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The Club of Queer Trades Gilbert K. Chesterton

The Eccentric Seclusion of the Old Lady

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"Just listen to that," he said, and keeping my coat gripped in his right hand, he rapped with the knuckles of his left on the shutters of the basement window. His air was so definite that I paused and even inclined my head for a moment towards it. From inside was coming the murmur of an unmistakable human voice.

"Have you been talking to somebody inside?" I asked suddenly, turning to Rupert.

"No, I haven't," he replied, with a grim smile, "but I should very much like to. Do you know what somebody is saying in there?"

"No, of course not," I replied.

"Then I recommend you to listen," said Rupert sharply.

In the dead silence of the aristocratic street at evening, I stood a moment and listened. From behind the wooden partition, in which there was a long lean crack, was coming a continuous and moaning sound which took the form of the words: "When shall I get out? When shall I get out? Will they ever let me out?" or words to that effect.

"Do you know anything about this?" I said, turning upon Rupert very abruptly.

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"Perhaps you think I am the criminal," he said sardonically, "instead of being in some small sense the detective. I came into this area two or three minutes ago, having told you that I knew there was something funny going on, and this woman behind the shutters (for it evidently is a woman) was moaning like mad. No, my dear friend, beyond that I do not know anything about her. She is not, startling as it may seem, my disinherited daughter, or a member of my secret seraglio. But when I hear a human being wailing that she can't get out, and talking to herself like a mad woman and beating on the shutters with her fists, as she was doing two or three minutes ago, I think it worth mentioning, that is all."

"My dear fellow," I said, "I apologize; this is no time for arguing. What is to be done?"

Rupert Grant had a long clasp-knife naked and brilliant in his hand.

"First of all," he said, "house-breaking." And he forced the blade into the crevice of the wood and broke away a huge splinter, leaving a gap and glimpse of the dark window-pane inside. The room within was entirely unlighted, so that for the first few seconds the window seemed a dead and opaque surface, as dark as a strip of slate. Then came a realization which, though in a sense gradual, made us step back and catch our breath. Two large dim human eyes were so close to us that the window itself seemed suddenly to be a mask. A pale human face was pressed against the glass within, and with increased distinctness, with the increase of the opening came the words:

"When shall I get out?"

"What can all this be?" I said.

Rupert made no answer, but lifting his walking-stick and pointing the ferrule like a fencing sword at the glass, punched a hole in it, smaller and more accurate than I should have supposed possible. The moment he had done so the voice spouted out of the hole, so to speak, piercing and querulous and clear, making the same demand for liberty.

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The Club of Queer Trades
Gilbert K. Chesterton

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