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The Club of Queer Trades

The Noticeable Conduct of Professor Chadd
Basil Grant had comparatively few friends besides myself; yet he was the reverse
of an unsociable man. He would talk to any one anywhere, and talk not only well
but with perfectly genuine concern and enthusiasm for that person's affairs. He
went through the world, as it were, as if he were always on the top of an omnibus
or waiting for a train. Most of these chance acquaintances, of course, vanished
into darkness out of his life. A few here and there got hooked on to him, so to
speak, and became his lifelong intimates, but there was an accidental look about
all of them as if they were windfalls, samples taken at random, goods fallen from
a goods train or presents fished out of a bran-pie. One would be, let us say, a
veterinary surgeon with the appearance of a jockey; another, a mild prebendary
with a white beard and vague views; another, a young captain in the Lancers,
seemingly exactly like other captains in the Lancers; another, a small dentist from
Fulham, in all reasonable certainty precisely like every other dentist from Fulham.
Major Brown, small, dry, and dapper, was one of these; Basil had made his
acquaintance over a discussion in a hotel cloak-room about the right hat, a
discussion which reduced the little major almost to a kind of masculine hysterics,
the compound of the selfishness of an old bachelor and the scrupulosity of an old
maid. They had gone home in a cab together and then dined with each other
twice a week until they died. I myself was another. I had met Grant while he was
still a judge, on the balcony of the National Liberal Club, and exchanged a few
words about the weather. Then we had talked for about an hour about politics
and God; for men always talk about the most important things to total strangers.
It is because in the total stranger we perceive man himself; the image of God is
not disguised by resemblances to an uncle or doubts of the wisdom of a
moustache.
One of the most interesting of Basil's motley group of acquaintances was
Professor Chadd. He was known to the ethnological world (which is a very
interesting world, but a long way off this one) as the second greatest, if not the
greatest, authority on the relations of savages to language. He was known to the
neighbourhood of Hart Street, Bloomsbury, as a bearded man with a bald head,
spectacles, and a patient face, the face of an unaccountable Nonconformist who
had forgotten how to be angry. He went to and fro between the British Museum
and a selection of blameless tea-shops, with an armful of books and a poor but
honest umbrella. He was never seen without the books and the umbrella, and
was supposed (by the lighter wits of the Persian MS. room) to go to bed with
them in his little brick villa in the neighbourhood of Shepherd's Bush. There he
lived with three sisters, ladies of solid goodness, but sinister demeanour. His life
was happy, as are almost all the lives of methodical students, but one would not
have called it exhilarating. His only hours of exhilaration occurred when his
friend, Basil Grant, came into the house, late at night, a tornado of conversation.
 
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