The Club of Queer Trades eBook: Page2

G. K. Chesterton (1999)

  Chapter 2. The Painful Fall of a Great Reputation

  Basil Grant and I were talking one day in what is perhaps the mostperfect place for talking on earth--the top of a tolerably desertedtramcar. To talk on the top of a hill is superb, but to talk on the topof a flying hill is a fairy tale.

  The vast blank space of North London was flying by; the very pace gaveus a sense of its immensity and its meanness. It was, as it were, a baseinfinitude, a squalid eternity, and we felt the real horror of the poorparts of London, the horror that is so totally missed and misrepresentedby the sensational novelists who depict it as being a matter of narrowstreets, filthy houses, criminals and maniacs, and dens of vice. In anarrow street, in a den of vice, you do not expect civilization, youdo not expect order. But the horror of this was the fact that there wascivilization, that there was order, but that civilisation only showedits morbidity, and order only its monotony. No one would say, in goingthrough a criminal slum, "I see no statues. I notice no cathedrals." Buthere there were public buildings; only they were mostly lunatic asylums.Here there were statues; only they were mostly statues of railwayengineers and philanthropists--two dingy classes of men united by theircommon contempt for the people. Here there were churches; only they werethe churches of dim and erratic sects, Agapemonites or Irvingites. Here,above all, there were broad roads and vast crossings and tramway linesand hospitals and all the real marks of civilization. But though onenever knew, in one sense, what one would see next, there was one thingwe knew we should not see--anything really great, central, of thefirst class, anything that humanity had adored. And with revulsionindescribable our emotions returned, I think, to those really close andcrooked entries, to those really mean streets, to those genuine slumswhich lie round the Thames and the City, in which nevertheless a realpossibility remains that at any chance corner the great cross of thegreat cathedral of Wren may strike down the street like a thunderbolt.

  "But you must always remember also," said Grant to me, in his heavyabstracted way, when I had urged this view, "that the very vileness ofthe life of these ordered plebeian places bears witness to the victoryof the human soul. I agree with you. I agree that they have to livein something worse than barbarism. They have to live in a fourth-ratecivilization. But yet I am practically certain that the majority ofpeople here are good people. And being good is an adventure far moreviolent and daring than sailing round the world. Besides--"

  "Go on," I said.

  No answer came.

  "Go on," I said, looking up.

  The big blue eyes of Basil Grant were standing out of his head and hewas paying no attention to me. He was staring over the side of the tram.

  "What is the matter?" I asked, peering over also.

  "It is very odd," said Grant at last, grimly, "that I should have beencaught out like this at the very moment of my optimism. I said all thesepeople were good, and there is the wickedest man in England."

  "Where?" I asked, leaning over further, "where?"

  "Oh, I was right enough," he went on, in that strange continuous andsleepy tone which always angered his hearers at acute moments, "I wasright enough when I said all these people were good. They are heroes;they are saints. Now and then they may perhaps steal a spoon or two;they may beat a wife or two with the poker. But they are saints all thesame; they are angels; they are robed in white; they are clad with wingsand haloes--at any rate compared to that man."

  "Which man?" I cried again, and then my eye caught the figure at whichBasil's bull's eyes were glaring.

  He was a slim, smooth person, passing very quickly among the quicklypassing crowd, but though there was nothing about him sufficient toattract a startled notice, there was quite enough to demand a curiousconsideration when once that notice was attracted. He wore a blacktop-hat, but there was enough in it of those strange curves whereby thedecadent artist of the eighties tried to turn the top-hat into somethingas rhythmic as an Etruscan vase. His hair, which was largely grey, wascurled with the instinct of one who appreciated the gradual beauty ofgrey and silver. The rest of his face was oval and, I thought, ratherOriental; he had two black tufts of moustache.

  "What has he done?" I asked.

  "I am not sure of the details," said Grant, "but his besetting sin isa desire to intrigue to the disadvantage of others. Probably he hasadopted some imposture or other to effect his plan."

  "What plan?" I asked. "If you know all about him, why don't you tell mewhy he is the wickedest man in England? What is his name?"

  Basil Grant stared at me for some moments.

  "I think you've made a mistake in my meaning," he said. "I don't knowhis name. I never saw him before in my life."

  "Never saw him before!" I cried, with a kind of anger; "then what inheaven's name do you mean by saying that he is the wickedest man inEngland?"

  "I meant what I said," said Basil Grant calmly. "The moment I sawthat man, I saw all these people stricken with a sudden and splendidinnocence. I saw that while all ordinary poor men in the streets werebeing themselves, he was not being himself. I saw that all the men inthese slums, cadgers, pickpockets, hooligans, are all, in the deepestsense, trying to be good. And I saw that that man was trying to beevil."

  "But if you never saw him before--" I began.

  "In God's name, look at his face," cried out Basil in a voice thatstartled the driver. "Look at the eyebrows. They mean that infernalpride which made Satan so proud that he sneered even at heaven when hewas one of the first angels in it. Look at his moustaches, they are sogrown as to insult humanity. In the name of the sacred heavens look athis hair. In the name of God and the stars, look at his hat."

  I stirred uncomfortably.

  "But, after all," I said, "this is very fanciful--perfectly absurd. Lookat the mere facts. You have never seen the man before, you--"

  "Oh, the mere facts," he cried out in a kind of despair. "The merefacts! Do you really admit--are you still so sunk in superstitions, soclinging to dim and prehistoric altars, that you believe in facts? Doyou not trust an immediate impression?"

  "Well, an immediate impression may be," I said, "a little less practicalthan facts."

  "Bosh," he said. "On what else is the whole world run but immediateimpressions? What is more practical? My friend, the philosophy ofthis world may be founded on facts, its business is run on spiritualimpressions and atmospheres. Why do you refuse or accept a clerk? Do youmeasure his skull? Do you read up his physiological state in a handbook?Do you go upon facts at all? Not a scrap. You accept a clerk who maysave your business--you refuse a clerk that may rob your till, entirelyupon those immediate mystical impressions under the pressure of whichI pronounce, with a perfect sense of certainty and sincerity, that thatman walking in that street beside us is a humbug and a villain of somekind."

  "You always put things well," I said, "but, of course, such thingscannot immediately be put to the test."

  Basil sprang up straight and swayed with the swaying car.

  "Let us get off and follow him," he said. "I bet you five pounds it willturn out as I say."

  And with a scuttle, a jump, and a run, we were off the car.

  The man with the curved silver hair and the curved Eastern face walkedalong for some time, his long splendid frock-coat flying behind him.Then he swung sharply out of the great glaring road and disappeared downan ill-lit alley. We swung silently after him.

  "This is an odd turning for a man of that kind to take," I said.

  "A man of what kind?" asked my friend.

  "Well," I said, "a man with that kind of expression and those boots. Ithought it rather odd, to tell the truth, that he should be in this partof the world at all."

  "Ah, yes," said Basil, and said no more.

  We tramped on, looking steadily in front of us. The elegant figure, likethe figure of a black swan, was silhouetted suddenly against theglare of intermittent gaslight and then swallowed again in night. Theintervals between the lights were long, and a fog was thickening thewhole city. Our pace, therefore, had
become swift and mechanical betweenthe lamp-posts; but Basil came to a standstill suddenly like a reinedhorse; I stopped also. We had almost run into the man. A great part ofthe solid darkness in front of us was the darkness of his body.

  At first I thought he had turned to face us. But though we were hardly ayard off he did not realize that we were there. He tapped four times ona very low and dirty door in the dark, crabbed street. A gleam of gascut the darkness as it opened slowly. We listened intently, but theinterview was short and simple and inexplicable as an interview couldbe. Our exquisite friend handed in what looked like a paper or a cardand said:

  "At once. Take a cab."

  A heavy, deep voice from inside said:

  "Right you are."

  And with a click we were in the blackness again, and striding after thestriding stranger through a labyrinth of London lanes, the lights justhelping us. It was only five o'clock, but winter and the fog had made itlike midnight.

  "This is really an extraordinary walk for the patent-leather boots," Irepeated.

  "I don't know," said Basil humbly. "It leads to Berkeley Square."

  As I tramped on I strained my eyes through the dusky atmosphere andtried to make out the direction described. For some ten minutes Iwondered and doubted; at the end of that I saw that my friend was right.We were coming to the great dreary spaces of fashionable London--moredreary, one must admit, even than the dreary plebeian spaces.

  "This is very extraordinary!" said Basil Grant, as we turned intoBerkeley Square.

  "What is extraordinary?" I asked. "I thought you said it was quitenatural."

  "I do not wonder," answered Basil, "at his walking through nastystreets; I do not wonder at his going to Berkeley Square. But I dowonder at his going to the house of a very good man."

  "What very good man?" I asked with exasperation.

  "The operation of time is a singular one," he said with hisimperturbable irrelevancy. "It is not a true statement of the case tosay that I have forgotten my career when I was a judge and a public man.I remember it all vividly, but it is like remembering some novel. Butfifteen years ago I knew this square as well as Lord Rosebery does, anda confounded long sight better than that man who is going up the stepsof old Beaumont's house."

  "Who is old Beaumont?" I asked irritably.

  "A perfectly good fellow. Lord Beaumont of Foxwood--don't you know hisname? He is a man of transparent sincerity, a nobleman who does morework than a navvy, a socialist, an anarchist, I don't know what;anyhow, he's a philosopher and philanthropist. I admit he has the slightdisadvantage of being, beyond all question, off his head. He has thatreal disadvantage which has arisen out of the modern worship of progressand novelty; and he thinks anything odd and new must be an advance. Ifyou went to him and proposed to eat your grandmother, he would agreewith you, so long as you put it on hygienic and public grounds, as acheap alternative to cremation. So long as you progress fast enough itseems a matter of indifference to him whether you are progressing to thestars or the devil. So his house is filled with an endless successionof literary and political fashions; men who wear long hair because it isromantic; men who wear short hair because it is medical; men who walk ontheir feet only to exercise their hands; and men who walk on their handsfor fear of tiring their feet. But though the inhabitants of his salonsare generally fools, like himself, they are almost always, like himself,good men. I am really surprised to see a criminal enter there."

  "My good fellow," I said firmly, striking my foot on the pavement, "thetruth of this affair is very simple. To use your own eloquent language,you have the 'slight disadvantage' of being off your head. You see atotal stranger in a public street; you choose to start certain theoriesabout his eyebrows. You then treat him as a burglar because he enters anhonest man's door. The thing is too monstrous. Admit that it is, Basil,and come home with me. Though these people are still having tea, yetwith the distance we have to go, we shall be late for dinner."

  Basil's eyes were shining in the twilight like lamps.

  "I thought," he said, "that I had outlived vanity."

  "What do you want now?" I cried.

  "I want," he cried out, "what a girl wants when she wears her new frock;I want what a boy wants when he goes in for a clanging match with amonitor--I want to show somebody what a fine fellow I am. I am as rightabout that man as I am about your having a hat on your head. You sayit cannot be tested. I say it can. I will take you to see my old friendBeaumont. He is a delightful man to know."

  "Do you really mean--?" I began.

  "I will apologize," he said calmly, "for our not being dressed for acall," and walking across the vast misty square, he walked up the darkstone steps and rang at the bell.

  A severe servant in black and white opened the door to us: on receivingmy friend's name his manner passed in a flash from astonishment torespect. We were ushered into the house very quickly, but not so quicklybut that our host, a white-haired man with a fiery face, came outquickly to meet us.

  "My dear fellow," he cried, shaking Basil's hand again and again,"I have not seen you for years. Have you been--er--" he said, ratherwildly, "have you been in the country?"

  "Not for all that time," answered Basil, smiling. "I have long givenup my official position, my dear Philip, and have been living in adeliberate retirement. I hope I do not come at an inopportune moment."

  "An inopportune moment," cried the ardent gentleman. "You come at themost opportune moment I could imagine. Do you know who is here?"

  "I do not," answered Grant, with gravity. Even as he spoke a roar oflaughter came from the inner room.

  "Basil," said Lord Beaumont solemnly, "I have Wimpole here."

  "And who is Wimpole?"

  "Basil," cried the other, "you must have been in the country. You musthave been in the antipodes. You must have been in the moon. Who isWimpole? Who was Shakespeare?"

  "As to who Shakespeare was," answered my friend placidly, "my views gono further than thinking that he was not Bacon. More probably he wasMary Queen of Scots. But as to who Wimpole is--" and his speech also wascloven with a roar of laughter from within.

  "Wimpole!" cried Lord Beaumont, in a sort of ecstasy. "Haven't you heardof the great modern wit? My dear fellow, he has turned conversation,I do not say into an art--for that, perhaps, it always was but into agreat art, like the statuary of Michael Angelo--an art of masterpieces.His repartees, my good friend, startle one like a man shot dead. Theyare final; they are--"

  Again there came the hilarious roar from the room, and almost with thevery noise of it, a big, panting apoplectic old gentleman came out ofthe inner house into the hall where we were standing.

  "Now, my dear chap," began Lord Beaumont hastily.

  "I tell you, Beaumont, I won't stand it," exploded the large oldgentleman. "I won't be made game of by a twopenny literary adventurerlike that. I won't be made a guy. I won't--"

  "Come, come," said Beaumont feverishly. "Let me introduce you. This isMr Justice Grant--that is, Mr Grant. Basil, I am sure you have heard ofSir Walter Cholmondeliegh."

  "Who has not?" asked Grant, and bowed to the worthy old baronet, eyeinghim with some curiosity. He was hot and heavy in his momentary anger,but even that could not conceal the noble though opulent outline of hisface and body, the florid white hair, the Roman nose, the body stalwartthough corpulent, the chin aristocratic though double. He was amagnificent courtly gentleman; so much of a gentleman that he could showan unquestionable weakness of anger without altogether losing dignity;so much of a gentleman that even his faux pas were well-bred.

  "I am distressed beyond expression, Beaumont," he said gruffly, "to failin respect to these gentlemen, and even more especially to fail in it inyour house. But it is not you or they that are in any way concerned, butthat flashy half-caste jackanapes--"

  At this moment a young man with a twist of red moustache and a sombreair came out of the inner room. He also did not seem to be greatlyenjoying the intellectual banquet within.

  "I think you rememb
er my friend and secretary, Mr Drummond," saidLord Beaumont, turning to Grant, "even if you only remember him as aschoolboy."

  "Perfectly," said the other. Mr Drummond shook hands pleasantly andrespectfully, but the cloud was still on his brow. Turning to Sir WalterCholmondeliegh, he said:

  "I was sent by Lady Beaumont to express her hope that you were not goingyet, Sir Walter. She says she has scarcely seen anything of you."

  The old gentleman, still red in the face, had a temporary internalstruggle; then his good manners triumphed, and with a gesture ofobeisance and a vague utterance of, "If Lady Beaumont... a lady, ofcourse," he followed the young man back into the salon. He had scarcelybeen deposited there half a minute before another peal of laughter toldthat he had (in all probability) been scored off again.

  "Of course, I can excuse dear old Cholmondeliegh," said Beaumont, as hehelped us off with our coats. "He has not the modern mind."

  "What is the modern mind?" asked Grant.

  "Oh, it's enlightened, you know, and progressive--and faces the factsof life seriously." At this moment another roar of laughter came fromwithin.

  "I only ask," said Basil, "because of the last two friends of yours whohad the modern mind; one thought it wrong to eat fishes and the otherthought it right to eat men. I beg your pardon--this way, if I rememberright."

  "Do you know," said Lord Beaumont, with a sort of feverishentertainment, as he trotted after us towards the interior, "I can neverquite make out which side you are on. Sometimes you seem so liberal andsometimes so reactionary. Are you a modern, Basil?"

  "No," said Basil, loudly and cheerfully, as he entered the crowdeddrawing-room.

  This caused a slight diversion, and some eyes were turned away from ourslim friend with the Oriental face for the first time that afternoon.Two people, however, still looked at him. One was the daughter of thehouse, Muriel Beaumont, who gazed at him with great violet eyes andwith the intense and awful thirst of the female upper class for verbalamusement and stimulus. The other was Sir Walter Cholmondeliegh, wholooked at him with a still and sullen but unmistakable desire to throwhim out of the window.

  He sat there, coiled rather than seated on the easy chair; everythingfrom the curves of his smooth limbs to the coils of his silvered hairsuggesting the circles of a serpent more than the straight limbs of aman--the unmistakable, splendid serpentine gentleman we had seen walkingin North London, his eyes shining with repeated victory.

  "What I can't understand, Mr Wimpole," said Muriel Beaumont eagerly,"is how you contrive to treat all this so easily. You say things quitephilosophical and yet so wildly funny. If I thought of such things, I'msure I should laugh outright when the thought first came."

  "I agree with Miss Beaumont," said Sir Walter, suddenly exploding withindignation. "If I had thought of anything so futile, I should find itdifficult to keep my countenance."

  "Difficult to keep your countenance," cried Mr Wimpole, with an air ofalarm; "oh, do keep your countenance! Keep it in the British Museum."

  Every one laughed uproariously, as they always do at an already admittedreadiness, and Sir Walter, turning suddenly purple, shouted out:

  "Do you know who you are talking to, with your confounded tomfooleries?"

  "I never talk tomfooleries," said the other, "without first knowing myaudience."

  Grant walked across the room and tapped the red-moustached secretary onthe shoulder. That gentleman was leaning against the wall regardingthe whole scene with a great deal of gloom; but, I fancied, with veryparticular gloom when his eyes fell on the young lady of the houserapturously listening to Wimpole.

  "May I have a word with you outside, Drummond?" asked Grant. "It isabout business. Lady Beaumont will excuse us."

  I followed my friend, at his own request, greatly wondering, to thisstrange external interview. We passed abruptly into a kind of side roomout of the hall.

  "Drummond," said Basil sharply, "there are a great many good people, anda great many sane people here this afternoon. Unfortunately, by a kindof coincidence, all the good people are mad, and all the sane peopleare wicked. You are the only person I know of here who is honest and hasalso some common sense. What do you make of Wimpole?"

  Mr Secretary Drummond had a pale face and red hair; but at this his facebecame suddenly as red as his moustache.

  "I am not a fair judge of him," he said.

  "Why not?" asked Grant.

  "Because I hate him like hell," said the other, after a long pause andviolently.

  Neither Grant nor I needed to ask the reason; his glances towards MissBeaumont and the stranger were sufficiently illuminating. Grant saidquietly:

  "But before--before you came to hate him, what did you really think ofhim?"

  "I am in a terrible difficulty," said the young man, and his voice toldus, like a clear bell, that he was an honest man. "If I spoke about himas I feel about him now, I could not trust myself. And I should like tobe able to say that when I first saw him I thought he was charming. Butagain, the fact is I didn't. I hate him, that is my private affair. ButI also disapprove of him--really I do believe I disapprove of him quiteapart from my private feelings. When first he came, I admit he was muchquieter, but I did not like, so to speak, the moral swell of him. Thenthat jolly old Sir Walter Cholmondeliegh got introduced to us, and thisfellow, with his cheap-jack wit, began to score off the old man in theway he does now. Then I felt that he must be a bad lot; it must bebad to fight the old and the kindly. And he fights the poor old chapsavagely, unceasingly, as if he hated old age and kindliness. Take, ifyou want it, the evidence of a prejudiced witness. I admit that I hatethe man because a certain person admires him. But I believe that apartfrom that I should hate the man because old Sir Walter hates him."

  This speech affected me with a genuine sense of esteem and pity for theyoung man; that is, of pity for him because of his obviously hopelessworship of Miss Beaumont, and of esteem for him because of the directrealistic account of the history of Wimpole which he had given. Still, Iwas sorry that he seemed so steadily set against the man, and couldnot help referring it to an instinct of his personal relations, howevernobly disguised from himself.

  In the middle of these meditations, Grant whispered in my ear what wasperhaps the most startling of all interruptions.

  "In the name of God, let's get away."

  I have never known exactly in how odd a way this odd old man affectedme. I only know that for some reason or other he so affected me that Iwas, within a few minutes, in the street outside.

  "This," he said, "is a beastly but amusing affair."

  "What is?" I asked, baldly enough.

  "This affair. Listen to me, my old friend. Lord and Lady Beaumont havejust invited you and me to a grand dinner-party this very night, atwhich Mr Wimpole will be in all his glory. Well, there is nothing veryextraordinary about that. The extraordinary thing is that we are notgoing."

  "Well, really," I said, "it is already six o'clock and I doubt if wecould get home and dress. I see nothing extraordinary in the fact thatwe are not going."

  "Don't you?" said Grant. "I'll bet you'll see something extraordinary inwhat we're doing instead."

  I looked at him blankly.

  "Doing instead?" I asked. "What are we doing instead?"

  "Why," said he, "we are waiting for one or two hours outside this houseon a winter evening. You must forgive me; it is all my vanity. It isonly to show you that I am right. Can you, with the assistance of thiscigar, wait until both Sir Walter Cholmondeliegh and the mystic Wimpolehave left this house?"

  "Certainly," I said. "But I do not know which is likely to leave first.Have you any notion?"

  "No," he said. "Sir Walter may leave first in a glow of rage. Or again,Mr Wimpole may leave first, feeling that his last epigram is a thing tobe flung behind him like a firework. And Sir Walter may remain sometime to analyse Mr Wimpole's character. But they will both have to leavewithin reasonable time, for they will both have to get dressed and comeback to dinner here tonight."<
br />
  As he spoke the shrill double whistle from the porch of the great housedrew a dark cab to the dark portal. And then a thing happened that wereally had not expected. Mr Wimpole and Sir Walter Cholmondeliegh cameout at the same moment.

  They paused for a second or two opposite each other in a natural doubt;then a certain geniality, fundamental perhaps in both of them, made SirWalter smile and say: "The night is foggy. Pray take my cab."

  Before I could count twenty the cab had gone rattling up the street withboth of them. And before I could count twenty-three Grant had hissed inmy ear:

  "Run after the cab; run as if you were running from a mad dog--run."

  We pelted on steadily, keeping the cab in sight, through dark mazystreets. God only, I thought, knows why we are running at all, but weare running hard. Fortunately we did not run far. The cab pulled up atthe fork of two streets and Sir Walter paid the cabman, who drove awayrejoicing, having just come in contact with the more generous among therich. Then the two men talked together as men do talk together aftergiving and receiving great insults, the talk which leads either toforgiveness or a duel--at least so it seemed as we watched it from tenyards off. Then the two men shook hands heartily, and one went down onefork of the road and one down another.

  Basil, with one of his rare gestures, flung his arms forward.

  "Run after that scoundrel," he cried; "let us catch him now."

  We dashed across the open space and reached the juncture of two paths.

  "Stop!" I shouted wildly to Grant. "That's the wrong turning."

  He ran on.

  "Idiot!" I howled. "Sir Walter's gone down there. Wimpole has slippedus. He's half a mile down the other road. You're wrong... Are you deaf?You're wrong!"

  "I don't think I am," he panted, and ran on.

  "But I saw him!" I cried. "Look in front of you. Is that Wimpole? It'sthe old man... What are you doing? What are we to do?"

  "Keep running," said Grant.

  Running soon brought us up to the broad back of the pompous old baronet,whose white whiskers shone silver in the fitful lamplight. My brain wasutterly bewildered. I grasped nothing.

  "Charlie," said Basil hoarsely, "can you believe in my common sense forfour minutes?"

  "Of course," I said, panting.

  "Then help me to catch that man in front and hold him down. Do it atonce when I say 'Now'. Now!"

  We sprang on Sir Walter Cholmondeliegh, and rolled that portly oldgentleman on his back. He fought with a commendable valour, but we gothim tight. I had not the remotest notion why. He had a splendid andfull-blooded vigour; when he could not box he kicked, and we bound him;when he could not kick he shouted, and we gagged him. Then, by Basil'sarrangement, we dragged him into a small court by the street side andwaited. As I say, I had no notion why.

  "I am sorry to incommode you," said Basil calmly out of the darkness;"but I have made an appointment here."

  "An appointment!" I said blankly.

  "Yes," he said, glancing calmly at the apoplectic old aristocrat gaggedon the ground, whose eyes were starting impotently from his head. "Ihave made an appointment here with a thoroughly nice young fellow.An old friend. Jasper Drummond his name is--you may have met himthis afternoon at the Beaumonts. He can scarcely come though till theBeaumonts' dinner is over."

  For I do not know how many hours we stood there calmly in the darkness.By the time those hours were over I had thoroughly made up my mind thatthe same thing had happened which had happened long ago on the bench ofa British Court of Justice. Basil Grant had gone mad. I could imagineno other explanation of the facts, with the portly, purple-faced oldcountry gentleman flung there strangled on the floor like a bundle ofwood.

  After about four hours a lean figure in evening dress rushed into thecourt. A glimpse of gaslight showed the red moustache and white face ofJasper Drummond.

  "Mr Grant," he said blankly, "the thing is incredible. You were right;but what did you mean? All through this dinner-party, where dukes andduchesses and editors of Quarterlies had come especially to hear him,that extraordinary Wimpole kept perfectly silent. He didn't say a funnything. He didn't say anything at all. What does it mean?"

  Grant pointed to the portly old gentleman on the ground.

  "That is what it means," he said.

  Drummond, on observing a fat gentleman lying so calmly about the place,jumped back, as from a mouse.

  "What?" he said weakly, "... what?"

  Basil bent suddenly down and tore a paper out of Sir Walter'sbreastpocket, a paper which the baronet, even in his hampered state,seemed to make some effort to retain.

  It was a large loose piece of white wrapping paper, which Mr JasperDrummond read with a vacant eye and undisguised astonishment. As far ashe could make out, it consisted of a series of questions and answers, orat least of remarks and replies, arranged in the manner of a catechism.The greater part of the document had been torn and obliterated in thestruggle, but the termination remained. It ran as follows:

  C. Says... Keep countenance.

  W. Keep... British Museum.

  C. Know whom talk... absurdities.

  W. Never talk absurdities without

  "What is it?" cried Drummond, flinging the paper down in a sort of finalfury.

  "What is it?" replied Grant, his voice rising into a kind of splendidchant. "What is it? It is a great new profession. A great new trade. Atrifle immoral, I admit, but still great, like piracy."

  "A new profession!" said the young man with the red moustache vaguely;"a new trade!"

  "A new trade," repeated Grant, with a strange exultation, "a newprofession! What a pity it is immoral."

  "But what the deuce is it?" cried Drummond and I in a breath ofblasphemy.

  "It is," said Grant calmly, "the great new trade of the Organizer ofRepartee. This fat old gentleman lying on the ground strikes you, as Ihave no doubt, as very stupid and very rich. Let me clear his character.He is, like ourselves, very clever and very poor. He is also not reallyat all fat; all that is stuffing. He is not particularly old, andhis name is not Cholmondeliegh. He is a swindler, and a swindler ofa perfectly delightful and novel kind. He hires himself out atdinner-parties to lead up to other people's repartees. According to apreconcerted scheme (which you may find on that piece of paper), he saysthe stupid things he has arranged for himself, and his client says theclever things arranged for him. In short, he allows himself to be scoredoff for a guinea a night."

  "And this fellow Wimpole--" began Drummond with indignation.

  "This fellow Wimpole," said Basil Grant, smiling, "will not be anintellectual rival in the future. He had some fine things, elegance andsilvered hair, and so on. But the intellect is with our friend on thefloor."

  "That fellow," cried Drummond furiously, "that fellow ought to be ingaol."

  "Not at all," said Basil indulgently; "he ought to be in the Club ofQueer Trades."