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The Club of Queer Trades

The Eccentric Seclusion of the Old Lady
The conversation of Rupert Grant had two great elements of interest--first, the
long fantasias of detective deduction in which he was engaged, and, second, his
genuine romantic interest in the life of London. His brother Basil said of him: "His
reasoning is particularly cold and clear, and invariably leads him wrong. But his
poetry comes in abruptly and leads him right." Whether this was true of Rupert as
a whole, or no, it was certainly curiously supported by one story about him which
I think worth telling.
We were walking along a lonely terrace in Brompton together. The street was full
of that bright blue twilight which comes about half past eight in summer, and
which seems for the moment to be not so much a coming of darkness as the
turning on of a new azure illuminator, as if the earth were lit suddenly by a
sapphire sun. In the cool blue the lemon tint of the lamps had already begun to
flame, and as Rupert and I passed them, Rupert talking excitedly, one after
another the pale sparks sprang out of the dusk. Rupert was talking excitedly
because he was trying to prove to me the nine hundred and ninety-ninth of his
amateur detective theories. He would go about London, with this mad logic in his
brain, seeing a conspiracy in a cab accident, and a special providence in a falling
fusee. His suspicions at the moment were fixed upon an unhappy milkman who
walked in front of us. So arresting were the incidents which afterwards overtook
us that I am really afraid that I have forgotten what were the main outlines of the
milkman's crime. I think it had something to do with the fact that he had only one
small can of milk to carry, and that of that he had left the lid loose and walked so
quickly that he spilled milk on the pavement. This showed that he was not
thinking of his small burden, and this again showed that he anticipated some
other than lacteal business at the end of his walk, and this (taken in conjunction
with something about muddy boots) showed something else that I have entirely
forgotten. I am afraid that I derided this detailed revelation unmercifully; and I am
afraid that Rupert Grant, who, though the best of fellows, had a good deal of the
sensitiveness of the artistic temperament, slightly resented my derision. He
endeavoured to take a whiff of his cigar, with the placidity which he associated
with his profession, but the cigar, I think, was nearly bitten through.
"My dear fellow," he said acidly, "I'll bet you half a crown that wherever that
milkman comes to a real stop I'll find out something curious."
"My resources are equal to that risk," I said, laughing. "Done."
We walked on for about a quarter of an hour in silence in the trail of the
mysterious milkman. He walked quicker and quicker, and we had some ado to
keep up with him; and every now and then he left a splash of milk, silver in the
lamplight. Suddenly, almost before we could note it, he disappeared down the
area steps of a house. I believe Rupert really believed that the milkman was a