Part 6 out of 6
"There! It's gone now, all gone! I've sent it right away. The fire's
out and the drums have stopped beating!"
Exclamations of wonder and joy rose up from the spectators. They were,
however, a trifle premature, for the hysterical girl--who was, it
seemed, a person of considerable determination, despite her feeble
appearance--replied from the footstool,--
"No, it isn't. No they haven't!"
Mrs. Harriet developed a purple shade.
"Nonsense!" she said. "You're cured, love, entirely cured!"
"I'm not," said the girl, beginning to cry. "I feel much worse since
you pressed my head."
There was a burst of remonstrance from the crowd, and Mrs. Harriet,
speaking with the air of an angry martyr, remarked,--
"It's just like the drinking--she fancies she isn't cured when she is,
just the same as she fancied she was drinking when she wasn't."
This unanswerable logic naturally carried conviction to everyone
present, and the hysterical girl was warmly advised to make due
acknowledgement of the benefits received by her at the healing hands of
Mrs. Harriet, while the latter was covered with compliments and
assiduously conducted towards the buffet, escorted by the great Towle.
"Isn't she wonderful?" said Mrs. Bridgeman, turning ecstatically to the
person nearest to her, who happened to be the saturnine little
clergyman. "Isn't she marvellous, Mr.--er--Mr. Segerteribus?"
"Biggle!" cried the little clergyman.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Biggle!" vociferated the little clergyman. "Biggle!"
"Certainly. Did you ever see anything like that cure? Ah! you ought to
preach about dear Harriet, Mr. Segerteribus, you really--"
"Biggle!" reiterated the little clergyman, excitedly. "Biggle! Biggle!"
"What does he--" began Mrs. Bridgeman, turning helplessly towards the
"It's his name, I fancy," whispered the Prophet.
Mrs. Bridgeman started and smiled.
"Mr. Biggle," she said.
The little clergyman moved on towards the guitars with all the air of a
future colonial bishop. Mrs. Bridgeman, who seemed to be somewhat
confused, and whose manner grew increasingly vague as the evening wore
on, now said to those nearest to her,--
"There are fifteen tables set out--yes, set out,--in the green
"Bedad!" remarked an Irish colonel, "then it's meself'll enjoy a good
"For table-turning," added Mrs. Bridgeman. "Materialisation in the same
room after supper. Mr. Towle--yes--will enter the cabinet at about
eleven. Where's Madame Charlotte?"
"Looking into the crystal for Lady Ferrier," said someone.
"Oh, and the professor?"
"He's reading Archdeacon Andrew's nose, by the cloak-room.
Mrs. Bridgeman sighed.
"It seems to be going off quite pleasantly," she said vaguely to the
Prophet. "I think--perhaps--might I have a cup of tea?"
The Prophet offered his arm. Mrs. Bridgeman took it. They walked
forward, and almost instantly came upon Sir Tiglath Butt, who, with a
face even redder than usual, was rolling away from the hall of the
guitars, holding one enormous hand to his ear and snorting indignantly
at the various clairvoyants, card-readers, spiritualists and palmists
whom he encountered at every step he took. The Prophet turned pale, and
Lady Enid, who was just behind him, put on her most sensible expression
and moved quickly forward.
"Ah, Sir Tiglath!" she said. "How delightful of you to come! Catherine,
dear, let me introduce Sir Tiglath Butt to you. Sir Tiglath Butt--Mrs.
Mrs. Bridgeman behaved as usual.
"So glad!" she said. "So enchanted! Just a few interesting people. So
good of you to come. Table-turning is--"
At this moment Lady Enid nipped her friend's arm, and Sir Tiglath
exclaimed, looking from Mrs. Bridgeman to the Prophet,--
"What, madam? So you're the brain and eye, eh? Is that it?"
The guitars engaged in "The Gipsies of Granada are wild as mountain
birds," and Mrs. Bridgeman looked engagingly distraught, and replied,--
"Ah, yes, indeed! The brain and I, Sir Tiglath; so good of you to say
"You prompted his interest in the holy stars?" continued Sir Tiglath,
speaking very loud, and still stopping one ear with his hand. "You
drove him to the telescope; you told him to clear the matter up, did
"What matter?" said Mrs. Bridgeman, trying not to look as stupid as she
felt, but only with moderate success.
"Say the oxygen, darling," whispered Lady Enid in one of her ears.
"Say the oxygen!" hissed the Prophet into the other.
"The occiput?" said Mrs. Bridgeman, hearing imperfectly. "Oh, yes, Sir
Tiglath, I told him,--I told Mr. Biggle--to make quite sure--yes, as to
the occiput matter."
The saturnine little clergyman, who was again in motion near by, caught
his name and stopped, as Sir Tiglath, roaring against "The Gipsies of
"And your original adviser was Mr. Sagittarius, was he?"
On hearing a word she understood, Mrs. Bridgeman brightened up, and,
perceiving the little clergyman, she answered,--
"Mr. Sagittarius--ah, yes! Sir Tiglath is speaking of you, Mr.
The little clergyman turned almost black in the face.
"Biggle!" he exclaimed, in a voice of thunder. "Biggle! Biggle!"
And, without further parley, he rushed to the cloak-room, seized
someone else's hat and coat, and fared forth into the night. Lady Enid,
who had meant to coach Mrs. Bridgeman very carefully for the meeting
with Sir Tiglath, but whose plans were completely upset by the
astronomer's premature advent, now endeavoured to interpose.
"By the way," she said, in a very calm voice, where is dear Mr.
Sagittarius? I haven't seen him yet."
"I'm afraid he's angry with me," said Mrs. Bridgeman, alluding to the
little clergyman. "I really can't think why."
"Sir Tiglath," said Lady Enid, boldly taking the astronomer's arm.
"Come with me. I want you to find Mr. Sagittarius for me. Yes, they do
make rather a noise!"
This was in allusion to the guitars, for the astronomer had now placed
both hands over his ears in the vain endeavour to exclude "The
Gipsies." Deafness, perhaps, rendered him yielding. In any case, he
permitted Lady Enid to detach him from Mrs. Bridgeman and to lead him
through the rooms in search of Mr. Sagittarius.
"Perhaps he's here," said Lady Enid, entering a darkened chamber. "Oh,
And she hastily moved away, perceiving a large number of devoted
adherents of table-tapping busily engaged, with outspread fingers and
solemn faces, at their intellectual pursuit. Avoiding the archdeacon,
who was now having his nose read by the professor, she conducted the
astronomer, rendered strangely meek by the guitars, into a drawing-room
near the hall, in which only four people remained--Verano and Mrs.
Eliza Doubleway, who were conferring in one corner, and Mr. and Madame
Sagittarius, who were apparently having rather more than a few words
together in another.
"Ah! there's Mr. Sagittarius!" said Lady Enid.
"Minnie!" cried Mrs. Eliza, beckoning to Lady Enid. "Minnie, ducky!"
Lady Enid pretended not to hear and tried to hasten with the astronomer
towards the Sagittariuses. But Mrs. Eliza was not to be put off.
"Minnie, my pet!" she piped. "Come here, Minnie!"
Lady Enid was obliged to pause.
"What is it, dear Eliza?" she asked, at the same time making a face at
the soothsayer to indicate caution.
Mrs. Eliza and Verano rose and approached Lady Enid and the astronomer.
"I was laying the cards last night at Jane Seaman's--you know, dear,
the Angel Gabriel who lives on the Hackney Downs--and whatever do you
think? The hace of spades came up three times in conjugation with the
Knave of 'earts!"
"Terrific! Very great!" buzzed Verano, with a strong South American
Irish brogue--a real broth of a brogue.
"Wonderful!" said Lady Enid, hastily, endeavouring to pass on.
"Wait a minute, darling. Well, I says to Jane--I was laying the cards
for her 'usband, dear--I says to Jane, I says, without doubt Hisaac is
about to pass over, I says, seeing the red boy's come up in conjugation
with the hace. 'Lord! Mrs. Eliza! Lay them out again,' she says, 'for,'
she says, 'if Hike is going to pass over,' she says--"
"Extraordinary, dear Mrs. Eliza! You're a genius!" cried Lady Enid in
"Tremendous! Very big!" buzzed Verano, staring at Sir Tiglath. "You got
a very spatulate hand there, sir! Allow me!"
And to Lady Enid's horror he seized the astronomer's hand with both his
"How dare you tamper with the old astronomer, sir?" roared Sir Tiglath.
"Am I in a madhouse? Who are all these crazy Janes! Drop my hand, sir!"
Verano obeyed rather hastily, and Lady Enid convoyed the spluttering
astronomer towards the corner which contained Mr. and Madame
Now these worthies were in a mental condition of a most complicated
kind. The reception at Zoological House had upset in an hour the
theories and beliefs of a lifetime. Hitherto Madame had always been
filled with shame at the thought that she was not the wife of an
architect but of a prophet, and Mr. Sagittarius had endeavoured to
assume the mein and costume of an outside broker, and had dreamed
dreams of retiring eventually from a hated and despised profession. But
now they found themselves in a magnificent mansion in which the second-
rate members of their own tribe were worshipped and adored, smothered
with attentions, plied with Pommery and looked upon as gods, while
they, in their incognito, were neglected, and paid no more heed to than
if they had been, in reality, mere architects and outside brokers,
totally unconnected with that mysterious occult world which is the
fashion of the moment.
This position of affairs had, not unnaturally, thrown then into a
condition of the gravest excitement. Madame, more especially, had
reached boiling point. Feeling herself, for the first time, an Imperial
creature in exile, who had only to declare herself to receive instant
homage and to be overwhelmed with the most flattering attentions, her
lust of glory developed with alarming rapidity, and she urged her
husband to cast the traditions that had hitherto guided him to the
winds and to declare forthwith his identity with Malkiel the Second,
the business-like and as it were official head of the whole prophetic
Mr. Sagittarius, for his part, was also fired with the longing for
instant glory, but he was by nature an extremely timid--or shall we say
rather, an extremely prudent--man. He remembered the repeated
injunctions of his great forebear who had lived and died in the Susan
Road beside the gasworks. More, he remembered Sir Tiglath Butt. He was
torn between ambition and terror.
"Declare yourself, Jupiter!" cried Madame. "Declare yourself this
"My love!" replied Mr. Sagittarius. "My angel, we must reflect."
"I have reflected," retorted Madame.
"There are difficulties, my dear, many difficulties in the way."
"And what if there are? /Per augustum ad augustibus/. Every fool knows
"My dear, you are a little hard upon me."
"And what have you been upon me, I should like to know? What about
those goings-on with the woman Bridgeman? What about your
investigations with that hussy Minerva? You've been her owl, that's
what you've been!"
She began to show grave symptoms of hysteria. Mr. Sagittarius patted
her hands in great anxiety.
"My love, I have told you, I have sworn--"
"And what man doesn't swear whenever he gets the chance?" cried Madame.
"Why did I ever marry? /Heu miserum me/."
"My angel, be calm. I assure you--"
"Very well then, declare yourself, Jupiter, this minute, or I'll
declare yourself for you!"
"But, my love, think of Sir Tiglath! I dare not declare myself. He will
be here at any moment, and he has sworn to kill me, if I'm not an
"Rubbish! That's only what Mr. Vivian says."
"Besides, you can put on your /toga virilibus/ and knock him down. It's
no use talking to me, Jupiter."
"I know it isn't, my darling, I know. But--"
"If you don't declare yourself I shall declare yourself for you this
very moment. I will not endure to be left in the corner while all these
nobodies are being truckled to. Bernard Wilkins, indeed! A prophet we
wouldn't so much as recognise to be a prophet, and that there Mrs.
Eliza--people from the Wick going down to supper in front of us, and a
man from the Butts put before you! It's right down disgusting, and I
won't have it."
It was exactly at this point in the matrimonial conference that Lady
Enid and Sir Tiglath Butt, shaking themselves free of Mrs. Eliza and
Verano, bore down upon Mr. and Madame Sagittarius, who were so busily
engaged in disputation that they did not perceive that anyone was near
until Lady Enid touched Mr. Sagittarius upon the arm.
That gentleman started violently and, on perceiving Sir Tiglath Butt,
who was positively sputtering with wrath at the palmistic attentions
paid to him by Verano, shrank against his wife, who pushed him
vigorously from her, and, getting upon her feet, announced in a loud
"Very well, Jupiter, since you won't declare yourself I shall go at
once to the woman Bridgeman and declare yourself for you!"
And with this remark she scowled at Lady Enid and walked majestically
away, tossing her head vehemently at Mrs. Eliza and Verano as she swept
into the adjoining drawing-room.
"Dear me," said Lady Enid, with great curiosity. "Dear me, Mr.
Sagittarius, is your wife going to make a declaration? This is most
And, moved by her besetting idiosyncrasy, she added to the astronomer,
"Excuse me, Sir Tiglath, "I'll be back in one moment!" and glided
swiftly away in the wake of Madame, leaving Mr. Sagittarius and his
deadliest foe /tete-a-tete/.
"Is this a madhouse, sir?" cried Sir Tiglath, on being thus abandoned.
"The old astronomer demands to know at once if one is, or is not, in a
"I don't know, sir, indeed," replied Mr. Sagittarius. "I should not
like to express an opinion on the point. If you will excu--"
"Sir, the old astronomer will not excuse you," roared Sir Tiglath,
forcibly preventing Mr. Sagittarius, who was pale as ashes, from
escaping into the farther room. "He will not be run away from by
everybody in this manner."
"I beg pardon, sir, I had no intention of running away," said Mr.
Sagittarius, making one last despairing effort to assume his /toga
"Then why did you do it, sir? Tell the old astronomer that!" cried Sir
Tiglath, seizing him by the arm. "And tell him, moreover, what you and
the old female Bridgeman have been about together?"
"Nothing, sir; I swear that Mrs. Bridgeman and myself have never--"
"Never made investigations into the possibility of there being oxygen
in many of the holy stars? Do you affirm that, sir?"
"I do!" cried Mr. Sagittarius. "I am an outside broker."
"Do you affirm that you are no astronomer, sir? Do you declare that you
are not a man of science?"
"I do! I do!"
"Not an astronomer of remarkable attainments, but very modest and
retiring withal? Oh-h-h!"
"Modest and retiring, sir?" cried Mr. Sagittarius, suddenly illumined
by a ray of hope. "That's just it! I am a modest and retiring outside
And he violently endeavoured to prove the truth of the words by
escaping forthwith into obscurity.
"There never was a modest and retiring outside broker!" bellowed Sir
Tiglath. "There never was, and there never will be. The old--"
"What's that?" interrupted Mr. Sagittarius. "Whatever's that?"
For at this moment an extraordinary hum of voices made itself audible
above the fifty guitars, and a noise of many feet trampling eagerly
upon Mrs. Bridgeman's parquet grew louder and louder in the brilliant
rooms. Attracted by the uproar, Sir Tiglath paused for a moment, still
keeping his hand upon the lapel of Mr. Ferdinand's coat, however. The
noise increased. It was evident that a multitude of people was rapidly
approaching. Words uttered by the moving guests, exclamations, and
ejaculations of excitement now detached themselves from the general
"The Prophet from the Mouse!"
"The great Malkiel here!"
"The founder of the almanac!"
"The greatest Prophet of the age!"
"Malkiel the Second from the Mouse!"
"Where is Malkiel?"
"We must find Malkiel!"
"We must see Malkiel!"
"Is it really Malkiel?"
"Oh, is it /the/ Malkiel? Where--where is Malkiel?"
Such cries as these broke upon the ears of the astronomer and Mr.
Sir Tiglath grew purple.
"Malkiel who has insulted the holy stars here!" he roared, letting go
of Mr. Sagittarius. "Where--where is he?"
"In there, sir, I verily believe!" cried Mr. Sagittarius, pointing in
the direction of the crowd with a hand that shook like all the leaves
"Let me find him!" shouted the astronomer. "Let me only discover him!
I'll break every bone in his accursed body."
And with this rather bald statement he rolled out of the room in one
direction, while Mr. Sagittarius, without more ado, cast aside his
/toga virilibus/ and darted out of it into another, just as Madame
escorted by Mrs. Bridgeman, Lady Enid, the great Towle and the whole of
the company assembled at Zoological House, appeared majestically--and
proceeding as an Empress--in the aperture of the main doorway.
MRS. MERILLIA HEATS THE POKER
When Mr. Sagittarius, running at his fullest speed, emerged from
Zoological House, wearing the hat and coat that the saturnine little
clergyman had left behind him, the night was damp and gusty. As he
hastened down the drive, and the sound of twenty guitars, playing "Oh
would I were a Spaniard among you lemon groves!" died away in the
lighted mansion behind him, he heard the roaring of the beasts in the
gardens close by. In the wet darkness it sounded peculiarly terrific.
He shuddered, and, holding up Mr. Ferdinand's trousers with both hands,
hurried onward through the mire, whither he knew not. His only thought
was that all was now discovered and that his life was in danger. A
woman's vanity had wrecked his future. He must hide somewhere for the
night, and get away in the morning, perhaps on board some tramp steamer
bound for Buenos Ayres, or on a junk weighing anchor for Hayti or Java,
or some other distant place. Vague memories of books he had read when a
boy came back to him as he ran through the unkempt wilds of the
Regent's Park. He saw himself a stowaway hidden in a hold, alone with
rats and ships' biscuits. He saw himself working his way out before the
mast, sent aloft in hurricanes on pitch-black nights, or turning the
wheel the wrong way round and bringing the ship to wreck upon iron-
bound coasts swarming with sharks and savages. The lions roared again,
and the black panthers snarled behind their prison bars. He thought of
the peaceful waters of the river Mouse, of the library of Madame, of
the happy little circle of architects and their wives, of all that he
What wonder if he dropped a tear into the muddy road? What wonder if a
sob rent the bosom of Mr. Ferdinand's now disordered shirt front? On
and on Mr. Sagittarius--or Malkiel the Second, as he may from
henceforth be called--went blindly, on and on till the Park was left
behind, till crescents gave way to squares, and squares to streets. He
passed an occasional policeman and slunk away from the penetrating
bull's-eye. He heard now and then the far-off rattle of a cab, the
shrill cry of a whistle, the howl of a butler summoning a vehicle, the
coo of a cook bidding good-night to the young tradesman whom she loved
before the area gate. And all these familiar London sounds struck
strangely on his ear. When would he hear them again? Perhaps never. He
stumbled on blinded with emotion.
Dogs, we know are guided by a strange instinct to find their homes even
by unfamiliar paths. Pigeons will fly across wide spaces and drop down
to the wicker cage that awaits them. And it would appear that prophets
are not without a certain faculty that may be called topographical. For
how else can the following fact be explained? Malkiel the Second, after
apparently endless wandering, found himself totally unable to proceed
further. His legs gave way beneath him. His breath failed. His brain
swam. He reeled, stretched forth his hands and clutched at the nearest
support. This chanced to be a railing, wet, slimy, cold. He grasped it,
leaned against it, and for a few moments remained where he was in a
sort of trance. Then, gradually, full consciousness returned. He
glanced up and beheld the black garden of a square. Somehow it looked
familiar. He seemed to know those shadowy, leafless trees, the roadway
between him and them, even the pavement upon which his boots--his own
boots--were set. His lack-lustre eyes travelled to the houses that
bordered the square, then to the house against whose area railings he
was leaning, and he started with amazement. For he was in Berkeley
Square, leaning against the railing of number one thousand. He gazed up
at the windows. One or two faint lights twinkled. Then perhaps the
household had not yet retired for the night. An idea seized him. He
must rest. He must snatch a brief interval of repose, before starting
for the docks at dawn to find a ship in whose hold he could seek
seclusion, till the great seas roared round her, and he could declare
himself to the captain and crew without fear of being put ashore. Why
not rest here in number one thousand? True, the Prophet would presently
be returning possibly with Madame, but he would bribe Mr. Ferdinand not
to mention his whereabouts. It was no doubt a very rash proceeding, but
he was utterly exhausted, he felt that he could go no further, he found
himself before an almost friendly door. What wonder then if he tottered
up the steps and tapped feebly upon it? There was no answer. He tapped
again more loudly. This time his summons was heard. Steps approached.
There was a moment's pause. Then the door opened, and Gustavus appeared
looking rather sleepy, but still decidedly intellectual. Malkiel the
Second pulled himself together and faced the footman boldly.
"You know me?" he said.
Gustavus examined him closely.
"Yes, sir," he replied at length. "By the clothes. I should know Mr.
Ferdinand's trouserings among a thousand."
Malkiel the Second realised that emotion probably rendered his face
unrecognisable. But at least his legs spoke for him. That was
something, and he continued, with an attempt at ease and boldness,--
"Right! I have returned to change them."
"Yes, sir. Mr. Ferdinand has retired to bed, sir."
"Don't wake him. I can just leave them for him."
"Very well, sir."
And Gustavus admitted Malkiel to the dimly-lit hall and shut the door
"What is your name, young man?" said Malkiel, whispering.
"Ah! Gustavus, would you like to earn a hundred pounds to-night?"
"I don't say as how I'd rather not, sir," he replied. "I don't go so
far as to say that."
"Right! Do as I tell you and you will earn a hundred pounds."
The footman's eyes began to glow, almost like a cat's in the twilight.
"Why, I could buy the library near twelve times over," he murmured.
"The library?" said Malkiel, whose brain had suddenly become strangely
"Ah, sir--Dr. Carter's," returned Gustavus, beginning to tremble.
"Dr. Carter's!" whispered Malkiel, excitedly. "I should think so. Eight
guineas and a half, and you pay in instalments."
"I'll do it, sir," hissed Gustavus, utterly carried away by the
prospect. "What d'you want me to do?"
"First to let me change my clothes quickly, then to hide me somewhere
so as I can get a sleep till dawn. Call me directly it begins to get
light and I shall be off to the docks."
"The docks, sir?"
"Ay. I start for--for Java to-morrow."
"Java, sir--what, where the sparrows and the jelly--"
"Ay, ay," returned Malkiel, secretly rehearsing his new nautical role.
"I'll do it sir. And the hundred?"
"I'll write you an order on my banker's. You can trust me. Now let me
change my clothes. Quick!"
"They're in Mr. Vivian's bedroom, ain't they?"
"You must go very soft, sir, because of the old lady. She's abed, but
she might be wakeful, specially to-night. She's been awful upset. My
word, she has!"
"I'll go as soft as a mouse," whispered Malkiel. "Show me the way."
Gustavus advanced on tiptoe towards the staircase, followed by Malkiel,
who held Mr. Ferdinand's clothes together lest they should rustle, and
proceeded with the most infinite precaution. In this manner they gained
the second floor and neared the bedroom door of Mrs. Merillia. Here
Gustavus turned round, pointed to the door, and put his finger to his
pouting lips, at the same time rounding his hazel eyes and shaking his
powdered head in a most warning manner. Malkiel nodded, held Mr.
Ferdinand's clothes tighter, and stole on, as he thought, without
making a sound. What was his horror, then, just as he was passing Mrs.
Merillia's door, to hear a voice cry,--
Gustavus and Malkiel stopped dead, as if they had both been shot. They
now perceived that the door was partially open, and that a faint light
shone within the room.
"Hennessey!" cried the voice of Mrs. Merillia again. "Come in here. I
must speak to you."
Gustavus darted on into the darkness of the Prophet's room, but Malkiel
the Second was so alarmed that he stayed where he was, finding himself
totally incapable of movement.
"Hennessey!" repeated the voice.
Then there was a faint rustling, the door was opened more widely, and
Mrs. Merillia appeared in the aperture, clad in a most charming night
bonnet, and robed in a dressing-gown of white watered silk.
"The ratcatcher!" she cried. "The ratcatcher!"
Malkiel turned and darted down the stairs, while Mrs. Merillia, in the
extreme of terror, shut her door, locked it as many times as she could,
and then hastened trembling to the bell which communicated with the
faithful Mrs. Fancy, rang it, and dropped half fainting into a chair.
Mrs. Fancy woke from her second dream just as Malkiel, closely followed
by the now shattered Gustavus, reached the hall.
"Hide me! Hide me!" whispered Malkiel. "In here!"
And he darted into the servants' quarters, leaving Gustavus on the mat.
Mrs. Merillia's other bell now pealed shrilly downstairs. Gustavus
paused and pulled himself together. He was by nature a fairly intrepid
youth, and moreover, he had recently made a close study of Carlyle's
/Heroes and Hero-worship/, which greatly impressed him. He therefore
resolved in this moment of peril to acquit himself in similar
circumstances, and he remounted the stairs and reached Mrs. Merillia's
door just as Mrs. Fancy, wrapped in a woollen shawl and wearing a pair
of knitted night-socks, descended to the landing, candle in hand.
"Oh, Mr. Gustavus!" said Mrs. Fancy. "Is it the robbers again? Is it
murder, Mr. Gustavus? Is it fire?"
"I don't know, Mrs. Fancy, I'll ask the mistress."
He tapped upon the door.
"You can't come in!" cried poor Mrs. Merillia, who was losing her head
perhaps for the first time in her life. "You can't come in, and if you
do I shall give you in charge to the police."
And she rang both her bells again.
"Ma'am!" said Gustavus, knocking once more. "Ma'am!"
"It's no use your knocking," returned Mrs. Merillia. "The door is
bolted. Go away, go away!"
And again she rang her two bells.
"Madam!" piped Mrs. Fancy. "Madam! It's me!"
"I know," said Mrs. Merillia. "I know it's you! I saw you! Leave the
house unless you wish to be at once put in prison.
Her bells pealed. Mrs. Fancy began to sob.
"Me to leave the house!" she wailed. "Me to go to prison!"
"Bear up, Mrs. Fancy, she doesn't know who it is!" said Gustavus.
"Ma'am! Ma'am! Missis! Missis!"
"I am ringing," said Mrs. Merillia, in a muffled manner through the
door. "I am summoning assistance! You will be captured if you don't go
And again she pealed her bells. This time, as she did so, the tingling
of a third bell became audible in the silent house.
"Lord!" cried Gustavus, "if there isn't the hall door. It must be
master. He left his key to-night. Here's a nice go!"
The three bells raised their piercing chorus. Mrs. Fancy sobbed, and
Gustavus, after a terrible moment of hesitation, bounded down the hall.
His instinct had not played him false. The person who had rung the bell
was indeed the Prophet, who had basely slunk away from Zoological
House, leaving Madame surrounded by her new and adoring friends.
"Thank you, Gustavus," he said, entering. "Take my coat, please. What's
For Mrs. Merillia's bells struck shrilly upon his astonished ears.
"I think it's Mrs. Merillia, sir. She keeps on ringing."
"Mrs. Merillia. At this hour! Heavens! Is she ill?"
"I don't know, sir. She keeps ringing; but when I answer it she says,
'Go away!' she says. 'Go--' she says, sir."
"How very strange!"
And the Prophet bounded upstairs and arrived at his grandmother's door
just in time to hear her cry out, in reply to poor Mrs. Fancy's
"If you try to break in you will be put in prison at once. I hear
assistance coming. I hear the police. Go away, you wicked, wicked man!"
"Grannie!" cried the Prophet through the keyhole. "Grannie, let me in!
Grannie! Grannie! Don't ring! Grannie! Grannie!"
But Mrs. Merillia was now completely out of herself, and her only
response to her grandson's appeal was to place her trembling fingers
upon the two bells, and to reply, through their uproar,--
"It is useless for you to say that. I know who you are. I saw you. I
shall go on ringing as long as I can stand. I shall die ringing, but I
shall never let you in. Go away! Go away!"
"What does she mean?" cried the Prophet, turning to Gustavus.
"I don't know indeed, sir," replied the footman, thinking of Mr.
Carter's library. "I couldn't say indeed, sir."
"Oh, my poor missis!" wailed Mrs. Fancy, trembling in her night-socks.
"Oh, my poor dear missis! I can't speak different nor mean other. Oh,
"Hush, Fancy!" said the Prophet, in the greatest distraction. "Grannie!
And seizing the handle of the door he shook it violently. Mrs. Merillia
was now very naturally under the impression that the ratcatcher was
determined to break in and murder her without more ado. Extreme danger
often seems to exercise a strangely calming influence upon the human
soul. So it was now. Upon hearing her bedroom door quivering under the
assault of the Prophet, Mrs. Merillia was abruptly invaded by a sort of
desperate courage. She left the bells, tottered to the grate in which a
good fire was blazing, seized the poker and thrust it between the bars
and into the heart of the flames, at the same time crying out in a
quavering but determined voice,--
"I am heating the poker! If you come in you will repent it. I am
heating the poker!"
On hearing this remark, the Prophet desisted from his assault upon the
door, overcome by the absolute conviction that his beloved grandmother
was suffering from a pronounced form of homicidal mania. His affection
prompted him to keep such a catastrophe secret as long as possible, and
he therefore turned to Mrs. Fancy and Gustavus, and said hurriedly,--
"This is a matter for me alone. Mrs. Fancy, please go away at once.
Gustavus, you will accompany Mrs. Fancy."
His manner was so firm, his face so iron in its determination, that
Mrs. Fancy and Gustavus dared not proffer a word. They turned away and
disappeared softly down the stairs, to wait the /denouement/ of this
tragedy in the hall below. Meantime the poker was growing red hot in
the coals, and Mrs. Merillia announced to the supposed ratcatcher,--
"I can hear you--I hear you breathing--" (the Prophet endeavoured not
to breathe). "I hear you rustling, but you can't touch me. The poker is
And she drew it smoking from the grate and approached the door, holding
it in her delicate hand like a weapon.
"Grannie!" said the Prophet, making his voice as much like it generally
was as he possibly could. "Dearest grannie!"
"I dare you to come in!" replied Mrs. Merillia, in an almost formidable
manner. "I dare you to do it."
"I am not coming in, grannie," said the Prophet.
"Then go away!" said Mrs. Merillia. "Go away--and let me hear you
A sudden idea struck the Prophet. He did not say another word, but
immediately walked downstairs, tramping heavily and shaking the wood
balusters violently at every step he took. His ruse succeeded. Hearing
the intruder depart, Mrs. Merillia's curious courage deserted her, she
dropped the poker into the grate, and once more set both bells going
with all her might and main. The Prophet let her ring for nearly five
minutes, then he bounded once more upstairs and tapped very gently on
"Grannie," he cried, "are you ringing? What is it?"
This time Mrs. Merillia recognised his voice, tottered to the door,
unlocked it, and fell, trembling, into his anxious arms.
"Oh, Hennessey!" she gasped. "Oh--Hennessey!"
"Grannie, what is it? What on earth is the matter?"
"The ratcatcher! The ratcatcher!"
"The ratcatcher!" cried the Prophet.
"He has come back. He is here. He has been trying to break into my
"The one that dined to-night--the one you called your old and--and
"Mr. Sagittarius?" exclaimed the Prophet.
"He is here."
"I have seen him. He has tried to murder me."
"I will look into this at once," said the Prophet.
He ran to the head of the stairs and called out,--
"Come up here at once,"
Gustavus came, followed closely by Mrs. Fancy, who was in a state of
abject confusion and alarm.
"Has Mr. Sagittarius returned here--the gentleman who dined to-night?"
asked the Prophet.
Gustavus hesitated, thought of Dr. Carter's library, and replied,--
"Has anybody entered the house?"
"You have been up the whole evening?"
"And nobody has been?"
"Grannie, you hear what Gustavus says."
"But, Hennessey, he is here; I saw him."
"By the door. I heard someone, and I thought it was you. I came to the
door after calling you, and there he stood, all dirty and wet, with a
huge hat on his head" (the saturnine little clergyman was largely
blessed with brain), "and a most awful murderous expression on his
The Prophet began to suspect that his dear relative, upset by the
tragic events of the dinner table, had gone to sleep and had the
"Grannie, it must have been a dream."
"No, Hennessey, no."
"It must indeed. I left Mr. Sagittarius at Zoological House. I feel
certain of that."
The Prophet spoke the honest truth. He fully believed that Mr.
Sagittarius was at that very moment sharing in the triumph of his wife
and receiving the worship of those who live the silly life.
"But I saw him, Hennessey," said Mrs. Merillia, adding rather
unnecessarily, "with my own eyes."
"Grannie, darling, you must have been dreaming. At any rate, I'm here
now. Nothing can hurt you. Go to bed. Fancy will stay with you, and I
swear to you that no harm will happen to you so long as I am
With these noble words the Prophet kissed his grandmother tenderly,
assisted Mrs. Fancy into the room, and walked downstairs quite
determined that, come what might, whether he broke a thousand oaths or
not, he would put an end forthwith to the tyranny of the couple from
the Mouse and abandon for ever the shocking pursuit of prophecy.
THE PROPHET RETIRES FROM BUSINESS
Exactly as the Prophet arrived at his resolution the hall door bell
rang violently, and Gustavus, who had slipped down before the Prophet
in order to seek the traveller to Java in the servants' quarters,
hurried into the hall in rather a distracted manner.
"Stop, Gustavus!" said the Prophet.
Gustavus stopped. The bell rang again.
"Gustavus," said the Prophet, "if that is a visitor I am not at home.
Mrs. Merillia is not at home either."
It was by this time between one and two in the morning.
"Not at home, sir. Yes, sir."
The Prophet concealed himself near the hat-rack, and Gustavus went
softly to the door and opened it.
"Not at home, ma'am," the Prophet heard him say, formally.
"What d'you mean, young man?" replied the powerful voice of Madame.
"Where is my husband?"
"Where, I say, is my husband?"
"I couldn't say, I'm sure, ma'am. But Mrs. Merillia and Mr. Vivian are
not at home."
"Then all I can say is they ought to be in at this time of night.
Permit me to pass. Are you aware that Mr. Vivian has invited me to
spend the night here? /Noctes ambrosianes/."
"But, ma'am, Mr. Viv--"
"That'll do. If I have any more of your impertinence I'll make you
repent of it. You are evidently not aware who I am."
The Prophet, by the hat-rack, did not fail to hear a new note in the
deep contralto of Madame, a note of triumph, a trumpet note of profound
conceit. His heart sank before this determined music, and it sank even
lower towards his pumps when, a moment later, he found himself
confronted by the lady, wrapped closely in the rabbit-skins, and
absolutely bulging with vanity and self-appreciation.
"What! Mr. Vivian!" began the lady.
"Hush! said the Prophet, "for mercy's sake--hush!"
And, acting upon the impulse of the moment, he suddenly seized Madame
by the hand, and hurried her through the swinging door into the
"Here's a go," murmured Gustavus in the greatest trepidation. "If they
don't find the thin party I'm a josser."
Meanwhile the Prophet and Madame were standing face to face before the
what-not of Gustavus.
"My grandmother is awake--that is asleep," said the Prophet. "We must
not wake her on any account."
"Oh," returned Madame, with a toss of her head, "your grandmother seems
to be a very fidgety old lady, I'm sure--although you do tell a parcel
of lies about her."
"Lies!" said the Prophet, with some dignity.
"Yes--lies. She don't wear long clothes--"
"I beg your pardon!"
"She do not. She don't wear her hair down. She don't put her lips to
the bottle. She don't. Where is Mr. Sagi--where is Malkiel the Second?"
"I have no idea. And now, Madame, I regret that I must conduct you to
your carriage. The hour is late, my grandmother is seriously
indisposed, and I myself need rest."
"Well, then, you can't have it," retorted the lady with authoritative
spitefulness. "You can't have it, not till three o'clock."
"I beg your pardon!" said the Prophet, with trembling lips.
"I really regret that I must retire. Allow me--"
"I'll not allow you. Where is my husband? He's not at the Zoological
"He has probably returned home."
"To the Mouse! Then he's a coward and an oath-breaker, and if Sir
Tiglath was to catch him I shouldn't be sorry. Kindly lead me at once
to the telescope. I will take his place. No one shall say that Madame
Malkiel ever flinched at duty's call. /Praesto et persistibus/. Conduct
me at once to the telescope."
"The telescope!" cried the Prophet. "What for?"
"Lawks!" cried Madame, with pronounced temper. "Did we not journey from
the Mouse a-purpose to go practically into the mystery of the dressed
"I really--I really cannot consent without a chaperon," began the
"The wife of Malkiel the Second needs no chaperone," retorted Madame.
"This night has altered my condition--I stand from henceforth far
beyond the reach of etiquette. The world knows me now and will not dare
to carp. /Carpe dies/."
During the foregoing colloquy her voice had become louder and louder,
and the Prophet, dreading unspeakably lest his grandmother should be
disturbed and affrighted once more, gave up the struggle, and, without
more ado, conducted Madame into the butler's pantry in which the
telescope still remained.
Meanwhile what had become of Malkiel the Second?
When Mrs. Merillia suddenly appeared before him in her night-bonnet and
accused him of being a ratcatcher he had very naturally fled, his first
impulse being to leave the house at once and continue his journey to
the docks. But even a prophet is but mortal. Malkiel had passed through
an eventful day followed by a still more eventful evening. His mind was
completely exhausted. Even so, however, he might have continued upon
his journey towards Java had not his legs prosaically shown signs of
giving way under him just as he once more gained the hall. This decided
him. He must have some short repose at whatever cost. He therefore
pushed feebly at the nearest door, and found himself promptly in the
apartment of the upper servants. Staggering to the what-not of
Gustavus, he sank down upon it and fell into a melancholy reverie, from
which he was roused by the constant tingling cry of Mrs. Merillia's
second bell, which rang close to where he was reposing. He tried to
start up, but failed, and it was only when the hall door bell, attacked
by the Prophet, added its voice to its companion's that his terror lent
him sufficient strength to flee very slowly into the inner fastnesses
of this unknown region. There was a light in the servant's hall, but
darkness lay beyond and Malkiel knew not whither he was penetrating. He
barked his shins, but could not tell against what hard substance. He
bruised his elbow, but could not know what piece of furniture had
assailed it. On coming in contact with a dresser he saw a few sparks,
but they speedily died out, and he was obliged to feel his way onward,
till presently he came across a large leather chair in which Mrs.
Merillia's cook was wont to sit while directing her subordinates at the
basting machine. Into this he sank palpitating, and for a moment
remained undisturbed. Then, to his horror, he heard in the adjoining
room the strident voice of his loved and honoured wife apparently
carrying on a decidedly vivacious argument with some person unknown. He
bounded up. Possibly she was accompanied by Sir Tiglath, who must now
be aware of his identity. In any case, her wrath at his scarcely
chivalrous desertion of her in the house of a stranger would, he knew,
be terrible. He dared not face it. He dared not allow his project of
flight at dawn to be interfered with, as it certainly would be if he
came across Madame. He therefore proceeded to flee once more. Nor did
he pause until he had gained Mr. Ferdinand's pantry, where stood the
telescope. Now, in this pantry there was a large cupboard in which were
kept the very numerous and magnificent pieces of plate, etc., possessed
by Mrs. Merillia; tall silver candelabra, standard lamps of polished
bronze, richly-chased cups, gigantic vases for containing flowers,
oriental incense holders upon stands of ebony, Spanish charcoal dishes
of burnished brass, and other treasures far too numerous to mention.
This cupboard was always carefully locked at night, but on this
occasion Mr. Ferdinand, totally disorganised by the frightful scenes
which had taken place at his dinner table during the evening, had
retired to bed in a condition of collapse, leaving it open. Malkiel the
Second, feeling frantically about in the dark, came upon the door of
this cupboard, pulled it, found that it yielded to his hand, and,
hearing the rapidly approaching voices of Madame and the Prophet,
stumbled into the cupboard and sank down on a large gold loving-cup,
with one foot in a silver soup tureen, and the other in a priceless
sugar basin, just as the light of the candle borne by the Prophet
glimmered in the darkness of the adjacent corridor.
"This way, Madame," said the Prophet. "But I really think such a
proceeding is calculated to cause a grave scandal in the square."
Malkiel the Second drew the cupboard door to, and grasped a silver
candelabrum in each hand to sustain himself upon the rather sharp rim
of the loving-cup.
"What is the square to me or I to the square?" returned Madame with
ungrammatical majesty. "Madame Malkiel is not governed by any ordinary
laws. /Lexes non scripta/ is her motto. To these alone she clings."
Her husband clung to the candelabra and burst into a violent
perspiration. Through the keyhole of the cupboard a ray of light now
shone, and he heard the frou-frou of his partner's skirt, the flump of
the rabbit-skins as she cast them from her ample shoulders upon the
floor. The Prophet's voice became audible again.
"What do you wish me to do?" he said, with a sort of embittered
"Throw open the window, place yourself before the telescope, and
proceed at once to your investigations," replied the lady.
"I am not in a condition to investigate," said the Prophet. "I am not
indeed. If you will only let me get you a cab, to-morrow night--"
'It is useless to talk, Mr. Vivian," said Madame, very sharply. "The
cab has not yet been made that will convey me to the Mouse to-night."
"But your husband--"
"My husband is a coward, unworthy of such a wife as he possesses. At
the crisis of our fortunes--What's that?"
At this painful moment Malkiel the Second was so overcome by emotion,
that he trembled, and allowed his left foot to rattle slightly on the
"What was it?" repeated Madame.
"Rats, I have no doubt," answered the Prophet, who had heard nothing.
"I believe that the basements of these old houses are simply--well--
simply permeated with rats."
For a moment Madame blanched, but she was a woman of spirit, and
moreover she was almost intoxicated with ambition. Recognised at last
as a lady of position and importance in one of the mansions of the
idiotic great, she was more anxious than ever to remove forthwith into
the central districts, there to exercise that sway which she had so
long desired. Finding that there exists a world in which prophets--far
from being considered as dirty and deceitful persons--are worshipped
and adored, entertained with Pommery and treated almost as gods, she
yearned to dwell in the midst of it. The peaceful seclusion of the
Mouse was become hateful to her. The architects and their wives began
to seem to her uplifted fancy little better than the circle that
frequented Hagglin's Buildings, or appeared at the paltry
entertainments given by the inhabitants of Drakeman's Villas. She was
resolved to soar, and even rats should not turn her from her passionate
purpose. Accordingly she replied,--
"Rats or no rats, I intend to see this matter out. /Dixisti!/ The
night wanes. Kindly go at once to the telescope."
The Prophet obeyed, first opening the window into the area. The rain
had now cleared off, but the sky was still rather cloudy, and only a
few stars peeped here and there.
"Really," said the Prophet, after applying his weary eye to the
machine, "really I don't think it's any good, there are so very--"
"Have the goodness to place the old lady in the claws of the Crab,
according to the directions of the coward who has deserted me."
Malkiel shook with shame upon the loving-cup.
"But I really can't find the Crab," said the Prophet, who was so tired
that he could scarcely stand. "I can see the Great Bear."
"That is no use. The Bear has nothing to do with the old lady. You must
find the Crab. Look again."
The Prophet did so. But his eye blinked with fatigue and the heavens
swam before it.
"There is no Crab to-night," he said. "I assure you on my honour there
Exactly as he finished making this statement a low whistle rang through
the silence of the night. The Prophet started, Madame jumped, and
Malkiel bounded on the loving-cup.
The whistle was repeated.
"It's the thing!" whispered the Prophet.
"What thing?" inquired Madame, who had become rather pale.
"The dark thing that told me the Crab was dressed. It has come again."
"My word!" ejaculated Madame, looking uneasily around. "Where is it?"
Just then Malkiel the Second's feet once more began to tremble among
the plate of Mrs. Merillia.
"You hear it!" said the Prophet, much impressed.
"Did it rattle like that the other night?" gasped Madame, seizing the
Prophet by the arm.
The Prophet told a lie with his head.
"Address it, I beg," said Madame, in a great state of excitement.
"Meanwhile I will retire a few paces."
So saying, she backed into the passage, bearing the candle with her for
company, and leaving the Prophet in total darkness. The low whistle
sounded again, and a husky voice said,--
"Are you there?"
"Yes," replied the Prophet, summoning all his courage. "I am."
"What 'a' you put out the light for?" said the voice, which seemed to
come from far away.
"I haven't put it out," returned the Prophet. "It's gone away."
At this juncture Malkiel, impelled by curiosity, ceased from trembling,
and, leaning forward upon the loving-cup, glued his ear to the key-hole
of the cupboard.
"Why was you so late to-night?" proceeded the voice. "She's been in a
rare taking, I can tell you."
"Who? You know well enough."
"Do you mean my grandmother?"
"Your grandmother!" ejaculated the voice with apparent sarcasm. "Ah! of
course, what do you think?"
"I'm sure I don't know," said the poor Prophet, whose reason was
beginning to totter upon its throne.
"Well," proceeded the voice, "she thought you'd give it up."
"What--my grandmother did?"
"Ah, your grandmother. Get away with you! Ha! ha! ha!"
And the mysterious visitant broke forth into a peal of rather mundane
laughter. After indulging in this unseemly mirth for about a minute and
a half, the personage resumed,--
"The Crab did for her."
Upon hearing the mystic word Madame crept stealthily a pace or two
nearer to the door, while the Prophet exclaimed,--
"The dressed Crab?"
"Ah, what do /you/ think? Not a wink of sleep and thought every
minute'd be 'er next."
"She says she'd never go near a crab again, not if it's ever so."
"You are sure?" said the Prophet, eagerly. "You are positive she said
"I'd stake my Davy, and I wouldn't do that on everything. There ain't a
man living as'll ever get her to go within fifty miles of a crab this
side of Judgment."
At this point in the colloquy the curiosity of Madame overcame her, and
she protruded her head suddenly beyond the edge of the doorway.
"Ulloh!" exclaimed the voice. "Why, what's 'a' you got there?"
Madame hastily withdrew, and the voice continued,--
"Blessed if it ain't a female!"
"I beg your pardon!" said the Prophet, trembling with propriety. "I--
I--there is no female here!"
"Yes there is!" cried the voice, with a chuckle. "There's a female
creeping and crawling about behind that there door."
The Prophet's sense of chivalry was now fully aroused.
"You are mistaken," he said firmly. "There are no females creeping
and--and crawling about in this--this respectable house."
"Respectable!" ejaculated the voice, "respectable! I say there is a
female. You're a nice one, you are! 'Pon my word, I've a good mind to
run you in for Mormonism, I have. Wherever's she got to?"
On the last words a sudden blaze of light shot into the pantry, and at
the same moment there was the sound of wheels rapidly approaching in
"Hulloh!" said the voice, "someone a-comin'."
The light died out as rapidly as it had flashed in, the wheels drew
close and stopped, and a bell pealed forth in the silent house.
"Merciful Heavens!" cried the Prophet, pressing his hands to his
throbbing brow. "Merciful Heavens! who can that be?"
There was no answer, and the bell pealed again.
"Grannie will be disturbed!" exclaimed the Prophet, addressing himself,
passionately to the darkness. "Grannie will be killed by all this
The bell pealed again.
"This must cease," cried the Prophet. "This must and shall cease. I
will bring it all to an end once and for ever!"
And, with sudden desperate decision, he shut the window, burst out of
the pantry and came upon Madame, who was standing in a somewhat furtive
manner by the door that opened into the cellars of the mansion.
"Mr. Vivian," she began, in a rather subdued voice, "that isn't a
comet, that's a copper!"
The bell rang again.
"D'you think--d'you think that can be my husband?" continued Madame,
still seeming subdued. "I should like him-- Do you think it's him?"
"I will very soon see," replied the Prophet, in a most determined
"But Mr. Viv--"
"Don't hold me, if you please. Kindly let me pass!"
And, breaking from the lady's anxious grasp, the Prophet rushed into
the hall just as Gustavus appeared, descending the front stairs from
the landing before Mrs. Merillia's door, where he had been in close
conference with Mrs. Fancy.
"Stand back, Gustavus," said the Prophet.
"But, sir, there is someone--"
"I know there is. I am about to answer the door myself."
"If you please, sir, Mrs. Merillia is greatly alarmed by the constant
ringing, and Mrs. Fancy thinks--"
"Gustavus," said the Prophet in an awful voice, "you may retire, but
first let me tell you one thing."
"Certainly, sir," said the footman, beginning to tremble.
"The circumstances that have rendered a hitherto peaceful household
more disordered than an abode of madmen are about to be brought to an
end for ever. There is a point at which a gentleman must either cease
to be a gentleman or cease to be a man. I have reached that point,
Gustavus, and I am about to cease to be a gentleman."
And, with this terrible statement, the Prophet advanced with a sort of
appalling deliberation and threw the front door wide open.
Upon the doorstep stood Lady Enid wrapped in a pink opera cloak and Sir
Tiglath Butt shrouded in the Inverness. The Prophet faced them with a
"I thought you'd be here, Mr. Vivian," began Lady Enid in a bright
"I am here," said the Prophet, speaking in a voice that might well have
issued from a statue.
"Where is he?" roared Sir Tiglath. "Where is he? Oh-h-h-h!"
"Sir Tiglath means Malkiel," explained Lady Enid. "He is most anxious
to meet him."
"Why?" said the Prophet, still in the same inhuman voice.
"Well, we shall see when they do meet," said Lady Enid, throwing a look
of keen curiosity at the astronomer. "I rather think--" here she
lowered her voice and whispered in the Prophet's ear--"I rather think
Sir Tiglath wishes to try if he can murder Malkiel. Do you believe he
could bring it off?"
"I'm sure I don't know," answered the Prophet, with stony indifference.
"Good-night to you!"
"But we want to come in," cried Lady Enid.
"Young man," roared Sir Tiglath, "the old astronomer will not leave
this house till he has searched it from attic to cellar."
"I am sorry," replied the Prophet, "but I cannot permit my
grandmother's servants or wine to be disturbed at such an hour. If you
wish to murder Malkiel the Second, I shall not prevent you, but he is
"Then where is he?" cried Lady Enid.
"I don't know. And now--"
The Prophet stepped back into the hall, and was about to close the door
unceremoniously--having, as he intended, ceased to be a gentleman--when
Lady Enid caught sight of the round and fixed eyes of Gustavus glaring
out into the night from behind his master. The appalling feminine
instinct, which makes woman the mistress of creation, suddenly woke
within her, and she cried out in a piercing voice,--
"Malkiel's in the house, and Gustavus knows it!"
She spoke these words with such conviction that the Prophet spun round,
top-wise, and stared at the unfortunate flunkey, who instantly fell
upon his knee-breeches and stammered out,--
"Oh, sir, forgive me! It's Dr. Carter done it, sir, it is indeed. It's
Dr. Carter done it!"
"Dr. Carter!" ejaculated the Prophet.
"The library, sir. He offered me the library eight times over, sir!"
"Who offered you the library?"
"The gent, sir, in Mr. Ferdinand's trouserings, what was at dinner,
sir. He only wanted to change 'em, sir, and he says to me, he says,
'Let me,' he says, 'but remove these trouserings,' he says, 'before I
make off to Java,' he says--"
"To where?" roared Sir Tiglath.
"To Java, sir, where the jelly and the sparrows is manufactured, sir,
that is born, sir. 'And,' he says, 'here is a hundred pounds,' he
"Then he is in the house?" said the Prophet, sternly.
"Well, sir, he was, sir. And, as I ain't seen him go, sir, I expect as
he's somewhere about changing of 'em, sir. Oh, sir, if you'll only look
it over sir, It's all the thirst, sir, it's all the thirst--"
"What? You have been drinking?" cried the Prophet, in an outraged
"No, sir, the thirst for knowledge, sir, as has brought me to this. Oh,
sir, if only you'll--"
"Hush!" said the Prophet fiercely. "Sir Tiglath," he added, turning
towards the puffing astronomer, "you can enter. My grandmother must
have been right."
"Your grandmother?" said Lady Enid, with eager inquisitiveness.
"She informed me that the ruffian was in the house and had attempted to
make away with her--"
"Dear me! this is most interesting!" interposed Lady Enid.
"But I supposed she had had the nightmare. It seems that I was wrong.
If you will step in, you can search the house at once. And if you
discover this nameless creature changing his--that is Mr. Ferdinand's
trouserings--trousers, that is,--in any part of the building, as far as
I am concerned you can murder him forthwith."
The Prophet spoke quite calmly, in a soft and level voice. Yet there
was something so frightful in his tone and manner that even Sir Tiglath
seemed slightly awe-stricken. At any rate, he accepted the Prophet's
invitation in silence, and stepped almost furtively into the hall, on
whose floor Gustavus was still posed in the conventional attitude of
the Christian martyr. Lady Enid eagerly followed, and the Prophet was
just about to close the door, when a dark, hovering figure that was
pausing at a short distance off upon the pavement attracted his
attention. He stopped short, and, perceiving that it was a policeman,
beckoned to it. The figure approached.
"What's up now?" it said familiarly, emphasising the question with a
sharp contraction of the left eyelid. "You're having a nice game
to-night, and no mistake."
"Game!" replied the Prophet, sternly. "This is no game. Stand there, by
the area gate, and if anyone should run out, knock him down with your
truncheon. Do you hear me?"
With these impressive words he entered the house and shut the door,
leaving the policeman to whistle inquiringly to the stars that were
watching over this house, once peaceful, but now the abode of violence
In the hall he found Gustavus still on his knees between Lady Enid and
"Lady Enid," he said, even in this hour mindful of the proprieties,
"you have heard what this villain is doing here, and must be sensible
that you can take no part in this search."
"Oh, but I particularly want--" began Lady Enid, hastily.
"Pardon me," said the Prophet, with more firmness than Napoleon ever
showed to his marshals. "You must retire. Please come this way. Mrs.
Fancy will look after you."
"Oh, but really, Mr. Vivian, I--"
"Kindly follow me."
Lady Enid hesitated for a moment, but the Prophet's manner was too much
for her, and when he stepped, like a clockwork automaton with a steel
interior, towards the staircase, she crept mildly in his wake.
"Can't I really--?" she whispered in his ear.
"Certainly not. If you were a married woman, possibly--"
"Well, but I am engaged," she murmured.
The Prophet stopped short.
"Engaged!" he said. "To whom?"
"Engaged to Sir Tiglath!"
"Yes. He proposed to me to-night at Zoological House."
She might well have resented the question, but perhaps she divined the
distraught and almost maniacal condition of mind that the Prophet
masked beneath his impassive demeanour. At any rate she answered
"Because he didn't find out I'm Miss Minerva, and in the midst of Mrs.
Bridgeman's silly world I stood right out as the only sensible creature
living. Isn't it fun?"
"Yes. I always meant him to propose to me."
"Because I always thought it would be supremely idiotic of me to accept
The Prophet felt that if he listened to another remark of such a nature
his brain would snap and he would instantly be taken with a tearing fit
of hysterics. He therefore turned round and slowly ascended to the
"Kindly step into the drawing-room," he said, having first, by a rapid
glance, assured himself that Malkiel was not changing Mr. Ferdinand's
trousers there. "I will send Mrs. Fancy to chaperon you."
Lady Enid stepped in obediently, and the Prophet, who could distinctly
hear Mrs. Fancy sobbing on the landing above, proceeded thither, took
her hand and guided her down to the drawing-room.
"Oh, my poor, poor missis!" gulped the devoted creature. "Oh, my--"
"Precisely," rejoined the Prophet, with passionless equanimity. "Please
go in there and remain to guard this young lady."
He assisted Mrs. Fancy to fall in a heap upon the nearest sociable, and
then, still moving with a species of frozen deliberation, betook
himself once more to the hall. The astronomer and Gustavus were
standing there in silence.
"Sir Tiglath," said the Prophet, in a very formal manner, "you can now
begin to search for this ruffian."
Sir Tiglath cleared his throat, and continued to stand still.
"I hope you will find him," continued the Prophet.
Sir Tiglath cleared his throat again and added,--
"Why? Because I think it quite time that he was murdered," answered the
Prophet, unemotionally. "Well! why don't you search?"
The astronomer, whose face began to look less red than usual, rolled
his glassy eyes round upon the shadowy hall, the dim staircase and the
gloomy-looking closed doors that confronted them.
"Where is the old astronomer to search?" he asked, in a low voice.
The final exclamation sounded remarkably tremulous.
"Anywhere--except in my grandmother's bedroom. That of course is
sacred. Well, why don't you begin?"
Sir Tiglath eyed the Prophet furtively.
"I'm--I'm going to," he murmured hoarsely. "The old astronomer does not
know the meaning of the word--fear."
Exactly as he uttered these inspiring words the hall clock growled,
like a very large dog, and struck two. Sir Tiglath started and caught
hold of Gustavus, who started in his turn and shrank away. The Prophet
alone stood up to the clock, which finished its remark with a click,
and resumed its habitual occupation of ticking.
"Pray begin, Sir Tiglath," said the Prophet.
"The old astronomer--must have a--a--a--candle."
"Here is one," said the Prophet, handing the desired article.
"A lighted candle."
"Why lighted? Oh, so that you can see to murder him! Gustavus, light
Gustavus, who was trembling a good deal more than an autumn leaf,
complied after about fifteen unavailing attempts.
"There, Sir Tiglath," said the Prophet. "Now you can begin." And he
seated himself upon a settee, leaned back and crossed his legs.
"You will not accompany the old astronomer? Oh-h-h"
"No. I will rest here. When you have found the ruffian and murdered
him, I shall be glad to hear your news."
And, so saying, the Prophet settled himself comfortably with a cushion
behind his back, and calmly closed his eyes. The candlestick clattered
in Sir Tiglath's gouty hand. The Prophet heard it, heard heavy feet
shuffling very slowly and cautiously over the floor of the hall,
finally heard the door leading to the servants' quarters swing on its
hinges. Still he did not open his eyes. He felt that if he were to do
so just then he would probably begin to shriek, rave, foam at the
mouth, and in all known ways comport himself as do the inhabitants of
Bedlam. A delicate silence fell in the hall. How long it lasted the
Prophet never knew. It might have been five minutes or five years as
far as he was concerned. It was broken at length by the following
symphony of sounds--an elderly man's voice roaring, a woman's voice
uttering a considerable number of very powerful screams on a rather low
but still resounding note, a loud thump, a crash of glass, a prodigious
clattering, as of utensils made in some noisy material falling from a
height and rolling vigorously in innumerable directions, two or three
bangs of doors, and the peculiar patter of rather large and flat feet,
unaccustomed to any rapid exercise, moving over boards, oilcloth and
carpet. Then the swing door sang, and the Prophet, opening his eyes,
perceived Madame Malkiel moving forward with considerable vivacity, and
screaming as she moved, her bonnet depending down her back and the
rabbit-skins flowing from her ample shoulders. Immediately behind her
ran her spouse, holding in one hand a silver pepper castor, and in the
other a small and very beautifully finished bronze teapot of the
William of Orange period. The worthy couple fleeted by, and the Prophet
turned his expressionless eyes towards the swing door expecting
immediately to perceive Sir Tiglath Butt in valiant pursuit. As no such
figure presented itself, and as the Malkiels were now beginning to
mount the stairs with continually increasing velocity, the Prophet
slowly uncrossed his legs, and was thinking of getting upon his feet
when there came a loud knock upon the hall door.
"Gustavus!" said the Prophet, glancing round.
He perceived the footman lying in a dead faint near the umbrella stand.
"Oh!" he said, speaking to himself aloud. "Oh! Then I must go myself."
Acting upon his conception of his duty, he accordingly walked to the
front door, opened it, and found the policeman outside supporting the
senseless form of Sir Tiglath Butt in one hand and holding a broken
truncheon in the other.
"Well?" said the Prophet, calmly. "Well?"
"I knocked him down as he was making a bolt," said the policeman.
The Prophet found himself wondering why so industrious and even useful
an occupation should be interfered with in such a manner. However, he
"Ah," said the policeman, stepping into the hall and laying the
astronomer out across a chair, "what's up?"
"They are both up," answered the Prophet, pointing with a lethargic
finger towards the staircase, from which, at this moment, arose a
perfect hubbub of voices.
"Come on!" cried the policeman.
"Why?" asked the Prophet.
"Why! you're a nice un, you are! Why! And nab 'em, of course!"
"You think it would be wise to--what was the word--nab them?" inquired
the Prophet. "You really think so?"
"Well, what am I here for then?" said the policeman, with angry irony.
"Oh, if you prefer," rejoined the Prophet, civilly. "Nab them by all
means. I shall not prevent you."
The policeman, who was an active and industrious fellow deserving of
praise, waited for no further permission, but immediately darted up the
stairs, and in less than a minute returned with Mrs. Merillia--attired
in a black silk gown, a bonnet, and an Indian shawl presented to her on
her marriage by a very great personage--in close custody.
"Here's one of 'em!" he shouted. "Here, you lay hold of her while I
fetch the rest!"
And with these words he thrust the Prophet's grandmother into one of
his hands, the broken truncheon into the other, and turning smartly
round, again bounded up the stairs.
In a famous poem of the late Lord Tennyson there is related a dramatic
incident of a lady whose disinclination to cry, when such emotion would
have been only natural, was overcome by the presentation to her of her
child. A somewhat similar effect was produced upon our Prophet by the
constable's presentation to him of his honoured grandmother. The sight
of her reverent head, surmounted by the bonnet which she had assumed in
readiness to flee from the house which she could no longer regard as a
home--the touch of her delicate hand--the flutter of her so hallowed
Indian shawl--these things broke down the strange calm of her devoted
grandson. Like summer tempest came his emotion, and, when the policeman
presently returned with Malkiel the Second and Madame nabbed by his
right and left hands, and followed by Lady Enid and the weeping Mrs.
Fancy, he was confronted by a most pathetic tableau. The Prophet and
Mrs. Merillia were weeping in each other's arm's while Sir Tiglath and
Gustavus--just returned to consciousness--were engaged in examining the
proceeding with puppy dog's eyes.
Over the explanations that ensued a veil may be partially drawn. One
lifted corner, however, allows us to note that Sir Tiglath Butt, having
come upon Madame hidden behind a bin of old port in the Prophet's
cellar, had been seized by a desire not to alarm a lady so profound
that it prompted him to hurry to the butler's pantry, and to seek
concealment in the very cupboard which already contained Malkiel the
Second. On perceiving that gentleman perched upon the loving-cup, and
protected by candlesticks, sugar basins, teapots and other weapons, the
astronomer's anxiety to become a murderer apparently forsook him. At
any rate, he passed through the plate-glass of the window rather
hastily into the area, where, as we know, he received the solicitous
attentions of the policeman who had served as an intermediary between
the Lord Chancellor's second cook--whose supper of dressed crab had
caused so much confusion--and the supposed Mr. Ferdinand. Malkiel the
Second, finding himself discovered, took to the open just as Madame
fled forth from the cellar, to be overtaken by the very natural
misconception that she was about to become the victim of a husband
whose jealousy had at length caused him to assume his /toga virilibus/.
Perhaps it was Sir Tiglath's throwing off of the said garment which
caused Lady Enid to throw him over. At any rate, she eventually married
Mr. Robert Green and made him a very sensible wife.
The Malkiels returned to the Mouse, where they still live, and still
carry on a certain amount of intercourse with architects and their
wives. From time to time, however, they attend the receptions at
Zoological House, and a rumour recently ran through the circles of the
silly to the effect that they had been looking at a house not far from
the Earls Court Station, with a view--it is surmised--of removing to
more central districts.
They are no longer on terms with the Prophet.
He has retired from business and put down his telescope once and for
all, recognising that prophecy is a dangerous employment, and one
likely to bring about the very evils it foreshadows. Calmly he dwells
with his beloved grandmother in the Berkeley Square, which has received
them once more into its former favour. Sometimes, at night, when the
sky is clear, and the bright stars, the guardian stars, keep watch over
his aristocratic neighbourhood, he draws aside the curtain from the
drawing-room window and glances forth at Mercury and Uranus, Jupiter,
Saturn and Venus. And when his eyes meet their twinkling eyes, he
exchanges with them--not a question and answer, not a demand for unholy
information and a reluctant reply, but a serene, gentlemanly and
perfectly decorous good-night.