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|The Club of Queer Trades||Gilbert K. Chesterton|
The Awful Reason of the Vicar's Visit
|Page 2 of 13||
I said gently: "Pray go on."
Nevertheless the old gentleman, being a gentleman as well as old, noticed my secret impatience and seemed still more unmanned.
"I'm so sorry," he said meekly; "I wouldn't have come--but for-- your friend Major Brown recommended me to come here."
"Major Brown!" I said, with some interest.
"Yes," said the Reverend Mr Shorter, feverishly flapping his plaid shawl about. "He told me you helped him in a great difficulty--and my difficulty! Oh, my dear sir, it's a matter of life and death."
I rose abruptly, in an acute perplexity. "Will it take long, Mr Shorter?" I asked. "I have to go out to dinner almost at once."
He rose also, trembling from head to foot, and yet somehow, with all his moral palsy, he rose to the dignity of his age and his office.
"I have no right, Mr Swinburne--I have no right at all," he said. "If you have to go out to dinner, you have of course--a perfect right--of course a perfect right. But when you come back--a man will be dead."
And he sat down, quaking like a jelly.
The triviality of the dinner had been in those two minutes dwarfed and drowned in my mind. I did not want to go and see a political widow, and a captain who collected apes; I wanted to hear what had brought this dear, doddering old vicar into relation with immediate perils.
"Will you have a cigar?" I said.
"No, thank you," he said, with indescribable embarrassment, as if not smoking cigars was a social disgrace.
"A glass of wine?" I said.
"No, thank you, no, thank you; not just now," he repeated with that hysterical eagerness with which people who do not drink at all often try to convey that on any other night of the week they would sit up all night drinking rum-punch. "Not just now, thank you."
"Nothing else I can get for you?" I said, feeling genuinely sorry for the well-mannered old donkey. "A cup of tea?"
I saw a struggle in his eye and I conquered. When the cup of tea came he drank it like a dipsomaniac gulping brandy. Then he fell back and said:
"I have had such a time, Mr Swinburne. I am not used to these excitements. As Vicar of Chuntsey, in Essex'--he threw this in with an indescribable airiness of vanity--'I have never known such things happen."
"What things happen?" I asked.
He straightened himself with sudden dignity.
"As Vicar of Chuntsey, in Essex," he said, "I have never been forcibly dressed up as an old woman and made to take part in a crime in the character of an old woman. Never once. My experience may be small. It may be insufficient. But it has never occurred to me before."
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|The Club of Queer Trades
Gilbert K. Chesterton
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