Part 4 out of 6
military band, her sensibleness, "Mr. Vivian consulted me as to what to
do; whether to give the whole thing up, or to make an appeal to you at
the risk of disturbing you and taking up a little of your precious
time. When he had explained the affair to me, however, I at once felt
certain that you would wish to know of it. Didn't I, Mr. Vivian? Didn't
I say, only this afternoon, that we must at once take a four-wheeler to
"Yes, you did," said the Prophet, in a muffled voice.
"For I knew that no investigation, no serious, reverent investigation
into heavenly, that is starry, conditions could be indifferent to you,
The astronomer, who had been in the act of lifting the last morsel of
the muffin to his mouth, put it down again, and Lady Enid, thus
vehemently encouraged, went on more rapidly.
"You know of Mr. Vivian's interest, almost more than interest, in the
planets. This interest is shared, was indeed prompted by Mrs.
Bridgeman, a woman of serious attainments and a cultivated mind. Isn't
she, Mr. Vivian?"
The Prophet heard a voice reply, "Oh, yes, she is." He often wondered
afterwards whether it was his own.
"It seems that she, during certain researches, hit upon an idea with
regard to--well, shall I say with regard to certain stars?--which she
communicated to Mr. Vivian in the hope that he would carry it further,
and in fact clear it up. Didn't she, Mr. Vivian?"
"Oh, yes, she did," said a voice, to which the Prophet again listened
with strained attention.
"It was in connection with this idea that Mr. Vivian developed his
enthusiasm for the telescope--which led him, perhaps, a little too far,
Sir Tiglath, but I'm sure Mrs. Merillia and you have quite forgotten
Here Lady Enid paused, and the astronomer achieved the final conquest
of the muffin.
"He and Mrs. Bridgeman have been, in fact, working together, she being
the brain, as it were, and Mr. Vivian the eye. You've been the eye, Mr.
"I've been the eye."
"But, despite all their ardour and assiduity, they have come to a sort
of deadlock. In these circumstances they come to you, making me--as
your, may I say intimate, friend?--their mouthpiece."
Here Lady Enid paused rather definitely, and cast a glance of
apparently violent invitation at the Prophet, as if suggesting that he
must now amplify and fill in her story. As he did not do so, a heavy
silence fell in the room. Sir Tiglath had returned to his measuring,
and Lady Enid, for the first time, began to look slightly embarrassed.
Sending her eyes vaguely about the apartment, as people do on such
occasions, she chanced to see a newspaper lying on the floor near to
her. She bent down towards it, then raising herself up she said,--
"Mrs. Bridgeman some time ago came to the conclusion that there was
probably oxygen in certain stars, and not only in the fixed stars."
At this remark the astronomer's countenance completely changed. He
swung round in his revolving chair, wagged his huge head from side to
side, and finally roared at the Prophet,--
"Is she telling the truth?"
"I beg your pardon," said the Prophet, bounding on the instruments.
"Get off those precious tools, young man, far more valuable than your
finite carcase! Get off them this moment and answer me--is this young
female speaking the truth?"
The Prophet got off the instruments and, in answer to a firm, Scottish
gesture from Lady Enid, nodded his head twice.
"What!" continued Sir Tiglath, puffing out his cheeks, "a woman be a
pioneer among the Heavenly Bodies!"
The Prophet nodded again, as mechanically as a penny toy.
"The old astronomer is exercised," bawled Sir Tiglath, with every
symptom of acute perturbation. "He is greatly exercised by the
narrative of the young female!"
So saying, he heaved himself up out of his chair and began to roll
rapidly up and down the room, alternately distending his cheeks and
permitting them to collapse.
"I should tell you also, Sir Tiglath," interposed Lady Enid, as if
struck by a sudden idea, "that Mrs. Bridgeman's original adviser and
assistant in her astronomical researches was a certain Mr. Sagittarius,
who is also an intimate friend of Mr. Vivian's."
The Prophet sat down again upon the instruments with a thud.
"Get off those precious tools, young man!" roared the astronomer
furiously. "Would you impose your vile body upon the henchmen of the
The Prophet got up again and leaned against the wall.
"I feel unwell," he said in a low voice. "Exceedingly unwell. I regret
that I must really be going."
Lady Enid did not seem to regret this abrupt indisposition. Perhaps she
thought that she had already accomplished her purpose. At any rate she
got up too, and prepared to take leave. The astronomer was still in
"Who is this Mr. Sagittarius?" he bellowed.
"A man of science. Isn't he, Mr. Vivian?"
"An astronomer of remarkable attainments, Mr. Vivian?"
"One knows not his abnormal name," cried the astronomer.
"He is very modest, very retiring. Mrs. Bridgeman's is really the only
house in London at which you can meet him. Isn't that so, Mr. Vivian?"
"You say he has made investigation into the possibility of there being
oxygen in many of the holy stars?"
"The old astronomer must encounter him!" exclaimed Sir Tiglath, puffing
furiously as he rolled about the room.
"Mr. Vivian will arrange it," Lady Enid said, with sparkling eyes, "at
Mrs. Bridgeman's. That's a bargain. Come, Mr. Vivian!"
And almost before the Prophet knew what she was doing, she had
maneuvered him out into Kensington Square, and was pioneering him
swiftly towards the High street.
"We'll take a hansom home," she said gaily, "and the man can drive as
fast as ever he likes."
In half a minute the Prophet found himself in a hansom, bowling along
towards Mayfair. The first words he said, when he was able to speak,
"Why--Mr. Sagittarius--oh, why?"
Lady Enid smiled happily.
"It just struck me while I was talking to Sir Tiglath that I would
introduce Mr. Sagittarius into the affair."
"Why--because it seemed such an utterly silly thing to do," she
answered. "Didn't it?"
The Prophet was silent.
"Didn't it?" she repeated. "A thing worthy of Miss Minerva."
It seemed to the Prophet just then as if Miss Minerva were going to
wreck his life and prepare him accurately for a future in Bedlam.
"And besides you wouldn't tell me who Mr. Sagittarius was," she added.
The Prophet began to realise that it is very dangerous indeed to deny
the curiosity of a woman.
"What a mercy it is," Lady Enid continued lightly, "that Malkiel is a
syndicate, instead of a man. If he wasn't, and Sir Tiglath ever got to
know him, he would try to murder him, and how foolish that would be! It
would be rather amusing, though, to see Sir Tiglath do a thoroughly
foolish thing, wouldn't it!"
The Prophet's blood ran cold in the cab, as he began, for the first
time, to see clearly into the elaborate mind of Miss Minerva, into the
curiously deliberate complications of a definite and determined folly.
He perceived the danger that threatened the prophet who dwelt beside
the Mouse, but he had recovered himself by this time sufficiently to
meet craft with craft. And he therefore answered carelessly,--
"Yes, it is lucky that Malkiel's a syndicate."
When they reached Hill street Lady Enid said,--
"I'm so much obliged to you, Mr. Vivian, for all you've done for Miss
"Not at all."
"The next step is to introduce you to Mrs. Bridgeman, and you can
introduce her to Mr. Sagittarius. Then I'll introduce Sir Tiglath to
her and she will introduce Mr. Sagittarius to him. It all works out so
beautifully! Thank you a thousand times. You'll hear from me. Probably
I'll give you your directions how to act to-morrow. Good-night."
The Prophet drove on to Berkeley Square, feeling that, between Mr. and
Madame Sagittarius and Miss Minerva, he was being rapidly directed to
THE PROPHET IS INTERVIEWED BY TWO KIDS
Mr. Ferdinand met the Prophet in the hall.
"I have done as you directed, sir," he said respectfully.
"As I directed, Mr. Ferdinand? I was not aware that I ever directed
anybody," replied the Prophet, suspecting irony.
"I understood you to say, sir, that if any more telegrams was to
arrive, I was to burn them, sir."
"Telegrams! Good Heavens! You don't mean to say that--"
"There has been some seventeen or eighteen, sir. I have burnt them,
sir, to ashes, according to your orders."
"Quite right, Mr. Ferdinand," said the Prophet, putting his hand up to
his hair, to feel if it were turning grey. "Quite right. How is--how, I
say, is Mrs. Merillia?"
"Well, Master Hennessey, she's not dead yet."
And Mr. Ferdinand, with a contorted countenance moved towards the
The Prophet stood quite still with his hat and coat on for several
minutes. An amazing self-possession had come to him, the unnatural
self-possession of despair. He felt quite calm, as the statue of a dead
alderman feels on the embankment of its native city. Nothing seemed to
matter at all. He might have been Marcus Aurelius--till a loud double
knock came to the front door. Then he might have been any dangerous
lunatic, ripe for a strait waistcoat. Mr. Ferdinand approached. The
Prophet faced him.
"Kindly retire, Mr. Ferdinand," he said in a very quiet voice. "I will
answer that knock."
Mr. Ferdinand retired rather rapidly. The knock was repeated. The
Prophet opened the door. A telegraph boy, about two and a half feet
high, stood outside upon the step.
"Telegram, sir," he said in a thin voice.
"Give it to me, my lad," replied the Prophet.
The small boy handed the telegram and turned to depart.
"Wait a moment, my lad," said the Prophet, very gently.
The small boy waited.
"Do you wish to be strangled, my lad?" asked the Prophet.
The small boy tried to recoil, but his terror rooted him firmly to the
"Do all the other boys at the office wish to be strangled?" continued
the Prophet. "Come, my lad, why don't you answer me?"
"No, sir," whispered the small boy, passing his little tongue over his
"Very well, my lad, the next boy who brings a telegram to this house
will be strangled, do you understand that?"
"Yes, sir," sighed the small boy, like a terror-stricken Zephyr.
"That's right. Good-night, my lad."
The Prophet closed the street door very softly, and the small boy
dropped fainting on the pavement and was carried to the nearest
hospital on a stretcher by two dutiful policemen.
Meanwhile the Prophet opened the telegram and read as follows:--
"Insufferable insolence. How dare you; shall pay dearly; with you
to-morrow first 'bus.
"JUPITER AND MADAME SAGITTARIUS."
"Mr. Ferdinand!" called the Prophet.
"I am about to write a telegram. Gustavus will take it to the office."
The Prophet went into the library and wrote these words on a telegraph
"Jupiter Sagittarius, Sagittarius Lodge, Crampton St. Peter, N.
Your life is in danger; keep where you are; another telegram may
destroy you. Grave news.
The Prophet gave this telegram to Gustavus and then prepared to go
upstairs to his grandmother. As he mounted towards the drawing-room he
murmured to himself over and over again,--
"Sir Tiglath--Malkiel! Malkiel--Sir Tiglath!"
He found Mrs. Merillia very prostrate. It seemed that the telegraph
boys had very soon worn through the cotton-wool with which the knocker
had been shrouded, and that the incessant noise of their efforts to
attract attention at the door had quite unnerved the gallant old lady.
Nevertheless, her own condition was the last thing she thought of.
"I don't mind for myself, Hennessey," she said. "But it is very sad
after all these years of respect and even, I think, a certain
popularity, to be considered a nuisance by one's square. We are
hopelessly embroiled with the Duchess of Camberwell, and the Lord
Chancellor has sent over five times to explain the different laws and
regulations that we are breaking. I don't see how you can go to his
Reception to-night, really."
"I am not going, grannie," said the Prophet, overwhelmed with
contrition. "I cannot go in any case."
"I--I have some work to do at home."
He avoided the glance of her bright eyes, and continued.
"Grannie, I am deeply grieved at all you have gone through to-day.
Believe me it has not been my fault--at least not entirely. I may have
been injudicious, but I never--never--"
He paused, quite overcome with emotion.
"I don't know what will happen if the telegrams go on till midnight,"
said Mrs. Merillia. "The Duke of Camberwell is a very violent man,
since he had that sunstroke at the last Jubilee, and I shouldn't wonder
"Grannie, there will not be any more telegrams."
"But you said that before, Hennessey."
"And I say it again. There will not be any more. I have just informed
the messenger that the next boy who knocks will certainly be--well,
Mrs. Merillia breathed a sigh of relief.
"I am so thankful, Hennessey. Are you dining out to-night?"
"No, grannie. I don't feel very well. I have a headache. I shall go and
lie down for a little."
"Yes, do. Everybody is lying down; Fancy, the upper housemaid, the
cook. Even Gustavus, they tell me, is trying to snatch a little uneasy
repose on his what-not. It has been a terrible day."
Mrs. Merillia lay back and closed her eyes, and the Prophet,
overwhelmed with remorse, retired to his room, lay down and stared
desperately at nothing for half an hour. He then ate, with a very poor
appetite, a morsel of dinner and prepared to take, if possible, a short
nap before starting on the labours of the night. As he got up from the
dining table to go upstairs he said to Mr. Ferdinand,--
"By the way, Mr. Ferdinand, if I should come into the pantry again to-
night, don't be alarmed. I may chance to require a bradawl as I did
last night. Kindly leave one out, in case I should. But you need not
As the Prophet said the last words he looked Mr. Ferdinand full in the
face. The butler's eyes fell.
"Thank you, Master Hennessey, I shall be glad to get to bed--entirely
to bed--in good time. We are all a bit upset in the kit--that is the
"Just so. Retire to rest at once if you like."
"Thank you, sir."
"Gustavus," said Mr. Ferdinand, a moment later in the servants' hall,
"you are a man of the world, I believe."
Gustavus roused himself on his what-not.
"I am, Mr. Ferdinand," he replied, in a pale and exhausted manner.
"Then tell me, Gustavus, have you ever lived in service with a
gentleman who was partial to a bradawl--of a night, you understand?"
"No, never, Mr. Ferdinand. The nearest to it ever I got was the Bishop
"Explain yourself, Gustavus, I beg."
"He used to ask for a nip sometimes before retiring, Mr. Ferdinand."
"A nip, Gustavus?"
"Warm water, with a slice of toast in it. But he was only what they
call a suburban bishop, Mr. Ferdinand."
"Ah! a nip is hardly on all fours with a bradawl, Gustavus."
"P'r'aps not, Mr. Ferdinand, but it's the nearest ever I got to it."
Mr. Ferdinand said no more, but when he retired to rest that night he
double-locked his door, and dreamt of bradawls till he woke,
unrefreshed, the next morning to find the area full of telegrams.
Meanwhile the Prophet was conscientiously fulfilling his promise and
keeping the oath he had pledged his honour over, although he had to
work under a grave disadvantage in the total loss of his planisphere,
He entered the butler's pantry precisely on the stroke of eleven, and
found it, to his great relief, untenanted. The dwarf was no longer at
the telescope, and the silence in the region dedicated to Mrs.
Merillia's menials was profound. The night, too, was clear and starry,
propitious for prophetic labours, and as the Prophet gazed out upon the
deserted square through the open window a strange peace descended upon
his fevered soul. Nature, with all her shining mysteries, her distant
reticences and revelations, calmed the turmoil within him. He looked
upon the area railings and upon the sky, and smiled.
Then he looked for the star-map. He perceived in a very prominent
position upon a silver salver, the bradawl laid out, according to
order, by the obedient Mr. Ferdinand. He perceived also the open pot of
"Butler's Own Special Pomade," but the planisphere had been removed
from it. Where could it have been bestowed? The Prophet instituted a
careful search. He explored cupboards, drawers--such at least as were
unlocked--in vain. He glanced into a silver teapot reposing on a shelf,
between the pages of an almanac hanging on the wall, among some back
numbers of the /Butler's Gazette/, which were lying in a corner. But
the planisphere was nowhere to be found, and at last in despair he
resolved to do without it, and to trust to his fairly accurate
knowledge of the heavens. He, therefore, took up his station by the
window and proceeded to extract from the pocket of his smoking-jacket
the account-book in which he had dotted down the directions of "Madame
and self." They were very vague, for his dots had been agitated. Still,
by the help of the George the Third candlestick, in which was a lighted
taper, the Prophet was able to make out enough to refresh his memory.
He was to begin by placing his beloved grandmother in the claws of the
crab. Leaning upon the sill of the window he found the crab and--
breathing a short prayer for forgiveness--committed his dear relation
to its offices. He then retreated and, assuming very much the position
of Mr. Ferdinand, applied his right eye to the telescope, at the same
time holding his left eye firmly shut with the forefinger of his left
hand. At once the majesty of the starry heavens burst upon him in all
Exactly at half-past one o'clock, two hours and a half later, the
enthralled Prophet heard a low whistle which seemed to reach him from
the square. He withdrew his fascinated right eye from the telescope and
endeavoured to use it in an ordinary manner, but he could at first see
nothing. The low whistle was repeated. It certainly did come from the
square, and the Prophet approached the open window and once more tried
to compel the eye that had looked so long upon the stars to gaze with
understanding upon the earth. This time he perceived a black thing,
like a blot, about six feet high, beyond the area railings. From this
blot came a third whistle. The Prophet, who was still dazed by the
fascination of star-gazing, mechanically whistled in reply, whereupon
the blot whispered at him huskily,--
"At it again, are you?"
"Yes," whispered the Prophet, also huskily, for the night air was cold.
"But how should you know?"
Indeed he wondered; and it seemed to him as if the blot were some
strange night thing that must have companioned him, invisibly, when he
kept his nocturnal watches in the drawing-room, and that now partially
revealed itself to him in the, perhaps, more acutely occult region of
"How should I know!" rejoined the blot with obvious, though very
hoarse, irony. "Whatever d'you take me for?"
The Prophet began to wonder, but before he had gone on wondering for
more than about half a minute, the blot continued,--
"She's gone to bed."
"I know she has," said the Prophet, presuming that the blot, which
seemed instinct with all knowledge, was referring to his grandmother.
"But she knows you're at it again," continued the blot.
The Prophet started violently and leaned upon the window-sill.
"No! How can that be?" he ejaculated.
"Ho! Them girls knows everything, especially the old uns," said the
blot, with an audible chuckle.
"Good gracious!" gasped the Prophet, overwhelmed at this mysterious
visitant's familiar description of his revered grandmother.
"Have you seen her to-night?" inquired the blot, controlling its
"Yes," said the Prophet. "With the Crab."
"What!" cried the blot, in obvious astonishment. "Them instruments must
be wonderful sight-carriers."
"They are," exclaimed the Prophet, with almost mystic enthusiasm.
"Wonderful. I have seen her with the Crab distinctly."
"Ah! well, I told her she ought to keep away from it," continued the
"Did you?" said the Prophet, with increasing surprise. "But how could
"Ah! that's just it! She couldn't."
"No, of course not."
"She was drawn right to it."
"She was. It wasn't her fault. It was the Crab's."
"A pity it was dressed."
"I say it's a pity 'twas dressed."
"What was dressed?"
"What! why, the Crab!"
"Ay. They're a deal safer not dressed."
"She knows it too."
"But there--them women likes a spice of danger. She's in a nice state
now, you bet. Not much sleep for her, I'll lay. Well, I tried to keep
her from it, so you needn't blame me."
"I won't," said the Prophet, feeling completely dazed.
"Well, go'-night. I'm off round the square."
"Good-night," said the Prophet.
Suddenly a blinding flash of light dazzled his eyes. He covered them
with his hands. When he could see again the blot was gone.
Although he was retired to rest that night when the clock struck three,
the Prophet did not sleep. His nervous system was in a condition of
acute excitement. His brain felt like a burning ball, and the palms of
his hands were hot with fever. For the spirit of prophecy was upon him
once more, and he was bound fast in the golden magic of the stars. Like
the morphia maniac who, after valiant fasting, returning to his drug,
feels its influence the stronger for his abstinence from it, the
Prophet was conscious that the heavens held more power, more meaning
for him because, for a while, he had intended to neglect them. He was
ravaged by their mystery, their majesty and revelation.
When he came down in the morning pale, dishevelled, but informed by a
curious dignity, he was met at once by Mr. Ferdinand.
"I have cleared the area, sir," said the functionary.
"The area, Mr. Ferdinand. What of?"
"Telegrams, sir. The boys must have thrown 'em down without knocking."
"Very probably," replied the Prophet. "Their comrade was right. They
did not wish to be strangled."
"No, sir. And I have placed them in a basket on the breakfast table,
sir, while awaiting your orders."
"Quite right, Mr. Ferdinand. By the way, here is the bradawl. Leave it
out again to-night in case I have need of it."
So saying, the Prophet handed the bradawl, which he had craftily
conveyed from the pantry on the previous night, to the astonished
butler and walked swiftly into the breakfast-room. The basket of
telegrams was set outside beside a fried sole and the "equipage" which
Madame had so much admired, and, while he sipped his tea, the Prophet
opened the wires one by one. They were fraught with terror and dismay.
Evidently his mysterious warning had thrown the worthies who dwelt
beside the Mouse into a condition of the very gravest amazement and
alarm, and they had, despite the Prophet's final injunction, spent the
remaining telegraphic hours of the day in despatching wires of frantic
inquiry to the square. Madame, in particular, was evidently much upset,
and expressed her angry agitation in a dead language that seemed
positively to live again in fear and novelty of grammatical
construction. Sir Tiglath had been a brilliant card to play in the
prophetic game, although he had not achieved the Prophet's purpose of
stopping the telegraphic flood.
While the Prophet was simultaneously finishing the fried sole and the
perusal of the final wire Mr. Ferdinand entered, in a condition of
obvious astonishment that might well have cost him his place.
"If you please, sir," he said, in an up-and-down voice, "if you please
there are two--two--two--"
"Two what? Be more explicit, Mr. Ferdinand."
"Two--well, sir, kids at the door waiting for you to see them, sir."
"Two kids! What--from the goat show that's going on at the Westminster
Aquarium!" cried the Prophet in great surprise.
"Maybe, sir. I can't say, indeed, sir. Am I to show them in, sir?"
"Show them in! Are you gone mad, Mr. Ferdinand? They must be driven out
at once. If Mrs. Merillia were to see them, she might be greatly
alarmed. I'll--I'll--follow me, Mr. Ferdinand, closely."
So saying the Prophet stepped valiantly into the hall. There, by the
umbrella stand, stood two small children, boy and girl, very neatly
dressed in a sailor suit and a grey merino. The little boy held in his
hand a large round straw hat, on the blue riband of which was inscribed
in letters of gold, "H.M.S. Hercules." The little girl wore a pleasant
pigtail tied with a riband of the same hue.
The meaning of Mr. Ferdinand's vulgar and misleading slang suddenly
dawned on the Prophet. He cast a look of very grave rebuke on Mr.
Ferdinand, then, walking up to the little boy and girl he said in his
most ingratiating manner,--
"Well, my little ones, what can I do for you?"
"Not so little, if you please, Mr. Vivian," replied the boy in a
piping, but very self-possessed voice. "Can we see you in private for a
"If you please, Mr. Vivian," added the little girl. "Si sit
"Dentia, Corona," corrected the little boy.
The Prophet turned white to the very lips.
"Certainly, certainly," he said in a violently furtive manner. "Come
this way, my children. Mr. Ferdinand, if Mrs. Merillia should inquire
for me, you will say that I'm busy writing--no, no, just busy--very
"I'm not to be disturbed. This way, my little ones."
"Not so little, Mr. Vivian," piped again the small boy, trotting
obediently, with his sister, into the Prophet's library, the door of
which was immediately closed behind them.
"Well, I'm--" said Mr. Ferdinand. "Kids in the library! I am--
He rushed frenetically towards the servants' hall to confer upon the
situation with his intellectual subordinate.
Meanwhile the Prophet was closeted with the two kids.
"Pray sit down," he said, very nervously, and smiling forcibly. "Pray
sit down, my dears."
The kids obeyed with aplomb, keeping their large and strained eyes
fixed upon the Prophet.
"Is it Coronus and Capricorna?" continued the Prophet, with an effort
after blithe familiarity. "Is it?"
"No," piped the little boy. "It isn't Coronus and Capricorna."
A marvellous sensation of relief invaded the Prophet.
"Thank Heaven!" he ejaculated in a sigh. "I thought it must be."
"It's Corona and Capricornus," continued the little boy. "And we've
brought you a letter from pater familias."
"And mater familiaris," added the little girl.
"Milias, Corona," corrected the little boy. "Here it is, Mr. Vivian,"
he added, drawing a large missive from the breast of his blue-and-white
sailor's blouse. "Pater and mater familias couldn't bring it
themselves, because he said it wasn't safe for him to come, and she's
lying down ill at what you sent to her. It wasn't kind of you, was it?"
So saying, he handed the missive to the Prophet, who took it anxiously.
"Would you like some cake, my lit--I mean, my dears, while I read
"No, thank you. Cake is bad for us in the morning," replied the little
boy. "You shouldn't eat it so early."
The Prophet was about to reply that he never did when it struck him
that argument would probably be useless. He, therefore, hastened to
open the letter, which proved to be from Mr. Sagittarius, and which ran
"SIR,--Your terrible and mysterious wire, coming after your equally
terrible and mysterious silence, has caused devastation in a
hitherto peaceful and happy family. To what peril do you allude?
What creature can there be so base as to wish to take my life
merely on account of my sending you telegrams? Madame has been
driven to despair by your announcement, and I, myself, although no
ordinary man, am, very rightly and properly, going about in fear
of my life since receipt of your last telegram. Under these circs,
and being unable to wait upon you ourselves for a full
explanation, we are sending our very life-blood to you--per rail
and 'bus--with strict orders to bring you at once to the banks of
the Mouse, there to confer with Madame and self and arrange such
measures of precaution as are suited to the requirements of the
situation as indicated by you.
"P.S.--You are to bring with you, according to solemn oath, all
prophecy concerning grandmother, Crab, etc., gathered up to date,
together with full details of same's removal from the bottle,
cutting of her first tooth, short-coating, going into skirts,
putting of hair up, day of marriage and widowhood, illnesses--
especially rashes--and so forth. /Ab origino/.
On reading this communication the Prophet felt that all further
struggle was useless. Fate--cruel and remorseless Fate--had him in her
grasp. He could only bow his head and submit to her horrible decrees.
He could only go upstairs and at once prepare for the journey to the
He laid the letter down and got up, fixing his eyes upon the kids, who
sat solemnly awaiting his further procedure.
"You--I suppose you know, my little ones, what this--what you have to
do?" he said.
"Not so little, if you please, Mr. Vivian," returned the boy. "Yes,
we've got to take you with us to see pater familias."
"And mater familiar--familias," added the little girl.
"I see--you know," said the Prophet, in a despairing voice. "Very well.
Wait here quietly--very quietly, while I go and get ready."
"And please don't forget the Crab and grandmother, rashes, et ceterus,"
said the little girl.
"Tera Corona," piped her brother.
"I won't," said the Prophet. "I will not."
And he tottered out of the room, carrying the Sagittarius letter in his
In the hall he paused for a moment, holding on to the balusters and re-
reading his directions. Then he crawled slowly up the stairs and sought
his grandmother's room.
THE PROPHET JOURNEYS TO THE MOUSE
Mrs. Merillia was just beginning to recover from the prostration of the
preceding day when the Prophet came into the room where she was seated
with Mrs. Fancy Quinglet. She looked up at him almost brightly, but
started when she saw how agitated he seemed.
"Grannie," said the Prophet, abruptly, "you would tell me anything,
"Why, of course, my dear boy. But what about?"
Mrs. Merillia looked very much astonished.
"There is nothing to hide, Hennessey," she said with gentle dignity.
"You know that."
"I do, I do," cried the Prophet, passionately. "Yours has been the
best, the sweetest life the world has ever known!"
"Well, I don't wish to imply--"
"But I do, grannie, I do. Can Fancy leave us for a moment?"
"Certainly. Fancy, you can go to your tatting."
"Mr Hennessey has something to explain to me."
"Oh, ma'am, the houses that have been broke up by explainings!"
And with this, as the Prophet thought, appallingly appropriate
exclamation, Mrs. Fancy hurried feverishly from the room.
"Now what is the question you wish to ask me, Hennessey?" said Mrs.
Merillia, with a soft dignity.
"There are--one moment--there are eight questions, grannie," responded
the Prophet, shrinking visibly before the dread necessity by which he
found himself confronted.
"Eight! So many?"
"Yes, oh, indeed, yes."
"Well, my dear, and what are they?"
"The first is--is--grannie, when were you removed from--from the
A very delicate flush crept into Mrs. Merillia's charming cheeks.
"The bottle, Hennessey! Never, never!" she said, with a sort of
pathetic indignation. "How could you suppose--I--the bottle--"
Her pretty old voice died away.
"Answered, darling grannie, answered!" ejaculated the Prophet.
Please--please don't!" And now--your first tooth?"
"My first what!" cried Mrs. Merillia in almost terrified amazement.
"Tooth--when did you cut it?"
"I have no idea. Surely, Hennessey--"
"Answered, dearest grannie!" cried the Prophet, with gathering
agitation. "Did you ever wear a short coat?"
"I--I'm not a man!"
"You didn't! Always a skirt?"
"Of course! Why--"
"And you're sixty-eight on the twentieth. So for sixty-eight years
you've always worn a skirt. That's four."
"Four what? Are you--?"
"When did you put your hair up, grannie, darling?"
"My hair--never. You know I've always had a maid to do these things for
"Of course. You've never put your hair up. I might have known. You were
married very young, weren't you?"
"Ah, yes. On my seventeenth birthday, and was left a widow in exactly
two years' time. Your poor dear granf--"
"Thank you, grannie, thank you! Seven!"
"Seven what, Hennessey? One would th--"
"And now, dear grannie, tell me one thing, only one little thing more.
About--that is, talking of rashes--"
"No, grannie, rashes--illnesses, you know, that take an epidemic form."
"Well, what about them? Surely there isn't an epidemic in the square?"
"How many have you had, grannie?"
"Where? Had what?"
"Here, anywhere in the square, grannie."
"Had what in the square?"
"I! Have a rash in the square!"
"Exactly. Have you ever--an epidemic, you know?"
"I have an epidemic in Berkeley Square? You must be crazy, Hennessey!"
"Probably, very likely, grannie. But have you? Tell me quickly! Have
"Certainly not! As if any gentlewoman--"
"Answered, grannie, answered! Eight!"
"Questions. Thank you, dearest grannie. I knew you'd tell me, I knew
And the Prophet rushed from the room, leaving Mrs. Merillia in a
condition that cannot be described and that not all the subsequent
ministrations of Mrs. Fancy Quinglet were able to alleviate.
Having reached the hall, the Prophet hastily put on his coat and hat
and called Mr. Ferdinand to him.
"Mr. Ferdinand," he said, assuming a fixed and stony dignity to conceal
his agitation and dismay, "I am leaving the house at once with the--the
lady and gentleman who are in the library."
At this description of the kids Mr. Ferdinand was very nearly seized
with convulsions. However, as he said nothing and merely wrung his
large hands, the Prophet, after a slight pause, continued,--
"I may be away some time, so if Mrs. Merillia should make any inquiry,
you will say that I have left to pay a visit to some friends."
"Yes, sir. Shall I tell Gustavus to pack your things?"
The Prophet was turning towards the library when Mr. Ferdinand added,--
"When shall we expect you back, sir? Am I to forward your letters?"
"No, no. I shall return in a few hours."
"Oh, I beg pardon, sir. And if any telegrams--"
"There will not be any. I am now going to answer the telegrams in
"Come along, my children," cried the Prophet, putting his head into the
"Not your children, if you please, Mr. Vivian," replied the little boy.
"Corona, come on."
"How do we go, my dears?" asked the Prophet, with an attempt at gaiety,
and endeavouring to ignore the prostrated demeanour of Mr. Ferdinand,
who was in waiting to open the hall door.
"By the purple 'bus as far as the Pork Butcher's Rest," piped the
little boy--(at this point Mr. Ferdinand could not refrain from a
slight exclamation)--"then we take the train to the Mouse, Mouse,
"Mus, Mus, Mus," chanted the little girl.
As Mr. Ferdinand was unable to open the door, paralysis having
apparently supervened, the Prophet did so, and the cheerful little
party emerged upon the step to find Lady Enid Thistle in the very act
of pressing the electric bell. When she beheld the vivacious trio, all
agog for their morning's expedition, come thus suddenly upon her, she
cried out musically,--
"Why, where are you off to?"
The Prophet was much embarrassed by the encounter.
"I am taking these lit"--he caught the staring eye of Capricornus--
"these friends of mine for a little walk," he said.
"I'll come with you," said Lady Enid, with an almost Highland decision.
"I've got something to say to you, and we can talk as we go."
She glanced very inquisitively indeed at the two children, who had
begun to frisk at sight of the square all bathed in winter sunshine.
The Prophet was very much upset.
"Don't you think--" he began.
"It will be delightful to have some exercise," she interrupted firmly.
"Which way are you going?"
"Which way! Oh, to--towards--"
The Prophet stopped. He did not know from what point the purple 'bus
started to gain the Pork Butcher's Rest. Capricornus hastened to inform
"We take the purple 'bus at the corner of Air Street," he piped.
"The purple 'bus!" cried Lady Enid. "The purple bus!"
She glanced searchingly at the Prophet.
"Ah!" she murmured, "so you are taking a purple 'bus to your double
He could not deny it. They were now all walking forward in the sun and
as the little Corona and Capricornus became speedily intent upon the
wonders of this central district, Lady Enid and the Prophet were able
to have a quiet word or two together.
"I came to tell you," she said, "that Mrs. Vane Bridgeman will expect
you to-night at--"
"I am engaged at eleven," cried the Prophet, in despair at the
imposition of this fresh burden upon his weary shoulders.
"I know. To the Lord Chancellor, but--"
"No. I have an engagement which I dare not break, at home."
She gazed at him with her large, handsome grey eyes, and added,--
"I do believe you're silly enough to live your double life at home
sometimes. How splendid!"
"No, no! I assure you--"
"Of course you do! You dear foolish thing! You're ever so much sillier
than I am. You're my master."
"No, indeed, no, no!"
"But you can go to Mrs. Bridgeman's for an hour easily. She expects you
and I've promised that you will go."
"It's very kind of you, but really--"
"So that's settled. You'll meet me there, but don't forget I'm Miss
Minerva Partridge. The address is Zoological House, Regent's Park, that
big house in a garden just outside the Zoo."
"The big house in the Zoological Gardens," said the Prophet, feebly.
"Thank you very much."
"No, no, outside the Zoo. And then we can arrange to-night about your
introducing her to Mr. Sagittarius."
"Hush! Hush!" whispered the Prophet.
But he was too late. The long ears of the little pitchers had caught
the well-known word.
"Why, thatís pater familias," piped the little Capricornus.
"And mater familiaris," added the little Corona.
"You don't mean to say," cried Lady Enid to the Prophet, "that these
are the children of Mr. Sagittarius?"
The Prophet bent his head.
"How very interesting!" said Lady Enid. "Everything is working out most
beautifully. I must get them some chocolates."
And she immediately stepped into a confectioner's and came out with a
beautiful box of bon-bons, tied with amethyst ribbon, which she gave to
the delighted children.
"I know your dear father," she said. "At least I know who he is."
And she looked firmly at the Prophet, who dropped his eyes. They were
now at the corner of Air Street, and the purple 'bus could be seen
looming brilliantly in the distance.
"Good-bye, Lady Enid," said the Prophet.
"Oh, I'll see you off," she replied, evidently resolved to satisfy some
further, unexpressed curiosity.
"There it is!" cried Capricornus. "It's coming! There it is!"
"Isn't it pretty?" shrieked the little Corona, who was evidently
growing much excited by the chocolates and the centralness of the whole
thing. "Let's go on the top! Let's go on the top!"
She began to jump on the pavement, and her brother was just about to
follow her example when some sudden idea struck him into gravity. He
turned to the Prophet and exclaimed solemnly,--
"Oh, if you please, Mr. Vivian, have you got the crab with you?"
"The crab!" cried Lady Enid, with much vivacity.
"Yes, yes, my boy, it's all right!" said the Prophet, hastily.
"Not your boy, if you please, Mr. Vivian," returned the little
inquisitor. "And have you got the fist tooth?"
"And the rashes, and the honoured grandmother, and--"
"I've got everything," cried the Prophet, "every single thing!"
"Because mater familias said I was to make you bring them if I stayed
for them all day."
"Yes, yes, they're all here--every one."
Lady Enid was gazing at the Prophet's slim form with almost passionate
curiosity. It was evidently a problem to her how he had managed to
conceal so many various commodities about his person without altering
his shape. However, she had no time to study the matter, for at this
moment the purple 'bus jerked along the kerb, and the voice of the
conductor was heard crying,--
"Pork Butcher's Rest! All the way one penny! Pork--penny--all the way--
With a hasty farewell the Prophet, accompanied, and indeed closely
clutched, by the little Corona and Capricornus, scrambled fanatically,
and not without two or three heavy falls, to the summit of the 'bus,
while Lady Enid read the legend printed on it with a smile, ere she
turned to walk home, putting two and two together, and thinking, with
keen feminine satisfaction, how useless in the long run are all the
negatives of man.
In later years, though many memories intervene, the Prophet will never
forget his journey to the banks of the Mouse. Always it seemed very
strange to him and dream-like, that everlasting journey upon the purple
'bus, complicated by the chatter of the younger scions of the Malkiel
dynasty, and by the shrill cries of the conductor summoning the
passers-by to hasten to that place of repose consecrated to the worthy
and hard-working individuals who drew their modest incomes from the
pig. The character of the streets changed as the central districts were
left behind, and a curious scent, the scent of Suburbia, seemed to
float between the tall chimneys in the morose atmosphere. The purple
chariot, which rolled on and on like the chariot of Fate, drew
gradually away from the large thoroughfares into mean streets, whose
air of dull gentility was for ever autumnal, and the Prophet, on
passing some gigantic gasworks, mechanically wondered whether it might
not, perhaps, be that monument to whose shadow Malkiel the First had
lived and died. Once, looking up at the black sky, he remarked to the
little Capricornus that it was evidently going to rain.
"No, Mr. Vivian," replied the boy. "It won't rain hard this week.
January's a fine month, but there'll be heavy floods in March,
especially along the banks of the Thames."
"And in February there'll be such a lot of scarlet fever in the
southern portions of England," added the little Corona. "Oh, Corney,
just look at that kitty on the airey railings!"
"Area, Corona," corrected her brother. "Oh, my! ain't it funny?"
The Prophet remembered that he was travelling with the scions of a
It seemed many years before the 'bus stopped before a brick building
full of quart pots, situated upon a gentle eminence sloping to a coal-
yard, and the voice of the conductor proclaimed that the place of
repose was reached. The Prophet and his diminutive guides descended
from the roof and were shortly in a train puffing between the hunched
backs of abominable little houses, sooty as street cats and alive with
crying babies. Then bits of waste land appeared, bald wildernesses in
which fragments of broken crockery hibernated with old tin cans and
kettles yellow as dying leaves. A furtive brown rivulet wandered here
and there like a thing endeavouring to conceal itself and unable to
find a hiding-place.
"That's the Mouse, Mr. Vivian," remarked Capricornus, proudly. "We
shall soon be there."
"Ridiculum mus," rejoined his sister, who evidently took after her
"Culus, Corona; and you're not to say that. Pater familias says that
the Mouse is a noble stream. We get out here, Mr. Vivian."
Here proved to be a wayside station on the very bank of the noble
stream, and on the edge of a piece of waste ground so large that it
might almost have been called country.
The Prophet and the two kids set off across this earth, which was named
by the inhabitants "the Common." In the distance rose a fringe of
detached brick and stone villas towards which Capricornus now pointed a
forefinger that trembled with pride.
"That's where we live," he said, in a voice that was grown squeaky from
"Dulce domus," piped his sister, clutching the skirt of the Prophet's
coat, and, thus supported, performing several very elaborate dancing
steps upon the clayey soil over which he was feebly staggering. "Dulce
dulce, dulce domus. Look at that rat, Corney!"
A large, raking rodent, indeed, at that instant emerged from the
wreckage of what had once been a copper cauldron near by, and walked
slowly away towards a slope of dust garnished with broken bottles and
abandoned cabbage stalks. The Prophet shuddered and longed to flee, but
the two kids, as if divining his thought, now clasped his hands and led
him firmly forward to a yellow villa, fringed with white Bath stone and
garnished plentifully with griffins. From its flat front shot
ostentatiously forth a porch adorned with Roman columns which commanded
a near view of the Mouse, and before the porch was a small garden in
which several healthy-looking nettles had made their home.
As the Prophet and the two kids approached this delightful abode, a
white face appeared, gluing itself to the pane of an upper window.
"There's pater familias!" piped Capricornus. "Don't he look ill?"
As they mounted the flight of imitation marble steps the face
"He's coming to let us in," said Capricornus. "You're sure you've
brought the crab and all the rashes?"
"Because, if you haven't, I don't know whatever mater familias'll--"
At this moment the portal of the lodge was furtively opened about half
an inch, and a very small segment of ashen-coloured human face,
containing a large and apprehensive eye, was shown in the aperture.
"Are you alone?" said the hollow voice of Mr. Sagittarius.
"Quite, quite alone," said the Prophet, reassuringly.
"It's all right, pater familias!" cried Capricornus. "He's brought all
the rashes and the first tooth and everything. I made him."
"I don't think he wanted to," added the little Corona, suddenly
"I've taken this long journey, Mr. Sagittarius," said the Prophet, with
a remnant of self-respect, "at your special request. Am I to be
permitted to come in?"
"If you're sure you're quite alone," returned the sage, showing a
slightly enlarged segment of face.
"I am quite sure--positive!"
At this the door was opened just sufficiently to admit the passage of
one thin person at a time, and, in single file, the Prophet, Corona and
Capricornus passed into the lodge.
THE PROPHET CREATES A DIVERSION AT HIS OWN EXPENSE
On stepping into a small vestibule, paved with black and white
lozenges, and fitted up with an iron umbrella stand, a Moorish lamp and
a large yellow china pug dog, the Prophet found himself at once faced
by Mr. Sagittarius, whose pallid countenance, nervous eye and
suspicious demeanour plainly proclaimed him to be, as he had stated,
very rightly and properly going about in fear of his life.
"Go to the schoolroom, my darlings," he whispered to his children.
"Why, what have you there?"
"Choclets," said Capricornus.
"From the pretty lady, mulius pulchrum," added the little Corona.
"Who is a mulibus pulchrum, my love?" asked Mr. Sagittarius, before
Capricornus had time to correct his sister's Latin.
"It was Miss Minerva," said the Prophet. "We happened to meet her."
"Indeed, sir. Run away, my pretties, and don't eat more than one each,
or mater familias will not approve.
Then, as the little ones disappeared into the shadows of the region
above, he added to the Prophet,--
"You've nearly been the death of Madame, sir."
"I'm sure I'm very sorry," said the Prophet.
"Sorrow is no salve, sir, no salve at all. Were it not for her books I
fear we might have lost her."
"Mercifully her books have comforted her. She is resting among them
now. Madame is possessed of a magnificent library, sir, encyclopaedic
in its scope and cosmopolitan in its point of view. In it are
represented every age and every race since the dawn of letters;
thousands upon thousands of authors, sir, Rabelais and Dean Farrar,
Lamb and the Hindoos, Mettlelink and the pith of the great philosophers
such as John Oliver Hobbes, Locke, Hume and Earl Spencer; the biting
sarcasm of Hiny, the pathos of Peps, the oratorical master-strokes of
such men as Gladstone, Demosthenes and Keir Hardie; the romance of
Kipling, sir, of Bret Harte and Danty Rossini; the poetry of Kempis a
Browning and of Elizabeth Thomas Barrett--all, all are there bound in
Persian calf. Among these she seeks for solace. To these she flies in
hours of anguish."
"Does she indeed?" said the Prophet, feeling thoroughly overwhelmed.
"She desires me to take you to her at once, sir, there to confer and"--
he lowered his voice and trembled visibly--"to arrange measures for the
protection of my life."
The Prophet found himself wishing that he had been less precipitate in
covertly alluding to Sir Tiglath's long desire of assault and battery,
but before he had time to wish anything for more than half a minute,
Mr. Sagittarius had guided him ceremoniously across the hall and was
turning the handle of a door that was decorated with black and scarlet
"Here, sir," he whispered, "you will find Madame surrounded by the
authors whom she loves, by their portraits, their biographies and their
writings. Here she communes with the great philosophers, sir, the
poets, the historians and the humourists of the entire world, from the
earliest days down to this very moment--in Persian calf, sir."
He gazed awfully at the Prophet, and gently opened the door of this
temple of the intellect.
The Prophet expected to find himself ushered into a gigantic chamber,
lined from floor to ceiling with shelves that groaned beneath their
burden of the literature of genius. Indeed he had, in fancy, beheld
even the chairs and couches covered with stacks of volumes, the very
floor littered with the choicest productions of the brains of the dead
and living. His surprise was, therefore, very great when, on passing
through the door, he beheld Madame Sagittarius reposing at full length
upon a maroon sofa in a small apartment, whose bare walls, were
entirely innocent of book-shelves. Indeed the only thing of the sort
which was visible was a dwarf revolving bookcase which stood beside the
sofa, and contained some twenty volumes bound, as Mr. Sagittarius had
stated, in Persian calf, each of these volumes being numbered and
adorned with a label on which was printed in letters of gold, "The
Library of Famous Literature: Edited by Dr. Carter. Tasty Tit-bits from
"Madame, sir, in her library," whispered Mr. Sagittarius by the door.
"She is absorbed, sir, and does not notice us."
In truth Madame Sagittarius did appear to be absorbed in thought, or
something else, for her eyes were closed, her mouth was open, and a
sound of regular breathing filled the little room.
"She is thinking out some problem, sir," continued Mr. Sagittarius.
"She is communing with the mighty dead. Sophronia, my love, Sophronia,
Capricornus has brought the gentleman according to your orders. Sophy!
His final utterances, which were somewhat strident caused Madame
Sagittarius to come away from her communion with the mighty dead with a
loud ejaculation of the nature of a snort combined with a hissing
whistle, to kick up her indoor kid boots into the air, turn upon her
right elbow, and present a countenance marked with patches of red and
white, and a pair of goggling, and yet hazy, eyes to the intruders upon
her intellectual exertions.
"Mr. Vivian has come, Sophronia, according to your directions."
Madame uttered a second snort, brought her feet to the floor, arranged
her face in a dignified expression with one fair hand, breathed
heavily, and finally bowed to the Prophet with majestic reserve and
remarked, with the professional click,--
"I was immersed in thought and did not perceive your entrance. /Mens
invictus manetur/. Be seated, I beg."
Here certain very elaborate contortions and swellings of her
interesting countenance suggested that she was repressing a good-sized
yawn, and she was obliged to rearrange her features with both hands
before she could continue.
"Thought conquers matter, as Plauto--I should say as Platus very
"Quite so," assented the Prophet, trying to live up to the library, but
"Even in the days of the great Juvenile," proceeded Madame, "to whose
satires I owe much"--here she laid a loving hand upon Vol. 2 of the
"Library of Famous Literature."--"Long ere the days when Lord Lytton
and his Caxtons introduced us to the blessings of the printing press
there were doubtless ladies who, like myself, could forget the
treachery and the lies of men in silent communion with the brains of
the departed. Far better to be Milton's 'Il Penserosero' than Lord
Byron's 'L'Allegra!' "
To this pronounciamento, which was interrupted several times by more
alarming contortions of the brain-worker's face, the Prophet replied
with a vague affirmative, while Mr. Sagittarius whispered,--
"Her whole knowledge, sir, comes straight from there"--pointing towards
the dwarf bookcase. "She brought it on the instalment system. Dr.
Carter has made her what she is! That man, sir, deserves to be
canonised. Eight guineas and a half, sir, and such a result!"
"Such a result!" the Prophet whispered back.
By this time Madame Sagittarius had apparently ceased to commune with
the dead, for her striking face assumed a more normal expression of
feminine bitterness as she realised who was before her, and she
"Oh, so you've come at last, Mr. Vivian! And pray what have you to say?
What about the rashes? And what is this danger that threatens Mr.
"We'd better take the danger first, my dear," said Mr. Sagittarius,
with grave anxiety.
"Very well. Not that it should be the most important to one who wears
the /toga virilibus/!"
"True, my love. Still, to take it first will clear the ground, I think,
and set me more at ease. Well, sir?"
Thus adjured, the Prophet resolved to make a clean breast of Sir
Tiglath's declarations, and he therefore replied,--
"I thought it only right to wire to you as I did, having learnt that
there is in London a gentleman, an eminent man, who has for five-and-
forty years been seeking for Malkiel with the avowed intention of--
"Oh what, sir, of what?" said Mr. Sagittarius with trembling lips.
"Of doing him violence," replied the Prophet, impressively.
"What is the gent's name?" said Mr. Sagittarius, in great agitation.
"His name! /Nomen volens/!" added Madame.
"That," said the Prophet, "I prefer not to say at present."
"But why should he desire to--?"
"Because you are a prophet."
"There, Jupiter!" cried Madame, with flushed spitefulness. "What have I
always said! All prophets are what they call outsiders--/hors
d'oeuvres/, neither more nor less."
"I know, my love, I know. But how should this gent recognise me for a
prophet? I'm sure my dress, my manner, are those of an outside broker,
as I have often told you, Sophy. How--"
"The gentleman has not yet recognised you," said the Prophet. "At the
moment he believes you to be an American syndicate."
"Thank mercy!" ejaculated Mr. Sagittarius.
"But one can never tell," added the Prophet. "He might find out."
"Nonsense!" cried Madame at this juncture. "We might quite well have
gone to the square yesterday as I always suspected. But you are so
timid, Jupiter. /Timeo Dan--Dan/--well, /Dan/ something or other, as
Virgil so truly says."
"Cautious, Sophronia, only cautious, for your and the children's
"I call a man who's afraid even when he's passing everywhere as an
American syndicate a cowardly custard," rejoined Madame, who appeared
to be suffering under that peculiar form of flushed irritability which
is apt to follow on heavy thought, indulged in to excess in a recumbent
position during the daytime. "There, that's settled. So now let us get
to business. Kindly hand me your prophecy of last night, Mr. Vivian."
The Prophet drew from a breast pocket a sheet or two of notepaper, on
which he had dotted down, in prophetic form, the events of the night
before. Madame received it and continued,--
"Before perusing this report, Mr. Vivian, I should wish to be made
acquainted with those particulars."
"Which ones?" said the Prophet.
"Of your grandmother's career."
"Let us take them in order, please, and proceed /parri passo/. When was
the old lady removed from the bottle?"
"Never," replied the Prophet, firmly. "Never."
An expression of incredulous amazement decorated the obstreperous
features of Madame.
"Do you mean to tell me, Mr. Vivian, that she sucks it still?" she
"I mean what I say, that she has never been removed from it," returned
the Prophet, with energy.
"Well, sir, she must be very partial to milk and Indian rubber, very
partial indeed!" said Mr. Sagittarius. "Go on, my darling."
"Her first tooth, Mr. Vivian--when did she cut it?"
"She has no idea."
Madame began to look decidedly grim.
"Date of short-coating?" she rapped out.
"There was no date. She never wore a short-coat."
"Do you desire me to believe, Mr. Vivian, that the old lady has been
going about in long clothes ever since she was born?" inquired Madame,
with incredulous sarcasm.
"Most certainly I do," replied the Prophet.
"Then how does she get along, pray? Come! Come!"
"She has always worn long clothes," cried the Prophet, boldly standing
up for his beloved relative, "and always will. You can take that from
me, Madame Sagittarius. I know my grandmother, and I am ready to pledge
my honour to it."
"Oh, very well. She must be a very remarkable lady. That's all I can
say. When did she put her hair up?"
"Never. She has never put it up."
"She has never put her hair up!"
"You mean to say that your grandmother goes about in long clothes with
her hair down in the central districts?" cried Madame in blank
"She has never put her hair up," answered the Prophet, with almost
"Oh, well--if she prefers! But I wonder what the police are about!"
retorted Madame. "And now the rashes?"
"There are none."
But at this Madame's temper--already somewhat upset by her prolonged
communion with the mighty dead--showed symptoms of giving way
"Rubbish, Mr. Vivian!" she said, clicking loudly and passing with an
almost upheaving jerk to her upper register! "I'm a mother and was once
a child. Rubbish! I must insist upon knowing the number of the rashes."
"I assure you there are none."
"D'you wish me to believe that the old lady has gone about all her life
in the Berkeley Square in long clothes and her hair down, with her lips
to the bottle and never had a rash? Do you wish me to believe that, Mr.
"Yes, sir, do you wish Madame, a lady of deep education, sir, to
believe that?" cried Mr. Sagittarius.
"I can only adhere to what I have said," answered the Prophet. "My
grandmother has never been removed from the bottle, has never worn a
short coat, has never put her hair up and has never had an epidemic in
"Then all I can say is that she's an unnatural old lady," cried Madame,
with obvious temper, tossing her head and kicking out the kid boots, as
if seized with the sudden desire to use them upon a human football.
"And there's not many like her."
"There is no one like her, no one at all," said the Prophet with
"So I should suppose," cried Madame, forgetting the other questions as
to the day of marriage, etc., in the vexation of the moment. "She must
certainly be the bird of whom Phoenix wrote that rose from ashes in the
days of the classics. /Rarum avis/ indeed! Eh, Jupiter?"
"Very rarum, my dear, very indeed!" responded her husband, with
imitative sarcasm. "An avis indeed, not a doubt of it."
"De Queechy should have known her," continued Madame. "He always loved
everything out of the common. Well, and now for the prophecy. What is
all this, Mr. Vivian?"
"The result of last night's observation," said the Prophet.
"Do you call that a cycloidal curve?" asked Madame, with a contralto
laugh that shook the library. "Look, Jupiter!"
Mr. Sagittarius glanced over his wife's heaving shoulder.
"Very poor, my dear, very irregular indeed."
"It's the best I could do," said the Prophet, still politely.
"I daresay," replied Mr. Sagittarius. "I daresay. Where's your star-
"I'm afraid I don't know," answered the Prophet. "I left it in the
"Yes, the butler's own special pomade, and it seems to have
"Very careless, very careless indeed. Let's see--prophecy first, then
how arrived at. 'Grandmother apparently threatened with some danger at
night in immediate future. Great turmoil in the house during dark
hours.' H'm! 'Some stranger, or strangers, coming into her life and
causing great trouble and confusion, almost resulting in despair, and
perhaps actually inducing illness.' H'm! H'm! We didn't arrive at any
of this by our observations, did we, Sophronia?"
"Decidedly not," snapped Madame, haughtily.
"And now let's see how arrived at. H'm! H'm! Grandmother--ingress of
Crab--conjunction of Scorpio with Serpens--moon in eleventh house. Yes,
that's so. Jupiter in trine with Saturn--What's this? 'Crab dressed
implies danger--undressed Crab much safer--attempted intervention
failure--she's in a nice state now--it tried to keep her from it, but
she was drawn right to it.' Right to what?"
"Of course she was drawn to it. She depends on the Crab these nights.
But what does the rest mean?"
"The Crab was dressed."
"I don't know," said the Prophet. "It didnít tell me."
Mr. Sagittarius and Madame exchanged glances.
"Explain yourself, Mr. Vivian, I beg," cried Madame in a somewhat
excited manner. "How could the Crab be dressed?"
"I have wondered," said the Prophet, gazing at the couple before him
with shining eyes. "But it was dressed last night, and that made it
exceptionally dangerous in some way. Something seemed to tell me so.
Something did tell me so."
"What told you?" inquired Madame, with more excitement and a certain
respect which had been quite absent from her manner before.
"Something that came in the night. I don't know what it was. Light
flashed from it."
"It sounds like a sort of comet, my darling," said Mr. Sagittarius,
considerably perturbed. "We didn't observe that the Crab was specially
dressed, did we?"
"It had nothing on at all when we saw it," said Madame with growing
agitation. "But whatever was this comet that flashed light? That's what
I want to get at."
"It was a dark thing that told me the Crab was dressed, that my
grandmother had been with it and that its influence was inimical to
"A dark thing! That's not a comet!" said Mr. Sagittarius.
"It vanished with a flash of light into the square."
"At what time did you observe it, sir?" asked Mr. Sagittarius, while
Madame leaned forward, gazing with goggling eyes at the Prophet.
"At exactly half-past one."
"Did it stay long?"
"A few minutes only--but it made an impression upon me that I can never
It had apparently also made a very great impression upon Mr. and Madame
Sagittarius, who remained for some seconds staring fixedly at the
Prophet without uttering a word. At last Mr. Sagittarius turned to
Madame and said in a voice that shook with seriousness,--
"Can it be, Sophronia, that prophets ought to live in the central
districts? Can it really be that the nearer they are to the Circus, and
even to the Stores--"
"/O beatus illa/!" interjected Madame upon the pinions of a sigh.
"Yes, Sophronia, the Stores, the more clearly is the knowledge of the
future vouchsafed to them? If it should prove to be so!"
Madame stared again upon the Prophet with a fixity and strained inquiry
which made him shift in his seat.
"If it should!" she repeated, upon the lowest note of her lower
register, which sounded, at that solemn moment, like the keynote of a
dreamer. Then, with a sudden change of manner, she cried sharply,--
"Jupiter, you must accompany this gentleman back to the square to-day."
The Prophet started. So did Mr. Sagittarius.
"But--" they cried simultaneously.
"And you must share his night watch."
"But, my darling--"
"Or I will," cried Madame. "Which is it to be?"
"Mr. Sagittarius!" exclaimed the Prophet.
"Very well," said Madame. "Let mine be the weary task to wait and watch
at home. /Fata feminus/. The mystery of the dressed Crab must be
unveiled. Should this mysterious visitant again vouchsafe a prophetic
message, a practical prophet must be at hand to receive it. Jupiter,
this gentleman is not practical. This report"--she struck the paper on
which the Prophet had dotted down his notes--"is badly written. The
cycloidal curve might have been made by a Board School child. The
deductions drawn--/deductio ad absurdibus/--reveal no talent, none of
the prophetic /feu de joie/ at all. But this mystery of the dressed
Crab may mean much. Jupiter, you will accompany this gentleman back to
London and you will assist him practically at the telescope to-night."
"Very well, my love. I will risk the personal danger, for your and the
"But--but really--" began the Prophet. "I am very sorry, but--"
"Madame has spoken, sir," said Mr. Sagittarius, very solemnly.
"I know she has. But--yes, I know there are no buts in your dictionary,
Madame, I know there aren't--but I have an engagement to-night that I
"What engagement, sir?" said Mr. Sagittarius, sternly. "You have sworn
to us. You must know that."
"I have sworn to almost everyone," cried the distracted Prophet. "But
this swear--I mean this oath must be kept before yours."
"Before ours, sir?"
"It comes on before eleven. I keep my oath to you after it. I manage
the two, don't you see?"
"He will see that you manage the two, Mr. Vivian, I can assure you,"
said Madame, viciously. "Won't you, Jupiter?"
"Certainly, my dear. What is the oath, sir, that you place before
"An oath to Miss Minerva," returned the Prophet, beginning to feel
reckless, firm in the conviction that it was henceforth his destiny to
be the very sport of Fate.
"Ha!" cried Mr. Sagittarius. "The double life!"
"Who is Miss Minerva, pray?" said Madame, shooting a very penetrating
glance upon her husband.
"Your husband can tell you that," replied the Prophet, by no means
"Jupiter," cried Madame, "what is the meaning of this? Who is this
Mr. Sagittarius looked exceedingly uncomfortable.
"My dear," he began, "she is a young fe--that is, a young wo--I should
"A fe! A wo! Explain yourself, Jupiter!"
"She is a lady, my love."
"A lady! Do I know her?"
"I believe not, my dear."
"And do you?"
"No, my darling. That is--that is--"
"Yes, I suppose!" said Madame, with a very violent click.
"I can hardly say, Sophronia, that, I can't indeed. I have met her, by
accident, quite by accident I assure you, once or twice."
"At Jellybrand's. She goes there to fetch letters on the same day as I
Madame's very intellectual brow was over-clouded with storm. She turned
upon the Prophet.
"And what of this person, Mr. Vivian?" she cried. "What of her and this
The Prophet, who was secretly very delighted with the diversion he had
so cleverly created, hastened to reply,--
"I have promised most solemnly to meet her to-night at a house in the
"A house in the Zoological Gardens!"
"I mean at the Zoological House, the residence of Mrs. Vane Bridgeman,
But, at this point in his explanation, the Prophet was interrupted by
both his hearers.
"The Jellybrand one!" cried Mr. Sagittarius.
"The prophets' patron!" vociferated Madame.
THE PROPHET RETURNS FROM THE MOUSE WITH TWO OLD AND VALUED FRIENDS
At these exclamations the Prophet started in some surprise.
"You know this lady?" he asked.
"By repute, sir," replied Mr. Sagittarius.
"Who does not?" cried Madame. "She built the 'Prophets' Rest' at
"And the Mediums' Almshouses at Sunnington."
"And the 'Palmists' Retreat' at Millaby Bay."
"I see you know all about her," interposed the Prophet. "Well, she is
giving a reception to-night at Zoological House and I have sworn to be
there. But I shall get home by eleven. You will understand, however,
that I cannot have the pleasure of entertaining Mr. Sagittarius during
the evening under my own roof. I regret this extremely, but you see it
To the Prophet's great surprise this lucid explanation was received by
his hearers with a strange silence and a combined meditative, and even
moony, staring which was to him inexplicable. Both Madame and Mr.
Sagittarius seemed suddenly immersed in contemplation. They began, he
thought, to look like Buddhists, or like those devoted persons who, in
the times of the desert monks, remained for long periods posed upon
pillows in sandy wastes musing upon Eternity. At first, as he met their
fixed eyes, he fancied that they were, perhaps, falling into a trance,
but presently the conviction seized him that they must be, on the
contrary, busily thinking out some problem. He hoped fervently that he
did not form part of it. At length the quivering silence was broken by
"I might accompany you to Mrs. Bridgeman's, sir," he said to the
Prophet. "Might I not, Sophronia?"
"Oh, but--" began the Prophet, very hastily.
"The lady has frequently pressed me to accept of her hospitality."
"For years she has been writing to me at Jellybrand's, under my real
name of Malkiel the Second, you understand. She addresses me simply as
the master.' "
"But do the postal authorities--"
"Not upon the envelope, sir, not upon the envelope."
"Hitherto, true to myself, true to the principles of Malkiel the First,
and to the instincts of Madame, I have declined her personal
acquaintance. But there is no reason why you should not introduce me to
the house as Mr. Sagittarius, no reason at all."
The Prophet knew only too well that there was not, but before he had
time to go on trying to wriggle out of the complication, Madame struck
"Miss Minerva is to be present at this reception, I believe," she said
"Yes, she is," answered the Prophet, illumined by a ray of hope.
"Jupiter," said Madame, "I will accompany you and Mr. Vivian to the
Zoological Gardens to-night. It is my sacred duty."
The Prophet groaned.
"But, my darling--"
"The reception over, I will assist you and Mr. Vivian at the telescope
in the Berkeley Square. In your presence I can do so without departing
from my principles, /salvo pudoribus/. Do not interrupt me, Jupiter, if
you please. I have thought the matter out. The crisis in our fate is at
hand. Upon the events of the next three nights depends our future.
These mysterious messages of which Mr. Vivian speaks must be examined
into by us upon the spot. This mystery of the dressed Crab must be made
clear. A woman's intellect is needed. A woman's intellect shall not be
wanting. Ill as I am, worn down by the occurrences of yesterday and by
this gentleman's incessant telegrams, I will leave my books"--here she
waved one hand towards the dwarf bookcase--"I will assume an
appropriate /neglige/ and my outdoor boots, a fichu and bonnet, and
will accompany you at once to the Berkeley Square, there to confer and
arrange the programme of the evening. Mrs. Bridgeman would fall down
before us in worship could she know who we really are. As it is, Mr.
Vivian will introduce us modestly as two old and valued friends. The
time may be at hand when we need no longer hide ourselves beneath an
/alibi/. Till then we must possess ourselves, and Mr. Vivian must
possess us, in patience. Ill as I am, I will accompany you. To-night
shall see me in the Zoological Gardens at my husband's side."
Before the prospect of this sublime self-sacrifice both Mr. Sagittarius
and the Prophet were as men dumb. They said not a word. They only
gazed--with a sort of strange idiotcy--at Madame as she rose, with an
elaborate and studied feebleness, from the maroon couch and prepared to
go upstairs to assume the appropriate /neglige/. Only when she was at
her full height did the Prophet, rendered desperate by the terrible
results of his own ingenuity, nerve himself to utter one last protest.
"I really do not think it would be quite according to the rules of
etiquette which prevail in the central districts," he cried, "for a
lady to spend the night in the butler's pantry of a comparative
stranger, even when accompanied by her husband. It might give rise to
talk in the square, and--"
"The butler's pantry, sir!" exclaimed Mr. Sagittarius. "Explain
yourself, I beg."
"The telescope is there, and--"
"I have passed beyond the reach of etiquette," said Madame, looking
considerably like Joan of Arc and other well-known heroines. "My duty
lies plain before me. Of myself I should not have selected the
Zoological Gardens and the butler's pantry of a comparative stranger as
places in which to pass the night, even when accompanied by my husband.
But my conscience--/mens conscium recto/--guides me and I will not
resist it. I will assume my /neglige/ and bonnet and will be with you
in a moment."
So saying she majestically quitted the apartment.
The Prophet fell down upon the maroon sofa like a man smitten with
paralysis. He felt suddenly old, and very weak. He tried to think, to
consider how he could explain Madame Sagittarius to his grandmother--
for she must surely now become aware of the presence of strangers in
her pretty home--how he could arrange matters with Mr. Ferdinand, how
he could apologise to a lady whom he had never yet seen for appearing
at her house with two uninvited guests, how he could get rid of the
Sagittariuses when the horrible night watch should be at an end and the
frigid winter dawn be near. But his mind refused to work. His brain was
a blank, containing nothing except, perhaps, a vague desire for sudden
death. Mr. Sagittarius did not disturb his contemplation of the
inevitable. Indeed, that gentleman also seemed meditative, and the
silence lasted until the reappearance of Madame, in a brown robe--of a
slightly tea-gown type--trimmed with green chiffon and coffee-coloured
lace, a black bonnet adorned with about a score of imitation plums made
in some highly-glazed material, a heavy cloak lined with priceless
rabbit-skins, and the outdoor boots.
If the Prophet had found the journey to the Mouse a painful experience,
what can be said of his feelings during the journey from that noble
stream? Long afterwards he recalled his state of mind during the tramp
across the Common among the broken crockery, the dust-heaps, the
decaying vegetables and the occasional lurking rats, the journey in the
train, the reembarkment upon the purple 'bus from the gentle eminence
sloping towards the coal-yard, the long pilgrimage towards the central
districts with his very outlying companions. He recalled the peculiar
numbness that strove against the desperation of his thoughts, his
feeble efforts to lay plans frustrated by a perpetual buzzing in his
brain, his flitting visions of that gentle grandmother round whose
venerable age and dignity he was about to group such peculiar
personalities, and beneath whose roof he was about to indulge in such