Infomotions, Inc.The Prophet of Berkeley Square / Hichens, Robert Smythe, 1864-1950



Author: Hichens, Robert Smythe, 1864-1950
Title: The Prophet of Berkeley Square
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): sagittarius; malkiel; merillia; prophet; tiglath; lady enid; ferdinand; madame sagittarius; madame; miss minerva; tiglath butt; berkeley square; young librarian; lady julia; lady; master hennessey
Contributor(s): Conington, John, 1825-1869 [Translator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 79,040 words (short) Grade range: 7-10 (grade school) Readability score: 62 (easy)
Identifier: etext2463
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Title: The Prophet of Berkeley Square

Author: Robert Hichens

Release Date: April 3, 2006 [EBook #2463]

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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE PROPHET OF BERKELEY SQUARE ***




Produced by Dagny; Emma Dudding





THE PROPHET OF BERKELEY SQUARE

By Robert Hichens




CHAPTER I

MRS. MERILLIA IS CARRIED TO BED

The great telescope of the Prophet was carefully adjusted upon its
lofty, brass-bound stand in the bow window of Number One Thousand
Berkeley Square. It pointed towards the remarkably bright stars which
twinkled in the December sky over frosty London, those guardian stars
which always seemed to the Prophet to watch with peculiar solicitude
over the most respectable neighbourhood in which he resided. The
polestar had its eye even now upon the mansion of an adjacent
ex-premier, the belt of Orion was not oblivious of a belted earl's cosy
red-brick home just opposite, and the house of a certain famous actor
and actress close by had been taken by the Great Bear under its special
protection.

The Prophet's butler, Mr. Ferdinand--that bulky and veracious
gentleman--threw open the latticed windows of the drawing-room and
let the cold air rush blithely in. Then he made up the fire carefully,
placed a copy of Mr. Malkiel's _Almanac_, bound in dull pink and silver
brocade by Miss Clorinda Dolbrett of the Cromwell Road, upon a
small tulip-wood table near the telescope, patted a sofa cushion
affectionately on the head, glanced around with the meditative eye of
the butler born not made, and quitted the comfortable apartment with a
salaried, but soft, footstep.

It was a pleasant chamber, this drawing-room of Number One Thousand. It
spoke respectfully of the generations that were past and seemed serenely
certain of a comfortable future. There was no too modern uneasiness
about it, no trifling, gim-crack furniture constructed to catch the eye
and the angles of any one venturing to seek repose upon it, no unmeaning
rubbish of ornaments or hectic flummery of second-rate pictures. Above
the high oaken mantel-piece was a little pure bust in marble of the
Prophet when a small boy. To right and left were pretty miniatures in
golden frames of the Prophet's delightfully numerous grandmothers. Here
might be seen Mrs. Prothero, the great ship-builder's faithful wife, in
blue brocade, and Lady Camptown, who reigned at Bath, in grey tabinet
and diamond buckles, when Miss Jane Austen was writing her first
romance; Mrs. Susan Burlington, who knew Lord Byron--a remarkable
fact--and Lady Sophia Green, who knew her own mind, a fact still more
remarkable. The last-named lady wore black with a Roman nose, and the
combination was admirably convincing. Here might also be observed Mrs.
Stuefitt, Mistress of the Mazurka, and the Lady Jane Follington, of
whom George the Second had spoken openly in terms of approbation. She
affected plum colour and had eyes like sloes--the fashionable hue in
the neat-foot-and-pretty-ankle period. The flames of the fire twinkled
brightly over this battalion of deuced fine women, who were all, without
one exception, the grandmothers--in various degrees--of the Prophet.
When speaking of them, in the highest terms, he never differentiated
them by the adjectives great, or great-great. They were all kind and
condescending enough to be his grandmothers. For a man of his sensitive,
delicate and grateful disposition this was enough. He thought them all
quite perfect, and took them all under the protection of his soft and
beaming eyes.

Of Mrs. Merillia, the live grandmother with whom he had the great
felicity to dwell in Berkeley Square, he seldom said anything in
public praise. The incense he offered at her shrine rose, most sweetly
perfumed, from his daily life. The hearth of this agreeable and
grandmotherly chamber was attractive with dogs, the silver cage beside
it with green love-birds. Upon the floor was a heavy, dull-blue carpet
over which--as has been intimated--even a butler so heavy as Mr.
Ferdinand could go softly. The walls were dressed with a dull blue paper
that looked like velvet.

Here and there upon them hung a picture: a landscape of George Morland,
lustily English, a Cotman, a Cuyp--cows in twilight--a Reynolds, faded
but exquisitely genteel. A lovely little harpsichord--meditating on
Scarlatti--stood in one angle, a harp, tied with most delicate ribands
of ivory satin powdered with pimpernels, in another. Many waxen
candles shed a tender and unostentatious radiance above their careful
grease-catchers. Upon pretty tables lay neat books by Fanny Burney,
Beatrice Harraden, Mary Wilkins, and Max Beerbohm, also the poems of
Lord Byron and of Lord de Tabley. Near the hearth was a sofa on which an
emperor might have laid an easy head that wore a crown, and before every
low and seductive chair was set a low and seductive footstool.

A grandmother's clock pronounced the hour of ten in a frail and
elegant voice as the finely-carved oak door was opened, and the
Prophet seriously entered this peaceful room, carrying a copy of the
_Meditations of Marcus Aurelius_ in his hand.

He was a neatly-made little man of fashionable, even of modish, cut,
spare, smart and whimsical, with a clean-shaved, small-featured face,
large, shining brown eyes, abundant and slightly-waving brown hair, that
could only be parted, with the sweetest sorrow, in the centre of
his well-shaped, almost philosophical head, and movements light and
temperate as those of a meditative squirrel. Having just dined he was
naturally in evening dress, with a butterfly tie, gleaming pumps, and
a buttonhole of violets. He shut the door gently, glanced at his
nice-looking grandmothers, and, walking forward very quietly and
demurely, applied his eye to the telescope, lowering himself slightly
by a Sandow exercise, which he had practised before he became a prophet.
Having remained in this position of astronomical observation for some
minutes, he deviated into the upright, closed the window, and tinkled
a small silver bell that stood on the tulip-wood table beside Malkiel's
_Almanac_.

Mr. Ferdinand appeared, looking respectfully buoyant.

"Has Mr. Malkiel sent any reply to my inquiry, Mr. Ferdinand?" asked the
Prophet.

"He has not, sir," replied Mr. Ferdinand, sympathetically.

"Did the boy messenger say he delivered my note?"

"He said so, sir, on his Bible oath, sir."

"And do you believe him?"

"Oh, sir!" responded Mr. Ferdinand, in a shocked voice, "surely a London
lad would not be found to tell a lie!"

"I hope not, Mr. Ferdinand. Still--did he look a nervous sort of lad?"

"He was a trifle pale, sir, about the gills--but a heart of gold, sir, I
feel sure. He wore four medals, sir."

"Four medals! Nevertheless, he may have been frightened to go to Mr.
Malkiel's door. That will do, Mr. Ferdinand."

Mr. Ferdinand was about to bow and retire when the Prophet, after a
moment of hesitation, added,--

"Stay, Mr. Ferdinand. Mrs. Merillia has gone to the Gaiety Theatre
to-night. I expect her back at half-past eleven. She may need assistance
on her return."

"Assistance, sir! Mrs. Merillia, sir!"

Mr. Ferdinand's luminous eyes shone with amazement.

"She may--I say she _may_--have to be carried to bed."

Mr. Ferdinand's jaw dropped. He gave at the knees and was obliged to
cling to a Chippendale cabinet for support.

"Have an armchair ready in the hall in case of necessity and tell
Gustavus to sit up. Mrs. Merillia must not be dropped. You understand.
That will do, Mr. Ferdinand."

Mr. Ferdinand endeavoured to bow, and ultimately succeeded in retiring.
When his tremulous shoulders were no longer visible, the Prophet opened
Marcus Aurelius, and, seating himself in a corner of the big couch by
the fire, crossed his legs one over the other and began to read that
timid Ancient's consolatory, but unconvincing, remarks. Occasionally he
paused, however, murmured doubtfully, "Will she have to be carried to
bed?" shook his head mournfully and then resumed his reading.

While he thus employs his time, we must say a word or two about him.

Mr. Hennessey Vivian was now a man of thirty-eight, of excellent
fortune, of fine connections, and of admirable disposition. He had
become an orphan as soon as it was in his power to do so, having lost
his father--Captain Vivian of Her Majesty's Tenth Lancers--some months
before, and his mother--who had been a Merillia of Chipping Sudbury--a
few minutes after his birth. In these unfortunate circumstances, over
which he, poor infant, had absolutely no control--whatever unkind people
might say!--he devolved upon his mother's mother, the handsome and
popular Mrs. Merillia, who assumed his charge with the rosy alacrity
characteristic of her in all her undertakings. With her the little
Hennessey had passed his infantine years, blowing happy bubbles,
presiding over the voyages of his own private Noah--from the Army
and Navy Stores, with two hundred animals of both sexes!--eating pap
prepared by Mrs. Merillia's own _chef_, and sleeping in a cot hung with
sunny silk that might have curtained Venus or have shaken about Aurora
as she rose in the first morning of the world. From her he had acquired
the alphabet and many a ginger-nut and decorative bonbon. And from her,
too, he had set forth, with tears, in his new Eton jacket and broad
white collar, to go to Mr. Chapman's preparatory school for little boys
at Slough. Here he remained for several years, acquiring a respect for
the poet Gray and a love of Slough peppermint that could only cease
with life. Here too he made friends with Robert Green, son of Lord
Churchmore, who was afterwards to be a certain influence in his life.
His existence at Slough was happy. Indeed, so great was his affection
for the place that his removal to Eton cost him suffering scarcely less
acute than that which presently attended his departure from Eton to
Christchurch. Over his sensations on leaving Oxford we prefer to draw a
veil, only saying that his last outlook--as an undergraduate--over her
immemorial towers was as hazy as the average Cabinet Minister's outlook
over the events of the day and the desires of the community.

But if the moisture of the Prophet did him credit at that painful period
of his life, it must be allowed that his behaviour on being formally
introduced into London Society showed no puling regret, no backward
longings after echoing colleges, lost dons and the scouts that are no
more. He was quite at his ease, and displayed none of the high-pitched
contempt of Piccadilly that is often so amusingly characteristic of the
young gentlemen accustomed to "the High."

Mrs. Merillia, who had been a widow ever since she could remember,
possessed the lease of the house in Berkeley Square in which the
Prophet was now sitting. It was an excellent mansion, with everything
comfortable about it, a duke on one side, a Chancellor of the Exchequer
on the other, electric light, several bathrooms and the gramophone.
There was never any question of the Prophet setting up house by himself.
On leaving Oxford he joined his ample fortune to Mrs. Merillia's as
a matter of course, and they settled down together with the greatest
alacrity and hopefulness. Nor were their pleasant relations once
disturbed during the fifteen years that elapsed before the Prophet
applied his eye to the telescope in the bow window and gave Mr.
Ferdinand the instructions which have just been recorded.

These fifteen years had not gone by without leaving their mark upon our
hero. He had done several things during their passage. For instance,
he had written a play, very nearly proposed to the third daughter of
a London clergyman and twice been to the Derby. Such events had, not
unnaturally, had their effect upon the formation of his character and
even upon the expression of his intelligent face. The writing of
the play--and, perhaps, its refusal by all the actor-managers of the
town--had traced a tiny line at each corner of his mobile mouth. The
third daughter of the London clergyman--his sentiment for her--had
taught his hand the slightly episcopal gesture which was so admired at
the Lambeth Palace Garden Party in the summer of 1892. And the great
race meeting was responsible for the rather tight trousers and the
gentleman-jockey smile which he was wont to assume when he set out for a
canter in the Row. From all this it will be guessed that our Prophet was
exceedingly amenable to the influences that throng at the heels of the
human destiny. Indeed, he was. And some few months before this story
opens it came about that he encountered a gentleman who was, in fact,
the primary cause of this story being true. Who was this gentleman? you
will say. Sir Tiglath Butt, the great astronomer, Correspondent of
the Institute of France, Member of the Royal College of Science,
Demonstrator of Astronomical Physics, author of the pamphlet,
"Star-Gazers," and the brochure, "An investigation into the psychical
condition of those who see stars," C.B.F.R.S. and popular member of the
Colley Cibber Club in Long Acre.

The Prophet was introduced to Sir Tiglath at the Colley Cibber Club, and
though Sir Tiglath, who was of a freakish disposition and much addicted
to his joke declined to speak to him, on the ground that he (Sir
Tiglath) had lost his voice and was unlikely to find it in conversation,
the Prophet was greatly impressed by the astronomer's enormous brick-red
face, round body, turned legs, eyes like marbles, and capacity for
drinking port-wine--so much so, in fact that, on leaving the club, he
hastened to buy a science primer on astronomy, and devoted himself for
several days to a minute investigation of the Milky Way.

As there is a fascination of the earth, so is there a fascination of the
heavens. Along the dim, empurpled highways that lead from star to star,
from meteorite to comet, the imagination travels wakefully by night, and
the heart leaps as it draws near to the silver bosses of the moon.
Mrs. Merillia was soon obliged to permit the intrusion of a gigantic
telescope into her pretty drawing-room, and found herself expected to
converse at the dinner-table on the eight moons of Saturn, the belts of
Jupiter, the asteroids of Mars and the phases of Venus. These last
she at first declined to discuss with a man, even though he were her
grandson. But she was won over by the Prophet's innocent persuasiveness,
and drawn on until she spoke almost as readily of the movements of the
stars as formerly she had spoken of the movements of the Court from
Windsor to London, and from London to Balmoral. In truth, she expected
that Hennessey's passion for the comets would cease as had ceased his
passion for the clergyman's daughter; that his ardour for astronomy
would die as had died his ardour for play-writing; that he would give up
going to _Corona Borealis_ and to the Southern Fish as he had given up
going to the Derby. Time proved her wrong. As the days flew Hennessey
became increasingly impassioned. He was more often at the telescope than
at the Bachelors', and seemed on the way to become almost as gibbous as
the planet Mars. Even he slightly neglected his social duties; and on
one terrible occasion forgot that he was engaged to dine at Cambridge
House because he was assisting at a transit of Mercury.

Now all this began to weigh upon the mind of Mrs. Merillia, despite the
amazing cheerfulness of disposition which she had inherited from two
long lines of confirmed optimists--her ancestors on the paternal and
maternal sides. She did not know how to brood, but, if she had, she
might well have been led to do so. And even as it was she had been
reduced to so unusual a condition of dejection that, a week before the
evening we are describing, she had been obliged to order a box at the
Gaiety Theatre, she, who, like all optimists, habitually frequented
those playhouses where she could behold gloomy tragedies, awful
melodramas, or those ironic pieces called farces, in which the ultimate
misery of which human nature is capable is drawn to its farthest point.

In the beginning of this new dejection of hers, Mrs. Merillia was now
seated in a stage box at the "Gaiety," with an elderly General of Life
Guards, a Mistress of the Robes, and the grandfather of the Central
American Ambassador at the Court of St. James, and all four of them
were smiling at a neat little low comedian, who was singing, without any
voice and with the utmost precision, a pathetic romance entitled, "De
Coon Wot Got de Chuck."

Meanwhile the Prophet was engaged for the twentieth time in considering
whether Mrs. Merillia, on her return from this festival, would have to
be carried to bed by hired menials.

Why?

This brings us to the great turning point in our hero's life, to the
point when first he began to respect the strange powers stirring within
him.

Until he encountered Sir Tiglath Butt in the dining-room of the Colley
Cibber Club Hennessey had been but a dilettante fellow. He had written a
play, but airily, and without the twenty years of arduous and persistent
study declared by the dramatic critics to be absolutely necessary before
any intelligent man can learn how to get a bishop on, or a chambermaid
off, the stage. He had nearly proposed to a clergyman's daughter, but
thoughtlessly, and without any previous examination into the clericalism
of rectory females, any first-hand knowledge of mothers' meetings,
devoid of which he must be a stout-hearted gentleman who would rush in
where even curates often fear to tread. He had been to the Derby, but
without wearing a bottle-green veil or carrying a betting-book. In fact,
he had not taken life very seriously, or fully appreciated the solemn
duties it brings to all who bear its yoke. Only when the plump red hand
of Sir Tiglath--holding a bumper of thirty-four port--pointed the way
to the heavens, did Hennessey begin--through his telescope--to see the
great possibilities that foot it about the existence of even the meanest
man who eats, drinks and suffers. For through his telescope he saw that
he might be a prophet. Malkiel read the future in the stars. Why not he?

He endeavoured to do so. He sought an intimacy with the benefic
_Jupiter_, and found it--perhaps by a secret kowtowing to
_Sagittarius_. He made up openly to _Canis Major_ and was shortly on
what might almost be considered terms of affection with _Venus_. And
he was, moreover, presently quite fearless in the presence of _Saturn_,
quite unabashed beneath the glittering eye of _Mercury_. Then, as the
neophyte growing bold by familiarity with the circle of the great ones,
he ventured on his first prophecy, a discreet and even humble forecast
of the weather. He predicted a heavy fall of snow for a certain evening,
and so distrusted his own prediction that when the evening came, mild
and benign, he sallied forth to the Empire Palace of Varieties, and
stayed till near midnight, laughing at the sallies of French clowns, and
applauding the frail antics of cockatoos on motor bicycles. When, on the
stroke of twelve, he came airily forth wrapped in the lightest of dust
coats, he was obliged to endure the greatest of man's amazements--the
knowledge that there was a well of truth within him. Leicester Square
was swathed in an ivory fleece, and he was obliged to gain Berkeley
Square on foot, treading gingerly in pumps, escorted by linkmen with
flaring golden torches, and preceded by tipsy but assiduous ruffians
armed with shovels, who, with many a lusty oath and horrid imprecation,
cleared a thin thread of path between the towering walls of snow that
sparkled faintly in the gaslight.

This experience fired him. He rose up early, lay down late, and, quite
with her assent, cast the horoscope of Mrs. Merillia in the sweat of his
brow. He cast, we say, her horoscope and, from a certain conjunction of
the planets, he gathered, to his horror, that upon the fifteenth day of
the month of January she would suffer an accident while on an evening
jaunt. We find him now, on this fifteenth day of the first month, aware
of his revered grandmother's intrepid expedition to the Gaiety Theatre,
waiting her return to Berkeley Square with mingled feelings which we
might analyse for pages, but which we prefer baldly to state.

He longed to be proved indeed a prophet, and he longed also to see his
beloved relative return from her sheaf of pleasures in the free and
unconstrained use of all her graceful limbs. He was, therefore, torn
by foes in a mental conflict, and was in no case to sip the philosophic
honey of Marcus Aurelius as he sat between the telescope and the fire in
the comfortable drawing-room awaiting his grandmother's return.

"Gustavus," said Mr. Ferdinand in the servants' hall to the flushed
footman who lay upon a what-not, sipping a glass of ale and reading a
new and unabridged farthing edition of Carlyle's _French Revolution_,
"Gustavus, Mrs. Merillia has been and gone to the Gaiety Theatre
to-night. We expect her back at eleven-thirty sharp. She may need
assistance on her return, Gustavus."

The footman put down the tumbler which he was in the act of raising to
his pouted lips.

"Assistance, Mr. Ferdinand!" he ejaculated. "Mrs. Merillia, Mr.
Ferdinand!"

"She may--we say she _may_--have to be carried to bed, Gustavus."

Gustavus's jaw dropped, and the _French Revolution_ fluttered in his
startled hands.

"Good lawks, Mr. Ferdinand!" he exclaimed (not quoting from Carlyle).

"Have an armchair ready in the hall, Gustavus. Mrs. Merillia must not be
dropped. You understand? That will do, Gustavus."

And Mr. Ferdinand passed to the adjacent supper-table, to join the upper
housemaid in a discussion of two subjects that were very near to their
hearts, a round of beef and a tureen of pickled cabbage, while Gustavus
got up from the what-not in a bemused manner, and proceeded to search
dreamily for an armchair. He came upon one by chance in the dining-room,
and wheeled it out into the hall just as the clocks in the house rang
out the half-hour after eleven.

The Prophet above sprang up from the couch by the fire, Mr. Ferdinand
below closed his discussion with the upper housemaid, and the former
rapidly came down, the latter up, stairs as the roll of wheels broke
through the silence of the square.

Gustavus, in an attitude of bridled curiosity, was posed beneath a polar
bear that held an electric lamp. His hand was laid upon the back of the
armchair, and his round hazel eyes were turned expectantly towards the
hall as his two masters joined him.

"Is all ready, Mr. Ferdinand?" said the Prophet, anxiously.

"All is ready, sir," replied the butler.

"Wheel the chair forward, Gustavus, if you please," said the Prophet.
"Mrs. Merillia must not be dropped. Remember that."

"Not be dropped, sir--no."

The chair ran forward on its amicable castors as a carriage was heard
to stop outside. Mr. Ferdinand flung open the portal, and the Prophet
glided out excitedly upon the step.

"Well?" he cried, "well?"

A footman, in a long drab coat with red facings, was preparing to get
off the box of a smart brougham, but before he could reach the pavement,
a charming head, covered with a lace cap, was thrust out of the window,
and a musical and almost girlish voice cried,--

"All nonsense, Hennessey, all rubbish! Saturn don't know what he's
talkin' about. Look!"

The carriage door was vivaciously opened from the inside and a
delightful little old lady, dressed in brown silk, with a long, cheerful
pointed nose, rosy cheeks, and chestnut hair--that almost mightn't have
been a wig in certain lights--prepared to leap forth without waiting for
the reverent assistance that the Prophet, flanked by Mr. Ferdinand and
Gustavus, was in waiting to afford.

As she jumped, she began to cry, "Not much wrong with me, is there,
Hennessey?" but before the sentence was completed she had caught her
neat foot in her brown silk gown, had stumbled from the step of the
carriage to the pavement, had twisted her pretty ankle, had reeled and
almost fallen, had been caught by the Prophet and Mr. Ferdinand, borne
tenderly into the hall, and placed in the armchair which the terrified
Gustavus, with almost enraged ardour, drove forward to receive her. As
she sank down in it, helpless, Mrs. Merillia exclaimed, with unabated
vivacity,--

"It's happened, Hennessey, it's happened! But it was my own doin' and
yours. You shouldn't have prophesied at your age, and I shouldn't have
jumped at mine.

"Dearest grannie!" cried the Prophet, on his knees beside her, "how
grieved, how shocked I am! Is it--is it--"

"Sprained, Hennessey?"

He nodded. Mechanically Mr. Ferdinand nodded. Gustavus let his powdered
head drop, too, in imitation of his superiors.

"I'll tell you in the drawin'--room."

She placed her pretty, mittened hands upon the arms of the chair, and
gave a little wriggle, trying to get up. Then she cried out musically,--

"No, I must be carried up. Mr. Ferdinand!"

"Ma'am!"

"Is Gustavus to be trusted?"

"Trusted, ma'am!" cried Mr. Ferdinand, looking at Gustavus, who had
assumed an expression of pale and pathetic dignity. "Trusted--a London
footman! Oh, ma'am!"

His voice failed. He choked and began to rummage in the pocket of his
black tail coat for his perfumed handkerchief.

"T'st, t'st! I mean his arms," said Mrs. Merillia, patting her delicate
hands quickly on the chair. "Can he carry me?"

The countenance of Mr. Ferdinand cleared, while Gustavus eagerly
extended his right arm, bent it sharply, and allowed his magnificent
biceps to rise up in sudden majesty. Mrs. Merillia was reassured.

"Hoist me to the drawin'-room, then," she said. "Hennessey, will you
walk behind?"

The procession was formed, and the little old lady proceeded by a
succession of jerks to the upper floor, her silk gown rustling against
the balusters, and her tiny feet dangling loosely in mid-air, while
her long and elegant head nodded each time Mr. Ferdinand and Gustavus
pranced carefully sideways to a higher step. The Prophet followed
solicitously behind, with hands outstretched to check any dangerous
recoil. His face was very grave, but not entirely unhappy.

"Set me down by the fire," said Mrs. Merillia, when she found herself
being smoothly propelled through the atmosphere of the drawing-room.

The menials obeyed with breathless assiduity.

"And now bring me a sandwich, a glass of toast and water and a fan, if
you please. Yes, put the footstool well under me."

"Dearest grannie," said the Prophet, when the men had retired, "are you
in great pain?"

"No, Hennessey. Are you?"

Mrs. Merillia's green eyes twinkled.

"I!"

"Yes, at my accident. For my ankle is sprained, I'm almost sure, and I
shall have to lie up presently in wet bandages. Tell me, are you really
pained that I have had the accident you prophesied?"

She glanced from her grandson to the telescope that pointed toward the
stars and back again.

"I am, indeed, sincerely grieved," the Prophet answered with genuine
emotion.

"Yes. But if I'd jumped out all right, and was sittin' here now in a
perfect condition of health, you'd have been sincerely grieved, too."

"I hope not, grannie," said the Prophet. But he looked meditative.

Mr. Ferdinand brought the toast and water, the sandwich and the fan.
When he had trodden across the carpet out of the room Mrs. Merillia
continued,--

"Hennessey, you see where this prophetic business is leadin' you. It has
made you charmed at my accident. Yes, it has."

She spoke without any pathos, humorously indeed, in a bright tone full
of common sense. And she nodded at him over her toast and water with a
chaffing, demure smile. But the Prophet winced and put his hand to his
thick brown hair.

"No, no," he cried quickly. "That's impossible. It can't be." But the
statements sounded like perturbed questions.

"Think!" said his grandmother, looking down at her poor, helpless foot
as it lay on the velvet stool. "If I hadn't had an accident to-night,
you'd have been obliged to think ill of--of--which of them was it that
had the impertinence to talk my affairs over with you?"

"Mercury and Uranus, Jupiter, Saturn and Venus," said the Prophet with
almost terrible gravity.

"Exactly. I always have thought ill of the last, but that's nothin' to
do with it. Weigh me in the balance against five planets--are they all
planets?--and how do the scales go? You see, Hennessey!"

The Prophet looked much distressed. He saw his beloved grandmother by
the fire and the bright stars twinkling through the frosty window-panes.
He thought of his telescope, of Sir Tiglath, of Mr. Malkiel, and of the
future, and the velvety blue walls of the drawing-room seemed to spin
round him.

"Prophecy," continued Mrs. Merillia, fanning herself till the lace
lappets of her priceless cap fluttered above her orderly and clasping
wig, "is dangerous, for often it can cause its own fulfilment. If
you hadn't said that because of a certain conjunction of planets--or
whatever it was--in my horoscope, I should have an accident to-night, I
shouldn't have jumped out of the brougham. I should have waited for Mr.
Ferdinand to assist me, as befits a gentlewoman."

"But, grannie, I assure you I was most anxious to save you. I hoped I
had made a mistake in your horoscope. I did, really. I was so nervous
that I sent to Mr. Malkiel while you were at the theatre and implored
him to look into the matter as an expert."

"Mr. Malkiel! Who is he? Do we know him?"

"No. But we know his marvellous _Almanac_."

"The _Almanac_ person! Why, Malkiel is surely a myth, Hennessey, a
number of people, a company, a syndicate, or something of that kind."

"So I thought, grannie. But I have made inquiries--through a detective
agency--and I have discovered that he is one person; in fact, a man,
just like you and me."

"Rather an odd man then! Is he in the Red Book?"

"No. He is, I understand, of a very retiring and secretive disposition.
In fact, I have had great difficulty in learning anything about him. But
at length I have discovered that he receives and answers letters at an
address in London."

"Indeed. Where is it?"

"Jellybrand's Library, Eleven Hundred Z, Shaftesbury Avenue. I sent a
boy messenger there to-day."

"Did you receive a reply?"

"No. I think the boy--although Mr. Ferdinand tells me he wore four
medals, I presume for courage--must have become nervous on perceiving
Mr. Malkiel's name on the envelope, have thrown the note down a grating,
and bolted before he reached the place, though he said--on his Bible
oath, I understand from Mr. Ferdinand--he delivered the note. In any
case I got no answer. How are you feeling?"

"Twisted, but prophetic. I foretell that my ankle will be swelled beyond
recognition to-morrow. Help me to bed, Hennessey."

The Prophet flew to his dear relative's assistance, and Mrs. Merillia
endeavoured to rise and to lean upon his anxious arm. After a struggle,
however, in which the Prophet took part and two chairs were overset, she
was obliged to desist.

"You must ring the bell, Hennessey," she said. "Mr. Ferdinand and
Gustavus must carry me to bed in the chair."

The Prophet sprang tragically to the bell. It was answered. The
procession was re-formed, and Mrs. Merillia was carried to bed, still
smiling, nodding at each stair and bearing herself with admirable
courage.

As Mr. Ferdinand and Gustavus descended to the basement after the
completion of their unusual task, the latter said solemnly,--

"However should master have come to know as the missis wouldn't be able
to put foot to floor this night, Mr. Ferdinand? However?"

"I cannot answer you, Gustavus," Mr. Ferdinand replied, shaking his
broad and globe-like head, round whose bald cupola the jet-black hair
was brushed in two half moons decorated with a renowned "butler's own
special pomade."

"Well, Mr. Ferdinand," rejoined Gustavus, stretching out one hand for
pale ale, the other for _French Revolution_, "I don't like it."

"Why, Gustavus?" inquired Mr. Ferdinand, preparing to resume his
discussion with the accommodating upper housemaid. "Why?"

"Because it seems strange like, Mr. Ferdinand," said Gustavus, lifting
the glass to his lips, the _French Revolution_ to his eyes.

"It do seem strange, Gustavus," answered Mr. Ferdinand, leaving out the
"like" in a cultivated manner. "It do."

In the drawing-room the Prophet stood, with clenched hands, gazing
through the telescope at Mercury and Uranus, Jupiter, Saturn and
Venus, while, on the second floor, Mrs. Fancy Quinglet, Mrs. Merillia's
devoted, but occasionally disconcerting, maid, swathed her mistress's
ankle in bandages previously steeped in cold water and in vinegar.



CHAPTER II

MALKIEL THE SECOND IS BETRAYED BY THE YOUNG LIBRARIAN

Mrs. Merillia's accident made a very deep impression upon the Prophet's
mind. He thought it over carefully, and desired to discuss it in all its
bearings with Mrs. Fancy Quinglet, who had been his confidante for full
thirty years. Mrs. Fancy--who had not been married--was no longer a
pretty girl. Indeed it was possible that she had never, even in her
heyday, been otherwise than moderately plain. Now, at the age of
fifty-one and a half, she was a faithful creature with a thin,
pendulous nose, a pale, hysteric eye, a tendency to cold in the head
and chilblains in the autumn of the year, and a somewhat incoherent and
occasionally frenzied turn of mind. Argument could never at any time
have had much effect upon her nature, and as she grew towards maturity
its power over her most markedly decreased. This fact was recognised
by everybody, last of all by Mrs. Merillia, who was at length fully
convinced of the existence of certain depths in her maid's peculiar
character by the following circumstance.

Mrs. Merillia had a bandy-legged dachshund called Beau, whose name was
for many years often affectionately, and quite correctly, pronounced
by Fancy Quinglet. One day, however, she chanced to see it written upon
paper--B.E.A.U.

"Whatever does that mean, ma'am?" she asked of Mrs. Merillia.

"Why, Beau, of course, Beau--the dog. What should it mean?"

"Bow?" cried Fancy. "Is he writ so?"

"Of course, silly girl. It is written Beau, and you can pronounce it as
you would pronounce a bow of ribbon."

Fancy said no more, though it was easy to see that she was much shaken
by this circumstance. But she could never afterwards be induced to utter
her favourite's name. She was physically unable to speak the word so
strangely, so almost impiously, spelt. This she declared with tears.
Persuasion and argument were unavailing. Henceforth Beau was always
called by her "the dog," and it was obvious that, had she been led
out to the stake, she must have burned rather than save herself by a
pronouncing of the combination of letters by which she had been so long
deceived.

Such an inflexible mind had Mrs. Fancy, to whom the Prophet now applied
himself with gestures almost Sinaic.

She was dressed in mouse-coloured grenadine, and was seated in a small
chamber opening out of Mrs. Merillia's bedroom, engaged in what she
called "plain tatting."

"Fancy," said the Prophet, entering and closing the door carefully, "you
know me well."

"From the bottle, sir," she answered, darting the bone implements in and
out.

"Have you ever thought--has it ever occurred to you--"

"I can't say it has, sir," Fancy replied, with the weak decision
peculiar to her.

She was ever prone thus to answer questions before they were fully
asked, or could be properly understood by her, and from such premature
decisions as she hastened to give she could never afterwards be
persuaded to retreat. Knowing this the Prophet said rapidly,--

"Fancy, if a man finds out that he is a prophet what ought he to do?"

The lady's-maid rattled her bones.

"Let it alone, sir," she answered. "Let it alone, Master Hennessey."

"Well, but what d'you mean by that?"

"What I say sir. I can't speak different, nor mean other."

"But can't you explain, Fancy?"

"Oh, Master Hennessey, the lives that have been wrecked, the homes that
have been broke up by explainings!"

Her eye seemed suddenly lit from within by some fever of sad, worldly
knowledge.

"Well, but--" the Prophet began.

"I know it, Master Hennessey, and I can't know other."

She sighed, and her gaze became fixed like that of a typhoid patient in
a dream.

"Them that knows other let them declare it," she ejaculated. "I
say again, as I did afore--the homes that have been broken up by
explainings!"

She tatted. The Prophet bowed before her decision and left the apartment
feeling rather hungry. Fancy Quinglet's crumbs were not always crumbs
of comfort. He resolved to apply again to Mr. Malkiel, and this time to
make the application in person. But before he did so he thought it
right to tell Mrs. Merillia, who was still steeped in bandages, of his
intention. He therefore went straight to her room from Fancy Quinglet's.
Mrs. Merillia was lying upon a couch reading a Russian novel. A cup of
tea stood beside her upon a table near a bowl of red and yellow tulips,
a canary was singing in its cage amid a shower of bird-seed, and "the
dog" lay stretched before the blazing fire upon a milk-white rug, over
which a pale ray of winter sunshine fell. As the Prophet came in Mrs.
Merillia glanced up.

"Hennessey," she said, "you are growin' to look like Lord Brandling,
when he combined the Premiership with the Foreign Office and we had that
dreadful complication with Iceland. My dear boy, you are corrugated with
thought and care. What is the matter? My ankle is much better. You
need not be anxious about me. Has Venus been playing you another jade's
trick?"

The Prophet sat down and stroked Beau's sable back with his forefinger.

"I have scarcely looked at Venus since you were injured, grannie," he
answered. "I have scarcely dared to."

"I'm glad to hear it. Since the days of Adonis she has always had a
dangerous influence on young men. If you want to look at anybody, look
at that pretty, sensible cousin of Robert Green's."

"Lady Enid. Yes, she is sensible. I believe she is in Hampshire staying
with the Churchmores."

He looked calmer for a moment, but the corrugated expression quickly
returned.

"Grannie," he said, "I think it my duty to make an effort to see Mr.
Malkiel."

"The _Almanac_ man. What do you want with him?"

She tapped one of her small, mittened hands over the other and slightly
twisted her long and pointed nose.

"I want to learn his views on this strange faculty of prophecy. Has it
ever occurred to you that among all our immense acquaintance we don't
number a single prophet?"

"One can't know everybody, Hennessey. And I believe that prophets always
spring from the lower classes. The line must be drawn somewhere even in
these days."

"Why not draw it at millionaires then?"

"I should like to. Somethin' will have to be done. If the nobodies
continue to go everywhere the very few somebodies that are left will
soon go nowhere.

"Perhaps they do go nowhere. Perhaps that is why we have never met a
prophet."

Mrs. Merillia looked up sharply, with her wide, cheerful mouth set awry
in a shrewd smile that seemed to say "So ho!" She recognised a strange,
new note of profound, though not arrogant, self-respect in her grandson.

"Prophets," Hennessey added more gently, "have always been inclined to
dwell in the wilderness."

"But where can you find a wilderness in these days?" asked Mrs.
Merillia, still smiling. "Even Hammersmith is becomin' quite a
fashionable neighbourhood. And you say that the _Almanac_ man lives in
Shaftesbury Avenue, only half a minute from Piccadilly Circus."

"My dear grannie," he corrected her, "I said he received letters there.
I don't know where he lives."

"How are you goin' to find him then?"

"I shall call this afternoon at eleven hundred Z."

"To see if he has run in for a postcard! And what sort of person do you
expect him to be?"

"Something quite out of the common."

Mrs. Merillia screwed up her eyes doubtfully.

"I hope you won't be disappointed. How many editions have there been of
the _Almanac_?"

"Seventy yearly editions."

"Then Malkiel must be a very old man."

"But this Mr. Malkiel is Malkiel the Second."

"One of a dynasty! That alters the case. Perhaps he's a young man about
town. There are young men about town, I believe, who have addresses
at clubs and libraries, and sleep on doorsteps, or in the Park. Well,
Hennessey, I see you are getting fidgety. You had better be off. Buy me
some roses for my room on your way home. I'm expectin' someone to have
tea with the poor victim of prophecy this afternoon."

The Prophet kissed his grandmother, put on his overcoat and stepped into
the square.

It was a bright, frosty, genial day, and he resolved to walk to
Jellybrand's Library.

London was looking quite light-hearted in the dry, cold air, which set a
bloom even upon the cheeks of the ambassadors who were about, and caused
the butcher boys to appear like peonies. The crossing-sweepers swept
nothing vigorously, and were rewarded with showers of pence from
pedestrians delighting in the absence of mud. Crystal as some garden
of an eternal city seemed the green Park, wrapped in its frosty mantle
embroidered with sunbeams. Even the drivers of the "growlers" were
moderately cheerful--a very rare occurrence--and the blind man of
Piccadilly smiled as he roared along the highway, striking the feet of
the charitable with the wand which was the emblem of his profession.

Only the Prophet was solemn on this delicious afternoon. People looked
at him and thought that he must surely be the richest man of the town.
His face was so sad.

He wound across the whirlpool, where the green image postures to the
human streams that riot below it. He saw beneath their rooves of ostrich
feathers the girls shake their long earrings above sweet violets and
roses fainting with desire to be bought by country cousins.

"Where is eleven hundred Z, if you please?" he asked the Shaftesbury
Avenue policeman.

"Jellybrand's sir? On the right between the cream shop and the engine
warehouse, just opposite the place where they sell parrots, after that
there patent medicine depot."

The Prophet bowed, thinking of the blessings of knowledge. In a moment
he stood before the library and glanced at its dirty window. He saw
several letters lying against the glass. One was addressed to "Miss
Minerva Partridge." He stepped in, wondering what she was like.

Jellybrand's Library was a small, square room containing a letter rack,
a newspaper stand, a bookcase and a counter. It was fitted up with
letters, papers, books, and a big boy with a bulging head. The
last-named stood behind the counter, stroking his irregular profile with
one hand, and throwing a box of J nibs into the air and catching it with
the other. Upon the Prophet's entrance this youth obligingly dropped the
nibs accidentally upon the floor, and arranged his sharp and anemic
face in an expression of consumptive inquiry. The Prophet approached the
counter softly, and allowed the sable with which his coat was trimmed to
rest against it.

"Did a boy messenger call here a few days ago with a note for Mr.
Malkiel?" he asked.

The young librarian assumed an attitude of vital suspicion and the
expression of a lynx.

"For Malkiel the Second, sir?" he replied in a piercing soprano voice.

"Yes," said the Prophet. "A boy messenger with four medals. There was
a crest on the envelope--an elephant rampant surrounded by a swarm of
bees."

A dogged look of combined terror and resolution overspread the young
librarian's countenance.

"There's been no elephant and no swarm of bees in here," he said with
trembling curtness.

"You are sure you would have remembered the circumstance if there had
been?"

"Rather! What do you think? We don't allow things of them sort in here,
I can tell you."

The Prophet drew out half a sovereign, upon which a ray of sunshine
immediately fell as if in benediction.

"Does Mr. Malkiel--?

"Malkiel the Second," interrupted the young librarian, whose pinkish
eyes winked at the illumination of the gold.

"Malkiel the Second ever call here--in person?"

"In person?" said the young librarian, very suspiciously.

"Exactly."

"I don't know about in person. He calls here."

"Ah," said the Prophet, recognising in the youth a literary sense that
instinctively rejected superfluity. "He does call. May I ask when?"

"When he chooses," said the young librarian, and he winked again.

"Does he choose often?"

"He's got his day, like Miss Partridge and lots of 'em."

"I see. Is his day--by chance--a Thursday?"

It was a Thursday afternoon.

"I don't know about by chance," rejoined the young librarian, his
literary sense again coming into play. "But it's--"

At this moment the library door opened, and a tall, thin, middle-aged
man walked in sideways with his feet very much turned out to right and
left of him.

"Any letters, Frederick Smith?" he said in a hollow voice, on reaching
the counter.

"Two, Mr. Sagittarius, I believe," replied the young librarian, moving
with respectful celerity towards the letter rack.

The Prophet started and looked eagerly at the newcomer. His eyes rested
upon an individual whose face was comic in outline with a serious
expression, and whose form suggested tragic farce dressed to represent
commonplace, as seen at Margate and elsewhere. A top hat, a spotted
collar, a pink shirt, a white satin tie, a chocolate brown frock coat,
brown trousers and boots, and a black overcoat thrown open from top to
bottom--these appurtenances, clerkly in their adherence to a certain
convention, could not wholly disguise the emotional expression that
seems sometimes to lurk in shape. The lines of Mr. Sagittarius defied
their clothing. His shoulders gave the lie to the chocolate brown frock
coat. His legs breathed defiance to the trousers that sheathed them.
One could, in fancy, see the former shrugged in all the abandonment
of third-act despair, behold the latter darting wildly for the cover
afforded by a copper, a cupboard, or any other friendly refuge of those
poor victims of ludicrous and terrific circumstance who are so sorely
smitten and afflicted upon the funny stage.

Mr. Sagittarius, in fine, seemed a man dressed in a mask that was unable
to deceive. His lean face was almost absurd in its irregularity, its
high cheek-bones and deep depressions, its sharp nose, extensive mouth
and nervous chin. But the pale blue eyes that were its soul shone
plaintively beneath their shaggy, blonde eyebrows, and even an
application of pomade almost hysterically lavish could not entirely
conceal the curling gloom of the heavy, matted hair.

"Yes, two, Mr. Sagittarius," cried the young librarian, approaching from
the rack.

The gentleman held out a hand covered with a yellow dogskin glove.

"Thank you, Frederick Smith," he said.

And he turned to leave the building. But the Prophet intercepted him.

"Excuse me," said the Prophet. "I beg your pardon, but--but--" he looked
at the young librarian and accidentally let the half sovereign fall on
the counter. It gave the true ring. "I believe I heard you mention--let
drop the name Mr. Sagittarius."

"I don't know about let drop," began the youth in his usual revising
manner. "But I--"

At this point the gentleman in question began to move rather hastily
sideways towards the door. The Prophet followed him up and got before
him near the letter rack, while the young librarian retrieved the half
sovereign and bit it with his teeth.

"I really beg your pardon," said the Prophet, while Mr. Sagittarius
stood still in the violent attitude of one determined to dodge so long
as he has breath. "I am not at all in the habit of"--Mr. Sagittarius
dodged--"of intruding upon strangers--" Mr. Sagittarius dodged again
with such extraordinary abruptness and determination that he nearly
caused the young librarian to swallow the Prophet's golden bribe. "I see
you don't believe me," the Prophet continued, flushing pink but still
holding his ground, and indeed trying to turn Mr. Sagittarius's flank by
a strategic movement of almost military precision. "I see that plainly,
but--" Mr. Sagittarius ducked to the left, endeavouring to cover the
manoeuvre by an almost simultaneous and extremely passionate feint
towards the Prophet's centre, which was immediately withdrawn in good
order--"but your remark--arkable name, Saag--itt-ittarius, suggested to
me that you are rea-eally the man I seek."

He had now got Mr. Sagittarius into a very awkward bit of country
between the letter P. in the rack, under which reposed Miss Partridge's
correspondence, and the newspaper bureau, with the counter immediately
on his rear, and taking advantage of this circumstance, he continued
rapidly:

"May I ask whether you recently received a letter--one
moment!--envelope--crest--I only want to know if you have
received--only--an elephant rampant--swarm of--of bees--"

"I have never received a rampant elephant and a swarm of bees," cried
Mr. Sagittarius with every symptom of unbridled terror. "Help, Frederick
Smith!"

"Right you are, Malkiel the Second!" cried the young librarian, hastily
pocketing the half sovereign and making a feverish lunge at nothing in
particular over the counter. "Right you are!"

"Malkiel the Second!" ejaculated the Prophet. "Then you are the man I
seek."

Malkiel the Second--for it was indeed he--sank back against the counter
in an attitude of abandoned prostration that would have made a fortune
of a comic actor.

"I trusted to Jellybrand's," he said, drawing from his tail pocket a
white handkerchief covered with a pattern of pink storks in flight. "I
trusted to Jellybrand's and Jellybrand's has betrayed me. Oh, Frederick
Smith!"

He put a stork to each eye. The young librarian assumed an injured air.

"It was the agitation did it, Mr. Sagittarius," he said. "If you hadn't
a-kep' dodging I shouldn't have lost my memory."

And he looked avariciously at the Prophet, who smiled at him
reassuringly and drew forth a card case.

"I feel sure, Mr. Sag--Malkiel--"

"Malkiel the Second, sir, is my name if it is betrayed by Jellybrand's,"
said that gentleman with sudden dignity. "There is no need of any
mister."

"I beg your pardon," said the Prophet, handing his card. "That is my
name and address. May I beg you to forgive my apparent anxiety to make
your acquaintance, and implore you to grant me a few moments of private
conversation on a matter of the utmost importance?"

Malkiel the Second read the card.

"Berkeley Square," he said. "_The_ Berkeley Square?"

"Exactly, the Berkeley Square," said the Prophet, modestly.

"Not the one at Brixton Rise behind the Kimmins's mews?" said Malkiel
the Second, suspiciously.

"Certainly not. The one near Grosvenor Square."

"That's better," said Malkiel, upon whom the Prophet's address had
evidently made a good impression. "Kimmins's is no class at all. Had you
come from there, I--but what may you want with me?"

The Prophet glanced significantly at the young librarian, who was
leaning upon the counter in a tense, keyhole position, with his private
ear turned somewhat ostentatiously towards the two speakers.

"I can tell you in an inner room," he murmured, in his most ingratiating
manner.

"You're certain it's not Berkeley Square behind Kimmins's?" said
Malkiel, with a last flicker of suspicion.

"Quite certain--quite."

"Frederick Smith," said Malkiel the Second, "since Jellybrand's
has betrayed me Jellybrand's must abide the consequences. Show this
gentleman and me to the parlour."

"Right, Mr. Sagittarius," replied the young librarian whose memory had
again become excellent. "But Miss Minerva is coming at three-thirty."

"Has she bespoke the parlour, Frederick Smith?"

"Yes, Mr. Sagittarius."

"Then she can't have it. That's all. Jellybrand's must abide the full
consequences of my betrayal. Go forward, Frederick Smith."

The young librarian went forward towards a door of deal and ground glass
which he threw open with some ceremony.

"The parlour, gents," he said.

"After you, sir, after you," said Malkiel the Second, making a side step
and bringing his feet together in the first position.

"No, no," rejoined the Prophet, gently drawing the sage to the front,
and inserting him into the parlour in such an ingenious manner that he
did not perceive the journey of a second half sovereign from the person
of the Prophet to that of the young librarian, who thereafter closed the
deal and ground glass door, and returned to the counter, whistling in an
absent-minded manner, "I'm a Happy Millionaire from Colorado."



CHAPTER III

THE TWO PROPHETS PARTAKE OF "CREAMING FOAM."

"And now, sir," said Malkiel the Second, pointing to a couple of cane
chairs which, with the table, endeavoured, rather unsuccessfully, to
furnish forth the parlour at Jellybrand's, "now sir, what do you want
with me?"

As he spoke he threw his black overcoat wide open, seated himself on
the edge of one of the chairs in a dignified attitude, and crossed his
feet--which were not innocent of spats--one over the other.

The Prophet was resolved to dare all, and he, therefore, answered
boldly,--

"Malkiel the Second, I wish to speak to you as one prophet to another."

At this remark Malkiel started violently, and darted a searching glance
from beneath his blonde eyebrows at Hennessey.

"Do you live in the Berkeley Square, sir," he said, "and claim to be a
prophet?"

"I do," said Hennessey, with modest determination.

Malkiel smiled, a long and wreathed smile that was full of luscious
melancholy and tragic sweetness.

"The assumption seems rather ridiculous--forgive me," he exclaimed. "The
Berkeley Square! Whatever would Madame say?"

"Madame?" said the Prophet, inquiringly.

"Madame Malkiel, or Madame Sagittarius, as she always passes."

"Your wife?"

"My honoured lady," said Malkiel, with pride. "More to me almost than
any lunar guide or starry monitor. What, oh, what would she say to a
prophet from the Berkeley Square?"

He burst into hollow laughter, shaking upon the cane chair till its very
foundations seemed threatened as by an earthquake, and was obliged to
apply the flight of storks to his eyes before he could in any degree
recover his equanimity. At length he glanced up with tears rolling down
his cheeks.

"Excuse me, sir," he said. "But what can you know of prophecy in such a
fashionable neighbourhood, close to Grosvenor Square and within sight,
as one may say, of Piccadilly? Oh, dear, oh, dear!"

"But really," said the Prophet, who had flushed red, but who still spoke
with pleasant mildness, "what influence can neighbourhood have upon such
a superterrestrial matter?"

"Did Isaiah reside in the Berkeley Square, sir?"

"I fancy not. Still--"

"I fancy not, too," rejoined Malkiel. "Nor Bernard Wilkins either,
or any prophet that ever I heard of. Why, even Jesse Jones lives off
Perkin's Road, Wandsworth Common, though he does keep a sitting-room in
Berners Street just to see his clients in, and he is a very low-class
person, even for a prophet. No, no, sir, Madame is quite right. She
married me despite the damning--yes, I say, sir, the damning fact that I
was a prophet--" here Malkiel the Second brought down one of the dogskin
gloves with violence upon the rickety parlour table--"but before ever we
went to the Registrar's she made me take a solemn oath. What was it, do
you say?"

"Yes, I do," said Hennessey, leaning forward and gazing into Malkiel's
long and excited face round which the heavy mat of pomaded hair
vibrated.

"It was this, sir--to mix with no prophets so long as we both should
live. Prophets, she truly said, are low-class, even dirty, persons.
Their parties, their 'at homes' are shoddy. They live in fourth-rate
neighbourhoods. They burn gas and sit on horsehair. Only in rare cases
do they have any bathroom in their houses. Their influence would be bad
for the children when they begin to grow up. How could Corona make her
_debut_"--Malkiel pronounced it debbew--"in prophetic circles? How could
she come out in Drakeman's Villas, Tooting, or dance with such young
fellers as frequent Hagglin's Buildings, Clapham Rise? How could she do
it, sir?"

"I don't know, I'm sure," gasped the Prophet.

"Nor I, sir, nor I," continued Malkiel, with unabated fervour. "And it's
the same with Capricornus. My boy shall not be thrown in with prophets.
Did Malkiel the First start the _Almanac_ for that? Did he foster
it till it went from the poor servant girl's attic into the gilded
apartments of the aristocracy and lay even upon Royal tables for that?
Did he, I say?"

"I haven't an idea," said the Prophet.

"He did not, sir. And I--I myself"--he arranged the diamond pin in his
white satin tie with an almost imperial gesture--"have not followed upon
the lines he laid down without imbibing, as I may truly say, the lofty
spirit that guided him, the lofty social spirit, as Madame calls it.
There have been other prophets, I know. There are other prophets. I
do not attempt to deny it. But where else than here, sir"--the dogskin
glove lay upon the breast of the chocolate brown frock coat--"where
else than here will you find a prophet who hides his identity beneath an
_alias_, who remains, as Madame always says, _perdew_, and who conducts
his profession on honourable and business-like lines? Am I dressed like
a prophet?" He suddenly brought his doubled fist down upon the Prophet's
knee.

"No," cried Hennessey. "Certainly not!"

"Why, sir, how can I be when I tell you that Merriman & Saxster of
Regent Street are my tailors, and have been since my first pair of
trouserings? Do I bear myself prophetically? I think you will agree
that I do not when you know that I am frequently mistaken for an outside
broker--yes, sir, and that this has even happened upon the pier at
Margate. You have seen my demeanour at Jellybrand's. You saw me come
into the library. You saw my manner with Frederick Smith. Was it
assuming? Did I lord it over the lad?"

"Certainly not."

"No. I might have been anybody, any ordinary person living in Grosvenor
Place, or, like yourself, in the Berkeley Square. And so it ever is.
Other prophets there are--possibly men of a certain ability even in that
direction--but there is only one Malkiel, only one who attends strictly
to business, who draws a good income from the stars, sir, and satisfies
the public month in, month out, without making a fuss about it. Wait a
few years, sir, only wait!"

"Certainly," said the Prophet. "I will."

"Wait till the children are grown up. Wait till Capricornus has got his
Latin by heart and gone to Oxford. Then, and only then, you will know
whether Malkiel the Second is the exception to the rule of prophets.
Yes, and Madame shall know it, too. She trusted me, sir, as only a woman
can. She knew I was a prophet and had a prophet for a father before me.
And yet she trusted me. It was a daring thing to do. Many would call it
foolhardy. Wouldn't they, sir?"

The dogskin glove was raised. The Prophet hastened to reply,--

"I daresay they would."

"But she was not afraid, and she shall have her reward. Corona shall
never set foot in Drakeman's Villas, nor breathe the air of Hagglin's. I
must have a glass of water, I must, sir, indeed."

He gasped heavily and was about to rise, when the Prophet said:

"Join me in a glass of wine."

"I should be delighted," Malkiel answered. "Delighted, I'm sure, but I
doubt whether Jellybrand's--"

"Could not Frederick Smith go out and fetch us a--a pint bottle of
champagne?" said the Prophet, playing a desperate card in the prophetic
game.

An expression almost of joviality overspread the tragic farce of
Malkiel's appearance.

"We'll see," he answered, opening the deal door. "Frederick Smith!"

"Here, Mr. Sagittarius," cried the soprano voice of the young librarian.

"Can you leave the library for a moment, Frederick Smith?"

The Prophet held up a sovereign over Malkiel the Second's narrow
shoulder.

"Yes, Mr. Sagittarius, for half a mo!"

"Ah! Where is the nearest champagne, Frederick Smith?"

"The nearest--"

"Champagne, I said, Frederick Smith."

"I daresay I could get a dozen at Gillow's next the rabbit shop,"
replied the young librarian, thoughtfully.

The Prophet shuddered to the depths of his being, but he was now
embarked upon his enterprise and must crowd all sail.

"Go to Gillow's," he exclaimed, with an assumption of feverish
geniality, "and bring back a couple of rabbits--I mean bottles. They
must be dry. You understand?"

The young librarian looked out of the window.

"Oh, I'll manage that, sir. It ain't raining," he replied carelessly.

The Prophet stifled a cry of horror as he pressed the sovereign into the
young librarian's hand.

"You can keep the change," he whispered, adding in a tremulous voice,
"Tell me--tell me frankly--do you think in your own mind that there will
be any?"

"I don't know about in my own mind," rejoined the young librarian,
drawing a tweed cap from some hidden recess beneath the counter. "But if
you only want two bottles I expect there'll be ten bob over."

The Prophet turned as pale as ashes and had some difficulty in
sustaining himself to the parlour, where he and Malkiel the Second sat
down in silence to await the young librarian's return. Frederick Smith
came back in about five minutes, with an ostentatious-looking bottle
smothered in gold leaf under each arm.

"There was four shillings apiece to pay, sir," he remarked to the
Prophet as he placed them upon the table. "I got the 'our own make'
brand with the 'creaming foam' upon the corks."

The Prophet bent his head. He was quite unable to speak, but he signed
to the young librarian to open one of the bottles and pour its contents
into the two tumblers of thick and rather dusty glass that Jellybrand's
kept for its moments of conviviality. Malkiel the Second lifted the
goblet to the window and eyed the beaded nectar with an air of almost
rakish anticipation.

"Ready, sir?" he said, turning to the Prophet, who, with a trembling
hand, followed his example.

"Quite--ready," said the Prophet, shutting his eyes.

"Then," rejoined Malkiel the Second in a formal voice, "here's luck!"

He held the tumbler to his lips, waiting for the Prophet's reply to give
the signal for a unanimous swallowing of the priceless wine.

"Luck," echoed the Prophet in a faltering voice.

As he gradually recovered his faculties, he heard Malkiel the Second
say, with an almost debauched accent,--

"That puts heart into a man. I shall give Gillows an order. Leave us,
Frederick Smith, and remember that Miss Minerva is on no account to be
let in here till this gentleman and I have finished the second bottle."

The Prophet could not resist a wild movement of protest, which was
apparently taken by the young librarian as a passionate gesture of
dismissal. For he left the room rapidly and closed the door with
decision behind him.

"And now, sir, I am at your service," said Malkiel the Second,
courteously. "Let me pour you another glass of wine."

The Prophet assented mechanically. It seemed strange to have to die
so young, and with so many plans unfulfilled, but he felt that it was
useless to struggle against destiny and he drank again. Then he heard a
voice say,--

"And now, sir, I am all attention."

He looked up. He saw the parlour, the ground glass of the door, the
tumblers and bottles on the table, the sharp features and strained,
farcical eyes of Malkiel framed in the matted, curling hair. Then all
was not over yet. There was something still in store for him. He sat up,
pushed the creaming four-shilling foam out of his sight, turned to his
interlocutor, and with a great effort collected himself.

"I want to consult you," he began, "about my strange powers."

Malkiel smiled with easy irony.

"Strange powers in Berkeley Square!" he ejaculated. "The Berkeley
Square! But go on, sir. What are they?"

"Having been led to study the stars," continued the Prophet with more
composure and growing earnestness, "I felt myself moved to make a
prophecy."

"Weather forecast, I suppose," remarked Malkiel, laconically.

"How did you know that?"

"The easiest kind, sir, the number one beginner's prophecy. Capricornus
used to tell Madame what the weather'd be as soon as he could talk. But
go on, sir, go on, I beg."

The Prophet began to feel rather less like Isaiah, but he continued,
with some determination,--

"If that had been all, I daresay I should have thought very little of
the matter."

"No, you wouldn't sir. Who thinks their first baby a little one? Can you
tell me that?"

The Prophet considered the question for a moment. Then he answered,--

"Perhaps you're right."

"Perhaps so," rejoined Malkiel, indulgently. "Well, sir, what was your
next attempt--in the Berkeley Square?"

The Prophet's sensitive nature winced under the obvious irony of
the interrogation, but either the "creaming foam" had rendered him
desperate, or he was to some extent steeled against the satire by the
awful self-respect which had invaded him since Mrs. Merillia's accident.
In any case he answered firmly,--

"Malkiel the Second, in Berkeley Square I had a relation--an honoured
grandmother."

"You've the better of me there, sir. My parents and Madame's are all in
Brompton Cemetery. Well, sir, you'd got an honoured grandmother in the
Berkeley Square. What of it?"

"She was naturally elderly."

"And you predicted her death and she passed over. Very natural too, sir.
The number two beginner's prophecy. Why, Corona--"

But at this point the Prophet broke in.

"Excuse me," he said in a scandalised voice, "excuse me, Malkiel the
Second, she did nothing of the kind. Whatever my faults may be--and they
are many, I am aware--I--I--"

He was greatly moved.

"Take another sup of wine, sir. You need it," said Malkiel.

The Prophet mechanically drank once more, grasping the edge of the table
for support in the endurance of the four-bob ecstasy.

"You prophesied it and she didn't pass over, sir," continued Malkiel,
with unaffected sympathy. "I understand the blow. It's cruel hard when a
prophecy goes wrong. Why, even Madame--"

But at this point the Prophet broke in.

"You are mistaken," he cried. "Utterly mistaken."

Malkiel the Second drew himself up with dignity.

"In that case I will say no more," he remarked, pursing up his lengthy
mouth and assuming a cast-iron attitude.

The Prophet perceived his mistake.

"Forgive me," he exclaimed. "It is my fault."

"Oh, no, sir. Not at all," rejoined Malkiel, with icy formality. "Pray
let the fault be mine."

"I will not indeed. But let me explain. My beloved grandmother still
lives, although I cast her horoscope and--"

"Indeed! very remarkable!"

"I mean--not although--but I thought I would cast her horoscope. And I
did so."

"In the square?" asked Malkiel, with quiet, but piercing, irony.

"Yes," said the Prophet, with sudden heat. "Why not?"

Malkiel smiled with an almost paternal pity, as of a thoughtful father
gazing upon the quaint and inappropriate antics of his vacant child.

"Why not, sir--if you prefer it?" he rejoined. "Pray proceed."

The Prophet's face was flushed, either by the "creaming foam," or by
irritation, or by both.

"Surely," he began, in a choking voice, "surely the stars are the
same whether they are looked at from Berkeley Square or from--from--or
from"--he sought passionately for a violent contrast--"from Newington
Butts," he concluded triumphantly.

"I have not the pleasure to have ever observed my guides from the
neighbourhood of the Butts," said Malkiel, serenely. "But pray
proceed, sir. I am all attention. You cast your honoured grandmother's
horoscope--in the Berkeley Square."

The Prophet seized his glass, but some remnants of his tattered
self-control still clung to him, and he put it down without seeking
further madness from its contents.

"I did," he said firmly, even obstinately. "And I discovered--I say
discovered that she was going to have an accident while on an evening
expedition--or jaunt as you might perhaps prefer to call it."

"I should certainly call it so--in the case of a lady who was an
honoured grandmother," said Malkiel the Second in assent.

"Well, Malkiel the Second," continued the Prophet, recovering his
composure as he approached his _coup_, "my grandmother did have an
accident, as I foretold."

"Did she have it in the square, sir?" asked Malkiel.

"And what if she did?" cried the Prophet with considerable testiness.

He was beginning to conceive a perfect hatred of the admirable
neighbourhood, which he had loved so well.

"I merely ask for information, sir."

"The accident did take place in the square certainly, and on the very
night for which I predicted it."

Malkiel the Second looked very thoughtful, even morose. He poured out
another glass of champagne, drank it slowly in sips, and when the glass
was empty ran the forefinger of his right hand slowly round and round
its edge.

"Can Madame be wrong?" he ejaculated at length, in a muffled voice of
meditation. "Can Madame be wrong?"

The Prophet gazed at him with profound curiosity, fascinated by the
circular movement of the yellow dogskin finger, and by the inward
murmur--so acutely mental--that accompanied it.

"Madame?" whispered the Prophet, drawing his cane chair noiselessly
forward.

"Ah!" rejoined Malkiel, gazing upon him with an eye whose pupil seemed
suddenly dilated to a most preternatural size. "Can she have been wrong
all these many years?"

"What--what about?" murmured the Prophet.

Malkiel the Second leaned his matted head in his hands and replied, as
if to himself,--

"Can it be that a prophet should live in Berkeley Square--not
Kimmins's"--here he raised his head, and raked his companion with a
glance that was almost fierce in its fervour of inquiry--"not Kimmins's
but--the Berkeley Square?"



CHAPTER IV

THE SECRET WATERS OF THE RIVER MOUSE

To this question the Prophet could offer no answer other than a bodily
one. He silently presented himself to the gaze of Malkiel, instinctively
squaring his shoulders, opening out his chest, and expanding his
nostrils in an effort to fill as large a space in the atmosphere of
the parlour as possible. And Malkiel continued to regard him with the
staring eyes of one whose mind is seething with strange, upheaving
thoughts and alarming apprehensions. Mutely the Prophet swelled and
mutely Malkiel observed him swell, till a point was reached from which
further progress--at least on the Prophet's part--was impossible. The
Prophet was now as big as the structure of his frame permitted him to
be, and apparently Malkiel realised the fact, for he suddenly dropped
his eyes and exclaimed,--

"This matter must be threshed out thoroughly, Madame herself would wish
it so."

He paused, drew his chair nearer to the Prophet's, took off a glove and
continued,--

"Sir, you may be a prophet. You may have prophesied correctly in the
Berkeley Square. But if you are, and if you have, remember this--that
you have proved the self-sacrifice, the privation, the denial, the
subterfuge, the _mask_, and the position of Sagittarius Lodge in its own
grounds beside the River Mouse at Crampton St. Peter, N.--N., I said,
sir--totally and entirely unnecessary. I will go further, sir, and I
will say more. You have not only done that. You have also proved the
sacred instinct of a woman, a respectable married woman--such as we
must all reverence--false and deceived. Remember this, sir, remember all
this, then search yourself thoroughly and say whether what you have told
me is strictly true."

"I assure you--" began the Prophet, hastily.

But Malkiel sternly interrupted him.

"Search yourself, sir, I beg!" he cried.

"But upon my honour--"

"Hush, sir, hush! I beg, nay, I insist, that you search yourself
thoroughly before you answer this momentous question."

The Prophet felt rather disposed to ask whether Malkiel expected him to
examine his pockets and turn out his boots. However, he sat still while
Malkiel drew out a large gold watch, held it solemnly in his hand for a
couple of minutes and then returned it to the waistcoat.

"Now, sir," he said.

"I assure you," said the Prophet, "on my honour that all I have said is
strictly true."

"And took place in the Berkeley Square?"

"And took place in the Berkeley Square."

Malkiel nodded morosely.

"It may have been chance," he said. "A weather forecast and an honoured
grandmother may have been mere luck. Still it looks bad--very bad."

He sighed heavily, and seemed about to fall into a mournful reverie when
the Prophet cried sharply,--

"Explain yourself, Malkiel the Second. You owe it to me to explain
yourself. Why should my strange gift--"

"If you have it, sir," interrupted Malkiel, quickly.

"If I have it, very well--affect you? Why should it render the
self-sacrifice and--and the position of--of Sagittarius Lodge on the
river--the river--what river did you say--?"

"The River Mouse," rejoined Malkiel in a muffled voice, and shaking his
head sadly.

"Exactly--on the River Mouse at Crompton--"

"Crampton."

"Crampton St. Peter total--"

"N.!"

"What?"

"Crampton St. Peter. N. That is the point."

"Very well--Crampton St. Peteren, totally and entirely unnecessary?"

"You desire my revelation, sir? You desire to enter into the bosom of
a family that hitherto has dwelt apart, has lain as I may say _perdew_
beside the secret waters of the River Mouse? Is it indeed so?"

"Oh, I beg your pardon," cried the Prophet, hastily. "I would not for
the world intrude upon--"

"Those hallowed precincts! Well, perhaps you have the right.
Jellybrand's has betrayed me to you. You know my name, my profession.
Why should you not know more? Perhaps it is better so."

With the sudden energy of a man who is reckless of fate he seized his
goblet, poured into it at least a shilling's worth of "creaming foam,"
drained it to the dregs and, shaking back his matted hair with a leonine
movement of the head, exclaimed,--

"Malkiel the First, who founded the _Almanac_, lay _perdew_ all his
life."

"Beside the secret waters of the River Mouse?" the Prophet could not
help interposing.

"No, sir. He would never have gone so far as that. But he lived and died
in Susan Road beside the gas-works. He was a great man."

"I'm sure he was," said the Prophet, heartily.

"He wished me to live and die there too," said Malkiel. "But there are
limits, sir, even to the forbearance of women. Madame was affected,
painfully affected, by the gas, sir. It stank in her nostrils--to use
a figure. And then there was another drawback that she could not get
over."

"Indeed!"

"The sweeps, sir."

"I beg your pardon!" said the Prophet.

"I said--the sweeps."

"I heard you--well?"

"Being the only people that were not, in the whole road, made for
loneliness, sir."

The Prophet was entirely _bouleverse_.

"I'm afraid I'm very stupid, but really I--" he began.

"Is it possible that you live in London, sir, and are not aware
that Susan Road lies in the most sought-after portion of the sweeps'
quarter?" said Malkiel, with pitying amazement.

The Prophet blushed with shame.

"I beg your pardon. Of course--I understand. Pray go on."

"It made for loneliness, sir."

"Naturally."

"Their hours were not our hours. And then the professional colour!
Madame said it was like living among the Sandwich Islanders. And so, to
an extent, it was. My father had left a very tidy bit of money--a
very tidy bit indeed, and we resolved to move. But where? That was the
problem. For I was not as other men. I could not live like them--in the
Berkeley Square."

He smiled with mournful superiority and continued,--

"At least I thought so then, and have done till to-day. Prophets--so my
father believed, and so Madame--must be connected with the suburbs or
with outlying districts. They must not, indeed they cannot, be properly
prophetic within the radius. A central atmosphere would reduce them to
the level of the conjuror or the muscular suggestionist. Malkiel the
First, my father, was born himself in Peckham, and met my mother when
coming through the rye."

He brushed aside a tear that flowed at this almost rustic recollection,
and continued,--

"Yet Madame was wishful, and I was wishful too, that the children--if
we had any--should not grow up Eastern. It was a natural and a beautiful
desire, sir, was it not?"

"Oh, very," replied the Prophet, considerably confused.

"The habits and manners of the East, you see, sir, are not always in
strict accordance with propriety. Are they?"

Before the Prophet had time to realise that this question was merely
rhetorical, he began,--

"From what Professor Seligman says in his _The Inner History of
Baghdad_, I feel sure--"

"Nor are the customs of the East quite what many a clergyman would
approve of," continued Malkiel. "Yet even this was not what weighed most
with Madame."

"What was it then?" inquired the Prophet, deeply interested.

"Sir, it was the Eastern language."

"Ah!"

"Could we let our children learn to speak it? Could we bear to launch
them in life, handicapped, weighed down by such a tongue? Could we do
this?"

Again the Prophet mistook the nature of the question, and was led to
reply,--

"Certainly English children speaking only Arabic might well be at some
loss in ordinary conver--"

"We could not, sir. It was impossible. So we resolved to go to the north
of London and to avoid Whitechapel at whatever cost."

"Whitechapel!" almost cried the Prophet.

"This determination it was, sir, that eventually led our steps to the
borders of the River Mouse."

"Oh, really!"

"You know it, sir?"

"Not personally."

"But by repute, of course?"

"No doubt, no doubt," stammered the Prophet, who had in fact never
before heard of this celebrated flood.

"That poor governess, sir, last August--you recollect?"

"Ah, indeed!" murmured the Prophet, a trifle incoherently.

"And then the mad undertaker in the autumn," continued Malkiel, with
conscious pride; "he floated past our very door."

"Did he really?"

"Singing his swan song, no doubt, poor feller, as Madame said after she
read about it in the paper. There were the grocer's twins as well, just
lately. But they will be fresh in your memory."

Before the Prophet had time to state whether this was so or not Malkiel
proceeded,--

"Well, sir, as soon as Madame and I had come to the Mouse we resolved
that we could do no better than that. It was salubrious, it was retired,
and it was N."

"You said--?"

"N., sir."

"But what is en?"

"Sir?"

The Prophet had grown very red, but he was seized by the desperation
that occasionally attacks ignorance, and renders it, for a moment,
determinedly explicit.

"I ask you what does en mean? I am, I fear, a very ill-informed person,
and I really don't know."

"Think of an envelope, sir," said Malkiel, with gentle commiseration.
"Well, are you thinking?"

The Prophet grew purple.

"I am--but it is no use. Besides, why on earth should I think of an
envelope? I beg you to explain."

"North, sir, the northern postal district of the metropolis. Fairly
simple that--I think, sir."

"N.!" cried the illuminated Prophet. "I see. I was thinking of en all
the time. I beg your pardon. Please go on. N.--of course!"

Malkiel concealed a smile, just sufficiently to make its existence for
an instant vitally prominent, and continued,--

"By the Mouse we resolved to build a detached residence such as would
influence suitably the minds of the children--should we have any. For
we had resolved, sir, by that time that with me the _Almanac_ should
cease."

Here Malkiel leaned forward upon the deal table and lowered his voice to
an impressive whisper.

"Yes, sir, it had come to that. We all have our ambitions and that was
mine."

"Good Heavens!" said the Prophet. "Malkiel's _Almanac_ cease! But why?
Such a very useful institution!"

"Useful! More than that, sir, sublime! There's nothing like it."

"Then why let it cease?"

"Because the social status of the prophet, sir, is not agreeable to
myself or Madame. I've had enough of it, sir, already, and I'm barely
turned of fifty. Besides, my father would have wished it, I feel sure,
had he lived in these days. Had he seen Sagittarius Lodge, the children,
and how Madame comports herself, he would have recognised that the
family was destined to rise into a higher sphere than that occupied by
any prophet, however efficient. Besides, I will not deceive you, I have
made money. In another ten years' time, when I have laid by sufficient,
I tell you straight, sir, that I shall go out of prophecy, right out of
it."

"Then your Capricor--that is your son--will not carry on the--"

"Capricornus a prophet, sir!" cried Malkiel. "Not if Madame and I know
it. No, sir, Capricornus is to be an architect."

As Malkiel pronounced the last words he flung his black overcoat wide
open with an ample gesture, thrust one hand into his breast, and assumed
the fixed and far-seeing gaze of a man in a cabinet photograph. He
seemed lost to his surroundings, and rapt by some great vision of
enchanted architects, busy in drawing plans of the magic buildings of
the future ages. The Prophet felt that it would be impious to disturb
him. Malkiel's reverie was long, and indeed the two prophets might well
have been sitting in Jellybrand's parlour now, had not a violent sneeze
called for the pink assistance of the flight of storks, and brought the
sneezer down to the level of ordinary humanity.

"Yes, sir--I give you my word Capricornus is to be an architect,"
repeated Malkiel. "What do you say to that?"

"Is it--is it really a better profession than that of prophecy?" asked
the Prophet, rather nervously.

Malkiel smiled mournfully.

"Sir, it may not be more lucrative, but it is more select. Madame will
not mix with prophets, but she has a 'day,' sir, on the banks of the
Mouse, and she has gathered around her a very pleasant and select little
circle."

"Indeed."

"Yes, sir. Architects and their wives. You understand?"

"Quite," rejoined the Prophet, "quite."

Under the mesmeric influence of Malkiel he began to feel as if
architects were some strange race of sacred beings set apart, denizens
of some holy isle or blessed nook of mediaeval legend. Would he ever
meet them? Would he ever encounter one ranging unfettered where flowed
the waters of the River Mouse?

"They do not know who we are, sir," continued Malkiel, furtively. "To
them and to the whole world--excepting Jellybrand's and you--we are the
Sagittariuses of Sagittarius Lodge, people at ease, sir, living upon our
competence beside the Mouse. They do not see the telescope, sir, in the
locked studio at the top of the lodge. They do not know why sometimes,
on Madame's 'Wednesdays,' I am pale--with sitting up on behalf of the
_Almanac_. For Capricornus's sake and for Corona's all this is hid from
the world. Madame and I are the victims of a double life. Yes, sir, for
the children's sake we have never dared to let it be known what I really
am."

Suddenly he began to grow excited.

"And now," he cried, "after all these years of secrecy, after all
these years of avoiding the central districts--in which Madame longs
to live--after all these years of seclusion beyond the beat even of the
buses, do you come here to me, and search yourself and say upon your
oath that a prophet can live and be a prophet in the Berkeley Square,
that he can read the stars with Gunter's just opposite, ay, and bring
out an almanac if he likes within a shilling fare of the Circus? If this
is so"--he struck the deal table violently with his clenched fist--"of
what use are the sacrifices of myself and Madame? Of what use is it to
live under a modest name such as Sagittarius, when I might be Malkiel
the Second to the whole world? Of what use to flee from W. and dwell
perpetually in N.? Why, if what you say is true, we might leave the
Mouse to-morrow and Madame could pop in and out of the Stores just like
any lady of pleasure."

At the thought of this so long foregone enchantment Malkiel's emotion
completely overcame him, his voice died away, overborne by a violent fit
of choking, and he sat back in his cane chair trembling in every limb.
The Prophet was deeply moved by his emotion, and longed most sincerely
to assuage it. But his deep and growing conviction of his own power
rendered him useless as a comforter. He could not lie. He could not deny
that he was a prophet. He could only say, in his firmest voice,--

"Malkiel the Second, be brave. You must see this thing through."

On hearing these original and noble words Malkiel lifted up his marred
countenance.

"I know it, sir, I know it," he answered. "One moment. The thought of
Madame--the Stores--I--of all that might perhaps have been--"

He choked again. The Prophet looked away. A strong man's emotion is
always very scared and very terrible. Three minutes swept by, then the
Prophet heard a calm and hollow voice say,--

"And now, sir, to business."

The Prophet looked up, and perceived that Malkiel's overcoat was
tightly buttoned and that his mouth was tightly set in an expression of
indomitable, though tragic, resolution.

"What business?" asked the Prophet.

"Mine," replied Malkiel. "Mine, sir, and yours. You have chosen to enter
my life. You cannot deny that. You cannot deny that I sought to avoid--I
might even say to dodge you."

With the remembrance of the recent circus performance in the library
still strong upon him the Prophet could not. He bowed his head.

"Very well, sir. You have chosen to enter my life. That act has given me
the right to enter yours. Am I correct?"

"I suppose--I mean--yes, you are," answered the Prophet, overwhelmed by
the pitiless logic of his companion, and wondering what was coming next.

"I have been forced--I think I may say that--to reveal myself to you,
sir. Nothing can ever alter that. Nothing can ever take from you the
knowledge--denied by Madame to the very architects--of who I really am.
You have told me, sir, that I must see this thing through. I tell
you now, at this table, in this parlour, that I intend to see it
through--and through."

As Malkiel said the last words he gazed at the Prophet with eyes that
seemed suddenly to have taken on the peculiar properties of the gimlet.
The Prophet began to feel extremely uneasy. But he said nothing. He felt
that there was more to come. And he was right.

"It is my duty," continued Malkiel, in a louder voice, "my sacred duty
to Madame--to say nothing of Corona and Capricornus--to probe you to
the core"--here the Prophet could not resist a startled movement of
protest--"and to search you to the quick."

"Oh, really!" cried the Prophet.

"This duty I shall carry out unflinchingly," pursued Malkiel, "at
whatever cost to myself. This will not be our last interview. Do not
think it."

"I assure you," inserted the Prophet, endeavouring vainly to seem at
ease, "I do not wish to think it."

"It matters little whether you wish to do so or not," continued Malkiel,
with an increasingly Juggernaut air. "The son of Malkiel the First is
not a man to be trifled with or dodged. Moreover, much more than the
future of myself and family depends upon what you really are. From this
day forth you will be bound up with the _Almanac_."

"Merciful Heavens!" ejaculated the Prophet, unable, intrepid as he was,
to avoid recoiling when he found himself thus suddenly confronted with
the fate of an appendix.

"For why should it ever cease?" proceeded Malkiel, with growing passion.
"Why--if a prophet can live, as you declare, freely and openly in the
Berkeley Square? If this is so, why should I not remove, along with
Madame and family, from the borders of the Mouse and reside henceforth
in a central situation such as I should wish to reside in? Why should
not Capricornus eventually succeed me in the _Almanac_ as I succeeded
Malkiel the First? Already the boy shows the leanings of a prophet.
Hitherto Madame and I have endeavoured to stifle them, to turn them in
an architectural direction. You understand?"

"I am trying to," stammered the Prophet.

"Hitherto we have corrected the boy's table manners when they have
become too like those of the average prophet--as they often have--for
hitherto we have had reason to believe that all prophets--with the
exception of myself--were dirty, deceitful and essentially suburban
persons. But if you are a prophet we have been deceived. Trust me, sir,
I shall find speedy means to pierce you to the very marrow."

The Prophet began mechanically to feel for his hat.

"Are you desirous of anything, sir?" said Malkiel, sharply.

"No," said the Prophet, wondering whether the moment had arrived to
throw off all further pretence of bravery and to shout boldly for the
assistance of the young librarian.

"Then why are you feeling about, sir? Why are you feeling about?"

"Was I?" faltered the Prophet.

"You are looking for another glass of wine, perhaps?"

"No, indeed," said the Prophet, desperately. "For anything but that."

But Malkiel, moved by some abruptly formed resolution, called suddenly
in a powerful voice,--

"Frederick Smith!"

"Here, Mr. Sagittarius!" cried the young librarian, appearing with
suspicious celerity upon the parlour threshold.

"Draw the cork of the second bottle, Frederick Smith," said Malkiel,
impressively. "This gentleman is about to take the pledge"--on hearing
this ironic paradox the Prophet stood up, very much in the attitude
formerly assumed by Malkiel when about to dodge in the library--"that I
shall put to him," concluded Malkiel, also standing up, and assuming the
library posture of the Prophet.

Indeed the situation of the library seemed about to be accurately
reversed in the parlour of Jellybrand's.

The young librarian assisted the cork to emerge phlegmatically from the
neck of the second bottle of champagne, mechanically smacking his lips
the while.

"Now pour, and leave us, Frederick Smith."

The young librarian helped the fatigued-looking wine into the two
glasses, where it lay as if thoroughly exhausted by the effort of
getting there, and then languidly left the parlour, turning his bulging
head over his shoulder to indulge in a pathetic _oeillade_ ere he
vanished.

The Prophet watched him go.

"Close the door, Frederick Smith," cried Malkiel, in a meaning manner.

The Prophet blushed a guilty red, and the young librarian obeyed with a
bang.

"And now, sir, I must request you to take a solemn pledge in this
vintage," said Malkiel, placing one of the tumblers in the Prophet's
trembling hand.

"Really," said the Prophet, "I am not at all thirsty."

"Why should you be, sir? What has that got to do with it?" retorted
Malkiel. "Lift your glass, sir."

The Prophet obeyed.

"And now take this pledge--that, till the last day--"

"What day?"

"The last day, sir, you will reveal to no living person that there is
such an individual as Malkiel, that you have ever met him, who he is, or
who Madame and family are, unless I give the word. You have surprised my
secret. You have forced yourself upon me. You owe me this. Drink!"

Mechanically the Prophet drank.

"Swear!"

Mechanically--indeed almost like a British working man--the Prophet
swore.

Malkiel drained his tumbler, and drew on the dogskin glove which, in the
agitation of a previous moment, he had thrown aside.

"I have your card, sir, here is mine. I shall now take the train to the
River Mouse, on whose banks I shall confer at once with Madame. Till
I have done this I cannot tell you what form the tests I shall have to
apply to you will take. When I have done it you will hear from me. Your
servant, sir."

He bowed majestically, and was turning towards the door when it was
hastily opened and a lady appeared frantically in the aperture.



CHAPTER V

MALKIEL THE SECOND POISONS MISS MINERVA

"Miss Minerva!" exclaimed Malkiel the Second.

"Lady Enid!" cried the Prophet, at the same moment.

"You can't go in there, Miss Partridge!" ejaculated the young librarian,
simultaneously, from the further room.

The lady, a tall girl of twenty-two, with grey eyes, dark smooth hair,
and a very agreeable, though slightly Scottish, mouth, began to behave
rather like a stag at bay. She panted, and looked wildly round as if
meditating how, and in what direction, she could best bolt.

"What's the matter?" cried the Prophet, his voice becoming not a little
piercing from surprise and his previous stress of agitation.

"You can't go in there, Miss Minerva," requested the young librarian,
who had now gained the parlour threshold, and who seemed about to take
up a very determined stand thereon.

"I must go in--I must," said the lady, in a mellow, but again slightly
Scottish, voice. "Don't tell anybody I'm here, or you'll be sorry."

And, with these words, she bounded into the parlour and banged the door
on the young librarian. The Prophet opened his lips preparatory to a
third wild exclamation.

"Hush!" the lady hissed aristocratically.

She shook her head vigourously at him, sank down on one of the cane
chairs, held up her right hand, and leant towards the door. It was
obvious that she was listening for something with strained attention,
and so eloquent was her attitude that the two prophets were infected
with her desire. They turned their eyes mechanically towards the deal
door and listened too. For a moment there was silence. Then a heavy
footstep resounded upon the library floor, accompanied by the sharp tap
of a walking stick. The lady's attitude became more tense and the pupils
of her handsome grey eyes dilated.

"Has a young female just entered this shop?" said a very heavy and
rumbling voice.

"This ain't a shop, sir," replied the high soprano of the young
librarian, indignantly.

"Bandy no words with me, thou infamous malapert!" returned the first
voice. "But answer my question. Have you a young female concealed within
these loathsome precincts?"

Under ordinary circumstances it is very possible that the young
librarian might have betrayed the lady as he had already betrayed
Malkiel the Second. But it happened that there existed upon the earth
one object, and one object only, towards which he felt a sense of
chivalry. This object was Jellybrand's Library. His reply to the voice
was therefore as follows, and was delivered in his highest key and with
extreme volubility and passion:--

"Loathsome precincts yourself! You're a nice one, you are, chasing
respectable ladies about at your age. There ain't no young females in
the library, and if there was I shouldn't trot 'em out for you to clap
your ugly old eyes on. Now then, out yer go. No more words about it. Out
yer go!"

A prolonged sound of hard breathing and of feet scraping violently upon
bare boards followed upon this deliverance, complicated by the sharp
snap of a breaking walking stick, the thump of a falling chair, a bang
as of a heavy body encountering firm resistance from some inflexible
article of furniture--probably a bookcase--and finally a tremendous
thundering, as of the hoofs of a squadron of cavalry charging over
a parquet floor, the crash of a door, the grinding of a key swiftly
turning in a lock, and--silence.

The lady, Malkiel the Second and the Prophet looked at one another, and
the lady opened her mouth.

"D'you think he's killed him?" she whispered with considerable
curiosity.

There came a distant noise of a torrent of knocks upon a door.

"No, he hasn't," added the lady, arranging her dress. "That's a good
thing."

The two prophets nodded. The torrent of knocks roared louder, slightly
failed upon the ear, made a crescendo, emulated Niagara, surpassed that
very American effort of nature, wavered, faltered to Lodore, died away
to a feeble tittup like water dropping from a tap to flagstones, rose
again in a final spurt that would have made Southey open his dictionary
for adjectives, and drained away to death.

The lady leaned back. For the first time her composure seemed about
to desert her entirely. That fatal sign in woman, a working throat,
swallowing nothing with extreme rapidity and persistence, became
apparent.

"A glass of wine, Miss Minerva?" cried Malkiel, gallantly.

He placed a tumbler to her lips. She feebly sipped, than sprang to her
feet with a cry.

"I'm poisoned!"

"You never spoke a truer word," said the Prophet, solemnly.

"What is it?" continued the lady, frantically. "What has he given me?"

"Champagne at four shillings a bottle brought fresh from next door to
a rabbit shop," answered the Prophet, looking at Malkiel with almost
malignant satisfaction.

The lady, who had gone white as chalk, darted to the door and flung it
open.

"A glass of water!" she cried. "Get me a glass of water."

The young librarian came forward with a black eye.

"It's all right, ma'am. The gentleman's gone," he piped.

"What gentleman? Give me a glass of water or I shall die!"

The young librarian, who had already an injured air, proceeded from a
positive to a comparative condition of appearance.

"Well, I never! What gentleman!" he exclaimed. "And me blue and black
all over, to say nothing of the bookcase and the new paint that'll be
wanted for the door!"

"Can you chatter about trifles at such a moment?" cried the Prophet.
"Don't you see the lady's been poisoned?"

"What--by the old gent?" returned the young librarian. "Then what does
she come to a library for? Why don't she go to a chemist?"

The lady turned her agonised eyes upon the Prophet.

"Take me to one," she whispered through pale lips.

She tottered towards him and leaned upon his arm.

"Trust me, trust me, I will," said the Prophet. "Direct me!" he added to
the young librarian.

"There's one on the other side of the rabbit shop," said that worthy,
who had suddenly become exceedingly glum in manner and morose in
appearance.

"Thank you. Kindly unlock the door."

The young librarian did so, lethargically, and the lady and the Prophet
began to move slowly into the street. Just as they were gaining it
Malkiel the Second cried out,--

"One moment, sir!"

"Not one," retorted the Prophet, firmly. "Not one till this lady has had
an antidote."

He walked on with determination. Supporting the lady. But ere he got
quite out of earshot he caught these fragments of a shattered speech,
hurtling through the symphony of London noises:--

"Banks of the Mouse--Madame--sake of Capricor--be
sure I--probe--quick--search--the very core--hear from
me--architects--marrow--almanac--the last day--the Berkeley square--"

The final ejaculation melted away into the somewhat powerful discord
produced by the impact of a brewer's dray with a runaway omnibus at the
corner of Greek Street, which was eventually resolved by the bursting
of a motor car--containing two bookmakers and an acting manager--which
mingled with them at the rate of perhaps forty miles an hour.

"Yes, please, a hansom," said Lady Enid Thistle, some five minutes
later, as she and the Prophet stood together upon the kerb in front of
the rabbit shop. "I feel much better now."

The Prophet hailed a hansom and handed her into it.

"Which way are you going?" he asked.

Lady Enid looked doubtful.

"I ought to be going back to Jellybrand's," she said. "I had an
appointment. But really--you see Mr. Sagittarius is there, and
altogether--I don't know."

She was obviously still upset by the "creaming foam," and the other
incidents of the afternoon.

"Come to tea with grannie," said the Prophet.

"She's at home?"

"Yes. She's twisted her ankle."

"Oh, I'm so sorry."

"Let me escort you."

"Thanks. I think I will."

"You won't mind stopping for a moment at Hollings's?" said the Prophet,
in Piccadilly Circus. "I promised to buy some roses. Somebody is coming
in to tea."

"On, no. But who is it?"

"I don't know. Only one person, I think. An old friend, no doubt.
Probably the Central American Ambassador's grandfather."

"Oh, if that's all! I feel a little shaky still."

"Naturally."

The Prophet bought the roses and they drove on.

"It's very nice of you not to ask any questions," observed Lady Enid,
presently.

The Prophet had been thinking it was, but he only said,--

"Oh, not at all."

"I'm a woman," promised Lady Enid, "and I don't know whether I can be so
nice."

The Prophet glanced at her and met her curious grey eyes.

"Try--please," he replied very gently, thinking of the oath which he had
just taken.

Lady Enid was silent for two minutes, then she remarked,--

"I have tried, but I can't succeed. Why on earth were you closeted in
the parlour--at my time, too--with Mr. Sagittarius this afternoon?"

"Then you really are Miss Minerva Partridge? And it was really you who
had--had--well, 'bespoke' the parlour at half-past three?"

"Certainly. Now we are neither of us nice, but we're both of us human."

"There were some letters for you," said the Prophet.

Lady Enid wrinkled her smooth, young, healthy-looking forehead.

"How stupid of me! I'll fetch them to-morrow. Well?"

She looked at the Prophet with obvious expectation.

"I'm so sorry I can't tell you," he replied with gentle firmness.

"Oh, all right," she rejoined. "But now I'm at a disadvantage. You know
I'm Miss Minerva."

"Yes. But I don't know why you are, or why you go to Jellybrand's, or
why you rushed into the parlour, or who the old gentleman was that--"

The cab stopped before Mrs. Merillia's house.

In the hall, upon an oaken bench, they perceived a very broad-brimmed
top hat standing on its head. Beside it lay two pieces of a stout and
knobbly walking stick which had been broken in half. Lady Enid started
violently.

"Good Heavens!" she cried.

She picked up the walking stick, examined it, and laid it down.

"I don't think I want any tea," she murmured.

"I'm sure you do," said the Prophet, with some pressure.

She stood still for a moment. Then, catching the attentive round eye of
Gustavus, who was waiting by the hall door, she shrugged her shoulders
and walked towards the staircase.

"It's very hard lines," she murmured as she began to ascend: "all
the questions you wanted to ask are being answered. You know I'm Miss
Minerva already. In another minute you'll know who the old gentleman was
that--"

The Prophet could tell from the expression of her straight, slightly
Scottish, back that she was pouting as she entered the drawing-room
where Mrs. Merillia was having tea with--somebody.



CHAPTER VI

THE OLD ASTRONOMER DISCOURSETH OF THE STARS

Never before had the Prophet felt so alive with curiosity as he did when
he followed Lady Enid into Mrs. Merillia's presence, for he knew that he
was about to see the venerable victim of the young librarian's
indignant chivalry, the "old gent" who had come to intimate terms with
Jellybrand's bookcase, and who had kicked and knocked at least a pint
of paint off Jellybrand's door. His eyes were large and staring as he
glanced swiftly from his grandmother's sofa to the huge telescope, under
whose very shadow was seated no less a personage than Sir Tiglath Butt,
holding a cup of tea on one hand and a large-sized muffin in the other.

No wonder the Prophet jumped. No wonder Mrs. Merillia cried out, in her
pretty, clear voice,--

"Take care of Beau, Hennessey! You're treading on him."

The dachshund's pathetic shriek of outrage made the rafters ring. Mrs.
Merillia put her mittens to her ears, and Sir Tiglath dropped his muffin
into a jar of pot-pourri.

"I beg your pardon," said the Prophet, earnestly. "Sir Tiglath--this is
indeed a sur--a pleasure."

Lady Enid was being embraced by Mrs. Merillia. The Prophet extended his
hand to the astronomer, who, however, turned his back to the company
and, diving one of his enormous hands into the pot-pourri jar, began to
rummage violently for his vanished meal.

"What is it?" said the Prophet, who had not seen the muffin go. "Can I
help you?"

Still presenting his huge back and the purple nape of his fat neck to
the assemblage, the astronomer, after trying in vain to extract the lost
dainty in a legitimate manner, turned the jar upside down, and poured
the rose-leaves and the muffin in a heterogeneous libation upon the
Chippendale table. After a close examination of it he turned around,
holding up the food to whose buttered surface several leaves adhered in
a disordered, but determined, manner.

"Only a Persian could devour this muffin now," he said, in his rumbling,
sing-song and strangely theatrical voice, which always suggested that he
was about to deliver a couple of hundred or so lengths of blank verse.
"Omar beneath his tree perchance, or Gurustu who to Baghdad came with
steed a-foam and eyes a-flame. Wherefore do you trample upon hapless
animals that are not dumb, young man, and cause the poor astronomer to
cast his muffin upon the roses, where, mayhap, the housemaid might find
it after many days? Oh-h-h-h!"

He uttered a tremulous bass cry of mingled reproach and despair, that
sounded rather like the wail of some deplorable watchman upon a city
wall, shaking his enormous head at the Prophet the while, and flapping
his red hands slowly in the air.

"How d'you do, Sir Tiglath?" said Lady Enid, coming up to him with light
carelessness.

Sir Tiglath bowed.

"Very ill, very ill," he rumbled, looking at her furtively with his
glassy eyes. "One has had an afternoon of tragedy, an afternoon of
brawling and of disturbance, in an avenue that shall henceforth be
called accursed."

He sat down upon his armchair, with his short legs stuck straight out
and resting upon his heels alone, his hands folded across his stomach,
and his purple triple chin sunk in his elaborate, but very dusty,
cravat. Wagging his head to and fro, he added, with the heavy,
concluding tremolo that decorated most of his vocal efforts, "Thrice
accursed. Oh-h-h-h!"

Lady Enid, who seemed to have quite recovered her self-possession, sat
down by Mrs. Merillia, while the Prophet, in some confusion, offered to
his grandmother the bunch of roses he had bought at Hollings's.

"They're a little late, grannie, I'm afraid," he said. "But I was
unavoidably detained."

Mrs. Merillia glanced at him sharply.

"Detained, Hennessey! Then you found what you were seeking?"

The Prophet remembered his oath and turned scarlet.

"No, no, grannie," he murmured hastily, and looking like a criminal. "I
met Lady Enid," he added.

"Where did you meet the lady, young man?" said Sir Tiglath. "Was it in
the accursed avenue?"

Lady Enid shot a hasty glance of warning at the Prophet. Mrs. Merillia
intercepted it, and began to form fresh ideas of that young person, whom
she had formerly called sensible, but whom she now began to think of as
crafty.

"Which avenue is that, Sir Tiglath?" asked the Prophet, with a rather
inadequate assumption of innocence.

"The Avenue in which one beholds the perfidy darting into hidden places,
young man, in which the defenders of foolish virgins are buffeted and
browbeaten by counter-jumpers with craniums as big as the great nebula
of Orion. The avenue named after a crumbled philanthropist, who could
walk, sheeted, through the atrocious night could his sacred dust awake
to the abominations that are perpetrated under the protection of his
shadow. Let dragons lay it waste like the highways of Babylon."

He gathered up a crumpet, and blinked at Lady Enid, who was airily
sipping her tea with a slightly detached air of calm and maidenly
dignity.

"I think Sir Tiglath must be describing Shaftesbury Avenue," remarked
Mrs. Merillia, rather mischievously.

"Oh, really," stammered the Prophet, "I had no idea that it was such an
evil neighbourhood."

"Where is Shaftesbury Avenue?" asked Lady Enid, gently folding a
fragment of thin bread and butter and nibbling it with her pretty mouth.

Sir Tiglath elevated his hands and rolled his eyes.

"Where partridges are to be found in January, oh-h-h-h!" was his very
unexpected reply.

The Prophet started violently, and even Lady Enid looked disconcerted
for a moment.

"What do you mean, Sir Tiglath?" she said, recovering herself.

She turned to Mrs. Merillia.

"I wonder what he means," she said. "He never talks sensibly unless
he is in his observatory, or lecturing to the Royal Society on the
'Regularity of Heavenly Bodies,' or--"

"The irregularities of earthly ones," interposed Sir Tiglath. "In the
accursed avenue--oh-h-h!"

"I fear, Sir Tiglath, you must be a member of the Vigilance Society,"
said Mrs. Merillia.

"Yes. He looks at the morals of the stars through his telescope," said
Lady Enid. "By the way--do you, too?" she added to the Prophet, for the
first time observing the instrument in the bow window.

Mrs. Merillia and Sir Tiglath exchanged a glance. An earnest expression
came into the Prophet's face.

"I confess," he said, with becoming modesty in the presence of the
great master of modern astronomy, "that I do watch the heavens from that
window."

"And for what purpose, young man?" rumbled Sir Tiglath, for the first
time dropping his theatrical manner of an old barn-stormer, and speaking
like any ordinary fogey, such as you may see at a meeting on behalf of
the North Pole, or at a dinner of the Odde Volumes.

"For--for purposes of research, Sir Tiglath," answered the Prophet, with
some diplomacy.

"The young man trieth to put off the old astronomer with fair words,"
bellowed Sir Tiglath. "The thief inserteth his thumb into the tail
pocket of the unobservant archbishop for purposes of research. The young
man playeth merrily forsooth with the old astronomer."

Mrs. Merillia nodded her lace cap at him encouragingly. It was evident
that there was an understanding between them. Lady Enid began to wonder
what was its nature. The Prophet seemed rather disconcerted at the
reception given to his not wholly artless ambiguity.

"Grannie," he said, turning to Mrs. Merillia, "you know how deeply the
stars interest me."

"For their own sake, young man?" said Sir Tiglath. "Or as the accursed
avenue interests the foolish virgins--for the sake of frivolity, idle
curiosity, or dark doings which could not support the light even of a
star of the sixth magnitude? Can you tell your admirable and revered
granddam that?"

This time, underneath his preposterous manner and fantastic speech, both
Lady Enid and the Prophet fancied that they could detect an element of
real gravity, even perhaps a hint of weighty censure which made them
both feel very young--rising two, or thereabouts.

"I was originally led to study stars, Sir Tiglath, because I had the
honour to meet you and make your acquaintance," said the Prophet,
valiantly.

The astronomer lapsed at once into his first manner.

"In what fair company did the old astronomer converse with the young
man?" he cried. "His memory faileth him. He doteth and cannot recall the
great occasion."

"It was at the Colley Cibber Club, Sir Tiglath," said the
Prophet, firmly. "But we--we did not converse. You had a--a slight
indisposition."

"Would you venture to imply--in the presence of your notable
granddam--that one had looked upon the wine when it was red, young man?"

"You had a glass of port by you certainly, Sir Tiglath. But you also
had a cold which, you gave me to understand--by signs--had affected your
throat and prevented you from carrying on conversation.

"Then was it the vision of the old astronomer's personal and starry
beauty that led you, hot foot, to Venus through yonder telescope?
Oh-h-h-h!"

"I did not take observations of Venus first," answered the Prophet,
with a certain proud reserve. "I began by an examination into 'The Milky
Way.'"

Sir Tiglath impounded another crumpet.

"Go on, young man," he cried. "The old astronomer lendeth ear."

The Prophet, who felt very much like a nervous undergraduate undergoing
a _viva-voce_ examination, continued,--

"I became deeply interested, strongly attracted by the--the heavenly
bodies. They fascinated me. I could think of nothing else."

Lady Enid's Scottish lips tightened almost imperceptibly.

"I could talk of nothing else," proceeded the Prophet. "Could I,
grannie?"

"No, indeed, Hennessey," assented Mrs. Merillia. "All other topics were
banished from discussion."

"All," cried the Prophet, with increasing fervour and lack of
self-consciousness. "I could not tear myself from the telescope. I
longed for a perpetual night and found the day almost intolerably
irksome."

Sir Tiglath's brick-red countenance was irradiated with a smile that did
not lack geniality.

"The old astronomer lendeth attentive ear to the young man's epic," he
roared, through the crumpet. "He approveth the young man's admiration
for the heavenly bodies. Go on."

But at the last command the Prophet seemed suddenly to jib. The reserved
expression returned to his face.

"That's all, Sir Tiglath," he said.

The astronomer and Mrs. Merillia again exchanged a glance which was not
unobserved by Lady Enid. Then Sir Tiglath, with an abrupt and portentous
gravity, exclaimed in thunderous tones,--

"Sir, are you a man of science or have you the brain of a charlatan
enclosed in the fleshy envelope of a conjurer and a sinner? Do you study
the noble and beautiful stars for their own sakes to find out what they
are, and what they are doing, what is their nature and what their place
in the great scheme, or do you peek and pry at them through the keyhole
of a contemptible curiosity in order to discover what you think they
can do for you, to set you on high, to puff you out into a personage
and cause you to be noticed of the foolish ones of this world? Which are
you, sir, a young man of parts whose hand I can grasp fraternally, or
an insulter of planets, sir, a Peeping Tom upon the glorious nudity of
Venus, a Paul Pry squinting at the mysteries of Mercury for an unholy
and, what is more, an idiotic purpose? What do you ask of the stars,
sir? Tell the old astronomer that!"

The Prophet was considerably taken aback by this tirade, which caused
the many ornaments in the pretty room to tremble. He gazed at his
grandmother, and found her nodding approval of Sir Tiglath. He glanced
at Lady Enid. She was leaning back in her chair and looking amused, like
a person at an entertainment.

"What do I ask, Sir Tiglath?" he murmured in some confusion.

"Do you ask about your reverent granddam's hallowed ankles, sir? Do
you afflict the stars with inquiries about the state of the ridiculous
weather? Is that it?"

The Prophet understood that Mrs. Merillia had been frank with the
astronomer. He cast upon her a glance of respectful reproach.

"Yes, Hennessey," she answered, "I have. My dear child, I thought it for
the best. This prophetic business would soon have been turning the
house upside down, and at my age I'm really not equal to living at
close quarters with a determined young prophet. To do so would upset the
habits of a lifetime. So Sir Tiglath knows all about it."

There was a moment of silence, which was broken by the agreeable voice
of Lady Enid saying,--

"All about what? Remember, please, that I'm a young woman and that all
young women share one quality. All about what, please?"

Mrs. Merillia looked at the Prophet. The Prophet looked at Sir Tiglath,
who wagged his great head and cried, with rolling pathos and rebuke,--

"Oh-h-h-h!"

"Please--Mr. Vivian!" repeated Lady Enid, with considerable
determination.

"Grannie means that I--that--well, that I have been enabled by the stars
to foretell certain future events," said the Prophet, glancing rather
furtively at Sir Tiglath while he spoke, to note the effect of the
desperate declaration.

"Oh-h-h-h!" bellowed the distressed astronomer, shaking like a jelly in
his wrath.

"What?" cried Lady Enid, in an almost piercing voice, and with a manner
that had suddenly become most animated. "What--like Malkiel's _Almanac_
does?"

This remark had a very striking effect upon Sir Tiglath, an effect
indeed so striking that it held Mrs. Merillia, Lady Enid and the Prophet
in a condition of paralytic expectation for at least three minutes by
the grandmother's clock in the corner of the drawing-room.

The venerable astronomer was already very stout in person and very
inflamed in appearance. But at this point in the discourse he suddenly
became so very much stouter and so very much more inflamed, that his
audience of three gazed upon him rather as little children gaze upon
dough which has been set by the cook to "rise" and which is fulfilling
its mission with an unexpected, and indeed intemperate, vivacity.
Their eyes grew round, their features rigid, their hands tense, their
attitudes expectant. Leaning forward, they stared upon Sir Tiglath with
an unwinking fixity and preternatural determination that was almost
entirely infantine. And while they did so he continued slowly to expand
in size and to deepen in colour until mortality seemed to drop from
him. He ceased to be a man and became a phenomenon, a purple thing that
journeyed towards some unutterable end, portentous as marching judgment,
tragic as fate, searching as epidemic, and yet heavily painted and
generally touched up by the brush of some humorous demon, such as lays
about him in preparation for Christmas pantomime, sworn to provide the
giants' faces and the ogres' heads for Drury Lane.

"Don't!" at last cried a young voice. "Don't, Sir Tiglath!"

A peal of laughter followed the remark, of that laughter which is loud
and yet entirely without the saving grace of merriment, a mere sudden
demonstration of hysteria.

"Oh, Sir Tiglath--don't!"

A second laugh joined the first and rang up with it, older, but also
hysterical--Mrs. Merillia's.

"No, no--please don't, Sir Tig--Tig--"

A third laugh burst into the ring, seeming to complete it fatally--the
Prophet's.

"Sir Tiglath--for Heaven's sake--don't!"

The adjuration came from a trio of choked voices, and might have given
pause even to a descending lift or other inflexible and blind machine.

But still the astronomer grew steadily more gigantic in person and more
like the god of wine in hue. The three voices failed, and the terrible,
united laughter was just upon the point of breaking forth again when a
diversion occurred. The door of the drawing-room was softly opened, and
Mrs. Fancy Quinglet appeared upon the threshold, holding in her hands an
ice-wool shawl for the comfort of her mistress. It chanced that as the
phenomenon of the astronomer was based upon a large elbow chair exactly
facing the door she was instantly and fully confronted by it. She did
not drop the shawl, as any ordinary maid would most probably have done.
Mrs. Fancy was not of that kidney. She did not even turn tail, or give a
month's warning or a scream. She was of those women who, when they meet
the inevitable, instinctively seem to recognise that it demands courage
as a manner and truth as a greeting. She, therefore, stared straight at
Sir Tiglath--much as she stared at Mrs. Merillia when she was about to
arrange that lady's wig for an assembly--and remarked in a decisive,
though very respectful, tone of voice,--

"The gentleman's about to burst, ma'am. I can't speak different nor mean
other."

Upon finding their thoughts thus deftly gathered up and woven into
a moderately grammatical sentence, Mrs. Merillia, Lady Enid and the
Prophet experienced a sense of extraordinary relief, and no longer felt
the stern necessity of laughing. But this was not the miracle worked
by Mrs. Fancy. Had she, even then, rested satisfied with her acumen,
maintained silence and awaited the immediate fulfilment of her
prediction, what must have happened can hardly be in doubt. But she
was seized by that excess of bravery which is called foolhardiness, and
driven by it to that peculiar and thoughtless vehemence of action which
sometimes wins V.C.'s for men who, in later days, conceal amazement
under the cherished decoration. She suddenly laid down the ice-wool
shawl upon a neighbouring sociable, walked up to the phenomenon of the
astronomer, and remarked to it with great distinctness,--

"You're about to burst, sir. I know it, sir, and I can't know other."

At this point the miracle happened, for, instead of responding to the
lady's-maid's appeal, and promptly disintegrating into his respective
atoms, Sir Tiglath suddenly became comparatively small and comparatively
pale, sat forward, wagged his head at Mrs. Fancy, and rumbled out in his
ordinary voice,--

"Have you never heard where liars go to, woman? Oh-h-h-h!"

On finding that nothing of supreme horror was about to happen, Mrs.
Fancy's courage--as is the way of woman's courage--forsook her, she
broke into tears, and had to be immediately led forth to the servant's
hall by the Prophet, exclaiming persistently with every step they
took,--

"I can't help it, Master Hennessey. I say again as I said afore--the
gentleman's about to burst. Them that knows other let them declare it."

"Yes, yes. It's all right, Fancy, it's all right. We all agree with you.
Now, now, you mustn't cry."

"I can't--know--other, Master Hennessey, nor--mean different. I can't
indeed, Master Hennessey, I can't--know other--nor--"

"No, no. Of course not. There, sit down and compose yourself."

He gave the poor, afflicted liar tenderly into the care of the upper
housemaid, and retraced his steps quickly to the drawing-room. As he
entered it he heard Sir Tiglath saying,--

"The stars in their courses tremble when the accursed name of Malkiel is
mentioned, and the old astronomer is dissolved in wrath at sound of the
pernicious word. Oh-h-h-h!"

"There, Hennessey!" cried Mrs. Merillia, turning swiftly to her grandson
with all her cap ribands fluttering. "You hear what Sir Tiglath says?"

"If that accursed name belonged to an individual," continued the
astronomer, waving his hands frantically over the last remaining
crumpet, "instead of representing a syndicate of ruffianly underground
criminals, the old astronomer, well stricken in years though he be,
would hunt him out of his hiding-place and slay him with his own feeble
and scientific hands."

So saying, he grasped the crumpet as if it had been an assegai, and
assailed himself with it so violently that it entirely disappeared.

"But Malkiel is an--" began Mrs. Merillia.

The Prophet stopped her with a glance, whose almost terror-stricken
authority surprised her into silence.

"But I thought Malkiel was a man," cried Lady Enid, looking towards the
Prophet.

"He--for I will not foul my lips with the accursed name--is not a
man," roared Sir Tiglath. "He is a syndicate. He is a company. He meets
together, doubtless, in some low den of the city. He reads reports to
himself of the ill-gotten gains accruing from his repeated insults to
the heavens round some abominable table covered with green cloth. He
quotes the prices of the shares in him, and declares dividends, and
carries balances forward, and some day will wind himself up or cast
himself anew upon the mercy of the market. Part of him is probably
Jew, part South African and part America. The whole of him is thrice
accursed."

He began to expand once more, but Mrs. Merillia perceived the tendency
and checked it in time.

"Pray, Sir Tiglath," she said almost severely, "don't. With my sprained
ankle I am really not equal to it."

Sir Tiglath had enough chivalry to stop, and Lady Enid once again
chipped in.

"But, really, I'm almost sure Malkiel is a--"

She caught the Prophet's eye, as Mrs. Merillia had, and paused. He
turned to the astronomer.

"But how can a company make itself into a prophet?" he asked.

"Young man, you talk idly! What are companies formed for if not to make
profits?" retorted Sir Tiglath. "Every one is a company nowadays. Don't
you know that? Murchison, the famous writer of novels, is a company.
Jeremy, the actor-manager, is a company. So is Bynion the quack doctor,
and the Rev. Mr. Kinnimer who supplies tracts to the upper classes, and
Upton the artist, whose pictures make tours like Sarah Bernhardt, and
Watkins, whose philosophy sells more than Tupper's, and Caroline Jingo,
who writes war poems and patriotic odes. If you were to invite these
supposed seven persons to dinner, and all of them came, you would have
to lay covers for at least fifty scoundrels. Oh-h-h-h!"

"Well, but how are you sure that--ahem--the _Almanac_ person is also
plural, Sir Tiglath?" inquired Mrs. Merillia.

"Because I sought him with the firm intention of assault and battery
for five-and-forty years," returned the astronomer. "And only gave up my
Christian quest when I was assured, on excellent authority, that he was
a company, and had originally been formed in the United States for the
making of money and the defiance of the heavenly bodies. May bulls and
bears destroy him!"

"Well, it's very odd," said Lady Enid. "Very odd indeed."

As she spoke she glanced at the Prophet and met his eyes. There are
moments when the mere expression in another person's eyes seems to shout
a request at one. The expression in the Prophet's eyes performed this
feat at this moment, with such abrupt vehemence, that Lady Enid felt
almost deafened. She leaned back in her chair, as if avoiding a missile,
and exclaimed,--

"Of course! And I never guessed it!"

"Guessed what, my dear?" inquired Mrs. Merillia.

"Why, that--he--it--was a company," replied Lady Enid.

The Prophet blessed and thanked her with a piercing and saved look.

"Nor I," he assented, descending into the very mine of subterfuge for
his recent oath's sake, "nor I, or I should never have taken the useless
trouble that I have taken."

He managed to say this with such conviction that his grandmother,
who, in the past, had always found him to be transparently honest and
sincere, was carried away by the deception. She wrinkled her long nose,
as was her habit when sincerely pleased, and cried gaily,--

"Then, Hennessey, now you've heard Sir Tiglath's opinion of the practice
of trying to turn the stars into money-makers, and the planets into old
gipsy women who tell fortunes to silly servant girls, I'm sure you'll
never study them again. Come, promise me!"

The Prophet made no answer.

"Hennessey," cried his grandmother, with tender pertinacity, "promise
me! Sir Tiglath, join your voice to mine!"

Sir Tiglath had become really grave, not theatrically serious.

"Young man," he said, "your revered granddam asks of you a righteous
thing. Who are you to trifle with those shining worlds that make a
beauty of the night and that stir eternity in the soul of man? Who are
you to glue your pinpoint of a human eye to yonder machine and play with
the stupendous Jupiter and Saturn as a child plays with marbles or with
peg-tops? Who are you that thinks those glittering monsters have nothing
to do but to inform your pigmy brain of snowfalls, street accidents,
and love-affairs prematurely, so that you may flaunt about your
pocket-handkerchief of a square pluming your dwarfship that you are a
prophet? Fie, young man, and again fie! Bow the knee, as I do, to the
mysteries of the great universal scheme, instead of bothering them
to turn informers and 'give away' the knowledge which is deliberately
hidden from us. Show me a man that can understand the present and you'll
have shown me a god. And yet you knock at the gates of the heavens
through that telescope and clamour to be told the future! Fie upon you,
young man, fie! Oh-h-h-h!"

Now the Prophet, as has been before observed, possessed a very sensitive
nature. He was also very devoted to his grandmother, and had an
extraordinary reverence for the world-famed attainments of Sir Tiglath
Butt. Therefore, when he heard Mrs. Merillia's pleading, and the
astronomer's weighty denunciation, he was deeply moved. Nevertheless, so
strongly had recent events appealed to his curiosity, so ardently did he
desire to search into the reality of his own peculiar powers, that it
is very doubtful whether he might not have withstood both the behests of
affection and of admiration had it not been that they took to themselves
an ally, whose force is one of the moving spirits of the world. This
ally was fear. Just as the Prophet was beginning to feel obstinate and
to steel himself to resistance, he remembered the fierce and horrible
threats of Malkiel the Second. If he should cease to concern himself
with the stars, if he should cease to prophesy, not alone should he
restore peace to his beloved grandmother, and pay the tribute of respect
to Sir Tiglath, but he should do more. He should preserve his quick from
being searched and his core from being probed. His marrow, too, would be
rescued from the piercing it had been so devoutly promised. The dread,
by which he was now companioned--of Malkiel, of that portentous and
unseen lady who dwelt beside the secret waters of the Mouse, of those
imagined offshoots of the prophetic tree, Corona and Capricornus--this
would drop away. He would be free once more, light-hearted, a happy and
mildly intellectual man of the town, emerged from the thrall of bogies,
and from beneath the yoke which he already felt laid upon his shoulders
by those august creatures who were the centre of the architectural
circle.

All these things suddenly presented themselves to the Prophet's mind
with extraordinary vividness and force. His resolve was taken in a
moment, and, turning to his eager grandmother and to the still slightly
inflated astronomer, he exclaimed without further hesitation,--

"Very well. I'll give it up. I promise you."

Mrs. Merillia clapped her mittens together almost like a girl.

"Thank you, Sir Tiglath," she cried. "I knew you would persuade the dear
boy."

The astronomer beamed like the rising sun.

"Let the morning stars--freed from insult--sing together!" he roared.

The Prophet glanced towards Lady Enid. She was looking almost narrow
and not at all pleased. She, and all her family, had a habit of suddenly
appearing thinner than usual when they were put out. This habit had
descended to them from a remote Highland ancestor, who had perished of
starvation and been very vexed about it. The Prophet felt sure that she
did not applaud his resolution, but he could not discuss the matter with
her in public, and she now got up--looking almost like a skeleton--and
said that she must go. Sir Tiglath immediately rolled up out of his
chair and roared that he would accompany her.

"The old astronomer will protect the injudicious young female," he
exclaimed, "lest she wander forth into accursed places."

"I'm only going to Hill Street," said Lady Enid, rather snappishly.
"Come to see me to-morrow at three," she whispered to the Prophet as she
took his hand. "We must have a talk. Don't tell anybody!"

The Prophet nodded surreptitiously. He felt that she was curious to her
finger-tips as he gently pressed them.

When he and his grandmother were alone together he rang the drawing-room
bell. Mr. Ferdinand appeared.

"Mr. Ferdinand," said the Prophet, "kindly call Gustavus to your aid and
take away the telescope."

"Sir!" said Mr. Ferdinand in great astonishment.

"Take away the telescope."

"Certainly, sir. Where shall we place it, sir?"

"Anywhere," said the Prophet. "In the pantry--the square--in Piccadilly
if you like--it's all the same to me."

And, unable to trust himself to say more, he hurried almost tumultuously
from the room.

"Here's a go, Gustavus," remarked Mr. Ferdinand a moment later as he
entered the servants' hall.

"Where, Mr. Ferdinand?" replied Gustavus, glancing up from a dish of
tea and a couple of Worthing shrimps with which he was solacing an idle
moment.

"Here, in this mansion, Gustavus. Me and you've got to take the
telescope out of the drawing-room, and Master Hennessey says if we wish
we can chuck it in Piccadilly."

The round eyes of Gustavus brightened.

"That is my wish, Mr. Ferdinand," he exclaimed. "Here's a lark!"

He sprang up. But Mr. Ferdinand checked his very agreeable vivacity.

"I am your head, Gustavus," he remarked, with severe ambiguity, "and
master having also said that, if we wish, we can set the instrument in
the butler's pantry, I have decided that so it shall moreover be. It
will be very useful to us there."

"Useful, Mr. Ferdinand! However--?"

"Never mind, Gustavus, never mind," replied Mr. Ferdinand with some
acrimony.

Being of a dignified nature he did not care to explain to a subordinate
that there was a very pleasant-looking second-cook just arrived at the
house of the Lord Chancellor on the opposite side of the square.



CHAPTER VII

THE DOUBLE LIFE OF MISS MINERVA

On the following day, just as the Prophet was drawing on a new pair of
suede gloves preparatory to setting out to Hill Street, Gustavus entered
with a silver salver.

"A telegram for you, sir," he said.

The Prophet took the blushing envelope, ripped it gently open, and read
as follows:--

"Madame and self must confer with you this afternoon without fail. Shall
be with you five sharp; most important.

"JUPITER SAGITTARIUS."


Gustavus nearly dropped at sight of the wrinkles that seamed the
Prophet's usually smooth face as he grasped the full meaning of this
portentous missive.

"Any answer, sir?"

The wrinkles increased and multiplied.

"Any reply, sir?"

"What--no."

Gustavus glided in a well-trained manner towards the door. When he got
there the Prophet cried, rather sharply,--

"Stop a moment!"

Gustavus stopped.

"Sir?"

"The--I--er--I am expecting a--a--couple this afternoon," began the
Prophet, speaking with considerable hesitation, and still gazing, in a
hypnotised manner, at the telegram.

"A couple, sir?"

"Exactly. A pair."

"A pair, sir? Of horses, sir?"

"Horses! No--of people, that is, persons."

"A pair of persons, sir. Yes, sir."

"They should arrive towards five o'clock."

"Yes, sir."

"If I should not be home by that time you will show them very quietly
into my library--not the drawing-room. Mrs. Merillia is not at present
equal to receiving ordinary guests."

The Prophet meant extraordinary, but he preferred to put it the other
way.

"Yes, sir. What name, sir?"

"Mr. and Mrs.--that is, Madame Sagittarius. That will do."

Gustavus hastened to the servants' hall to discuss the situation,
while the Prophet stood re-reading the telegram with an expression of
shattered dismay. Not for at least five minutes did he recover himself
sufficiently to remember his appointment with Lady Enid, and, when at
length he set forth to Hill Street, he was so painfully preoccupied that
he walked three times completely round the square before he discovered
the outlet into that fashionable thoroughfare.

When he reached the dark green mansion of Lady Enid's worthy father,
the Marquis of Glome, and had applied the bronze demon that served as a
knocker four separate times to the door, he was still so lost in thought
that he started violently on the appearance of the Scotch retainer at
the portal, and behaved for a moment as if he were considering which
of two courses he should pursue: _i.e._, whether he should clamber
frantically into the seclusion of the area, or take boldly to the
open street. Before he could do either M'Allister, the retainer, had
magnetised him into the hall, relieved him of his hat--almost with the
seductive adroitness of a Drury Lane thief--and drawn him down a tartan
passage into a very sensible-looking boudoir, in which Lady Enid was
sitting by a wood fire with a very tall and lusty young man.

"Mr. Hennessey Vivian!"

"What, Bob--you here!" said the Prophet to the lusty young man, after
shaking hands a little distractedly with Lady Enid.

"Yes, old chap. But I'm just off. I know you two want to have a confab,"
returned Mr. Robert Green, wringing his old school friend's hand.
"Niddy's given me the chuck. And anyhow I'm bound to look in at the Bath
Club at four to fence with Chicky Bostock."

Mr. Green spoke in a powerful baritone voice, rolling his r's, and
showing his large and square white teeth in a perpetual cheery and even
boisterous smile. He was what is called a thorough good fellow, springy
in body and essentially gay in soul. That he was of a slightly belated
temperament will be readily understood when we say that he was at
this time just beginning to whistle, with fair correctness,
"Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay," to discuss the character of Becky Sharp, to dwell
upon the remarkable promise as a vocalist shown by Madame Adelina Patti,
and to wonder at the marvellous results said to be accomplished by the
telephone. He had also never heard of Christian Science, and was totally
unaware that there exists in the metropolis a modest and retiring
building called "The Imperial Institute." Nevertheless, he was
repeatedly spoken of by substantial people as a young man of many parts,
was a leading spirit in Yeomanry circles, and was greatly regarded by
the Prophet as a trusty friend and stalwart upholder of the British
Empire. He had rather the appearance of a bulwark, and something of the
demeanour of a flourishing young oak tree.

"Yes, Bob, you've got to go," assented Lady Enid, examining the
Prophet's slightly distorted countenance with frank, and even eager,
curiosity. "Mr. Vivian and I are going to talk of modern things."

"I know, Thackeray and Patti, and three-volume novels, and skirt
dancing, and all the rest of it," said Mr. Green, with unaffected
reverence. "Well, I'm off. I say, Hen, pop in at the Bath on your way
home and have a whiskey and soda. I shall just be out of the hot room
and--"

"I'm sorry, Bob," said the Prophet with almost terrible solemnity, "that
I can't, that--in fact--I am unable."

"What? Going to the dentist?"

"Exactly--that is, not at all."

"Well, what's up? Some intellectual business, lecture on Walter Scott,
or Dickens, or one of the other Johnnies that are so popular just now?"

"No. I have a--a small gathering at home this afternoon.

"All right. Then I'll pop round on you--say five o'clock."

"No, Bob, no, I can't say that. I'm very sorry, but I can't possibly say
that."

"Right you are. Too clever for me, I s'pose. Look me up at the Tintack
to-night then--any time after ten."

"If I can, Bob, I will," replied the Prophet, with impressive
uncertainty, "I say if I can I will do so."

"Done! If you can't, then I'm not to expect you. That it?"

"That is it--precisely."

"Good-bye, Niddy, old girl. Keep your pecker up. By the way, if you
want a real good tune for a Charity sing-song, a real rouser, try 'Nancy
Lee.'"

He was gone, humming vigorously that new-fangled favourite.

"Sit down, Mr. Vivian," said Lady Enid, looking her right size. "We've
got a lot to say to one another."

"I have to be home at five," replied the Prophet, abstractedly.

Lady Enid begin to appear a trifle thin.

"Why? How tiresome! I didn't think you really meant it."

"It is very, very tiresome."

He spoke with marked uneasiness, and remained standing with the air of
one in readiness for the punctual call of the hangman.

"What is it?" continued Lady Enid, with her usual inquisitiveness.

"I have, as I said, a--a small gathering at home at that hour," said the
Prophet, repeating his formula morosely.

"A gathering--what of?"

"People--persons, that is."

"What--a party?"

"Two parties," replied the Prophet, instinctively giving Mr. Sagittarius
and Madame their undoubted due. "Two."

"Two parties at the same time--and in the afternoon! How very odd!"

"They will look very odd, very--in Berkeley Square," responded the
Prophet, in a tone of considerable dejection. "I don't know, I'm sure,
what Mr. Ferdinand and Gustavus will think. Still I've given strict
orders that they are to be let in. What else could I do?"

He gazed at Lady Enid in a demanding manner.

"What else could I possibly do under the circumstances?" he repeated.

"Sit down, dear Mr. Vivian," she answered, with her peculiar Scotch
lassie seductiveness, "and tell me, your sincere friend, what the
circumstances are."

Unluckily her curiosity had led her to overdo persuasion. That cooing
interpolation of "your sincere friend"--too strongly honeyed--suddenly
recalled the Prophet to the fact that Lady Enid was not, and could never
be, his confidante in the matter that obsessed him. He therefore sat
down, but with an abrupt air of indefinite social liveliness, and
exclaimed, not unlike Mr. Robert Green,--

"Well, and how are things going with you, dear Lady Enid?"

She jumped under the transition as under a whip.

"Me! But--these parties you were telling me about?"

But the Prophet remembered his oath. He was a strictly honourable little
man, and never swore carelessly.

"Parties!" he said. "You and I are too old friends to waste our life in
chattering about such London nonsense."

"Then we'll talk of yesterday," said Lady Enid, very firmly.

The Prophet looked rather blank.

"Yes," she repeated. "Yesterday. I've guessed your secret."

"Which one?" he cried, much startled.

"Which?" she said reproachfully. "Oh, Mr. Vivian--and I thought you
trusted in me."

The Prophet was silent. The third daughter of the clergyman had often
made that remark to him when they were nearly engaged. It recalled
bygone memories.

"That's what I thought," she added with pressure.

"I'm sorry," the Prophet murmured, rather obstinately.

"I always think," she continued, with deliberate expansiveness, "that
nearly all the miseries of the world come about from people not trusting
in--in people."

"Or from people trusting in the wrong people. Which is it?" said the
Prophet, not without slyness.

She began to look thin, but checked herself.

"Tell me," she said, "why did you stop me yesterday when I was beginning
to say to Sir Tiglath that I was sure Malkiel was a man and not a
syndicate?"

"Did I stop you?" said the Prophet, artlessly.

"Yes, with your eyes."

"Because--because I was sure--that is, certain you couldn't be sure."

"How could you be certain?"

"How?"

"Yes."

"Well, how is one certain of anything?" said the Prophet, rather feebly.

"How are you certain that I'm Miss Minerva Partridge?"

"Because you told me so yourself, because I've seen you come into
Jellybrand's for your letters, because--"

"Haven't I seen Malkiel come into Jellybrand's for his?"

This unexpected retort threw the Prophet upon his beam ends. But he
remembered his oath even in that very awkward position.

"Does he go to Jellybrand's?" he exclaimed, with a wild attempt after
astonishment. "But he's a company--Sir Tiglath said so."

"And what did your eyes say yesterday?"

"I had a cold in my eyes yesterday," said the Prophet. "They were very
weak. They were--they were aching."

Lady Enid was silent for a moment. During that moment she was conferring
with her feminine instinct. What it said to her must be guessed by
the manner in which she once more entered into conversation with the
Prophet.

"Mr. Vivian," she said, with a complete change of demeanour to girlish
geniality and impulsiveness, "I'm going to confide in you. I'm going to
thrown myself upon your mercy."

The Prophet blinked with amazement, like a martyr who suddenly finds
himself snatched from the rack and laid upon a plush divan with a satin
cushion under his head.

"I'm going to trust you," Lady Enid went on, emphasising the two
pronouns.

"Many thanks," said the Prophet, unoriginally.

She was sitting on a square piece of furniture which the Marquis of
Glome called an "Aberdeen lean-to." She now spread herself out upon it
in the easy attitude of one who is about to converse intimately for some
centuries, and proceeded.

"I daresay you know, Mr. Vivian, that people always call me a very
sensible sort of girl."

The Prophet remembered his grandmother's remark about Lady Enid.

"I know they do," he assented, trying not to think of five o'clock.

"What do they mean by that, Mr. Vivian?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"I say what do they mean by a sensible sort of girl?"

"Why, I suppose--"

"I'm going to tell you," she interrupted him. "They mean a sort of girl
who likes fresh air, washes her face with yellow soap, sports dogskin
gloves, drives in an open cart in preference to a shut brougham, enjoys
a cold tub and Whyte Melville's novels, laughs at ghosts and cries over
'Misunderstood,' considers the Bishop of London a deity and the Albert
Memorial a gem of art, would wear a neat Royal fringe in her grave, and
a straw hat and shirt on the Judgment Day if she were in the country for
it--walks with the guns, sings 'Home, Sweet Home' in the evening
after dinner to her bald-headed father, thinks the _Daily Mail_ an
intellectual paper, the Royal Academy an uplifting institution, the
British officer a demi-god with a heart of gold in a body of steel, and
the road from Calais to Paris the way to heaven. That's what they mean
by a sensible sort of girl, isn't it?"

"I daresay it is," said the Prophet, endeavouring not to feel as if he
were sitting with a dozen or two of very practised stump orators.

"Yes, and that's what they think I am."

"And aren't you?" inquired the Prophet.

Lady Enid drew herself upon the Aberdeen lean-to.

"No," she said decisively, "I'm not. I'm a Miss Minerva Partridge."

"Well, but what is that?" asked the Prophet, with all the air of a man
inquiring about some savage race.

"That's the secret--"

"Oh, I beg your pardon!"

"That I'm going to tell you now, because I trust you--"

Again the pronouns were emphasised, and the Prophet thought how
difficult it would be to keep his oath.

"And because I know now that you're silly too."

The Prophet jumped, though not for joy.

"I've been Miss Minerva Partridge for--wait a moment, I must look."

She got up, went to a writing table, opened a drawer in it, and took out
a large red book and turned its leaves.

"My diary," she explained. "It's foolish to keep one, isn't it?"

Her intonation so obviously called for an affirmative that the Prophet
felt constrained to reply,--

"Very foolish indeed."

She smiled with pleasure.

"I'm so glad you think so. Ah--exactly a year and a half."

"You've been Miss Minerva Partridge?"

"Yes."

"So long as that?"

"Yes, indeed. Mr. Vivian, during that time I have been leading a double
life."

The Prophet remembered the other double life beside the borders of the
River Mouse, and began to wonder if he were acquainted with any human
being who led a single one.

"Many people do that," he remarked rather aimlessly.

Lady Enid looked vexed.

"I did not say I had a monopoly of the commodity," she rejoined,
evidently wishing that she had.

"Oh, no," said the Prophet, making things worse; "one meets people who
live double lives every day, I might almost say every hour."

The clock had just struck four, and he had begun to think of five. Lady
Enid's pleasant plumpness began rapidly to disappear.

"I can't say I do," she said sharply, feeling that most of the gilt was
being stripped off her sin.

She stopped in such obvious dissatisfaction that the Prophet, vaguely
aware that he had made some mistake, said,--

"Please go on. I am so interested. Why have you led a double life for
the last week and a half?"

"Year and a half, I said."

"I mean year and a half."

He forced his mobile features to assume a fixed expression of greedy,
though rather too constant, curiosity. Lady Enid brightened up.

"Mr. Vivian," she said, "many girls are born sensible-looking without
wishing it."

"Are they really? It never occurred to me."

"Such things very seldom do occur to men. Now that places these girls in
a very painful position. I was placed in this position as soon as I was
born, or at least as soon as I began to look like anything at all. For
babies really don't."

"That's very true," assented the Prophet, with more fervour.

"People continually said to me, 'What a nice sensible girl you are';
or--'One always feels your Common sense'; or--'There's nothing foolish
about you, Enid, thank Heaven!' The Chieftain relied upon me thoroughly.
So did the tenants. So did everybody. You can understand that it became
very trying?"

"Of course, of course."

"It's something to do with the shape of my eyebrows, the colour of my
hair, the way I smile and that sort of thing."

"No doubt it is."

"Mr. Vivian, I'll tell you now, that I've never felt sensible in all my
life."

"Really!" ejaculated the Prophet, still firmly holding all his features
together in an unyielding expression of fixed curiosity.

"Never once, however great the provocation. And in my family, with the
Chieftain, the provocation you can understand is exceptionally great."

The Marquis of Glome, who was the head of a clan called "The
MacArdells," was always named the Chieftain by his relations and
friends.

"I felt sure it must be," said the Prophet, decisively.

"Nevertheless it is so extremely difficult, if not impossible, not to
try to be what people take you for that I was in a perpetual condition
of acting sensibly, against my true nature."

"How very trying!" murmured the Prophet, mechanically.

"It was, Mr. Vivian. It often made me fell quite ill. Nobody but you
knows how I have suffered."

"And why do I know?" inquired the Prophet.

"Because I realised yesterday that you must be almost as silly by nature
as I am."

"Yesterday--why? When?"

"When you said to Sir Tiglath that you could prophesy."

The Prophet stiffened. She laughed almost affectionately.

"So absurd! But I was vexed when you said you'd give it up. You mustn't
do that, or you'll be flying in the face of your own folly."

She drew the Aberdeen lean-to, which ran easily on Edinburgh castors, a
little nearer to him, and continued.

"At least I felt obliged to seek an outlet. I could not stifle my real
self for ever, and yet I could not be comfortably silly with those who
were absolutely convinced of my permanent good sense. I tried to be
several times.

"Didn't you succeed?"

"Not once."

"Tch! Tch!"

"So at last I was driven to the double life."

"Then your coachman knows?"

"MacSpillan! No! I took a cab--a four-wheeler--at the corner of the
Square, and the name of Minerva Partridge. It's a silly name, isn't it?"

She asked the question with earnest anxiety.

"Quite idiotic," said the Prophet, reassuringly.

"I felt quite sure it was," she cried, obviously comforted. "Because it
came to me so inevitably. I was so perfectly natural--and alone--when I
invented it. No one helped me."

"I assure you," reiterated the Prophet, "there is no doubt the name is
absolutely and entirely idiotic."

"Thank you, dear Mr. Vivian! What a pleasure it is to talk to you! Under
this name I have, for a year and a half, led an idiotic life, such a
life as really suits me, such a life as is in complete accord with my
true nature. Oh, the joy of it! The sense of freedom! If only all other
silly girls who look sensible like me had the courage to do what I have
done!"

"It is a pity!" said the Prophet, in assent, beginning to be genuinely
moved by the obvious sincerity of this human being's bent towards
folly. "But what have you done during this year and a half of truth and
freedom?"

"More foolish things than many crowd into a lifetime," she cried
ecstatically. "It would take me days to tell you of half of them!"

"Oh, then you mustn't," said the Prophet, glancing furtively at the
clock. "Had you come out to be silly yesterday afternoon?"

"Yes, I had--to be sillier even than usual. And if it hadn't been
for Sir Tiglath catching sight of me in the avenue, and then--Mr.
Sagittarius and you being in the parlour--"

She stopped.

"By the way," she said, in her usual tone of breezy common sense, "were
you living a double life in the parlour?"

"I!" said the Prophet. "Oh, no, not at all. I never do anything of that
kind."

"Sure?"

"Quite certain."

"You're not going to?"

"Certainly not. Nothing would induce me."

She looked at him, as if unconvinced, raising her dark, sensible
eyebrows.

"All Jellybrand's clients do," she said. "And I'm certain Mr.
Sagittarius--"

"I assure you," said the Prophet, with the heavy earnestness of absolute
insincerity, "Mr. Sagittarius is the most single lived man I ever met,
the very most. But why did Sir Tiglath, that is, why did you--?"

"Try to avoid him? Well--"

For the first time she hesitated, and began to look slightly confused.

"Well," she repeated, "Sir Tiglath is a very strange, peculiar old man."

The Prophet thought that if the young librarian had been present he
would have eliminated the second adjective.

"Peculiar! Yes, he is. His appearance, his manner--"

"Oh, I don't mean that."

"No?"

"No. Lots of elderly men have purple faces, turned legs and roaring
voices. You must know that. Sir Tiglath is peculiar in this way--he is
quite elderly and yet he's not in the least little bit silly."

"Oh!"

"He's a thoroughly sensible old man, the only one I ever met."

"Your father?"

"The Chieftain can be very foolish at times. That's why he's always
relied so on me."

She gave this proof triumphantly. The Prophet felt bound to accept it.

"Sir Tiglath is really, as an old man, what everybody thinks I am, as a
young woman. D'you see?"

"You mean?"

"The opposite of me. And in this way too. While I hide my silliness
under my eyebrows, and hair, and smile, and manner, he hides his
sensibleness under his. When people meet me they always think--what a
common-sense young woman! When they meet him they always think--what a
preposterous old man!"

"Well, but then," cried the Prophet, struck by a sudden idea, "if that
is so, how can you live a double life as Miss Minerva Partridge? You
can't change your eyebrows with your name!"

"Ah, you don't know women!" she murmured. "No, but you see I begin at
once."

"Begin?"

"Being silly. All the people who know me as Miss Partridge know I'm
an absurd person in spite of my looks. I've proved it to them by my
actions. I've begun at once before they could have time to judge by my
appearance. I've told them instantly that I'm a Christian Scientist,
and a believer in the value of tight-lacing and in ghosts, an
anti-vaccinator, a Fabian, a member of 'The Masculine Club,' a 'spirit,'
a friend of Mahatmas, an intimate of the 'Rational Dress' set--you know,
who wear things like half inflated balloons in Piccadilly--a vegetarian,
a follower of Mrs. Besant, a drinker of hop bitters and Zozophine, a
Jacobite, a hater of false hair and of all collective action to stamp
out hydrophobia, a stamp-collector, an engager of lady-helps instead
of servants, an amateur reciter and skirt dancer, an owner of a lock of
Paderewski's hair--torn fresh from the head personally at a concert--an
admirer of George Bernard Shaw as a thinker but a hater of him as
a humourist, a rationalist and reader of _Punch_, an atheist and
table-turner, a friend of all who think that women don't desire to be
slaves, a homoeopathist and Sandowite, an enemy of babies--as if all
women didn't worship them!--a lover of cats--as if all women didn't hate
one another!--a--"

"One--one moment!" gasped the Prophet at this juncture. "Many of these
views are surely in opposition, in direct opposition to each other."

"I daresay. That doesn't matter in the least to a real silly woman such
as I am."

"And then you said that you proved by your actions instantly that--"

"So I did. I caught up a happy dog in the street, cried over its agony,
unmuzzled it and allowed it to add its little contribution to the joy
of life by mangling a passing archdeacon. I sat on the floor and handled
snakes. I wore my hair parted on one side and smoked a cigarette in a
chiffon gown. I refused food in a public restaurant because it had been
cooked by a Frenchman. I--"

"Enough! Enough!" cried the Prophet. "I understand. You forced Miss
Partridge's acquaintances to believe in Miss Partridge's folly. But who
were these acquaintances?"

"It would take me hours to tell you. First there was--"

"I really have to go at five."

"Then I'll finish about Sir Tiglath. He's an utterly sensible old man,
and so is different from all other old men, for you know human folly
increases enormously with age. Isn't that lovely? Now, Mr. Vivian, Sir
Tiglath admires me."

"Ah!"

"I know. You think that proves him the contrary of what I've said."

"Not at all!" exclaimed the Prophet, with frenzied courtesy, "not at
all!"

"Yes, you do. But you're wrong. He doesn't exactly admire my character,
but he likes me because I'm tall, and have pleasant coloured eyes,
and thick hair, and walk well, and know that he's really an unusually
sensible old man."

"Oh, is that it?"

"Yes. But now, if he could be made to think that I really am what I look
like--a thoroughly sensible young woman, he would more than admire me,
he would adore me."

"But if you wish him to?" asked the Prophet in blank amazement.

"I do."

"Why?"

"The Miss Minerva part of me desires it."

"Indeed."

"Yes. He's got to do one or two things for Miss Minerva without knowing
that I'm Miss Minerva. That is why I bolted into the parlour yesterday.
Just as I was stepping into Jellybrand's I happened to see Sir Tiglath
and he happened to think he saw me."

"Only to think?"

"Yes. He is not certain. I saw that by the expression of his face. He
was wondering whether I was me--or is it I?--or not. I didn't give him
time to be certain. I rushed into the parlour."

"You did."

"So it's all right. Frederick Smith would never betray a client."

"Really?"

"Never; so I'm saved. For Sir Tiglath isn't certain even now. I found
that out on the way home with him last night. And an old man who's
uncertain of the truth can soon be made certain of the lie, by a young
woman he admires, however sensible he is. And now I'll tell you part of
what I want Sir Tiglath to do for Miss Minerva--"

But at this moment the clock struck five, and the Prophet bounded up
with hysterical activity, and hastily took his leave, promising to call
again and hear more on the following day.

"And tell more," thought Lady Enid to herself as the door of the
sensible-looking boudoir shut behind him.



CHAPTER VIII

THE PROPHET RECEIVES HIS DIRECTIONS FROM MADAME

When the Prophet reached his door he rang the bell with a rather
faltering hand. Mr. Ferdinand appeared.

"Any one called, Mr. Ferdinand?" asked the Prophet with an attempt at
airy gaiety.

"Yes, sir," replied Mr. Ferdinand, looking rather like an elderly maiden
lady when she unexpectedly encounters her cook taking an airing with a
corporal in the Life Guards, "the pair of persons you expected, sir, has
come."

The Prophet blushed.

"Oh! You--you haven't disturbed Mrs. Merillia with them, I hope," he
rejoined.

"No, sir, indeed. Gustavus said your orders was that they was to be
shown quietly to the library."

"Exactly."

"I begged them to walk a-tiptoe, sir."

"What?" ejaculated the Prophet.

"I informed them there was illness in the house, sir."

"And did they--er--?"

"The male person got on his toes at once, sir, but the female person
shrieks out, 'Is it catching? Ho! Think of--of Capericornopus,' sir, or
something to that effect."

"Tch! Tch!"

"I took the liberty to say, sir, that ankles was not catching, and
that I would certainly think of Capericornopus if she would but walk
a-tiptoe."

"Well, and--"

"By hook and cook I got them to the library, sir. But the male person's
boots creaked awful. The getting on his toes, sir seemed to induce it,
as you might say."

"Yes, yes. So they're in the library?"

"They are, sir, and have been talking incessant, sir, ever since they
was put there. We can hear their voices in our hall, sir."

Mr. Ferdinand again pursed his lips and looked like an elderly lady. The
Prophet could no longer meet his eye.

"Bring some tea, Mr. Ferdinand, quietly to the library. And--and if Mrs.
Merillia should ask for me say I'm--say I'm busy--er--writing."

Mr. Ferdinand moved a step backward.

"Master Hennessey!" he cried in a choked voice. "I, a London butler, and
you ask me to--!"

"No, no. I beg your pardon, Mr. Ferdinand. Simply say I'm busy. That
will be quite true. I shall be--very busy."

"Yes, sir," said Mr. Ferdinand with a stern and at length successful
effort to conquer his outraged feelings.

He wavered heavily away to fetch the tea, while the Prophet, like a
guilty thing, stole towards the library. When he drew near to the door
he heard a somewhat resounding hubbub of conversation proceeding
within the chamber. He distinguished two voices. One was the hollow
and sepulchral organ of Malkiel the Second, the other was a heavy and
authoritative contralto, of the buzzing variety, which occasionally
gave an almost professional click--suggesting mechanism--as the speaker
passed from the lower to the upper register of her voice. As the Prophet
reached the mat outside the door he heard the contralto voice say,--

"How are we to know it really is only ankles?"

The voice of Malkiel the Second replied plaintively,--

"But the gentleman who opened the door and--"

The contralto voice clicked, and passed to its upper register.

"You are over fifty years of age," it said with devastating compassion,
"and you can still trust a gentleman who opens doors! _O sanctum
simplicitatus!_"

On hearing this sudden gush of classical erudition the Prophet must have
been seized by a paralysing awe, for he remained as if glued to the mat,
and made no effort to open the door and step into the room.

"If I am sanctified, Sophronia," said the voice of Malkiel, "I cannot
help it, indeed I can't. We are as we are."

"Did Bottom say so in his epics?" cried the contralto, contemptuously.
"Did Shakespeare imply that when he invented his immortal Bacon, or
Carlyle, the great Cumberland sage, when he penned his world-famed
'Sartus'?"

"P'r'aps not, my dear. You know best. Still, ordinary men--not that I,
of course, can claim to be one--must remain, to a certain extent, what
they are."

"Then why was Samuel Smiles born?"

"What, my love?"

"Why, I say? Where is the use of effort? Of what benefit was Plato's
existence to the republic? Of what assistance has the great Tracy Tupper
been if men must still, despite all his proverbs, remain what they are?
_O curum hominibus! O imitatori! Servus pecum!_"

At this point the voice of Mr. Ferdinand remarked in the small of the
Prophet's back,--

"Shall I set down the tea on the mat, sir, or--"

The Prophet bounded into the library, tingling in every vein. His
panther-like entrance evidently took the two conversationalists aback,
for Malkiel the Second, who had been plaintively promenading about the
room, still on his toes according to the behest of Mr. Ferdinand,
sat down violently on a small table as if he had been shot, while the
contralto voice, which had been sitting on a saddle-back chair by the
hearth, simultaneously bounced up; both these proceedings being
carried out with the frantic promptitude characteristic of complete and
unhesitating terror.

"I beg your pardon!" said the Prophet. "I hope I haven't disturbed you."

Malkiel the Second leaned back, the contralto voice leaned forward, and
both breathed convulsively.

"I really must apologise," continued the Prophet. "I fear I have
startled you."

His guests swallowed nothing simultaneously and mechanically drew out
their handkerchiefs. Then Malkiel feebly got up and the contralto voice
feebly sank down again.

"I--I thought I said sharp, sir," remarked Malkiel, at length, with a
great effort recovering himself.

"Wasn't I sharp?" returned the Prophet. "Will you present me?"

"Are you equal to it, my love?" inquired Malkiel, tenderly, to the
contralto voice.

The contralto voice nodded hysterically.

"Madame Sagittarius, sir," said Malkiel, turning proudly to the Prophet,
"my wife, the mother of Corona and Capricornus."

The Prophet bowed and the lady inclined herself, slightly protruding her
elbows as she did so, as if just to draw attention to the fact that she
was possessed of those appendages and could use them if necessary.

Madame Malkiel, or rather Madame Sagittarius, as she must for the
present be called, was a smallish woman of some forty winters. Her hair,
which was drawn away intellectually from an ample and decidedly convex
brow, was as black as a patent leather boot, and had a gloss upon it as
of carefully-adjusted varnish. Her eyes were very large, very dark and
very prominent. Her features were obstreperous and rippling, running
from right to left, and her teeth, which were shaded by a tiny black
moustache, gleamed in a manner that could scarcely be called natural.
She was attired in a black velvet gown trimmed with a very large
quantity of beadwork, a bonnet adorned with purple cherries, green
tulips and orange-coloured ostrich tips, a pelisse, to which bugles had
been applied with no uncertain hand, and an opal necklace. Her gloves
were of white, her boots of black kid, the latter being furnished with
elastic sides, and over her left wrist she carried a plush reticule,
whose mouth was kept shut by a tightly-drawn scarlet riband. On the left
side of her pelisse reposed a round bouquet of violets about the size of
a Rugby football.

"I thought you might like to have some tea," began the Prophet, in his
most soothing manner, while Mr. Ferdinand, with pursed lips, softly
arranged that beverage upon the seat which Mr. Sagittarius--so we must
call him--had just vacated.

"Thank you," said Madame Sagittarius, with dignity. "It would be
acceptable. The long journey from the banks of the Mouse to these
central districts is not without its fatigue. A beautiful equipage!"

"You said--"

"You have a very fine equipage."

"You have seen the brougham?" said the Prophet, in some surprise.

"What broom?" buzzed Madame Sagittarius.

"I thought you were admiring--"

"The tea equipage."

"Oh, yes, to be sure. Queen Anne silver, yes."

"A great woman!" said Madame Sagittarius, spreading a silk handkerchief
that exactly matched the ostrich tips in her bonnet carefully over
her velvet lap. "All who have read Mrs. Markham's work of genius with
understanding must hold her name in reverence. A noble creature! A pity
she died!"

"A great pity indeed!"

"Still we must remember that _Mors omnis communibus_. We must not forget
that."

"No, no."

"And after all it is the will of Providence. _Mors Deo_."

"Quite so."

During this classical and historical retrospect Mr. Ferdinand had
finished his task and quitted the apartment. As soon as he had gone
Madame Sagittarius continued,--

"As the mother of Corona and Capricornus I feel it my duty to ask you,
sir--that is, Mr.--"

"Vivian."

"Mr. Vivian, whether the illness in your house is really only ankles as
the gentleman who opened the door assured me?"

"It is only that."

"Not catching?"

"Oh, dear, no."

"There, Sophronia!" said Mr. Sagittarius. "I told you it was merely the
prophecy."

He suddenly assumed a formidable manner, and continued,--

"And now, sir, that we are alone--"

But Madame interrupted him.

"Kindly permit our host to succour my fatigue, Jupiter," she said
severely. "I am greatly upset by the journey. When I am restored we can
proceed to business. At present I am fit only for consolation."

Mr. Sagittarius subsided, and the Prophet hastily assisted the victim
of prolonged travel to some buttered toast. Having also attended to the
wants of her precipitate underling, he thought it a good opportunity to
proceed to a full explanation with the august couple, and he therefore
remarked, with an ingratiating and almost tender smile,--

"I think I ought to tell you at once that there will be no need for
any further anxiety on your part. I have put down my telescope and
have--well, in fact, I have decided once and for all to give up prophecy
for the future."

The Prophet, in his innocence, had expected that this declaration
of policy would exercise a soothing influence upon his guests, more
especially when he added--it is to be feared with some insincerity,--

"I have come to the conclusion that I overrated my powers, as amateurs
will, you know, and that I have never really possessed any special
talent in that direction. I think I shall take up golf instead, or
perhaps the motor car."

He spoke deliberately in a light-minded, even frivolous, manner, toying
airily with a sugar biscuit, as he leaned back in his chair, which stood
opposite to Madame Sagittarius's. To his great surprise his well-meaning
remarks were received with every symptom of grave dissatisfaction by
his illustrious companions. Madame Sagittarius threw herself suddenly
forward with a most vivacious snort, and her husband's face was
immediately overcast by a threatening gloom that seemed to portend some
very disagreeable expression of adverse humour.

"That won't do, sir, at this time of day!" he exclaimed. "You should
have thought of that yesterday. That won't do at all, will it, Madame?"

"_O miseris hominorum mentas_!" exclaimed that lady, tragically. "_O
pectorae caecae_!"

"You hear her, sir?" continued Mr. Sagittarius. "You grasp her meaning?"

"I do hear certainly," said the Prophet, beginning to feel that he
really must rub up his classics.

"She helps Capricornus, sir, of an evening. She assists him in his
Latin. Madame is a lady of deep education, sir."

"Quite so. But--"

"There can be no going back, sir," continued Mr. Sagittarius. "Can
there, Madame?"

"No human creature can go back," said Madame Sagittarius. "Such is the
natural law as exemplified by the great Charles Darwin in his _Vegetable
Mould and Silkworms_. No human creature can go back. Least of all this
gentleman. He must go forward and we with him."

The Prophet began to feel uncomfortable.

"But--" he said.

"There is no such word as 'but' in my dictionary," retorted the lady.

"Ah, an abridged edition, no doubt," said the Prophet. "Still--"

"I am better now," interposed Madame Sagittarius, brushing some crumbs
of toast from her pelisse with the orange handkerchief. "Jupiter, if you
are ready, we can explain the test to the gentleman."

So saying she drew a vinaigrette, set with fine imitation carbuncles,
from the plush reticule, and applied it majestically to her nose.
The Prophet grew really perturbed. He remembered his promise to his
grandmother and Sir Tiglath, and felt that he must assert himself more
strongly.

"I assure you," he began, with some show of firmness, "no tests will
be necessary. My telescope has already been removed from its position,
and--"

"Then it must be reinstated, sir," said Mr. Sagittarius, "and this very
night. Madame has hit upon a plan, sir, of searching you to the quick.
Trust a woman, sir, to do that."

"I should naturally trust Madame Sagittarius," said the Prophet, very
politely. "But I really cannot--"

"So you say, sir. Our business is to find out whether, living in
the Berkeley Square as you do, you can bring off a prophecy of any
importance or not. The future of myself, Madame and family depends upon
the results of the experiments which we shall make upon you during the
next few days."

The Prophet began to feel as if he were shut up alone with a couple of
determined practitioners of vivisection.

"Let's see, my dear," continued Mr. Sagittarius, addressing his wife,
"what was it to be?"

"The honored grandmother one," replied the lady, tersely.

The Prophet started.

"I cannot possibly consent--" he began.

"Pray, Mr. Vivian, listen to me," interposed Madame Sagittarius.

"Pray, sir, attend to Madame!" said Mr. Sagittarius, sternly.

"But I must really--"

"January," said Madame, "is a month of grave importance to grandmothers
this year, is it not, Jupiter?"

"Yes, my dear. In consequence of Scorpio being in the sign of
Sagittarius. The crab will be very busy up till the third of February."

"Just so."

"At which date the little dog, my love, assumes the roll of maleficence
towards the aged."

"I know. _Cane cavem_. When was the old lady born, Mr. Vivian, if you
please?"

"What old lady?" stammered the Prophet, beginning to perspire.

"The old lady who's got ankles, your honoured grandmother?"

"On the twentieth of this month. But--"

"At what time?"

"Six in the morning. But--"

"Under what star?"

"Saturn. But--"

"That's lucky, isn't it, Jupiter?" said Madame, in an increasingly
business-like manner. "That brings her into touch with the
Camelopard--doesn't it?"

"Into very close touch indeed, my dear, and also with the bull. He goes
right to her, as you may say."

"I cannot conceivably permit--" began the Prophet in much agitation.

But Madame, without taking the smallest notice of him, proceeded.

"Will the scorpion be round her on her birthday?"

"Close round her, my love--with the serpent. They work together."

"Together, do they? You know what effect they'll have on her, don't you,
Jupiter?"

"I should rather think so, my darling," replied Mr. Sagittarius, with an
air of profound and sinister information.

The Prophet's blood ran cold in his veins. Yet he felt for the moment
unable to utter a syllable, or even to make a gesture of protest.
So entirely detached from him did the worthy couple appear to be,
so completely wrapped up in their own evidently well-considered and
carefully-laid plans, that he had a sense of being in another sphere,
not theirs, of hearing their remarks from some distance off. Madame
Sagittarius now turned towards him in a formal manner, and continued.

"And now, Mr. Vivian, I shall have to lay down the procedure that you
will follow. Have you a good memory--no, a pencil and notebook will be
best. _Litterae scriptus manetur_, as we all know full well. Have you a
pencil and--?"

The Prophet nodded mechanically.

"Will you kindly get them?"

The Prophet rose, walked to his writing table and felt for the
implements.

"If you will sit down now I will direct you," continued Madame,
authoritatively.

The Prophet sat down at the table, holding a lead pencil upside down in
one hand and an account-book wrong side up in the other.

"Let's see--what's to-day?" inquired Madame, of her husband.

"The seventeenth, my dear," replied Mr. Sagittarius, looking at his wife
with almost sickly adoration.

"To be sure. Capricornus's day for Homer's Idyl. Very well, Mr. Vivian,
to-day being the seventeenth, and the old lady's birthday the twentieth,
you have three days, or rather nights, of steady work before you."

"Steady work?" murmured the Prophet.

"What should be his hours, Jupiter?" continued Madame. "At what time of
night is he to commence? Shall I say nine?"

The Prophet remembered feebly that, during the next three nights, he had
two important dinner-engagements, a party at the Russian Ambassador's,
and a reception at the Lord Chancellor's just opposite. However, he made
no remark. Somehow he felt that words were useless when confronted with
such an iron will as that of the lady in the pelisse.

"Nine would be too early, my dear," said Mr. Sagittarius. "Eleven p.m.
would be more to the purpose."

"Eleven let it be then, punctually. Will you dot down, Mr. Vivian, that
you have to be at the telescope to take observations at eleven p.m.
every night from now till the twentieth."

"But I have had the telesc--"

"Kindly dot it down."

The Prophet dotted it down with the wrong end of the pencil on the wrong
side of the account-book.

"And what are his hours to be exactly, Jupiter?" continued Madame. "From
eleven till dawn, I suppose?"

The Prophet shuddered.

"Eleven till three will be sufficient, my love. The crab, you know, has
pretty well done his London work by that time. And the old lady will
have to depend very much on the crab for these few nights."

At this point the Prophet's brain began to swim. Sparks seemed to float
before his eyes, and amid these sparks, nebulous and fragmentary visions
appeared, visions of his beloved grandmother companioned by scorpions
and serpents, in close touch with camelopards and bovine monsters, and,
in the last stress of terror and dismay, left entirely dependent
upon crustaceans for that help and comfort which hitherto her devoted
grandson had ever been thankful to afford.

"Oh, very well," replied Madame. "You will be able to get to bed at
three, Mr. Vivian. Dot that down."

"Thank you," murmured the Prophet, making a minute pencil scratch in the
midst of a bill for butcher's meat.

"During these hours--but you can tell him the rest, Jupiter."

So saying, and with an air of one retiring from business upon a
well-earned competence, Madame Sagittarius lay back in her chair,
settled her bonnet-strings, flicked a crumb from the football of violets
that decorated her left side, and, extending her kid boots towards
the cheerful blaze that came from the fire, fell with a sigh into a
comfortable meditation. Mr. Sagittarius, on the other hand, assumed
a look of rather hectoring authority, and was about to utter what the
Prophet had very little doubt was a command when there came a gentle tap
to the door.

"Come in," said the Prophet.

He thought he had spoken in his ordinary voice. In reality he had merely
uttered a very small whisper. The tap was repeated.

"Louder, sir, louder!" said Mr. Sagittarius, encouragingly.

"Come in!" shrieked the Prophet.

Mr. Ferdinand appeared, looking more like the elderly spinster lady when
confronted with the corporal in the Life Guards than ever.

"If you please, sir, I was to tell you that Lady Enid Thistle is with
Mrs. Merillia taking tea. Mrs. Merillia thought you would wish to know."

Madame Sagittarius took the kid boots from the blaze on hearing this
aristocratic name. Mr. Sagittarius assumed a look of reverence, and
the Prophet realised, more acutely than ever, that even well-born young
women can be inquisitive.

"Very well," he said. "Say I'll--I'll"--he succeeded in making his voice
sound absolutely firm--"I'll come in a moment."

"Yes, sir."

Mr. Ferdinand cast a glance of respectful, but unlimited, horror upon
the Prophet's guests and retired, while the Prophet, calling upon all
his manhood, turned to Mr. Sagittarius.

"I regret more than I can say that I shall be obliged now to obey
my grandmother's summons," he said courteously. "Suppose we defer
this--this pleasant little discussion to some future oc--"

"Impossible, sir!" cried Mr. Sagittarius. "Quite impossible. You must
get to work to-night, and how can you do it without your directions?"

"Oh, I can manage all right," said the Prophet, desperately. "I can give
a guess as to--"

"_Non sunt ad astrae mollibus a terrus viae_!" cried Madame. "The road
from Berkeley square to the stars is not so easy, is it, Jupiter?"

"No indeed, my love. Why--"

"Then," exclaimed the Prophet, much agitated, and feeling it incumbent
upon him to get rid of Mr. Sagittarius at once lest the curiosity of
Lady Enid should increase beyond all measure, and lead to an encounter
between the two clients of Jellybrand's, "then kindly give me my
directions as briefly as possible, and--"

There was another tap upon the door.

"What is it?" cried the Prophet, distractedly, "Come in!"

Mr. Ferdinand re-entered very delicately.

"Her ladyship can only stay a minute, sir. Mrs. Merillia hopes you can
leave your business--I said as you was very busy, sir--and come up to
the drawing-room."

"Yes, yes. I'll come. Say I'll come, Mr. Ferdinand."

"Yes, sir."

As the door closed the Prophet exclaimed excitedly,--

"I fear I really must--"

"Take down your directions, sir," broke in Mr. Sagittarius, firmly.

"Very well," rejoined the Prophet, desperately, seizing his pencil and
the account-book. "What are they?"

"You swear to follow them, sir?"

"Yes, yes, anything--anything!"

"Have you a star map?"

"Yes--no!"

"You must get one."

"Very well."

"You had better do so at the Stores."

Madame breathed an almost sensuous sigh which caused her husband to
glance tenderly towards her.

"I know, my love, I know," he said. "It may come some day."

"_O festum dies! Longa intervallam!_" she murmured, shaking her bonnet
with the manner of a martyr to duty.

Mr. Sagittarius was greatly moved.

"She's a saint," he whispered aside to the Prophet, as if imparting some
necessary information.

"Certainly. Please go on!"

Mr. Sagittarius started, as if suddenly recalled to mundane matters.

"Get it at the Stores," he said. "In the astronomical department."

"Very well."

"Having done so, and keeping the old lady perpetually in your mind, you
will place her in the claws of the crab--"

"What!"

"Mentally, sir, mentally, of course."

"Oh."

"And, allowing for the natural effect of the scorpion and serpent upon
one of her venerable age--"

"Good Heavens!"

"When close round her, as they will be--but you will observe that for
yourself--"

The Prophet shut his eyes as one who refuses to behold sacrilege.

"You will trace the cycloidal curve of the planets--can you do that?"

The Prophet nodded.

"As it affects her birthday, the twentieth. Should the lynx be near
her--"

"No, no!" cried the Prophet. "It shall not be!"

"Well, you'll have to find that out and keep an eye to it. But should
it be, you will commit to paper what result its presence is likely to
produce to her, and work the whole thing out clearly for myself and
Madame on paper--in prophetic form, of course--so that we receive it
by--what post shall I say, my dear?"

"First post, Jupiter."

"First post on--what day is the twentieth?"

"I don't know," replied the Prophet, helplessly.

"A Thursday," said Madame. "Capricornus's day for chronic sections."

"She always knows," said Mr. Sagittarius to the Prophet.

"Always."

"Very well then, first post Thursday morning. Now is that quite clear?"

"Oh, quite, quite."

"You will of course send the old lady's horoscope to us at the same time
with full particulars."

"Full particulars?" said the Prophet. "What of?"

"Of her removal from the bottle, cutting of her first tooth, short
coating, going into skirts, putting of the hair up, day of marriage and
widowhood, illnesses--"

"Especially the rashes, Jupiter," struck in Madame.

"What a mind!" said Mr. Sagittarius aside to the Prophet.

"What!"

"Especially as Madame says, any illnesses taking the form of a rash--the
epidemic form, as I may say--and so forth. We are to receive this
document by the first post Thursday morning."

"Have you dotted all that down, Mr. Vivian?" inquired Madame.

The Prophet hastily made a large variety of scratches with the lead
pencil.

"And now," continued Mr. Sagittarius.

There was a third tap at the door.

"Come in," cried the Prophet, distractedly, and feeling as if homicidal
mania were rapidly creeping upon him.

Mr. Ferdinand appeared once more, with a mouth like a purse.

"Her ladyship says she really must go in a moment, sir, and--and Mrs.
Merillia begs that--"

"I am coming at once, Mr. Ferdinand. I swear it. Go upstairs and swear I
swear it."

"Yes, sir."

Mr. Ferdinand departed, rather with the demeanour of an archbishop who
has been inveigled into pledging himself, on his archiepiscopal oath, to
commit some horrid crime. The Prophet turned, almost violently, towards
his guests.

"I must go," he cried. "I must indeed. Pray forgive me. You see how I am
circumstanced. Permit me to show you to the door."

"You swear, sir, to carry out all our directions and to dot down--"

"I do. I swear solemnly to dot down--if you will only--this way. Take
care of the mat."

"We trust you, Mr. Vivian," said Madame, with majestic pathos. "A wife,
a mother trusts you. _Placens uxus! Mater familiaris_."

"I pledge my honour. This is the--no, no, not that way, not that way!"

The worthy couple, by mistake, no doubt, were proceeding towards the
grand staircase, having missed the way to the hall door, and as the
Prophet, following them up with almost unimaginable activity, drew near
enough to drum the right direction into their backs, Lady Enid became
visible on the landing above. Mr. Sagittarius perceived her.

"Why, it's Miss Minerv--" he began.

"This way, this way!" cried the Prophet, wheeling them round and driving
them, but always like a thorough gentleman, towards the square.

"Then she leads a double life, too!" said Mr. Sagittarius, solemnly,
fixing his strained eyes upon the Prophet.

"She? Who?" said Madame, sharply.

She had not seen Lady Enid.

"All of us, my love, all of us," returned her husband, as the Prophet
succeeded in shepherding them on to the pavement.

"Good-bye," he cried.

With almost inconceivable rapidity he shut the door. As he did so
two vague echoes seemed to faint on his ear. One was male,
a dreamlike--"First post, Thursday!" The other was female, a
fairylike--"_Jactum alea sunt_."



CHAPTER IX

THE PROPHET BEGINS TO CARRY OUT HIS DIRECTIONS

"Mr. Ferdinand," said the Prophet the same evening, after he had dressed
for dinner, "what has become of the telescope?"

He spoke in a low voice, not unlike that of a confirmed conspirator, and
glanced rather furtively around him, as if afraid of being overheard.

"I have removed it, sir, according to your orders," replied Mr.
Ferdinand, also displaying some uneasiness.

"Yes, yes. Where have you placed it?"

"Well, sir, I understood you to say I might throw it in Piccadilly, if I
so wished."

The Prophet suddenly displayed relief.

"I see. You have done so."

"Well, no, sir."

The Prophet's face fell.

"Then where is it?"

"Well, sir, for the moment I have set it in the butler's pantry."

"Indeed!"

"I thought it might be of use there, sir," continued Mr. Ferdinand,
in some confusion, which, however, was not noticed by the Prophet. "Of
great use to--to Gustavus and me in--in our duties, sir."

"Quite so, quite so," returned the Prophet, abstractedly.

"Did you wish it to be taken to the drawing-room again, sir?"

The Prophet started.

"Certainly not," he said. "On no account. As you very rightly say--a
butler's pantry is the place for a telescope. It can be of great service
there."

His fervour surprised Mr. Ferdinand, who began to wonder whether, by
any chance, his master knew of the Lord Chancellor's agreeable-looking
second-cook. After pausing a moment respectfully, Mr. Ferdinand was
about to decamp when the Prophet checked him with a gesture.

"One moment, Mr. Ferdinand!"

"Sir?"

"One moment!"

Mr. Ferdinand stood still. The Prophet cleared his throat, arranged his
tie, and then said, with an air of very elaborate nonchalance,--

"At what time do you generally go to bed, Mr. Ferdinand, when you don't
sit up?"

"Sometimes at one time, sir, and sometimes at another."

"That's rather ambiguous."

"I beg pardon, sir."

"What is your usual hour for being quite--that is, entirely in bed."

"Entirely in bed, sir?"

Mr. Ferdinand's fine bass voice vibrated with surprise.

"Yes. Not partially in bed, but really and truly in bed?"

"Well, sir," returned Mr. Ferdinand, with decided dignity, "when I am in
bed, sir, I am."

"And when's that?"

"By twelve, sir."

"I thought as much," cried the Prophet, with slightly theatrical
solicitude. "You sit up too late, Mr. Ferdinand."

"I hope, sir, that I--"

"That's what makes you so pale, Mr. Ferdinand, and delicate."

"Delicate, sir!" cried Mr. Ferdinand, who had in fact been hopelessly
robust from the cradle, totally incapable of acquiring even the most
universal complaints, and, moreover, miraculously exempt from that
well-recognised affliction of the members of his profession so widely
known as "butler's feet."

"Yes," said the Prophet, emphatically. "You should be in bed, thoroughly
in bed, by a quarter to eleven. And Gustavus too! He is young, and the
young can't be too careful. Begin to-night, Mr. Ferdinand. I speak for
your health's sake, believe me."

So saying the Prophet hurried away, leaving Mr. Ferdinand almost as
firmly rooted to the Turkey carpet with surprise as if he had been woven
into the pattern at birth, and never unpicked in later years.

At ten that evening the Prophet, having escaped early from his dinner on
some extravagant plea of sudden illness or second gaiety, stood in the
small and sober passage of the celebrated Tintack Club and inquired
anxiously for Mr. Robert Green.

"Yes, sir. Mr. Green is upstairs in the smoke-room," said the
functionary whom the club grew under glass for the benefit of the
members and their friends.

"Sam, show this gentleman to Mr. Green."

Sam, who was a red-faced child in buttons, with a man's walk and the
back of one who knew as much as most people, obeyed this command, and
ushered the Prophet into a room with a sealing-wax red paper, in which
Robert Green was sitting alone, smoking a large cigar and glancing at
the "stony-broke edition" of an evening paper. He greeted the Prophet
with his usual unaffected cordiality, offered him every drink that had
yet been invented, and, on his refusal of them all, handed him a cigar
and a matchbox, and whistled "Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-av" at him in the most
friendly manner possible.

"Bob," said the Prophet, taking a very long time to light the cigar,
"what, in your opinion, is the exact meaning of the term honour?"

Mr. Green's cheerful, though slightly belated, face assumed an
expression of genial betwaddlement.

"Oh, well, Hen," he said, "exact meaning you know's not so easy.
But--hang it, we all understand the thing, eh, without sticking it down
in words. What?"

"I don't, Bob," rejoined the Prophet, in the tone of a man at odds with
several consciences. "In what direction does honour lie?"

"It don't lie at all, old chap," said Mr. Green, with the decided manner
which had made him so universally esteemed in yeomanry circles.

The Prophet began to look very much distressed.

"Look here, Bob, I'll put it in this way," he said. "Would an honourable
man feel bound to keep a promise?"

"Rather."

"Yes, but would he feel bound to keep two promises?"

"Rather, if he'd made 'em."

"Suppose he had!"

"Go ahead, Hen, I'm supposing," said Mr. Green, beginning to pucker
his brows and stare very hard indeed in the endeavour to keep the
supposition fixed firmly in his head.

"And, further, suppose that these two promises were diametrically
opposed to one another."

Mr. Green stuck out one leg, looked obliquely at the carpet, pressed his
lips together and nodded.

"So that if he fulfilled them both he'd have to break them both--"

"Stop a sec! Gad, I've lost it! Start again, Hen!"

"No, I mean so that if he didn't break one he would be forced to break
the other. Have you got that?"

"Stop a bit! Don't believe I have. Let's see!"

He moved his lips silently, repeating the Prophet's words.

"Yes. I've got that all right now," he said, after three minutes of
strenuous mental exertion.

"Well, what would you say of him?"

"That he was a damned fool."

The Prophet looked very much upset.

"No, no, Bob, I meant to him. What would you say to him?"

"That he was a damned fool."

The Prophet began to appear thoroughly broken down. However, he still
stuck to his interpellation.

"Very well, Bob," he said, with unutterable resignation--as of a toad
beneath the harrow--"but, putting all that aside--"

"Give us a chance, Hen! I've got to shunt all that, have I?"

"Yes, at least all you would say of, and to, the man."

"Oh, only that. Wait a bit! Yes, I've done that. Drive on now!"

"Putting all that aside, what should you advise the man to do?"

"Not to be such a damned fool again."

"No, no! I mean about the two promises?"

"What about 'em?"

"Which would his sense of honour compel him to keep?"

"I shouldn't think such a damned fool'd got a sense of honour."

The Prophet winced, but he stuck with feverish obstinacy to his point.

"Yes, Bob, he had."

"I don't believe it, Hen, 'pon my word I don't. You'll always find that
damned f--"

"Bob, I must beg you to take it from me. He had. Now which promise
should he keep?"

"Who'd he made 'em to?"

"Who?" said the Prophet, wavering.

"Yes."

"One to--to a very near and dear relative, the other to--well, Bob to
two comparative strangers."

"What sort of strangers."

"The sort of strangers who--who live beside a river, and who--who mix
principally with--well, in fact, with architects and their wives."

"Rum sort of strangers?"

"They are decidedly."

"Oh, then, you know 'em?"

"That's not the point," exclaimed the Prophet, hastily. "The point is
which promise is to be kept."

"I should say the one made to the relative. Wait a bit, though! Yes, I
should say that."

The Prophet breathed a sigh of relief. But some dreadful sense of
honesty within him compelled him to add,--

"I forgot to say that he'd pledged his honour to the architects--that
is, to the strangers who lived beside a river."

"What--and not pledged it to the relative?"

"Well, no."

"Then he ought to stick to the promise he'd pledged his honour over, of
course. Nice for the relative! The man's a damned fool, Hen. Do have a
drink, old chap."

Thus did Mr. Robert Green drive the Prophet to take the first decisive
step that was to lead to so many complications,--the step towards Mr.
Ferdinand's pantry.

At precisely a quarter to eleven p.m. the Prophet stood upon his
doorstep and, very gently indeed, inserted his latchkey into the door.
A shaded lamp was burning in the deserted hall, where profound silence
reigned. Clear was the night and starry. As the Prophet turned to close
the door he perceived the busy crab, and the thought of his beloved
grandmother, sinking now to rest on the second floor all unconscious of
the propinquity of the scorpion, the contiguity of the serpent, filled
his expressive eyes with tears. He shut the door, stood in the hall and
listened. He heard a chair crack, the ticking of a clock. There was no
other sound, and he felt certain that Mr. Ferdinand and Gustavus had
heeded his anxious medical directions and gone entirely to bed betimes,
leaving the butler's pantry free for the nocturnal operations of the
victim of Madame. For he recognised that she was the guiding spirit of
the family that dwelt beside the Mouse. He might have escaped out of
the snare of Mr. Sagittarius, but Madame was a fowler who would hold
him fast till she had satisfied herself once and for all whether it were
indeed possible to dwell in the central districts, within reach of the
Army and Navy heaven in Victoria Street, and yet remain a prophet. Yes,
he must now work for the information of her ambitious soul. He sighed
deeply and went softly up the stairs. His chamber was on the same floor
as Mrs. Merillia's, and, as he neared her door, he rose instinctively
upon his toes and, grasping the tails of his evening coat firmly with
his left hand, to prevent any chance rustling of their satin lining, and
bearing his George the Third silver candlestick steadily to control any
clattering of its extinguisher, he moved on rather like a thief who
was also a trained ballerina, holding his breath and pressing his lips
together in a supreme agony of dumbness.

Unluckily he tripped in the raised pattern of the carpet, the
candlestick uttered a silver note, his pent-in breath escaped with a
loud gulp, and Mrs. Merillia's delicate voice cried out from behind her
shut door,--

"Hennessey! Hennessey!"

The Prophet bit his lip and went at once into her room.

Mrs. Merillia looked simply charming in bed, with her long and elegant
head shaded by a beautiful muslin helmet trimmed with lace, and a
delicious embroidered wrapper round her shoulders. The Prophet stood
beside her, shading the candle-flame with his hand.

"Well, grannie, dear," he said, "what is it? You ought to be asleep."

"I never sleep before twelve. Have you had a pleasant dinner?"

"Very. Stanyer Phelps, the American, was there and very witty. And we
had a marvellous _supreme de volaille_. Everybody asked after you."

Mrs. Merillia nodded, like an accustomed queen who receives her due. She
knew very well that she was the most popular old woman in London, knew
it too well to think about it.

"Well, good-night, grannie."

The Prophet bent to kiss her, his heart filled with compunction at the
thought of the promise he was about to break. It seemed to him almost
more than sacrilegious to make of this dear and honoured ornament of
old age a vehicle for the satisfaction of the vulgar ambitions and
disagreeable curiosity of the couple who dwelt beside the Mouse.

"Good-night, my dear boy."

She kissed him, then added,--

"You like Lady Enid, don't you?"

"Very much."

"So does Robert Green. He thinks her such a thoroughly sensible girl."

"Bob! Does he?" said the Prophet, concealing a slight smile.

"Yes. If you want her to get on with you, Hennessey, you should come up
to tea when she is here."

"I couldn't to-day, grannie."

"You were really busy?"

"Very busy indeed."

"I suppose you only saw her for a moment on the stairs?"

"That was all."

It was true, for Lady Enid had scarcely stayed to speak to the Prophet,
having hurried out in the hope of discovering who were the "two parties"
he had been entertaining on the ground floor.

Mrs. Merillia dropped the subject.

"Good-night, Hennessey," she said. "Go to bed at once. You look quite
tired. I am so thankful you have given up that horrible astronomy."

The Prophet did not reply, but, as he went out of the room, he knew, for
the first time, what criminals with consciences feel like when they are
engaged in following their dread profession.

As he walked across the landing he heard a clock strike eleven. He
started, hastened into his room, tore off his coat, replaced it with
a quilted smoking-jacket, sprang lightly to his table, seized a
planisphere, or star-map, which he had succeeded in obtaining that
night from a small working astronomer's shop in the Edgeware Road,
and, mindful of the terms of his oath and the decided opinion of Robert
Green, scurried hastily, but very gingerly, down the stairs. This time
Mrs. Merillia did not hear him. She had indeed become absorbed in a new
romance, written by a very rising young Montenegrin who was just then
making some stir in the literary circles of the elect.

Very surreptitiously the Prophet tripped across the hall and reached
the stout door which gave access to the servants' quarters. But here he
paused. Although he had lived in Mrs. Merillia's most comfortable home
for at least fifteen years, he had actually never once penetrated
beyond this door. It had never occurred to him to do so. Often he had
approached it. Quite recently, when Mrs. Fancy Quinglet had broken
into tears on the refusal of Sir Tiglath Butt to burst according to
her prediction, he had handed her to this very portal. But he had never
passed through it, nor did he know what lay beyond. No doubt there was
a kitchen, very probably the mysterious region of watery activities
commonly known as a scullery, quite certainly a butler's pantry. But
where each separate sanctum lay, and what should be the physiognomy of
each one the Prophet had not the vaguest idea. As he turned the handle
of the door he felt like Sir Henry Stanley, when that intrepid explorer
first set foot among the leafy habitations of the dwarfs.

As the door opened the Prophet found himself in a large apartment whose
walls were decorated with the efforts of those great painters who feed
the sentimental imaginations of the masses in the beautiful Christmas
numbers of our artistic day. Enchanting little girls and exceedingly
human dogs observed his entrance from every hand, while such penetrating
and suggestive legends as "Don't bite!" "Mustn't!" "Naughty!" "Would
'ums?" and the like, filled his mind with the lofty thoughts so suitable
to the Christmas season. Over the mantelpiece was a _Cook's Almanac for
the Home_, decorated in bright colours, a _Butler's own book_, bound
in claret-coloured linen, and a large framed photograph of Francatelli,
that immortal _chef_ whose memory is kept green in so many kitchens, and
whose recipes are still followed as are followed the footprints of the
great ones in the Everlasting Sands of Time. One corner of the room
Gustavus had made his own, and here might be seen his tasteful what-not
and his little library--neatly arranged unabridged farthing editions
of Drummond's _Ascent of Man_, Mill's _Liberty_, Crampton's _Origin of
Self-Respect_, Barlow's _A Philosophical Examination into the Art and
Practice of Tipping and Receiving Tips_, and other volumes suitable
for an intellectual footman's reading. An eight-day clock, which was
carefully and lovingly wound up by the prudent Mrs. Fancy Quinglet every
morning and evening, snored peacefully in a recess by the hearth, and,
from a crevice near the window, the bright, intelligent eyes of a couple
of well-developed black-beetles--mother and son--contentedly surveyed
the cheerful scene.

The Prophet, after a moment's pause of contemplation, passed on through
a swing door, covered with green baize, and down some stairs to the
inner courts of this interesting region. This time he came to anchor in
a room which, he thought, might well have been a butler's pantry had it
contained a large-sized telescope. It was in fact the parlour set apart
for the use of the kitchen and scullery maids, and was brightly fitted
up with a dresser, a cupboard for skewers, a rolling-pin, a basting
machine, and other similar adjuncts. It gave on to the kitchen, in which
the cat of the house was enjoying well-earned slumber in the attitude of
a black ball. So far his exploring tour had quite fulfilled the rather
vague expectations of the Prophet, but he now began to feel anxious.
Time was passing on and he had sworn to be at the telescope by eleven
sharp. He had, therefore, already slightly fractured his oath, and he
had no desire to earn the anathema of all such men as Robert Green by
breaking it into small pieces. Where was the butler's pantry? He glanced
eagerly round the kitchen, perceived a door, passed through it, and
found himself confronted by a sink. He had gained the scullery, but not
his goal. To the right of the sink was yet another door through which
the Prophet, who carried the planisphere in one hand, the George the
Third candlestick in the other, rather excitedly debouched into a
good-sized passage. As he did so he heard the muffled alto voice of the
eight-day clock proclaim that it was a quarter-past eleven. Feeling that
he was now upon the point of breaking both the promises of the damned
fool, the Prophet hastened along the passage, darted through the first
outlet, and found himself abruptly face to back with what appeared at
first glance to be an enormously broad and bow-legged dwarf, with a bald
head and a black tail coat, which, in an attitude of savage curiosity,
was gazing through a gigantic instrument, whose muzzle projected from an
open window into a spacious area. So great was the Prophet's surprise,
so supreme the shock to his whole nervous system occasioned by this
unexpected encounter, that he did not utter a cry. His amazement carried
him into that terrible region which lies beyond the realms of speech.
He simply stood quite still and gazed at the bow-legged dwarf, which,
in its turn, continued to gaze savagely through the gigantic instrument
into the area. Not for perhaps three or four minutes did the Prophet
realise that this dwarf was merely an ingeniously shortened form of Mr.
Ferdinand, who, with his legs very wide apart, and making two accurate
right angles at their respective knee-joints, his head thrown well
back, and his arms arranged in two perfect capital V's, with the elbows
pointing directly at the walls on either side of him, had been busily
engaged for the last hour and a quarter in trying to focus firstly the
Lord Chancellor's house on the opposite side of the square, and secondly
the pleasant-looking second-cook in it. That his chivalrous efforts had
not yet been crowned with complete success will be understood when we
say that he had seen during his first half-hour of contemplation nothing
at all, during his second half-hour the left-hand top star of the Great
Bear, and finally the fourth spike from the end of the iron railing
which enclosed the square garden, at which he had been gazing closely
for precisely fifteen minutes and a half when the Prophet darted into
the pantry.

Having at length recovered from his shock of surprise sufficiently to
realise that the enormous and immobile dwarf was Mr. Ferdinand, and that
Mr. Ferdinand was not yet aware of his presence, the Prophet resolved
to beat a rapid and noiseless retreat. He carried this resolve into
execution by turning sharply round, knocking his head against a plate
chest, firing the George the Third candlestick into the passage, and
letting the planisphere go into the china jar of "Butler's own special
pomade" which Mr. Ferdinand kept always open for use upon the pantry
table.

To say that Mr. Ferdinand ceased from looking through the telescope for
the Lord Chancellor's second-cook at this juncture would, perhaps, not
convey quite a fair idea of the activity which he could on occasion
display even at his somewhat advanced age. It might be more just to
state that, without wasting any precious time in useless elongation, he
described an exceedingly rapid circular movement, still preserving the
shortened form of himself which had so deceived and startled his master,
and brought his eye from the orifice of the telescope to a level with
the Prophet's knees exactly at the moment when the Prophet rebounded
from the plate chest into the centre of the apartment.

"Oh, is it you, Mr. Ferdinand?" said the Prophet, controlling every
symptom of anguish, with the exception of a rapid flutter of the
eyelids. "I was looking for--for a bradawl."

The Prophet's choice of this useful little implement as the reason for
his presence in Mr. Ferdinand's special sanctum was prompted by the fact
that, just as he was speaking, he happened to see a bradawl lying upon a
neighbouring knife cupboard in the company of a corkscrew.

"And here, I see, is just what I want," he added calmly.

So far he had displayed extraordinary composure, but at this point he
made a slight mistake, for he picked up the corkscrew and sauntered
quietly away with it into the darkness, leaving Mr. Ferdinand still in
the attitude of a Toby jug, the planisphere still head downwards in
the butler's own special pomade, and the George the Third candlestick
stretched at full length upon the passage floor.



CHAPTER X

THE PROPHET AND MALKIEL THE SECOND CONVERSE BY TELEGRAM

"Hennessey Vivian, 1000 Berkeley Square, W.

"Please wire result of last night's observations from eleven till three
inclusive.--Sagittarius."

"Jupiter Sagittarius, Sagittarius Lodge, Crampton St. Peter, N.

"Impossible wire result, will write at length after taking further
observations to-night.--Vivian."

"Certainly write at length, but meanwhile wire all important results in
condensed form.--Sagittarius."

"Results not sufficiently important to wire, letter without fail
to-morrow.--Vivian."

"Never mind unimportance, wire whatever results obtained.--Sagittarius."

"On consideration think results too important to wire, will explain by
letter.--Vivian."

"Your second and third wires in direct contradiction; kindly reconcile
opposing statements.--Sagittarius."

"Cannot reconcile by wire, will do so by letter.--Vivian."

"Then meanwhile request forecast of grandmother so far as gathered last
night.--Sagittarius."

"Quite impossible discuss grandmother by wire.--Vivian."

"Not at all; couch in careful terms, shall understand; no need put
grandmother's name.--Sagittarius."

"Quite impossible; grandmother too sacred for treatment by wire, long
and full letter to-morrow.--Vivian."

"Absurd! Call her Harry and wire her future as obtained last night;
shall understand.--Sagittarius."

"Cannot possibly consent call grandmother Harry; pray cease;
succession of telegraph boys to house attracting general attention in
square.--Vivian."

"Must insist; then call her Susan and wire.--Sagittarius."

"Cannot possibly consent to call her Susan; discussion of such matter by
wire not decent; regret must absolutely decline.--Vivian."

"Madame and self insulted by accusation not decent; demand explanation
and apology.--Sagittarius."

"Regret; no desire give pain to lady, but this must cease; grandmother
and square seriously upset by procession of telegraph boys.--Vivian."

"Cannot help square and grandmother; must have last night's result
to compare with own observation of grandmother with crab and
scorpion.--Sagittarius."

"Pray cease; would rather die than discuss grandmother with crab and
scorpion by wire.--Vivian."

"Rubbish! Call crab Susan, scorpion Jane, grandmother Harry, and wire;
absolutely insist.--Sagittarius."

"Absolutely decline discuss crab, scorpion and grandmother by wire;
final.--Vivian.

"Scandalous! not behaviour of gentleman; Madame cut to heart;
infamous.--Sagittarius."

"Mater familiaris pallidibus ira.--Madame Sagittarius."

"If receive no reply as to grandmother and crab, et cetera, shall start
at once for Square.--Jupiter and Madame Sagittarius."

"On no account trouble come up; going out immediately; important
engagement.--Vivian."

"Madame putting on boots.--Sagittarius."

"Utterly useless put on boots; leaving house.--Vivian."

"Madame boots on; tying bonnet.--Sagittarius."

"Totally useless tie bonnet; absolutely forced leave house.--Vivian."

"Madame in pelisse; shall come in wait till your return.--Sagittarius."

"Regret pelisse; quite useless; out till late evening.--Vivian."

"Shall stay till whatever hour; have on hat and bonnet now;
starting.--Jupiter and Madame Sagittarius."

"For Heaven's sake don't; will wire whatever you wish.--Vivian."

"Don't. Ankles perhaps catching; dangerous Capricornus.--Vivian."

"Have you started?--Vivian."

"Have not started, but at threshold of door; wire full explanation
of crab with grandmother, et cetera, last night or shall start
instanter.--Jupiter and Madame Sagittarius."

"Truth is very little result last night; did not see crab with
grandmother; deeply regret.--Vivian."

"Then wire result of scorpion with grandmother.--Sagittarius."

"Very sorry did not see scorpion with grandmother.--Vivian."

"Impossible; believe stars out; clear sky; self and Madame
distinctly observed crab and scorpion with grandmother for four
hours.--Sagittarius."

"On honour did not see crab, scorpion or grandmother.--Vivian."

"Then has grandmother passed over?--Sagittarius."

"Certainly not, but no result; pray cease discussion, grandmother and
square distracted by incessant uproar of boys at door.--Vivian."

"Leaving house; with you as soon as possible.--Jupiter and Madame
Sagittarius."

"Heaven's sake don't; tell truth; did not look through telescope at all
last night.--Vivian."

"What meaning of this swore oath broken; no gentleman; coming at once
for explanation.--Jupiter and Madame Sagittarius."

"Stop; sending boy messenger with full explanation; severe accident
last night, injured head, so unable look for crab, grandmother and
scorpion.--Vivian."

"Astounded, upset, Madame says not conduct gentleman; might have seen
crab, grandmother and scorpion with injured head; mere excuse--caput
mortuus decrepitum cancer.--Sagittarius."

"Pray excuse; look to-night without fail; Heaven's sake cease writing;
grandmother and whole square amazement, confusion; shall go mad if
continues.--Vivian."

"Very well, but insist on full letter; confidence in oath much
shaken; wires most shifty; gross neglect of crab, grandmother and
scorpion.--Sagittarius."

"Homo miserum sed magnum est veritatus et praevalebetur.--Madame
Sagittarius."



CHAPTER XI

MISS MINERVA OPENS HER BOOK OF REVELATION IN A CAB

"Assure the Lord Chancellor that the last boy has been and gone--gone
away, that is, Mr. Ferdinand, and that I pledge my sacred word not to
have another telegram to-day."

"Yes, sir. His lordship desired that you should be informed that,
according to the law regulating public abominations and intolerable
street noises, you was liable to--"

"I know, I know."

"And that, by the Act dealing with gross offences against the
public order and scandalous crimes against the peace of metropolitan
communities, you was amenable--"

"Exactly. Go to his lordship and swear--"

"I couldn't do that so soon again, sir, really. I swore only as short
ago as yesterday, sir, by your express order, but--"

"I mean asseverate to his lordship that the very last boy has knocked
for the very last time."

"It wasn't so much the knocking, sir, his lordship complained of, as
the boys coming to the door meeting the boys going away from it, and
blocking up the pavement, sir, so that no one could get past and--"

"Yes, yes. Go and asseverate at once, Mr. Ferdinand."

"Very well, sir. And Her Grace, the Duchess of Camberwell, who is
passing from one fit to another, sir, from fright at the uproar and
telegrams going to the wrong house, sir?"

"Implore Her Grace to have courage and to trust me as a gentleman when I
promise solemnly that the knocking shall not be renewed."

"Very well, sir."

"Mr. Ferdinand!"

"Sir?"

"Have the knockers swathed in cotton-wool at once."

"Yes, sir."

"And--fix a bulletin on the door. Wait! I'll write it."

The Prophet hastened to his writing table and, with a hand that trembled
violently, wrote on a card as follows:--

"Owner of this house seriously ill, pray do not knock or _death_ shall
certainly ensue."

"There! Poor grannie will have peace now. Nail that up, Mr. Ferdinand,
under the cotton-wool."

"Very well, sir. Mrs. Merillia, sir, would be glad to speak to you for a
moment. You remember I informed you?"

"I'll go to her at once. But first bring me a glass of brandy, Mr.
Ferdinand. I'm feeling extremely unwell."

And the Prophet, who was paler far than ashes, and beaded from top to
toe with perspiration, sank down feebly upon a chair and let his head
drop on the blotting-pad that lay on his writing-table.

When he had swallowed an inch or two of cognac he got up, pulled himself
together with both hands, and walked, like an elderly person afflicted
with incipient locomotor ataxy, upstairs into the drawing-room where
Mrs. Merillia was lying on a sofa, ministered to by Fancy Quinglet, who,
at the moment of his entrance, was busily engaged in stuffing a large
wad of cotton-wool into the right ear of her beloved mistress.

"Leave us please, Fancy," said Mrs. Merillia, in a voice that sounded
much older than usual. "And as your head is so bad, too, you had better
lie down."

"Thank you, ma'am. If I keep upright, ma'am, I feel my head will split
asunder. I can't speak different nor feel other."

"Then don't be upright."

"No, ma'am. Them that feels other, let them declare it!" and Mrs. Fancy
retired, holding both hands to her temples, and uttering very distinctly
sundry stifled moans.

Mrs. Merillia motioned the Prophet to a chair, and, after lying quite
still for about five minutes with her eyes tightly shut, said in a weak
tone of voice,--

"How many more telegrams do you expect, Hennessey? You have had
twenty-seven within the last three hours. Can you give me a rough
general idea of the average number you anticipate will probably arrive
every hour from now till the offices close?"

"Grannie, grannie, forgive me! I assure you--"

"Don't be afraid to tell me, Hennessey. It is much better to know
the worst, and fact it bravely. Will the present average be merely
sustained, or do you expect the quantity to increase towards night?
because if so--"

"Grannie, there will be no more. I swear to you solemnly that I will
not have another telegram to-day. I will not upon my sacred honour.
Nothing--not wild horses even--shall induce me."

"Horses! Then were they racing tips, Hennessey? Yes, give me the _eau de
Cologne_ and fan me gently. Were they racing tips?"

"Oh, grannie, how could you suppose--"

At this moment Mr. Ferdinand entered softly and went up to Mrs.
Merillia.

"Mr. Q. Elisha Hubsbee, ma'am. He is deeply distressed and asks for news
. . ."

"The Central American Ambassador's grandfather," said Mrs. Merillia,
reading the card which Mr. Ferdinand handed to her.

"Shocked to hear you are so ill that a knock will finish you. Guess
you must be far gone. Earnest sympathy. Have you tried patent morphia
molasses?

"Q. E. H."


"Ah! how things get about! Tell Mr. Elisha Hubsbee the knocks have
nearly killed us all, Mr. Ferdinand, but we are bearing up as well as
can be expected. If necessary we will certainly try the molasses."

"Yes, ma'am."

"It is two o'clock now, Hennessey. The Charing Cross office is open till
midnight, I believe, so at the present rate you should only have about
ninety more telegrams to-day. But if you have reason to expect--"

Mr. Ferdinand re-entered.

"Mrs. Hendrick Marshall has called, ma'am. She desired me to say she was
passing the door and was much horrified to find that you are so near the
point, ma'am."

"What point, Mr. Ferdinand?"

"Of death, ma'am. She had no idea at all, ma'am."

"Oh, thank Mrs. Hendrick Marshall, Mr. Ferdinand, and say we shall try
to keep from the point for the present.

"Yes, ma'am."

"--That the numbers will go up as the afternoon draws on, Hennessey--"

"Grannie, haven't I sworn, and have you ever known me to tell you a--"

Suddenly the Prophet stopped short, thinking how that very night he
would be forced by his oath to "Madame and self" to break his promise
to his grandmother, how already it would have been broken had not Mr.
Ferdinand on the previous night been in possession of the telescope.

"The Chancellor of the Exchequer, ma'am, desires his compliments, and
he begs you to last out, if possible, till he has fetched Sir William
Broadbent to see you. He is going there on his bike, ma'am, and had no
conception you was dying till he knew it this moment, ma'am."

"Thank the Chancellor, Mr. Ferdinand, and say that though we must all go
out some day I have no desire for a dissolution at present, and shall do
my best to prove myself worthy of my constitution."

"Yes, ma'am."

Mr. Ferdinand retired, brushing away a tear.

"It would not be feasible, I suppose, Hennessey, to station Gustavus
permanently at the telegraph office with a small hamper, so that he
might collect the wires in it as they arrive and convey them here, once
an hour or so, entering by the area door. I thought perhaps that might
obviate--"

Mr. Ferdinand once more appeared, looking very puffy about the eyes.

"If you please, ma'am, La--ady Julia Pos--ostlethwaite is below, and
asks whe--ether you are truly going ma'am?"

"Going? Where to, Mr. Ferdinand?"

"The other pla--ace, ma'am. Her ladyship is crying something
terrible, ma'am, and says, till she no--no--noticed the fact she had
no--no--notion you was leaving us so soon, ma'am."

Here Mr. Ferdinand uttered a very strange and heartrending sound that
was rather like the bark of a dog with a bad cold in its head.

"It is really very odd so many people finding out so soon!" said Mrs.
Merillia in some surprise. "Tell her ladyship, Mr. Ferdinand, that--"

But at this moment there was the sound of feet on the stairs, and Lady
Enid Thistle hurried into the room, closely followed by Mr. Robert
Green. Lady Enid went up at once to Mrs. Merillia.

"I am so shocked and distressed to see your news, dear Mrs. Merillia,"
she cried affectionately. "But," she added, with much inquisitiveness,
"is it really true that if anyone tapped on the door you would certainly
die? How can you be so sure of yourself."

"What do you mean? Ah, Mr. Green, how d'you do? See my news!"

"Yes, written up on the front door. Everyone's shocked."

"Rather!" said Mr. Green, gazing at Mrs. Merillia with confused
mournfulness. "One doesn't see death on a front door every day, don't
you know, in big round hand too, and then one of those modern words."

"Death on the front door in big round hand!" said Mrs. Merillia in the
greatest perplexity.

"I put it there, grannie," said the Prophet, humbly. "I wrote that if
another boy knocked, death would certainly ensue."

"Ensue. That's it. I knew it was one of those modern words," said Mr.
Green.

"Another boy?" said Lady Enid. "Why should another boy knock?"

"Hennessey receives about nine telegrams an hour," answered Mrs.
Merillia.

"Really!"

Lady Enid looked at him with keen interest, while Mrs. Merillia
continued,--

"You had better take death off the door now, Mr. Ferdinand. I feel more
myself. Please thank her ladyship and tell her so."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Nine telegrams an hour!" repeated Lady Enid. "Mr. Vivian, would
you mind just seeing me as far as Hill Street? Bob has to go to
Tattersall's."

"Have I, Niddy?" asked Mr. Green, with evident surprise.

"Yes, to pick up a polo pony. Don't you recollect?"

"A polo pony, was it? By Jove!"

"I will come with pleasure," said the poor Prophet, who felt fit only to
lie down quietly in his grave. "If you don't mind being left, grannie?"

Mrs. Merillia was looking pleased.

"No, no. Go with Lady Enid, my dear boy. If any telegrams come shall I
open--"

"No," cried the Prophet, with sudden fierce energy. "For mercy's sake--I
mean, grannie, dear; that none will come. If they should"--his ordinary
gentle eyes flamed almost furiously--"Mr. Ferdinand is to burn them
unread--yes, to ashes. I will tell him." And he escorted Lady Enid
tumultuously downstairs, missing his footing at every second step.

In the square they parted from Mr. Green, who said,--

"Good-bye, Niddy, old girl. What do I want to pick up at Tattersall's?"

"A polo pony, Bob," she answered firmly.

"Oh, a polo pony. Thanks, Chin, chin, Hen. Polo pony is it?"

He strode off, whistling "She wore a wreath of roses" in a puzzled
manner, but still preserving the accepted demeanour of a bulwark.

As soon as Mr. Green was out of sight Lady Enid said,--

"We aren't going to Hill Street."

"Aren't we?" replied the Prophet, feebly.

"No. I must see Sir Tiglath Butt to-day. I want you to take me to his
door."

"Where is his door?"

"In Kensington Square. Do you mind hailing a four-wheeler. We can talk
privately there. No one will hear us."

The Prophet hailed a growler, wondering whether they would be able to
hear each other. As they got in Lady Enid, after giving the direction,
said to the cabman, who was a short person, with curling ebon whiskers,
a broken-up expression and a broken-down manner:

"Drive slowly, please and I'll give you an extra six-pence."

"Lydy?"

"Drive slowly, and I'll give you another six-pence."

"How did yer think I was gawing to drive, lydy?"

"I wonder why cabmen are always so interested in one's inmost thoughts,"
said Lady Enid, as the horse fell down preparatory to starting.

"I wonder."

"I hope he will go slowly."

"He seems to be doing so."

At this point the horse, after knocking on the front of the cab with his
hind feet ten or a dozen times, got up, hung his head, and drew a large
number of deep and dejected breaths.

"Am I gawing slowly enough, lydy?" asked the cabman, anxiously.

"Yes, but you can let him trot along now."

"Right, lydy, I ain't preventing of him."

As eventually they scrambled slowly forward in the Kensington direction,
Lady Enid remarked,--

"Why don't you have them sent to Jellybrand's?"

"Have what?" asked the Prophet.

"Your telegrams. The messages from your double life. I do."

"But I assure you--"

"Mr. Vivian, it's useless really. I find you hidden away in the inner
room of Jellybrand's with Mr. Sagittarius, closely guarded by Frederick
Smith; fourpenny champagne--"

"Four bob--shilling, I mean."

"Oh, was it?--Upon the table. After I've been poisoned, and we are
leaving, Mr. Sagittarius calls after you such expressions as 'Banks of
the Mouse--hear from me--marrow--architects and the last day.' You are
obviously agitated by these expressions. We reach your house. I find
you have been prophesying through a telescope. The name of Malkiel--a
well-known prophet--is mentioned. You turn pale and glance at me
imploringly, as if to solicit my silence. I am silent. The next day you
announce that you are going to have two afternoon parties."

"No, no, not afternoon! I never said afternoon!" interposed the Prophet,
frantically, as the horse fell down again in order to earn the extra
sixpence.

"Well, two parties in the afternoon. It's the same thing. You say they
are odd. You yourself acknowledge it. You tell me you have secrets."

"Did I?"

"Yes. When I said I had guessed your secret you replied, 'Which one?'"

"Oh!" murmured the Prophet, trying not to say "come in!" to the horse,
which was again knocking with both feet upon the front of the cab.

"You go home. I call during the afternoon, and find that you are
entertaining all your guests in your own little room and that your
grandmother knows nothing of it and believes you to be working. As I
am leaving I see the backs of two of your guests. One is a pelisse, the
other a spotted collar. As I near them they mount into a purple omnibus
on which is printed in huge letters, _'To the "Pork Butcher's Rest'_--"

"No! No!" ejaculated the Prophet, pale with horror at this revelation.

"_Rest_, Crampton Vale, N. I lose them in the shadows. The next day
I call and find your grandmother is dying from the noise made by boys
bringing you private telegrams. And then you tell me, me--Minerva
Partridge--that you have no double life! Yes, you can let him get up
now, please."

The cabman permitted the horse to do so and they again struggled
funereally forward. The Prophet was still very pale.

"I suppose it is useless to--very well," he said. "My life is double."

"Ah!"

"But only lately, quite lately."

"Never mind that. Oh! How glad I am that you have had the courage
too! You will soon get into it, as I did. But you should have all your
telegrams and so forth directed to Jellybrand's."

"It's too late," replied the Prophet, dejectedly. "Too late. I do wish
that horse wouldn't fall down so continually! It's most monotonous."

"The poor man naturally wants the extra sixpence. I think I shall give
him a shilling. But now who is Mr. Sagittarius?"

"Who is he?"

"Yes. I've seen him several times at Jellybrand's, and when I first met
him I though he was an outside broker."

"You! Was it on the pier at Margate?"

"Certainly not! Really, Mr. Vivian! even in my double life I
occasionally draw the line."

"I beg your pardon. I--the horse confuses me."

"Well, he's stopped knocking now and will be up in another minute. Who
did you say Mr. Sagittarius was?"

"I didn't say he was anybody, but he's a man."

"I'd guessed that."

"And an acquaintance of mine."

"Yes?"

"I'm afraid it's going to rain."

"It generally does in Knightsbridge. Yes?"

"Is Sir Tiglath likely to be in?"

"He knows I'm coming. Well, you haven't told me who Mr. Sagittarius is."

"Lady Enid," said the Prophet, desperately, "I know very little of Mr.
Sagittarius beyond the fact that he's a man, which I've already informed
you of."

"Is he an outside broker?"

"No."

"Then he's Malkiel. You can't deny it."

"I can deny anything," said the Prophet, who, already upset by the
events of the day, was now goaded almost to desperation. "I can and--and
must. There's the horse down again!"

"I shall have to give the man one and sixpence. Are your going to keep
your promise to Mrs. Merillia and Sir Tiglath?"

To this question the Prophet determined to give a direct answer, in
order to draw Lady Enid away from the more dangerous subjects.

"No," he said, with a spasm of pain.

"I knew you wouldn't be able to."

"Why?"

"Because when one's once been really and truly silly it's impossible not
to repeat the act, absolutely impossible. You'll never stop now. You'll
go on from one thing to another, as I do."

"I cannot think that prophecy is silly," said the Prophet, with some
stiffness.

She looked at him with frank admiration.

"You're worse than I am! It's splendid!"

"Worse!"

"Why, yes. You're foolish enough to think your silly acts sensible. I
wish I could get to that. Then perhaps I could impose on Sir Tiglath
more easily too."

She considered this idea seriously, as they started on again, and
gradually got free of the little crowd that had been sitting on the
horse's head.

"I must impose upon him," she said. "And you've got to help me."

"I!" cried the Prophet, feeling terribly unequal to everything. "I
cannot possibly consent--"

"Yes, dear Mr. Vivian, you can. And if two thoroughly silly people can't
impose upon one sensible old man, it will be very strange indeed. And
now I'm going to tell you what I hadn't time to tell you yesterday."

She leaned forward and tapped sharply on the rattling glass in front of
the cab. The cabman, bending down, twisted his whiskers towards her.

"Don't go too fast."

"I can't get 'im to fall down agyne, lydy. 'E's too tired."

"I daresay. But don't let him walk quite so fast."

She drew back.

"Mr. Vivian," she said--and the Prophet thought she had never looked
more sensible than now, as she began this revelation--"Mr. Vivian, among
the silly people I have met in my dear double life, who do you think are
the very silliest?"

"The anti-vaccinators?"

"No. Besides, they so often have small-pox and become quite sensible."

"The atheists?"

"I used to think so, but not now. And most of those I knew are Roman
Catholics at present."

"The women who don't desire to be slaves?"

"There aren't any."

"The tearers of Paderewski's hair?"

"I so seldom meet them, because they all live out in the suburbs."

"The tight-lacers?"

"They get red noses, poor things, and disappear. They're not permanent
enough to count as the very silliest."

"I give it up."

"The Spiritualists and the Christian Scientists. That's why I love them
best, and spend most of my double life with them. How you would get on
with them! How much at ease you would be in their midst!"

"Really! But aren't they in opposite camps?"

"Dear things! They often think so, I believe. But really they aren't.
Half the Christian Scientists begin as Spiritualists. And a great many
Spiritualists were once Christian Scientists."

"Which are you?"

"Both, of course."

"Dear me!"

"As you will be when you've got thoroughly into your double life. Well,
my greatest friend--in my double life, you understand--is a Mrs. Vane
Bridgeman, a Christian Scientist and Spiritualist. She is very rich,
and magnificently idiotic. She supports all foolish charities. She has
almshouses for broken-down mediums on Sunnington Common in Kent. She
has endowed a hospital for sick fortune-tellers. She gave five hundred
pounds to the home for indigent thought-readers, and nearly as much to
the 'Palmists' Seaside Retreat' at Millaby Bay near Dover. I don't know
how many Christian Science Temples she hasn't erected, or subscribed
liberally to. She turns every table in her house. She won't leave even
one alone. Her early breakfasts for star-gazers are famous, and it's
impossible to dine with her without sitting next to a horoscope-caster,
or being taken in--to dinner, of course--by a crystal diviner or a
nose-prophet."

"A nose-prophet! What's that?"

"A person who tells your fortune by the shape of your nose."

"Oh, I see."

"Well, you understand now that there's no sillier person in London than
dear Mrs. Bridgeman?"

"Oh, quite."

"She's done a great deal for me, more than I can ever repay."

"Indeed."

"Yes, in introducing me to the real inner circles of idiotcy. Well, in
return, I've sworn--"

"You too!"

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, nothing. I beg your pardon. Please go on."

She looked at him curiously, and continued.

"I've sworn--that is, pledged my honour, you know--"

"I know! I know!"

"To introduce her to at least one thoroughly sensible person--a man, she
prefers."

"And you've chosen--?"

"Sir Tiglath, because he's the only one I know. Once, I confess, I
thought of you."

"Of me!"

"Yes, but of course I didn't really know you then."

She looked at him with genuine regard. The Prophet scarcely knew whether
to feel delighted or distressed.

"Now, you see, Mr. Vivian, if Sir Tiglath found out for certain that I
was Miss Minerva, he might discover my double life, and if he did that,
he is so sensible that I am sure he would never speak to me again, and I
could not fulfil my vow to dear Mrs. Bridgeman."

"I quite see."

"Nor my other vow to myself."

"Which one?"

"Oh, never mind."

"I won't."

"He only said that about partridges in January, I find, because he
happened to see one of my letters in Jellybrand's window. He doesn't
associate that letter with me. So it ought to be all right, and I've
arranged my campaign."

"But what can I--?"

She smiled at him with some Scottish craft.

"Don't bother. You've got to be my aide-de-camp, that's all. Ah, here we
are!"

For at this moment the horse, with a great effort succeeded in falling
down, for the last time, before the astronomer's door.



CHAPTER XII

THE ELABORATE MIND OF MISS MINERVA

On being shown, by an elderly housekeeper with a Berlin wool fringe,
into an old-fashioned oval book-room, Lady Enid and the Prophet
discovered the astronomer sitting there _tete-a-tete_ with a muffin,
which lay on a china plate surrounded by manuscripts, letters,
pamphlets, books and blotting-paper. He was engaged in tracing lines
upon an immense sheet of foolscap with the aid of a ruler and a pair
of compasses, and when he perceived his visitors, he merely rolled his
glassy eyes at them, shook his large head as if in rebuke, and then
returned to his occupation without uttering a word.

Lady Enid was in nowise abashed. She looked more sensible even than
usual, and at once commenced her campaign by the remark,--

"I know you wonder why I wanted to see you this afternoon, Sir Tiglath.
Well, I'll tell you at once. Mr. Vivian has persuaded me to act as his
ambassador."

At this very unexpected statement the Prophet started, and was about
to utter what might, perhaps, have taken the form of a carefully-worded
denial, when Lady Enid made a violent face at him, and proceeded, in a
calm manner.

"He wishes you to do something for him, and he has confessed to me that
he does not quite like to ask you himself."

On hearing these words the Prophet's brain, already sorely tried by the
tragic duel which had taken place between himself and the couple who
lived beside the Mouse, temporarily collapsed. He attempted no protest.
His mind indeed was not in a condition to invent one. He simply sat down
on a small pile of astronomical instruments which, with some scientific
works, an encyclopaedia and a pair of carpet slippers, occupied the
nearest chair, and waited in a dazed manner for what would happen next.

Sir Tiglath continued measuring and drawing lines with a very thin pen,
and Lady Enid proceeded further to develop her campaign.

"Mr. Vivian tells me," she said, "that he has a very old and dear friend
who is most anxious to make your acquaintance--not, of course, for any
idle social purpose, but in order to consult you on some obscure point
connected with astronomy that only you can render clear. Isn't this so,
Mr. Vivian?"

The Prophet shifted uneasily on the astronomical instruments, and,
grasping the carpet slippers with one hand to steady himself, in answer
to an authoritative sign from Lady Enid, feebly nodded his head.

"But," Lady Enid continued, apparently warming to her lies, "Mr. Vivian
and his friend, knowing how much your time is taken up by astronomical
research and how intensely valuable it is to the world at large, have
not hitherto dared to intrude upon it, although they have wished to do
so for a very long time, and have even made one attempt--at the Colley
Cibber Club."

The Prophet gasped. Sir Tiglath took a bit out of the muffin and
returned to his tracing and measuring.

"On that occasion you may remember," Lady Enid went on with increasing
vivacity and assurance, "you declined to speak. This naturally damped
Mr. Vivian--who is very sensitive, though you might not think it"--here
she cast a glance at the instruments on which the Prophet sat--"and his
friend. So much so, in fact, that unless I had undertaken to act for
them I daresay they would have let the matter drop. Wouldn't you, Mr.
Vivian?" she added swiftly to the Prophet.

"Certainly," he answered, like a creature in a dream. "Certainly."

"More especially as the friend, Mrs. Vane Bridgeman"--the Prophet at
this point made an inarticulate, but very audible, noise that might have
meant anything, and that did in fact mean "Merciful Heavens! what
will become of me?"--"Mrs. Vane Bridgeman is also of a very retiring
disposition and would hate to put such a man as you are to the slightest
inconvenience."

Sir Tiglath took another bite at the muffin, which seemed to be getting
the worst of the _tete-a-tete_, rummaged among the mess of things that
loaded his table till he found a gigantic book, opened it, and began to
compare some measurements in it with those he had made on the foolscap
paper. His brick-red face glistened in the light of the lamp that stood
beside him. His moist red lips shone, and he seemed totally unaware that
there was anyone in the chamber endeavouring to gain his attention.

"In these circumstances, Sir Tiglath," Lady Enid went on, with pleasant
ease, and a sort of homespun self-possession that trumpeted, like a
military band, her sensibleness, "Mr. Vivian consulted me as to what to
do; whether to give the whole thing up, or to make an appeal to you at
the risk of disturbing you and taking up a little of your precious time.
When he had explained the affair to me, however, I at once felt certain
that you would wish to know of it. Didn't I, Mr. Vivian? Didn't I say,
only this afternoon, that we must at once take a four-wheeler to Sir
Tiglath's?"

"Yes, you did," said the Prophet, in a muffled voice.

"For I knew that no investigation, no serious, reverent investigation
into heavenly, that is starry, conditions could be indifferent to you,
Sir Tiglath."

The astronomer, who had been in the act of lifting the last morsel
of the muffin to his mouth, put it down again, and Lady Enid, thus
vehemently encouraged, went on more rapidly.

"You know of Mr. Vivian's interest, almost more than interest, in the
planets. This interest is shared, was indeed prompted by Mrs. Bridgeman,
a woman of serious attainments and a cultivated mind. Isn't she, Mr.
Vivian?"

The Prophet heard a voice reply, "Oh, yes, she is." He often wondered
afterwards whether it was his own.

"It seems that she, during certain researches, hit upon an idea with
regard to--well, shall I say with regard to certain stars?--which she
communicated to Mr. Vivian in the hope that he would carry it further,
and in fact clear it up. Didn't she, Mr. Vivian?"

"Oh, yes, she did," said a voice, to which the Prophet again listened
with strained attention.

"It was in connection with this idea that Mr. Vivian developed his
enthusiasm for the telescope--which led him, perhaps, a little too far,
Sir Tiglath, but I'm sure Mrs. Merillia and you have quite forgotten
that!"

Here Lady Enid paused, and the astronomer achieved the final conquest of
the muffin.

"He and Mrs. Bridgeman have been, in fact, working together, she being
the brain, as it were, and Mr. Vivian the eye. You've been the eye, Mr.
Vivian?"

"I've been the eye."

"But, despite all their ardour and assiduity, they have come to a sort
of deadlock. In these circumstances they come to you, making me--as
your, may I say intimate, friend?--their mouthpiece."

Here Lady Enid paused rather definitely, and cast a glance of apparently
violent invitation at the Prophet, as if suggesting that he must now
amplify and fill in her story. As he did not do so, a heavy silence fell
in the room. Sir Tiglath had returned to his measuring, and Lady Enid,
for the first time, began to look slightly embarrassed. Sending her eyes
vaguely about the apartment, as people do on such occasions, she chanced
to see a newspaper lying on the floor near to her. She bent down towards
it, then raising herself up she said,--

"Mrs. Bridgeman some time ago came to the conclusion that there was
probably oxygen in certain stars, and not only in the fixed stars."

At this remark the astronomer's countenance completely changed. He swung
round in his revolving chair, wagged his huge head from side to side,
and finally roared at the Prophet,--

"Is she telling the truth?"

"I beg your pardon," said the Prophet, bounding on the instruments.

"Get off those precious tools, young man, far more valuable than your
finite carcase! Get off them this moment and answer me--is this young
female speaking the truth?"

The Prophet got off the instruments and, in answer to a firm, Scottish
gesture from Lady Enid, nodded his head twice.

"What!" continued Sir Tiglath, puffing out his cheeks, "a woman be a
pioneer among the Heavenly Bodies!"

The Prophet nodded again, as mechanically as a penny toy.

"The old astronomer is exercised," bawled Sir Tiglath, with every
symptom of acute perturbation. "He is greatly exercised by the narrative
of the young female!"

So saying, he heaved himself up out of his chair and began to roll
rapidly up and down the room, alternately distending his cheeks and
permitting them to collapse.

"I should tell you also, Sir Tiglath," interposed Lady Enid, as if
struck by a sudden idea, "that Mrs. Bridgeman's original adviser and
assistant in her astronomical researches was a certain Mr. Sagittarius,
who is also an intimate friend of Mr. Vivian's."

The Prophet sat down again upon the instruments with a thud.

"Get off those precious tools, young man!" roared the astronomer
furiously. "Would you impose your vile body upon the henchmen of the
stars?"

The Prophet got up again and leaned against the wall.

"I feel unwell," he said in a low voice. "Exceedingly unwell. I regret
that I must really be going."

Lady Enid did not seem to regret this abrupt indisposition. Perhaps she
thought that she had already accomplished her purpose. At any rate she
got up too, and prepared to take leave. The astronomer was still in
great excitement.

"Who is this Mr. Sagittarius?" he bellowed.

"A man of science. Isn't he, Mr. Vivian?"

"Yes."

"An astronomer of remarkable attainments, Mr. Vivian?"

"Yes."

"One knows not his abnormal name," cried the astronomer.

"He is very modest, very retiring. Mrs. Bridgeman's is really the only
house in London at which you can meet him. Isn't that so, Mr. Vivian?"

"Yes."

"You say he has made investigation into the possibility of there being
oxygen in many of the holy stars?"

"Mr. Vivian!"

"Yes."

"The old astronomer must encounter him!" exclaimed Sir Tiglath, puffing
furiously as he rolled about the room.

"Mr. Vivian will arrange it," Lady Enid said, with sparkling eyes, "at
Mrs. Bridgeman's. That's a bargain. Come, Mr. Vivian!"

And almost before the Prophet knew what she was doing, she had
maneuvered him out into Kensington Square, and was pioneering him
swiftly towards the High street.

"We'll take a hansom home," she said gaily, "and the man can drive as
fast as ever he likes."

In half a minute the Prophet found himself in a hansom, bowling along
towards Mayfair. The first words he said, when he was able to speak,
were,--

"Why--Mr. Sagittarius--oh, why?"

Lady Enid smiled happily.

"It just struck me while I was talking to Sir Tiglath that I would
introduce Mr. Sagittarius into the affair."

"Oh, why?"

"Why--because it seemed such an utterly silly thing to do," she
answered. "Didn't it?"

The Prophet was silent.

"Didn't it?" she repeated. "A thing worthy of Miss Minerva."

It seemed to the Prophet just then as if Miss Minerva were going to
wreck his life and prepare him accurately for a future in Bedlam.

"And besides you wouldn't tell me who Mr. Sagittarius was," she added.

The Prophet began to realise that it is very dangerous indeed to deny
the curiosity of a woman.

"What a mercy it is," Lady Enid continued lightly, "that Malkiel is a
syndicate, instead of a man. If he wasn't, and Sir Tiglath ever got to
know him, he would try to murder him, and how foolish that would be!
It would be rather amusing, though, to see Sir Tiglath do a thoroughly
foolish thing, wouldn't it!"

The Prophet's blood ran cold in the cab, as he began, for the first
time, to see clearly into the elaborate mind of Miss Minerva, into the
curiously deliberate complications of a definite and determined folly.
He perceived the danger that threatened the prophet who dwelt beside the
Mouse, but he had recovered himself by this time sufficiently to meet
craft with craft. And he therefore answered carelessly,--

"Yes, it is lucky that Malkiel's a syndicate."

When they reached Hill street Lady Enid said,--

"I'm so much obliged to you, Mr. Vivian, for all you've done for Miss
Minerva."

"Not at all."

"The next step is to introduce you to Mrs. Bridgeman, and you can
introduce her to Mr. Sagittarius. Then I'll introduce Sir Tiglath to
her and she will introduce Mr. Sagittarius to him. It all works out so
beautifully! Thank you a thousand times. You'll hear from me. Probably
I'll give you your directions how to act to-morrow. Good-night."

The Prophet drove on to Berkeley Square, feeling that, between Mr. and
Madame Sagittarius and Miss Minerva, he was being rapidly directed to
his doom.



CHAPTER XIII

THE PROPHET IS INTERVIEWED BY TWO KIDS

Mr. Ferdinand met the Prophet in the hall.

"I have done as you directed, sir," he said respectfully.

"As I directed, Mr. Ferdinand? I was not aware that I ever directed
anybody," replied the Prophet, suspecting irony.

"I understood you to say, sir, that if any more telegrams was to arrive,
I was to burn them, sir."

"Telegrams! Good Heavens! You don't mean to say that--"

"There has been some seventeen or eighteen, sir. I have burnt them, sir,
to ashes, according to your orders."

"Quite right, Mr. Ferdinand," said the Prophet, putting his hand up to
his hair, to feel if it were turning grey. "Quite right. How is--how, I
say, is Mrs. Merillia?"

"Well, Master Hennessey, she's not dead yet."

And Mr. Ferdinand, with a contorted countenance moved towards the
servants' hall.

The Prophet stood quite still with his hat and coat on for several
minutes. An amazing self-possession had come to him, the unnatural
self-possession of despair. He felt quite calm, as the statue of a dead
alderman feels on the embankment of its native city. Nothing seemed to
matter at all. He might have been Marcus Aurelius--till a loud double
knock came to the front door. Then he might have been any dangerous
lunatic, ripe for a strait waistcoat. Mr. Ferdinand approached. The
Prophet faced him.

"Kindly retire, Mr. Ferdinand," he said in a very quiet voice. "I will
answer that knock."

Mr. Ferdinand retired rather rapidly. The knock was repeated. The
Prophet opened the door. A telegraph boy, about two and a half feet
high, stood outside upon the step.

"Telegram, sir," he said in a thin voice.

"Give it to me, my lad," replied the Prophet.

The small boy handed the telegram and turned to depart.

"Wait a moment, my lad," said the Prophet, very gently.

The small boy waited.

"Do you wish to be strangled, my lad?" asked the Prophet.

The small boy tried to recoil, but his terror rooted him firmly to the
spot.

"Do all the other boys at the office wish to be strangled?" continued
the Prophet. "Come, my lad, why don't you answer me?"

"No, sir," whispered the small boy, passing his little tongue over his
pale lips.

"Very well, my lad, the next boy who brings a telegram to this house
will be strangled, do you understand that?"

"Yes, sir," sighed the small boy, like a terror-stricken Zephyr.

"That's right. Good-night, my lad."

The Prophet closed the street door very softly, and the small boy
dropped fainting on the pavement and was carried to the nearest hospital
on a stretcher by two dutiful policemen.

Meanwhile the Prophet opened the telegram and read as follows:--

"Insufferable insolence. How dare you; shall pay dearly; with you
to-morrow first 'bus.

"JUPITER AND MADAME SAGITTARIUS."


"Mr. Ferdinand!" called the Prophet.

"Yes, sir."

"I am about to write a telegram. Gustavus will take it to the office."

"Yes, sir."

The Prophet went into the library and wrote these words on a telegraph
form:--

"Jupiter Sagittarius, Sagittarius Lodge, Crampton St. Peter, N. Your
life is in danger; keep where you are; another telegram may destroy you.
Grave news.

"VIVIAN."


The Prophet gave this telegram to Gustavus and then prepared to go
upstairs to his grandmother. As he mounted towards the drawing-room he
murmured to himself over and over again,--

"Sir Tiglath--Malkiel! Malkiel--Sir Tiglath!"

He found Mrs. Merillia very prostrate. It seemed that the telegraph boys
had very soon worn through the cotton-wool with which the knocker had
been shrouded, and that the incessant noise of their efforts to
attract attention at the door had quite unnerved the gallant old lady.
Nevertheless, her own condition was the last thing she thought of.

"I don't mind for myself, Hennessey," she said. "But it is very
sad after all these years of respect and even, I think, a certain
popularity, to be considered a nuisance by one's square. We are
hopelessly embroiled with the Duchess of Camberwell, and the Lord
Chancellor has sent over five times to explain the different laws and
regulations that we are breaking. I don't see how you can go to his
Reception to-night, really."

"I am not going, grannie," said the Prophet, overwhelmed with
contrition. "I cannot go in any case."

"Why not?"

"I--I have some work to do at home."

He avoided the glance of her bright eyes, and continued.

"Grannie, I am deeply grieved at all you have gone through to-day.
Believe me it has not been my fault--at least not entirely. I may have
been injudicious, but I never--never--"

He paused, quite overcome with emotion.

"I don't know what will happen if the telegrams go on till midnight,"
said Mrs. Merillia. "The Duke of Camberwell is a very violent man, since
he had that sunstroke at the last Jubilee, and I shouldn't wonder if
he--"

"Grannie, there will not be any more telegrams."

"But you said that before, Hennessey."

"And I say it again. There will not be any more. I have just informed
the messenger that the next boy who knocks will certainly be--well,
destroyed."

Mrs. Merillia breathed a sigh of relief.

"I am so thankful, Hennessey. Are you dining out to-night?"

"No, grannie. I don't feel very well. I have a headache. I shall go and
lie down for a little."

"Yes, do. Everybody is lying down; Fancy, the upper housemaid, the cook.
Even Gustavus, they tell me, is trying to snatch a little uneasy repose
on his what-not. It has been a terrible day."

Mrs. Merillia lay back and closed her eyes, and the Prophet, overwhelmed
with remorse, retired to his room, lay down and stared desperately at
nothing for half an hour. He then ate, with a very poor appetite, a
morsel of dinner and prepared to take, if possible, a short nap before
starting on the labours of the night. As he got up from the dining table
to go upstairs he said to Mr. Ferdinand,--

"By the way, Mr. Ferdinand, if I should come into the pantry again
to-night, don't be alarmed. I may chance to require a bradawl as I did
last night. Kindly leave one out, in case I should. But you need not sit
up."

As the Prophet said the last words he looked Mr. Ferdinand full in the
face. The butler's eyes fell.

"Thank you, Master Hennessey, I shall be glad to get to bed--entirely to
bed--in good time. We are all a bit upset in the kit--that is the hall
to-day."

"Just so. Retire to rest at once if you like."

"Thank you, sir."

"Gustavus," said Mr. Ferdinand, a moment later in the servants' hall,
"you are a man of the world, I believe."

Gustavus roused himself on his what-not.

"I am, Mr. Ferdinand," he replied, in a pale and exhausted manner.

"Then tell me, Gustavus, have you ever lived in service with a gentleman
who was partial to a bradawl--of a night, you understand?"

"No, never, Mr. Ferdinand. The nearest to it ever I got was the Bishop
of Clapham."

"Explain yourself, Gustavus, I beg."

"He used to ask for a nip sometimes before retiring, Mr. Ferdinand."

"A nip, Gustavus?"

"Warm water, with a slice of toast in it. But he was only what they call
a suburban bishop, Mr. Ferdinand."

"Ah! a nip is hardly on all fours with a bradawl, Gustavus."

"P'r'aps not, Mr. Ferdinand, but it's the nearest ever I got to it."

Mr. Ferdinand said no more, but when he retired to rest that night
he double-locked his door, and dreamt of bradawls till he woke,
unrefreshed, the next morning to find the area full of telegrams.

Meanwhile the Prophet was conscientiously fulfilling his promise and
keeping the oath he had pledged his honour over, although he had to
work under a grave disadvantage in the total loss of his planisphere, or
star-map.

He entered the butler's pantry precisely on the stroke of eleven, and
found it, to his great relief, untenanted. The dwarf was no longer
at the telescope, and the silence in the region dedicated to Mrs.
Merillia's menials was profound. The night, too, was clear and starry,
propitious for prophetic labours, and as the Prophet gazed out upon the
deserted square through the open window a strange peace descended upon
his fevered soul. Nature, with all her shining mysteries, her distant
reticences and revelations, calmed the turmoil within him. He looked
upon the area railings and upon the sky, and smiled.

Then he looked for the star-map. He perceived in a very prominent
position upon a silver salver, the bradawl laid out, according to
order, by the obedient Mr. Ferdinand. He perceived also the open pot of
"Butler's Own Special Pomade," but the planisphere had been removed from
it. Where could it have been bestowed? The Prophet instituted a
careful search. He explored cupboards, drawers--such at least as were
unlocked--in vain. He glanced into a silver teapot reposing on a shelf,
between the pages of an almanac hanging on the wall, among some back
numbers of the _Butler's Gazette_, which were lying in a corner. But the
planisphere was nowhere to be found, and at last in despair he resolved
to do without it, and to trust to his fairly accurate knowledge of the
heavens. He, therefore, took up his station by the window and proceeded
to extract from the pocket of his smoking-jacket the account-book in
which he had dotted down the directions of "Madame and self." They were
very vague, for his dots had been agitated. Still, by the help of the
George the Third candlestick, in which was a lighted taper, the Prophet
was able to make out enough to refresh his memory. He was to begin by
placing his beloved grandmother in the claws of the crab. Leaning upon
the sill of the window he found the crab and--breathing a short prayer
for forgiveness--committed his dear relation to its offices. He then
retreated and, assuming very much the position of Mr. Ferdinand, applied
his right eye to the telescope, at the same time holding his left eye
firmly shut with the forefinger of his left hand. At once the majesty of
the starry heavens burst upon him in all its glory.

Exactly at half-past one o'clock, two hours and a half later, the
enthralled Prophet heard a low whistle which seemed to reach him from
the square. He withdrew his fascinated right eye from the telescope and
endeavoured to use it in an ordinary manner, but he could at first see
nothing. The low whistle was repeated. It certainly did come from the
square, and the Prophet approached the open window and once more tried
to compel the eye that had looked so long upon the stars to gaze with
understanding upon the earth. This time he perceived a black thing, like
a blot, about six feet high, beyond the area railings. From this
blot came a third whistle. The Prophet, who was still dazed by the
fascination of star-gazing, mechanically whistled in reply, whereupon
the blot whispered at him huskily,--

"At it again, are you?"

"Yes," whispered the Prophet, also huskily, for the night air was cold.
"But how should you know?"

Indeed he wondered; and it seemed to him as if the blot were some
strange night thing that must have companioned him, invisibly, when he
kept his nocturnal watches in the drawing-room, and that now partially
revealed itself to him in the, perhaps, more acutely occult region of
the basement.

"How should I know!" rejoined the blot with obvious, though very hoarse,
irony. "Whatever d'you take me for?"

The Prophet began to wonder, but before he had gone on wondering for
more than about half a minute, the blot continued,--

"She's gone to bed."

"I know she has," said the Prophet, presuming that the blot, which
seemed instinct with all knowledge, was referring to his grandmother.

"But she knows you're at it again," continued the blot.

The Prophet started violently and leaned upon the window-sill.

"No! How can that be?" he ejaculated.

"Ho! Them girls knows everything, especially the old uns," said the
blot, with an audible chuckle.

"Good gracious!" gasped the Prophet, overwhelmed at this mysterious
visitant's familiar description of his revered grandmother.

"Have you seen her to-night?" inquired the blot, controlling its
merriment.

"Yes," said the Prophet. "With the Crab."

"What!" cried the blot, in obvious astonishment. "Them instruments must
be wonderful sight-carriers."

"They are," exclaimed the Prophet, with almost mystic enthusiasm.
"Wonderful. I have seen her with the Crab distinctly."

"Ah! well, I told her she ought to keep away from it," continued the
blot.

"Did you?" said the Prophet, with increasing surprise. "But how could
she?"

"Ah! that's just it! She couldn't."

"No, of course not."

"She was drawn right to it."

"She was. It wasn't her fault. It was the Crab's."

"A pity it was dressed."

"What?"

"I say it's a pity 'twas dressed."

"What was dressed?"

"What! why, the Crab!"

"The Crab--dressed!"

"Ay. They're a deal safer not dressed."

"Are they?"

"She knows it too."

"Does she?"

"But there--them women likes a spice of danger. She's in a nice state
now, you bet. Not much sleep for her, I'll lay. Well, I tried to keep
her from it, so you needn't blame me."

"I won't," said the Prophet, feeling completely dazed.

"Well, go'-night. I'm off round the square."

"Good-night," said the Prophet.

Suddenly a blinding flash of light dazzled his eyes. He covered them
with his hands. When he could see again the blot was gone.

Although he was retired to rest that night when the clock struck three,
the Prophet did not sleep. His nervous system was in a condition of
acute excitement. His brain felt like a burning ball, and the palms of
his hands were hot with fever. For the spirit of prophecy was upon him
once more, and he was bound fast in the golden magic of the stars. Like
the morphia maniac who, after valiant fasting, returning to his drug,
feels its influence the stronger for his abstinence from it, the Prophet
was conscious that the heavens held more power, more meaning for him
because, for a while, he had intended to neglect them. He was ravaged by
their mystery, their majesty and revelation.

When he came down in the morning pale, dishevelled, but informed by a
curious dignity, he was met at once by Mr. Ferdinand.

"I have cleared the area, sir," said the functionary.

"The area, Mr. Ferdinand. What of?"

"Telegrams, sir. The boys must have thrown 'em down without knocking."

"Very probably," replied the Prophet. "Their comrade was right. They did
not wish to be strangled."

"No, sir. And I have placed them in a basket on the breakfast table,
sir, while awaiting your orders."

"Quite right, Mr. Ferdinand. By the way, here is the bradawl. Leave it
out again to-night in case I have need of it."

So saying, the Prophet handed the bradawl, which he had craftily
conveyed from the pantry on the previous night, to the astonished butler
and walked swiftly into the breakfast-room. The basket of telegrams was
set outside beside a fried sole and the "equipage" which Madame had so
much admired, and, while he sipped his tea, the Prophet opened the wires
one by one. They were fraught with terror and dismay. Evidently his
mysterious warning had thrown the worthies who dwelt beside the Mouse
into a condition of the very gravest amazement and alarm, and they had,
despite the Prophet's final injunction, spent the remaining telegraphic
hours of the day in despatching wires of frantic inquiry to the square.
Madame, in particular, was evidently much upset, and expressed her angry
agitation in a dead language that seemed positively to live again in
fear and novelty of grammatical construction. Sir Tiglath had been
a brilliant card to play in the prophetic game, although he had not
achieved the Prophet's purpose of stopping the telegraphic flood.

While the Prophet was simultaneously finishing the fried sole and the
perusal of the final wire Mr. Ferdinand entered, in a condition of
obvious astonishment that might well have cost him his place.

"If you please, sir," he said, in an up-and-down voice, "if you please
there are two--two--two--"

"Two what? Be more explicit, Mr. Ferdinand."

"Two--well, sir, kids at the door waiting for you to see them, sir."

"Two kids! What--from the goat show that's going on at the Westminster
Aquarium!" cried the Prophet in great surprise.

"Maybe, sir. I can't say, indeed, sir. Am I to show them in, sir?"

"Show them in! Are you gone mad, Mr. Ferdinand? They must be driven
out at once. If Mrs. Merillia were to see them, she might be greatly
alarmed. I'll--I'll--follow me, Mr. Ferdinand, closely."

So saying the Prophet stepped valiantly into the hall. There, by the
umbrella stand, stood two small children, boy and girl, very neatly
dressed in a sailor suit and a grey merino. The little boy held in his
hand a large round straw hat, on the blue riband of which was inscribed
in letters of gold, "H.M.S. Hercules." The little girl wore a pleasant
pigtail tied with a riband of the same hue.

The meaning of Mr. Ferdinand's vulgar and misleading slang suddenly
dawned on the Prophet. He cast a look of very grave rebuke on Mr.
Ferdinand, then, walking up to the little boy and girl he said in his
most ingratiating manner,--

"Well, my little ones, what can I do for you?"

"Not so little, if you please, Mr. Vivian," replied the boy in a piping,
but very self-possessed voice. "Can we see you in private for a moment?"

"If you please, Mr. Vivian," added the little girl. "Si sit prudentium."

"Dentia, Corona," corrected the little boy.

The Prophet turned white to the very lips.

"Certainly, certainly," he said in a violently furtive manner. "Come
this way, my children. Mr. Ferdinand, if Mrs. Merillia should inquire
for me, you will say that I'm busy writing--no, no, just busy--very
busy."

"Yes, sir."

"I'm not to be disturbed. This way, my little ones."

"Not so little, Mr. Vivian," piped again the small boy, trotting
obediently, with his sister, into the Prophet's library, the door of
which was immediately closed behind them.

"Well, I'm--" said Mr. Ferdinand. "Kids in the library! I am--Gustavus!"

He rushed frenetically towards the servants' hall to confer upon the
situation with his intellectual subordinate.

Meanwhile the Prophet was closeted with the two kids.

"Pray sit down," he said, very nervously, and smiling forcibly. "Pray
sit down, my dears."

The kids obeyed with aplomb, keeping their large and strained eyes fixed
upon the Prophet.

"Is it Coronus and Capricorna?" continued the Prophet, with an effort
after blithe familiarity. "Is it?"

"No," piped the little boy. "It isn't Coronus and Capricorna."

A marvellous sensation of relief invaded the Prophet.

"Thank Heaven!" he ejaculated in a sigh. "I thought it must be."

"It's Corona and Capricornus," continued the little boy. "And we've
brought you a letter from pater familias."

"And mater familiaris," added the little girl.

"Milias, Corona," corrected the little boy. "Here it is, Mr. Vivian,"
he added, drawing a large missive from the breast of his blue-and-white
sailor's blouse. "Pater and mater familias couldn't bring it themselves,
because he said it wasn't safe for him to come, and she's lying down ill
at what you sent to her. It wasn't kind of you, was it?"

So saying, he handed the missive to the Prophet, who took it anxiously.

"Would you like some cake, my lit--I mean, my dears, while I read this?"

"No, thank you. Cake is bad for us in the morning," replied the little
boy. "You shouldn't eat it so early."

The Prophet was about to reply that he never did when it struck him that
argument would probably be useless. He, therefore, hastened to open
the letter, which proved to be from Mr. Sagittarius, and which ran as
follows:--

"SIR,--Your terrible and mysterious wire, coming after your equally
terrible and mysterious silence, has caused devastation in a hitherto
peaceful and happy family. To what peril do you allude? What creature
can there be so base as to wish to take my life merely on account of
my sending you telegrams? Madame has been driven to despair by your
announcement, and I, myself, although no ordinary man, am, very rightly
and properly, going about in fear of my life since receipt of your last
telegram. Under these circs, and being unable to wait upon you ourselves
for a full explanation, we are sending our very life-blood to you--per
rail and 'bus--with strict orders to bring you at once to the banks
of the Mouse, there to confer with Madame and self and arrange such
measures of precaution as are suited to the requirements of the
situation as indicated by you.

"JUPITER SAGITTARIUS.

"P.S.--You are to bring with you, according to solemn oath, all prophecy
concerning grandmother, Crab, etc., gathered up to date, together with
full details of same's removal from the bottle, cutting of her first
tooth, short-coating, going into skirts, putting of hair up, day of
marriage and widowhood, illnesses--especially rashes--and so forth. _Ab
origino_.

"MADAME SAGITTARIUS."


On reading this communication the Prophet felt that all further struggle
was useless. Fate--cruel and remorseless Fate--had him in her grasp.
He could only bow his head and submit to her horrible decrees. He could
only go upstairs and at once prepare for the journey to the Mouse.

He laid the letter down and got up, fixing his eyes upon the kids, who
sat solemnly awaiting his further procedure.

"You--I suppose you know, my little ones, what this--what you have to
do?" he said.

"Not so little, if you please, Mr. Vivian," returned the boy. "Yes,
we've got to take you with us to see pater familias."

"And mater familiar--familias," added the little girl.

"I see--you know," said the Prophet, in a despairing voice. "Very well.
Wait here quietly--very quietly, while I go and get ready."

"And please don't forget the Crab and grandmother, rashes, et ceterus,"
said the little girl.

"Tera Corona," piped her brother.

"I won't," said the Prophet. "I will not."

And he tottered out of the room, carrying the Sagittarius letter in his
hand.

In the hall he paused for a moment, holding on to the balusters and
re-reading his directions. Then he crawled slowly up the stairs and
sought his grandmother's room.



CHAPTER XIV

THE PROPHET JOURNEYS TO THE MOUSE

Mrs. Merillia was just beginning to recover from the prostration of the
preceding day when the Prophet came into the room where she was seated
with Mrs. Fancy Quinglet. She looked up at him almost brightly, but
started when she saw how agitated he seemed.

"Grannie," said the Prophet, abruptly, "you would tell me anything,
wouldn't you?"

"Why, of course, my dear boy. But what about?"

"About--about yourself?"

Mrs. Merillia looked very much astonished.

"There is nothing to hide, Hennessey," she said with gentle dignity.
"You know that."

"I do, I do," cried the Prophet, passionately. "Yours has been the best,
the sweetest life the world has ever known!"

"Well, I don't wish to imply--"

"But I do, grannie, I do. Can Fancy leave us for a moment?"

"Certainly. Fancy, you can go to your tatting."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Mr Hennessey has something to explain to me."

"Oh, ma'am, the houses that have been broke up by explainings!"

And with this, as the Prophet thought, appallingly appropriate
exclamation, Mrs. Fancy hurried feverishly from the room.

"Now what is the question you wish to ask me, Hennessey?" said Mrs.
Merillia, with a soft dignity.

"There are--one moment--there are eight questions, grannie," responded
the Prophet, shrinking visibly before the dread necessity by which he
found himself confronted.

"Eight! So many?"

"Yes, oh, indeed, yes."

"Well, my dear, and what are they?"

"The first is--is--grannie, when were you removed from--from the
bottle?"

A very delicate flush crept into Mrs. Merillia's charming cheeks.

"The bottle, Hennessey! Never, never!" she said, with a sort of pathetic
indignation. "How could you suppose--I--the bottle--"

Her pretty old voice died away.

"Answered, darling grannie, answered!" ejaculated the Prophet.
"Please--please don't! And now--your first tooth?"

"My first what!" cried Mrs. Merillia in almost terrified amazement.

"Tooth--when did you cut it?"

"I have no idea. Surely, Hennessey--"

"Answered, dearest grannie!" cried the Prophet, with gathering
agitation. "Did you ever wear a short coat?"

"I--I'm not a man!"

"You didn't! Always a skirt?"

"Of course! Why--"

"And you're sixty-eight on the twentieth. So for sixty-eight years
you've always worn a skirt. That's four."

"Four what? Are you--?"

"When did you put your hair up, grannie, darling?"

"My hair--never. You know I've always had a maid to do these things for
me. Fancy--"

"Of course. You've never put your hair up. I might have known. You were
married very young, weren't you?"

"Ah, yes. On my seventeenth birthday, and was left a widow in exactly
two years' time. Your poor dear granf--"

"Thank you, grannie, thank you! Seven!"

"Seven what, Hennessey? One would th--"

"And now, dear grannie, tell me one thing, only one little thing more.
About--that is, talking of rashes--"

"Rashers!"

"No, grannie, rashes--illnesses, you know, that take an epidemic form."

"Well, what about them? Surely there isn't an epidemic in the square?"

"How many have you had, grannie?"

"Where? Had what?"

"Here, anywhere in the square, grannie."

"Had what in the square?"

"Rashes."

"I! Have a rash in the square!"

"Exactly. Have you ever--an epidemic, you know?"

"I have an epidemic in Berkeley Square? You must be crazy, Hennessey!"

"Probably, very likely, grannie. But have you? Tell me quickly! Have
you?"

"Certainly not! As if any gentlewoman--"

"Answered, grannie, answered! Eight!"

"Eight what?"

"Questions. Thank you, dearest grannie. I knew you'd tell me, I knew you
would!"

And the Prophet rushed from the room, leaving Mrs. Merillia in a
condition that cannot be described and that not all the subsequent
ministrations of Mrs. Fancy Quinglet were able to alleviate.

Having reached the hall, the Prophet hastily put on his coat and hat and
called Mr. Ferdinand to him.

"Mr. Ferdinand," he said, assuming a fixed and stony dignity to conceal
his agitation and dismay, "I am leaving the house at once with the--the
lady and gentleman who are in the library."

At this description of the kids Mr. Ferdinand was very nearly seized
with convulsions. However, as he said nothing and merely wrung his large
hands, the Prophet, after a slight pause, continued,--

"I may be away some time, so if Mrs. Merillia should make any inquiry,
you will say that I have left to pay a visit to some friends."

"Yes, sir. Shall I tell Gustavus to pack your things?"

"Certainly not."

The Prophet was turning towards the library when Mr. Ferdinand added,--

"When shall we expect you back, sir? Am I to forward your letters?"

"No, no. I shall return in a few hours."

"Oh, I beg pardon, sir. And if any telegrams--"

"There will not be any. I am now going to answer the telegrams in
person."

"Yes, sir."

"Come along, my children," cried the Prophet, putting his head into the
library.

"Not your children, if you please, Mr. Vivian," replied the little boy.
"Corona, come on."

"How do we go, my dears?" asked the Prophet, with an attempt at gaiety,
and endeavouring to ignore the prostrated demeanour of Mr. Ferdinand,
who was in waiting to open the hall door.

"By the purple 'bus as far as the Pork Butcher's Rest," piped the
little boy--(at this point Mr. Ferdinand could not refrain from a slight
exclamation)--"then we take the train to the Mouse, Mouse, Mouse."

"Mus, Mus, Mus," chanted the little girl.

As Mr. Ferdinand was unable to open the door, paralysis having
apparently supervened, the Prophet did so, and the cheerful little
party emerged upon the step to find Lady Enid Thistle in the very act of
pressing the electric bell. When she beheld the vivacious trio, all agog
for their morning's expedition, come thus suddenly upon her, she cried
out musically,--

"Why, where are you off to?"

The Prophet was much embarrassed by the encounter.

"I am taking these lit"--he caught the staring eye of
Capricornus--"these friends of mine for a little walk," he said.

"I'll come with you," said Lady Enid, with an almost Highland decision.
"I've got something to say to you, and we can talk as we go."

She glanced very inquisitively indeed at the two children, who had
begun to frisk at sight of the square all bathed in winter sunshine. The
Prophet was very much upset.

"Don't you think--" he began.

"It will be delightful to have some exercise," she interrupted firmly.
"Which way are you going?"

"Which way! Oh, to--towards--"

The Prophet stopped. He did not know from what point the purple 'bus
started to gain the Pork Butcher's Rest. Capricornus hastened to inform
him.

"We take the purple 'bus at the corner of Air Street," he piped.

"The purple 'bus!" cried Lady Enid. "The purple bus!"

She glanced searchingly at the Prophet.

"Ah!" she murmured, "so you are taking a purple 'bus to your double
life!"

He could not deny it. They were now all walking forward in the sun and
as the little Corona and Capricornus became speedily intent upon the
wonders of this central district, Lady Enid and the Prophet were able to
have a quiet word or two together.

"I came to tell you," she said, "that Mrs. Vane Bridgeman will expect
you to-night at--"

"I am engaged at eleven," cried the Prophet, in despair at the
imposition of this fresh burden upon his weary shoulders.

"I know. To the Lord Chancellor, but--"

"No. I have an engagement which I dare not break, at home."

"Really!"

She gazed at him with her large, handsome grey eyes, and added,--

"I do believe you're silly enough to live your double life at home
sometimes. How splendid!"

"No, no! I assure you--"

"Of course you do! You dear foolish thing! You're ever so much sillier
than I am. You're my master."

"No, indeed, no, no!"

"But you can go to Mrs. Bridgeman's for an hour easily. She expects you
and I've promised that you will go."

"It's very kind of you, but really--"

"So that's settled. You'll meet me there, but don't forget I'm Miss
Minerva Partridge. The address is Zoological House, Regent's Park, that
big house in a garden just outside the Zoo."

"The big house in the Zoological Gardens," said the Prophet, feebly.
"Thank you very much."

"No, no, outside the Zoo. And then we can arrange to-night about your
introducing her to Mr. Sagittarius."

"Hush! Hush!" whispered the Prophet.

But he was too late. The long ears of the little pitchers had caught the
well-known word.

"Why, that's pater familias," piped the little Capricornus.

"And mater familiaris," added the little Corona.

"You don't mean to say," cried Lady Enid to the Prophet, "that these are
the children of Mr. Sagittarius?"

The Prophet bent his head.

"How very interesting!" said Lady Enid. "Everything is working out most
beautifully. I must get them some chocolates."

And she immediately stepped into a confectioner's and came out with a
beautiful box of bon-bons, tied with amethyst ribbon, which she gave to
the delighted children.

"I know your dear father," she said. "At least I know who he is."

And she looked firmly at the Prophet, who dropped his eyes. They were
now at the corner of Air Street, and the purple 'bus could be seen
looming brilliantly in the distance.

"Good-bye, Lady Enid," said the Prophet.

"Oh, I'll see you off," she replied, evidently resolved to satisfy some
further, unexpressed curiosity.

"There it is!" cried Capricornus. "It's coming! There it is!"

"Isn't it pretty?" shrieked the little Corona, who was evidently growing
much excited by the chocolates and the centralness of the whole thing.
"Let's go on the top! Let's go on the top!"

She began to jump on the pavement, and her brother was just about to
follow her example when some sudden idea struck him into gravity. He
turned to the Prophet and exclaimed solemnly,--

"Oh, if you please, Mr. Vivian, have you got the crab with you?"

"The crab!" cried Lady Enid, with much vivacity.

"Yes, yes, my boy, it's all right!" said the Prophet, hastily.

"Not your boy, if you please, Mr. Vivian," returned the little
inquisitor. "And have you got the fist tooth?"

"Yes, yes!"

"And the rashes, and the honoured grandmother, and--"

"I've got everything," cried the Prophet, "every single thing!"

"Because mater familias said I was to make you bring them if I stayed
for them all day."

"Yes, yes, they're all here--every one."

Lady Enid was gazing at the Prophet's slim form with almost passionate
curiosity. It was evidently a problem to her how he had managed to
conceal so many various commodities about his person without altering
his shape. However, she had no time to study the matter, for at this
moment the purple 'bus jerked along the kerb, and the voice of the
conductor was heard crying,--

"Pork Butcher's Rest! All the way one penny! Pork--penny--all the
way--Butcher's--Rest--one--Pork--all--Pork--penny--Pork--Butcher's--
Pork--Rest--Pork--penny!"

With a hasty farewell the Prophet, accompanied, and indeed closely
clutched, by the little Corona and Capricornus, scrambled fanatically,
and not without two or three heavy falls, to the summit of the 'bus,
while Lady Enid read the legend printed on it with a smile, ere she
turned to walk home, putting two and two together, and thinking, with
keen feminine satisfaction, how useless in the long run are all the
negatives of man.

In later years, though many memories intervene, the Prophet will never
forget his journey to the banks of the Mouse. Always it seemed very
strange to him and dream-like, that everlasting journey upon the purple
'bus, complicated by the chatter of the younger scions of the Malkiel
dynasty, and by the shrill cries of the conductor summoning the
passers-by to hasten to that place of repose consecrated to the worthy
and hard-working individuals who drew their modest incomes from the pig.
The character of the streets changed as the central districts were left
behind, and a curious scent, the scent of Suburbia, seemed to float
between the tall chimneys in the morose atmosphere. The purple chariot,
which rolled on and on like the chariot of Fate, drew gradually away
from the large thoroughfares into mean streets, whose air of dull
gentility was for ever autumnal, and the Prophet, on passing some
gigantic gasworks, mechanically wondered whether it might not, perhaps,
be that monument to whose shadow Malkiel the First had lived and died.
Once, looking up at the black sky, he remarked to the little Capricornus
that it was evidently going to rain.

"No, Mr. Vivian," replied the boy. "It won't rain hard this week.
January's a fine month, but there'll be heavy floods in March,
especially along the banks of the Thames."

"And in February there'll be such a lot of scarlet fever in the southern
portions of England," added the little Corona. "Oh, Corney, just look at
that kitty on the airey railings!"

"Area, Corona," corrected her brother. "Oh, my! ain't it funny?"

The Prophet remembered that he was travelling with the scions of a
prophetic house.

It seemed many years before the 'bus stopped before a brick building
full of quart pots, situated upon a gentle eminence sloping to a
coal-yard, and the voice of the conductor proclaimed that the place of
repose was reached. The Prophet and his diminutive guides descended from
the roof and were shortly in a train puffing between the hunched backs
of abominable little houses, sooty as street cats and alive with crying
babies. Then bits of waste land appeared, bald wildernesses in which
fragments of broken crockery hibernated with old tin cans and kettles
yellow as dying leaves. A furtive brown rivulet wandered here and
there like a thing endeavouring to conceal itself and unable to find a
hiding-place.

"That's the Mouse, Mr. Vivian," remarked Capricornus, proudly. "We shall
soon be there."

"Ridiculum mus," rejoined his sister, who evidently took after her
learned mother.

"Culus, Corona; and you're not to say that. Pater familias says that the
Mouse is a noble stream. We get out here, Mr. Vivian."

Here proved to be a wayside station on the very bank of the noble
stream, and on the edge of a piece of waste ground so large that it
might almost have been called country.

The Prophet and the two kids set off across this earth, which was
named by the inhabitants "the Common." In the distance rose a fringe of
detached brick and stone villas towards which Capricornus now pointed a
forefinger that trembled with pride.

"That's where we live," he said, in a voice that was grown squeaky from
conceit.

"Dulce domus," piped his sister, clutching the skirt of the Prophet's
coat, and, thus supported, performing several very elaborate dancing
steps upon the clayey soil over which he was feebly staggering. "Dulce
dulce, dulce domus. Look at that rat, Corney!"

A large, raking rodent, indeed, at that instant emerged from the
wreckage of what had once been a copper cauldron near by, and walked
slowly away towards a slope of dust garnished with broken bottles and
abandoned cabbage stalks. The Prophet shuddered and longed to flee, but
the two kids, as if divining his thought, now clasped his hands and led
him firmly forward to a yellow villa, fringed with white Bath stone
and garnished plentifully with griffins. From its flat front shot
ostentatiously forth a porch adorned with Roman columns which commanded
a near view of the Mouse, and before the porch was a small garden in
which several healthy-looking nettles had made their home.

As the Prophet and the two kids approached this delightful abode, a
white face appeared, gluing itself to the pane of an upper window.

"There's pater familias!" piped Capricornus. "Don't he look ill?"

As they mounted the flight of imitation marble steps the face
disappeared abruptly.

"He's coming to let us in," said Capricornus. "You're sure you've
brought the crab and all the rashes?"

"Quite sure."

"Because, if you haven't, I don't know whatever mater familias'll--"

At this moment the portal of the lodge was furtively opened about
half an inch, and a very small segment of ashen-coloured human face,
containing a large and apprehensive eye, was shown in the aperture.

"Are you alone?" said the hollow voice of Mr. Sagittarius.

"Quite, quite alone," said the Prophet, reassuringly.

"It's all right, pater familias!" cried Capricornus. "He's brought all
the rashes and the first tooth and everything. I made him."

"I don't think he wanted to," added the little Corona, suddenly
developing malice.

"I've taken this long journey, Mr. Sagittarius," said the Prophet,
with a remnant of self-respect, "at your special request. Am I to be
permitted to come in?"

"If you're sure you're quite alone," returned the sage, showing a
slightly enlarged segment of face.

"I am quite sure--positive!"

At this the door was opened just sufficiently to admit the passage of
one thin person at a time, and, in single file, the Prophet, Corona and
Capricornus passed into the lodge.



CHAPTER XV

THE PROPHET CREATES A DIVERSION AT HIS OWN EXPENSE

On stepping into a small vestibule, paved with black and white lozenges,
and fitted up with an iron umbrella stand, a Moorish lamp and a large
yellow china pug dog, the Prophet found himself at once faced by Mr.
Sagittarius, whose pallid countenance, nervous eye and suspicious
demeanour plainly proclaimed him to be, as he had stated, very rightly
and properly going about in fear of his life.

"Go to the schoolroom, my darlings," he whispered to his children. "Why,
what have you there?"

"Choclets," said Capricornus.

"From the pretty lady, mulius pulchrum," added the little Corona.

"Who is a mulibus pulchrum, my love?" asked Mr. Sagittarius, before
Capricornus had time to correct his sister's Latin.

"It was Miss Minerva," said the Prophet. "We happened to meet her."

"Indeed, sir. Run away, my pretties, and don't eat more than one each,
or mater familias will not approve."

Then, as the little ones disappeared into the shadows of the region
above, he added to the Prophet,--

"You've nearly been the death of Madame, sir."

"I'm sure I'm very sorry," said the Prophet.

"Sorrow is no salve, sir, no salve at all. Were it not for her books I
fear we might have lost her."

"Good gracious!"

"Mercifully her books have comforted her. She is resting among them now.
Madame is possessed of a magnificent library, sir, encyclopaedic in its
scope and cosmopolitan in its point of view. In it are represented every
age and every race since the dawn of letters; thousands upon thousands
of authors, sir, Rabelais and Dean Farrar, Lamb and the Hindoos,
Mettlelink and the pith of the great philosophers such as John Oliver
Hobbes, Locke, Hume and Earl Spencer; the biting sarcasm of Hiny, the
pathos of Peps, the oratorical master-strokes of such men as Gladstone,
Demosthenes and Keir Hardie; the romance of Kipling, sir, of Bret Harte
and Danty Rossini; the poetry of Kempis a Browning and of Elizabeth
Thomas Barrett--all, all are there bound in Persian calf. Among these
she seeks for solace. To these she flies in hours of anguish."

"Does she indeed?" said the Prophet, feeling thoroughly overwhelmed.

"She desires me to take you to her at once, sir, there to confer
and"--he lowered his voice and trembled visibly--"to arrange measures
for the protection of my life."

The Prophet found himself wishing that he had been less precipitate in
covertly alluding to Sir Tiglath's long desire of assault and battery,
but before he had time to wish anything for more than half a minute, Mr.
Sagittarius had guided him ceremoniously across the hall and was turning
the handle of a door that was decorated with black and scarlet paint.

"Here, sir," he whispered, "you will find Madame surrounded by the
authors whom she loves, by their portraits, their biographies and their
writings. Here she communes with the great philosophers, sir, the poets,
the historians and the humourists of the entire world, from the earliest
days down to this very moment--in Persian calf, sir."

He gazed awfully at the Prophet, and gently opened the door of this
temple of the intellect.

The Prophet expected to find himself ushered into a gigantic chamber,
lined from floor to ceiling with shelves that groaned beneath their
burden of the literature of genius. Indeed he had, in fancy, beheld even
the chairs and couches covered with stacks of volumes, the very floor
littered with the choicest productions of the brains of the dead and
living. His surprise was, therefore, very great when, on passing through
the door, he beheld Madame Sagittarius reposing at full length upon
a maroon sofa in a small apartment, whose bare walls, were entirely
innocent of book-shelves. Indeed the only thing of the sort which was
visible was a dwarf revolving bookcase which stood beside the sofa, and
contained some twenty volumes bound, as Mr. Sagittarius had stated, in
Persian calf, each of these volumes being numbered and adorned with a
label on which was printed in letters of gold, "The Library of Famous
Literature: Edited by Dr. Carter. Tasty Tit-bits from all Times."

"Madame, sir, in her library," whispered Mr. Sagittarius by the door.
"She is absorbed, sir, and does not notice us."

In truth Madame Sagittarius did appear to be absorbed in thought, or
something else, for her eyes were closed, her mouth was open, and a
sound of regular breathing filled the little room.

"She is thinking out some problem, sir," continued Mr. Sagittarius.
"She is communing with the mighty dead. Sophronia, my love, Sophronia,
Capricornus has brought the gentleman according to your orders. Sophy!
Sophy!"

His final utterances, which were somewhat strident caused Madame
Sagittarius to come away from her communion with the mighty dead with
a loud ejaculation of the nature of a snort combined with a hissing
whistle, to kick up her indoor kid boots into the air, turn upon her
right elbow, and present a countenance marked with patches of red and
white, and a pair of goggling, and yet hazy, eyes to the intruders upon
her intellectual exertions.

"Mr. Vivian has come, Sophronia, according to your directions."

Madame uttered a second snort, brought her feet to the floor, arranged
her face in a dignified expression with one fair hand, breathed heavily,
and finally bowed to the Prophet with majestic reserve and remarked,
with the professional click,--

"I was immersed in thought and did not perceive your entrance. _Mens
invictus manetur_. Be seated, I beg."

Here certain very elaborate contortions and swellings of her interesting
countenance suggested that she was repressing a good-sized yawn, and she
was obliged to rearrange her features with both hands before she could
continue.

"Thought conquers matter, as Plauto--I should say as Platus very rightly
obesrved."

"Quite so," assented the Prophet, trying to live up to the library, but
scarcely succeeding.

"Even in the days of the great Juvenile," proceeded Madame, "to whose
satires I owe much"--here she laid a loving hand upon Vol. 2 of the
"Library of Famous Literature."--"Long ere the days when Lord Lytton and
his Caxtons introduced us to the blessings of the printing press there
were doubtless ladies who, like myself, could forget the treachery and
the lies of men in silent communion with the brains of the departed. Far
better to be Milton's 'Il Penserosero' than Lord Byron's 'L'Allegra!'"

To this pronounciamento, which was interrupted several times by more
alarming contortions of the brain-worker's face, the Prophet replied
with a vague affirmative, while Mr. Sagittarius whispered,--

"Her whole knowledge, sir, comes straight from there"--pointing towards
the dwarf bookcase. "She brought it on the instalment system. Dr. Carter
has made her what she is! That man, sir, deserves to be canonised. Eight
guineas and a half, sir, and such a result!"

"Such a result!" the Prophet whispered back.

By this time Madame Sagittarius had apparently ceased to commune with
the dead, for her striking face assumed a more normal expression
of feminine bitterness as she realised who was before her, and she
exclaimed sharply,--

"Oh, so you've come at last, Mr. Vivian! And pray what have you to
say? What about the rashes? And what is this danger that threatens Mr.
Sagittarius?"

"We'd better take the danger first, my dear," said Mr. Sagittarius, with
grave anxiety.

"Very well. Not that it should be the most important to one who wears
the _toga virilibus_!"

"True, my love. Still, to take it first will clear the ground, I think,
and set me more at ease. Well, sir?"

Thus adjured, the Prophet resolved to make a clean breast of Sir
Tiglath's declarations, and he therefore replied,--

"I thought it only right to wire to you as I did, having learnt
that there is in London a gentleman, an eminent man, who has for
five-and-forty years been seeking for Malkiel with the avowed intention
of--of--"

"Oh what, sir, of what?" said Mr. Sagittarius with trembling lips.

"Of doing him violence," replied the Prophet, impressively.

"What is the gent's name?" said Mr. Sagittarius, in great agitation.

"His name! _Nomen volens_!" added Madame.

"That," said the Prophet, "I prefer not to say at present."

"But why should he desire to--?"

"Because you are a prophet."

"There, Jupiter!" cried Madame, with flushed spitefulness. "What have
I always said! All prophets are what they call outsiders--_hors
d'oeuvres_, neither more nor less."

"I know, my love, I know. But how should this gent recognise me for a
prophet? I'm sure my dress, my manner, are those of an outside broker,
as I have often told you, Sophy. How--"

"The gentleman has not yet recognised you," said the Prophet. "At the
moment he believes you to be an American syndicate."

"Thank mercy!" ejaculated Mr. Sagittarius.

"But one can never tell," added the Prophet. "He might find out."

"Nonsense!" cried Madame at this juncture. "We might quite well have
gone to the square yesterday as I always suspected. But you are so
timid, Jupiter. _Timeo Dan--Dan_--well, _Dan_ something or other, as
Virgil so truly says."

"Cautious, Sophronia, only cautious, for your and the children's sakes!"

"I call a man who's afraid even when he's passing everywhere as an
American syndicate a cowardly custard," rejoined Madame, who appeared to
be suffering under that peculiar form of flushed irritability which is
apt to follow on heavy thought, indulged in to excess in a recumbent
position during the daytime. "There, that's settled. So now let us get
to business. Kindly hand me your prophecy of last night, Mr. Vivian."

The Prophet drew from a breast pocket a sheet or two of notepaper, on
which he had dotted down, in prophetic form, the events of the night
before. Madame received it and continued,--

"Before perusing this report, Mr. Vivian, I should wish to be made
acquainted with those particulars."

"Which ones?" said the Prophet.

"Of your grandmother's career."

"Oh, I--"

"Let us take them in order, please, and proceed _parri passo_. When was
the old lady removed from the bottle?"

"Never," replied the Prophet, firmly. "Never."

An expression of incredulous amazement decorated the obstreperous
features of Madame.

"Do you mean to tell me, Mr. Vivian, that she sucks it still?" she
inquired.

"I mean what I say, that she has never been removed from it," returned
the Prophet, with energy.

"Well, sir, she must be very partial to milk and Indian rubber, very
partial indeed!" said Mr. Sagittarius. "Go on, my darling."

"Her first tooth, Mr. Vivian--when did she cut it?"

"She has no idea."

Madame began to look decidedly grim.

"Date of short-coating?" she rapped out.

"There was no date. She never wore a short-coat."

"Do you desire me to believe, Mr. Vivian, that the old lady has been
going about in long clothes ever since she was born?" inquired Madame,
with incredulous sarcasm.

"Most certainly I do," replied the Prophet.

"Then how does she get along, pray? Come! Come!"

"She has always worn long clothes," cried the Prophet, boldly standing
up for his beloved relative, "and always will. You can take that from
me, Madame Sagittarius. I know my grandmother, and I am ready to pledge
my honour to it."

"Oh, very well. She must be a very remarkable lady. That's all I can
say. When did she put her hair up?"

"Never. She has never put it up."

"She has never put her hair up!"

"No, never."

"You mean to say that your grandmother goes about in long clothes
with her hair down in the central districts?" cried Madame in blank
amazement.

"She has never put her hair up," answered the Prophet, with almost
obstinate determination.

"Oh, well--if she prefers! But I wonder what the police are about!"
retorted Madame. "And now the rashes?"

"There are none."

But at this Madame's temper--already somewhat upset by her prolonged
communion with the mighty dead--showed symptoms of giving way
altogether.

"Rubbish, Mr. Vivian!" she said, clicking loudly and passing with an
almost upheaving jerk to her upper register! "I'm a mother and was once
a child. Rubbish! I must insist upon knowing the number of the rashes."

"I assure you there are none."

"D'you wish me to believe that the old lady has gone about all her life
in the Berkeley Square in long clothes and her hair down, with her lips
to the bottle and never had a rash? Do you wish me to believe that, Mr.
Vivian?"

"Yes, sir, do you wish Madame, a lady of deep education, sir, to believe
that?" cried Mr. Sagittarius.

"I can only adhere to what I have said," answered the Prophet. "My
grandmother has never been removed from the bottle, has never worn a
short coat, has never put her hair up and has never had an epidemic in
Berkeley Square."

"Then all I can say is that she's an unnatural old lady," cried Madame,
with obvious temper, tossing her head and kicking out the kid boots, as
if seized with the sudden desire to use them upon a human football. "And
there's not many like her."

"There is no one like her, no one at all," said the Prophet with
fervour.

"So I should suppose," cried Madame, forgetting the other questions as
to the day of marriage, etc., in the vexation of the moment. "She must
certainly be the bird of whom Phoenix wrote that rose from ashes in the
days of the classics. _Rarum avis_ indeed! Eh, Jupiter?"

"Very rarum, my dear, very indeed!" responded her husband, with
imitative sarcasm. "An avis indeed, not a doubt of it."

"De Queechy should have known her," continued Madame. "He always loved
everything out of the common. Well, and now for the prophecy. What is
all this, Mr. Vivian?"

"The result of last night's observation," said the Prophet.

"Do you call that a cycloidal curve?" asked Madame, with a contralto
laugh that shook the library. "Look, Jupiter!"

Mr. Sagittarius glanced over his wife's heaving shoulder.

"Very poor, my dear, very irregular indeed."

"It's the best I could do," said the Prophet, still politely.

"I daresay," replied Mr. Sagittarius. "I daresay. Where's your
star-map?"

"I'm afraid I don't know," answered the Prophet. "I left it in the
pomade."

"The pomade!"

"Yes, the butler's own special pomade, and it seems to have
disappeared."

"Very careless, very careless indeed. Let's see--prophecy first, then
how arrived at. 'Grandmother apparently threatened with some danger
at night in immediate future. Great turmoil in the house during dark
hours.' H'm! 'Some stranger, or strangers, coming into her life and
causing great trouble and confusion, almost resulting in despair, and
perhaps actually inducing illness.' H'm! H'm! We didn't arrive at any of
this by our observations, did we, Sophronia?"

"Decidedly not," snapped Madame, haughtily.

"And now let's see how arrived at. H'm! H'm! Grandmother--ingress of
Crab--conjunction of Scorpio with Serpens--moon in eleventh house. Yes,
that's so. Jupiter in trine with Saturn--What's this? 'Crab dressed
implies danger--undressed Crab much safer--attempted intervention
failure--she's in a nice state now--it tried to keep her from it, but
she was drawn right to it.' Right to what?"

"The Crab?"

"Of course she was drawn to it. She depends on the Crab these nights.
But what does the rest mean?"

"The Crab was dressed."

"Dressed--what in?"

"I don't know," said the Prophet. "It didn't tell me."

Mr. Sagittarius and Madame exchanged glances.

"Explain yourself, Mr. Vivian, I beg," cried Madame in a somewhat
excited manner. "How could the Crab be dressed?"

"I have wondered," said the Prophet, gazing at the couple before him
with shining eyes. "But it was dressed last night, and that made it
exceptionally dangerous in some way. Something seemed to tell me so.
Something did tell me so."

"What told you?" inquired Madame, with more excitement and a certain
respect which had been quite absent from her manner before.

"Something that came in the night. I don't know what it was. Light
flashed from it."

"It sounds like a sort of comet, my darling," said Mr. Sagittarius,
considerably perturbed. "We didn't observe that the Crab was specially
dressed, did we?"

"It had nothing on at all when we saw it," said Madame with growing
agitation. "But whatever was this comet that flashed light? That's what
I want to get at."

"It was a dark thing that told me the Crab was dressed, that my
grandmother had been with it and that its influence was inimical to
her."

"A dark thing! That's not a comet!" said Mr. Sagittarius.

"It vanished with a flash of light into the square."

"At what time did you observe it, sir?" asked Mr. Sagittarius, while
Madame leaned forward, gazing with goggling eyes at the Prophet.

"At exactly half-past one."

"Did it stay long?"

"A few minutes only--but it made an impression upon me that I can never
forget."

It had apparently also made a very great impression upon Mr. and Madame
Sagittarius, who remained for some seconds staring fixedly at the
Prophet without uttering a word. At last Mr. Sagittarius turned to
Madame and said in a voice that shook with seriousness,--

"Can it be, Sophronia, that prophets ought to live in the central
districts? Can it really be that the nearer they are to the Circus, and
even to the Stores--"

"_O beatus illa_!" interjected Madame upon the pinions of a sigh.

"Yes, Sophronia, the Stores, the more clearly is the knowledge of the
future vouchsafed to them? If it should prove to be so!"

Madame stared again upon the Prophet with a fixity and strained inquiry
which made him shift in his seat.

"If it should!" she repeated, upon the lowest note of her lower
register, which sounded, at that solemn moment, like the keynote of a
dreamer. Then, with a sudden change of manner, she cried sharply,--

"Jupiter, you must accompany this gentleman back to the square to-day."

The Prophet started. So did Mr. Sagittarius.

"But--" they cried simultaneously.

"And you must share his night watch."

"But, my darling--"

"Or I will," cried Madame. "Which is it to be?"

"Mr. Sagittarius!" exclaimed the Prophet.

"Very well," said Madame. "Let mine be the weary task to wait and
watch at home. _Fata feminus_. The mystery of the dressed Crab must be
unveiled. Should this mysterious visitant again vouchsafe a prophetic
message, a practical prophet must be at hand to receive it. Jupiter,
this gentleman is not practical. This report"--she struck the paper
on which the Prophet had dotted down his notes--"is badly written.
The cycloidal curve might have been made by a Board School child. The
deductions drawn--_deductio ad absurdibus_--reveal no talent, none of
the prophetic _feu de joie_ at all. But this mystery of the dressed Crab
may mean much. Jupiter, you will accompany this gentleman back to London
and you will assist him practically at the telescope to-night."

"Very well, my love. I will risk the personal danger, for your and the
children's--"

"But--but really--" began the Prophet. "I am very sorry, but--"

"Madame has spoken, sir," said Mr. Sagittarius, very solemnly.

"I know she has. But--yes, I know there are no buts in your dictionary,
Madame, I know there aren't--but I have an engagement to-night that I
have sworn--"

"What engagement, sir?" said Mr. Sagittarius, sternly. "You have sworn
to us. You must know that."

"I have sworn to almost everyone," cried the distracted Prophet. "But
this swear--I mean this oath must be kept before yours."

"Before ours, sir?"

"It comes on before eleven. I keep my oath to you after it. I manage the
two, don't you see?"

"He will see that you manage the two, Mr. Vivian, I can assure you,"
said Madame, viciously. "Won't you, Jupiter?"

"Certainly, my dear. What is the oath, sir, that you place before ours?"

"An oath to Miss Minerva," returned the Prophet, beginning to feel
reckless, firm in the conviction that it was henceforth his destiny to
be the very sport of Fate.

"Ha!" cried Mr. Sagittarius. "The double life!"

"Who is Miss Minerva, pray?" said Madame, shooting a very penetrating
glance upon her husband.

"Your husband can tell you that," replied the Prophet, by no means
without guile.

"Jupiter," cried Madame, "what is the meaning of this? Who is this
person?"

Mr. Sagittarius looked exceedingly uncomfortable.

"My dear," he began, "she is a young fe--that is, a young wo--I should
say--"

"A fe! A wo! Explain yourself, Jupiter!"

"She is a lady, my love."

"A lady! Do I know her?"

"I believe not, my dear."

"And do you?"

"No, my darling. That is--that is--"

"Yes, I suppose!" said Madame, with a very violent click.

"I can hardly say, Sophronia, that, I can't indeed. I have met her, by
accident, quite by accident I assure you, once or twice."

"Where?"

"At Jellybrand's. She goes there to fetch letters on the same day as I
do."

Madame's very intellectual brow was over-clouded with storm. She turned
upon the Prophet.

"And what of this person, Mr. Vivian?" she cried. "What of her and this
oath?"

The Prophet, who was secretly very delighted with the diversion he had
so cleverly created, hastened to reply,--

"I have promised most solemnly to meet her to-night at a house in the
Zoological Gardens!"

"A house in the Zoological Gardens!"

"I mean at the Zoological House, the residence of Mrs. Vane Bridgeman,
who is--"

But, at this point in his explanation, the Prophet was interrupted by
both his hearers.

"The Jellybrand one!" cried Mr. Sagittarius.

"The prophets' patron!" vociferated Madame.



CHAPTER XVI

THE PROPHET RETURNS FROM THE MOUSE WITH TWO OLD AND VALUED FRIENDS

At these exclamations the Prophet started in some surprise.

"You know this lady?" he asked.

"By repute, sir," replied Mr. Sagittarius.

"Who does not?" cried Madame. "She built the 'Prophets' Rest' at
Birchington."

"And the Mediums' Almshouses at Sunnington."

"And the 'Palmists' Retreat' at Millaby Bay."

"And the--"

"I see you know all about her," interposed the Prophet. "Well, she is
giving a reception to-night at Zoological House and I have sworn to be
there. But I shall get home by eleven. You will understand, however,
that I cannot have the pleasure of entertaining Mr. Sagittarius during
the evening under my own roof. I regret this extremely, but you see it
is unavoidable."

To the Prophet's great surprise this lucid explanation was received by
his hearers with a strange silence and a combined meditative, and
even moony, staring which was to him inexplicable. Both Madame and Mr.
Sagittarius seemed suddenly immersed in contemplation. They began, he
thought, to look like Buddhists, or like those devoted persons who,
in the times of the desert monks, remained for long periods posed upon
pillows in sandy wastes musing upon Eternity. At first, as he met their
fixed eyes, he fancied that they were, perhaps, falling into a trance,
but presently the conviction seized him that they must be, on the
contrary, busily thinking out some problem. He hoped fervently that he
did not form part of it. At length the quivering silence was broken by
Mr. Sagittarius.

"I might accompany you to Mrs. Bridgeman's, sir," he said to the
Prophet. "Might I not, Sophronia?"

"Oh, but--" began the Prophet, very hastily.

"The lady has frequently pressed me to accept of her hospitality."

"Indeed!"

"For years she has been writing to me at Jellybrand's, under my real
name of Malkiel the Second, you understand. She addresses me simply as
the master.'"

"But do the postal authorities--"

"Not upon the envelope, sir, not upon the envelope."

"I see."

"Hitherto, true to myself, true to the principles of Malkiel the
First, and to the instincts of Madame, I have declined her personal
acquaintance. But there is no reason why you should not introduce me to
the house as Mr. Sagittarius, no reason at all."

The Prophet knew only too well that there was not, but before he had
time to go on trying to wriggle out of the complication, Madame struck
in.

"Miss Minerva is to be present at this reception, I believe," she said
sharply.

"Yes, she is," answered the Prophet, illumined by a ray of hope.

"Jupiter," said Madame, "I will accompany you and Mr. Vivian to the
Zoological Gardens to-night. It is my sacred duty."

The Prophet groaned.

"But, my darling--"

"The reception over, I will assist you and Mr. Vivian at the telescope
in the Berkeley Square. In your presence I can do so without departing
from my principles, _salvo pudoribus_. Do not interrupt me, Jupiter, if
you please. I have thought the matter out. The crisis in our fate is at
hand. Upon the events of the next three nights depends our future. These
mysterious messages of which Mr. Vivian speaks must be examined into by
us upon the spot. This mystery of the dressed Crab must be made clear.
A woman's intellect is needed. A woman's intellect shall not be wanting.
Ill as I am, worn down by the occurrences of yesterday and by this
gentleman's incessant telegrams, I will leave my books"--here she waved
one hand towards the dwarf bookcase--"I will assume an appropriate
_neglige_ and my outdoor boots, a fichu and bonnet, and will accompany
you at once to the Berkeley Square, there to confer and arrange the
programme of the evening. Mrs. Bridgeman would fall down before us in
worship could she know who we really are. As it is, Mr. Vivian will
introduce us modestly as two old and valued friends. The time may be at
hand when we need no longer hide ourselves beneath an _alibi_. Till then
we must possess ourselves, and Mr. Vivian must possess us, in patience.
Ill as I am, I will accompany you. To-night shall see me in the
Zoological Gardens at my husband's side."

Before the prospect of this sublime self-sacrifice both Mr. Sagittarius
and the Prophet were as men dumb. They said not a word. They only
gazed--with a sort of strange idiotcy--at Madame as she rose, with an
elaborate and studied feebleness, from the maroon couch and prepared to
go upstairs to assume the appropriate _neglige_. Only when she was at
her full height did the Prophet, rendered desperate by the terrible
results of his own ingenuity, nerve himself to utter one last protest.

"I really do not think it would be quite according to the rules of
etiquette which prevail in the central districts," he cried, "for a lady
to spend the night in the butler's pantry of a comparative stranger,
even when accompanied by her husband. It might give rise to talk in the
square, and--"

"The butler's pantry, sir!" exclaimed Mr. Sagittarius. "Explain
yourself, I beg."

"The telescope is there, and--"

"I have passed beyond the reach of etiquette," said Madame, looking
considerably like Joan of Arc and other well-known heroines. "My
duty lies plain before me. Of myself I should not have selected the
Zoological Gardens and the butler's pantry of a comparative stranger as
places in which to pass the night, even when accompanied by my husband.
But my conscience--_mens conscium recto_--guides me and I will not
resist it. I will assume my _neglige_ and bonnet and will be with you in
a moment."

So saying she majestically quitted the apartment.

The Prophet fell down upon the maroon sofa like a man smitten with
paralysis. He felt suddenly old, and very weak. He tried to think, to
consider how he could explain Madame Sagittarius to his grandmother--for
she must surely now become aware of the presence of strangers in her
pretty home--how he could arrange matters with Mr. Ferdinand, how he
could apologise to a lady whom he had never yet seen for appearing
at her house with two uninvited guests, how he could get rid of the
Sagittariuses when the horrible night watch should be at an end and the
frigid winter dawn be near. But his mind refused to work. His brain was
a blank, containing nothing except, perhaps, a vague desire for
sudden death. Mr. Sagittarius did not disturb his contemplation of
the inevitable. Indeed, that gentleman also seemed meditative, and the
silence lasted until the reappearance of Madame, in a brown robe--of a
slightly tea-gown type--trimmed with green chiffon and coffee-coloured
lace, a black bonnet adorned with about a score of imitation plums
made in some highly-glazed material, a heavy cloak lined with priceless
rabbit-skins, and the outdoor boots.

If the Prophet had found the journey to the Mouse a painful experience,
what can be said of his feelings during the journey from that noble
stream? Long afterwards he recalled his state of mind during the
tramp across the Common among the broken crockery, the dust-heaps, the
decaying vegetables and the occasional lurking rats, the journey in the
train, the reembarkment upon the purple 'bus from the gentle eminence
sloping towards the coal-yard, the long pilgrimage towards the central
districts with his very outlying companions. He recalled the peculiar
numbness that strove against the desperation of his thoughts, his feeble
efforts to lay plans frustrated by a perpetual buzzing in his brain, his
flitting visions of that gentle grandmother round whose venerable age
and dignity he was about to group such peculiar personalities, and
beneath whose roof he was about to indulge in such unholy prophetic
practices. Long afterwards--but even then he could not smile as men so
often smile when they look back on lost despairs!

He and his companions spoke but little together as they journeyed.
Occasionally Madame and Mr. Sagittarius conversed in husky whispers,
like brigands the Prophet thought, and the veiled click of Madame's
contralto struck through the startled air. But mostly a silence
prevailed--a silence alive with fate.

At the corner of Air Street they got out and began to walk down
Piccadilly towards the Berkeley square. It was now evening. The lamps
were lighted and the murmur of strolling crowds filled the gloomy air.
Madame stared feverishly about her, excited by the press, the flashing
hansoms and the gaily-illuminated shops. Once, as she passed Benoist's,
she murmured "_O festum dies_!" and again, by the Berkeley, when she
was momentarily jostled by a very large and umbrageous tramp who
had apparently been celebrating the joys of beggary--"_Acto profanus
vulgam_!" But generally she was silent, enwrapped, no doubt, in bookish
thought. When, at length, they stood before the door of number one
thousand she breathed a heavy sigh.

"Please," said the Prophet, in a trembling voice, "please enter quietly.
My grandmother is very unwell."

"Ankles seems to be a very painful complaint, sir," said Mr.
Sagittarius. "But Madame and self are not in the habit of creating
uproar by our movements."

"No, no. Of course not. Still--on tiptoe if you don't mind."

"I cannot walk on tiptoe," said Madame, in a voice that sounded to
the Prophet terrifically powerful. "The attitude is precarious and
undignified. As the great Juvenile--"

"Yes, yes. Ah! that's it!"

He managed to get his key into the door and very gingerly opened it.
Madame and Mr. Sagittarius stepped into the hall, followed closely
by the Prophet, who was content on conveying them unobserved to the
library.

"This way," he whispered. "This way. Softly! Softly!"

He began to steal, like a shadow, across the hall, and, impressed by his
surreptitious manner, his old and valued friends instinctively followed
his example. All three of them, then, with long steps and theatrical
pauses, were stagily upon the move, when suddenly the door that led to
the servants' quarters swung open and Mrs. Fancy Quinglet debouched into
their midst, succeeded by Mr. Ferdinand, who carried in his hand a menu
card in a silver holder. At the moment of their appearance the Prophet,
holding his finger to his lips, was taking a soft and secret stride in
the direction of the library door, his body bent forward and his head
protruded towards the sanctum he longed to gain, and Madame and Mr.
Sagittarius, true to the instinct of imitation that dwells in our monkey
race, were in precisely similar attitudes behind him. The hall being
rather dark, and the gait of the trio it contained thus tragically
surreptitious, it was perhaps not unnatural that Mrs. Fancy should give
vent to a piercing cry of terror, and that Mr. Ferdinand should drop the
menu and crouch back against the wall in a hunched position expressive
of alarm. At any rate, such were their actions, while--for their
part--the Prophet and his two old and valued friends uttered a united
exclamation and struck three attitudes that were pregnant with defensive
amazement.

Having uttered herself, Mrs. Fancy, according to her invariable custom
when completely terrified, displayed all the semblance of clear-sighted
composure and explanatory discrimination. While Mr. Ferdinand remained
by the wall, with his face to it and his large white hands spread
out upon his shut eyes, the lady's maid advanced upon Madame, and,
addressing herself apparently to some hidden universe in need of
information, remarked in rather a piecing voice,--

"I say again, as I said afore, the house has been broke into and the
robbers are upon us. I can't speak different nor mean other."

On hearing these words Madame's large and rippling countenance became
suffused with indignant scarlet, and a preliminary click rang through
the hall. The Prophet bounded forward.

"Hush, Fancy," he cried. "What are you saying?"

"What I mean, Master Hennessey. The house has been broke--"

"Hush! Hush! This lady and gentleman are--"

"Two old and valued friends--" boomed Madame.

"Two old and valued friends of mine. Mr. Ferdinand! Mr. Ferdinand, take
your face from the wall, if you please. There is no cause for alarm.
Now, Fancy--now!"

For Mrs. Fancy had, as usual, broken into tears on learning the
reassuring truth, and was now displaying every symptom of distress and
enervation. The Prophet, unable to calm her, was obliged to assist her
upstairs and place her upon the landing, where he hurriedly left her
uttering broken moans and murmurs, and repeating again and again her
statement of affairs and assertion of inability to conceal the revealed
obvious. On his return he found Madame, Mr. Sagittarius and Mr.
Ferdinand grouped statuesquely in the hall as if to represent
"Perturbation."

"Mr. Ferdinand," he said rather severely, "I did not expect this conduct
of you, shrinking from guests in this extraordinary manner. A butler who
shows terror at the sight of visitors does not conduce to the popularity
of his employers."

"I beg pardon, sir. I was not prepared."

"Please be prepared another time. You will serve dinner for three
to-night, very quietly, in the inner dining-room. I do not wish Mrs.
Merillia to be disturbed in her illness, and--"

"If you please, sir, Mrs. Merillia feels herself so much better that she
is coming down to dinner to-night."

"Coming down to dinner!" said the Prophet, aghast.

"Yes, sir. And she has asked in Sir Tiglath Butt and the Lady Julia
Postlethwaite to join her. I was about to show Mrs. Merillia the menu,
sir, when--"

"Good Heavens! Merciful Powers!" ejaculated the Prophet.

"Sir?"

"What on earth is to be done?" continued the Prophet, lost for the
moment to all sense of propriety.

Mr. Ferdinand looked at the old and valued friends.

"I can't say, sir, I'm sure," he replied, pursing up his lips.

"What is the meaning--" began Mr. Sagittarius.

"I'm not aware that--" started Madame.

The Prophet darted to the library door and opened it.

"Pray, pray come in here," he hissed. "My grandmother! Softly!"

"But the old la--"

"Hush, please!"

"I must remark, Mr. Viv--"

"Tsh! Tsh! Mr. Ferdinand, wait in the hall. I shall want to speak to you
in a moment."

"Yes, sir."

The Prophet closed the door and turned to this indignant visitors.

"This is terrible," he said. "Terrible!"

"Pray why?" cried Madame.

"Why," cried the Prophet, "why?"

He sought frantically for some excuse. Suddenly a bright idea occurred
to him.

"Why," he said, impressively. "Because Sir Tiglath Butt, the gentleman
who is coming to dinner, is the person who for five-and-forty years
has been seeking Mr. Sagittarius with the firm intention of assaulting,
perhaps of killing, him."

Mr. Sagittarius turned deathly pale, and made a movement as if to get
out of the nearest window.

"This is a trap!" he stammered. "This is a rat-trap. This was planned."

"Really"--began the Prophet.

But Mr. Sagittarius did not heed the exclamation. Trembling very
violently, he continued,--

"Sophy, my darling, you are in danger. Let us fly!"

And, clutching his wife by the arm, to the Prophet's unspeakable delight
he endeavoured to lead, or rather to drag her to the door. But Madame
now showed the metal she was made of.

"Jupiter," she exclaimed, in her deepest note, "if you are a Prophet you
can surely at moments be also a man. Where is your _toga virilibus_?"

"I don't know, my love, I'm sure. Don't let us lose a moment. Come, my
angel!"

"I shall not come," retorted Madame, whose leaping ambition had been
fired by the sound of titled names. "The gentleman believes you to be an
American syndicate."

"I know, my blessing, I know. But--"

"Very well. If you don't behave like one he will never suspect you."

The Prophet saw his chance slipping from him and hastened to interpose.

"He might divine the truth," he said. "One can never--"

But at this moment he was interrupted by Mr. Ferdinand who abruptly
opened the door and observed,--

"If you please, sir, Mrs. Merillia has sent down orders that the police
are to be fetched at once."

Mr. Sagittarius, now thoroughly unnerved, turned from white to grey.

"The police!" he vociferated. "Sophy, my angel, let us fly. This is no
place for you!"

"The police!" cried the Prophet. "Why?"

"I believe it's Mrs. Fancy's doing, sir. If you would go to Mrs.
Merillia, sir, I think--"

The Prophet rushed from the room and hastened upstairs four steps at a
time. He found his beloved grandmother in a state of grave agitation,
and Mrs. Fancy, in floods of tears, reiterating her statement that there
were robbers in the house.

"Oh, Hennessey!" cried Mrs. Merillia, on his entrance, "thank God
that you are come. There are burglars in the house. Fancy has just
encountered them in the hall. Go for the police, my dearest boy. Don't
lose a moment."

"My dear grannie, they're not burglars."

"I can't speak different, Master Hennessey, nor--"

"Then who are they, Hennessey? Fancy declares--"

"They are two--two--well, two old and valued friends of mine."

"Old and valued friends of ours!"

"Of mine, grannie. Fancy, pray don't make such a noise!"

"Fancy," said Mrs. Merillia, "you can go to your room and lie down."

"Yes, ma'am. I say again, as I said afore, the house has been broke into
and the robbers--"

At this point the Prophet shut the door on the faithful and persistent
creature, who forthwith carried her determination and sobs to an upper
storey.

"Hennessey, what is all this? Who is really here?"

"Grannie, dear, only two friends of mine," replied the Prophet, trying
to look at ease, and feeling like a criminal.

"Friends of yours? But surely then I know them. I thought I knew all
your friends."

"So you do, grannie, all except--except just these."

"And they are old and valued, you say?"

"No, no--that is, I mean yes."

Mrs. Merillia was too dignified to ask any further questions. She lay
back on her sofa, and looked at her grandson with a shining of mild
reproach in her green eyes.

"Well, my dear," she said, "go back to your friends, but don't forget
that Lady Julia and Sir Tiglath are dining here at half-past seven."

"Grannie," cried the Prophet, with a desperate feeling that Madame meant
to stay, "you ought not to dine downstairs to-night. Let me send and put
them off."

"No, Hennessey," she answered, with gentle decision. "I feel better, and
I want cheering up. My morning was not altogether pleasant."

The Prophet understood that she was alluding to his questions, and felt
cut to the heart. His home seemed crumbling about him, but he knew not
what to do or what to say. Mrs. Merillia observed his agitation, but she
did not choose to remark upon it, for she considered curiosity the most
vulgar of all the vices.

"Go to your friends, dear," she said again. "But be in time for dinner."

"Yes, grannie."

The Prophet descended the stairs and met Mr. Ferdinand at the bottom.

"Am I to send for the police, sir?"

"No, no. I've explained matters."

"And about dinner, sir?"

"I'll tell you in a moment, Mr. Ferdinand," replied the Prophet,
entering the library with the fixed intention of getting Madame and Mr.
Sagittarius out of the house without further delay.

The tableau that met his eyes, however, was not reassuring. He found
Madame, having laid aside her bonnet, and thrown the rabbit-skin cloak
carelessly upon a settee, arranging her hair before a mirror, and
shaking up the coffee-coloured lace fichu in a manner that suggested
a permanent occupation of the house, while her husband, sunk in a deep
armchair in an attitude of complete nervous prostration, was gazing
dejectedly into the fire. When the Prophet entered, the latter bounded
with alarm, while Madame turned round, a couple of hairpins in her mouth
and both hands to the back of her head.

"Ah," she remarked, through the pins, "_il a vous_! I am happy to say
that I have induced Mr. Sagittarius to assume his _toga virilibus_, and
that we have, therefore, great pleasure in yielding to your thoughtful
pressure--"

"My what?" said the Prophet, blankly.

"You thoughtful pressure, and accepting your urgent invite to dine here
before proceeding to the Zoological Gardens and thence to the butler's
pantry."

The Prophet tried not to groan while she emitted a pin and secured with
it a wandering plait of raven hair.

"You're sure, sir," said Mr. Sagittarius, in a deplorable voice, "that
the gentleman is convinced that I am really an American syndicate?"

The Prophet rang the bell. He could not trust himself to speak, and,
when he looked at Madame's large and determined eyes, he knew that to do
so would be useless.

Mr. Ferdinand appeared.

"Mr. Ferdinand," said the Prophet, "this lady and gentleman will join us
at dinner to-night."

"Yes, sir," said Mr. Ferdinand, casting a glance of outraged prudery
upon Mr. Sagittarius, who was attired in his usual morning costume,
including spats.

"What's the matter, Mr. Ferdinand?" asked the Prophet, following that
functionary's eyes. "Ha! He's not dressed!"

"No, sir!"

"Mr. Sagittarius," cried the Prophet, "you're not dressed!"

"Sir," cried that gentleman, "do you dare to accuse me of impropriety in
a frock coat?"

"No, no. But for dinner. You can't possibly dine like that!"

"I have dined like this, sir, for the last twenty years. The architects
and their wives--"

"I daresay. But unluckily there will be no architects and their wives at
dinner to-night. Please stand up."

"Sir?"

"Kindly stand up. Mr. Ferdinand!"

"Yes, sir."

"Place your back against this gentleman's if you please--touching,
touching! Don't wriggle away like that. Keep your heels to the ground
while I fetch a sheet of notepaper. Don't move your heads either of you.
I thought so. You're pretty much the same height. Mr. Ferdinand, you
will lay out a white shirt and one of your black dress suits in my
dressing-room at once. Madame, I regret that we must leave you for a few
moments. Will you rest here? Allow me to place a cushion for your head.
And here is Juvenal in the original."

So saying, the Prophet hurried Mr. Sagittarius from the room, driving
Mr. Ferdinand, in a condition of elephantine horror, before him, and
abandoning Madame to an acquaintance with the classics that she had
certainly never achieved in the society of the renowned Dr. Carter.



CHAPTER XVII

MALKIEL THE SECOND IS MISTAKEN FOR A RATCATCHER

"If you tremble like that, of course it must look too big!" exclaimed
the Prophet to Mr. Sagittarius, a quarter of an hour later. "Draw it in
at the back."

Mr. Sagittarius, with shaking hands, drew in the waistcoat of Mr.
Ferdinand, which hung in folds around his thin and agitated figure.

"That's better," said the Prophet. "They won't notice anything odd. But
you've turned up your--Mr. Ferdinand's trousers!"

"They're too long, sir. You braced them too low for--"

"I braced them low on purpose," cried the Prophet in great excitement,
"to cover the spats, since you can't get on Mr. Ferdinand's boots.
Kindly turn them down."

"As to the spats, sir, the architects and their wives--"

"Mr. Sagittarius," exclaimed the Prophet, "I think it right to inform
you that if you mention the architects and their wives again, I may very
probably go mad. I don't say I shall, but I will not answer for myself.
Have the goodness to turn them down and follow me."

Mr. Sagittarius obeyed, and followed the Prophet from the room with a
waddling gait and a terrible sensation of having nothing on. The coat
and trousers which he wore flapped about him as he descended the stairs
in the wake of the Prophet, glancing nervously about him and starting at
the slightest sound. In the library they found Madame, holding the great
Juvenile upside down and looking exceedingly cross.

"Will you be good enough to come upstairs?" said the Prophet to her
very politely, though his fingers twitched to strangle her. "I wish to
present you to my grandmother, and dinner is just ready."

Madame rose with dignity.

"I am ready too," she said, with a click. "_Semper paratis_."

And, shaking up the fichu, she ascended the stairs. Outside the
drawing-room door the Prophet, who seemed strangely calm, but who was
in reality almost bursting with nervous excitement, paused and faced his
old and valued friends.

"You will forgive my saying so, I hope," he whispered, "but my
grandmother is not well and much conversation tires her. So we don't
talk too much in her presence. Only just now and then, you understand."

And with this last injunction--futile, he knew as he gave it--he
commended himself to whatever powers there be and opened the door.

Sir Tiglath had not yet arrived, but Lady Julia Postlethwaite was seated
on a sofa by Mrs. Merillia, and was conversing with her about the Court,
the dreadful amount of money a certain duke--her third cousin--had
recently had to pay in Death Duties, the corrupt condition of society,
and the absurd pretensions of the lower middle classes. Lady Julia was
sensitive and a very _grande dame_. She wore her hair powdered, and had
a slight cough and exquisite manners. Once a lady in waiting, she was
now a widow, possessed a set of apartments in Hampton Court Palace,
worshipped Queen Alexandra, and had scarcely ever spoken to anybody who
moved outside of Court Circles. The Duke of Wellington was said to have
embraced her when a child.

Mrs. Merillia and this lady looked up when the door opened, and Lady
Julia paused midway in a sentence, of which these were the opening
words,--

"The old duke wouldn't make it over, and so poor Loftus has to pay
nearly a million to the Chancellor of the Excheq--"

"How d'you do, Lady Julia? Grannie, I have persuaded my friends, Mr.
and Madame Sagittarius, to join us at dinner. Sir Tiglath Butt is
most anxious to meet Mr. Sagittarius, who is a great astronomer. Let
me--Madame Sagittarius, Mrs. Merillia--Mr. Sagittarius--Mrs. Merillia,
my grandmother--Lady Julia Postlethwaite."

Mrs. Merillia, although taken completely by surprise, and fully
conscious that her grandson had committed an outrage in turning an
arranged and intimate quartette without permission into a disorganised
sextette, bowed with self-possessed graciousness, and indicated a chair
to Madame, who seated herself in it with that sort of defensive and
ostentatious majesty which is often supposed by ill-bred people to be
a perfect society manner. Mr. Sagittarius remained standing in his
enormous suit, turning out his feet, over which Mr. Ferdinand's trousers
rippled in broadcloth waves, in the first position. A slight pause
ensued, during which the Prophet was uncomfortably affected by the
behaviour of Madame, who gazed at the very neat and superior wig worn by
Mrs. Merillia, and at that lady's charming silver grey damask gown, in
a manner that suggested amazement tempered with indignation, her instant
expression of these two sentiments being only held in check by a certain
reverence which was doubtless inspired by the pretty room, the thick
carpet, the ancestral pictures upon the walls, and the lofty bearing of
Lady Julia Postlethwaite, who could scarcely conceal her very natural
surprise at the extraordinary appearance of Mr. Sagittarius. As to Mrs.
Merillia, although she was, in reality, near fainting with wonder at her
grandson's escapade, she preserved an expression of gracious benignity,
and did not allow a motion of her eyelids or a flutter of her fan to
betray her emotion at finding herself the unprepared hostess of such
unusual guests. The Prophet broke the silence by saying, in a voice that
cracked with agitation,--

"I trust--I sincerely trust that we shall have a clement spring this
year."

Lady Julia, at whom he had looked while uttering this original
desire, was about to reply when Madame uttered a stentorian click and
interposed.

"In the spring the young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love,"
she remarked, with the fictitious ease of profound ill-breeding.

No one dared to dispute the portentous statement, and she resumed
majestically,--

"The Mouse is delicious in spring."

There was another dead silence, and Madame, turning with patronising and
heavy affability towards Lady Julia, added,--

"Your ladyship doubtless loves the Mouse--_Mus Pulcherrimo_--in spring
as I do?"

The Prophet felt as if he were being pricked by thousands of red-hot
needles, and the perspiration burst out in beads upon his forehead.

"I am not specially fond of mice in spring, or indeed at any season,"
replied Lady Julia, with her slight, but very distinct and bell-like,
cough.

"I said the Mouse, your ladyship," returned Madame, feeding upon this
titled acquaintance with her bulging black eyes, and pushing the kid
boots well out from under her brown skirt. "I observed that the Mouse
was peculiarly delicious in the season of love."

"No mouse attracts me," said Lady Julia, coughing again and raising her
fine eyebrows slightly. "I should much prefer to pass the spring without
the companionship of any mouse whatever."

Both Madame and Mr. Sagittarius opened their lips to reply, but before
they could eject a single word the door was opened by Mr. Ferdinand, who
announced,--

"Sir Tiglath Butt."

Mr. Sagittarius started violently and upset a vase of roses, the
astronomer rolled into the room with a very red face, and Mr. Ferdinand
added,--

"Dinner is served."

Mrs. Merillia shook hands with Sir Tiglath and glanced despairingly
around her. It was sufficiently obvious that she was considering how to
arrange the procession to the dining-room.

"Hennessey," she began, "will you take Lady Julia? Sir Tiglath, will
you"--she paused, but there was no help for it, she was obliged to
continue--"take Mrs. Sagittarius? Let me introduce you, Sir Tiglath
Butt--Mrs. Sagittarius. Mr. Sagittarius, will you take--"

"Mr. Sagittarius!" roared Sir Tiglath. "Where is he?"

That gentleman gathered Mr. Ferdinand's trousers up in both hands and
prepared for instantaneous flight.

"Where is he?" bellowed Sir Tiglath, wheeling round with amazing
rapidity for so fat a man. "Ha!"

He had viewed Mr. Sagittarius, who, grasping Mr. Ferdinand's suit in
pleats, ducked his head like one wishing to be beforehand with violence
and set the spats towards the door. Sir Tiglath advanced upon him.

"The old astronomer has heard the name of Sagittarius," he vociferated.
"He has been informed that--"

"It's not true, sir," cried Mr. Sagittarius, pale with terror. "It
is not true. I deny it. I am an Ameri--I mean I am not the American
syndicate--you are in error, in absolute error. I swear it. I take the
heavens to witness."

At this remarkable and comprehensive statement Mrs. Merillia and Lady
Julia looked at each other in elegant amazement.

"What do you mean, sir?" exclaimed Sir Tiglath. "And why do you insult
the sacred heavens, you an astronomer!"

"I am not an astronomer," cried Mr. Sagittarius, cringing in the
voluminous waistcoat of Mr. Ferdinand. "I am an outside broker. I swear
it. My dress, my manner proclaim the fact. Sophronia, tell the gentleman
that I am an outside broker and that all Margate has recognised me as
such."

"My husband states the fact," said Madame, in response to this
impassioned appeal. "My husband brokes outside, and has done for the
last twenty years. Collect yourself, Jupiter. Pray do not doff your
_toga virilibus_ in the presence of ladies!"

The terror of Mr. Sagittarius was such, however, that it is very
doubtful whether he would not have proceeded thus to disrobe had not
the Prophet, rendered desperate by the turn of events, abruptly leaped
between Sir Tiglath and his old and valued friend and, gathering the
outraged Lady Julia under his arm, exclaimed,--

"Pray, pray--we can discuss this matter more comfortably at dinner.
Permit me, Lady Julia. Sir Tiglath, if you will kindly give your arm to
Madame Sagittarius. Mr. Sagittarius, my grandmother."

So saying, he made a sort of flank movement, so adroitly conceived and
carried out that, in the twinkling of an eye, he had driven Sir Tiglath
to the side of Madame and hustled Mr. Sagittarius into the immediate
neighbourhood of Mrs. Merillia. Nor had more than two minutes elapsed
before the whole party found themselves--they scarce knew how--arranged
around the dining table and being served with clear soup by Mr.
Ferdinand and the astounded Gustavus, whose naturally round eyes began
to take an almost oblong form as he attended to the wants of Mrs.
Merillia's very unfamiliar guests, whose outlying demeanour and
architectural manners evidently filled him with the most poignant
dismay.

As to Mrs. Merillia and Lady Julia, the foregoing scene had so reduced
them that they were almost betrayed into some hysterical departure
from the rules of exquisite good breeding which they had unconsciously
observed from the cradle. Indeed, the latter, strong in the belief that
the terms outside broker and raving maniac were interchangeable, twice
dropped her spoon into her soup-plate before she could succeed in
lifting it to her mouth, and was unable to prevent herself from
whispering to the Prophet,--

"Pray, Mr. Vivian, tell me the worst--is he absolutely dangerous?"

"No, no," whispered back the Prophet, reassuringly. "It's all his play."

"Play!" murmured Lady Julia, glancing at Mr. Sagittarius, who was
holding back the right sleeve of Mr. Ferdinand's coat with his left hand
in order to have the free use of his dinner limb.

"Yes," whispered the Prophet. "He's the most harmless, innocent
creature. A child might stroke him. I mean he wouldn't hurt a child."

"Yes, but we are not children," said Lady Julia, still in great
apprehension.

Meanwhile Sir Tiglath, concerned with his dinner, took no heed of Mr.
Sagittarius for the moment, and that gentleman, slightly reassured,
endeavoured to make himself agreeable to Mrs. Merillia.

"You are very pleasantly situated here, ma'am," he began.

Mrs. Merillia thought he meant because she was at his elbow, and
answered politely,--

"Yes, very pleasantly situated."

"It is indeed a blessing to be within such easy reach of the Stores,"
added Mr. Sagittarius, finishing his soup, and permitting Mr.
Ferdinand's sleeves to flow down once more over his hands.

"The Stores!" said Mrs. Merillia.

"_O festum dies beatus illa_!" ejaculated Madame, assuming an expression
of profound and almost passionate sentiment. "Happy indeed the good lady
who dwells in the central districts!"

She permitted a gigantic sigh to leave her bosom and to wander freely
among the locks of those at the table. Sir Tiglath, who, on being
assaulted by her learning, had shown momentary symptoms of apoplexy, now
gave a loud grunt, while the Prophet, perceiving that his grandmother
and Lady Julia were quite unequal to the occasion, hastily replied,--

"Yes, Berkeley Square is very convenient in may ways."

"Ah!" said Mr. Sagittarius, keeping a wary eye on Sir Tiglath and
re-addressing himself to Mrs. Merillia, "the Berkeley Square. But if you
lived in the one behind Kimmins's Mews, it would be quite another pair
of boots, would it not, ma'am?"

Lady Julia, who was sitting next to Mr. Sagittarius, shifted her chair
nearer to the Prophet, and whispered, "I'm sure he is dangerous, Mr.
Vivian!" while Mrs. Merillia, in the greatest perplexity, replied,--

"The one behind Mr. Kimmins's Mews?"

"Ay, over against Brigwell's Buildings, just beyond the Pauper Lunatic
Asylum."

Lady Julia turned pale.

"I daresay," answered Mrs. Merillia, bravely. "But I am not acquainted
with the neighbourhood you mention."

"You know the Mouse?"

At this abrupt return to the subject of mice Lady Julia became really
terrified.

"Be frank with me, Mr. Vivian," she whispered to the Prophet, under
cover of boiled salmon; "is he a ratcatcher?"

"Good Heavens, no!" whispered back the Prophet. "He's--he's quite the
contrary."

"But--"

"What mouse?" said Mrs. Merillia, endeavouring to seem pleasantly at
ease, though she, too, was beginning to feel a certain amount of alarm
at these strange beings' persistent discussion of the inhabitants of the
wainscot. "Do you allude to any special mouse?"

"I do, ma'am. I allude to the Mouse that has helped to make Madame and
self what we are."

Sir Tiglath began to roll about in his chair preparatory to some
deliverance, and Mrs. Merillia, casting a somewhat agitated glance at
her grandson, answered,--

"Really. I did not know that anything so small could have so much
influence."

"It may be small, ma'am," said Mr. Sagittarius. "But to a sensitive
nature it often seems gigantic."

"You mean at night, I suppose? Does it disturb you very much?"

"We hear it, ma'am, but it lulls us to rest."

"Indeed. That is very fortunate. I fear it might keep me awake."

"So we thought at first. But now we should miss it. Should we not,
Sophronia?"

"Doubtless," replied Madame, arranging a napkin carefully over her
fichu, and dealing rigorously with some mayonnaise sauce. "It has been
our perpetual companion for many years, _mus amicus humano generi_."

Sir Tiglath swelled, and Mrs. Merillia responded,--

"I see, a pet. Is it white?"

"No, ma'am," returned Mr. Sagittarius, "it is a rich, chocolate brown
except on wet days. Then it takes on the hue of a lead pencil."

"Indeed!" said Mrs. Merillia, trying nobly to remain social. "How very
curious!"

"We worship it in summer," continued Mr. Sagittarius. "In the sultry
season it soothes and calms us."

"Then it is quite tame?"

"At that time of year, but in winter nights it is sometimes almost
wild."

"Ah, I daresay. They often are, I know."

"The architects and their wives love it as we do."

"Do they? How very fortunate!"

"We should hate to miss it even for a moment."

"Oh, Mr. Vivian!" whispered Lady Julia, "this is dreadful. I'm almost
sure he's brought it with him."

"No, no. It's not alive."

"A dead mouse!"

"It's a river."

"A river! But he said it was a mouse."

"It's both. Mr. Sagittarius," added the Prophet, in a loud and desperate
tone of voice, "you'll find this champagne quite dry. You needn't be
afraid of it."

"Did you get it from by the rabbit shop, sir?" asked Mr. Sagittarius,
lifting his glass. "I ordered a dozen in, only the day before
yesterday."

Lady Julia began to tremble.

"I see," she whispered to the Prophet. "His mania is about animals."

Meanwhile the Prophet had made a warning face at Mr. Sagittarius, who
suddenly remembered his danger and subsided, glancing uneasily at
Sir Tiglath, whose intention of addressing him had been momentarily
interfered with by a sweetbread masked in a puree of spinach.

Madame Sagittarius, assisted by food and dry champagne, was now--as the
Prophet perceived with horror--beginning to feel quite at her ease.
She protruded her elbows, sat more extensively in her chair, rolled her
prominent eyes about the room as one accustomed to her state, and said,
with condescension, to Lady Julia,--

"Is your ladyship to make one of the party at the Zoological Gardens
to-night?"

Lady Julia, who now began to suppose that Mr. Sagittarius's crazy
passion for animals was shared by his wife, gasped and answered,--

"Are you going to the Zoological Gardens?"

"Yes, to an assembly. It should be very pleasant. Do you make one?"

"I regret that I am not invited," said Lady Julia, rather stiffly.

Madame bridled, under the impression that she was scoring off a member
of the aristocracy.

"Indeed," she remarked, with a click. "Yet I presume that your ladyship
is not insensible to the charms of rout and collation?"

"I beg your pardon?" said Lady Julia, beginning to look like an image
made of cast iron.

"I imagine that the social whirl finds in your ladyship a willing
acolyte?"

"Oh, no. I go out very little."

"Indeed," said Madame, with some contempt. "Then you do not frequent the
Palace?"

"The Palace! Do you mean the Crystal Palace?"

"Of Buckingham? You are not an _amicas curiae_?"

"I fear I don't catch your meaning."

"Does not your ladyship comprehend the Latin tongue?"

"Certainly not," said Lady Julia, who was born in an age when it was
considered highly improper for a young female to have any dealings with
the ancients. "Certainly not."

"Dear me!" said Madame, with pitying amazement. "You hear her ladyship,
Jupiter?"

"I do, my angel. Madame is a lady of deep education, ma'am," said Mr.
Sagittarius, turning to Mrs. Merillia, who had been listening to the
foregoing cross-examination with perpetually-increasing horror.

"No decent female should understand Greek or Latin," roared Sir Tiglath
at this point. "If she does she's sure to read a great deal that she's
no business to know anything about."

At this challenge Madame's bulging brow was overcast with a red cloud.

"I beg to disagree, sir," she exclaimed. "In my opinion the Georgics of
Horatius, Homer's Idyls and the satires of the great Juvenile--"

"The great what?" bellowed Sir Tiglath.

"The great Juvenile, sir."

"There never was a great juvenile, ma'am. Talent must be mellow before
it is worth tasting, whatever the modern whipper-snapper may say. There
never was, and there never will be, a great juvenile--there can only be
a juvenile preparing to be great."

"Really, sir."

"I affirm it, madam. And as you seem so mighty fond of Latin, remember
what Horace says--_Qui cupit opatam cursu contingere metam, Multa tulit
fecitque puer, sudavit et alsit_. Oh-h-h-h!"

And Sir Tiglath flung himself back in his chair, puffing out his
enormous cheeks and wagging his gigantic head at Madame who, for once
in her life, seemed entirely at a loss, and unable to call to her
assistance a single shred of learning from the library of Dr. Carter.

Having at last emerged from his Epicurean silence, the astronomer now
proceeded to take the floor. Satisfied that he had laid a presuming
female low, he swung round, as if on a pivot, to where Mr. Sagittarius
was sitting in the greatest agitation, and roared,--

"And now, sir what is all this about your being an outside broker? I was
distinctly informed by this gentleman only a night or two ago that you
were a distinguished astronomer."

"I am betrayed!" cried Mr. Sagittarius, dropping the knife and fork
which he had just picked up for the dissection of a lobster croquette.
"I said this was a trap. I said it was a rat-trap from the first."

"I knew he must be a ratcatcher," whispered Lady Julia to the Prophet,
who was about to rise from his seat and endeavour to calm his guest. "I
was certain no one but a ratcatcher could talk in such a manner."

"He is not indeed! Mr. Sagittarius, pray sit down! You are alarming my
grandmother."

"I can't help that, sir. I am not going to sit here, sir, and be slain."

"Tsh! Tsh! I merely informed Sir Tiglath the other evening that what
Miss Minerva had told him about you was true."

"Miss Minerva!" cried Madame, glancing at her husband in a most terrible
manner. "Miss Minerva!"

"Lady Enid Thistle, I mean," cried the Prophet, mentally cursing the day
when he was born.

"Who's that?" exclaimed Madame, beginning to look almost exactly like
Medusa.

"A young female who informed the old astronomer that your husband and an
elderly female named Mrs. Bridgeman had for a long while been carrying
on astronomical investigations together--"

"Carrying on together!" vociferated Madame. "Jupiter!"

"And that they had come to the conclusion that there was probably oxygen
in certain of the holy fixed stars. Oxygen, so the elderly female--"

"Oxygen in an elderly female!" cried Madame, in the greatest excitement.
"Jupiter, is this true?"

Mr. Sagittarius was about to bring forward a flat denial when the
Prophet, leaning behind the terrified back of Lady Julia, hissed in his
ear,--

"Say yes, or he'll find out who you really are!"

"Yes," cried Mr. Sagittarius, in a catapultic manner.

Madame began to show elaborate symptoms of preparation for a large-sized
fit of hysterics. She caught her breath five or six times running in
a resounding manner, heaved her bosom beneath the green chiffon and
coffee-coloured lace, and tore feebly with both hands at a large
medallion brooch that was doing sentry duty near her throat.

"Pray, pray, Madame," exclaimed the Prophet, who was now near his wits'
end. "Pray--"

"How can I pray at table, sir?" she retorted, suddenly showing fight.
"You forget yourself."

"Oh, Hennessey," said poor Mrs. Merillia, "what does all this mean?"

"Nothing, grannie, nothing except that Mr. Sagittarius is a very modest
man and does not care to acknowledge the greatness of his talents. Pray
sit down, Mr. Sagittarius. Here is the ice pudding. Madame, I am sure
you will take some ice. Mr. Ferdinand!"

"Sir?"

"The ice to Madame Sagittarius instantly!"

Mr. Ferdinand, who was trembling in every limb at having to assist at
such a scene in his dining-room, which had hitherto been the very temple
of soft conversation and the most exquisite decorum, advanced towards
Madame, clattering the flat silver dish, and causing the frozen delicacy
that the cook had elegantly posed upon it to run first this way and then
that as if in imitative agitation.

"I cannot," sobbed Madame, beginning once more to catch her breath. "At
such a moment food becomes repulsive!"

"I assure you our cook's ice puddings are quite delicious; aren't they,
grannie?"

"I have no idea, Hennessey," said Mrs. Merillia, who was so upset by
the extraordinary scene at which she was presiding in the character
of hostess, that she mechanically clutched the left bandeau of her
delightful wig, and set it quite a quarter of an inch awry.

"Try it, Madame," cried the Prophet. "I implore you to try it."

Thus adjured Madame detached a large piece of the agile pudding with
some difficulty, and subsided into a morose silence, while her husband
sat with his eyes fixed imploringly upon her, totally regardless of his
social duties. As both Mrs. Merillia and Lady Julia were by this time
thoroughly unnerved, and Sir Tiglath was once more immersed in his food,
the whole burden of conversation fell upon the Prophet, who indulged in
a feverish monologue that lasted until the end of dinner. What he talked
about he could never afterwards certainly remember, but he had a vague
idea that he discussed the foreign relations of England with Madagascar,
the probable future of Poland, the social habits of the women of Alaska,
the prospects of tobacco culture in West Meath, and the effect that
imported Mexicans would be likely to produce upon the natural simplicity
of such unsophisticated persons as inhabit Lundy Island or the more
remote districts of the Shetlands. When the ladies at length rose to
leave the dining-room his brain was in a whirl and he had little doubt
that his temperature was up to 104. Nevertheless his mind was still
active, was indeed preternaturally acute for the moment, and he saw in
a flash the impossibility of leaving Madame Sagittarius alone with his
grandmother and Lady Julia. As they got up from their seats he therefore
took out his watch and said,--

"Dear me! It is later than I had supposed. I am afraid we ought to be
starting for Zoological House. Mrs. Bridgeman will be expecting us."

"Certainly, sir, certainly!" said Mr. Sagittarius, with all the alacrity
of supreme cowardice, and casting a terror-stricken glance towards Sir
Tiglath, who was glowering at him with glassy eyes above a glass of
port. "Mrs. Bridgeman will be expecting us!"

"I will assume my cloak," said Madame, fiercely. "Jupiter!"

"My darling!"

"Kindly seek my furs."

"Certainly, my love," replied Mr. Sagittarius, darting eagerly from the
apartment to fetch the rabbit-skins.

"Lady Julia, I hope you will forgive us," said the Prophet, with
passionate contrition. "If I had had the slightest idea that we should
have the pleasure of seeing you to-night, of course I should have given
up this engagement. But it is such an old one--settled months ago--and I
have promised Mrs. Bridgeman so faithfully that--"

"The old astronomer will go with you," cried Sir Tiglath at this moment,
swallowing his glass of port at a gulp, and rolling out of his chair.

The Prophet turned cold, thinking of Miss Minerva, who would be present
at Mrs. Bridgeman's living her secret double life. It was imperative to
prevent the astronomer from accompanying them.

"I did not think you knew Mrs. Bridgeman, Sir Tiglath," the Prophet
began, while Mrs. Merillia and Lady Julia stood blankly near the door,
trying to look calm and dignified while everyone was ardently preparing
to desert them.

"The old astronomer must know her before the evening is one hour more
advanced. He must question her regarding the holy stars. He must examine
her and this Sagittarius, who claims to be an outside broker and yet to
have discovered oxygen in the fixed inhabitants of the sacred heavens.
My cloak!"

The last words were bellowed at Gustavus, who rushed forward with Sir
Tiglath's Inverness.

The Prophet lowed his head, and metaphorically, threw up the sponge.

"Lady Julia," said Mrs. Merillia, in a soft voice that slightly
trembled, "let us go upstairs."

The two old ladies bowed with tearful dignity, and retired with a sort
of gentle majesty that cut the Prophet to the heart.

"One moment, if you please!" he said to his guests.

And he darted out of the room and leaped up the stairs. He found Mrs.
Merillia and Lady Julia just about to dispose themselves side by
side upon a sofa near the fire. They turned and looked at him with
reproachful doves' eyes.

"Grannie--Lady Julia!" he exclaimed, "I implore your forgiveness. Pardon
me! Appearances are against me, I know. But some day you may understand
how I am placed. My position is--my--my situation--I--you--do not wholly
condemn me! Wait--wait a few days, I implore you!"

He rushed out of the room.

The two old ladies seated themselves upon the sofa, and tremblingly
spread abroad their damask skirts. They looked at each other in silence,
shaking their elegant heads. Then Mrs. Merillia said, in a fluttering
voice,--

"Oh, Julia, you were a lady in waiting to Her Majesty, you were kissed
by the great Duke--tell me--tell me what it all means!"

"Victoria," replied Lady Julia, "it means that your grandson has fallen
into the clutches of a dangerous and determined ratcatcher."

And then the two old ladies mingled their damask skirts and their lace
caps and wept.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE SILLY LIFE

"Call a cab for Sir Tiglath, Mr. Ferdinand," whispered the Prophet--"a
four-wheeler with a lame horse. I'll take both Mr. and Madame
Sagittarius in the brougham."

"Must the horse be lame, sir?"

"Yes. I absolutely decline to encourage the practice of using good
horses in four-wheeled cabs. It's a disgrace to the poor animals. It
must be a very lame horse."

"Yes, sir."

And Mr. Ferdinand, standing upon the doorstep, whistled to the night.

Strange to say, in about two minutes there appeared round the corner
the very same cabman who had conveyed the Prophet and Lady Enid to the
astronomer's on the previous day, driving the very same horse.

"This horse will do admirably," said the Prophet to Mr. Ferdinand.

"He isn't lame, sir."

"P'r'aps not; but he knows how to tumble down. Sir Tiglath, here is a
cab for you. We shall go in the brougham. Zoological House, Regent's
Park, is the direction. Let me help you in, Madame."

As the Prophet got in to sit bodkin between his old and valued friends,
he whispered to the footman,--

"Tell Simkins to drive as fast as possible. We are very late."

The footman touched his hat. Just as the carriage moved off, the Prophet
protruded his head from the window, and saw the astronomer rolling into
the four-wheeler, the horse of which immediately fell down in a most
satisfactory manner.

There was no general conversation in the brougham, but the Prophet, who
was obliged to sit partly on Madame, and partly on Mr. Sagittarius and
partly on air, occasionally heard in the darkness at his back terrible
matrimonial whisperings, whose exact tenor he was unable to catch. Once
only he heard Madame say sibilantly and with a vicious click,--

"I might have known what to expect when I married a Prophet--when
I passed over the _pons asinoribus_ to give myself to a _monstram
horrendo_."

To this pathetic heart-cry Mr. Sagittarius made a very prolonged
answer. The Prophet knew it was prolonged because Mr. Sagittarius always
whispered in such a manner as to tickle the nape of his neck. But he
could not hear anything except a sound like steam escaping from a small
pipe. The steam went on escaping until the brougham passed through a
gate, rolled down a declivity, and drew up before an enormous mansion
whose windows blazed with light.

"Is this the Zoological Gardens?" inquired Madame in a stern voice. "Is
this the habitation of the woman Bridgeman?"

"I suppose this is Zoological House," replied the Prophet, sliding
decorously off Madame's left knee in preparation for descent.

"My darling! my love!" said Mr. Sagittarius. "I swear upon the infant
head of our Capricornus that Mrs. Bridgeman and I are--"

"Enough!" cried Madame. "_Jam satus_! Be sure that I will inquire into
this matter."

The carriage door was opened and, with some struggling, the Prophet and
his two valued friends emerged and speedily found themselves in a very
large hall, which was nearly full of very large powdered footmen. In
the distance there was the sound of united frivolities, a band of twenty
guitars thrumming a wilful _seguidilla_. Roses bloomed on every side,
and beyond the hall they beheld a vision of illuminated vistas, down
which vague figures came and went.

Evidently when Mrs. Bridgeman let herself go she let herself go
thoroughly.

Mr. Sagittarius gazed about him with awe-struck amazement, but Madame
was equal to the occasion. She cast the rabbit-skins imperially to a
neighbouring flunkey, arranged her hair and fichu before a glass, kicked
out her skirt with the heel of one of the kid boots, nipped the green
chiffon into prominence with decisive fingers, and then, turning to the
Prophet with all the majesty of a suburban empress, said in a powerful
voice,--

"Step forward, I beg. _J'ai pret_."

The Prophet, thus encouraged, stepped forward towards an aperture
that on ordinary days contained a door, but that now contained a stout
elderly lady, with henna-dyed hair, a powdered face, black eyebrows and
a yellow gown, on which rested a large number of jewelled ornaments that
looked like small bombs. At this lady's elbow stood a footman with an
exceedingly powerful bass voice, who shouted the names of approaching
guests in a manner so uncompromising as to be terrific. Each time he so
shouted the stout lady first started and then smiled, the two operations
succeeding one another with almost inconceivable rapidity and violence.

"What name, sir?" asked the footman of the Prophet, bending his powdered
head till it was only about six feet two inches from the floor.

"Mr. Hennessey Vivian," replied the Prophet, hesitating as to what he
should add.

"Mr. Hemmerspeed Vivian!" roared the footman. "What name, Madame?" (to
Madame Sagittarius).

"Mr. and Madame Sagittarius of Sagittarius Lodge, the Mouse!" replied
the lady majestically.

"Mr.--and Madame--Segerteribus--of--Segerteribus--Lodge, the Mouse!"
bawled the footman.

The stout lady, who was Mrs. Vane Bridgeman, started and smiled.

"Delighted to see you, Mr. Segerteribus!" she said to the Prophet.

The Prophet hastened to explain through the uproar of twenty guitars.

"Mr. Vivian is my name. I think Miss Minerva Partridge--"

Mrs. Bridgeman started and smiled.

"Of course," she exclaimed. "Of course. You are to be kind enough to
introduce me some day to Mr. Sagi--Sagi--something or other, and I am
to introduce him to Sir Tiglath Butt, when Sir Tiglath Butt has
been introduced to me by dear Miss Partridge. It is all to work out
beautifully. Yes, yes! Charming! charming!"

"I have ventured to bring Mr. and Madame Sagittarius with me to-night,"
said the Prophet.

Mrs. Bridgeman started and smiled.

"They are my old and valued friends, and--and here they are."

"Delighted! delighted!" said Mrs. Bridgeman, speaking in a confused
manner through the guitars. "How d'you do, Mr. Sagittarius?"

And she shook hands warmly with a very small and saturnine clergyman
decorated with a shock of ebon hair, who was passing at the moment.

"Biggle!" said the little clergyman.

Mrs. Bridgeman started and smiled.

"Biggle!" repeated the little clergyman. "Biggle!"

The guitars rose up with violence, and all the hot, drubbing passion of
Bayswater being Spanish.

"Yes, indeed, I so agree with you, dear Mr. Sagittarius," said Mrs.
Bridgeman to the little clergyman.

"Biggle!" the little clergyman cried in a portentous voice. "Biggle!
Biggle!"

"What does he mean?" whispered Mrs. Bridgeman to the Prophet. "How does
one?"

"I think that is his name. These are Mr. and Madame Sagittarius."

Mrs. Bridgeman started and smiled.

"Biggle--of course," she said to the little clergyman, who passed on
with an air of reliant self-satisfaction. "Delighted to see you," she
added, this time addressing the Prophet's old and valued friends. "Ah!
Mr. Sagi--Sagi--um--I have heard so much of you from dear Miss Minerva."

The wild, high notes of a flute, played by a silly gentleman from
Tooting, shrilled through the tupping of the guitars, and Mr.
Sagittarius, trembling in every limb, hissed in Mrs. Bridgeman's ear,--

"Hush, ma'am, for mercy's sake!"

Mrs. Bridgeman started and forgot to smile.

"My loved and honoured wife," continued Mr. Sagittarius, in a loud
and anxious voice, "more to me than any lunar guide or starry monitor!
Madame Sagittarius, a lady of deep education, ma'am."

"Delighted!" said Mrs. Bridgeman, making a gracious grimace at Madame,
who inclined herself stonily and replied in a sinister voice,--

"It is indeed time that this renconter took place. Henceforth, ma'am,
I shall be ever at my husband's side, _per fus et nefus_--_et nefus_,
ma'am."

"So glad," said Mrs. Bridgeman. "I have been longing for this--"

"Mr. Bernard Wilkins!" roared the tall footman.

Mr. Sagittarius started and Mrs. Bridgeman did the same and smiled.

"Bernard Wilkins the Prophet!" Mr. Sagittarius exclaimed. "From the
Rise!"

"Mrs. Eliza Doubleway!" shouted the footman.

"Mrs. Eliza!" cried Mr. Sagittarius, in great excitement. "That's the
soothsayer from the Beck!"

"Madame Charlotte Humm!" yelled the footman.

"Madame Humm!" vociferated Mr. Sagittarius, "the crystal-gazer from the
Hill!"

"Professor Elijah Chapman!" bawled the footman.

"The nose-reader!" piped Mr. Sagittarius. "The nose-reader from the
Butts!"

"Verano!" screamed the footman, triumphantly submerging the flute and
the twenty guitars. "Verano!"

"The South American Irish palmist from the Downs! My love," said Mr.
Sagittarius, in a cracking voice, "we are in it to-night, we are indeed;
we are fairly and squarely in it."

Madame began to bridle and to look as ostentatious as a leviathan.

"And if we are, Jupiter!" she said in a voice that rivalled the
footman's--"if we are, we are merely in our element. They needn't think
to come over me!"

"Hush, my love! Remember that--"

"Dr. Birdie Soames!" interposed the vibrant bass of the footman.

"The physiognomy lady from the Common!" said Mr. Sagittarius, on the
point of breaking down under the emotion of the moment. "Scot! Scot!
Great Scot!"

Mrs. Bridgeman was now completely surrounded by a heterogeneous mass of
very remarkable-looking people, among whom were peculiarly prominent an
enormously broad-shouldered man, with Roman features and his hair cut
over his brow in a royal fringe, a small woman with a pointed red nose
in bead bracelets and prune-coloured muslin, and an elderly female with
short grizzled hair, who wore a college gown and a mortar-board with a
scarlet tassel, and who carried in one hand a large skull marked out
in squares with red ink. These were Verano, the Irish palmist from the
Downs; Mrs. Eliza Doubleway, the soothsayer from Beck; and Dr. Birdie
Soames, the physiognomy lady from the Common. Immediately around these
celebrities were grouped a very pale gentleman in a short jacket, who
looked as if he made his money by eating nothing and drinking a great
deal, a plethoric female with a mundane face, in which was set a large
and delicately distracted grey eye; and a gentleman with a jowl, a pug
nose, and a large quantity of brass-coloured hair about as curly as hay,
which fell down over a low collar, round which was negligently knotted
a huge black tie. This trio comprised Mr. Bernard Wilkins, the Prophet
from the Rise; Madame Charlotte Humm, the crystal-gazer from the Hill;
and Professor Elijah Chapman, the nose-reader from the Butts. No sooner
was the news of the arrival of these great and notorious people bruited
abroad through the magnificent saloons of Zoological House than Mrs.
Bridgeman's guests began to flock around them from all the four quarters
of the mansion, deserting even the neighbourhood of the guitars and the
inviting seclusion of the various refreshment-rooms. From all sides
rose the hum of comment and the murmur of speculation. Pince-nez were
adjusted, eyeglasses screwed into eyes, fingers pointed, feet elevated
upon uneasy toes. Pretty girls boldly trod upon the gowns of elderly
matrons in the endeavour to draw near to Mrs. Bridgeman and her group
of celebrities; youths pushed and shoved; chaperons elbowed, and old
gentlemen darted from one place to another in wild endeavours to find an
inlet through the press. And amid this frantic scramble of the curious,
the famous members of the occult world stood, calmly conscious of their
value and in no wise upset or discomposed. Verano stroked his Roman
features, and ran his large white hand through his curly fringe; Dr.
Birdie Soames tapped her skull; Mrs. Eliza Doubleway played with her
bead bracelets; Mr. Bernard Wilkins and Madame Charlotte Humm conversed
together in dreamy murmurs; while Professor Elijah Chapman shook
his brass-coloured hair till it fell forward over his variegated
shirt-front, and glanced inquiringly at the multitudes of anxious noses
which offered themselves to his inspection beneath the glare of the
electric lights.

Mr. and Madame Sagittarius, completely overlooked in the throng,
elbowed, trampled upon, jogged from behind and prodded from before,
gazed with a passion of bitter envy at their worshipped rivals, who were
set in the full blaze of success, while they languished in the outer
darkness of anonymous obscurity.

"_O miseris hominum men_--don't set your feet on me, sir, if you
please!" cried Madame. "_O pectorae caec_--ma'am, I beg you to take your
elbow from my throat this minute!"

But even her powerful and indignant organ was lost in the hubbub that
mingled with the wild music of the guitars, to which was now added the
tinkle of bells and the vehement click of a round dozen of castanets,
marking the bull-fighting rhythm of a new air called "The Espada's
Return to Madrid."

"Jupiter!" she gurgled. "I shall be suff--"

"Mr. Amos Towle!" roared the footman savagely.

"The great medium from the Wick!"

"Towle the seer!"

"Amos Towle, the famous spiritualist!"

"Mr. Towle who materialises!"

"The celebrated Towle!"

"The great and only Towle!"

"Oh, is it _the_ Towle?"

"I must see Towle!"

"Where is he? Oh, where is Towle?"

"Towle who communicates with the other world!"

"Towle the magician!"

"Towle the hypnotist!"

"Towle the soothsayer!"

"The magnetic Towle!"

"The electric Towle!"

"We must--we must see Towle!"

Such were a very few of the exclamations that instantly burst forth upon
the conclusion of the footman's announcement. The elbowing and trampling
became more violent than ever, and Mrs. Bridgeman was forced--from
lack of room--to forego her society start, though she was still able
to indulge in her society smile, as she bowed, with almost swooning
graciousness, to a short, perspiring, bald and side-whiskered man in
greasy broadcloth, who looked as if he would have been quite at home
upon the box of a four-wheeled cab, as indeed he would, seeing that he
had driven a growler for five-and-twenty years before discovering
that he was the great and only Towle, medium, seer, and
worker-of-miracles-in-chief to the large and increasing crowd that lives
the silly life.

"Oh, Mr. Towle--charmed, delighted!" cried Mrs. Bridgeman. "I was so
afraid--How sweet of you to come out all this way from your eyrie at
the Wick! You'll find many friends--dear Madame Charlotte--the
Professor--Mrs. Eliza--they're all here. And Miss Minerva, too! Your
greatest admirer and disciple!"

At this moment the crowd, wild in its endeavour to touch the inspired
broadcloth of the great Towle, surged forward, and the Prophet was
driven like a ram against the left side of his hostess.

"I beg--your--pard--" he gasped; "but could you tell--me--where Miss
Minerv--erva--is? I special--ly want to--to--"

"I think she's with Eureka in tea-room number 1," replied Mrs.
Bridgeman. "Oh, dear! Near the band. Oh, dear! Oh, my gown! Oh! So
sweet of you to come, Mrs. Lorrimer! Just a few interesting people! Oh,
gracious mercy! Oh, for goodness' sake!"

She was thrust against a new arrival, and the Prophet, bringing
his shoulders vigorously into play, according to the rules of Rugby
football, presently found himself out in the open and free to wander in
search of Miss Minerva, whom he was most anxious to encounter before
the arrival of Sir Tiglath Butt, which must now be imminent, despite the
marked disinclination of his horse to proceed at the rate of more than
half a mile an hour.

The Prophet abandoned Mr. and Madame Sagittarius to their fate,
thankful, indeed, to be rid for a moment of their prophetic importunity.

Following the gasped directions of Mrs. Bridgeman, he made towards the
guitars, threading a number of drawing-rooms, and passing by the doors
of various mysterious chambers which were carefully curtained off in
a most secret manner. Here and there he saw groups of people--men in
extraordinary coats and with touzled masses of hair, women in gowns made
of the cheapest materials and cut in the most impossible fashions. Some
wore convolvulus on their heads, ivy-leaves, trailing fuchsia, or sprigs
of plants known only to suburban haberdashers; others appeared boldly
in caps of the pork-pie order, adorned with cherry-coloured streamers,
clumps of feathers that had never seen a bird, bunches of shining
fruits, or coins that looked as if they had just emerged from the
seclusion of the poor-box. Thread gloves abounded, and were mostly in
what saleswomen call "the loud shades"--bright scarlet, marigold yellow,
grass green or acute magenta. Mittens, too, were visible covered with
cabalistic inscriptions in glittering beadwork. Not a few gentlewomen,
like Madame, trod in elastic-sided boots, and one small but intrepid
lady carried herself boldly in a cotton skirt topped with a tartan
blouse "carried out" in vermilion and sulphur colour, over which
was carelessly adjusted a macintosh cape partially trimmed with
distressed-looking swansdown. Here and there might be seen some smart
London woman, perfectly dressed and glancing with amused amazement
at the new fashions about her; here and there a well set-up man, with
normal hair and a tie that would not have terrified Piccadilly. But
for the most part Mrs. Bridgeman's guests were not quite usual in
appearance, and, indeed, were such as the Prophet had never gazed upon
before.

Presently the uproar of the guitars grew more stentorian upon his ear,
and, leaving on his left an astonishing chamber that contained from a
dozen to fifteen small round tables, with nothing whatever upon them,
the Prophet emerged into an inner hall where, in quite a grove of shrubs
hung with fairy lights, twenty young ladies, dressed from top to toe in
scarlet, and each wearing a large golden medal, were being as Spanish
as if they had not been paid for it, while twelve more whacked castanets
and shook bells with a frenzy that was worth an excellent salary, the
silly gentleman from Tooting the while blowing furiously upon his flute,
and combining this intemperate indulgence with an occasional assault
upon a cottage piano that stood immediately before him, or a wave of
the baton that asserted his right to the position of _chef d'orchestre_.
Immediately beyond this shrine of music the Prophet perceived a Moorish
nook containing a British buffet, and, in quite the most Moorish corner
of this nook, seated upon a divan that would have been at home in
Marakesh, he caught sight of Miss Minerva in company with a thin,
fatigued and wispy lady in a very long vermilion gown, and an extremely
small gentleman--apparently of the Hebrew persuasion--who was smartly
dressed, wore white gloves and a buttonhole, and indulged in a great
deal of florid gesticulation while talking with abnormal vivacity. Miss
Minerva, who was playing quietly with a lemon ice, looked even more
sensible than usual, the Prophet thought, in her simple white frock. She
seemed to be quite at home and perfectly happy with her silly friends,
but, as soon as she saw him hovering anxiously to the left of the
guitars, she beckoned to him eagerly, and he hurried forward.

"Oh, Mr. Vivian, I'm so glad you've come! Let me introduce you to my
great friend Eureka"--the lady in vermilion bowed absent-mindedly, and
rolled her huge brown eyes wearily at the Prophet--"and to Mr. Briskin
Moses."

The little gentleman made a stage reverence and fluttered his small
hands airily.

"Pretty sight, pretty sight!" he said in a quick and impudent voice.
"All these little dears enjoying themselves so innocently. Mother
Bridgeman's chickens, I call them. But it's impossible to count them,
even after they're hatched. Cheese it!"

The final imperative was flung demurely at a mighty footman, who just
then tried to impound Mr. Moses's not quite finished brandy-and-soda.

"Sir?" said the mighty footman.

"Cheese it!" cried Mr. Moses, making a gesture of tragic repugnance in
the direction of the footman.

The mighty footman cheesed it with dignity, and afterwards, in the
servants' hall, spoke very bitterly of Israel.

The Prophet was extremely anxious to get a word alone with Miss Minerva.
Indeed, it was really important that he should warn her of Sir Tiglath's
approach, but he could find no opportunity of doing so, for Mr. Moses,
who was not afflicted with diffidence, rapidly continued, in a slightly
affected and tripping cockney voice,--

"Mother Bridgeman's a dear one! God bless her for a pretty soul! She'd
be sublime in musical comedy--the black satin society lady, you know,
who makes the aristocratic relief,--

"'I'm a Dowager Duchess, and everyone knows I'm a lady right down to
the tip of my toes.'

"Very valuable among the minxes; worth her weight in half-crowns! I'd
give her an engagement any day, pretty bird! Ever seen her driving in
a cab? She takes off her gloves and spreads her hands over the apron
to get the air. A canary! Anything for me to-night, Eureka? A dove, a
mongoose--anything lucky? Give us a chance, mother!"

The lady in vermilion, who had a tuft of golden hair in the midst of her
otherwise raven locks, glanced mysteriously at Mr. Moses.

"See anything, mother?" he asked, with theatrical solemnity. "A tiny
chunk of luck for tricky little Briskin?"

"I do see something," said Eureka, in a dim and heavy voice. "It's just
close to you on that table by the brandy."

Mr. Moses started, and cast a glance of awe at the tumbler.

"My word," he cried--"my word, mother! What's the blessed little symbol
like? Not a pony fresh from Jerusalem for your believing boy!"

"You must wait a moment. It is not clear," replied Eureka, slowly
and dreamily, fixing her heavy eyes on the brandy-and-soda. "It's all
cloudy."

"Been imbibing, mother? Has the blessed little symbol been at it again?
Briskin's shock--shocked!"

"It's getting clearer. It stands in a band of fire."

"Shade of Shadrach! Apparition of Abednego! Draw it mild and bitter,
mother!"

"Ah! now it steps out. It's got a hump."

"Got the hump, mother? My word! then it must be either a camel or an
undischarged bankrupt! Which is it, pretty soul?"

"It's a rhinoceros. It's moving to you."

"Yokohama, mother! Tell the pretty bird to keep back! What's it mean?"

"It's a sign of plenty."

"Plenty of what, mother? The ready or the nose-bag? Give us a chance!"

"Plenty of good fortune, because its head is towards you. If it had
presented its tail, it would mean black weather."

"Don't let it turn tail, for Saturday's sake, mother. Keep its head
straight while I finish the brandy!"

And so saying, little Mr. Moses, with elaborate furtiveness, caught up
the tumbler, poured its contents down his throat, and threw himself back
on the divan with the air of a man who had just escaped from peril
by the consummate personal exercise of unparalleled and sustained
ingenuity.

During this scene Miss Minerva had preserved her air of pronounced
Scottish good sense, while listening attentively, and she now said to
Eureka,--

"D'you see anything for Mr. Vivian, dear Eureka? Even the littlest thing
would be welcomed."

Eureka stared upon the Prophet, who began to feel very nervous.

"There's something round his head," she remarked, with her usual almost
sacred earnestness.

The Prophet mechanically put up his hands, like a man anxious to
interfere with the assiduous attentions of a swarm of bees.

"Something right round his head."

"Is it a halo?" asked Miss Minerva.

"Is it a Lincoln & Bennet, mother?" cried Mr. Moses. "One of the shiny
ones--twenty-one bob, and twenty-five-and-six if you want a kid lining?"

"No; it's like some sort of bird."

"'I heard the owl beneath my eaves complaining,'" chirped Mr. Moses,
taking two or three high notes in a delicate tenor voice. "'I looked
forth--great Scot! How it was raining!' Is it an owl, mother? Ask it to
screech to Briskin."

"It is no owl," said Eureka to the Prophet. "It is a sparrow--your
bird."

"Is it upon the housetop, mother, having a spree all on its little
alone?"

"No; it is hovering over the gentleman."

"What does that mean?" said the Prophet, anxiously.

But at this point Eureka suddenly seemed to lose interest in the matter.
"Oh, you're all right," she said carelessly. "I'm tired. I should like a
wafer."

"Mother's peckish. Mother, I see an ostrich by your left elbow. That's a
sign that you're so peckish you could swallow anything. Waiter!"

"Sir!"

"This lady's so peckish she could eat anything. Bring her some tin-tacks
and a wafer. Stop a sec. Another brandy for Briskin. Your calves'd do
for the front row; 'pon my word, they would. Trot, boy, trot!"

"I must speak to you alone for one moment," whispered the Prophet to
Miss Minerva, under cover of the quips of Mr. Moses. "Sir Tiglath's
coming!"

Miss Minerva started.

"Sir Tig--" she exclaimed and put her finger to her lips just in time to
stop the "lath" from coming out. "Mr. Moses, I'm going to the buffet for
a moment with Mr. Vivian. Eureka, darling, do eat something substantial!
All this second sight takes it out of you."

Eureka acquiesced with a heavy sigh, Mr. Moses cried, "Aunt Eureka's so
hungry that one would declare she could even eat oats if she found they
were there!" and Miss Minerva and the Prophet moved languidly towards
the buffet, endeavouring, by the indifference of their movements, to
cover the agitation in their hearts.

"Sir Tiglath coming here!" cried Miss Minerva under her breath, as soon
as they were out of earshot. "But he doesn't know Mrs. Bridgeman!"

"I know--but he's coming. And not only that, Mr. and Madame Sagittarius
are here already!"

Miss Minerva looked closely at the Prophet in silence for a moment. Then
she said,--

"I see--I see!"

"What?" cried the Prophet, in great anxiety, "not the sparrow on my
head?"

"No. But I see that you're taking to your double life in real earnest."

"I?"

"Yes. Now, Mr. Vivian, that's all very well, and you know I'm the last
person to complain of anything of that sort, so long as it doesn't get
me into difficulties."

"Think of the difficulties you and everyone else have got me into,"
ejaculated the poor Prophet, for once in his life stepping, perhaps, a
hair's-breadth from the paths of good breeding.

"Well, I'm sure I've done nothing."

"Nothing!" said the Prophet, losing his head under the influence of the
guitars, which were now getting under way in a fantasia on "Carmen."
"Nothing! Why, you made me come here, you insisted on my introducing Mr.
Sagittarius to Mrs. Bridgeman, you told Sir Tiglath Mrs. Bridgeman and
I were old friends and had made investigations together, assisted by Mr.
Sagittarius, you--"

"Oh, well, that's nothing. But Sir Tiglath mustn't see me here as Miss
Minerva. Has he arrived yet?"

"I don't think so. He's got the cab we had yesterday and the horse."

"The one that tumbles down so cleverly when it's not too tired? Capital!
Run to the cloak-room, meet Sir Tiglath there, and persuade him to go
home."

But here the Prophet struck.

"I regret I can't," he said, almost firmly.

"But you must."

"I regret sincerely that I am unable."

"Why? Mr. Vivian, when a lady asks you!"

"I am grieved," said the Prophet, with a species of intoxicated
obstinacy--the guitars seemed to be playing inside his brain and the
flute piping in the small of his back,--"to decline, but I cannot
contend physically with Sir Tiglath, a man whom I reverence, in the
cloak-room of a total stranger."

"I don't ask you to contend physically."

"Nothing but personal violence would keep Sir Tiglath from coming in."

"Really! Then what's to be done?"

She pursed up her sensible lips and drew down her sensible eyebrows.

"I know!" she cried, after a moment's thought. "I'll masquerade to-night
as myself."

"As yourself?"

"Yes. All these dear silly people here think that I've got an astral
body."

"What's that?"

"A sort of floating business--a business that you can set floating."

"What--a company?"

"No, no. A replica of yourself. The great Towle--"

"He's here to-night."

"I knew he was coming. Well, the great Towle detached this astral body
once at a seance and, for a joke--a silly joke, you know--"

"Yes, yes."

"I christened it by my real name, Lady Enid Thistle, and said Lady Enid
was an ancestress of mine."

"Why did you?"

"Because it was so idiotic."

"I see."

"Well, I've only now to spread a report among these dear creatures that
I'm astral to-night, and get Towle to back me up, and I can easily be
Lady Enid for an hour or two. In this crowd Sir Tiglath need never find
out that I'm generally known in these circles as Miss Partridge."

"Do you really think--"

"Yes, I do. But I must find Towle at once."

So saying she hastened away from the buffet, followed by the trotting
Prophet. As she passed Eureka and Mr. Moses, she said,--

"Eureka, darling, do I look odd? I suddenly began to feel astral just as
I was going to eat a sandwich. I can't help thinking that Lady Enid--you
know, my astral ancestress, who's always with me--is peculiarly powerful
to-night. D'you notice anything?"

"Watch out for it, mother!" cried Mr. Moses. "See if it's got the lump."

Eureka fixed her heavy eyes on Miss Minerva and swayed her thin body to
and fro in as panther-like a manner as she could manage.

"Mother's after it," continued Mr. Moses, twitching his left ear with
his thumb in a Hebraic manner and shooting his shining cuffs; "mother's
on the trail. Doves for a bishop and the little mangel-wurzel for the
labouring man. Clever mother! She'll take care it's suitable. Is it a
haggis, mother, hovering over the lady with outspread wings?"

Eureka closed her eyes and rocked herself more violently.

"I see you," she said in a deep voice. "You are astral. You are Lady
Enid emerged for an hour from our dear Minerva."

"I thought so," cried Lady Enid, with decision. "I thought so, because
when someone called me Miss Minerva just now I felt angry, and didn't
seem to know what they meant. Tell them, dear Eureka,--tell all my
friends of your discovery."

And she hastened on with the Prophet in search of the great Towle.

"I'll get him to back Eureka up, and then it will be quite safe," she
said. "Ah! there he is with Harriet Browne, the demonstrator from the
Rye."

Indeed, at this moment a small crowd was visible in one of the further
drawing-rooms, moving obsequiously along in reverent attendance upon the
great Towle, Mrs. Bridgeman and a thickset, red-faced lady, without
a waist and plainly clad in untrimmed linsey-wolsey, who was speaking
authoritatively to a hysterical-looking young girl, upon whose narrow
shoulder she rested a heavy, fat-fingered hand as she walked.

"Harriet's evidently going to demonstrate," added Lady Enid. "That's
lucky, because then I can get a quiet word with Towle."

"Demonstrate?" said the Prophet.

"Yes. She's the great Christian Scientist and has the healing power.
She demonstrated over Agatha Marshall's left ear. You know. The case got
into the papers. Ah, Harriet, darling!"

"My blessing! My Minerva!" said Harriet in a thick and guttural voice.

"Lady Enid, Harriet love, to-night. Eureka says I'm astral. Oh, Mr.
Towle, what an honour to meet you--what an honour for us all!"

The great Towle ducked and scraped in cabman fashion.

"Oh, will you materialise for us to-night?"

"Yes, yes," cried Mrs. Bridgeman, trembling with excitement. "He's
promised to after supper. He says he feels less material then--more _en
rapport_ with the dear spirits."

"How delightful! Mr. Towle, tell me, do you agree with Eureka? I await
your fiat. Am I astral?"

"Ay, miss, as like as not," said the great man, twisting his lips as if
they held a straw between them. "Astral, that's it. That's it to a T."

"Then I'm Lady Enid Thistle, my ancestress, who's always with me?"

"Ay, ay! Every bit of her. Her ladyship to a T."

The company was much impressed, and whispers of "It's Lady Enid; Eureka
and Mr. Towle say it's her ladyship in the astral plane!" flew like
wildfire through the rooms.

At this point Harriet Browne, who was sufficiently Christian and
scientific to like to have all the attention of the company centred upon
her, cleared her throat loudly and exclaimed,--

"If I am to heal this poor sufferer, I must be provided with an
armchair."

"An armchair for Mrs. Browne!"

"Fetch a chair for Harriet!"

"Mrs. Harriet can't demonstrate without a chair!"

"What is she going to do?" whispered the Prophet to Lady Enid, feeling
thoroughly ashamed of his ignorance.

"Demonstrate."

"Yes, but what's that?"

"Put her hands over that girl and think about her."

"Is that all?"

"Yes."

"Does she do it out of kindness?"

"Of course. But she's paid something, not because she wants to be paid,
but because it's the rule."

"Oh!"

An armchair was now wheeled forward, and Mrs. Harriet ensconced herself
in it comfortably.

"I'm very tired to-night," she remarked in her thick voice. "I've had a
hard afternoon."

"Poor darling!" cried Mrs. Bridgeman. "Fetch a glass of champagne for
Mrs. Harriet somebody. Oh, would you, Mr. Brummich?"

Mr. Brummich, a gentleman with a remarkably foolish, ascetic face and
a feebly-wandering sandy beard, was just about to hasten religiously
towards the Moorish nook when the great Towle happened, by accident, to
groan. Mrs. Bridgeman, started and smiled.

"Oh, and a glass of champagne for Mr. Towle, too, dear Mr. Brummich!"

"Certainly, Mrs. Bridgeman!" said dear Mr. Brummich, hurrying off with
the demeanour of the head of an Embassy entrusted with some important
mission to a foreign Court.

"Were you at work this afternoon, Harriet, beloved?" inquired Mrs.
Bridgeman of Mrs. Browne, who was leaning back in the armchair with her
eyes closed and in an attitude of severe prostration.

"Yes."

"Which was it, lovebird? Hysteric Henry?"

"No, he's cured."

Cries of joy resounded from those gathered about the chair.

"Hysteric Henry's cured!"

"Henry's better!"

"The poor man with the ball in his throat's been saved!"

"How wonderful you are, Harriet, sweet!" cried Mrs. Bridgeman. "But,
then which was it?"

"The madwoman at Brussels. I've been thinking about her for two hours
this afternoon, with only a cup of tea between."

"Poor darling! No wonder you're done up! Ought you to demonstrate? Ah!
here's the champagne!"

"I take it merely as medicine," said Mrs. Harriet.

At this moment, Mr. Brummich, flushed with assiduity, burst into the
circle with a goblet of beaded wine in either hand. There was a moment
of solemn silence while Mrs. Harriet and the great Towle condescended
to the Pommery. It was broken only by a loud gulp from the
hysterical-looking girl who was, it seemed, nervously affected by an
imitative spasm, and who suddenly began to swallow nothing with extreme
persistence and violence.

"Look at that poor misguided soul!" ejaculated Mrs. Harriet, with her
lips to the Pommery. "She fancies she's drinking!"

The poor, misguided soul, yielded again to her distraught imagination,
amid the pitiful ejaculations of the entire company, with the exception
of one mundane, young man who, suddenly assailed by the wild fancy that
he wasn't drinking, crept furtively to the Moorish rook, and was no more
seen.

"Give her a cushion!" continued Mrs. Harriet, authoritatively.

"Mr. Brummich!" said Mrs. Bridgeman.

Mr. Brummich ran, and returned with a cushion.

"Sit down, poor thing! Sit at my feet!" said Mrs. Harriet, giving the
hysterical-looking girl a healing push.

The girl subsided in a piteous heap, and Mrs. Harriet, who had by this
time taken all her medicine, leant over her and inquired,--

"Where d'you feel it?"

The girl put her hands to her head.

"Here," she said feebly. "It's like fire running over me and drums
beating."

"Fire and drums!" announced Mrs. Harriet to the staring assembly.
"That's what she's got, poor soul!"

Ejaculations of sympathy and horror made themselves heard.

"Drums! How shocking!" cried Mrs. Bridgeman. "Can you cure even drums,
Harriet, my own?"

"Give me ten minutes, Catherine! I ask but that!"

And, so saying, Mrs. Harriet planted her fat hands upon the head of the
young patient, closed her eyes and began to breathe very hard.

Silence now fell upon the people, who said not a word, but who could not
prevent themselves from rustling as they pressed about this exhibition
of a latter-day apostle. The Prophet and Lady Enid were close to the
armchair, and the Prophet, who had never before been present at any such
ceremony--it was accompanied by the twenty guitars, now tearing out the
serenade, "From the bull-ring I come to thee!"--was so interested that
he completely forgot Mr. and Madame Sagittarius, and lost for the moment
all memory of Sir Tiglath. The silly life engrossed him. He had no eyes
for anyone but Mrs. Harriet, who, as she leaned forward in the chair
with closed eyes, looked like a determined middle-aged man about to
offer up the thin girl on the footstool as a burnt sacrifice.

"You're better now, poor thing," said Mrs. Harriet, after five minutes
has elapsed. "You're feeling much better?"

"Oh, no, I'm not!" said the girl, shaking her head under the hands of
the demonstrator. "The fire's blazing and the drums are beating like
anything."

Mrs. Harriet's hue deepened, and there was a faint murmur of vague
reproof from the company.

"H'sh!" said the demonstrator, closing her hands upon the patient's head
with some acrimony. "H'sh!"

And she began to breathe hard once more. Another five minutes elapsed,
and then Mrs. Harriet exclaimed with decision,--

"There! It's gone now, all gone! I've sent it right away. The fire's out
and the drums have stopped beating!"

Exclamations of wonder and joy rose up from the spectators. They were,
however, a trifle premature, for the hysterical girl--who was, it
seemed, a person of considerable determination, despite her feeble
appearance--replied from the footstool,--

"No, it isn't. No they haven't!"

Mrs. Harriet developed a purple shade.

"Nonsense!" she said. "You're cured, love, entirely cured!"

"I'm not," said the girl, beginning to cry. "I feel much worse since you
pressed my head."

There was a burst of remonstrance from the crowd, and Mrs. Harriet,
speaking with the air of an angry martyr, remarked,--

"It's just like the drinking--she fancies she isn't cured when she is,
just the same as she fancied she was drinking when she wasn't."

This unanswerable logic naturally carried conviction to everyone
present, and the hysterical girl was warmly advised to make due
acknowledgement of the benefits received by her at the healing hands
of Mrs. Harriet, while the latter was covered with compliments and
assiduously conducted towards the buffet, escorted by the great Towle.

"Isn't she wonderful?" said Mrs. Bridgeman, turning ecstatically to
the person nearest to her, who happened to be the saturnine little
clergyman. "Isn't she marvellous, Mr.--er--Mr. Segerteribus?"

"Biggle!" cried the little clergyman.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Biggle!" vociferated the little clergyman. "Biggle!"

"Certainly. Did you ever see anything like that cure? Ah! you ought to
preach about dear Harriet, Mr. Segerteribus, you really--"

"Biggle!" reiterated the little clergyman, excitedly. "Biggle! Biggle!"

"What does he--" began Mrs. Bridgeman, turning helplessly towards the
Prophet.

"It's his name, I fancy," whispered the Prophet.

Mrs. Bridgeman started and smiled.

"Mr. Biggle," she said.

The little clergyman moved on towards the guitars with all the air of
a future colonial bishop. Mrs. Bridgeman, who seemed to be somewhat
confused, and whose manner grew increasingly vague as the evening wore
on, now said to those nearest to her,--

"There are fifteen tables set out--yes, set out,--in the green boudoir."

"Bedad!" remarked an Irish colonel, "then it's meself'll enjoy a good
rubber."

"For table-turning," added Mrs. Bridgeman. "Materialisation in the
same room after supper. Mr. Towle--yes--will enter the cabinet at about
eleven. Where's Madame Charlotte?"

"Looking into the crystal for Lady Ferrier," said someone.

"Oh, and the professor?"

"He's reading Archdeacon Andrew's nose, by the cloak-room."

Mrs. Bridgeman sighed.

"It seems to be going off quite pleasantly," she said vaguely to the
Prophet. "I think--perhaps--might I have a cup of tea?"

The Prophet offered his arm. Mrs. Bridgeman took it. They walked
forward, and almost instantly came upon Sir Tiglath Butt, who, with
a face even redder than usual, was rolling away from the hall of the
guitars, holding one enormous hand to his ear and snorting indignantly
at the various clairvoyants, card-readers, spiritualists and palmists
whom he encountered at every step he took. The Prophet turned pale, and
Lady Enid, who was just behind him, put on her most sensible expression
and moved quickly forward.

"Ah, Sir Tiglath!" she said. "How delightful of you to come! Catherine,
dear, let me introduce Sir Tiglath Butt to you. Sir Tiglath Butt--Mrs.
Vane Bridgeman."

Mrs. Bridgeman behaved as usual.

"So glad!" she said. "So enchanted! Just a few interesting people. So
good of you to come. Table-turning is--"

At this moment Lady Enid nipped her friend's arm, and Sir Tiglath
exclaimed, looking from Mrs. Bridgeman to the Prophet,--

"What, madam? So you're the brain and eye, eh? Is that it?"

The guitars engaged in "The Gipsies of Granada are wild as mountain
birds," and Mrs. Bridgeman looked engagingly distraught, and replied,--

"Ah, yes, indeed! The brain and I, Sir Tiglath; so good of you to say
so!"

"You prompted his interest in the holy stars?" continued Sir Tiglath,
speaking very loud, and still stopping one ear with his hand. "You drove
him to the telescope; you told him to clear the matter up, did you?"

"What matter?" said Mrs. Bridgeman, trying not to look as stupid as she
felt, but only with moderate success.

"Say the oxygen, darling," whispered Lady Enid in one of her ears.

"Say the oxygen!" hissed the Prophet into the other.

"The occiput?" said Mrs. Bridgeman, hearing imperfectly. "Oh, yes, Sir
Tiglath, I told him,--I told Mr. Biggle--to make quite sure--yes, as to
the occiput matter."

The saturnine little clergyman, who was again in motion near by, caught
his name and stopped, as Sir Tiglath, roaring against "The Gipsies of
Granada," continued,--

"And your original adviser was Mr. Sagittarius, was he?"

On hearing a word she understood, Mrs. Bridgeman brightened up, and,
perceiving the little clergyman, she answered,--

"Mr. Sagittarius--ah, yes! Sir Tiglath is speaking of you, Mr.
Sagittarius."

The little clergyman turned almost black in the face.

"Biggle!" he exclaimed, in a voice of thunder. "Biggle! Biggle!"

And, without further parley, he rushed to the cloak-room, seized someone
else's hat and coat, and fared forth into the night. Lady Enid, who had
meant to coach Mrs. Bridgeman very carefully for the meeting with Sir
Tiglath, but whose plans were completely upset by the astronomer's
premature advent, now endeavoured to interpose.

"By the way," she said, in a very calm voice, "where is dear Mr.
Sagittarius? I haven't seen him yet."

"I'm afraid he's angry with me," said Mrs. Bridgeman, alluding to the
little clergyman. "I really can't think why."

"Sir Tiglath," said Lady Enid, boldly taking the astronomer's arm. "Come
with me. I want you to find Mr. Sagittarius for me. Yes, they do make
rather a noise!"

This was in allusion to the guitars, for the astronomer had now placed
both hands over his ears in the vain endeavour to exclude "The Gipsies."
Deafness, perhaps, rendered him yielding. In any case, he permitted Lady
Enid to detach him from Mrs. Bridgeman and to lead him through the rooms
in search of Mr. Sagittarius.

"Perhaps he's here," said Lady Enid, entering a darkened chamber. "Oh,
no!"

And she hastily moved away, perceiving a large number of devoted
adherents of table-tapping busily engaged, with outspread fingers and
solemn faces, at their intellectual pursuit. Avoiding the archdeacon,
who was now having his nose read by the professor, she conducted the
astronomer, rendered strangely meek by the guitars, into a drawing-room
near the hall, in which only four people remained--Verano and Mrs.
Eliza Doubleway, who were conferring in one corner, and Mr. and Madame
Sagittarius, who were apparently having rather more than a few words
together in another.

"Ah! there's Mr. Sagittarius!" said Lady Enid.

"Minnie!" cried Mrs. Eliza, beckoning to Lady Enid. "Minnie, ducky!"

Lady Enid pretended not to hear and tried to hasten with the astronomer
towards the Sagittariuses. But Mrs. Eliza was not to be put off.

"Minnie, my pet!" she piped. "Come here, Minnie!"

Lady Enid was obliged to pause.

"What is it, dear Eliza?" she asked, at the same time making a face at
the soothsayer to indicate caution.

Mrs. Eliza and Verano rose and approached Lady Enid and the astronomer.

"I was laying the cards last night at Jane Seaman's--you know, dear, the
Angel Gabriel who lives on the Hackney Downs--and whatever do you think?
The hace of spades came up three times in conjugation with the Knave of
'earts!"

"Terrific! Very great!" buzzed Verano, with a strong South American
Irish brogue--a real broth of a brogue.

"Wonderful!" said Lady Enid, hastily, endeavouring to pass on.

"Wait a minute, darling. Well, I says to Jane--I was laying the cards
for her 'usband, dear--I says to Jane, I says, without doubt Hisaac is
about to pass over, I says, seeing the red boy's come up in conjugation
with the hace. 'Lord! Mrs. Eliza! Lay them out again,' she says, 'for,'
she says, 'if Hike is going to pass over,' she says--"

"Extraordinary, dear Mrs. Eliza! You're a genius!" cried Lady Enid in
despair.

"Tremendous! Very big!" buzzed Verano, staring at Sir Tiglath. "You got
a very spatulate hand there, sir! Allow me!"

And to Lady Enid's horror he seized the astronomer's hand with both his
own.

"How dare you tamper with the old astronomer, sir?" roared Sir Tiglath.
"Am I in a madhouse? Who are all these crazy Janes! Drop my hand, sir!"

Verano obeyed rather hastily, and Lady Enid convoyed the spluttering
astronomer towards the corner which contained Mr. and Madame
Sagittarius.

Now these worthies were in a mental condition of a most complicated
kind. The reception at Zoological House had upset in an hour the
theories and beliefs of a lifetime. Hitherto Madame had always been
filled with shame at the thought that she was not the wife of an
architect but of a prophet, and Mr. Sagittarius had endeavoured to
assume the mein and costume of an outside broker, and had dreamed dreams
of retiring eventually from a hated and despised profession. But now
they found themselves in a magnificent mansion in which the second-rate
members of their own tribe were worshipped and adored, smothered with
attentions, plied with Pommery and looked upon as gods, while they, in
their incognito, were neglected, and paid no more heed to than if they
had been, in reality, mere architects and outside brokers, totally
unconnected with that mysterious occult world which is the fashion of
the moment.

This position of affairs had, not unnaturally, thrown then into a
condition of the gravest excitement. Madame, more especially, had
reached boiling point. Feeling herself, for the first time, an Imperial
creature in exile, who had only to declare herself to receive instant
homage and to be overwhelmed with the most flattering attentions,
her lust of glory developed with alarming rapidity, and she urged her
husband to cast the traditions that had hitherto guided him to the
winds and to declare forthwith his identity with Malkiel the Second, the
business-like and as it were official head of the whole prophetic tribe.

Mr. Sagittarius, for his part, was also fired with the longing for
instant glory, but he was by nature an extremely timid--or shall we
say rather, an extremely prudent--man. He remembered the repeated
injunctions of his great forebear who had lived and died in the Susan
Road beside the gasworks. More, he remembered Sir Tiglath Butt. He was
torn between ambition and terror.

"Declare yourself, Jupiter!" cried Madame. "Declare yourself this
moment!"

"My love!" replied Mr. Sagittarius. "My angel, we must reflect."

"I have reflected," retorted Madame.

"There are difficulties, my dear, many difficulties in the way."

"And what if there are? _Per augustum ad augustibus_. Every fool knows
that."

"My dear, you are a little hard upon me."

"And what have you been upon me, I should like to know? What about those
goings-on with the woman Bridgeman? What about your investigations with
that hussy Minerva? You've been her owl, that's what you've been!"

She began to show grave symptoms of hysteria. Mr. Sagittarius patted her
hands in great anxiety.

"My love, I have told you, I have sworn--"

"And what man doesn't swear whenever he gets the chance?" cried Madame.
"Why did I ever marry? _Heu miserum me_."

"My angel, be calm. I assure you--"

"Very well then, declare yourself, Jupiter, this minute, or I'll declare
yourself for you!"

"But, my love, think of Sir Tiglath! I dare not declare myself. He
will be here at any moment, and he has sworn to kill me, if I'm not an
American syndicate!"

"Rubbish!"

"But, my--"

"Rubbish! That's only what Mr. Vivian says."

"Well, but--"

"Besides, you can put on your _toga virilibus_ and knock him down. It's
no use talking to me, Jupiter."

"I know it isn't, my darling, I know. But--"

"If you don't declare yourself I shall declare yourself for you this
very moment. I will not endure to be left in the corner while all these
nobodies are being truckled to. Bernard Wilkins, indeed! A prophet
we wouldn't so much as recognise to be a prophet, and that there Mrs.
Eliza--people from the Wick going down to supper in front of us, and
a man from the Butts put before you! It's right down disgusting, and I
won't have it."

It was exactly at this point in the matrimonial conference that Lady
Enid and Sir Tiglath Butt, shaking themselves free of Mrs. Eliza and
Verano, bore down upon Mr. and Madame Sagittarius, who were so busily
engaged in disputation that they did not perceive that anyone was near
until Lady Enid touched Mr. Sagittarius upon the arm.

That gentleman started violently and, on perceiving Sir Tiglath Butt,
who was positively sputtering with wrath at the palmistic attentions
paid to him by Verano, shrank against his wife, who pushed him
vigorously from her, and, getting upon her feet, announced in a loud
voice,--

"Very well, Jupiter, since you won't declare yourself I shall go at once
to the woman Bridgeman and declare yourself for you!"

And with this remark she scowled at Lady Enid and walked majestically
away, tossing her head vehemently at Mrs. Eliza and Verano as she swept
into the adjoining drawing-room.

"Dear me," said Lady Enid, with great curiosity. "Dear me, Mr.
Sagittarius, is your wife going to make a declaration? This is most
interesting!"

And, moved by her besetting idiosyncrasy, she added to the astronomer,
"Excuse me," Sir Tiglath, "I'll be back in one moment!" and glided
swiftly away in the wake of Madame, leaving Mr. Sagittarius and his
deadliest foe _tete-a-tete_.

"Is this a madhouse, sir?" cried Sir Tiglath, on being thus abandoned.
"The old astronomer demands to know at once if one is, or is not, in a
vast madhouse?"

"I don't know, sir, indeed," replied Mr. Sagittarius. "I should not like
to express an opinion on the point. If you will excu--"

"Sir, the old astronomer will not excuse you," roared Sir Tiglath,
forcibly preventing Mr. Sagittarius, who was pale as ashes, from
escaping into the farther room. "He will not be run away from by
everybody in this manner."

"I beg pardon, sir, I had no intention of running away," said Mr.
Sagittarius, making one last despairing effort to assume his _toga
virilibus_.

"Then why did you do it, sir? Tell the old astronomer that!" cried Sir
Tiglath, seizing him by the arm. "And tell him, moreover, what you and
the old female Bridgeman have been about together?"

"Nothing, sir; I swear that Mrs. Bridgeman and myself have never--"

"Never made investigations into the possibility of there being oxygen in
many of the holy stars? Do you affirm that, sir?"

"I do!" cried Mr. Sagittarius. "I am an outside broker."

"Do you affirm that you are no astronomer, sir? Do you declare that you
are not a man of science?"

"I do! I do!"

"Not an astronomer of remarkable attainments, but very modest and
retiring withal? Oh-h-h!"

"Modest and retiring, sir?" cried Mr. Sagittarius, suddenly illumined
by a ray of hope. "That's just it! I am a modest and retiring outside
broker, sir."

And he violently endeavoured to prove the truth of the words by escaping
forthwith into obscurity.

"There never was a modest and retiring outside broker!" bellowed Sir
Tiglath. "There never was, and there never will be. The old--"

"What's that?" interrupted Mr. Sagittarius. "Whatever's that?"

For at this moment an extraordinary hum of voices made itself audible
above the fifty guitars, and a noise of many feet trampling eagerly upon
Mrs. Bridgeman's parquet grew louder and louder in the brilliant rooms.
Attracted by the uproar, Sir Tiglath paused for a moment, still keeping
his hand upon the lapel of Mr. Ferdinand's coat, however. The noise
increased. It was evident that a multitude of people was rapidly
approaching. Words uttered by the moving guests, exclamations, and
ejaculations of excitement now detached themselves from the general
murmur.

"The Prophet from the Mouse!"

"The great Malkiel here!"

"The founder of the almanac!"

"The greatest Prophet of the age!"

"Malkiel the Second from the Mouse!"

"Where is Malkiel?"

"We must find Malkiel!"

"We must see Malkiel!"

"Is it really Malkiel?"

"Oh, is it _the_ Malkiel? Where--where is Malkiel?"

Such cries as these broke upon the ears of the astronomer and Mr.
Sagittarius.

Sir Tiglath grew purple.

"Malkiel who has insulted the holy stars here!" he roared, letting go of
Mr. Sagittarius. "Where--where is he?"

"In there, sir, I verily believe!" cried Mr. Sagittarius, pointing in
the direction of the crowd with a hand that shook like all the leaves in
Vallombrosa.

"Let me find him!" shouted the astronomer. "Let me only discover him!
I'll break every bone in his accursed body."

And with this rather bald statement he rolled out of the room in one
direction, while Mr. Sagittarius, without more ado, cast aside his _toga
virilibus_ and darted out of it into another, just as Madame escorted by
Mrs. Bridgeman, Lady Enid, the great Towle and the whole of the company
assembled at Zoological House, appeared majestically--and proceeding as
an Empress--in the aperture of the main doorway.



CHAPTER XIX

MRS. MERILLIA HEATS THE POKER

When Mr. Sagittarius, running at his fullest speed, emerged from
Zoological House, wearing the hat and coat that the saturnine little
clergyman had left behind him, the night was damp and gusty. As he
hastened down the drive, and the sound of twenty guitars, playing
"Oh would I were a Spaniard among you lemon groves!" died away in the
lighted mansion behind him, he heard the roaring of the beasts in the
gardens close by. In the wet darkness it sounded peculiarly terrific.
He shuddered, and, holding up Mr. Ferdinand's trousers with both hands,
hurried onward through the mire, whither he knew not. His only thought
was that all was now discovered and that his life was in danger. A
woman's vanity had wrecked his future. He must hide somewhere for the
night, and get away in the morning, perhaps on board some tramp steamer
bound for Buenos Ayres, or on a junk weighing anchor for Hayti or Java,
or some other distant place. Vague memories of books he had read when a
boy came back to him as he ran through the unkempt wilds of the Regent's
Park. He saw himself a stowaway hidden in a hold, alone with rats and
ships' biscuits. He saw himself working his way out before the mast,
sent aloft in hurricanes on pitch-black nights, or turning the wheel the
wrong way round and bringing the ship to wreck upon iron-bound coasts
swarming with sharks and savages. The lions roared again, and the black
panthers snarled behind their prison bars. He thought of the peaceful
waters of the river Mouse, of the library of Madame, of the happy little
circle of architects and their wives, of all that he must leave.

What wonder if he dropped a tear into the muddy road? What wonder if a
sob rent the bosom of Mr. Ferdinand's now disordered shirt front? On and
on Mr. Sagittarius--or Malkiel the Second, as he may from henceforth
be called--went blindly, on and on till the Park was left behind, till
crescents gave way to squares, and squares to streets. He passed an
occasional policeman and slunk away from the penetrating bull's-eye.
He heard now and then the far-off rattle of a cab, the shrill cry of
a whistle, the howl of a butler summoning a vehicle, the coo of a cook
bidding good-night to the young tradesman whom she loved before the area
gate. And all these familiar London sounds struck strangely on his ear.
When would he hear them again? Perhaps never. He stumbled on blinded
with emotion.

Dogs, we know are guided by a strange instinct to find their homes even
by unfamiliar paths. Pigeons will fly across wide spaces and drop down
to the wicker cage that awaits them. And it would appear that prophets
are not without a certain faculty that may be called topographical. For
how else can the following fact be explained? Malkiel the Second, after
apparently endless wandering, found himself totally unable to proceed
further. His legs gave way beneath him. His breath failed. His brain
swam. He reeled, stretched forth his hands and clutched at the nearest
support. This chanced to be a railing, wet, slimy, cold. He grasped it,
leaned against it, and for a few moments remained where he was in a sort
of trance. Then, gradually, full consciousness returned. He glanced up
and beheld the black garden of a square. Somehow it looked familiar. He
seemed to know those shadowy, leafless trees, the roadway between him
and them, even the pavement upon which his boots--his own boots--were
set. His lack-lustre eyes travelled to the houses that bordered the
square, then to the house against whose area railings he was leaning,
and he started with amazement. For he was in Berkeley Square, leaning
against the railing of number one thousand. He gazed up at the windows.
One or two faint lights twinkled. Then perhaps the household had not yet
retired for the night. An idea seized him. He must rest. He must snatch
a brief interval of repose, before starting for the docks at dawn to
find a ship in whose hold he could seek seclusion, till the great seas
roared round her, and he could declare himself to the captain and
crew without fear of being put ashore. Why not rest here in number one
thousand? True, the Prophet would presently be returning possibly with
Madame, but he would bribe Mr. Ferdinand not to mention his whereabouts.
It was no doubt a very rash proceeding, but he was utterly exhausted,
he felt that he could go no further, he found himself before an almost
friendly door. What wonder then if he tottered up the steps and tapped
feebly upon it? There was no answer. He tapped again more loudly. This
time his summons was heard. Steps approached. There was a moment's
pause. Then the door opened, and Gustavus appeared looking rather
sleepy, but still decidedly intellectual. Malkiel the Second pulled
himself together and faced the footman boldly.

"You know me?" he said.

Gustavus examined him closely.

"Yes, sir," he replied at length. "By the clothes. I should know Mr.
Ferdinand's trouserings among a thousand."

Malkiel the Second realised that emotion probably rendered his face
unrecognisable. But at least his legs spoke for him. That was something,
and he continued, with an attempt at ease and boldness,--

"Right! I have returned to change them."

"Yes, sir. Mr. Ferdinand has retired to bed, sir."

"Don't wake him. I can just leave them for him."

"Very well, sir."

And Gustavus admitted Malkiel to the dimly-lit hall and shut the door
softly.

"What is your name, young man?" said Malkiel, whispering.

"Gustavus, sir."

"Ah! Gustavus, would you like to earn a hundred pounds to-night?"

Gustavus started.

"I don't say as how I'd rather not, sir," he replied. "I don't go so far
as to say that."

"Right! Do as I tell you and you will earn a hundred pounds."

The footman's eyes began to glow, almost like a cat's in the twilight.

"Why, I could buy the library near twelve times over," he murmured.

"The library?" said Malkiel, whose brain had suddenly become strangely
clear.

"Ah, sir--Dr. Carter's," returned Gustavus, beginning to tremble.

"Dr. Carter's!" whispered Malkiel, excitedly. "I should think so. Eight
guineas and a half, and you pay in instalments."

"I'll do it, sir," hissed Gustavus, utterly carried away by the
prospect. "What d'you want me to do?"

"First to let me change my clothes quickly, then to hide me somewhere so
as I can get a sleep till dawn. Call me directly it begins to get light
and I shall be off to the docks."

"The docks, sir?"

"Ay. I start for--for Java to-morrow."

"Java, sir--what, where the sparrows and the jelly--"

"Ay, ay," returned Malkiel, secretly rehearsing his new nautical role.

"I'll do it sir. And the hundred?"

"I'll write you an order on my banker's. You can trust me. Now let me
change my clothes. Quick!"

"They're in Mr. Vivian's bedroom, ain't they?"

Malkiel nodded.

"You must go very soft, sir, because of the old lady. She's abed, but
she might be wakeful, specially to-night. She's been awful upset. My
word, she has!"

"I'll go as soft as a mouse," whispered Malkiel. "Show me the way."

Gustavus advanced on tiptoe towards the staircase, followed by Malkiel,
who held Mr. Ferdinand's clothes together lest they should rustle, and
proceeded with the most infinite precaution. In this manner they gained
the second floor and neared the bedroom door of Mrs. Merillia. Here
Gustavus turned round, pointed to the door, and put his finger to his
pouting lips, at the same time rounding his hazel eyes and shaking
his powdered head in a most warning manner. Malkiel nodded, held Mr.
Ferdinand's clothes tighter, and stole on, as he thought, without
making a sound. What was his horror, then, just as he was passing Mrs.
Merillia's door, to hear a voice cry,--

"Hennessey! Hennessey!"

Gustavus and Malkiel stopped dead, as if they had both been shot. They
now perceived that the door was partially open, and that a faint light
shone within the room.

"Hennessey!" cried the voice of Mrs. Merillia again. "Come in here. I
must speak to you."

Gustavus darted on into the darkness of the Prophet's room, but Malkiel
the Second was so alarmed that he stayed where he was, finding himself
totally incapable of movement.

"Hennessey!" repeated the voice.

Then there was a faint rustling, the door was opened more widely, and
Mrs. Merillia appeared in the aperture, clad in a most charming night
bonnet, and robed in a dressing-gown of white watered silk.

"The ratcatcher!" she cried. "The ratcatcher!"

Malkiel turned and darted down the stairs, while Mrs. Merillia, in the
extreme of terror, shut her door, locked it as many times as she could,
and then hastened trembling to the bell which communicated with the
faithful Mrs. Fancy, rang it, and dropped half fainting into a chair.
Mrs. Fancy woke from her second dream just as Malkiel, closely followed
by the now shattered Gustavus, reached the hall.

"Hide me! Hide me!" whispered Malkiel. "In here!"

And he darted into the servants' quarters, leaving Gustavus on the
mat. Mrs. Merillia's other bell now pealed shrilly downstairs. Gustavus
paused and pulled himself together. He was by nature a fairly intrepid
youth, and moreover, he had recently made a close study of Carlyle's
_Heroes and Hero-worship_, which greatly impressed him. He therefore
resolved in this moment of peril to acquit himself in similar
circumstances, and he remounted the stairs and reached Mrs. Merillia's
door just as Mrs. Fancy, wrapped in a woollen shawl and wearing a pair
of knitted night-socks, descended to the landing, candle in hand.

"Oh, Mr. Gustavus!" said Mrs. Fancy. "Is it the robbers again? Is it
murder, Mr. Gustavus? Is it fire?"

"I don't know, Mrs. Fancy, I'll ask the mistress."

He tapped upon the door.

"You can't come in!" cried poor Mrs. Merillia, who was losing her head
perhaps for the first time in her life. "You can't come in, and if you
do I shall give you in charge to the police."

And she rang both her bells again.

"Ma'am!" said Gustavus, knocking once more. "Ma'am!"

"It's no use your knocking," returned Mrs. Merillia. "The door is
bolted. Go away, go away!"

And again she rang her two bells.

"Madam!" piped Mrs. Fancy. "Madam! It's me!"

"I know," said Mrs. Merillia. "I know it's you! I saw you! Leave the
house unless you wish to be at once put in prison."

Her bells pealed. Mrs. Fancy began to sob.

"Me to leave the house!" she wailed. "Me to go to prison!"

"Bear up, Mrs. Fancy, she doesn't know who it is!" said Gustavus.
"Ma'am! Ma'am! Missis! Missis!"

"I am ringing," said Mrs. Merillia, in a muffled manner through the
door. "I am summoning assistance! You will be captured if you don't go
away."

And again she pealed her bells. This time, as she did so, the tingling
of a third bell became audible in the silent house.

"Lord!" cried Gustavus, "if there isn't the hall door. It must be
master. He left his key to-night. Here's a nice go!"

The three bells raised their piercing chorus. Mrs. Fancy sobbed, and
Gustavus, after a terrible moment of hesitation, bounded down the hall.
His instinct had not played him false. The person who had rung the bell
was indeed the Prophet, who had basely slunk away from Zoological House,
leaving Madame surrounded by her new and adoring friends.

"Thank you, Gustavus," he said, entering. "Take my coat, please. What's
that?"

For Mrs. Merillia's bells struck shrilly upon his astonished ears.

"I think it's Mrs. Merillia, sir. She keeps on ringing."

"Mrs. Merillia. At this hour! Heavens! Is she ill?"

"I don't know, sir. She keeps ringing; but when I answer it she says,
'Go away!' she says. 'Go--' she says, sir."

"How very strange!"

And the Prophet bounded upstairs and arrived at his grandmother's
door just in time to hear her cry out, in reply to poor Mrs. Fancy's
distracted knocking,--

"If you try to break in you will be put in prison at once. I hear
assistance coming. I hear the police. Go away, you wicked, wicked man!"

"Grannie!" cried the Prophet through the keyhole. "Grannie, let me in!
Grannie! Grannie! Don't ring! Grannie! Grannie!"

But Mrs. Merillia was now completely out of herself, and her only
response to her grandson's appeal was to place her trembling fingers
upon the two bells, and to reply, through their uproar,--

"It is useless for you to say that. I know who you are. I saw you. I
shall go on ringing as long as I can stand. I shall die ringing, but I
shall never let you in. Go away! Go away!"

"What does she mean?" cried the Prophet, turning to Gustavus.

"I don't know indeed, sir," replied the footman, thinking of Mr.
Carter's library. "I couldn't say indeed, sir."

"Oh, my poor missis!" wailed Mrs. Fancy, trembling in her night-socks.
"Oh, my poor dear missis! I can't speak different nor mean other. Oh,
missis, missis!"

"Hush, Fancy!" said the Prophet, in the greatest distraction. "Grannie!
Grannie!"

And seizing the handle of the door he shook it violently. Mrs. Merillia
was now very naturally under the impression that the ratcatcher was
determined to break in and murder her without more ado. Extreme danger
often seems to exercise a strangely calming influence upon the human
soul. So it was now. Upon hearing her bedroom door quivering under the
assault of the Prophet, Mrs. Merillia was abruptly invaded by a sort of
desperate courage. She left the bells, tottered to the grate in which a
good fire was blazing, seized the poker and thrust it between the bars
and into the heart of the flames, at the same time crying out in a
quavering but determined voice,--

"I am heating the poker! If you come in you will repent it. I am heating
the poker!"

On hearing this remark, the Prophet desisted from his assault upon the
door, overcome by the absolute conviction that his beloved grandmother
was suffering from a pronounced form of homicidal mania. His affection
prompted him to keep such a catastrophe secret as long as possible, and
he therefore turned to Mrs. Fancy and Gustavus, and said hurriedly,--

"This is a matter for me alone. Mrs. Fancy, please go away at once.
Gustavus, you will accompany Mrs. Fancy."

His manner was so firm, his face so iron in its determination, that
Mrs. Fancy and Gustavus dared not proffer a word. They turned away and
disappeared softly down the stairs, to wait the _denouement_ of this
tragedy in the hall below. Meantime the poker was growing red hot in the
coals, and Mrs. Merillia announced to the supposed ratcatcher,--

"I can hear you--I hear you breathing--" (the Prophet endeavoured not to
breathe). "I hear you rustling, but you can't touch me. The poker is red
hot."

And she drew it smoking from the grate and approached the door, holding
it in her delicate hand like a weapon.

"Grannie!" said the Prophet, making his voice as much like it generally
was as he possibly could. "Dearest grannie!"

"I dare you to come in!" replied Mrs. Merillia, in an almost formidable
manner. "I dare you to do it."

"I am not coming in, grannie," said the Prophet.

"Then go away!" said Mrs. Merillia. "Go away--and let me hear you
going."

A sudden idea struck the Prophet. He did not say another word, but
immediately walked downstairs, tramping heavily and shaking the wood
balusters violently at every step he took. His ruse succeeded. Hearing
the intruder depart, Mrs. Merillia's curious courage deserted her, she
dropped the poker into the grate, and once more set both bells going
with all her might and main. The Prophet let her ring for nearly five
minutes, then he bounded once more upstairs and tapped very gently on
the door.

"Grannie," he cried, "are you ringing? What is it?"

This time Mrs. Merillia recognised his voice, tottered to the door,
unlocked it, and fell, trembling, into his anxious arms.

"Oh, Hennessey!" she gasped. "Oh--Hennessey!"

"Grannie, what is it? What on earth is the matter?"

"The ratcatcher! The ratcatcher!"

"The ratcatcher!" cried the Prophet.

"He has come back. He is here. He has been trying to break into my
room."

"What ratcatcher?"

"The one that dined to-night--the one you called your old and--and
valued--friend."

"Mr. Sagittarius?" exclaimed the Prophet.

"He is here."

"Here!"

"I have seen him. He has tried to murder me."

"I will look into this at once," said the Prophet.

He ran to the head of the stairs and called out,--

"Gustavus!"

"Sir!"

"Come up here at once."

Gustavus came, followed closely by Mrs. Fancy, who was in a state of
abject confusion and alarm.

"Has Mr. Sagittarius returned here--the gentleman who dined to-night?"
asked the Prophet.

Gustavus hesitated, thought of Dr. Carter's library, and replied,--

"No, sir."

"Has anybody entered the house?"

"No, sir."

"You have been up the whole evening?"

"Yes, sir."

"And nobody has been?"

"Nobody, sir."

"Grannie, you hear what Gustavus says."

"But, Hennessey, he is here; I saw him."

"Where?"

"By the door. I heard someone, and I thought it was you. I came to the
door after calling you, and there he stood, all dirty and wet, with
a huge hat on his head" (the saturnine little clergyman was largely
blessed with brain), "and a most awful murderous expression on his
face."

The Prophet began to suspect that his dear relative, upset by the tragic
events of the dinner table, had gone to sleep and had the nightmare.

"Grannie, it must have been a dream."

"No, Hennessey, no."

"It must indeed. I left Mr. Sagittarius at Zoological House. I feel
certain of that."

The Prophet spoke the honest truth. He fully believed that Mr.
Sagittarius was at that very moment sharing in the triumph of his wife
and receiving the worship of those who live the silly life.

"But I saw him, Hennessey," said Mrs. Merillia, adding rather
unnecessarily, "with my own eyes."

"Grannie, darling, you must have been dreaming. At any rate, I'm here
now. Nothing can hurt you. Go to bed. Fancy will stay with you, and I
swear to you that no harm will happen to you so long as I am breathing."

With these noble words the Prophet kissed his grandmother tenderly,
assisted Mrs. Fancy into the room, and walked downstairs quite
determined that, come what might, whether he broke a thousand oaths or
not, he would put an end forthwith to the tyranny of the couple from the
Mouse and abandon for ever the shocking pursuit of prophecy.



CHAPTER XX

THE PROPHET RETIRES FROM BUSINESS

Exactly as the Prophet arrived at his resolution the hall door bell
rang violently, and Gustavus, who had slipped down before the Prophet in
order to seek the traveller to Java in the servants' quarters, hurried
into the hall in rather a distracted manner.

"Stop, Gustavus!" said the Prophet.

Gustavus stopped. The bell rang again.

"Gustavus," said the Prophet, "if that is a visitor I am not at home.
Mrs. Merillia is not at home either."

It was by this time between one and two in the morning.

"Not at home, sir. Yes, sir."

The Prophet concealed himself near the hat-rack, and Gustavus went
softly to the door and opened it.

"Not at home, ma'am," the Prophet heard him say, formally.

"What d'you mean, young man?" replied the powerful voice of Madame.
"Where is my husband?"

"Ma'am?"

"Where, I say, is my husband?"

"I couldn't say, I'm sure, ma'am. But Mrs. Merillia and Mr. Vivian are
not at home."

"Then all I can say is they ought to be in at this time of night. Permit
me to pass. Are you aware that Mr. Vivian has invited me to spend the
night here? _Noctes ambrosianes_."

"But, ma'am, Mr. Viv--"

"That'll do. If I have any more of your impertinence I'll make you
repent of it. You are evidently not aware who I am."

The Prophet, by the hat-rack, did not fail to hear a new note in the
deep contralto of Madame, a note of triumph, a trumpet note of profound
conceit. His heart sank before this determined music, and it sank
even lower towards his pumps when, a moment later, he found himself
confronted by the lady, wrapped closely in the rabbit-skins, and
absolutely bulging with vanity and self-appreciation.

"What! Mr. Vivian!" began the lady.

"Hush!" said the Prophet, "for mercy's sake--hush!"

And, acting upon the impulse of the moment, he suddenly seized Madame by
the hand, and hurried her through the swinging door into the servants'
hall.

"Here's a go," murmured Gustavus in the greatest trepidation. "If they
don't find the thin party I'm a josser."

Meanwhile the Prophet and Madame were standing face to face before the
what-not of Gustavus.

"My grandmother is awake--that is asleep," said the Prophet. "We must
not wake her on any account."

"Oh," returned Madame, with a toss of her head, "your grandmother seems
to be a very fidgety old lady, I'm sure--although you do tell a parcel
of lies about her."

"Lies!" said the Prophet, with some dignity.

"Yes--lies. She don't wear long clothes--"

"I beg your pardon!"

"She do not. She don't wear her hair down. She don't put her lips to the
bottle. She don't. Where is Mr. Sagi--where is Malkiel the Second?"

"I have no idea. And now, Madame, I regret that I must conduct you to
your carriage. The hour is late, my grandmother is seriously indisposed,
and I myself need rest."

"Well, then, you can't have it," retorted the lady with authoritative
spitefulness. "You can't have it, not till three o'clock."

"I beg your pardon!" said the Prophet, with trembling lips.

"What for?"

"I really regret that I must retire. Allow me--"

"I'll not allow you. Where is my husband? He's not at the Zoological
Gardens."

"He has probably returned home."

"To the Mouse! Then he's a coward and an oath-breaker, and if Sir
Tiglath was to catch him I shouldn't be sorry. Kindly lead me at once
to the telescope. I will take his place. No one shall say that Madame
Malkiel ever flinched at duty's call. _Praesto et persistibus_. Conduct
me at once to the telescope."

"The telescope!" cried the Prophet. "What for?"

"Lawks!" cried Madame, with pronounced temper. "Did we not journey from
the Mouse a-purpose to go practically into the mystery of the dressed
Crab?"

"I really--I really cannot consent without a chaperon," began the
Prophet.

"The wife of Malkiel the Second needs no chaperone," retorted Madame.
"This night has altered my condition--I stand from henceforth far beyond
the reach of etiquette. The world knows me now and will not dare to
carp. _Carpe dies_."

During the foregoing colloquy her voice had become louder and louder,
and the Prophet, dreading unspeakably lest his grandmother should be
disturbed and affrighted once more, gave up the struggle, and, without
more ado, conducted Madame into the butler's pantry in which the
telescope still remained.

Meanwhile what had become of Malkiel the Second?

When Mrs. Merillia suddenly appeared before him in her night-bonnet and
accused him of being a ratcatcher he had very naturally fled, his first
impulse being to leave the house at once and continue his journey to the
docks. But even a prophet is but mortal. Malkiel had passed through an
eventful day followed by a still more eventful evening. His mind was
completely exhausted. Even so, however, he might have continued upon his
journey towards Java had not his legs prosaically shown signs of giving
way under him just as he once more gained the hall. This decided him. He
must have some short repose at whatever cost. He therefore pushed feebly
at the nearest door, and found himself promptly in the apartment of the
upper servants. Staggering to the what-not of Gustavus, he sank down
upon it and fell into a melancholy reverie, from which he was roused
by the constant tingling cry of Mrs. Merillia's second bell, which rang
close to where he was reposing. He tried to start up, but failed, and
it was only when the hall door bell, attacked by the Prophet, added its
voice to its companion's that his terror lent him sufficient strength to
flee very slowly into the inner fastnesses of this unknown region. There
was a light in the servant's hall, but darkness lay beyond and Malkiel
knew not whither he was penetrating. He barked his shins, but could not
tell against what hard substance. He bruised his elbow, but could not
know what piece of furniture had assailed it. On coming in contact with
a dresser he saw a few sparks, but they speedily died out, and he was
obliged to feel his way onward, till presently he came across a large
leather chair in which Mrs. Merillia's cook was wont to sit while
directing her subordinates at the basting machine. Into this he sank
palpitating, and for a moment remained undisturbed. Then, to his horror,
he heard in the adjoining room the strident voice of his loved and
honoured wife apparently carrying on a decidedly vivacious argument with
some person unknown. He bounded up. Possibly she was accompanied by Sir
Tiglath, who must now be aware of his identity. In any case, her wrath
at his scarcely chivalrous desertion of her in the house of a stranger
would, he knew, be terrible. He dared not face it. He dared not allow
his project of flight at dawn to be interfered with, as it certainly
would be if he came across Madame. He therefore proceeded to flee once
more. Nor did he pause until he had gained Mr. Ferdinand's pantry, where
stood the telescope. Now, in this pantry there was a large cupboard in
which were kept the very numerous and magnificent pieces of plate, etc.,
possessed by Mrs. Merillia; tall silver candelabra, standard lamps
of polished bronze, richly-chased cups, gigantic vases for containing
flowers, oriental incense holders upon stands of ebony, Spanish charcoal
dishes of burnished brass, and other treasures far too numerous to
mention. This cupboard was always carefully locked at night, but on this
occasion Mr. Ferdinand, totally disorganised by the frightful scenes
which had taken place at his dinner table during the evening, had
retired to bed in a condition of collapse, leaving it open. Malkiel the
Second, feeling frantically about in the dark, came upon the door
of this cupboard, pulled it, found that it yielded to his hand, and,
hearing the rapidly approaching voices of Madame and the Prophet,
stumbled into the cupboard and sank down on a large gold loving-cup,
with one foot in a silver soup tureen, and the other in a priceless
sugar basin, just as the light of the candle borne by the Prophet
glimmered in the darkness of the adjacent corridor.

"This way, Madame," said the Prophet. "But I really think such a
proceeding is calculated to cause a grave scandal in the square."

Malkiel the Second drew the cupboard door to, and grasped a silver
candelabrum in each hand to sustain himself upon the rather sharp rim of
the loving-cup.

"What is the square to me or I to the square?" returned Madame with
ungrammatical majesty. "Madame Malkiel is not governed by any ordinary
laws. _Lexes non scripta_ is her motto. To these alone she clings."

Her husband clung to the candelabra and burst into a violent
perspiration. Through the keyhole of the cupboard a ray of light now
shone, and he heard the frou-frou of his partner's skirt, the flump
of the rabbit-skins as she cast them from her ample shoulders upon the
floor. The Prophet's voice became audible again.

"What do you wish me to do?" he said, with a sort of embittered
courtesy.

"Throw open the window, place yourself before the telescope, and proceed
at once to your investigations," replied the lady.

"I am not in a condition to investigate," said the Prophet. "I am not
indeed. If you will only let me get you a cab, to-morrow night--"

"It is useless to talk, Mr. Vivian," said Madame, very sharply. "The cab
has not yet been made that will convey me to the Mouse to-night."

"But your husband--"

"My husband is a coward, unworthy of such a wife as he possesses. At the
crisis of our fortunes--What's that?"

At this painful moment Malkiel the Second was so overcome by emotion,
that he trembled, and allowed his left foot to rattle slightly on the
sugar basin.

"What was it?" repeated Madame.

"Rats, I have no doubt," answered the Prophet, who had heard nothing. "I
believe that the basements of these old houses are simply--well--simply
permeated with rats."

For a moment Madame blanched, but she was a woman of spirit, and
moreover she was almost intoxicated with ambition. Recognised at last as
a lady of position and importance in one of the mansions of the idiotic
great, she was more anxious than ever to remove forthwith into the
central districts, there to exercise that sway which she had so long
desired. Finding that there exists a world in which prophets--far from
being considered as dirty and deceitful persons--are worshipped and
adored, entertained with Pommery and treated almost as gods, she yearned
to dwell in the midst of it. The peaceful seclusion of the Mouse was
become hateful to her. The architects and their wives began to seem
to her uplifted fancy little better than the circle that frequented
Hagglin's Buildings, or appeared at the paltry entertainments given by
the inhabitants of Drakeman's Villas. She was resolved to soar, and even
rats should not turn her from her passionate purpose. Accordingly she
replied,--

"Rats or no rats, I intend to see this matter out. _Dixisti!_ The night
wanes. Kindly go at once to the telescope."

The Prophet obeyed, first opening the window into the area. The rain
had now cleared off, but the sky was still rather cloudy, and only a few
stars peeped here and there.

"Really," said the Prophet, after applying his weary eye to the machine,
"really I don't think it's any good, there are so very--"

"Have the goodness to place the old lady in the claws of the Crab,
according to the directions of the coward who has deserted me."

Malkiel shook with shame upon the loving-cup.

"But I really can't find the Crab," said the Prophet, who was so tired
that he could scarcely stand. "I can see the Great Bear."

"That is no use. The Bear has nothing to do with the old lady. You must
find the Crab. Look again."

The Prophet did so. But his eye blinked with fatigue and the heavens
swam before it.

"There is no Crab to-night," he said. "I assure you on my honour there
is none."

Exactly as he finished making this statement a low whistle rang through
the silence of the night. The Prophet started, Madame jumped, and
Malkiel bounded on the loving-cup.

The whistle was repeated.

"It's the thing!" whispered the Prophet.

"What thing?" inquired Madame, who had become rather pale.

"The dark thing that told me the Crab was dressed. It has come again."

"My word!" ejaculated Madame, looking uneasily around. "Where is it?"

Just then Malkiel the Second's feet once more began to tremble among the
plate of Mrs. Merillia.

"You hear it!" said the Prophet, much impressed.

"Did it rattle like that the other night?" gasped Madame, seizing the
Prophet by the arm.

The Prophet told a lie with his head.

"Address it, I beg," said Madame, in a great state of excitement.
"Meanwhile I will retire a few paces."

So saying, she backed into the passage, bearing the candle with her
for company, and leaving the Prophet in total darkness. The low whistle
sounded again, and a husky voice said,--

"Are you there?"

"Yes," replied the Prophet, summoning all his courage. "I am."

"What 'a' you put out the light for?" said the voice, which seemed to
come from far away.

"I haven't put it out," returned the Prophet. "It's gone away."

At this juncture Malkiel, impelled by curiosity, ceased from trembling,
and, leaning forward upon the loving-cup, glued his ear to the key-hole
of the cupboard.

"Why was you so late to-night?" proceeded the voice. "She's been in a
rare taking, I can tell you."

"Who?"

"Who? You know well enough."

"Do you mean my grandmother?"

"Your grandmother!" ejaculated the voice with apparent sarcasm. "Ah! of
course, what do you think?"

"I'm sure I don't know," said the poor Prophet, whose reason was
beginning to totter upon its throne.

"Well," proceeded the voice, "she thought you'd give it up."

"What--my grandmother did?"

"Ah, your grandmother. Get away with you! Ha! ha! ha!"

And the mysterious visitant broke forth into a peal of rather mundane
laughter. After indulging in this unseemly mirth for about a minute and
a half, the personage resumed,--

"The Crab did for her."

Upon hearing the mystic word Madame crept stealthily a pace or two
nearer to the door, while the Prophet exclaimed,--

"The dressed Crab?"

"Ah, what do _you_ think? Not a wink of sleep and thought every minute'd
be 'er next."

"Good Heavens!"

"She says she'd never go near a crab again, not if it's ever so."

"You are sure?" said the Prophet, eagerly. "You are positive she said
that?"

"I'd stake my Davy, and I wouldn't do that on everything. There ain't
a man living as'll ever get her to go within fifty miles of a crab this
side of Judgment."

At this point in the colloquy the curiosity of Madame overcame her, and
she protruded her head suddenly beyond the edge of the doorway.

"Ulloh!" exclaimed the voice. "Why, what's 'a' you got there?"

Madame hastily withdrew, and the voice continued,--

"Blessed if it ain't a female!"

"I beg your pardon!" said the Prophet, trembling with propriety.
"I--I--there is no female here!"

"Yes there is!" cried the voice, with a chuckle. "There's a female
creeping and crawling about behind that there door."

The Prophet's sense of chivalry was now fully aroused.

"You are mistaken," he said firmly. "There are no females creeping
and--and crawling about in this--this respectable house."

"Respectable!" ejaculated the voice, "respectable! I say there is a
female. You're a nice one, you are! 'Pon my word, I've a good mind to
run you in for Mormonism, I have. Wherever's she got to?"

On the last words a sudden blaze of light shot into the pantry, and at
the same moment there was the sound of wheels rapidly approaching in the
square.

"Hulloh!" said the voice, "someone a-comin'."

The light died out as rapidly as it had flashed in, the wheels drew
close and stopped, and a bell pealed forth in the silent house.

"Merciful Heavens!" cried the Prophet, pressing his hands to his
throbbing brow. "Merciful Heavens! who can that be?"

There was no answer, and the bell pealed again.

"Grannie will be disturbed!" exclaimed the Prophet, addressing himself,
passionately to the darkness. "Grannie will be killed by all this
uproar."

The bell pealed again.

"This must cease," cried the Prophet. "This must and shall cease. I will
bring it all to an end once and for ever!"

And, with sudden desperate decision, he shut the window, burst out of
the pantry and came upon Madame, who was standing in a somewhat furtive
manner by the door that opened into the cellars of the mansion.

"Mr. Vivian," she began, in a rather subdued voice, "that isn't a comet,
that's a copper!"

The bell rang again.

"D'you think--d'you think that can be my husband?" continued Madame,
still seeming subdued. "I should like him--Do you think it's him?"

"What?"

"The bell."

"I will very soon see," replied the Prophet, in a most determined
manner.

"But Mr. Viv--"

"Don't hold me, if you please. Kindly let me pass!"

And, breaking from the lady's anxious grasp, the Prophet rushed into
the hall just as Gustavus appeared, descending the front stairs from
the landing before Mrs. Merillia's door, where he had been in close
conference with Mrs. Fancy.

"Stand back, Gustavus," said the Prophet.

"Sir!"

"Stand back!"

"But, sir, there is someone--"

"I know there is. I am about to answer the door myself."

"If you please, sir, Mrs. Merillia is greatly alarmed by the constant
ringing, and Mrs. Fancy thinks--"

"Gustavus," said the Prophet in an awful voice, "you may retire, but
first let me tell you one thing."

"Certainly, sir," said the footman, beginning to tremble.

"The circumstances that have rendered a hitherto peaceful household more
disordered than an abode of madmen are about to be brought to an end for
ever. There is a point at which a gentleman must either cease to be a
gentleman or cease to be a man. I have reached that point, Gustavus, and
I am about to cease to be a gentleman."

And, with this terrible statement, the Prophet advanced with a sort of
appalling deliberation and threw the front door wide open.

Upon the doorstep stood Lady Enid wrapped in a pink opera cloak and Sir
Tiglath Butt shrouded in the Inverness. The Prophet faced them with a
marble demeanour.

"I thought you'd be here, Mr. Vivian," began Lady Enid in a bright
manner.

"I am here," said the Prophet, speaking in a voice that might well have
issued from a statue.

"Where is he?" roared Sir Tiglath. "Where is he? Oh-h-h-h!"

"Sir Tiglath means Malkiel," explained Lady Enid. "He is most anxious to
meet him."

"Why?" said the Prophet, still in the same inhuman voice.

"Well, we shall see when they do meet," said Lady Enid, throwing a look
of keen curiosity at the astronomer. "I rather think--" here she lowered
her voice and whispered in the Prophet's ear--"I rather think Sir
Tiglath wishes to try if he can murder Malkiel. Do you believe he could
bring it off?"

"I'm sure I don't know," answered the Prophet, with stony indifference.
"Good-night to you!"

"But we want to come in," cried Lady Enid.

"Young man," roared Sir Tiglath, "the old astronomer will not leave this
house till he has searched it from attic to cellar."

"I am sorry," replied the Prophet, "but I cannot permit my grandmother's
servants or wine to be disturbed at such an hour. If you wish to murder
Malkiel the Second, I shall not prevent you, but he is not here."

"Then where is he?" cried Lady Enid.

"I don't know. And now--"

The Prophet stepped back into the hall, and was about to close the door
unceremoniously--having, as he intended, ceased to be a gentleman--when
Lady Enid caught sight of the round and fixed eyes of Gustavus glaring
out into the night from behind his master. The appalling feminine
instinct, which makes woman the mistress of creation, suddenly woke
within her, and she cried out in a piercing voice,--

"Malkiel's in the house, and Gustavus knows it!"

She spoke these words with such conviction that the Prophet spun round,
top-wise, and stared at the unfortunate flunkey, who instantly fell upon
his knee-breeches and stammered out,--

"Oh, sir, forgive me! It's Dr. Carter done it, sir, it is indeed. It's
Dr. Carter done it!"

"Dr. Carter!" ejaculated the Prophet.

"The library, sir. He offered me the library eight times over, sir!"

"Who offered you the library?"

"The gent, sir, in Mr. Ferdinand's trouserings, what was at dinner, sir.
He only wanted to change 'em, sir, and he says to me, he says, 'Let me,'
he says, 'but remove these trouserings,' he says, 'before I make off to
Java,' he says--"

"To where?" roared Sir Tiglath.

"To Java, sir, where the jelly and the sparrows is manufactured, sir,
that is born, sir. 'And,' he says, 'here is a hundred pounds,' he says."

"Then he is in the house?" said the Prophet, sternly.

"Well, sir, he was, sir. And, as I ain't seen him go, sir, I expect as
he's somewhere about changing of 'em, sir. Oh, sir, if you'll only look
it over sir, It's all the thirst, sir, it's all the thirst--"

"What? You have been drinking?" cried the Prophet, in an outraged
manner.

"No, sir, the thirst for knowledge, sir, as has brought me to this. Oh,
sir, if only you'll--"

"Hush!" said the Prophet fiercely. "Sir Tiglath," he added, turning
towards the puffing astronomer, "you can enter. My grandmother must have
been right."

"Your grandmother?" said Lady Enid, with eager inquisitiveness.

"She informed me that the ruffian was in the house and had attempted to
make away with her--"

"Dear me! this is most interesting!" interposed Lady Enid.

"But I supposed she had had the nightmare. It seems that I was wrong. If
you will step in, you can search the house at once. And if you
discover this nameless creature changing his--that is Mr. Ferdinand's
trouserings--trousers, that is,--in any part of the building, as far as
I am concerned you can murder him forthwith."

The Prophet spoke quite calmly, in a soft and level voice. Yet there
was something so frightful in his tone and manner that even Sir Tiglath
seemed slightly awe-stricken. At any rate, he accepted the Prophet's
invitation in silence, and stepped almost furtively into the hall, on
whose floor Gustavus was still posed in the conventional attitude of the
Christian martyr. Lady Enid eagerly followed, and the Prophet was just
about to close the door, when a dark, hovering figure that was pausing
at a short distance off upon the pavement attracted his attention. He
stopped short, and, perceiving that it was a policeman, beckoned to it.
The figure approached.

"What's up now?" it said familiarly, emphasising the question with
a sharp contraction of the left eyelid. "You're having a nice game
to-night, and no mistake."

"Game!" replied the Prophet, sternly. "This is no game. Stand there, by
the area gate, and if anyone should run out, knock him down with your
truncheon. Do you hear me?"

With these impressive words he entered the house and shut the door,
leaving the policeman to whistle inquiringly to the stars that were
watching over this house, once peaceful, but now the abode of violence
and tragedy.

In the hall he found Gustavus still on his knees between Lady Enid and
Sir Tiglath.

"Lady Enid," he said, even in this hour mindful of the proprieties, "you
have heard what this villain is doing here, and must be sensible that
you can take no part in this search."

"Oh, but I particularly want--" began Lady Enid, hastily.

"Pardon me," said the Prophet, with more firmness than Napoleon ever
showed to his marshals. "You must retire. Please come this way. Mrs.
Fancy will look after you."

"Oh, but really, Mr. Vivian, I--"

"Kindly follow me."

Lady Enid hesitated for a moment, but the Prophet's manner was too much
for her, and when he stepped, like a clockwork automaton with a steel
interior, towards the staircase, she crept mildly in his wake.

"Can't I really--?" she whispered in his ear.

"Certainly not. If you were a married woman, possibly--"

"Well, but I am engaged," she murmured.

The Prophet stopped short.

"Engaged!" he said. "To whom?"

"Sir Tiglath."

"Engaged to Sir Tiglath!"

"Yes. He proposed to me to-night at Zoological House."

"Why?"

She might well have resented the question, but perhaps she divined the
distraught and almost maniacal condition of mind that the Prophet masked
beneath his impassive demeanour. At any rate she answered frankly,--

"Because he didn't find out I'm Miss Minerva, and in the midst of Mrs.
Bridgeman's silly world I stood right out as the only sensible creature
living. Isn't it fun?"

"Fun!"

"Yes. I always meant him to propose to me."

"Why?"

"Because I always thought it would be supremely idiotic of me to accept
him."

The Prophet felt that if he listened to another remark of such a nature
his brain would snap and he would instantly be taken with a tearing fit
of hysterics. He therefore turned round and slowly ascended to the first
floor.

"Kindly step into the drawing-room," he said, having first, by a rapid
glance, assured himself that Malkiel was not changing Mr. Ferdinand's
trousers there. "I will send Mrs. Fancy to chaperon you."

Lady Enid stepped in obediently, and the Prophet, who could distinctly
hear Mrs. Fancy sobbing on the landing above, proceeded thither, took
her hand and guided her down to the drawing-room.

"Oh, my poor, poor missis!" gulped the devoted creature. "Oh, my--"

"Precisely," rejoined the Prophet, with passionless equanimity. "Please
go in there and remain to guard this young lady."

He assisted Mrs. Fancy to fall in a heap upon the nearest sociable, and
then, still moving with a species of frozen deliberation, betook himself
once more to the hall. The astronomer and Gustavus were standing there
in silence.

"Sir Tiglath," said the Prophet, in a very formal manner, "you can now
begin to search for this ruffian."

Sir Tiglath cleared his throat, and continued to stand still.

"I hope you will find him," continued the Prophet.

Sir Tiglath cleared his throat again and added,--

"Why?"

"Why? Because I think it quite time that he was murdered," answered the
Prophet, unemotionally. "Well! why don't you search?"

The astronomer, whose face began to look less red than usual, rolled
his glassy eyes round upon the shadowy hall, the dim staircase and the
gloomy-looking closed doors that confronted them.

"Where is the old astronomer to search?" he asked, in a low voice.
"Oh-h-h-h!"

The final exclamation sounded remarkably tremulous.

"Anywhere--except in my grandmother's bedroom. That of course is sacred.
Well, why don't you begin?"

Sir Tiglath eyed the Prophet furtively.

"I'm--I'm going to," he murmured hoarsely. "The old astronomer does not
know the meaning of the word--fear."

Exactly as he uttered these inspiring words the hall clock growled, like
a very large dog, and struck two. Sir Tiglath started and caught hold
of Gustavus, who started in his turn and shrank away. The Prophet alone
stood up to the clock, which finished its remark with a click, and
resumed its habitual occupation of ticking.

"Pray begin, Sir Tiglath," said the Prophet.

"The old astronomer--must have a--a--a--candle."

"Here is one," said the Prophet, handing the desired article.

"A lighted candle."

"Why lighted? Oh, so that you can see to murder him! Gustavus, light the
candle."

Gustavus, who was trembling a good deal more than an autumn leaf,
complied after about fifteen unavailing attempts.

"There, Sir Tiglath," said the Prophet. "Now you can begin." And he
seated himself upon a settee, leaned back and crossed his legs.

"You will not accompany the old astronomer? Oh-h-h"

"No. I will rest here. When you have found the ruffian and murdered him,
I shall be glad to hear your news."

And, so saying, the Prophet settled himself comfortably with a cushion
behind his back, and calmly closed his eyes. The candlestick clattered
in Sir Tiglath's gouty hand. The Prophet heard it, heard heavy feet
shuffling very slowly and cautiously over the floor of the hall, finally
heard the door leading to the servants' quarters swing on its hinges.
Still he did not open his eyes. He felt that if he were to do so just
then he would probably begin to shriek, rave, foam at the mouth, and
in all known ways comport himself as do the inhabitants of Bedlam. A
delicate silence fell in the hall. How long it lasted the Prophet never
knew. It might have been five minutes or five years as far as he
was concerned. It was broken at length by the following symphony of
sounds--an elderly man's voice roaring, a woman's voice uttering a
considerable number of very powerful screams on a rather low but
still resounding note, a loud thump, a crash of glass, a prodigious
clattering, as of utensils made in some noisy material falling from a
height and rolling vigorously in innumerable directions, two or three
bangs of doors, and the peculiar patter of rather large and flat feet,
unaccustomed to any rapid exercise, moving over boards, oilcloth and
carpet. Then the swing door sang, and the Prophet, opening his eyes,
perceived Madame Malkiel moving forward with considerable vivacity,
and screaming as she moved, her bonnet depending down her back and the
rabbit-skins flowing from her ample shoulders. Immediately behind her
ran her spouse, holding in one hand a silver pepper castor, and in the
other a small and very beautifully finished bronze teapot of the William
of Orange period. The worthy couple fleeted by, and the Prophet turned
his expressionless eyes towards the swing door expecting immediately
to perceive Sir Tiglath Butt in valiant pursuit. As no such figure
presented itself, and as the Malkiels were now beginning to mount
the stairs with continually increasing velocity, the Prophet slowly
uncrossed his legs, and was thinking of getting upon his feet when there
came a loud knock upon the hall door.

"Gustavus!" said the Prophet, glancing round.

He perceived the footman lying in a dead faint near the umbrella stand.

"Oh!" he said, speaking to himself aloud. "Oh! Then I must go myself."

Acting upon his conception of his duty, he accordingly walked to the
front door, opened it, and found the policeman outside supporting the
senseless form of Sir Tiglath Butt in one hand and holding a broken
truncheon in the other.

"Well?" said the Prophet, calmly. "Well?"

"I knocked him down as he was making a bolt," said the policeman.

The Prophet found himself wondering why so industrious and even useful
an occupation should be interfered with in such a manner. However, he
only replied,--

"Indeed!"

"Ah," said the policeman, stepping into the hall and laying the
astronomer out across a chair, "what's up?"

"They are both up," answered the Prophet, pointing with a lethargic
finger towards the staircase, from which, at this moment, arose a
perfect hubbub of voices.

"Come on!" cried the policeman.

"Why?" asked the Prophet.

"Why! you're a nice un, you are! Why! And nab 'em, of course!"

"You think it would be wise to--what was the word--nab them?" inquired
the Prophet. "You really think so?"

"Well, what am I here for then?" said the policeman, with angry irony.

"Oh, if you prefer," rejoined the Prophet, civilly. "Nab them by all
means. I shall not prevent you."

The policeman, who was an active and industrious fellow deserving of
praise, waited for no further permission, but immediately darted up the
stairs, and in less than a minute returned with Mrs. Merillia--attired
in a black silk gown, a bonnet, and an Indian shawl presented to her on
her marriage by a very great personage--in close custody.

"Here's one of 'em!" he shouted. "Here, you lay hold of her while I
fetch the rest!"

And with these words he thrust the Prophet's grandmother into one of his
hands, the broken truncheon into the other, and turning smartly round,
again bounded up the stairs.

In a famous poem of the late Lord Tennyson there is related a dramatic
incident of a lady whose disinclination to cry, when such emotion would
have been only natural, was overcome by the presentation to her of her
child. A somewhat similar effect was produced upon our Prophet by the
constable's presentation to him of his honoured grandmother. The sight
of her reverent head, surmounted by the bonnet which she had assumed in
readiness to flee from the house which she could no longer regard as
a home--the touch of her delicate hand--the flutter of her so hallowed
Indian shawl--these things broke down the strange calm of her devoted
grandson. Like summer tempest came his emotion, and, when the policeman
presently returned with Malkiel the Second and Madame nabbed by his
right and left hands, and followed by Lady Enid and the weeping Mrs.
Fancy, he was confronted by a most pathetic tableau. The Prophet and
Mrs. Merillia were weeping in each other's arm's while Sir Tiglath and
Gustavus--just returned to consciousness--were engaged in examining the
proceeding with puppy dog's eyes.

Over the explanations that ensued a veil may be partially drawn. One
lifted corner, however, allows us to note that Sir Tiglath Butt, having
come upon Madame hidden behind a bin of old port in the Prophet's
cellar, had been seized by a desire not to alarm a lady so profound that
it prompted him to hurry to the butler's pantry, and to seek concealment
in the very cupboard which already contained Malkiel the Second. On
perceiving that gentleman perched upon the loving-cup, and protected by
candlesticks, sugar basins, teapots and other weapons, the astronomer's
anxiety to become a murderer apparently forsook him. At any rate, he
passed through the plate-glass of the window rather hastily into the
area, where, as we know, he received the solicitous attentions of
the policeman who had served as an intermediary between the Lord
Chancellor's second cook--whose supper of dressed crab had caused so
much confusion--and the supposed Mr. Ferdinand. Malkiel the Second,
finding himself discovered, took to the open just as Madame fled forth
from the cellar, to be overtaken by the very natural misconception that
she was about to become the victim of a husband whose jealousy had at
length caused him to assume his _toga virilibus_.

Perhaps it was Sir Tiglath's throwing off of the said garment which
caused Lady Enid to throw him over. At any rate, she eventually married
Mr. Robert Green and made him a very sensible wife.

The Malkiels returned to the Mouse, where they still live, and still
carry on a certain amount of intercourse with architects and their
wives. From time to time, however, they attend the receptions at
Zoological House, and a rumour recently ran through the circles of the
silly to the effect that they had been looking at a house not far from
the Earls Court Station, with a view--it is surmised--of removing to
more central districts.

They are no longer on terms with the Prophet.

He has retired from business and put down his telescope once and for
all, recognising that prophecy is a dangerous employment, and one likely
to bring about the very evils it foreshadows. Calmly he dwells with his
beloved grandmother in the Berkeley Square, which has received them once
more into its former favour. Sometimes, at night, when the sky is
clear, and the bright stars, the guardian stars, keep watch over
his aristocratic neighbourhood, he draws aside the curtain from the
drawing-room window and glances forth at Mercury and Uranus, Jupiter,
Saturn and Venus. And when his eyes meet their twinkling eyes, he
exchanges with them--not a question and answer, not a demand for
unholy information and a reluctant reply, but a serene, gentlemanly and
perfectly decorous good-night.





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