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The Prophet of Berkeley Square by Robert Hichens

Part 2 out of 6

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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

"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

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

"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.

Mechanically the Prophet drank.


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

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.



"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

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

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

"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

"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

"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."


The Prophet bought the roses and they drove on.

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

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

"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.



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

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

"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

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,

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

"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?

"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,

"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,--


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

"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/

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

"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

"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

"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

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

"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

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.



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.


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?"


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

"Stop a moment!"

Gustavus stopped.


"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

"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

"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?"



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

"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

"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?"


"So long as that?"

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

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

"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

"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

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

"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


"Quite certain."

"You're not going to?"

"Certainly not. Nothing would induce me."

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

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

"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

"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

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. 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."


"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


"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 didnít 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."


"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

"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."


"The Miss Minerva part of me desires it."


"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."


"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.



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

"No, sir, indeed. Gustavus said your orders was that they was to be
shown quietly to the library."


"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-

"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

"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

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

"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

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.

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