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|The Club of Queer Trades||Gilbert K. Chesterton|
The Singular Speculation of the House-Agent
|Page 4 of 15||
"If you will excuse me," he said, clenching his hands behind his back, "I think I should feel myself justified in--"
"Oh! Come along in," exploded the lieutenant. He made the same gesture of savage surrender. And he slammed into the office, the rest of us at his heels.
P. Montmorency, House-Agent, was a solitary old gentleman sitting behind a bare brown counter. He had an egglike head, froglike jaws, and a grey hairy fringe of aureole round the lower part of his face; the whole combined with a reddish, aquiline nose. He wore a shabby black frock-coat, a sort of semi-clerical tie worn at a very unclerical angle, and looked, generally speaking, about as unlike a house-agent as anything could look, short of something like a sandwich man or a Scotch Highlander.
We stood inside the room for fully forty seconds, and the odd old gentleman did not look at us. Neither, to tell the truth, odd as he was, did we look at him. Our eyes were fixed, where his were fixed, upon something that was crawling about on the counter in front of him. It was a ferret.
The silence was broken by Rupert Grant. He spoke in that sweet and steely voice which he reserved for great occasions and practised for hours together in his bedroom. He said:
"Mr Montmorency, I think?"
The old gentleman started, lifted his eyes with a bland bewilderment, picked up the ferret by the neck, stuffed it alive into his trousers pocket, smiled apologetically, and said:
"You are a house-agent, are you not?" asked Rupert.
To the delight of that criminal investigator, Mr Montmorency's eyes wandered unquietly towards Lieutenant Keith, the only man present that he knew.
"A house-agent," cried Rupert again, bringing out the word as if it were "burglar'.
"Yes . . . oh, yes," said the man, with a quavering and almost coquettish smile. "I am a house-agent . . . oh, yes."
"Well, I think," said Rupert, with a sardonic sleekness, "that Lieutenant Keith wants to speak to you. We have come in by his request."
Lieutenant Keith was lowering gloomily, and now he spoke.
"I have come, Mr Montmorency, about that house of mine."
"Yes, sir," said Montmorency, spreading his fingers on the flat counter. "It's all ready, sir. I've attended to all your suggestions er--about the br--"
"Right," cried Keith, cutting the word short with the startling neatness of a gunshot. "We needn't bother about all that. If you've done what I told you, all right."
And he turned sharply towards the door.
Mr Montmorency, House-Agent, presented a picture of pathos. After stammering a moment he said: "Excuse me . . . Mr Keith . . . there was another matter . . . about which I wasn't quite sure. I tried to get all the heating apparatus possible under the circumstances . . . but in winter . . . at that elevation . . ."
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|The Club of Queer Trades
Gilbert K. Chesterton
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