Part 5 out of 6
unholy prophetic practices. Long afterwards--but even then he could not
smile as men so often smile when they look back on lost despairs!
He and his companions spoke but little together as they journeyed.
Occasionally Madame and Mr. Sagittarius conversed in husky whispers,
like brigands the Prophet thought, and the veiled click of Madame's
contralto struck through the startled air. But mostly a silence
prevailed--a silence alive with fate.
At the corner of Air Street they got out and began to walk down
Piccadilly towards the Berkeley square. It was now evening. The lamps
were lighted and the murmur of strolling crowds filled the gloomy air.
Madame stared feverishly about her, excited by the press, the flashing
hansoms and the gaily-illuminated shops. Once, as she passed Benoist's,
she murmured "/O festum dies/!" and again, by the Berkeley, when she
was momentarily jostled by a very large and umbrageous tramp who had
apparently been celebrating the joys of beggary--"/Acto profanus
vulgam/!" But generally she was silent, enwrapped, no doubt, in bookish
thought. When, at length, they stood before the door of number one
thousand she breathed a heavy sigh.
"Please," said the Prophet, in a trembling voice, "please enter
quietly. My grandmother is very unwell."
"Ankles seems to be a very painful complaint, sir," said Mr.
Sagittarius. "But Madame and self are not in the habit of creating
uproar by our movements."
"No, no. Of course not. Still--on tiptoe if you don't mind."
"I cannot walk on tiptoe," said Madame, in a voice that sounded to the
Prophet terrifically powerful. "The attitude is precarious and
undignified. As the great Juvenile--"
"Yes, yes. Ah! that's it!"
He managed to get his key into the door and very gingerly opened it.
Madame and Mr. Sagittarius stepped into the hall, followed closely by
the Prophet, who was content on conveying them unobserved to the
"This way," he whispered. "This way. Softly! Softly!"
He began to steal, like a shadow, across the hall, and, impressed by
his surreptitious manner, his old and valued friends instinctively
followed his example. All three of them, then, with long steps and
theatrical pauses, were stagily upon the move, when suddenly the door
that led to the servants' quarters swung open and Mrs. Fancy Quinglet
debouched into their midst, succeeded by Mr. Ferdinand, who carried in
his hand a menu card in a silver holder. At the moment of their
appearance the Prophet, holding his finger to his lips, was taking a
soft and secret stride in the direction of the library door, his body
bent forward and his head protruded towards the sanctum he longed to
gain, and Madame and Mr. Sagittarius, true to the instinct of imitation
that dwells in our monkey race, were in precisely similar attitudes
behind him. The hall being rather dark, and the gait of the trio it
contained thus tragically surreptitious, it was perhaps not unnatural
that Mrs. Fancy should give vent to a piercing cry of terror, and that
Mr. Ferdinand should drop the menu and crouch back against the wall in
a hunched position expressive of alarm. At any rate, such were their
actions, while--for their part--the Prophet and his two old and valued
friends uttered a united exclamation and struck three attitudes that
were pregnant with defensive amazement.
Having uttered herself, Mrs. Fancy, according to her invariable custom
when completely terrified, displayed all the semblance of clear-sighted
composure and explanatory discrimination. While Mr. Ferdinand remained
by the wall, with his face to it and his large white hands spread out
upon his shut eyes, the lady's maid advanced upon Madame, and,
addressing herself apparently to some hidden universe in need of
information, remarked in rather a piecing voice,--
"I say again, as I said afore, the house has been broke into and the
robbers are upon us. I can't speak different nor mean other."
On hearing these words Madame's large and rippling countenance became
suffused with indignant scarlet, and a preliminary click rang through
the hall. The Prophet bounded forward.
"Hush, Fancy," he cried. "What are you saying?"
"What I mean, Master Hennessey. The house has been broke--"
"Hush! Hush! This lady and gentleman are--"
"Two old and valued friends--" boomed Madame.
"Two old and valued friends of mine. Mr. Ferdinand! Mr. Ferdinand, take
your face from the wall, if you please. There is no cause for alarm.
For Mrs. Fancy had, as usual, broken into tears on learning the
reassuring truth, and was now displaying every symptom of distress and
enervation. The Prophet, unable to calm her, was obliged to assist her
upstairs and place her upon the landing, where he hurriedly left her
uttering broken moans and murmurs, and repeating again and again her
statement of affairs and assertion of inability to conceal the revealed
obvious. On his return he found Madame, Mr. Sagittarius and Mr.
Ferdinand grouped statuesquely in the hall as if to represent
"Mr. Ferdinand," he said rather severely, "I did not expect this
conduct of you, shrinking from guests in this extraordinary manner. A
butler who shows terror at the sight of visitors does not conduce to
the popularity of his employers."
"I beg pardon, sir. I was not prepared."
"Please be prepared another time. You will serve dinner for three
to-night, very quietly, in the inner dining-room. I do not wish Mrs.
Merillia to be disturbed in her illness, and--"
"If you please, sir, Mrs. Merillia feels herself so much better that
she is coming down to dinner to-night."
"Coming down to dinner!" said the Prophet, aghast.
"Yes, sir. And she has asked in Sir Tiglath Butt and the Lady Julia
Postlethwaite to join her. I was about to show Mrs. Merillia the menu,
"Good Heavens! Merciful Powers!" ejaculated the Prophet.
"What on earth is to be done?" continued the Prophet, lost for the
moment to all sense of propriety.
Mr. Ferdinand looked at the old and valued friends.
"I can't say, sir, I'm sure," he replied, pursing up his lips.
"What is the meaning--" began Mr. Sagittarius.
"I'm not aware that--" started Madame.
The Prophet darted to the library door and opened it.
"Pray, pray come in here," he hissed. "My grandmother! Softly!"
"But the old la--"
"I must remark, Mr. Viv--"
"Tsh! Tsh! Mr. Ferdinand, wait in the hall. I shall want to speak to
you in a moment."
The Prophet closed the door and turned to this indignant visitors.
"This is terrible," he said. "Terrible!"
"Pray why?" cried Madame.
"Why," cried the Prophet, "why?"
He sought frantically for some excuse. Suddenly a bright idea occurred
"Why," he said, impressively. "Because Sir Tiglath Butt, the gentleman
who is coming to dinner, is the person who for five-and-forty years has
been seeking Mr. Sagittarius with the firm intention of assaulting,
perhaps of killing, him."
Mr. Sagittarius turned deathly pale, and made a movement as if to get
out of the nearest window.
"This is a trap!" he stammered. "This is a rat-trap. This was planned."
"Really"--began the Prophet.
But Mr. Sagittarius did not heed the exclamation. Tremblig very
violently, he continued,--
"Sophy, my darling, you are in danger. Let us fly!"
And, clutching his wife by the arm, to the Prophet's unspeakable
delight he endeavoured to lead, or rather to drag her to the door. But
Madame now showed the metal she was made of.
"Jupiter," she exclaimed, in her deepest note, "if you are a Prophet
you can surely at moments be also a man. Where is your /toga
"I don't know, my love, I'm sure. Don't let us lose a moment. Come, my
"I shall not come," retorted Madame, whose leaping ambition had been
fired by the sound of titled names. "The gentleman believes you to be
an American syndicate."
"I know, my blessing, I know. But--"
"Very well. If you don't behave like one he will never suspect you."
The Prophet saw his chance slipping from him and hastened to interpose.
"He might divine the truth," he said. "One can never--"
But at this moment he was interrupted by Mr. Ferdinand who abruptly
opened the door and observed,--
"If you please, sir, Mrs. Merillia has sent down orders that the police
are to be fetched at once."
Mr. Sagittarius, now thoroughly unnerved, turned from white to grey.
"The police!" he vociferated. "Sophy, my angel, let us fly. This is no
place for you!"
"The police!" cried the Prophet. "Why?"
"I believe it's Mrs. Fancy's doing, sir. If you would go to Mrs.
Merillia, sir, I think--"
The Prophet rushed from the room and hastened upstairs four steps at a
time. He found his beloved grandmother in a state of grave agitation,
and Mrs. Fancy, in floods of tears, reiterating her statement that
there were robbers in the house.
"Oh, Hennessey!" cried Mrs. Merillia, on his entrance, "thank God that
you are come. There are burglars in the house. Fancy has just
encountered them in the hall. Go for the police, my dearest boy. Don't
lose a moment."
"My dear grannie, they're not burglars."
"I can't speak different, Master Hennessey, nor--"
"Then who are they, Hennessey? Fancy declares--"
"They are two--two--well, two old and valued friends of mine."
"Old and valued friends of ours!"
"Of mine, grannie. Fancy, pray don't make such a noise!"
"Fancy," said Mrs. Merillia, "you can go to your room and lie down."
"Yes, ma'am. I say again, as I said afore, the house has been broke
into and the robbers--"
At this point the Prophet shut the door on the faithful and persistent
creature, who forthwith carried her determination and sobs to an upper
"Hennessey, what is all this? Who is really here?"
"Grannie, dear, only two friends of mine," replied the Prophet, trying
to look at ease, and feeling like a criminal.
"Friends of yours? But surely then I know them. I thought I knew all
"So you do, grannie, all except--except just these."
"And they are old and valued, you say?"
"No, no--that is, I mean yes."
Mrs. Merillia was too dignified to ask any further questions. She lay
back on her sofa, and looked at her grandson with a shining of mild
reproach in her green eyes.
"Well, my dear," she said, "go back to your friends, but don't forget
that Lady Julia and Sir Tiglath are dining here at half-past seven."
"Grannie," cried the Prophet, with a desperate feeling that Madame
meant to stay, "you ought not to dine downstairs to-night. Let me send
and put them off."
"No, Hennessey," she answered, with gentle decision. "I feel better,
and I want cheering up. My morning was not altogether pleasant."
The Prophet understood that she was alluding to his questions, and felt
cut to the heart. His home seemed crumbling about him, but he knew not
what to do or what to say. Mrs. Merillia observed his agitation, but
she did not choose to remark upon it, for she considered curiosity the
most vulgar of all the vices.
"Go to your friends, dear," she said again. "But be in time for
The Prophet descended the stairs and met Mr. Ferdinand at the bottom.
"Am I to send for the police, sir?"
"No, no. I've explained matters."
"And about dinner, sir?"
"I'll tell you in a moment, Mr. Ferdinand," replied the Prophet,
entering the library with the fixed intention of getting Madame and Mr.
Sagittarius out of the house without further delay.
The tableau that met his eyes, however, was not reassuring. He found
Madame, having laid aside her bonnet, and thrown the rabbit-skin cloak
carelessly upon a settee, arranging her hair before a mirror, and
shaking up the coffee-coloured lace fichu in a manner that suggested a
permanent occupation of the house, while her husband, sunk in a deep
armchair in an attitude of complete nervous prostration, was gazing
dejectedly into the fire. When the Prophet entered, the latter bounded
with alarm, while Madame turned round, a couple of hairpins in her
mouth and both hands to the back of her head.
"Ah," she remarked, through the pins, "/il a vous/! I am happy to say
that I have induced Mr. Sagittarius to assume his /toga virilibus/, and
that we have, therefore, great pleasure in yielding to your thoughtful
"My what?" said the Prophet, blankly.
"You thoughtful pressure, and accepting your urgent invite to dine here
before proceeding to the Zoological Gardens and thence to the butler's
The Prophet tried not to groan while she emitted a pin and secured with
it a wandering plait of raven hair.
"You're sure, sir," said Mr. Sagittarius, in a deplorable voice, "that
the gentleman is convinced that I am really an American syndicate?"
The Prophet rang the bell. He could not trust himself to speak, and,
when he looked at Madame's large and determined eyes, he knew that to
do so would be useless.
Mr. Ferdinand appeared.
"Mr. Ferdinand," said the Prophet, "this lady and gentleman will join
us at dinner to-night."
"Yes, sir," said Mr. Ferdinand, casting a glance of outraged prudery
upon Mr. Sagittarius, who was attired in his usual morning costume,
"What's the matter, Mr. Ferdinand?" asked the Prophet, following that
functionary's eyes. "Ha! He's not dressed!"
"Mr. Sagittarius," cried the Prophet, "you're not dressed!"
"Sir," cried that gentleman, "do you dare to accuse me of impropriety
in a frock coat?"
"No, no. But for dinner. You can't possibly dine like that!"
"I have dined like this, sir, for the last twenty years. The architects
and their wives--"
"I daresay. But unluckily there will be no architects and their wives
at dinner to-night. Please stand up."
"Kindly stand up. Mr. Ferdinand!"
"Place your back against this gentleman's if you please--touching,
touching! Don't wriggle away like that. Keep your heels to the ground
while I fetch a sheet of notepaper. Don't move your heads either of
you. I thought so. You're pretty much the same height. Mr. Ferdinand,
you will lay out a white shirt and one of your black dress suits in my
dressing-room at once. Madame, I regret that we must leave you for a
few moments. Will you rest here? Allow me to place a cushion for your
head. And here is Juvenal in the original."
So saying, the Prophet hurried Mr. Sagittarius from the room, driving
Mr. Ferdinand, in a condition of elephantine horror, before him, and
abandoning Madame to an acquaintance with the classics that she had
certainly never achieved in the society of the renowned Dr. Carter.
MALKIEL THE SECOND IS MISTAKEN FOR A RATCATCHER
"If you tremble like that, of course it must look too big!" exclaimed
the Prophet to Mr. Sagittarius, a quarter of an hour later. "Draw it in
at the back."
Mr. Sagittarius, with shaking hands, drew in the waistcoat of Mr.
Ferdinand, which hung in folds around his thin and agitated figure.
"That's better," said the Prophet. "They won't notice anything odd. But
you've turned up your--Mr. Ferdinand's trousers!"
"They're too long, sir. You braced them too low for--"
"I braced them low on purpose," cried the Prophet in great excitement,
"to cover the spats, since you can't get on Mr. Ferdinand's boots.
Kindly turn them down."
"As to the spats, sir, the architects and their wives--"
"Mr. Sagittarius," exclaimed the Prophet, "I think it right to inform
you that if you mention the architects and their wives again, I may
very probably go mad. I don't say I shall, but I will not answer for
myself. Have the goodness to turn them down and follow me."
Mr. Sagittarius obeyed, and followed the Prophet from the room with a
waddling gait and a terrible sensation of having nothing on. The coat
and trousers which he wore flapped about him as he descended the stairs
in the wake of the Prophet, glancing nervously about him and starting
at the slightest sound. In the library they found Madame, holding the
great Juvenile upside down and looking exceedingly cross.
"Will you be good enough to come upstairs?" said the Prophet to her
very politely, though his fingers twitched to strangle her. "I wish to
present you to my grandmother, and dinner is just ready."
Madame rose with dignity.
"I am ready too," she said, with a click. "/Semper paratis/."
And, shaking up the fichu, she ascended the stairs. Outside the
drawing-room door the Prophet, who seemed strangely calm, but who was
in reality almost bursting with nervous excitement, paused and faced
his old and valued friends.
"You will forgive my saying so, I hope," he whispered, "but my
grandmother is not well and much conversation tires her. So we don't
talk too much in her presence. Only just now and then, you understand."
And with this last injunction--futile, he knew as he gave it--he
commended himself to whatever powers there be and opened the door.
Sir Tiglath had not yet arrived, but Lady Julia Postlethwaite was
seated on a sofa by Mrs. Merillia, and was conversing with her about
the Court, the dreadful amount of money a certain duke--her third
cousin--had recently had to pay in Death Duties, the corrupt condition
of society, and the absurd pretensions of the lower middle classes.
Lady Julia was sensitive and a very /grande dame/. She wore her hair
powdered, and had a slight cough and exquisite manners. Once a lady in
waiting, she was now a widow, possessed a set of apartments in Hampton
Court Palace, worshipped Queen Alexandra, and had scarcely ever spoken
to anybody who moved outside of Court Circles. The Duke of Wellington
was said to have embraced her when a child.
Mrs. Merillia and this lady looked up when the door opened, and Lady
Julia paused midway in a sentence, of which these were the opening
"The old duke wouldn't make it over, and so poor Loftus has to pay
nearly a million to the Chancellor of the Excheq--"
"How d'you do, Lady Julia? Grannie, I have persuaded my friends, Mr.
and Madame Sagittarius, to join us at dinner. Sir Tiglath Butt is most
anxious to meet Mr. Sagittarius, who is a great astronomer. Let me--
Madame Sagittarius, Mrs. Merillia--Mr. Sagittarius--Mrs. Merillia, my
grandmother--Lady Julia Postlethwaite."
Mrs. Merillia, although taken completely by surprise, and fully
conscious that her grandson had committed an outrage in turning an
arranged and intimate quartette without permission into a disorganised
sextette, bowed with self-possessed graciousness, and indicated a chair
to Madame, who seated herself in it with that sort of defensive and
ostentatious majesty which is often supposed by ill-bred people to be a
perfect society manner. Mr. Sagittarius remained standing in his
enormous suit, turning out his feet, over which Mr. Ferdinand's
trousers rippled in broadcloth waves, in the first position. A slight
pause ensued, during which the Prophet was uncomfortably affected by
the behaviour of Madame, who gazed at the very neat and superior wig
worn by Mrs. Merillia, and at that lady's charming silver grey damask
gown, in a manner that suggested amazement tempered with indignation,
her instant expression of these two sentiments being only held in check
by a certain reverence which was doubtless inspired by the pretty room,
the thick carpet, the ancestral pictures upon the walls, and the lofty
bearing of Lady Julia Postlethwaite, who could scarcely conceal her
very natural surprise at the extraordinary appearance of Mr.
Sagittarius. As to Mrs. Merillia, although she was, in reality, near
fainting with wonder at her grandson's escapade, she preserved an
expression of gracious benignity, and did not allow a motion of her
eyelids or a flutter of her fan to betray her emotion at finding
herself the unprepared hostess of such unusual guests. The Prophet
broke the silence by saying, in a voice that cracked with agitation,--
"I trust--I sincerely trust that we shall have a clement spring this
Lady Julia, at whom he had looked while uttering this original desire,
was about to reply when Madame uttered a stentorian click and
"In the spring the young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of
love," she remarked, with the fictitious ease of profound ill-breeding.
No one dared to dispute the portentous statement, and she resumed
"The Mouse is delicious in spring."
There was another dead silence, and Madame, turning with patronising
and heavy affability towards Lady Julia, added,--
"Your ladyship doubtless loves the Mouse--/Mus Pulcherrimo/--in spring
as I do?"
The Prophet felt as if he were being pricked by thousands of red-hot
needles, and the perspiration burst out in beads upon his forehead.
"I am not specially fond of mice in spring, or indeed at any season,"
replied Lady Julia, with her slight, but very distinct and bell-like,
"I said the Mouse, your ladyship," returned Madame, feeding upon this
titled acquaintance with her bulging black eyes, and pushing the kid
boots well out from under her brown skirt. "I observed that the Mouse
was peculiarly delicious in the season of love."
"No mouse attracts me," said Lady Julia, coughing again and raising her
fine eyebrows slightly. "I should much prefer to pass the spring
without the companionship of any mouse whatever."
Both Madame and Mr. Sagittarius opened their lips to reply, but before
they could eject a single word the door was opened by Mr. Ferdinand,
"Sir Tiglath Butt."
Mr. Sagittarius started violently and upset a vase of roses, the
astronomer rolled into the room with a very red face, and Mr. Ferdinand
"Dinner is served."
Mrs. Merillia shook hands with Sir Tiglath and glanced despairingly
around her. It was sufficiently obvious that she was considering how to
arrange the procession to the dining-room.
"Hennessey," she began, "will you take Lady Julia? Sir Tiglath, will
you"--she paused, but there was no help for it, she was obliged to
continue--"take Mrs. Sagittarius? Let me introduce you, Sir Tiglath
Butt--Mrs. Sagittarius. Mr. Sagittarius, will you take--"
"Mr. Sagittarius!" roared Sir Tiglath. "Where is he?"
That gentleman gathered Mr. Ferdinand's trousers up in both hands and
prepared for instantaneous flight.
"Where is he?" bellowed Sir Tiglath, wheeling round with amazing
rapidity for so fat a man. "Ha!"
He had viewed Mr. Sagittarius, who, grasping Mr. Ferdinand's suit in
pleats, ducked his head like one wishing to be beforehand with violence
and set the spats towards the door. Sir Tiglath advanced upon him.
"The old astronomer has heard the name of Sagittarius," he vociferated.
"He has been informed that--"
"It's not true, sir," cried Mr. Sagittarius, pale with terror. "It is
not true. I deny it. I am an Ameri--I mean I am not the American
syndicate--you are in error, in absolute error. I swear it. I take the
heavens to witness."
At this remarkable and comprehensive statement Mrs. Merillia and Lady
Julia looked at each other in elegant amazement.
"What do you mean, sir?" exclaimed Sir Tiglath. "And why do you insult
the sacred heavens, you an astronomer!"
"I am not an astronomer," cried Mr. Sagittarius, cringing in the
voluminous waistcoat of Mr. Ferdinand. "I am an outside broker. I swear
it. My dress, my manner proclaim the fact. Sophronia, tell the
gentleman that I am an outside broker and that all Margate has
recognised me as such."
"My husband states the fact," said Madame, in response to this
impassioned appeal. "My husband brokes outside, and has done for the
last twenty years. Collect yourself, Jupiter. Pray do not doff your
/toga virilibus/ in the presence of ladies!"
The terror of Mr. Sagittarius was such, however, that it is very
doubtful whether he would not have proceeded thus to disrobe had not
the Prophet, rendered desperate by the turn of events, abruptly leaped
between Sir Tiglath and his old and valued friend and, gathering the
outraged Lady Julia under his arm, exclaimed,--
"Pray, pray--we can discuss this matter more comfortably at dinner.
Permit me, Lady Julia. Sir Tiglath, if you will kindly give your arm to
Madame Sagittarius. Mr. Sagittarius, my grandmother."
So saying, he made a sort of flank movement, so adroitly conceived and
carried out that, in the twinkling of an eye, he had driven Sir Tiglath
to the side of Madame and hustled Mr. Sagittarius into the immediate
neighbourhood of Mrs. Merillia. Nor had more than two minutes elapsed
before the whole party found themselves--they scarce knew how--arranged
around the dining table and being served with clear soup by Mr.
Ferdinand and the astounded Gustavus, whose naturally round eyes began
to take an almost oblong form as he attended to the wants of Mrs.
Merillia's very unfamiliar guests, whose outlying demeanour and
architectural manners evidently filled him with the most poignant
As to Mrs. Merillia and Lady Julia, the foregoing scene had so reduced
them that they were almost betrayed into some hysterical departure from
the rules of exquisite good breeding which they had unconsciously
observed from the cradle. Indeed, the latter, strong in the belief that
the terms outside broker and raving maniac were interchangeable, twice
dropped her spoon into her soup-plate before she could succeed in
lifting it to her mouth, and was unable to prevent herself from
whispering to the Prophet,--
"Pray, Mr. Vivian, tell me the worst--is he absolutely dangerous?"
"No, no," whispered back the Prophet, reassuringly. "It's all his
"Play!" murmured Lady Julia, glancing at Mr. Sagittarius, who was
holding back the right sleeve of Mr. Ferdinand's coat with his left
hand in order to have the free use of his dinner limb.
"Yes," whispered the Prophet. "He's the most harmless, innocent
creature. A child might stroke him. I mean he wouldn't hurt a child."
"Yes, but we are not children," said Lady Julia, still in great
Meanwhile Sir Tiglath, concerned with his dinner, took no heed of Mr.
Sagittarius for the moment, and that gentleman, slightly reassured,
endeavoured to make himself agreeable to Mrs. Merillia.
"You are very pleasantly situated here, ma'am," he began.
Mrs. Merillia thought he meant because she was at his elbow, and
"Yes, very pleasantly situated."
"It is indeed a blessing to be within such easy reach of the Stores,"
added Mr. Sagittarius, finishing his soup, and permitting Mr.
Ferdinand's sleeves to flow down once more over his hands.
"The Stores!" said Mrs. Merillia.
"/O festum dies beatus illa/!" ejaculated Madame, assuming an
expression of profound and almost passionate sentiment. "Happy indeed
the good lady who dwells in the central districts!"
She permitted a gigantic sigh to leave her bosom and to wander freely
among the locks of those at the table. Sir Tiglath, who, on being
assaulted by her learning, had shown momentary symptoms of apoplexy,
now gave a loud grunt, while the Prophet, perceiving that his
grandmother and Lady Julia were quite unequal to the occasion, hastily
"Yes, Berkeley Square is very convenient in may ways."
"Ah!" said Mr. Sagittarius, keeping a wary eye on Sir Tiglath and re-
addressing himself to Mrs. Merillia, "the Berkeley Square. But if you
lived in the one behind Kimmins's Mews, it would be quite another pair
of boots, would it not, ma'am?"
Lady Julia, who was sitting next to Mr. Sagittarius, shifted her chair
nearer to the Prophet, and whispered, "I'm sure he is dangerous, Mr.
Vivian!" while Mrs. Merillia, in the greatest perplexity, replied,--
"The one behind Mr. Kimmins's Mews?"
"Ay, over against Brigwell's Buildings, just beyond the Pauper Lunatic
Lady Julia turned pale.
"I daresay," answered Mrs. Merillia, bravely. "But I am not acquainted
with the neighbourhood you mention."
"You know the Mouse?"
At this abrupt return to the subject of mice Lady Julia became really
"Be frank with me, Mr. Vivian," she whispered to the Prophet, under
cover of boiled salmon; "is he a ratcatcher?"
"Good Heavens, no!" whispered back the Prophet. "He's--he's quite the
"What mouse?" said Mrs. Merillia, endeavouring to seem pleasantly at
ease, though she, too, was beginning to feel a certain amount of alarm
at these strange beings' persistent discussion of the inhabitants of
the wainscot. "Do you allude to any special mouse?"
"I do, ma'am. I allude to the Mouse that has helped to make Madame and
self what we are."
Sir Tiglath began to roll about in his chair preparatory to some
deliverance, and Mrs. Merillia, casting a somewhat agitated glance at
her grandson, answered,--
"Really. I did not know that anything so small could have so much
"It may be small, ma'am," said Mr. Sagittarius. "But to a sensitive
nature it often seems gigantic."
"You mean at night, I suppose? Does it disturb you very much?"
"We hear it, ma'am, but it lulls us to rest."
"Indeed. That is very fortunate. I fear it might keep me awake."
"So we thought at first. But now we should miss it. Should we not,
"Doubtless," replied Madame, arranging a napkin carefully over her
fichu, and dealing rigorously with some mayonnaise sauce. "It has been
our perpetual companion for many years, /mus amicus humano generi/."
Sir Tiglath swelled, and Mrs. Merillia responded,--
"I see, a pet. Is it white?"
"No, ma'am," returned Mr. Sagittarius, "it is a rich, chocolate brown
except on wet days. Then it takes on the hue of a lead pencil."
"Indeed!" said Mrs. Merillia, trying nobly to remain social. "How very
"We worship it in summer," continued Mr. Sagittarius. "In the sultry
season it soothes and calms us."
"Then it is quite tame?"
"At that time of year, but in winter nights it is sometimes almost
"Ah, I daresay. They often are, I know."
"The architects and their wives love it as we do."
"Do they? How very fortunate!"
"We should hate to miss it even for a moment."
"Oh, Mr. Vivian!" whispered Lady Julia, "this is dreadful. "I'm almost
sure he's brought it with him."
"No, no. It's not alive."
"A dead mouse!"
"It's a river."
"A river! But he said it was a mouse."
"It's both. Mr. Sagittarius," added the Prophet, in a loud and
desperate tone of voice, "you'll find this champagne quite dry. You
needn't be afraid of it."
"Did you get it from by the rabbit shop, sir?" asked Mr. Sagittarius,
lifting his glass. "I ordered a dozen in, only the day before
Lady Julia began to tremble.
"I see," she whispered to the Prophet. "His mania is about animals."
Meanwhile the Prophet had made a warning face at Mr. Sagittarius, who
suddenly remembered his danger and subsided, glancing uneasily at Sir
Tiglath, whose intention of addressing him had been momentarily
interfered with by a sweetbread masked in a puree of spinach.
Madame Sagittarius, assisted by food and dry champagne, was now--as the
Prophet perceived with horror--beginning to feel quite at her ease. She
protruded her elbows, sat more extensively in her chair, rolled her
prominent eyes about the room as one accustomed to her state, and said,
with condescension, to Lady Julia,--
"Is your ladyship to make one of the party at the Zoological Gardens
Lady Julia, who now began to suppose that Mr. Sagittarius's crazy
passion for animals was shared by his wife, gasped and answered,--
"Are you going to the Zoological Gardens?"
"Yes, to an assembly. It should be very pleasant. Do you make one?"
"I regret that I am not invited," said Lady Julia, rather stiffly.
Madame bridled, under the impression that she was scoring off a member
of the aristocracy.
"Indeed," she remarked, with a click. "Yet I presume that your ladyship
is not insensible to the charms of rout and collation?"
"I beg your pardon?" said Lady Julia, beginning to look like an image
made of cast iron.
"I imagine that the social whirl finds in your ladyship a willing
"Oh, no. I go out very little."
"Indeed," said Madame, with some contempt. "Then you do not frequent
"The Palace! Do you mean the Crystal Palace?"
"Of Buckingham? You are not an /amicas curiae/?"
"I fear I don't catch your meaning."
"Does not your ladyship comprehend the Latin tongue?"
"Certainly not," said Lady Julia, who was born in an age when it was
considered highly improper for a young female to have any dealings with
the ancients. "Certainly not."
"Dear me!" said Madame, with pitying amazement. "You hear her ladyship,
"I do, my angel. Madame is a lady of deep education, ma'am," said Mr.
Sagittarius, turning to Mrs. Merillia, who had been listening to the
foregoing cross-examination with perpetually-increasing horror.
"No decent female should understand Greek or Latin," roared Sir Tiglath
at this point. "If she does she's sure to read a great deal that she's
no business to know anything about."
At this challenge Madame's bulging brow was overcast with a red cloud.
"I beg to disagree, sir," she exclaimed. "In my opinion the Georgics of
Horatius, Homer's Idyls and the satires of the great Juvenile--"
"The great what?" bellowed Sir Tiglath.
"The great Juvenile, sir."
"There never was a great juvenile, ma'am. Talent must be mellow before
it is worth tasting, whatever the modern whipper-snapper may say. There
never was, and there never will be, a great juvenile--there can only be
a juvenile preparing to be great."
"I affirm it, madam. And as you seem so mighty fond of Latin, remember
what Horace says--/Qui cupit opatam cursu contingere metam, Multa tulit
fecitque puer, sudavit et alsit/. Oh-h-h-h!"
And Sir Tiglath flung himself back in his chair, puffing out his
enormous cheeks and wagging his gigantic head at Madame who, for once
in her life, seemed entirely at a loss, and unable to call to her
assistance a single shred of learning from the library of Dr. Carter.
Having at last emerged from his Epicurean silence, the astronomer now
proceeded to take the floor. Satisfied that he had laid a presuming
female low, he swung round, as if on a pivot, to where Mr. Sagittarius
was sitting in the greatest agitation, and roared,--
"And now, sir what is all this about your being an outside broker? I
was distinctly informed by this gentleman only a night or two ago that
you were a distinguished astronomer."
"I am betrayed!" cried Mr. Sagittarius, dropping the knife and fork
which he had just picked up for the dissection of a lobster croquette.
"I said this was a trap. I said it was a rat-trap from the first."
"I knew he must be a ratcatcher," whispered Lady Julia to the Prophet,
who was about to rise from his seat and endeavour to calm his guest. "I
was certain no one but a ratcatcher could talk in such a manner."
"He is not indeed! Mr. Sagittarius, pray sit down! You are alarming my
"I can't help that, sir. I am not going to sit here, sir, and be
"Tsh! Tsh! I merely informed Sir Tiglath the other evening that what
Miss Minerva had told him about you was true."
"Miss Minerva!" cried Madame, glancing at her husband in a most
terrible manner. "Miss Minerva!"
"Lady Enid Thistle, I mean," cried the Prophet, mentally cursing the
day when he was born.
"Who's that?" exclaimed Madame, beginning to look almost exactly like
"A young female who informed the old astronomer that your husband and
an elderly female named Mrs. Bridgeman had for a long while been
carrying on astronomical investigations together--"
"Carrying on together!" vociferated Madame. "Jupiter!"
"And that they had come to the conclusion that there was probably
oxygen in certain of the holy fixed stars. Oxygen, so the elderly
"Oxygen in an elderly female!" cried Madame, in the greatest
excitement. "Jupiter, is this true?"
Mr. Sagittarius was about to bring forward a flat denial when the
Prophet, leaning behind the terrified back of Lady Julia, hissed in his
"Say yes, or he'll find out who you really are!"
"Yes," cried Mr. Sagittarius, in a catapultic manner.
Madame began to show elaborate symptoms of preparation for a large-
sized fit of hysterics. She caught her breath five or six times running
in a resounding manner, heaved her bosom beneath the green chiffon and
coffee-coloured lace, and tore feebly with both hands at a large
medallion brooch that was doing sentry duty near her throat.
"Pray, pray, Madame," exclaimed the Prophet, who was now near his wits'
"How can I pray at table, sir?" she retorted, suddenly showing fight.
"You forget yourself."
"Oh, Hennessey," said poor Mrs. Merillia, "what does all this mean?"
"Nothing, grannie, nothing except that Mr. Sagittarius is a very modest
man and does not care to acknowledge the greatness of his talents. Pray
sit down, Mr. Sagittarius. Here is the ice pudding. Madame, I am sure
you will take some ice. Mr. Ferdinand!"
"The ice to Madame Sagittarius instantly!"
Mr. Ferdinand, who was trembling in every limb at having to assist at
such a scene in his dining-room, which had hitherto been the very
temple of soft conversation and the most exquisite decorum, advanced
towards Madame, clattering the flat silver dish, and causing the frozen
delicacy that the cook had elegantly posed upon it to run first this
way and then that as if in imitative agitation.
"I cannot," sobbed Madame, beginning once more to catch her breath. "At
such a moment food becomes repulsive!"
"I assure you our cook's ice puddings are quite delicious; aren't they,
"I have no idea, Hennessey," said Mrs. Merillia, who was so upset by
the extraordinary scene at which she was presiding in the character of
hostess, that she mechanically clutched the left bandeau of her
delightful wig, and set it quite a quarter of an inch awry.
"Try it, Madame," cried the Prophet. "I implore you to try it."
Thus adjured Madame detached a large piece of the agile pudding with
some difficulty, and subsided into a morose silence, while her husband
sat with his eyes fixed imploringly upon her, totally regardless of his
social duties. As both Mrs. Merillia and Lady Julia were by this time
thoroughly unnerved, and Sir Tiglath was once more immersed in his
food, the whole burden of conversation fell upon the Prophet, who
indulged in a feverish monologue that lasted until the end of dinner.
What he talked about he could never afterwards certainly remember, but
he had a vague idea that he discussed the foreign relations of England
with Madagascar, the probable future of Poland, the social habits of
the women of Alaska, the prospects of tobacco culture in West Meath,
and the effect that imported Mexicans would be likely to produce upon
the natural simplicity of such unsophisticated persons as inhabit Lundy
Island or the more remote districts of the Shetlands. When the ladies
at length rose to leave the dining-room his brain was in a whirl and he
had little doubt that his temperature was up to 104. Nevertheless his
mind was still active, was indeed preternaturally acute for the moment,
and he saw in a flash the impossibility of leaving Madame Sagittarius
alone with his grandmother and Lady Julia. As they got up from their
seats he therefore took out his watch and said,--
"Dear me! It is later than I had supposed. I am afraid we ought to be
starting for Zoological House. Mrs. Bridgeman will be expecting us."
"Certainly, sir, certainly!" said Mr. Sagittarius, with all the
alacrity of supreme cowardice, and casting a terror-stricken glance
towards Sir Tiglath, who was glowering at him with glassy eyes above a
glass of port. "Mrs. Bridgeman will be expecting us!"
"I will assume my cloak," said Madame, fiercely. "Jupiter!"
"Kindly seek my furs."
"Certainly, my love," replied Mr. Sagittarius, darting eagerly from the
apartment to fetch the rabbit-skins.
"Lady Julia, I hope you will forgive us," said the Prophet, with
passionate contrition. "If I had had the slightest idea that we should
have the pleasure of seeing you to-night, of course I should have given
up this engagement. But it is such an old one--settled months ago--and
I have promised Mrs. Bridgeman so faithfully that--"
"The old astronomer will go with you," cried Sir Tiglath at this
moment, swallowing his glass of port at a gulp, and rolling out of his
The Prophet turned cold, thinking of Miss Minerva, who would be present
at Mrs. Bridgeman's living her secret double life. It was imperative to
prevent the astronomer from accompanying them.
"I did not think you knew Mrs. Bridgeman, Sir Tiglath," the Prophet
began, while Mrs. Merillia and Lady Julia stood blankly near the door,
trying to look calm and dignified while everyone was ardently preparing
to desert them.
"The old astronomer must know her before the evening is one hour more
advanced. He must question her regarding the holy stars. He must
examine her and this Sagittarius, who claims to be an outside broker
and yet to have discovered oxygen in the fixed inhabitants of the
sacred heavens. My cloak!"
The last words were bellowed at Gustavus, who rushed forward with Sir
The Prophet lowed his head, and metaphorically, threw up the sponge.
"Lady Julia," said Mrs. Merillia, in a soft voice that slightly
trembled, "let us go upstairs."
The two old ladies bowed with tearful dignity, and retired with a sort
of gentle majesty that cut the Prophet to the heart.
"One moment, if you please!" he said to his guests.
And he darted out of the room and leaped up the stairs. He found Mrs.
Merillia and Lady Julia just about to dispose themselves side by side
upon a sofa near the fire. They turned and looked at him with
reproachful doves' eyes.
"Grannie--Lady Julia!" he exclaimed, "I implore your forgiveness.
Pardon me! Appearances are against me, I know. But some day you may
understand how I am placed. My position is--my--my situation--I--you--
do not wholly condemn me! Wait--wait a few days, I implore you!"
He rushed out of the room.
The two old ladies seated themselves upon the sofa, and tremblingly
spread abroad their damask skirts. They looked at each other in
silence, shaking their elegant heads. Then Mrs. Merillia said, in a
"Oh, Julia, you were a lady in waiting to Her Majesty, you were kissed
by the great Duke--tell me--tell me what it all means!"
"Victoria," replied Lady Julia, "it means that your grandson has fallen
into the clutches of a dangerous and determined ratcatcher."
And then the two old ladies mingled their damask skirts and their lace
caps and wept.
THE SILLY LIFE
"Call a cab for Sir Tiglath, Mr. Ferdinand," whispered the Prophet--"a
four-wheeler with a lame horse. I'll take both Mr. and Madame
Sagittarius in the brougham."
"Must the horse be lame, sir?"
"Yes. I absolutely decline to encourage the practice of using good
horses in four-wheeled cabs. It's a disgrace to the poor animals. It
must be a very lame horse."
And Mr. Ferdinand, standing upon the doorstep, whistled to the night.
Strange to say, in about two minutes there appeared round the corner
the very same cabman who had conveyed the Prophet and Lady Enid to the
astronomer's on the previous day, driving the very same horse.
"This horse will do admirably," said the Prophet to Mr. Ferdinand.
"He isn't lame, sir."
"P'r'aps not; but he knows how to tumble down. Sir Tiglath, here is a
cab for you. We shall go in the brougham. Zoological House, Regent's
Park, is the direction. Let me help you in, Madame."
As the Prophet got in to sit bodkin between his old and valued friends,
he whispered to the footman,--
"Tell Simkins to drive as fast as possible. We are very late."
The footman touched his hat. Just as the carriage moved off, the
Prophet protruded his head from the window, and saw the astronomer
rolling into the four-wheeler, the horse of which immediately fell down
in a most satisfactory manner.
There was no general conversation in the brougham, but the Prophet, who
was obliged to sit partly on Madame, and partly on Mr. Sagittarius and
partly on air, occasionally heard in the darkness at his back terrible
matrimonial whisperings, whose exact tenor he was unable to catch. Once
only he heard Madame say sibilantly and with a vicious click,--
"I might have known what to expect when I married a Prophet--when I
passed over the /pons asinoribus/ to give myself to a /monstram
To this pathetic heart-cry Mr. Sagittarius made a very prolonged
answer. The Prophet knew it was prolonged because Mr. Sagittarius
always whispered in such a manner as to tickle the nape of his neck.
But he could not hear anything except a sound like steam escaping from
a small pipe. The steam went on escaping until the brougham passed
through a gate, rolled down a declivity, and drew up before an enormous
mansion whose windows blazed with light.
"Is this the Zoological Gardens?" inquired Madame in a stern voice. "Is
this the habitation of the woman Bridgeman?"
"I suppose this is Zoological House," replied the Prophet, sliding
decorously off Madame's left knee in preparation for descent.
"My darling! my love!" said Mr. Sagittarius. "I swear upon the infant
head of our Capricornus that Mrs. Bridgeman and I are--"
"Enough!" cried Madame. "/Jam satus/! Be sure that I will inquire into
The carriage door was opened and, with some struggling, the Prophet and
his two valued friends emerged and speedily found themselves in a very
large hall, which was nearly full of very large powdered footmen. In
the distance there was the sound of united frivolities, a band of
twenty guitars thrumming a wilful /seguidilla/. Roses bloomed on every
side, and beyond the hall they beheld a vision of illuminated vistas,
down which vague figures came and went.
Evidently when Mrs. Bridgeman let herself go she let herself go
Mr. Sagittarius gazed about him with awe-struck amazement, but Madame
was equal to the occasion. She cast the rabbit-skins imperially to a
neighbouring flunkey, arranged her hair and fichu before a glass,
kicked out her skirt with the heel of one of the kid boots, nipped the
green chiffon into prominence with decisive fingers, and then, turning
to the Prophet with all the majesty of a suburban empress, said in a
"Step forward, I beg. /J'ai pret/."
The Prophet, thus encouraged, stepped forward towards an aperture that
on ordinary days contained a door, but that now contained a stout
elderly lady, with henna-dyed hair, a powdered face, black eyebrows and
a yellow gown, on which rested a large number of jewelled ornaments
that looked like small bombs. At this lady's elbow stood a footman with
an exceedingly powerful bass voice, who shouted the names of
approaching guests in a manner so uncompromising as to be terrific.
Each time he so shouted the stout lady first started and then smiled,
the two operations succeeding one another with almost inconceivable
rapidity and violence.
"What name, sir?" asked the footman of the Prophet, bending his
powdered head till it was only about six feet two inches from the
"Mr. Hennessey Vivian," replied the Prophet, hesitating as to what he
"Mr. Hemmerspeed Vivian!" roared the footman. "What name, Madame?" (to
"Mr. and Madame Sagittarius of Sagittarius Lodge, the Mouse!" replied
the lady majestically.
"Mr.--and Madame--Segerteribus--of--Segerteribus--Lodge, the Mouse!"
bawled the footman.
The stout lady, who was Mrs. Vane Bridgeman, started and smiled.
"Delighted to see you, Mr. Segerteribus!" she said to the Prophet.
The Prophet hastened to explain through the uproar of twenty guitars.
"Mr. Vivian is my name. I think Miss Minerva Partridge--"
Mrs. Bridgeman started and smiled.
"Of course," she exclaimed. "Of course. You are to be kind enough to
introduce me some day to Mr. Sagi--Sagi--something or other, and I am
to introduce him to Sir Tiglath Butt, when Sir Tiglath Butt has been
introduced to me by dear Miss Partridge. It is all to work out
beautifully. Yes, yes! Charming! charming!"
"I have ventured to bring Mr. and Madame Sagittarius with me to-night,"
said the Prophet.
Mrs. Bridgeman started and smiled.
"They are my old and valued friends, and--and here they are."
"Delighted! delighted!" said Mrs. Bridgeman, speaking in a confused
manner through the guitars. "How d'you do, Mr. Sagittarius?"
And she shook hands warmly with a very small and saturnine clergyman
decorated with a shock of ebon hair, who was passing at the moment.
"Biggle!" said the little clergyman.
Mrs. Bridgeman started and smiled.
"Biggle!" repeated the little clergyman. "Biggle!"
The guitars rose up with violence, and all the hot, drubbing passion of
Bayswater being Spanish.
"Yes, indeed, I so agree with you, dear Mr. Sagittarius," said Mrs.
Bridgeman to the little clergyman.
"Biggle!" the little clergyman cried in a portentous voice. "Biggle!
"What does he mean?" whispered Mrs. Bridgeman to the Prophet. "How does
"I think that is his name. These are Mr. and Madame Sagittarius."
Mrs. Bridgeman started and smiled.
"Biggle--of course," she said to the little clergyman, who passed on
with an air of reliant self-satisfaction. "Delighted to see you," she
added, this time addressing the Prophet's old and valued friends. "Ah!
Mr. Sagi--Sagi--um--I have heard so much of you from dear Miss
The wild, high notes of a flute, played by a silly gentleman from
Tooting, shrilled through the tupping of the guitars, and Mr.
Sagittarius, trembling in every limb, hissed in Mrs. Bridgeman's ear,--
"Hush, ma'am, for mercy's sake!"
Mrs. Bridgeman started and forgot to smile.
"My loved and honoured wife," continued Mr. Sagittarius, in a loud and
anxious voice, "more to me than any lunar guide or starry monitor!
Madame Sagittarius, a lady of deep education, ma'am."
"Delighted!" said Mrs. Bridgeman, making a gracious grimace at Madame,
who inclined herself stonily and replied in a sinister voice,--
"It is indeed time that this renconter took place. Henceforth, ma'am, I
shall be ever at my husband's side, /per fus et nefus/--/et nefus/,
"So glad," said Mrs. Bridgeman. "I have been longing for this--"
"Mr. Bernard Wilkins!" roared the tall footman.
Mr. Sagittarius started and Mrs. Bridgeman did the same and smiled.
"Bernard Wilkins the Prophet!" Mr. Sagittarius exclaimed. "From the
"Mrs. Eliza Doubleway!" shouted the footman.
"Mrs. Eliza!" cried Mr. Sagittarius, in great excitement. "That's the
soothsayer from the Beck!"
"Madame Charlotte Humm!" yelled the footman.
"Madame Humm!" vociferated Mr. Sagittarius, "the crystal-gazer from the
"Professor Elijah Chapman!" bawled the footman.
"The nose-reader!" piped Mr. Sagittarius. "The nose-reader from the
"Verano!" screamed the footman, triumphantly submerging the flute and
the twenty guitars. "Verano!"
"The South American Irish palmist from the Downs! My love," said Mr.
Sagittarius, in a cracking voice, "we are in it to-night, we are
indeed; we are fairly and squarely in it."
Madame began to bridle and to look as ostentatious as a leviathan.
"And if we are, Jupiter!" she said in a voice that rivalled the
footman's--"if we are, we are merely in our element. They needn't think
to come over me!"
"Hush, my love! Remember that--"
"Dr. Birdie Soames!" interposed the vibrant bass of the footman.
"The physiognomy lady from the Common!" said Mr. Sagittarius, on the
point of breaking down under the emotion of the moment. "Scot! Scot!
Mrs. Bridgeman was now completely surrounded by a heterogeneous mass of
very remarkable-looking people, among whom were peculiarly prominent an
enormously broad-shouldered man, with Roman features and his hair cut
over his brow in a royal fringe, a small woman with a pointed red nose
in bead bracelets and prune-coloured muslin, and an elderly female with
short grizzled hair, who wore a college gown and a mortar-board with a
scarlet tassel, and who carried in one hand a large skull marked out in
squares with red ink. These were Verano, the Irish palmist from the
Downs; Mrs. Eliza Doubleway, the soothsayer from Beck; and Dr. Birdie
Soames, the physiognomy lady from the Common. Immediately around these
celebrities were grouped a very pale gentleman in a short jacket, who
looked as if he made his money by eating nothing and drinking a great
deal, a plethoric female with a mundane face, in which was set a large
and delicately distracted grey eye; and a gentleman with a jowl, a pug
nose, and a large quantity of brass-coloured hair about as curly as
hay, which fell down over a low collar, round which was negligently
knotted a huge black tie. This trio comprised Mr. Bernard Wilkins, the
Prophet from the Rise; Madame Charlotte Humm, the crystal-gazer from
the Hill; and Professor Elijah Chapman, the nose-reader from the Butts.
No sooner was the news of the arrival of these great and notorious
people bruited abroad through the magnificent saloons of Zoological
House than Mrs. Bridgeman's guests began to flock around them from all
the four quarters of the mansion, deserting even the neighbourhood of
the guitars and the inviting seclusion of the various refreshment-
rooms. From all sides rose the hum of comment and the murmur of
speculation. Pince-nez were adjusted, eyeglasses screwed into eyes,
fingers pointed, feet elevated upon uneasy toes. Pretty girls boldly
trod upon the gowns of elderly matrons in the endeavour to draw near to
Mrs. Bridgeman and her group of celebrities; youths pushed and shoved;
chaperons elbowed, and old gentlemen darted from one place to another
in wild endeavours to find an inlet through the press. And amid this
frantic scramble of the curious, the famous members of the occult world
stood, calmly conscious of their value and in no wise upset or
discomposed. Verano stroked his Roman features, and ran his large white
hand through his curly fringe; Dr. Birdie Soames tapped her skull; Mrs.
Eliza Doubleway played with her bead bracelets; Mr. Bernard Wilkins and
Madame Charlotte Humm conversed together in dreamy murmurs; while
Professor Elijah Chapman shook his brass-coloured hair till it fell
forward over his variegated shirt-front, and glanced inquiringly at the
multitudes of anxious noses which offered themselves to his inspection
beneath the glare of the electric lights.
Mr. and Madame Sagittarius, completely overlooked in the throng,
elbowed, trampled upon, jogged from behind and prodded from before,
gazed with a passion of bitter envy at their worshipped rivals, who
were set in the full blaze of success, while they languished in the
outer darkness of anonymous obscurity.
"/O miseris hominum men/--don't set your feet on me, sir, if you
please!" cried Madame. "/O pectorae caec/--ma'am, I beg you to take
your elbow from my throat this minute!"
But even her powerful and indignant organ was lost in the hubbub that
mingled with the wild music of the guitars, to which was now added the
tinkle of bells and the vehement click of a round dozen of castanets,
marking the bull-fighting rhythm of a new air called "The Espada's
Return to Madrid."
"Jupiter!" she gurgled. "I shall be suff--"
"Mr. Amos Towle!" roared the footman savagely.
"The great medium from the Wick!"
"Towle the seer!"
"Amos Towle, the famous spiritualist!"
"Mr. Towle who materialises!"
"The celebrated Towle!"
"The great and only Towle!"
"Oh, is it /the/ Towle?"
"I must see Towle!"
"Where is he? Oh, where is Towle?"
"Towle who communicates with the other world!"
"Towle the magician!"
"Towle the hypnotist!"
"Towle the soothsayer!"
"The magnetic Towle!"
"The electric Towle!"
"We must--we must see Towle!"
Such were a very few of the exclamations that instantly burst forth
upon the conclusion of the footman's announcement. The elbowing and
trampling became more violent than ever, and Mrs. Bridgeman was
forced--from lack of room--to forego her society start, though she was
still able to indulge in her society smile, as she bowed, with almost
swooning graciousness, to a short, perspiring, bald and side-whiskered
man in greasy broadcloth, who looked as if he would have been quite at
home upon the box of a four-wheeled cab, as indeed he would, seeing
that he had driven a growler for five-and-twenty years before
discovering that he was the great and only Towle, medium, seer, and
worker-of-miracles-in-chief to the large and increasing crowd that
lives the silly life.
"Oh, Mr. Towle--charmed, delighted!" cried Mrs. Bridgeman. "I was so
afraid--How sweet of you to come out all this way from your eyrie at
the Wick! You'll find many friends--dear Madame Charlotte--the
Professor--Mrs. Eliza--they're all here. And Miss Minerva, too! Your
greatest admirer and disciple!"
At this moment the crowd, wild in its endeavour to touch the inspired
broadcloth of the great Towle, surged forward, and the Prophet was
driven like a ram against the left side of his hostess.
"I beg--your--pard--" he gasped; "but could you tell--me--where Miss
Minerv--erva--is? I special--ly want to--to--"
"I think she's with Eureka in tea-room number 1," replied Mrs.
Bridgeman. "Oh, dear! Near the band. Oh, dear! Oh, my gown! Oh! So
sweet of you to come, Mrs. Lorrimer! Just a few interesting people! Oh,
gracious mercy! Oh, for goodness' sake!"
She was thrust against a new arrival, and the Prophet, bringing his
shoulders vigorously into play, according to the rules of Rugby
football, presently found himself out in the open and free to wander in
search of Miss Minerva, whom he was most anxious to encounter before
the arrival of Sir Tiglath Butt, which must now be imminent, despite
the marked disinclination of his horse to proceed at the rate of more
than half a mile an hour.
The Prophet abandoned Mr. and Madame Sagittarius to their fate,
thankful, indeed, to be rid for a moment of their prophetic
Following the gasped directions of Mrs. Bridgeman, he made towards the
guitars, threading a number of drawing-rooms, and passing by the doors
of various mysterious chambers which were carefully curtained off in a
most secret manner. Here and there he saw groups of people--men in
extraordinary coats and with touzled masses of hair, women in gowns
made of the cheapest materials and cut in the most impossible fashions.
Some wore convolvulus on their heads, ivy-leaves, trailing fuchsia, or
sprigs of plants known only to suburban haberdashers; others appeared
boldly in caps of the pork-pie order, adorned with cherry-coloured
streamers, clumps of feathers that had never seen a bird, bunches of
shining fruits, or coins that looked as if they had just emerged from
the seclusion of the poor-box. Thread gloves abounded, and were mostly
in what saleswomen call "the loud shades"--bright scarlet, marigold
yellow, grass green or acute magenta. Mittens, too, were visible
covered with cabalistic inscriptions in glittering beadwork. Not a few
gentlewomen, like Madame, trod in elastic-sided boots, and one small
but intrepid lady carried herself boldly in a cotton skirt topped with
a tartan blouse "carried out" in vermilion and sulphur colour, over
which was carelessly adjusted a macintosh cape partially trimmed with
distressed-looking swansdown. Here and there might be seen some smart
London woman, perfectly dressed and glancing with amused amazement at
the new fashions about her; here and there a well set-up man, with
normal hair and a tie that would not have terrified Piccadilly. But for
the most part Mrs. Bridgeman's guests were not quite usual in
appearance, and, indeed, were such as the Prophet had never gazed upon
Presently the uproar of the guitars grew more stentorian upon his ear,
and, leaving on his left an astonishing chamber that contained from a
dozen to fifteen small round tables, with nothing whatever upon them,
the Prophet emerged into an inner hall where, in quite a grove of
shrubs hung with fairy lights, twenty young ladies, dressed from top to
toe in scarlet, and each wearing a large golden medal, were being as
Spanish as if they had not been paid for it, while twelve more whacked
castanets and shook bells with a frenzy that was worth an excellent
salary, the silly gentleman from Tooting the while blowing furiously
upon his flute, and combining this intemperate indulgence with an
occasional assault upon a cottage piano that stood immediately before
him, or a wave of the baton that asserted his right to the position of
/chef d'orchestre/. Immediately beyond this shrine of music the Prophet
perceived a Moorish nook containing a British buffet, and, in quite the
most Moorish corner of this nook, seated upon a divan that would have
been at home in Marakesh, he caught sight of Miss Minerva in company
with a thin, fatigued and wispy lady in a very long vermilion gown, and
an extremely small gentleman--apparently of the Hebrew persuasion--who
was smartly dressed, wore white gloves and a buttonhole, and indulged
in a great deal of florid gesticulation while talking with abnormal
vivacity. Miss Minerva, who was playing quietly with a lemon ice,
looked even more sensible than usual, the Prophet thought, in her
simple white frock. She seemed to be quite at home and perfectly happy
with her silly friends, but, as soon as she saw him hovering anxiously
to the left of the guitars, she beckoned to him eagerly, and he hurried
"Oh, Mr. Vivian, I'm so glad you've come! Let me introduce you to my
great friend Eureka"--the lady in vermilion bowed absent-mindedly, and
rolled her huge brown eyes wearily at the Prophet--"and to Mr. Briskin
The little gentleman made a stage reverence and fluttered his small
"Pretty sight, pretty sight!" he said in a quick and impudent voice.
"All these little dears enjoying themselves so innocently. Mother
Bridgeman's chickens, I call them. But it's impossible to count them,
even after they're hatched. Cheese it!"
The final imperative was flung demurely at a mighty footman, who just
then tried to impound Mr. Moses's not quite finished brandy-and-soda.
"Sir?" said the mighty footman.
"Cheese it!" cried Mr. Moses, making a gesture of tragic repugnance in
the direction of the footman.
The mighty footman cheesed it with dignity, and afterwards, in the
servants' hall, spoke very bitterly of Israel.
The Prophet was extremely anxious to get a word alone with Miss
Minerva. Indeed, it was really important that he should warn her of Sir
Tiglath's approach, but he could find no opportunity of doing so, for
Mr. Moses, who was not afflicted with diffidence, rapidly continued, in
a slightly affected and tripping cockney voice,--
"Mother Bridgeman's a dear one! God bless her for a pretty soul! She'd
be sublime in musical comedy--the black satin society lady, you know,
who makes the aristocratic relief,--
" 'I'm a Dowager Duchess, and everyone knows
I'm a lady right down to the tip of my toes.'
"Very valuable among the minxes; worth her weight in half-crowns! I'd
give her an engagement any day, pretty bird! Ever seen her driving in a
cab? She takes off her gloves and spreads her hands over the apron to
get the air. A canary! Anything for me to-night, Eureka? A dove, a
mongoose--anything lucky? Give us a chance, mother!"
The lady in vermilion, who had a tuft of golden hair in the midst of
her otherwise raven locks, glanced mysteriously at Mr. Moses.
"See anything, mother?" he asked, with theatrical solemnity. "A tiny
chunk of luck for tricky little Briskin?"
"I do see something," said Eureka, in a dim and heavy voice. "It's just
close to you on that table by the brandy."
Mr. Moses started, and cast a glance of awe at the tumbler.
"My word," he cried--"my word, mother! What's the blessed little symbol
like? Not a pony fresh from Jerusalem for your believing boy!"
"You must wait a moment. It is not clear," replied Eureka, slowly and
dreamily, fixing her heavy eyes on the brandy-and-soda. "It's all
"Been imbibing, mother? Has the blessed little symbol been at it again?
"It's getting clearer. It stands in a band of fire."
"Shade of Shadrach! Apparition of Abednego! Draw it mild and bitter,
"Ah! now it steps out. It's got a hump."
"Got the hump, mother? My word! then it must be either a camel or an
undischarged bankrupt! Which is it, pretty soul?"
"It's a rhinoceros. It's moving to you."
"Yokohama, mother! Tell the pretty bird to keep back! What's it mean?"
"It's a sign of plenty."
"Plenty of what, mother? The ready or the nose-bag? Give us a chance!"
"Plenty of good fortune, because its head is towards you. If it had
presented its tail, it would mean black weather."
"Don't let it turn tail, for Saturday's sake, mother. Keep its head
straight while I finish the brandy!"
And so saying, little Mr. Moses, with elaborate furtiveness, caught up
the tumbler, poured its contents down his throat, and threw himself
back on the divan with the air of a man who had just escaped from peril
by the consummate personal exercise of unparalleled and sustained
During this scene Miss Minerva had preserved her air of pronounced
Scottish good sense, while listening attentively, and she now said to
"D'you see anything for Mr. Vivian, dear Eureka? Even the littlest
thing would be welcomed."
Eureka stared upon the Prophet, who began to feel very nervous.
"There's something round his head," she remarked, with her usual almost
The Prophet mechanically put up his hands, like a man anxious to
interfere with the assiduous attentions of a swarm of bees.
"Something right round his head."
"Is it a halo?" asked Miss Minerva.
"Is it a Lincoln & Bennet, mother?" cried Mr. Moses. "One of the shiny
ones--twenty-one bob, and twenty-five-and-six if you want a kid
"No; it's like some sort of bird."
" 'I heard the owl beneath my eaves complaining,' " chirped Mr. Moses,
taking two or three high notes in a delicate tenor voice. " 'I looked
forth--great Scot! How it was raining!' Is it an owl, mother? Ask it to
screech to Briskin."
"It is no owl," said Eureka to the Prophet. "It is a sparrow--your
"Is it upon the housetop, mother, having a spree all on its little
"No; it is hovering over the gentleman."
"What does that mean?" said the Prophet, anxiously.
But at this point Eureka suddenly seemed to lose interest in the
matter. "Oh, you're all right," she said carelessly. "I'm tired. I
should like a wafer."
"Mother's peckish. Mother, I see an ostrich by your left elbow. That's
a sign that you're so peckish you could swallow anything. Waiter!"
"This lady's so peckish she could eat anything. Bring her some tin-
tacks and a wafer. Stop a sec. Another brandy for Briskin. Your
calves'd do for the front row; 'pon my word, they would. Trot, boy,
"I must speak to you alone for one moment," whispered the Prophet to
Miss Minerva, under cover of the quips of Mr. Moses. "Sir Tiglath's
Miss Minerva started.
"Sir Tig--" she exclaimed and put her finger to her lips just in time
to stop the "lath" from coming out. "Mr. Moses, I'm going to the buffet
for a moment with Mr. Vivian. Eureka, darling, do eat something
substantial! All this second sight takes it out of you."
Eureka acquiesced with a heavy sigh, Mr. Moses cried, "Aunt Eureka's so
hungry that one would declare she could even eat oats if she found they
were there!" and Miss Minerva and the Prophet moved languidly towards
the buffet, endeavouring, by the indifference of their movements, to
cover the agitation in their hearts.
"Sir Tiglath coming here!" cried Miss Minerva under her breath, as soon
as they were out of earshot. "But he doesn't know Mrs. Bridgeman!"
"I know--but he's coming. And not only that, Mr. and Madame Sagittarius
are here already!"
Miss Minerva looked closely at the Prophet in silence for a moment.
Then she said,--
"I see--I see!"
"What?" cried the Prophet, in great anxiety, "not the sparrow on my
"No. But I see that you're taking to your double life in real earnest."
"Yes. Now, Mr. Vivian, that's all very well, and you know I'm the last
person to complain of anything of that sort, so long as it doesn't get
me into difficulties."
"Think of the difficulties you and everyone else have got me into,"
ejaculated the poor Prophet, for once in his life stepping, perhaps, a
hair's-breadth from the paths of good breeding.
"Well, I'm sure I've done nothing."
"Nothing!" said the Prophet, losing his head under the influence of the
guitars, which were now getting under way in a fantasia on "Carmen."
"Nothing! Why, you made me come here, you insisted on my introducing
Mr. Sagittarius to Mrs. Bridgeman, you told Sir Tiglath Mrs. Bridgeman
and I were old friends and had made investigations together, assisted
by Mr. Sagittarius, you--"
"Oh, well, that's nothing. But Sir Tiglath mustn't see me here as Miss
Minerva. Has he arrived yet?"
"I don't think so. He's got the cab we had yesterday and the horse."
"The one that tumbles down so cleverly when it's not too tired?
Capital! Run to the cloak-room, meet Sir Tiglath there, and persuade
him to go home."
But here the Prophet struck.
"I regret I can't," he said, almost firmly.
"But you must."
"I regret sincerely that I am unable."
"Why? Mr. Vivian, when a lady asks you!"
"I am grieved," said the Prophet, with a species of intoxicated
obstinacy--the guitars seemed to be playing inside his brain and the
flute piping in the small of his back,--"to decline, but I cannot
contend physically with Sir Tiglath, a man whom I reverence, in the
cloak-room of a total stranger."
"I don't ask you to contend physically."
"Nothing but personal violence would keep Sir Tiglath from coming in."
"Really! Then what's to be done?"
She pursed up her sensible lips and drew down her sensible eyebrows.
"I know!" she cried, after a moment's thought. "I'll masquerade
to-night as myself."
"Yes. All these dear silly people here think that I've got an astral
"A sort of floating business--a business that you can set floating."
"No, no. A replica of yourself. The great Towle--"
"He's here to-night."
"I knew he was coming. Well, the great Towle detached this astral body
once at a sťance and, for a joke--a silly joke, you know--"
"I christened it by my real name, Lady Enid Thistle, and said Lady Enid
was an ancestress of mine."
"Why did you?"
"Because it was so idiotic."
"Well, I've only now to spread a report among these dear creatures that
I'm astral to-night, and get Towle to back me up, and I can easily be
Lady Enid for an hour or two. In this crowd Sir Tiglath need never find
out that I'm generally known in these circles as Miss Partridge."
"Do you really think--"
"Yes, I do. But I must find Towle at once."
So saying she hastened away from the buffet, followed by the trotting
Prophet. As she passed Eureka and Mr. Moses, she said,--
"Eureka, darling, do I look odd? I suddenly began to feel astral just
as I was going to eat a sandwich. I can't help thinking that Lady Enid
--you know, my astral ancestress, who's always with me--is peculiarly
powerful to-night. D'you notice anything?"
"Watch out for it, mother!" cried Mr. Moses. "See if it's got the
Eureka fixed her heavy eyes on Miss Minerva and swayed her thin body to
and fro in as panther-like a manner as she could manage.
"Mother's after it," continued Mr. Moses, twitching his left ear with
his thumb in a Hebraic manner and shooting his shining cuffs; "mother's
on the trail. Doves for a bishop and the little mangel-wurzel for the
labouring man. Clever mother! She'll take care it's suitable. Is it a
haggis, mother, hovering over the lady with outspread wings?"
Eureka closed her eyes and rocked herself more violently.
"I see you," she said in a deep voice. "You are astral. You are Lady
Enid emerged for an hour from our dear Minerva."
"I thought so," cried Lady Enid, with decision. "I thought so, because
when someone called me Miss Minerva just now I felt angry, and didn't
seem to know what they meant. Tell them, dear Eureka,--tell all my
friends of your discovery."
And she hastened on with the Prophet in search of the great Towle.
"I'll get him to back Eureka up, and then it will be quite safe," she
said. "Ah! there he is with Harriet Browne, the demonstrator from the
Indeed, at this moment a small crowd was visible in one of the further
drawing-rooms, moving obsequiously along in reverent attendance upon
the great Towle, Mrs. Bridgeman and a thickset, red-faced lady, without
a waist and plainly clad in untrimmed linsey-wolsey, who was speaking
authoritatively to a hysterical-looking young girl, upon whose narrow
shoulder she rested a heavy, fat-fingered hand as she walked.
"Harriet's evidently going to demonstrate," added Lady Enid. "That's
lucky, because then I can get a quiet word with Towle."
"Demonstrate?" said the Prophet.
"Yes. She's the great Christian Scientist and has the healing power.
She demonstrated over Agatha Marshall's left ear. You know. The case
got into the papers. Ah, Harriet, darling!"
"My blessing! My Minerva!" said Harriet in a thick and guttural voice.
"Lady Enid, Harriet love, to-night. Eureka says I'm astral. Oh, Mr.
Towle, what an honour to meet you--what an honour for us all!"
The great Towle ducked and scraped in cabman fashion.
"Oh, will you materialise for us to-night?"
"Yes, yes," cried Mrs. Bridgeman, trembling with excitement. "He's
promised to after supper. He says he feels less material then--more /en
rapport/ with the dear spirits."
"How delightful! Mr. Towle, tell me, do you agree with Eureka? I await
your fiat. Am I astral?"
"Ay, miss, as like as not," said the great man, twisting his lips as if
they held a straw between them. "Astral, that's it. That's it to a T."
"Then I'm Lady Enid Thistle, my ancestress, who's always with me?"
"Ay, ay! Every bit of her. Her ladyship to a T."
The company was much impressed, and whispers of "It's Lady Enid; Eureka
and Mr. Towle say it's her ladyship in the astral plane!" flew like
wildfire through the rooms.
At this point Harriet Browne, who was sufficiently Christian and
scientific to like to have all the attention of the company centred
upon her, cleared her throat loudly and exclaimed,--
"If I am to heal this poor sufferer, I must be provided with an
"An armchair for Mrs. Browne!"
"Fetch a chair for Harriet!"
"Mrs. Harriet can't demonstrate without a chair!"
"What is she going to do?" whispered the Prophet to Lady Enid, feeling
thoroughly ashamed of his ignorance.
"Yes, but what's that?"
"Put her hands over that girl and think about her."
"Is that all?"
"Does she do it out of kindness?"
"Of course. But she's paid something, not because she wants to be paid,
but because it's the rule."
An armchair was now wheeled forward, and Mrs. Harriet ensconced herself
in it comfortably.
"I'm very tired to-night," she remarked in her thick voice. "I've had a
"Poor darling!" cried Mrs. Bridgeman. "Fetch a glass of champagne for
Mrs. Harriet somebody. Oh, would you, Mr. Brummich?"
Mr. Brummich, a gentleman with a remarkably foolish, ascetic face and a
feebly-wandering sandy beard, was just about to hasten religiously
towards the Moorish nook when the great Towle happened, by accident, to
groan. Mrs. Bridgeman, started and smiled.
"Oh, and a glass of champagne for Mr. Towle, too, dear Mr. Brummich!"
"Certainly, Mrs. Bridgeman!" said dear Mr. Brummich, hurrying off with
the demeanour of the head of an Embassy entrusted with some important
mission to a foreign Court.
"Were you at work this afternoon, Harriet, beloved?" inquired Mrs.
Bridgeman of Mrs. Browne, who was leaning back in the armchair with her
eyes closed and in an attitude of severe prostration.
"Which was it, lovebird? Hysteric Henry?"
"No, he's cured."
Cries of joy resounded from those gathered about the chair.
"Hysteric Henry's cured!"
"The poor man with the ball in his throat's been saved!"
"How wonderful you are, Harriet, sweet!" cried Mrs. Bridgeman. "But,
then which was it?"
"The madwoman at Brussels. I've been thinking about her for two hours
this afternoon, with only a cup of tea between."
"Poor darling! No wonder you're done up! Ought you to demonstrate? Ah!
here's the champagne!"
"I take it merely as medicine," said Mrs. Harriet.
At this moment, Mr. Brummich, flushed with assiduity, burst into the
circle with a goblet of beaded wine in either hand. There was a moment
of solemn silence while Mrs. Harriet and the great Towle condescended
to the Pommery. It was broken only by a loud gulp from the hysterical-
looking girl who was, it seemed, nervously affected by an imitative
spasm, and who suddenly began to swallow nothing with extreme
persistence and violence.
"Look at that poor misguided soul!" ejaculated Mrs. Harriet, with her
lips to the Pommery. "She fancies she's drinking!"
The poor, misguided soul, yielded again to her distraught imagination,
amid the pitiful ejaculations of the entire company, with the exception
of one mundane, young man who, suddenly assailed by the wild fancy that
he wasn't drinking, crept furtively to the Moorish rook, and was no
"Give her a cushion!" continued Mrs. Harriet, authoritatively.
"Mr. Brummich!" said Mrs. Bridgeman.
Mr. Brummich ran, and returned with a cushion.
"Sit down, poor thing! Sit at my feet!" said Mrs. Harriet, giving the
hysterical-looking girl a healing push.
The girl subsided in a piteous heap, and Mrs. Harriet, who had by this
time taken all her medicine, leant over her and inquired,--
"Where d'you feel it?"
The girl put her hands to her head.
"Here," she said feebly. "It's like fire running over me and drums
"Fire and drums!" announced Mrs. Harriet to the staring assembly.
"That's what she's got, poor soul!"
Ejaculations of sympathy and horror made themselves heard.
"Drums! How shocking!" cried Mrs. Bridgeman. "Can you cure even drums,
Harriet, my own?"
"Give me ten minutes, Catherine! I ask but that!"
And, so saying, Mrs. Harriet planted her fat hands upon the head of the
young patient, closed her eyes and began to breathe very hard.
Silence now fell upon the people, who said not a word, but who could
not prevent themselves from rustling as they pressed about this
exhibition of a latter-day apostle. The Prophet and Lady Enid were
close to the armchair, and the Prophet, who had never before been
present at any such ceremony--it was accompanied by the twenty guitars,
now tearing out the serenade, "From the bull-ring I come to thee!"--was
so interested that he completely forgot Mr. and Madame Sagittarius, and
lost for the moment all memory of Sir Tiglath. The silly life engrossed
him. He had no eyes for anyone but Mrs. Harriet, who, as she leaned
forward in the chair with closed eyes, looked like a determined middle-
aged man about to offer up the thin girl on the footstool as a burnt
"You're better now, poor thing," said Mrs. Harriet, after five minutes
has elapsed. "You're feeling much better?"
"Oh, no, I'm not!" said the girl, shaking her head under the hands of
the demonstrator. "The fire's blazing and the drums are beating like
Mrs. Harriet's hue deepened, and there was a faint murmur of vague
reproof from the company.
"H'sh!" said the demonstrator, closing her hands upon the patient's
head with some acrimony. "H'sh!"
And she began to breathe hard once more. Another five minutes elapsed,
and then Mrs. Harriet exclaimed with decision,--