Part 3 out of 6
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 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
"A great pity indeed!"
"Still we must remember that /Mors omnis communibus/. We must not
"And after all it is the will of Providence. /Mors Deo/."
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.--"
"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."
"Oh, dear, no."
"There, Sophronia!" said Mr. Sagittarius. "I told you it was merely the
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 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
"You hear her, sir?" continued Mr. Sagittarius. "You grasp her
"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
"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
"I assure you," he began, with some show of firmness, "no tests will be
necessary. My telescope has already been removed from its position,
"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."
"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
"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?"
"That's lucky, isn't it, Jupiter?" said Madame, in an increasingly
business-like manner. "That brings her into touch with the Camelopard--
"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
"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
The Prophet nodded mechanically.
"Will you kindly get them?"
The Prophet rose, walked to his writing table and felt for the
"If you will sit down now I will direct you," continued Madame,
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
"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
"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
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."
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
"Yes, yes. I'll come. Say I'll come, Mr. Ferdinand."
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?"
"You must get one."
"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."
"Having done so, and keeping the old lady perpetually in your mind, you
will place her in the claws of the crab--"
"Mentally, sir, mentally, of course."
"And, allowing for the natural effect of the scorpion and serpent upon
one of her venerable age--"
"When close round her, as they will be--but you will observe that for
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
"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.
"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
"Especially the rashes, Jupiter," struck in Madame.
"What a mind!" said Mr. Sagittarius aside to the Prophet.
"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
"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."
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
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
"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."
"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
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!"
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
"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
"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?"
"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
"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.
"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?"
"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.
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
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?"
"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
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.
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
"Jupiter Sagittarius, Sagittarius Lodge, Crampton St. Peter, N.
"Impossible wire result, will write at length after taking further
"Certainly write at length, but meanwhile wire all important results
in condensed form.--Sagittarius."
"Results not sufficiently important to wire, letter without fail
"Never mind unimportance, wire whatever results obtained.--
"On consideration think results too important to wire, will explain
"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
"Quite impossible discuss grandmother by wire.--Vivian."
"Not at all; couch in careful terms, shall understand; no need put
"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;
"Cannot possibly consent call grandmother Harry; pray cease;
succession of telegraph boys to house attracting general attention
"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.
"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
"Cannot help square and grandmother; must have last night's result
to compare with own observation of grandmother with crab and
"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;
"Scandalous! not behaviour of gentleman; Madame cut to heart;
"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
"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.
"Madame in pelisse; shall come in wait till your return.
"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
"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.
"Leaving house; with you as soon as possible.--Jupiter and Madame
"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
"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
"Homo miserum sed magnum est veritatus et praevalebetur.--Madame
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."
"Have the knockers swathed in cotton-wool at once."
"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
"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
"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
"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.
"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
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."
"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.
"--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."
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
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
"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.
"Another boy?" said Lady Enid. "Why should another boy knock?"
"Hennessey receives about nine telegrams an hour," answered Mrs.
Lady Enid looked at him with keen interest, while Mrs. Merillia
"You had better take death off the door now, Mr. Ferdinand. I feel more
myself. Please thank her ladyship and tell her so."
"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
"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,
Mrs. Merillia was looking pleased.
"No, no. Go with Lady Enid, my dear boy. If any telegrams come shall I
"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
"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."
"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
"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
"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."
"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
"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
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."
"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."
"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
"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?"
"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."
"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
She looked at him with frank admiration.
"You're worse than I am! It's splendid!"
"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
"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
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?"
"No. Besides, they so often have small-pox and become quite sensible."
"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."
"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."
"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
"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?"
"She's done a great deal for me, more than I can ever repay."
"Yes, in introducing me to the real inner circles of idiotcy. Well, in
return, I've sworn--"
"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,
"And you've chosen--?"
"Sir Tiglath, because he's the only one I know. Once, I confess, I
thought of you."
"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."
"Oh, never mind."
"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
For at this moment the horse, with a great effort succeeded in falling
down, for the last time, before the astronomer's door.
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
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
"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
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
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
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
"In these circumstances, Sir Tiglath," Lady Enid went on, with pleasant
ease, and a sort of homespun self-possession that trumpeted, like a