The Club of Queer Trades
The Awful Reason of the Vicar's Visit
The revolt of Matter against Man (which I believe to exist) has now been reduced
to a singular condition. It is the small things rather than the large things which
make war against us and, I may add, beat us. The bones of the last mammoth
have long ago decayed, a mighty wreck; the tempests no longer devour our
navies, nor the mountains with hearts of fire heap hell over our cities. But we are
engaged in a bitter and eternal war with small things; chiefly with microbes and
with collar studs. The stud with which I was engaged (on fierce and equal terms)
as I made the above reflections, was one which I was trying to introduce into my
shirt collar when a loud knock came at the door.
My first thought was as to whether Basil Grant had called to fetch me. He and I
were to turn up at the same dinner-party (for which I was in the act of dressing),
and it might be that he had taken it into his head to come my way, though we had
arranged to go separately. It was a small and confidential affair at the table of a
good but unconventional political lady, an old friend of his. She had asked us
both to meet a third guest, a Captain Fraser, who had made something of a
name and was an authority on chimpanzees. As Basil was an old friend of the
hostess and I had never seen her, I felt that it was quite possible that he (with his
usual social sagacity) might have decided to take me along in order to break the
ice. The theory, like all my theories, was complete; but as a fact it was not Basil.
I was handed a visiting card inscribed: "Rev. Ellis Shorter", and underneath was
written in pencil, but in a hand in which even hurry could not conceal a
depressing and gentlemanly excellence, "Asking the favour of a few moments'
conversation on a most urgent matter."!
I had already subdued the stud, thereby proclaiming that the image of God has
supremacy over all matters (a valuable truth), and throwing on my dress-coat and
waistcoat, hurried into the drawing-room. He rose at my entrance, flapping like a
seal; I can use no other description. He flapped a plaid shawl over his right arm;
he flapped a pair of pathetic black gloves; he flapped his clothes; I may say,
without exaggeration, that he flapped his eyelids, as he rose. He was a bald-
browed, white-haired, white-whiskered old clergyman, of a flappy and floppy
type. He said:
"I am so sorry. I am so very sorry. I am so extremely sorry. I come --I can only
say--I can only say in my defence, that I come--upon an important matter. Pray
I told him I forgave perfectly and waited.
"What I have to say," he said brokenly, "is so dreadful--it is so dreadful--I have
lived a quiet life."