his mouth to speak dreamily, when the door was flun_pen, and a pale, fiery man, with red hair and a huge furred overcoat, swun_imself panting into the room.
  • "Sorry to bother you, Basil," he gasped. "I took a liberty—made an appointmen_ere with a man—a client—in five minutes—I beg your pardon, sir," and he gav_e a bow of apology.
  • Basil smiled at me. "You didn't know," he said, "that I had a practica_rother. This is Rupert Grant, Esquire, who can and does all there is to b_one. Just as I was a failure at one thing, he is a success at everything. _emember him as a journalist, a house-agent, a naturalist, an inventor, _ublisher, a schoolmaster, a—what are you now, Rupert?"
  • "I am and have been for some time," said Rupert, with some dignity, "a privat_etective, and there's my client."
  • A loud rap at the door had cut him short, and, on permission being given, th_oor was thrown sharply open and a stout, dapper man walked swiftly into th_oom, set his silk hat with a clap on the table, and said, "Good evening, gentlemen," with a stress on the last syllable that somehow marked him out a_ martinet, military, literary and social. He had a large head streaked wit_lack and grey, and an abrupt black moustache, which gave him a look o_ierceness which was contradicted by his sad sea-blue eyes.
  • Basil immediately said to me, "Let us come into the next room, Gully," and wa_oving towards the door, but the stranger said:
  • "Not at all. Friends remain. Assistance possibly."
  • The moment I heard him speak I remembered who he was, a certain Major Brown _ad met years before in Basil's society. I had forgotten altogether the blac_andified figure and the large solemn head, but I remembered the peculia_peech, which consisted of only saying about a quarter of each sentence, an_hat sharply, like the crack of a gun. I do not know, it may have come fro_iving orders to troops.
  • Major Brown was a V.C., and an able and distinguished soldier, but he wa_nything but a warlike person. Like many among the iron men who recovere_ritish India, he was a man with the natural beliefs and tastes of an ol_aid. In his dress he was dapper and yet demure; in his habits he was precis_o the point of the exact adjustment of a tea-cup. One enthusiasm he had, which was of the nature of a religion—the cultivation of pansies. And when h_alked about his collection, his blue eyes glittered like a child's at a ne_oy, the eyes that had remained untroubled when the troops were roarin_ictory round Roberts at Candahar.
  • "Well, Major," said Rupert Grant, with a lordly heartiness, flinging himsel_nto a chair, "what is the matter with you?"
  • "Yellow pansies. Coal-cellar. P. G. Northover," said the Major, with righteou_ndignation.
  • We glanced at each other with inquisitiveness. Basil, who had his eyes shut i_is abstracted way, said simply:
  • "I beg your pardon."
  • "Fact is. Street, you know, man, pansies. On wall. Death to me. Something.
  • Preposterous."
  • We shook our heads gently. Bit by bit, and mainly by the seemingly sleep_ssistance of Basil Grant, we pieced together the Major's fragmentary, bu_xcited narration. It would be infamous to submit the reader to what w_ndured; therefore I will tell the story of Major Brown in my own words. Bu_he reader must imagine the scene. The eyes of Basil closed as in a trance, after his habit, and the eyes of Rupert and myself getting rounder and rounde_s we listened to one of the most astounding stories in the world, from th_ips of the little man in black, sitting bolt upright in his chair and talkin_ike a telegram.
  • Major Brown was, I have said, a successful soldier, but by no means a_nthusiastic one. So far from regretting his retirement on half-pay, it wa_ith delight that he took a small neat villa, very like a doll's house, an_evoted the rest of his life to pansies and weak tea. The thought that battle_ere over when he had once hung up his sword in the little front hall (alon_ith two patent stew-pots and a bad water-colour), and betaken himself instea_o wielding the rake in his little sunlit garden, was to him like having com_nto a harbour in heaven. He was Dutch-like and precise in his taste i_ardening, and had, perhaps, some tendency to drill his flowers like soldiers.
  • He was one of those men who are capable of putting four umbrellas in the stan_ather than three, so that two may lean one way and two another; he saw lif_ike a pattern in a freehand drawing-book. And assuredly he would not hav_elieved, or even understood, any one who had told him that within a few yard_f his brick paradise he was destined to be caught in a whirlpool o_ncredible adventure, such as he had never seen or dreamed of in the horribl_ungle, or the heat of battle.
  • One certain bright and windy afternoon, the Major, attired in his usua_aultless manner, had set out for his usual constitutional. In crossing fro_ne great residential thoroughfare to another, he happened to pass along on_f those aimless-looking lanes which lie along the back-garden walls of a ro_f mansions, and which in their empty and discoloured appearance give one a_dd sensation as of being behind the scenes of a theatre. But mean and sulk_s the scene might be in the eyes of most of us, it was not altogether so i_he Major's, for along the coarse gravel footway was coming a thing which wa_o him what the passing of a religious procession is to a devout person. _arge, heavy man, with fish-blue eyes and a ring of irradiating red beard, wa_ushing before him a barrow, which was ablaze with incomparable flowers. Ther_ere splendid specimens of almost every order, but the Major's own favourit_ansies predominated. The Major stopped and fell into conversation, and the_nto bargaining. He treated the man after the manner of collectors and othe_ad men, that is to say, he carefully and with a sort of anguish selected th_est roots from the less excellent, praised some, disparaged others, made _ubtle scale ranging from a thrilling worth and rarity to a degrade_nsignificance, and then bought them all. The man was just pushing off hi_arrow when he stopped and came close to the Major.
  • "I'll tell you what, sir," he said. "If you're interested in them things, yo_ust get on to that wall."
  • "On the wall!" cried the scandalised Major, whose conventional soul quaile_ithin him at the thought of such fantastic trespass.
  • "Finest show of yellow pansies in England in that there garden, sir," hisse_he tempter. "I'll help you up, sir."
  • How it happened no one will ever know but that positive enthusiasm of th_ajor's life triumphed over all its negative traditions, and with an easy lea_nd swing that showed that he was in no need of physical assistance, he stoo_n the wall at the end of the strange garden. The second after, the flappin_f the frock-coat at his knees made him feel inexpressibly a fool. But th_ext instant all such trifling sentiments were swallowed up by the mos_ppalling shock of surprise the old soldier had ever felt in all his bold an_andering existence. His eyes fell upon the garden, and there across a larg_ed in the centre of the lawn was a vast pattern of pansies; they wer_plendid flowers, but for once it was not their horticultural aspects tha_ajor Brown beheld, for the pansies were arranged in gigantic capital letter_o as to form the sentence:
  • DEATH TO MAJOR BROWN
  • A kindly looking old man, with white whiskers, was watering them. Brown looke_harply back at the road behind him; the man with the barrow had suddenl_anished. Then he looked again at the lawn with its incredible inscription.
  • Another man might have thought he had gone mad, but Brown did not. Whe_omantic ladies gushed over his V.C. and his military exploits, he sometime_elt himself to be a painfully prosaic person, but by the same token he kne_e was incurably sane. Another man, again, might have thought himself a victi_f a passing practical joke, but Brown could not easily believe this. He kne_rom his own quaint learning that the garden arrangement was an elaborate an_xpensive one; he thought it extravagantly improbable that any one would pou_ut money like water for a joke against him. Having no explanation whatever t_ffer, he admitted the fact to himself, like a clear-headed man, and waited a_e would have done in the presence of a man with six legs.
  • At this moment the stout old man with white whiskers looked up, and th_atering can fell from his hand, shooting a swirl of water down the grave_ath.
  • "Who on earth are you?" he gasped, trembling violently.
  • "I am Major Brown," said that individual, who was always cool in the hour o_ction.
  • The old man gaped helplessly like some monstrous fish. At last he stammere_ildly, "Come down—come down here!"
  • "At your service," said the Major, and alighted at a bound on the grass besid_im, without disarranging his silk hat.
  • The old man turned his broad back and set off at a sort of waddling ru_owards the house, followed with swift steps by the Major. His guide led hi_hrough the back passages of a gloomy, but gorgeously appointed house, unti_hey reached the door of the front room. Then the old man turned with a fac_f apoplectic terror dimly showing in the twilight.
  • "For heaven's sake," he said, "don't mention jackals."
  • Then he threw open the door, releasing a burst of red lamplight, and ra_ownstairs with a clatter.
  • The Major stepped into a rich, glowing room, full of red copper, and peacoc_nd purple hangings, hat in hand. He had the finest manners in the world, and, though mystified, was not in the least embarrassed to see that the onl_ccupant was a lady, sitting by the window, looking out.
  • "Madam," he said, bowing simply, "I am Major Brown."
  • "Sit down," said the lady; but she did not turn her head.
  • She was a graceful, green-clad figure, with fiery red hair and a flavour o_edford Park. "You have come, I suppose," she said mournfully, "to tax m_bout the hateful title-deeds."
  • "I have come, madam," he said, "to know what is the matter. To know why m_ame is written across your garden. Not amicably either."
  • He spoke grimly, for the thing had hit him. It is impossible to describe th_ffect produced on the mind by that quiet and sunny garden scene, the fram_or a stunning and brutal personality. The evening air was still, and th_rass was golden in the place where the little flowers he studied cried t_eaven for his blood.
  • "You know I must not turn round," said the lady; "every afternoon till th_troke of six I must keep my face turned to the street."
  • Some queer and unusual inspiration made the prosaic soldier resolute to accep_hese outrageous riddles without surprise.
  • "It is almost six," he said; and even as he spoke the barbaric copper cloc_pon the wall clanged the first stroke of the hour. At the sixth the lad_prang up and turned on the Major one of the queerest and yet most attractiv_aces he had ever seen in his life; open, and yet tantalising, the face of a_lf.
  • "That makes the third year I have waited," she cried. "This is an anniversary.
  • The waiting almost makes one wish the frightful thing would happen once an_or all."
  • And even as she spoke, a sudden rending cry broke the stillness. From low dow_n the pavement of the dim street (it was already twilight) a voice cried ou_ith a raucous and merciless distinctness:
  • "Major Brown, Major Brown, where does the jackal dwell?"
  • Brown was decisive and silent in action. He strode to the front door an_ooked out. There was no sign of life in the blue gloaming of the street, where one or two lamps were beginning to light their lemon sparks. O_eturning, he found the lady in green trembling.
  • "It is the end," she cried, with shaking lips; "it may be death for both o_s. Whenever—"
  • But even as she spoke her speech was cloven by another hoarse proclamatio_rom the dark street, again horribly articulate.
  • "Major Brown, Major Brown, how did the jackal die?"
  • Brown dashed out of the door and down the steps, but again he was frustrated; there was no figure in sight, and the street was far too long and empty fo_he shouter to have run away. Even the rational Major was a little shaken a_e returned in a certain time to the drawing-room. Scarcely had he done s_han the terrific voice came:
  • "Major Brown, Major Brown, where did—"
  • Brown was in the street almost at a bound, and he was in time—in time to se_omething which at first glance froze the blood. The cries appeared to com_rom a decapitated head resting on the pavement.
  • The next moment the pale Major understood. It was the head of a man thrus_hrough the coal-hole in the street. The next moment, again, it had vanished, and Major Brown turned to the lady. "Where's your coal-cellar?" he said, an_tepped out into the passage.
  • She looked at him with wild grey eyes. "You will not go down," she cried,
  • "alone, into the dark hole, with that beast?"
  • "Is this the way?" replied Brown, and descended the kitchen stairs three at _ime. He flung open the door of a black cavity and stepped in, feeling in hi_ocket for matches. As his right hand was thus occupied, a pair of great slim_ands came out of the darkness, hands clearly belonging to a man of giganti_tature, and seized him by the back of the head. They forced him down, down i_he suffocating darkness, a brutal image of destiny. But the Major's head, though upside down, was perfectly clear and intellectual. He gave quietl_nder the pressure until he had slid down almost to his hands and knees. The_inding the knees of the invisible monster within a foot of him, he simply pu_ut one of his long, bony, and skilful hands, and gripping the leg by a muscl_ulled it off the ground and laid the huge living man, with a crash, along th_loor. He strove to rise, but Brown was on top like a cat. They rolled ove_nd over. Big as the man was, he had evidently now no desire but to escape; h_ade sprawls hither and thither to get past the Major to the door, but tha_enacious person had him hard by the coat collar and hung with the other han_o a beam. At length there came a strain in holding back this human bull, _train under which Brown expected his hand to rend and part from the arm. Bu_omething else rent and parted; and the dim fat figure of the giant vanishe_ut of the cellar, leaving the torn coat in the Major's hand; the only frui_f his adventure and the only clue to the mystery. For when he went up and ou_t the front door, the lady, the rich hangings, and the whole equipment of th_ouse had disappeared. It had only bare boards and whitewashed walls.
  • "The lady was in the conspiracy, of course," said Rupert, nodding. Major Brow_urned brick red. "I beg your pardon," he said, "I think not."
  • Rupert raised his eyebrows and looked at him for a moment, but said nothing.
  • When next he spoke he asked:
  • "Was there anything in the pockets of the coat?"
  • "There was sevenpence halfpenny in coppers and a threepenny-bit," said th_ajor carefully; "there was a cigarette-holder, a piece of string, and thi_etter," and he laid it on the table. It ran as follows:
  • > Dear Mr Plover,
  • >
  • > I am annoyed to hear that some delay has occurred in the arrangements r_ajor Brown. Please see that he is attacked as per arrangement tomorrow Th_oal-cellar, of course.
  • >
  • > Yours faithfully, P. G. Northover.
  • Rupert Grant was leaning forward listening with hawk-like eyes. He cut in:
  • "Is it dated from anywhere?"
  • "No—oh, yes!" replied Brown, glancing upon the paper; "14 Tanner's Court, North—"
  • Rupert sprang up and struck his hands together.
  • "Then why are we hanging here? Let's get along. Basil, lend me your revolver."
  • Basil was staring into the embers like a man in a trance; and it was some tim_efore he answered:
  • "I don't think you'll need it."
  • "Perhaps not," said Rupert, getting into his fur coat. "One never knows. Bu_oing down a dark court to see criminals—"
  • "Do you think they are criminals?" asked his brother.
  • Rupert laughed stoutly. "Giving orders to a subordinate to strangle a harmles_tranger in a coal-cellar may strike you as a very blameless experiment, but—"
  • "Do you think they wanted to strangle the Major?" asked Basil, in the sam_istant and monotonous voice.
  • "My dear fellow, you've been asleep. Look at the letter."
  • "I am looking at the letter," said the mad judge calmly; though, as a matte_f fact, he was looking at the fire. "I don't think it's the sort of lette_ne criminal would write to another."
  • "My dear boy, you are glorious," cried Rupert, turning round, with laughter i_is blue bright eyes. "Your methods amaze me. Why, there is the letter. It i_ritten, and it does give orders for a crime. You might as well say that th_elson Column was not at all the sort of thing that was likely to be set up i_rafalgar Square."
  • Basil Grant shook all over with a sort of silent laughter, but did no_therwise move.
  • "That's rather good," he said; "but, of course, logic like that's not what i_eally wanted. It's a question of spiritual atmosphere. It's not a crimina_etter."
  • "It is. It's a matter of fact," cried the other in an agony of reasonableness.
  • "Facts," murmured Basil, like one mentioning some strange, far-off animals,
  • "how facts obscure the truth. I may be silly—in fact, I'm off my head—but _ever could believe in that man—what's his name, in those capita_tories?—Sherlock Holmes. Every detail points to something, certainly; bu_enerally to the wrong thing. Facts point in all directions, it seems to me, like the thousands of twigs on a tree. It's only the life of the tree that ha_nity and goes up—only the green blood that springs, like a fountain, at th_tars."
  • "But what the deuce else can the letter be but criminal?"
  • "We have eternity to stretch our legs in," replied the mystic. "It can be a_nfinity of things. I haven't seen any of them—I've only seen the letter. _ook at that, and say it's not criminal."
  • "Then what's the origin of it?"
  • "I haven't the vaguest idea."
  • "Then why don't you accept the ordinary explanation?"
  • Basil continued for a little to glare at the coals, and seemed collecting hi_houghts in a humble and even painful way. Then he said:
  • "Suppose you went out into the moonlight. Suppose you passed through silent, silvery streets and squares until you came into an open and deserted space, set with a few monuments, and you beheld one dressed as a ballet girl dancin_n the argent glimmer. And suppose you looked, and saw it was a man disguised.
  • And suppose you looked again, and saw it was Lord Kitchener. What would yo_hink?"
  • He paused a moment, and went on:
  • "You could not adopt the ordinary explanation. The ordinary explanation o_utting on singular clothes is that you look nice in them; you would not thin_hat Lord Kitchener dressed up like a ballet girl out of ordinary persona_anity. You would think it much more likely that he inherited a dancin_adness from a great grandmother; or had been hypnotised at a seance; o_hreatened by a secret society with death if he refused the ordeal. Wit_aden-Powell, say, it might be a bet—but not with Kitchener. I should know al_hat, because in my public days I knew him quite well. So I know that lette_uite well, and criminals quite well. It's not a criminal's letter. It's al_tmospheres." And he closed his eyes and passed his hand over his forehead.
  • Rupert and the Major were regarding him with a mixture of respect and pity.
  • The former said
  • "Well, I'm going, anyhow, and shall continue to think—until your spiritua_ystery turns up—that a man who sends a note recommending a crime, that is, actually a crime that is actually carried out, at least tentatively, is, i_ll probability, a little casual in his moral tastes. Can I have tha_evolver?"
  • "Certainly," said Basil, getting up. "But I am coming with you." And he flun_n old cape or cloak round him, and took a sword-stick from the corner.
  • "You!" said Rupert, with some surprise, "you scarcely ever leave your hole t_ook at anything on the face of the earth."
  • Basil fitted on a formidable old white hat.
  • "I scarcely ever," he said, with an unconscious and colossal arrogance, "hea_f anything on the face of the earth that I do not understand at once, withou_oing to see it."
  • And he led the way out into the purple night.
  • We four swung along the flaring Lambeth streets, across Westminster Bridge, and along the Embankment in the direction of that part of Fleet Street whic_ontained Tanner's Court. The erect, black figure of Major Brown, seen fro_ehind, was a quaint contrast to the hound-like stoop and flapping mantle o_oung Rupert Grant, who adopted, with childlike delight, all the dramati_oses of the detective of fiction. The finest among his many fine qualitie_as his boyish appetite for the colour and poetry of London. Basil, who walke_ehind, with his face turned blindly to the stars, had the look of _omnambulist.
  • Rupert paused at the corner of Tanner's Court, with a quiver of delight a_anger, and gripped Basil's revolver in his great-coat pocket.
  • "Shall we go in now?" he asked.
  • "Not get police?" asked Major Brown, glancing sharply up and down the street.
  • "I am not sure," answered Rupert, knitting his brows. "Of course, it's quit_lear, the thing's all crooked. But there are three of us, and—"
  • "I shouldn't get the police," said Basil in a queer voice. Rupert glanced a_im and stared hard.
  • "Basil," he cried, "you're trembling. What's the matter—are you afraid?"
  • "Cold, perhaps," said the Major, eyeing him. There was no doubt that he wa_haking.
  • At last, after a few moments' scrutiny, Rupert broke into a curse.
  • "You're laughing," he cried. "I know that confounded, silent, shaky laugh o_ours. What the deuce is the amusement, Basil? Here we are, all three of us, within a yard of a den of ruffians—"
  • "But I shouldn't call the police," said Basil. "We four heroes are quite equa_o a host," and he continued to quake with his mysterious mirth.
  • Rupert turned with impatience and strode swiftly down the court, the rest o_s following. When he reached the door of No. 14 he turned abruptly, th_evolver glittering in his hand.
  • "Stand close," he said in the voice of a commander. "The scoundrel may b_ttempting an escape at this moment. We must fling open the door and rush in."
  • The four of us cowered instantly under the archway, rigid, except for the ol_udge and his convulsion of merriment.
  • "Now," hissed Rupert Grant, turning his pale face and burning eyes suddenl_ver his shoulder, "when I say 'Four', follow me with a rush. If I say 'Hol_im', pin the fellows down, whoever they are. If I say 'Stop', stop. I shal_ay that if there are more than three. If they attack us I shall empty m_evolver on them. Basil, have your sword-stick ready. Now—one, two three, four!"
  • With the sound of the word the door burst open, and we fell into the room lik_n invasion, only to stop dead.
  • The room, which was an ordinary and neatly appointed office, appeared, at th_irst glance, to be empty. But on a second and more careful glance, we sa_eated behind a very large desk with pigeonholes and drawers of bewilderin_ultiplicity, a small man with a black waxed moustache, and the air of a ver_verage clerk, writing hard. He looked up as we came to a standstill.
  • "Did you knock?" he asked pleasantly. "I am sorry if I did not hear. What ca_ do for you?"
  • There was a doubtful pause, and then, by general consent, the Major himself, the victim of the outrage, stepped forward.
  • The letter was in his hand, and he looked unusually grim.
  • "Is your name P. G. Northover?" he asked.
  • "That is my name," replied the other, smiling.
  • "I think," said Major Brown, with an increase in the dark glow of his face,
  • "that this letter was written by you." And with a loud clap he struck open th_etter on the desk with his clenched fist. The man called Northover looked a_t with unaffected interest and merely nodded.
  • "Well, sir," said the Major, breathing hard, "what about that?"
  • "What about it, precisely," said the man with the moustache.
  • "I am Major Brown," said that gentleman sternly.
  • Northover bowed. "Pleased to meet you, sir. What have you to say to me?"
  • "Say!" cried the Major, loosing a sudden tempest; "why, I want this confounde_hing settled. I want—"
  • "Certainly, sir," said Northover, jumping up with a slight elevation of th_yebrows. "Will you take a chair for a moment." And he pressed an electri_ell just above him, which thrilled and tinkled in a room beyond. The Majo_ut his hand on the back of the chair offered him, but stood chafing an_eating the floor with his polished boot.
  • The next moment an inner glass door was opened, and a fair, weedy, young man, in a frock-coat, entered from within.
  • "Mr Hopson," said Northover, "this is Major Brown. Will you please finish tha_hing for him I gave you this morning and bring it in?"
  • "Yes, sir," said Mr Hopson, and vanished like lightning.
  • "You will excuse me, gentlemen," said the egregious Northover, with hi_adiant smile, "if I continue to work until Mr Hopson is ready. I have som_ooks that must be cleared up before I get away on my holiday tomorrow. And w_ll like a whiff of the country, don't we? Ha! ha!"
  • The criminal took up his pen with a childlike laugh, and a silence ensued; _lacid and busy silence on the part of Mr P. G. Northover; a raging silence o_he part of everybody else.
  • At length the scratching of Northover's pen in the stillness was mingled wit_ knock at the door, almost simultaneous with the turning of the handle, an_r Hopson came in again with the same silent rapidity, placed a paper befor_is principal, and disappeared again.
  • The man at the desk pulled and twisted his spiky moustache for a few moment_s he ran his eye up and down the paper presented to him. He took up his pen, with a slight, instantaneous frown, and altered something, muttering—"Careless." Then he read it again with the same impenetrabl_eflectiveness, and finally handed it to the frantic Brown, whose hand wa_eating the devil's tattoo on the back of the chair.
  • "I think you will find that all right, Major," he said briefly.
  • The Major looked at it; whether he found it all right or not will appea_ater, but he found it like this:
  • > Major Brown to P. G. Northover. £.:s.:d.
  • >
  • > January 1, to account rendered 5:6:0
  • >
  • > May 9, to potting and embedding of zoo pansies 2:0:0
  • >
  • > To cost of trolley with flowers 0:15:0
  • >
  • > To hiring of man with trolley 0:5:0
  • >
  • > To hire of house and garden for one day 1:0:0
  • >
  • > To furnishing of room in peacock curtains, copper ornaments, etc. 3:0:0
  • >
  • > To salary of Miss Jameson 1:0:0
  • >
  • > To salary of Mr Plover 1:0:0
  • >
  • > ========= Total £14:6:0 =========
  • >
  • > A Remittance will oblige.
  • "What," said Brown, after a dead pause, and with eyes that seemed slowl_ising out of his head, "What in heaven's name is this?"
  • "What is it?" repeated Northover, cocking his eyebrow with amusement. "It'_our account, of course."
  • "My account!" The Major's ideas appeared to be in a vague stampede. "M_ccount! And what have I got to do with it?"
  • "Well," said Northover, laughing outright, "naturally I prefer you to pay it."
  • The Major's hand was still resting on the back of the chair as the words came.
  • He scarcely stirred otherwise, but he lifted the chair bodily into the ai_ith one hand and hurled it at Northover's head.
  • The legs crashed against the desk, so that Northover only got a blow on th_lbow as he sprang up with clenched fists, only to be seized by the unite_ush of the rest of us. The chair had fallen clattering on the empty floor.
  • "Let me go, you scamps," he shouted. "Let me—"
  • "Stand still," cried Rupert authoritatively. "Major Brown's action i_xcusable. The abominable crime you have attempted—"
  • "A customer has a perfect right," said Northover hotly, "to question a_lleged overcharge, but, confound it all, not to throw furniture."
  • "What, in God's name, do you mean by your customers and overcharges?" shrieke_ajor Brown, whose keen feminine nature, steady in pain or danger, becam_lmost hysterical in the presence of a long and exasperating mystery. "Who ar_ou? I've never seen you or your insolent tomfool bills. I know one of you_ursed brutes tried to choke me—"
  • "Mad," said Northover, gazing blankly round; "all of them mad. I didn't kno_hey travelled in quartettes."
  • "Enough of this prevarication," said Rupert; "your crimes are discovered. _oliceman is stationed at the corner of the court. Though only a privat_etective myself, I will take the responsibility of telling you that anythin_ou say—"
  • "Mad," repeated Northover, with a weary air.
  • And at this moment, for the first time, there struck in among them th_trange, sleepy voice of Basil Grant.
  • "Major Brown," he said, "may I ask you a question?"
  • The Major turned his head with an increased bewilderment.
  • "You?" he cried; "certainly, Mr Grant."
  • "Can you tell me," said the mystic, with sunken head and lowering brow, as h_raced a pattern in the dust with his sword-stick, "can you tell me what wa_he name of the man who lived in your house before you?"
  • The unhappy Major was only faintly more disturbed by this last and futil_rrelevancy, and he answered vaguely:
  • "Yes, I think so; a man named Gurney something—a name with a hyphen—Gurney- Brown; that was it."
  • "And when did the house change hands?" said Basil, looking up sharply. Hi_trange eyes were burning brilliantly.
  • "I came in last month," said the Major.
  • And at the mere word the criminal Northover suddenly fell into his grea_ffice chair and shouted with a volleying laughter.
  • "Oh! it's too perfect—it's too exquisite," he gasped, beating the arms wit_is fists. He was laughing deafeningly; Basil Grant was laughing voicelessly; and the rest of us only felt that our heads were like weathercocks in _hirlwind.
  • "Confound it, Basil," said Rupert, stamping. "If you don't want me to go ma_nd blow your metaphysical brains out, tell me what all this means."
  • Northover rose.
  • "Permit me, sir, to explain," he said. "And, first of all, permit me t_pologize to you, Major Brown, for a most abominable and unpardonable blunder, which has caused you menace and inconvenience, in which, if you will allow m_o say so, you have behaved with astonishing courage and dignity. Of cours_ou need not trouble about the bill. We will stand the loss." And, tearing th_aper across, he flung the halves into the waste-paper basket and bowed.
  • Poor Brown's face was still a picture of distraction. "But I don't even begi_o understand," he cried. "What bill? what blunder? what loss?"
  • Mr P. G. Northover advanced in the centre of the room, thoughtfully, and wit_ great deal of unconscious dignity. On closer consideration, there wer_pparent about him other things beside a screwed moustache, especially a lean, sallow face, hawk-like, and not without a careworn intelligence. Then h_ooked up abruptly.
  • "Do you know where you are, Major?" he said.
  • "God knows I don't," said the warrior, with fervour.
  • "You are standing," replied Northover, "in the office of the Adventure an_omance Agency, Limited."
  • "And what's that?" blankly inquired Brown.
  • The man of business leaned over the back of the chair, and fixed his dark eye_n the other's face.
  • "Major," said he, "did you ever, as you walked along the empty street upo_ome idle afternoon, feel the utter hunger for something to happen—something, in the splendid words of Walt Whitman: 'Something pernicious and dread; something far removed from a puny and pious life; something unproved; something in a trance; something loosed from its anchorage, and driving free.'
  • Did you ever feel that?"
  • "Certainly not," said the Major shortly.
  • "Then I must explain with more elaboration," said Mr Northover, with a sigh.
  • "The Adventure and Romance Agency has been started to meet a great moder_esire. On every side, in conversation and in literature, we hear of th_esire for a larger theatre of events for something to waylay us and lead u_plendidly astray. Now the man who feels this desire for a varied life pays _early or a quarterly sum to the Adventure and Romance Agency; in return, th_dventure and Romance Agency undertakes to surround him with startling an_eird events. As a man is leaving his front door, an excited sweep approache_im and assures him of a plot against his life; he gets into a cab, and i_riven to an opium den; he receives a mysterious telegram or a dramatic visit, and is immediately in a vortex of incidents. A very picturesque and movin_tory is first written by one of the staff of distinguished novelists who ar_t present hard at work in the adjoining room. Yours, Major Brown (designed b_ur Mr Grigsby), I consider peculiarly forcible and pointed; it is almost _ity you did not see the end of it. I need scarcely explain further th_onstrous mistake. Your predecessor in your present house, Mr Gurney-Brown, was a subscriber to our agency, and our foolish clerks, ignoring alike th_ignity of the hyphen and the glory of military rank, positively imagined tha_ajor Brown and Mr Gurney-Brown were the same person. Thus you were suddenl_urled into the middle of another man's story."
  • "How on earth does the thing work?" asked Rupert Grant, with bright an_ascinated eyes.
  • "We believe that we are doing a noble work," said Northover warmly. "It ha_ontinually struck us that there is no element in modern life that is mor_amentable than the fact that the modern man has to seek all artisti_xistence in a sedentary state. If he wishes to float into fairyland, he read_ book; if he wishes to dash into the thick of battle, he reads a book; if h_ishes to soar into heaven, he reads a book; if he wishes to slide down th_anisters, he reads a book. We give him these visions, but we give hi_xercise at the same time, the necessity of leaping from wall to wall, o_ighting strange gentlemen, of running down long streets from pursuers—al_ealthy and pleasant exercises. We give him a glimpse of that great mornin_orld of Robin Hood or the Knights Errant, when one great game was playe_nder the splendid sky. We give him back his childhood, that godlike time whe_e can act stories, be our own heroes, and at the same instant dance an_ream."
  • Basil gazed at him curiously. The most singular psychological discovery ha_een reserved to the end, for as the little business man ceased speaking h_ad the blazing eyes of a fanatic.
  • Major Brown received the explanation with complete simplicity and good humour.
  • "Of course; awfully dense, sir," he said. "No doubt at all, the schem_xcellent. But I don't think—" He paused a moment, and looked dreamily out o_he window. "I don't think you will find me in it. Somehow, when one'_een—seen the thing itself, you know—blood and men screaming, one feels abou_aving a little house and a little hobby; in the Bible, you know, 'Ther_emaineth a rest'."
  • Northover bowed. Then after a pause he said:
  • "Gentlemen, may I offer you my card. If any of the rest of you desire, at an_ime, to communicate with me, despite Major Brown's view of the matter—"
  • "I should be obliged for your card, sir," said the Major, in his abrupt bu_ourteous voice. "Pay for chair."
  • The agent of Romance and Adventure handed his card, laughing.
  • It ran, "P. G. Northover, B.A., C.Q.T., Adventure and Romance Agency, 1_anner's Court, Fleet Street."
  • "What on earth is "C.QT."?" asked Rupert Grant, looking over the Major'_houlder.
  • "Don't you know?" returned Northover. "Haven't you ever heard of the Club o_ueer Trades?"
  • "There seems to be a confounded lot of funny things we haven't heard of," sai_he little Major reflectively. "What's this one?"
  • "The Club of Queer Trades is a society consisting exclusively of people wh_ave invented some new and curious way of making money. I was one of th_arliest members."
  • "You deserve to be," said Basil, taking up his great white hat, with a smile, and speaking for the last time that evening.
  • When they had passed out the Adventure and Romance agent wore a queer smile, as he trod down the fire and locked up his desk. "A fine chap, that Major; when one hasn't a touch of the poet one stands some chance of being a poem.
  • But to think of such a clockwork little creature of all people getting int_he nets of one of Grigsby's tales," and he laughed out aloud in the silence.
  • Just as the laugh echoed away, there came a sharp knock at the door. An owlis_ead, with dark moustaches, was thrust in, with deprecating and somewha_bsurd inquiry.
  • "What! back again, Major?" cried Northover in surprise. "What can I do fo_ou?"
  • The Major shuffled feverishly into the room.
  • "It's horribly absurd," he said. "Something must have got started in me that _ever knew before. But upon my soul I feel the most desperate desire to kno_he end of it all."
  • "The end of it all?"
  • "Yes," said the Major. "'Jackals', and the title-deeds, and 'Death to Majo_rown'."
  • The agent's face grew grave, but his eyes were amused.
  • "I am terribly sorry, Major," said he, "but what you ask is impossible. _on't know any one I would sooner oblige than you; but the rules of the agenc_re strict. The Adventures are confidential; you are an outsider; I am no_llowed to let you know an inch more than I can help. I do hope yo_nderstand—"
  • "There is no one," said Brown, "who understands discipline better than I do.
  • Thank you very much. Good night."
  • And the little man withdrew for the last time.
  • He married Miss Jameson, the lady with the red hair and the green garments.
  • She was an actress, employed (with many others) by the Romance Agency; and he_arriage with the prim old veteran caused some stir in her languid an_ntellectualized set. She always replied very quietly that she had met score_f men who acted splendidly in the charades provided for them by Northover, but that she had only met one man who went down into a coal-cellar when h_eally thought it contained a murderer.
  • The Major and she are living as happily as birds, in an absurd villa, and th_ormer has taken to smoking. Otherwise he is unchanged—except, perhaps, ther_re moments when, alert and full of feminine unselfishness as the Major is b_ature, he falls into a trance of abstraction. Then his wife recognizes with _oncealed smile, by the blind look in his blue eyes, that he is wondering wha_ere the title-deeds, and why he was not allowed to mention jackals. But, lik_o many old soldiers, Brown is religious, and believes that he will realiz_he rest of those purple adventures in a better world.