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The Club of Queer Trades Gilbert K. Chesterton

The Awful Reason of the Vicar's Visit

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"`When first I saw 'er picture,' said the man Bill, shaking his head in a ruminant manner, `when I first saw it I said--old Shorter. Those were my exact words--old Shorter.'

"`What do you mean, you wild creatures?' I gasped. `What am I to do?'

"`That's easy said, your 'oldness,' said the man with the revolver, good-humouredly; `you've got to put on those clothes,' and he pointed to a poke-bonnet and a heap of female clothes in the corner of the room.

"I will not dwell, Mr Swinburne, upon the details of what followed. I had no choice. I could not fight five men, to say nothing of a loaded pistol. In five minutes, sir, the Vicar of Chuntsey was dressed as an old woman--as somebody else's mother, if you please--and was dragged out of the house to take part in a crime.

"It was already late in the afternoon, and the nights of winter were closing in fast. On a dark road, in a blowing wind, we set out towards the lonely house of Colonel Hawker, perhaps the queerest cortege that ever straggled up that or any other road. To every human eye, in every external, we were six very respectable old ladies of small means, in black dresses and refined but antiquated bonnets; and we were really five criminals and a clergyman.

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"I will cut a long story short. My brain was whirling like a windmill as I walked, trying to think of some manner of escape. To cry out, so long as we were far from houses, would be suicidal, for it would be easy for the ruffians to knife me or to gag me and fling me into a ditch. On the other hand, to attempt to stop strangers and explain the situation was impossible, because of the frantic folly of the situation itself. Long before I had persuaded the chance postman or carrier of so absurd a story, my companions would certainly have got off themselves, and in all probability would have carried me off, as a friend of theirs who had the misfortune to be mad or drunk. The last thought, however, was an inspiration; though a very terrible one. Had it come to this, that the Vicar of Chuntsey must pretend to be mad or drunk? It had come to this.

"I walked along with the rest up the deserted road, imitating and keeping pace, as far as I could, with their rapid and yet lady-like step, until at length I saw a lamp-post and a policeman standing under it. I had made up my mind. Until we reached them we were all equally demure and silent and swift. When we reached them I suddenly flung myself against the railings and roared out: `Hooray! Hooray! Hooray! Rule Britannia! Get your 'air cut. Hoop-la! Boo!' It was a condition of no little novelty for a man in my position.

"The constable instantly flashed his lantern on me, or the draggled, drunken old woman that was my travesty. `Now then, mum,' he began gruffly.

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The Club of Queer Trades
Gilbert K. Chesterton

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