The Prophet Of Berkeley Square
by Robert Hichens
Mrs. Merillia Is Carried To Bed
The great telescope of the Prophet was carefully adjusted upon its
lofty, brass-bound stand in the bow window of Number One Thousand
Berkeley Square. It pointed towards the remarkably bright stars which
twinkled in the December sky over frosty London, those guardian stars
which always seemed to the Prophet to watch with peculiar solicitude
over the most respectable neighbourhood in which he resided. The
polestar had its eye even now upon the mansion of an adjacent ex-
premier, the belt of Orion was not oblivious of a belted earl's cosy
red-brick home just opposite, and the house of a certain famous actor
and actress close by had been taken by the Great Bear under its special
The Prophet's butler, Mr. Ferdinand -- that bulky and veracious gentleman
-- threw open the latticed windows of the drawing-room and let the cold
air rush blithely in. Then he made up the fire carefully, placed a copy
of Mr. Malkiel's
Almanac, bound in dull pink and silver brocade by
Miss Clorinda Dolbrett of the Cromwell Road, upon a small tulip-wood
table near the telescope, patted a sofa cushion affectionately on the
head, glanced around with the meditative eye of the butler born not
made, and quitted the comfortable apartment with a salaried, but soft,
It was a pleasant chamber, this drawing-room of Number One Thousand. It
spoke respectfully of the generations that were past and seemed
serenely certain of a comfortable future. There was no too modern
uneasiness about it, no trifling, gim-crack furniture constructed to
catch the eye and the angles of any one venturing to seek repose upon
it, no unmeaning rubbish of ornaments or hectic flummery of second-rate
pictures. Above the high oaken mantel-piece was a little pure bust in
marble of the Prophet when a small boy. To right and left were pretty
miniatures in golden frames of the Prophet's delightfully numerous
grandmothers. Here might be seen Mrs. Prothero, the great ship-
builder's faithful wife, in blue brocade, and Lady Camptown, who
reigned at Bath, in grey tabinet and diamond buckles, when Miss Jane
Austen was writing her first romance; Mrs. Susan Burlington, who knew
Lord Byron -- a remarkable fact -- and Lady Sophia Green, who knew her own
mind, a fact still more remarkable. The last-named lady wore black with
a Roman nose, and the combination was admirably convincing. Here might
also be observed Mrs. Stuefitt, Mistress of the Mazurka, and the Lady
Jane Follington, of whom George the Second had spoken openly in terms
of approbation. She affected plum colour and had eyes like sloes -- the
fashionable hue in the neat-foot-and-pretty-ankle period. The flames of
the fire twinkled brightly over this battalion of deuced fine women,
who were all, without one exception, the grandmothers -- in various
degrees -- of the Prophet. When speaking of them, in the highest terms,
he never differentiated them by the adjectives great, or great-great.
They were all kind and condescending enough to be his grandmothers. For
a man of his sensitive, delicate and grateful disposition this was
enough. He thought them all quite perfect, and took them all under the
protection of his soft and beaming eyes.
Of Mrs. Merillia, the live grandmother with whom he had the great
felicity to dwell in Berkeley Square, he seldom said anything in public
praise. The incense he offered at her shrine rose, most sweetly
perfumed, from his daily life. The hearth of this agreeable and
grandmotherly chamber was attractive with dogs, the silver cage beside
it with green love-birds. Upon the floor was a heavy, dull-blue carpet
over which -- as has been intimated -- even a butler so heavy as Mr.
Ferdinand could go softly. The walls were dressed with a dull blue
paper that looked like velvet.
Here and there upon them hung a picture: a landscape of George Morland,
lustily English, a Cotman, a Cuyp -- cows in twilight -- a Reynolds, faded
but exquisitely genteel. A lovely little harpsichord -- meditating on
Scarlatti -- stood in one angle, a harp, tied with most delicate ribands
of ivory satin powdered with pimpernels, in another. Many waxen candles
shed a tender and unostentatious radiance above their careful grease-
catchers. Upon pretty tables lay neat books by Fanny Burney, Beatrice
Harraden, Mary Wilkins, and Max Beerbohm, also the poems of Lord Byron
and of Lord de Tabley. Near the hearth was a sofa on which an emperor
might have laid an easy head that wore a crown, and before every low
and seductive chair was set a low and seductive footstool.
A grandmother's clock pronounced the hour of ten in a frail and elegant
voice as the finely-carved oak door was opened, and the Prophet
seriously entered this peaceful room, carrying a copy of the
Meditations of Marcus Aurelius in his hand.
He was a neatly-made little man of fashionable, even of modish, cut,
spare, smart and whimsical, with a clean-shaved, small-featured face,
large, shining brown eyes, abundant and slightly-waving brown hair,
that could only be parted, with the sweetest sorrow, in the centre of
his well-shaped, almost philosophical head, and movements light and
temperate as those of a meditative squirrel. Having just dined he was
naturally in evening dress, with a butterfly tie, gleaming pumps, and a
buttonhole of violets. He shut the door gently, glanced at his nice-
looking grandmothers, and, walking forward very quietly and demurely,
applied his eye to the telescope, lowering himself slightly by a Sandow
exercise, which he had practised before he became a prophet. Having
remained in this position of astronomical observation for some minutes,
he deviated into the upright, closed the window, and tinkled a small
silver bell that stood on the tulip-wood table beside Malkiel's
Mr. Ferdinand appeared, looking respectfully buoyant.
"Has Mr. Malkiel sent any reply to my inquiry, Mr. Ferdinand?" asked
"He has not, sir," replied Mr. Ferdinand, sympathetically.
"Did the boy messenger say he delivered my note?"
"He said so, sir, on his Bible oath, sir."
"And do you believe him?"
"Oh, sir!" responded Mr. Ferdinand, in a shocked voice, "surely a
London lad would not be found to tell a lie!"
"I hope not, Mr. Ferdinand. Still -- did he look a nervous sort of lad?"
"He was a trifle pale, sir, about the gills -- but a heart of gold, sir,
I feel sure. He wore four medals, sir."
"Four medals! Nevertheless, he may have been frightened to go to Mr.
Malkiel's door. That will do, Mr. Ferdinand."
Mr. Ferdinand was about to bow and retire when the Prophet, after a
moment of hesitation, added, --
"Stay, Mr. Ferdinand. Mrs. Merillia has gone to the Gaiety Theatre
to-night. I expect her back at half-past eleven. She may need
assistance on her return."
"Assistance, sir! Mrs. Merillia, sir!"
Mr. Ferdinand's luminous eyes shone with amazement.
"She may -- I say she
may -- have to be carried to bed."
Mr. Ferdinand's jaw dropped. He gave at the knees and was obliged to
cling to a Chippendale cabinet for support.
"Have an armchair ready in the hall in case of necessity and tell
Gustavus to sit up. Mrs. Merillia must not be dropped. You understand.
That will do, Mr. Ferdinand."
Mr. Ferdinand endeavoured to bow, and ultimately succeeded in retiring.
When his tremulous shoulders were no longer visible, the Prophet opened
Marcus Aurelius, and, seating himself in a corner of the big couch by
the fire, crossed his legs one over the other and began to read that
timid Ancient's consolatory, but unconvincing, remarks. Occasionally he
paused, however, murmured doubtfully, "Will she have to be carried to
bed?" shook his head mournfully and then resumed his reading.
While he thus employs his time, we must say a word or two about him.
Mr. Hennessey Vivian was now a man of thirty-eight, of excellent
fortune, of fine connections, and of admirable disposition. He had
become an orphan as soon as it was in his power to do so, having lost
his father -- Captain Vivian of Her Majesty's Tenth Lancers -- some months
before, and his mother -- who had been a Merillia of Chipping Sudbury -- a
few minutes after his birth. In these unfortunate circumstances, over
which he, poor infant, had absolutely no control -- whatever unkind
people might say! -- he devolved upon his mother's mother, the handsome
and popular Mrs. Merillia, who assumed his charge with the rosy
alacrity characteristic of her in all her undertakings. With her the
little Hennessey had passed his infantine years, blowing happy bubbles,
presiding over the voyages of his own private Noah -- from the Army and
Navy Stores, with two hundred animals of both sexes! -- eating pap
prepared by Mrs. Merillia's own
chef, and sleeping in a cot hung with
sunny silk that might have curtained Venus or have shaken about Aurora
as she rose in the first morning of the world. From her he had acquired
the alphabet and many a ginger-nut and decorative bonbon. And from her,
too, he had set forth, with tears, in his new Eton jacket and broad
white collar, to go to Mr. Chapman's preparatory school for little boys
at Slough. Here he remained for several years, acquiring a respect for
the poet Gray and a love of Slough peppermint that could only cease
with life. Here too he made friends with Robert Green, son of Lord
Churchmore, who was afterwards to be a certain influence in his life.
His existence at Slough was happy. Indeed, so great was his affection
for the place that his removal to Eton cost him suffering scarcely less
acute than that which presently attended his departure from Eton to
Christchurch. Over his sensations on leaving Oxford we prefer to draw a
veil, only saying that his last outlook -- as an undergraduate -- over her
immemorial towers was as hazy as the average Cabinet Minister's outlook
over the events of the day and the desires of the community.
But if the moisture of the Prophet did him credit at that painful
period of his life, it must be allowed that his behaviour on being
formally introduced into London Society showed no puling regret, no
backward longings after echoing colleges, lost dons and the scouts that
are no more. He was quite at his ease, and displayed none of the high-
pitched contempt of Piccadilly that is often so amusingly
characteristic of the young gentlemen accustomed to "the High."
Mrs. Merillia, who had been a widow ever since she could remember,
possessed the lease of the house in Berkeley Square in which the
Prophet was now sitting. It was an excellent mansion, with everything
comfortable about it, a duke on one side, a Chancellor of the Exchequer
on the other, electric light, several bathrooms and the gramophone.
There was never any question of the Prophet setting up house by
himself. On leaving Oxford he joined his ample fortune to Mrs.
Merillia's as a matter of course, and they settled down together with
the greatest alacrity and hopefulness. Nor were their pleasant
relations once disturbed during the fifteen years that elapsed before
the Prophet applied his eye to the telescope in the bow window and gave
Mr. Ferdinand the instructions which have just been recorded.
These fifteen years had not gone by without leaving their mark upon our
hero. He had done several things during their passage. For instance, he
had written a play, very nearly proposed to the third daughter of a
London clergyman and twice been to the Derby. Such events had, not
unnaturally, had their effect upon the formation of his character and
even upon the expression of his intelligent face. The writing of the
play -- and, perhaps, its refusal by all the actor-managers of the town --
had traced a tiny line at each corner of his mobile mouth. The third
daughter of the London clergyman -- his sentiment for her -- had taught his
hand the slightly episcopal gesture which was so admired at the Lambeth
Palace Garden Party in the summer of 1892. And the great race meeting
was responsible for the rather tight trousers and the gentleman-jockey
smile which he was wont to assume when he set out for a canter in the
Row. From all this it will be guessed that our Prophet was exceedingly
amenable to the influences that throng at the heels of the human
destiny. Indeed, he was. And some few months before this story opens it
came about that he encountered a gentleman who was, in fact, the
primary cause of this story being true. Who was this gentleman? you
will say. Sir Tiglath Butt, the great astronomer, Correspondent of the
Institute of France, Member of the Royal College of Science,
Demonstrator of Astronomical Physics, author of the pamphlet, "Star-
Gazers," and the brochure, "An investigation into the psychical
condition of those who see stars," C.B.F.R.S. and popular member of the
Colley Cibber Club in Long Acre.
The Prophet was introduced to Sir Tiglath at the Colley Cibber Club,
and though Sir Tiglath, who was of a freakish disposition and much
addicted to his joke declined to speak to him, on the ground that he
(Sir Tiglath) had lost his voice and was unlikely to find it in
conversation, the Prophet was greatly impressed by the astronomer's
enormous brick-red face, round body, turned legs, eyes like marbles,
and capacity for drinking port-wine -- so much so, in fact that, on
leaving the club, he hastened to buy a science primer on astronomy, and
devoted himself for several days to a minute investigation of the Milky
As there is a fascination of the earth, so is there a fascination of
the heavens. Along the dim, empurpled highways that lead from star to
star, from meteorite to comet, the imagination travels wakefully by
night, and the heart leaps as it draws near to the silver bosses of the
moon. Mrs. Merillia was soon obliged to permit the intrusion of a
gigantic telescope into her pretty drawing-room, and found herself
expected to converse at the dinner-table on the eight moons of Saturn,
the belts of Jupiter, the asteroids of Mars and the phases of Venus.
These last she at first declined to discuss with a man, even though he
were her grandson. But she was won over by the Prophet's innocent
persuasiveness, and drawn on until she spoke almost as readily of the
movements of the stars as formerly she had spoken of the movements of
the Court from Windsor to London, and from London to Balmoral. In
truth, she expected that Hennessey's passion for the comets would cease
as had ceased his passion for the clergyman's daughter; that his ardour
for astronomy would die as had died his ardour for play-writing; that
he would give up going to
Corona Borealis and to the Southern Fish as
he had given up going to the Derby. Time proved her wrong. As the days
flew Hennessey became increasingly impassioned. He was more often at
the telescope than at the Bachelors', and seemed on the way to become
almost as gibbous as the planet Mars. Even he slightly neglected his
social duties; and on one terrible occasion forgot that he was engaged
to dine at Cambridge House because he was assisting at a transit of
Now all this began to weigh upon the mind of Mrs. Merillia, despite the
amazing cheerfulness of disposition which she had inherited from two
long lines of confirmed optimists -- her ancestors on the paternal and
maternal sides. She did not know how to brood, but, if she had, she
might well have been led to do so. And even as it was she had been
reduced to so unusual a condition of dejection that, a week before the
evening we are describing, she had been obliged to order a box at the
Gaiety Theatre, she, who, like all optimists, habitually frequented
those playhouses where she could behold gloomy tragedies, awful
melodramas, or those ironic pieces called farces, in which the ultimate
misery of which human nature is capable is drawn to its farthest point.
In the beginning of this new dejection of hers, Mrs. Merillia was now
seated in a stage box at the "Gaiety," with an elderly General of Life
Guards, a Mistress of the Robes, and the grandfather of the Central
American Ambassador at the Court of St. James, and all four of them
were smiling at a neat little low comedian, who was singing, without
any voice and with the utmost precision, a pathetic romance entitled,
"De Coon Wot Got de Chuck."
Meanwhile the Prophet was engaged for the twentieth time in considering
whether Mrs. Merillia, on her return from this festival, would have to
be carried to bed by hired menials.
This brings us to the great turning point in our hero's life, to the
point when first he began to respect the strange powers stirring within
Until he encountered Sir Tiglath Butt in the dining-room of the Colley
Cibber Club Hennessey had been but a dilettante fellow. He had written
a play, but airily, and without the twenty years of arduous and
persistent study declared by the dramatic critics to be absolutely
necessary before any intelligent man can learn how to get a bishop on,
or a chambermaid off, the stage. He had nearly proposed to a
clergyman's daughter, but thoughtlessly, and without any previous
examination into the clericalism of rectory females, any first-hand
knowledge of mothers' meetings, devoid of which he must be a stout-
hearted gentleman who would rush in where even curates often fear to
tread. He had been to the Derby, but without wearing a bottle-green
veil or carrying a betting-book. In fact, he had not taken life very
seriously, or fully appreciated the solemn duties it brings to all who
bear its yoke. Only when the plump red hand of Sir Tiglath -- holding a
bumper of thirty-four port -- pointed the way to the heavens, did
Hennessey begin -- through his telescope -- to see the great possibilities
that foot it about the existence of even the meanest man who eats,
drinks and suffers. For through his telescope he saw that he might be a
prophet. Malkiel read the future in the stars. Why not he?
He endeavoured to do so. He sought an intimacy with the benefic
Jupiter, and found it -- perhaps by a secret kow-towing to
Sagittarius. He made up openly to
Canis Major and was shortly on
what might almost be considered terms of affection with
Venus. And he
was, moreover, presently quite fearless in the presence of
quite unabashed beneath the glittering eye of
Mercury. Then, as the
neophyte growing bold by familiarity with the circle of the great ones,
he ventured on his first prophecy, a discreet and even humble forecast
of the weather. He predicted a heavy fall of snow for a certain
evening, and so distrusted his own prediction that when the evening
came, mild and benign, he sallied forth to the Empire Palace of
Varieties, and stayed till near midnight, laughing at the sallies of
French clowns, and applauding the frail antics of cockatoos on motor
bicycles. When, on the stroke of twelve, he came airily forth wrapped
in the lightest of dust coats, he was obliged to endure the greatest of
man's amazements -- the knowledge that there was a well of truth within
him. Leicester Square was swathed in an ivory fleece, and he was
obliged to gain Berkeley Square on foot, treading gingerly in pumps,
escorted by linkmen with flaring golden torches, and preceded by tipsy
but assiduous ruffians armed with shovels, who, with many a lusty oath
and horrid imprecation, cleared a thin thread of path between the
towering walls of snow that sparkled faintly in the gaslight.
This experience fired him. He rose up early, lay down late, and, quite
with her assent, cast the horoscope of Mrs. Merillia in the sweat of
his brow. He cast, we say, her horoscope and, from a certain
conjunction of the planets, he gathered, to his horror, that upon the
fifteenth day of the month of January she would suffer an accident
while on an evening jaunt. We find him now, on this fifteenth day of
the first month, aware of his revered grandmother's intrepid expedition
to the Gaiety Theatre, waiting her return to Berkeley Square with
mingled feelings which we might analyse for pages, but which we prefer
baldly to state.
He longed to be proved indeed a prophet, and he longed also to see his
beloved relative return from her sheaf of pleasures in the free and
unconstrained use of all her graceful limbs. He was, therefore, torn by
foes in a mental conflict, and was in no case to sip the philosophic
honey of Marcus Aurelius as he sat between the telescope and the fire
in the comfortable drawing-room awaiting his grandmother's return.
"Gustavus," said Mr. Ferdinand in the servants' hall to the flushed
footman who lay upon a what-not, sipping a glass of ale and reading a
new and unabridged farthing edition of Carlyle's
"Gustavus, Mrs. Merillia has been and gone to the Gaiety Theatre
to-night. We expect her back at eleven-thirty sharp. She may need
assistance on her return, Gustavus."
The footman put down the tumbler which he was in the act of raising to
his pouted lips.
"Assistance, Mr. Ferdinand!" he ejaculated. "Mrs. Merillia, Mr.
"She may -- we say she
may -- have to be carried to bed, Gustavus."
Gustavus's jaw dropped, and the
French Revolution fluttered in his
"Good lawks, Mr. Ferdinand!" he exclaimed (not quoting from Carlyle).
"Have an armchair ready in the hall, Gustavus. Mrs. Merillia must not
be dropped. You understand? That will do, Gustavus."
And Mr. Ferdinand passed to the adjacent supper-table, to join the
upper housemaid in a discussion of two subjects that were very near to
their hearts, a round of beef and a tureen of pickled cabbage, while
Gustavus got up from the what-not in a bemused manner, and proceeded to
search dreamily for an armchair. He came upon one by chance in the
dining-room, and wheeled it out into the hall just as the clocks in the
house rang out the half-hour after eleven.
The Prophet above sprang up from the couch by the fire, Mr. Ferdinand
below closed his discussion with the upper housemaid, and the former
rapidly came down, the latter up, stairs as the roll of wheels broke
through the silence of the square.
Gustavus, in an attitude of bridled curiosity, was posed beneath a
polar bear that held an electric lamp. His hand was laid upon the back
of the armchair, and his round hazel eyes were turned expectantly
towards the hall as his two masters joined him.
"Is all ready, Mr. Ferdinand?" said the Prophet, anxiously.
"All is ready, sir," replied the butler.
"Wheel the chair forward, Gustavus, if you please," said the Prophet.
"Mrs. Merillia must not be dropped. Remember that."
"Not be dropped, sir -- no."
The chair ran forward on its amicable castors as a carriage was heard
to stop outside. Mr. Ferdinand flung open the portal, and the Prophet
glided out excitedly upon the step.
"Well?" he cried, "well?"
A footman, in a long drab coat with red facings, was preparing to get
off the box of a smart brougham, but before he could reach the
pavement, a charming head, covered with a lace cap, was thrust out of
the window, and a musical and almost girlish voice cried, --
"All nonsense, Hennessey, all rubbish! Saturn don't know what he's
talkin' about. Look!"
The carriage door was vivaciously opened from the inside and a
delightful little old lady, dressed in brown silk, with a long,
cheerful pointed nose, rosy cheeks, and chestnut hair -- that almost
mightn't have been a wig in certain lights -- prepared to leap forth
without waiting for the reverent assistance that the Prophet, flanked
by Mr. Ferdinand and Gustavus, was in waiting to afford.
As she jumped, she began to cry, "Not much wrong with me, is there,
Hennessey?" but before the sentence was completed she had caught her
neat foot in her brown silk gown, had stumbled from the step of the
carriage to the pavement, had twisted her pretty ankle, had reeled and
almost fallen, had been caught by the Prophet and Mr. Ferdinand, borne
tenderly into the hall, and placed in the armchair which the terrified
Gustavus, with almost enraged ardour, drove forward to receive her. As
she sank down in it, helpless, Mrs. Merillia exclaimed, with unabated
"It's happened, Hennessey, it's happened! But it was my own doin' and
yours. You shouldn't have prophesied at your age, and I shouldn't have
jumped at mine.
"Dearest grannie!" cried the Prophet, on his knees beside her, "how
grieved, how shocked I am! Is it -- is it -- "
He nodded. Mechanically Mr. Ferdinand nodded. Gustavus let his powdered
head drop, too, in imitation of his superiors.
"I'll tell you in the drawin' -- room."
She placed her pretty, mittened hands upon the arms of the chair, and
gave a little wriggle, trying to get up. Then she cried out
"No, I must be carried up. Mr. Ferdinand!"
"Is Gustavus to be trusted?"
"Trusted, ma'am!" cried Mr. Ferdinand, looking at Gustavus, who had
assumed an expression of pale and pathetic dignity. "Trusted -- a London
footman! Oh, ma'am!"
His voice failed. He choked and began to rummage in the pocket of his
black tail coat for his perfumed handkerchief.
"T'st, t'st! I mean his arms," said Mrs. Merillia, patting her delicate
hands quickly on the chair. "Can he carry me?"
The countenance of Mr. Ferdinand cleared, while Gustavus eagerly
extended his right arm, bent it sharply, and allowed his magnificent
biceps to rise up in sudden majesty. Mrs. Merillia was reassured.
"Hoist me to the drawin'-room, then," she said. "Hennessey, will you
The procession was formed, and the little old lady proceeded by a
succession of jerks to the upper floor, her silk gown rustling against
the balusters, and her tiny feet dangling loosely in mid-air, while her
long and elegant head nodded each time Mr. Ferdinand and Gustavus
pranced carefully sideways to a higher step. The Prophet followed
solicitously behind, with hands outstretched to check any dangerous
recoil. His face was very grave, but not entirely unhappy.
"Set me down by the fire," said Mrs. Merillia, when she found herself
being smoothly propelled through the atmosphere of the drawing-room.
The menials obeyed with breathless assiduity.
"And now bring me a sandwich, a glass of toast and water and a fan, if
you please. Yes, put the footstool well under me."
"Dearest grannie," said the Prophet, when the men had retired, "are you
in great pain?"
"No, Hennessey. Are you?"
Mrs. Merillia's green eyes twinkled.
"Yes, at my accident. For my ankle is sprained, I'm almost sure, and I
shall have to lie up presently in wet bandages. Tell me, are you really
pained that I have had the accident you prophesied?"
She glanced from her grandson to the telescope that pointed toward the
stars and back again.
"I am, indeed, sincerely grieved," the Prophet answered with genuine
"Yes. But if I'd jumped out all right, and was sittin' here now in a
perfect condition of health, you'd have been sincerely grieved, too."
"I hope not, grannie," said the Prophet. But he looked meditative.
Mr. Ferdinand brought the toast and water, the sandwich and the fan.
When he had trodden across the carpet out of the room Mrs. Merillia
"Hennessey, you see where this prophetic business is leadin' you. It
has made you charmed at my accident. Yes, it has."
She spoke without any pathos, humorously indeed, in a bright tone full
of common sense. And she nodded at him over her toast and water with a
chaffing, demure smile. But the Prophet winced and put his hand to his
thick brown hair.
"No, no," he cried quickly. "That's impossible. It can't be." But the
statements sounded like perturbed questions.
"Think!" said his grandmother, looking down at her poor, helpless foot
as it lay on the velvet stool. "If I hadn't had an accident to-night,
you'd have been obliged to think ill of -- of -- which of them was it that
had the impertinence to talk my affairs over with you?"
"Mercury and Uranus, Jupiter, Saturn and Venus," said the Prophet with
almost terrible gravity.
"Exactly. I always have thought ill of the last, but that's nothin' to
do with it. Weigh me in the balance against five planets -- are they all
planets? -- and how do the scales go? You see, Hennessey!"
The Prophet looked much distressed. He saw his beloved grandmother by
the fire and the bright stars twinkling through the frosty window-
panes. He thought of his telescope, of Sir Tiglath, of Mr. Malkiel, and
of the future, and the velvety blue walls of the drawing-room seemed to
spin round him.
"Prophecy," continued Mrs. Merillia, fanning herself till the lace
lappets of her priceless cap fluttered above her orderly and clasping
wig, "is dangerous, for often it can cause its own fulfilment. If you
hadn't said that because of a certain conjunction of planets -- or
whatever it was -- in my horoscope, I should have an accident to-night, I
shouldn't have jumped out of the brougham. I should have waited for Mr.
Ferdinand to assist me, as befits a gentlewoman."
"But, grannie, I assure you I was most anxious to save you. I hoped I
had made a mistake in your horoscope. I did, really. I was so nervous
that I sent to Mr. Malkiel while you were at the theatre and implored
him to look into the matter as an expert."
"Mr. Malkiel! Who is he? Do we know him?"
"No. But we know his marvellous
"The Almanac person! Why, Malkiel is surely a myth, Hennessey, a
number of people, a company, a syndicate, or something of that kind."
"So I thought, grannie. But I have made inquiries -- through a detective
agency -- and I have discovered that he is one person; in fact, a man,
just like you and me."
"Rather an odd man then! Is he in the Red Book?"
"No. He is, I understand, of a very retiring and secretive disposition.
In fact, I have had great difficulty in learning anything about him.
But at length I have discovered that he receives and answers letters at
an address in London."
"Indeed. Where is it?"
"Jellybrand's Library, Eleven Hundred Z, Shaftesbury Avenue. I sent a
boy messenger there to-day."
"Did you receive a reply?"
"No. I think the boy -- although Mr. Ferdinand tells me he wore four
medals, I presume for courage -- must have become nervous on perceiving
Mr. Malkiel's name on the envelope, have thrown the note down a
grating, and bolted before he reached the place, though he said -- on his
Bible oath, I understand from Mr. Ferdinand -- he delivered the note. In
any case I got no answer. How are you feeling?"
"Twisted, but prophetic. I foretell that my ankle will be swelled
beyond recognition to-morrow. Help me to bed, Hennessey."
The Prophet flew to his dear relative's assistance, and Mrs. Merillia
endeavoured to rise and to lean upon his anxious arm. After a struggle,
however, in which the Prophet took part and two chairs were overset,
she was obliged to desist.
"You must ring the bell, Hennessey," she said. "Mr. Ferdinand and
Gustavus must carry me to bed in the chair."
The Prophet sprang tragically to the bell. It was answered. The
procession was re-formed, and Mrs. Merillia was carried to bed, still
smiling, nodding at each stair and bearing herself with admirable
As Mr. Ferdinand and Gustavus descended to the basement after the
completion of their unusual task, the latter said solemnly, --
"However should master have come to know as the missis wouldn't be able
to put foot to floor this night, Mr. Ferdinand? However?"
"I cannot answer you, Gustavus," Mr. Ferdinand replied, shaking his
broad and globe-like head, round whose bald cupola the jet-black hair
was brushed in two half moons decorated with a renowned "butler's own
"Well, Mr. Ferdinand," rejoined Gustavus, stretching out one hand for
pale ale, the other for
French Revolution, "I don't like it."
"Why, Gustavus?" inquired Mr. Ferdinand, preparing to resume his
discussion with the accommodating upper housemaid. "Why?"
"Because it seems strange like, Mr. Ferdinand," said Gustavus, lifting
the glass to his lips, the
French Revolution to his eyes.
"It do seem strange, Gustavus," answered Mr. Ferdinand, leaving out the
"like" in a cultivated manner. "It do."
In the drawing-room the Prophet stood, with clenched hands, gazing
through the telescope at Mercury and Uranus, Jupiter, Saturn and Venus,
while, on the second floor, Mrs. Fancy Quinglet, Mrs. Merillia's
devoted, but occasionally disconcerting, maid, swathed her mistress's
ankle in bandages previously steeped in cold water and in vinegar.
Malkiel The Second Is Betrayed By The Young Librarian
Mrs. Merillia's accident made a very deep impression upon the Prophet's
mind. He thought it over carefully, and desired to discuss it in all
its bearings with Mrs. Fancy Quinglet, who had been his confidante for
full thirty years. Mrs. Fancy -- who had not been married -- was no longer
a pretty girl. Indeed it was possible that she had never, even in her
heyday, been otherwise than moderately plain. Now, at the age of fifty-
one and a half, she was a faithful creature with a thin, pendulous
nose, a pale, hysteric eye, a tendency to cold in the head and
chilblains in the autumn of the year, and a somewhat incoherent and
occasionally frenzied turn of mind. Argument could never at any time
have had much effect upon her nature, and as she grew towards maturity
its power over her most markedly decreased. This fact was recognised by
everybody, last of all by Mrs. Merillia, who was at length fully
convinced of the existence of certain depths in her maid's peculiar
character by the following circumstance.
Mrs. Merillia had a bandy-legged dachshund called Beau, whose name was
for many years often affectionately, and quite correctly, pronounced by
Fancy Quinglet. One day, however, she chanced to see it written upon
paper -- B.E.A.U.
"Whatever does that mean, ma'am?" she asked of Mrs. Merillia.
"Why, Beau, of course, Beau -- the dog. What should it mean?"
"Bow?" cried Fancy. "Is he writ so?"
"Of course, silly girl. It is written Beau, and you can pronounce it as
you would pronounce a bow of ribbon."
Fancy said no more, though it was easy to see that she was much shaken
by this circumstance. But she could never afterwards be induced to
utter her favourite's name. She was physically unable to speak the word
so strangely, so almost impiously, spelt. This she declared with tears.
Persuasion and argument were unavailing. Henceforth Beau was always
called by her "the dog," and it was obvious that, had she been led out
to the stake, she must have burned rather than save herself by a
pronouncing of the combination of letters by which she had been so long
Such an inflexible mind had Mrs. Fancy, to whom the Prophet now applied
himself with gestures almost Sinaic.
She was dressed in mouse-coloured grenadine, and was seated in a small
chamber opening out of Mrs. Merillia's bedroom, engaged in what she
called "plain tatting."
"Fancy," said the Prophet, entering and closing the door carefully,
"you know me well."
"From the bottle, sir," she answered, darting the bone implements in
"Have you ever thought -- has it ever occurred to you -- "
"I can't say it has, sir," Fancy replied, with the weak decision
peculiar to her.
She was ever prone thus to answer questions before they were fully
asked, or could be properly understood by her, and from such premature
decisions as she hastened to give she could never afterwards be
persuaded to retreat. Knowing this the Prophet said rapidly, --
"Fancy, if a man finds out that he is a prophet what ought he to do?"
The lady's-maid rattled her bones.
"Let it alone, sir," she answered. "Let it alone, Master Hennessey."
"Well, but what d'you mean by that?"
"What I say sir. I can't speak different, nor mean other."
"But can't you explain, Fancy?"
"Oh, Master Hennessey, the lives that have been wrecked, the homes that
have been broke up by explainings!"
Her eye seemed suddenly lit from within by some fever of sad, worldly
"Well, but -- " the Prophet began.
"I know it, Master Hennessey, and I can't know other."
She sighed, and her gaze became fixed like that of a typhoid patient in
"Them that knows other let them declare it," she ejaculated. "I say
again, as I did afore -- the homes that have been broken up by
She tatted. The Prophet bowed before her decision and left the
apartment feeling rather hungry. Fancy Quinglet's crumbs were not
always crumbs of comfort. He resolved to apply again to Mr. Malkiel,
and this time to make the application in person. But before he did so
he thought it right to tell Mrs. Merillia, who was still steeped in
bandages, of his intention. He therefore went straight to her room from
Fancy Quinglet's. Mrs. Merillia was lying upon a couch reading a
Russian novel. A cup of tea stood beside her upon a table near a bowl
of red and yellow tulips, a canary was singing in its cage amid a
shower of bird-seed, and "the dog" lay stretched before the blazing
fire upon a milk-white rug, over which a pale ray of winter sunshine
fell. As the Prophet came in Mrs. Merillia glanced up.
"Hennessey," she said, "you are growin' to look like Lord Brandling,
when he combined the Premiership with the Foreign Office and we had
that dreadful complication with Iceland. My dear boy, you are
corrugated with thought and care. What is the matter? My ankle is much
better. You need not be anxious about me. Has Venus been playing you
another jade's trick?"
The Prophet sat down and stroked Beau's sable back with his forefinger.
"I have scarcely looked at Venus since you were injured, grannie," he
answered. "I have scarcely dared to."
"I'm glad to hear it. Since the days of Adonis she has always had a
dangerous influence on young men. If you want to look at anybody, look
at that pretty, sensible cousin of Robert Green's."
"Lady Enid. Yes, she is sensible. I believe she is in Hampshire staying
with the Churchmores."
He looked calmer for a moment, but the corrugated expression quickly
"Grannie," he said, "I think it my duty to make an effort to see Mr.
"The Almanac man. What do you want with him?"
She tapped one of her small, mittened hands over the other and slightly
twisted her long and pointed nose.
"I want to learn his views on this strange faculty of prophecy. Has it
ever occurred to you that among all our immense acquaintance we don't
number a single prophet?"
"One can't know everybody, Hennessey. And I believe that prophets
always spring from the lower classes. The line must be drawn somewhere
even in these days."
"Why not draw it at millionaires then?"
"I should like to. Somethin' will have to be done. If the nobodies
continue to go everywhere the very few somebodies that are left will
soon go nowhere.
"Perhaps they do go nowhere. Perhaps that is why we have never met a
Mrs. Merillia looked up sharply, with her wide, cheerful mouth set awry
in a shrewd smile that seemed to say "So ho!" She recognised a strange,
new note of profound, though not arrogant, self-respect in her
"Prophets," Hennessey added more gently, "have always been inclined to
dwell in the wilderness."
"But where can you find a wilderness in these days?" asked Mrs.
Merillia, still smiling. "Even Hammersmith is becomin' quite a
fashionable neighbourhood. And you say that the
Almanac man lives in
Shaftesbury Avenue, only half a minute from Piccadilly Circus."
"My dear grannie," he corrected her, "I said he received letters there.
I don't know where he lives."
"How are you goin' to find him then?"
"I shall call this afternoon at eleven hundred Z."
"To see if he has run in for a postcard! And what sort of person do you
expect him to be?"
"Something quite out of the common."
Mrs. Merillia screwed up her eyes doubtfully.
"I hope you won't be disappointed. How many editions have there been of
"Seventy yearly editions."
"Then Malkiel must be a very old man."
"But this Mr. Malkiel is Malkiel the Second."
"One of a dynasty! That alters the case. Perhaps he's a young man about
town. There are young men about town, I believe, who have addresses at
clubs and libraries, and sleep on doorsteps, or in the Park. Well,
Hennessey, I see you are getting fidgety. You had better be off. Buy me
some roses for my room on your way home. I'm expectin' someone to have
tea with the poor victim of prophecy this afternoon."
The Prophet kissed his grandmother, put on his overcoat and stepped
into the square.
It was a bright, frosty, genial day, and he resolved to walk to
London was looking quite light-hearted in the dry, cold air, which set
a bloom even upon the cheeks of the ambassadors who were about, and
caused the butcher boys to appear like peonies. The crossing-sweepers
swept nothing vigorously, and were rewarded with showers of pence from
pedestrians delighting in the absence of mud. Crystal as some garden of
an eternal city seemed the green Park, wrapped in its frosty mantle
embroidered with sunbeams. Even the drivers of the "growlers" were
moderately cheerful -- a very rare occurrence -- and the blind man of
Piccadilly smiled as he roared along the highway, striking the feet of
the charitable with the wand which was the emblem of his profession.
Only the Prophet was solemn on this delicious afternoon. People looked
at him and thought that he must surely be the richest man of the town.
His face was so sad.
He wound across the whirlpool, where the green image postures to the
human streams that riot below it. He saw beneath their rooves of
ostrich feathers the girls shake their long earrings above sweet
violets and roses fainting with desire to be bought by country cousins.
"Where is eleven hundred Z, if you please?" he asked the Shaftesbury
"Jellybrand's sir? On the right between the cream shop and the engine
warehouse, just opposite the place where they sell parrots, after that
there patent medicine depot."
The Prophet bowed, thinking of the blessings of knowledge. In a moment
he stood before the library and glanced at its dirty window. He saw
several letters lying against the glass. One was addressed to "Miss
Minerva Partridge." He stepped in, wondering what she was like.
Jellybrand's Library was a small, square room containing a letter rack,
a newspaper stand, a bookcase and a counter. It was fitted up with
letters, papers, books, and a big boy with a bulging head. The last-
named stood behind the counter, stroking his irregular profile with one
hand, and throwing a box of J nibs into the air and catching it with
the other. Upon the Prophet's entrance this youth obligingly dropped
the nibs accidentally upon the floor, and arranged his sharp and anemic
face in an expression of consumptive inquiry. The Prophet approached
the counter softly, and allowed the sable with which his coat was
trimmed to rest against it.
"Did a boy messenger call here a few days ago with a note for Mr.
Malkiel?" he asked.
The young librarian assumed an attitude of vital suspicion and the
expression of a lynx.
"For Malkiel the Second, sir?" he replied in a piercing soprano voice.
"Yes," said the Prophet. "A boy messenger with four medals. There was a
crest on the envelope -- an elephant rampant surrounded by a swarm of
A dogged look of combined terror and resolution overspread the young
"There's been no elephant and no swarm of bees in here," he said with
"You are sure you would have remembered the circumstance if there had
"Rather! What do you think? We don't allow things of them sort in here,
I can tell you."
The Prophet drew out half a sovereign, upon which a ray of sunshine
immediately fell as if in benediction.
"Does Mr. Malkiel -- ?
"Malkiel the Second," interrupted the young librarian, whose pinkish
eyes winked at the illumination of the gold.
"Malkiel the Second ever call here -- in person?"
"In person?" said the young librarian, very suspiciously.
"I don't know about in person. He calls here."
"Ah," said the Prophet, recognising in the youth a literary sense that
instinctively rejected superfluity. "He does call. May I ask when?"
"When he chooses," said the young librarian, and he winked again.
"Does he choose often?"
"He's got his day, like Miss Partridge and lots of 'em."
"I see. Is his day -- by chance -- a Thursday?"
It was a Thursday afternoon.
"I don't know about by chance," rejoined the young librarian, his
literary sense again coming into play. "But it's -- "
At this moment the library door opened, and a tall, thin, middle-aged
man walked in sideways with his feet very much turned out to right and
left of him.
"Any letters, Frederick Smith?" he said in a hollow voice, on reaching
"Two, Mr. Sagittarius, I believe," replied the young librarian, moving
with respectful celerity towards the letter rack.
The Prophet started and looked eagerly at the newcomer. His eyes rested
upon an individual whose face was comic in outline with a serious
expression, and whose form suggested tragic farce dressed to represent
commonplace, as seen at Margate and elsewhere. A top hat, a spotted
collar, a pink shirt, a white satin tie, a chocolate brown frock coat,
brown trousers and boots, and a black overcoat thrown open from top to
bottom -- these appurtenances, clerkly in their adherence to a certain
convention, could not wholly disguise the emotional expression that
seems sometimes to lurk in shape. The lines of Mr. Sagittarius defied
their clothing. His shoulders gave the lie to the chocolate brown frock
coat. His legs breathed defiance to the trousers that sheathed them.
One could, in fancy, see the former shrugged in all the abandonment of
third-act despair, behold the latter darting wildly for the cover
afforded by a copper, a cupboard, or any other friendly refuge of those
poor victims of ludicrous and terrific circumstance who are so sorely
smitten and afflicted upon the funny stage.
Mr. Sagittarius, in fine, seemed a man dressed in a mask that was
unable to deceive. His lean face was almost absurd in its irregularity,
its high cheek-bones and deep depressions, its sharp nose, extensive
mouth and nervous chin. But the pale blue eyes that were its soul shone
plaintively beneath their shaggy, blonde eyebrows, and even an
application of pomade almost hysterically lavish could not entirely
conceal the curling gloom of the heavy, matted hair.
"Yes, two, Mr. Sagittarius," cried the young librarian, approaching
from the rack.
The gentleman held out a hand covered with a yellow dogskin glove.
"Thank you, Frederick Smith," he said.
And he turned to leave the building. But the Prophet intercepted him.
"Excuse me," said the Prophet. "I beg your pardon, but -- but -- " he
looked at the young librarian and accidentally let the half sovereign
fall on the counter. It gave the true ring. "I believe I heard you
mention -- let drop the name Mr. Sagittarius."
"I don't know about let drop," began the youth in his usual revising
manner. "But I -- "
At this point the gentleman in question began to move rather hastily
sideways towards the door. The Prophet followed him up and got before
him near the letter rack, while the young librarian retrieved the half
sovereign and bit it with his teeth.
"I really beg your pardon," said the Prophet, while Mr. Sagittarius
stood still in the violent attitude of one determined to dodge so long
as he has breath. "I am not at all in the habit of" -- Mr. Sagittarius
dodged -- "of intruding upon strangers -- " Mr. Sagittarius dodged again
with such extraordinary abruptness and determination that he nearly
caused the young librarian to swallow the Prophet's golden bribe. "I
see you don't believe me," the Prophet continued, flushing pink but
still holding his ground, and indeed trying to turn Mr. Sagittarius's
flank by a strategic movement of almost military precision. "I see that
plainly, but -- " Mr. Sagittarius ducked to the left, endeavouring to
cover the manoeuvre by an almost simultaneous and extremely passionate
feint towards the Prophet's centre, which was immediately withdrawn in
good order -- "but your remark -- arkable name, Saag -- itt-ittarius,
suggested to me that you are rea-eally the man I seek."
He had now got Mr. Sagittarius into a very awkward bit of country
between the letter P. in the rack, under which reposed Miss Partridge's
correspondence, and the newspaper bureau, with the counter immediately
on his rear, and taking advantage of this circumstance, he continued
"May I ask whether you recently received a letter -- one moment! --
envelope -- crest -- I only want to know if you have received -- only -- an
elephant rampant -- swarm of -- of bees -- "
"I have never received a rampant elephant and a swarm of bees," cried
Mr. Sagittarius with every symptom of unbridled terror. "Help,
"Right you are, Malkiel the Second!" cried the young librarian, hastily
pocketing the half sovereign and making a feverish lunge at nothing in
particular over the counter. "Right you are!"
"Malkiel the Second!" ejaculated the Prophet. "Then you are the man I
Malkiel the Second -- for it was indeed he -- sank back against the counter
in an attitude of abandoned prostration that would have made a fortune
of a comic actor.
"I trusted to Jellybrand's," he said, drawing from his tail pocket a
white handkerchief covered with a pattern of pink storks in flight. "I
trusted to Jellybrand's and Jellybrand's has betrayed me. Oh, Frederick
He put a stork to each eye. The young librarian assumed an injured air.
"It was the agitation did it, Mr. Sagittarius," he said. "If you hadn't
a-kep' dodging I shouldn't have lost my memory."
And he looked avariciously at the Prophet, who smiled at him
reassuringly and drew forth a card case.
"I feel sure, Mr. Sag -- Malkiel -- "
"Malkiel the Second, sir, is my name if it is betrayed by
Jellybrand's," said that gentleman with sudden dignity. "There is no
need of any mister."
"I beg your pardon," said the Prophet, handing his card. "That is my
name and address. May I beg you to forgive my apparent anxiety to make
your acquaintance, and implore you to grant me a few moments of private
conversation on a matter of the utmost importance?"
Malkiel the Second read the card.
"Berkeley Square," he said. "The Berkeley Square?"
"Exactly, the Berkeley Square," said the Prophet, modestly.
"Not the one at Brixton Rise behind the Kimmins's mews?" said Malkiel
the Second, suspiciously.
"Certainly not. The one near Grosvenor Square."
"That's better," said Malkiel, upon whom the Prophet's address had
evidently made a good impression. "Kimmins's is no class at all. Had
you come from there, I -- but what may you want with me?"
The Prophet glanced significantly at the young librarian, who was
leaning upon the counter in a tense, keyhole position, with his private
ear turned somewhat ostentatiously towards the two speakers.
"I can tell you in an inner room," he murmured, in his most
"You're certain it's not Berkeley Square behind Kimmins's?" said
Malkiel, with a last flicker of suspicion.
"Quite certain -- quite."
"Frederick Smith," said Malkiel the Second, "since Jellybrand's has
betrayed me Jellybrand's must abide the consequences. Show this
gentleman and me to the parlour."
"Right, Mr. Sagittarius," replied the young librarian whose memory had
again become excellent. "But Miss Minerva is coming at three-thirty."
"Has she bespoke the parlour, Frederick Smith?"
"Yes, Mr. Sagittarius."
"Then she can't have it. That's all. Jellybrand's must abide the full
consequences of my betrayal. Go forward, Frederick Smith."
The young librarian went forward towards a door of deal and ground
glass which he threw open with some ceremony.
"The parlour, gents," he said.
"After you, sir, after you," said Malkiel the Second, making a side
step and bringing his feet together in the first position.
"No, no," rejoined the Prophet, gently drawing the sage to the front,
and inserting him into the parlour in such an ingenious manner that he
did not perceive the journey of a second half sovereign from the person
of the Prophet to that of the young librarian, who thereafter closed
the deal and ground glass door, and returned to the counter, whistling
in an absent-minded manner, "I'm a Happy Millionaire from Colorado."
The Two Prophets Partake Of "Creaming Foam."
"And now, sir," said Malkiel the Second, pointing to a couple of cane
chairs which, with the table, endeavoured, rather unsuccessfully, to
furnish forth the parlour at Jellybrand's, "now sir, what do you want
As he spoke he threw his black overcoat wide open, seated himself on
the edge of one of the chairs in a dignified attitude, and crossed his
feet -- which were not innocent of spats -- one over the other.
The Prophet was resolved to dare all, and he, therefore, answered
"Malkiel the Second, I wish to speak to you as one prophet to another."
At this remark Malkiel started violently, and darted a searching glance
from beneath his blonde eyebrows at Hennessey.
"Do you live in the Berkeley Square, sir," he said, "and claim to be a
"I do," said Hennessey, with modest determination.
Malkiel smiled, a long and wreathed smile that was full of luscious
melancholy and tragic sweetness.
"The assumption seems rather ridiculous -- forgive me," he exclaimed.
"The Berkeley Square! Whatever would Madame say?"
"Madame?" said the Prophet, inquiringly.
"Madame Malkiel, or Madame Sagittarius, as she always passes."
"My honoured lady," said Malkiel, with pride. "More to me almost than
any lunar guide or starry monitor. What, oh, what would she say to a
prophet from the Berkeley Square?"
He burst into hollow laughter, shaking upon the cane chair till its
very foundations seemed threatened as by an earthquake, and was obliged
to apply the flight of storks to his eyes before he could in any degree
recover his equanimity. At length he glanced up with tears rolling down
"Excuse me, sir," he said. "But what can you know of prophecy in such a
fashionable neighbourhood, close to Grosvenor Square and within sight,
as one may say, of Piccadilly? Oh, dear, oh, dear!"
"But really," said the Prophet, who had flushed red, but who still
spoke with pleasant mildness, "what influence can neighbourhood have
upon such a superterrestrial matter?"
"Did Isaiah reside in the Berkeley Square, sir?"
"I fancy not. Still -- "
"I fancy not, too," rejoined Malkiel. "Nor Bernard Wilkins either, or
any prophet that ever I heard of. Why, even Jesse Jones lives off
Perkin's Road, Wandsworth Common, though he does keep a sitting-room in
Berners Street just to see his clients in, and he is a very low-class
person, even for a prophet. No, no, sir, Madame is quite right. She
married me despite the damning -- yes, I say, sir, the damning fact that
I was a prophet -- " here Malkiel the Second brought down one of the
dogskin gloves with violence upon the rickety parlour table -- "but
before ever we went to the Registrar's she made me take a solemn oath.
What was it, do you say?"
"Yes, I do," said Hennessey, leaning forward and gazing into Malkiel's
long and excited face round which the heavy mat of pomaded hair
"It was this, sir -- to mix with no prophets so long as we both should
live. Prophets, she truly said, are low-class, even dirty, persons.
Their parties, their 'at homes' are shoddy. They live in fourth-rate
neighbourhoods. They burn gas and sit on horsehair. Only in rare cases
do they have any bathroom in their houses. Their influence would be bad
for the children when they begin to grow up. How could Corona make her
debut" -- Malkiel pronounced it debbew -- "in prophetic circles? How
could she come out in Drakeman's Villas, Tooting, or dance with such
young fellers as frequent Hagglin's Buildings, Clapham Rise? How could
she do it, sir?"
"I don't know, I'm sure," gasped the Prophet.
"Nor I, sir, nor I," continued Malkiel, with unabated fervour. "And
it's the same with Capricornus. My boy shall not be thrown in with
prophets. Did Malkiel the First start the
Almanac for that? Did he
foster it till it went from the poor servant girl's attic into the
gilded apartments of the aristocracy and lay even upon Royal tables for
that? Did he, I say?"
"I haven't an idea," said the Prophet.
"He did not, sir. And I -- I myself" -- he arranged the diamond pin in his
white satin tie with an almost imperial gesture -- "have not followed
upon the lines he laid down without imbibing, as I may truly say, the
lofty spirit that guided him, the lofty social spirit, as Madame calls
it. There have been other prophets, I know. There are other prophets. I
do not attempt to deny it. But where else than here, sir" -- the dogskin
glove lay upon the breast of the chocolate brown frock coat -- "where
else than here will you find a prophet who hides his identity beneath
an alias, who remains, as Madame always says,
perdew, and who
conducts his profession on honourable and business-like lines? Am I
dressed like a prophet?" He suddenly brought his doubled fist down upon
the Prophet's knee.
"No," cried Hennessey. "Certainly not!"
"Why, sir, how can I be when I tell you that Merriman & Saxster of
Regent Street are my tailors, and have been since my first pair of
trouserings? Do I bear myself prophetically? I think you will agree
that I do not when you know that I am frequently mistaken for an
outside broker -- yes, sir, and that this has even happened upon the pier
at Margate. You have seen my demeanour at Jellybrand's. You saw me come
into the library. You saw my manner with Frederick Smith. Was it
assuming? Did I lord it over the lad?"
"No. I might have been anybody, any ordinary person living in Grosvenor
Place, or, like yourself, in the Berkeley Square. And so it ever is.
Other prophets there are -- possibly men of a certain ability even in
that direction -- but there is only one Malkiel, only one who attends
strictly to business, who draws a good income from the stars, sir, and
satisfies the public month in, month out, without making a fuss about
it. Wait a few years, sir, only wait!"
"Certainly," said the Prophet. "I will."
"Wait till the children are grown up. Wait till Capricornus has got his
Latin by heart and gone to Oxford. Then, and only then, you will know
whether Malkiel the Second is the exception to the rule of prophets.
Yes, and Madame shall know it, too. She trusted me, sir, as only a
woman can. She knew I was a prophet and had a prophet for a father
before me. And yet she trusted me. It was a daring thing to do. Many
would call it foolhardy. Wouldn't they, sir?"
The dogskin glove was raised. The Prophet hastened to reply, --
"I daresay they would."
"But she was not afraid, and she shall have her reward. Corona shall
never set foot in Drakeman's Villas, nor breathe the air of Hagglin's.
I must have a glass of water, I must, sir, indeed."
He gasped heavily and was about to rise, when the Prophet said:
"Join me in a glass of wine."
"I should be delighted," Malkiel answered. "Delighted, I'm sure, but I
doubt whether Jellybrand's -- "
"Could not Frederick Smith go out and fetch us a -- a pint bottle of
champagne?" said the Prophet, playing a desperate card in the prophetic
An expression almost of joviality overspread the tragic farce of
"We'll see," he answered, opening the deal door. "Frederick Smith!"
"Here, Mr. Sagittarius," cried the soprano voice of the young
"Can you leave the library for a moment, Frederick Smith?"
The Prophet held up a sovereign over Malkiel the Second's narrow
"Yes, Mr. Sagittarius, for half a mo!"
"Ah! Where is the nearest champagne, Frederick Smith?"
"The nearest -- "
"Champagne, I said, Frederick Smith."
"I daresay I could get a dozen at Gillow's next the rabbit shop,"
replied the young librarian, thoughtfully.
The Prophet shuddered to the depths of his being, but he was now
embarked upon his enterprise and must crowd all sail.
"Go to Gillow's," he exclaimed, with an assumption of feverish
geniality, "and bring back a couple of rabbits -- I mean bottles. They
must be dry. You understand?"
The young librarian looked out of the window.
"Oh, I'll manage that, sir. It ain't raining," he replied carelessly.
The Prophet stifled a cry of horror as he pressed the sovereign into
the young librarian's hand.
"You can keep the change," he whispered, adding in a tremulous voice,
"Tell me -- tell me frankly -- do you think in your own mind that there
will be any?"
"I don't know about in my own mind," rejoined the young librarian,
drawing a tweed cap from some hidden recess beneath the counter. "But
if you only want two bottles I expect there'll be ten bob over."
The Prophet turned as pale as ashes and had some difficulty in
sustaining himself to the parlour, where he and Malkiel the Second sat
down in silence to await the young librarian's return. Frederick Smith
came back in about five minutes, with an ostentatious-looking bottle
smothered in gold leaf under each arm.
"There was four shillings apiece to pay, sir," he remarked to the
Prophet as he placed them upon the table. "I got the 'our own make'
brand with the 'creaming foam' upon the corks."
The Prophet bent his head. He was quite unable to speak, but he signed
to the young librarian to open one of the bottles and pour its contents
into the two tumblers of thick and rather dusty glass that Jellybrand's
kept for its moments of conviviality. Malkiel the Second lifted the
goblet to the window and eyed the beaded nectar with an air of almost
"Ready, sir?" he said, turning to the Prophet, who, with a trembling
hand, followed his example.
"Quite -- ready," said the Prophet, shutting his eyes.
"Then," rejoined Malkiel the Second in a formal voice, "here's luck!"
He held the tumbler to his lips, waiting for the Prophet's reply to
give the signal for a unanimous swallowing of the priceless wine.
"Luck," echoed the Prophet in a faltering voice.
As he gradually recovered his faculties, he heard Malkiel the Second
say, with an almost debauched accent, --
"That puts heart into a man. I shall give Gillows an order. Leave us,
Frederick Smith, and remember that Miss Minerva is on no account to be
let in here till this gentleman and I have finished the second bottle."
The Prophet could not resist a wild movement of protest, which was
apparently taken by the young librarian as a passionate gesture of
dismissal. For he left the room rapidly and closed the door with
decision behind him.
"And now, sir, I am at your service," said Malkiel the Second,
courteously. "Let me pour you another glass of wine."
The Prophet assented mechanically. It seemed strange to have to die so
young, and with so many plans unfulfilled, but he felt that it was
useless to struggle against destiny and he drank again. Then he heard a
voice say, --
"And now, sir, I am all attention."
He looked up. He saw the parlour, the ground glass of the door, the
tumblers and bottles on the table, the sharp features and strained,
farcical eyes of Malkiel framed in the matted, curling hair. Then all
was not over yet. There was something still in store for him. He sat
up, pushed the creaming four-shilling foam out of his sight, turned to
his interlocutor, and with a great effort collected himself.
"I want to consult you," he began, "about my strange powers."
Malkiel smiled with easy irony.
"Strange powers in Berkeley Square!" he ejaculated. "The Berkeley
Square! But go on, sir. What are they?"
"Having been led to study the stars," continued the Prophet with more
composure and growing earnestness, "I felt myself moved to make a
"Weather forecast, I suppose," remarked Malkiel, laconically.
"How did you know that?"
"The easiest kind, sir, the number one beginner's prophecy. Capricornus
used to tell Madame what the weather'd be as soon as he could talk. But
go on, sir, go on, I beg."
The Prophet began to feel rather less like Isaiah, but he continued,
with some determination, --
"If that had been all, I daresay I should have thought very little of
"No, you wouldn't sir. Who thinks their first baby a little one? Can
you tell me that?"
The Prophet considered the question for a moment. Then he answered, --
"Perhaps you're right."
"Perhaps so," rejoined Malkiel, indulgently. "Well, sir, what was your
next attempt -- in the Berkeley Square?"
The Prophet's sensitive nature winced under the obvious irony of the
interrogation, but either the "creaming foam" had rendered him
desperate, or he was to some extent steeled against the satire by the
awful self-respect which had invaded him since Mrs. Merillia's
accident. In any case he answered firmly, --
"Malkiel the Second, in Berkeley Square I had a relation -- an honoured
"You've the better of me there, sir. My parents and Madame's are all in
Brompton Cemetery. Well, sir, you'd got an honoured grandmother in the
Berkeley Square. What of it?"
"She was naturally elderly."
"And you predicted her death and she passed over. Very natural too,
sir. The number two beginner's prophecy. Why, Corona -- "
But at this point the Prophet broke in.
"Excuse me," he said in a scandalised voice, "excuse me, Malkiel the
Second, she did nothing of the kind. Whatever my faults may be -- and
they are many, I am aware -- I -- I -- "
He was greatly moved.
"Take another sup of wine, sir. You need it," said Malkiel.
The Prophet mechanically drank once more, grasping the edge of the
table for support in the endurance of the four-bob ecstasy.
"You prophesied it and she didn't pass over, sir," continued Malkiel,
with unaffected sympathy. "I understand the blow. It's cruel hard when
a prophecy goes wrong. Why, even Madame -- "
But at this point the Prophet broke in.
"You are mistaken," he cried. "Utterly mistaken."
Malkiel the Second drew himself up with dignity.
"In that case I will say no more," he remarked, pursing up his lengthy
mouth and assuming a cast-iron attitude.
The Prophet perceived his mistake.
"Forgive me," he exclaimed. "It is my fault."
"Oh, no, sir. Not at all," rejoined Malkiel, with icy formality. "Pray
let the fault be mine."
"I will not indeed. But let me explain. My beloved grandmother still
lives, although I cast her horoscope and -- "
"Indeed! very remarkable!"
"I mean -- not although -- but I thought I would cast her horoscope. And I
"In the square?" asked Malkiel, with quiet, but piercing, irony.
"Yes," said the Prophet, with sudden heat. "Why not?"
Malkiel smiled with an almost paternal pity, as of a thoughtful father
gazing upon the quaint and inappropriate antics of his vacant child.
"Why not, sir -- if you prefer it?" he rejoined. "Pray proceed."
The Prophet's face was flushed, either by the "creaming foam," or by
irritation, or by both.
"Surely," he began, in a choking voice, "surely the stars are the same
whether they are looked at from Berkeley Square or from -- from -- or
from" -- he sought passionately for a violent contrast -- "from Newington
Butts," he concluded triumphantly.
"I have not the pleasure to have ever observed my guides from the
neighbourhood of the Butts," said Malkiel, serenely. "But pray proceed,
sir. I am all attention. You cast your honoured grandmother's
horoscope -- in the Berkeley Square."
The Prophet seized his glass, but some remnants of his tattered self-
control still clung to him, and he put it down without seeking further
madness from its contents.
"I did," he said firmly, even obstinately. "And I discovered -- I say
discovered that she was going to have an accident while on an evening
expedition -- or jaunt as you might perhaps prefer to call it."
"I should certainly call it so -- in the case of a lady who was an
honoured grandmother," said Malkiel the Second in assent.
"Well, Malkiel the Second," continued the Prophet, recovering his
composure as he approached his
coup, "my grandmother did have an
accident, as I foretold."
"Did she have it in the square, sir?" asked Malkiel.
"And what if she did?" cried the Prophet with considerable testiness.
He was beginning to conceive a perfect hatred of the admirable
neighbourhood, which he had loved so well.
"I merely ask for information, sir."
"The accident did take place in the square certainly, and on the very
night for which I predicted it."
Malkiel the Second looked very thoughtful, even morose. He poured out
another glass of champagne, drank it slowly in sips, and when the glass
was empty ran the forefinger of his right hand slowly round and round
"Can Madame be wrong?" he ejaculated at length, in a muffled voice of
meditation. "Can Madame be wrong?"
The Prophet gazed at him with profound curiosity, fascinated by the
circular movement of the yellow dogskin finger, and by the inward
murmur -- so acutely mental -- that accompanied it.
"Madame?" whispered the Prophet, drawing his cane chair noiselessly
"Ah!" rejoined Malkiel, gazing upon him with an eye whose pupil seemed
suddenly dilated to a most preternatural size. "Can she have been wrong
all these many years?"
"What -- what about?" murmured the Prophet.
Malkiel the Second leaned his matted head in his hands and replied, as
if to himself, --
"Can it be that a prophet should live in Berkeley Square -- not
Kimmins's" -- here he raised his head, and raked his companion with a
glance that was almost fierce in its fervour of inquiry -- "not Kimmins's
but -- the Berkeley Square?"
The Secret Waters Of The River Mouse
To this question the Prophet could offer no answer other than a bodily
one. He silently presented himself to the gaze of Malkiel,
instinctively squaring his shoulders, opening out his chest, and
expanding his nostrils in an effort to fill as large a space in the
atmosphere of the parlour as possible. And Malkiel continued to regard
him with the staring eyes of one whose mind is seething with strange,
upheaving thoughts and alarming apprehensions. Mutely the Prophet
swelled and mutely Malkiel observed him swell, till a point was reached
from which further progress -- at least on the Prophet's part -- was
impossible. The Prophet was now as big as the structure of his frame
permitted him to be, and apparently Malkiel realised the fact, for he
suddenly dropped his eyes and exclaimed, --
"This matter must be threshed out thoroughly, Madame herself would wish
He paused, drew his chair nearer to the Prophet's, took off a glove and
"Sir, you may be a prophet. You may have prophesied correctly in the
Berkeley Square. But if you are, and if you have, remember this -- that
you have proved the self-sacrifice, the privation, the denial, the
mask, and the position of Sagittarius Lodge in its
own grounds beside the River Mouse at Crampton St. Peter, N. -- N., I
said, sir -- totally and entirely unnecessary. I will go further, sir,
and I will say more. You have not only done that. You have also proved
the sacred instinct of a woman, a respectable married woman -- such as we
must all reverence -- false and deceived. Remember this, sir, remember
all this, then search yourself thoroughly and say whether what you have
told me is strictly true."
"I assure you -- " began the Prophet, hastily.
But Malkiel sternly interrupted him.
"Search yourself, sir, I beg!" he cried.
"But upon my honour -- "
"Hush, sir, hush! I beg, nay, I insist, that you search yourself
thoroughly before you answer this momentous question."
The Prophet felt rather disposed to ask whether Malkiel expected him to
examine his pockets and turn out his boots. However, he sat still while
Malkiel drew out a large gold watch, held it solemnly in his hand for a
couple of minutes and then returned it to the waistcoat.
"Now, sir," he said.
"I assure you," said the Prophet, "on my honour that all I have said is
"And took place in the Berkeley Square?"
"And took place in the Berkeley Square."
Malkiel nodded morosely.
"It may have been chance," he said. "A weather forecast and an honoured
grandmother may have been mere luck. Still it looks bad -- very bad."
He sighed heavily, and seemed about to fall into a mournful reverie
when the Prophet cried sharply, --
"Explain yourself, Malkiel the Second. You owe it to me to explain
yourself. Why should my strange gift -- "
"If you have it, sir," interrupted Malkiel, quickly.
"If I have it, very well -- affect you? Why should it render the self-
sacrifice and -- and the position of -- of Sagittarius Lodge on the river --
the river -- what river did you say -- ?"
"The River Mouse," rejoined Malkiel in a muffled voice, and shaking his
"Exactly -- on the River Mouse at Crompton -- "
"Crampton St. Peter total -- "
"Crampton St. Peter. N. That is the point."
"Very well -- Crampton St. Peteren, totally and entirely unnecessary?"
"You desire my revelation, sir? You desire to enter into the bosom of a
family that hitherto has dwelt apart, has lain as I may say
beside the secret waters of the River Mouse? Is it indeed so?"
"Oh, I beg your pardon," cried the Prophet, hastily. "I would not for
the world intrude upon -- "
"Those hallowed precincts! Well, perhaps you have the right.
Jellybrand's has betrayed me to you. You know my name, my profession.
Why should you not know more? Perhaps it is better so."
With the sudden energy of a man who is reckless of fate he seized his
goblet, poured into it at least a shilling's worth of "creaming foam,"
drained it to the dregs and, shaking back his matted hair with a
leonine movement of the head, exclaimed, --
"Malkiel the First, who founded the
perdew all his
"Beside the secret waters of the River Mouse?" the Prophet could not
"No, sir. He would never have gone so far as that. But he lived and
died in Susan Road beside the gas-works. He was a great man."
"I'm sure he was," said the Prophet, heartily.
"He wished me to live and die there too," said Malkiel. "But there are
limits, sir, even to the forbearance of women. Madame was affected,
painfully affected, by the gas, sir. It stank in her nostrils -- to use a
figure. And then there was another drawback that she could not get
"The sweeps, sir."
"I beg your pardon!" said the Prophet.
"I said -- the sweeps."
"I heard you -- well?"
"Being the only people that were not, in the whole road, made for
The Prophet was entirely
"I'm afraid I'm very stupid, but really I -- " he began.
"Is it possible that you live in London, sir, and are not aware that
Susan Road lies in the most sought-after portion of the sweeps'
quarter?" said Malkiel, with pitying amazement.
The Prophet blushed with shame.
"I beg your pardon. Of course -- I understand. Pray go on."
"It made for loneliness, sir."
"Their hours were not our hours. And then the professional colour!
Madame said it was like living among the Sandwich Islanders. And so, to
an extent, it was. My father had left a very tidy bit of money -- a very
tidy bit indeed, and we resolved to move. But where? That was the
problem. For I was not as other men. I could not live like them -- in the
He smiled with mournful superiority and continued, --
"At least I thought so then, and have done till to-day. Prophets -- so my
father believed, and so Madame -- must be connected with the suburbs or
with outlying districts. They must not, indeed they cannot, be properly
prophetic within the radius. A central atmosphere would reduce them to
the level of the conjuror or the muscular suggestionist. Malkiel the
First, my father, was born himself in Peckham, and met my mother when
coming through the rye."
He brushed aside a tear that flowed at this almost rustic recollection,
and continued, --
"Yet Madame was wishful, and I was wishful too, that the children -- if
we had any -- should not grow up Eastern. It was a natural and a
beautiful desire, sir, was it not?"
"Oh, very," replied the Prophet, considerably confused.
"The habits and manners of the East, you see, sir, are not always in
strict accordance with propriety. Are they?"
Before the Prophet had time to realise that this question was merely
rhetorical, he began, --
"From what Professor Seligman says in his
The Inner History of
Baghdad, I feel sure -- "
"Nor are the customs of the East quite what many a clergyman would
approve of," continued Malkiel. "Yet even this was not what weighed
most with Madame."
"What was it then?" inquired the Prophet, deeply interested.
"Sir, it was the Eastern language."
"Could we let our children learn to speak it? Could we bear to launch
them in life, handicapped, weighed down by such a tongue? Could we do
Again the Prophet mistook the nature of the question, and was led to
"Certainly English children speaking only Arabic might well be at some
loss in ordinary conver -- "
"We could not, sir. It was impossible. So we resolved to go to the
north of London and to avoid Whitechapel at whatever cost."
"Whitechapel!" almost cried the Prophet.
"This determination it was, sir, that eventually led our steps to the
borders of the River Mouse."
"You know it, sir?"
"But by repute, of course?"
"No doubt, no doubt," stammered the Prophet, who had in fact never
before heard of this celebrated flood.
"That poor governess, sir, last August -- you recollect?"
"Ah, indeed!" murmured the Prophet, a trifle incoherently.
"And then the mad undertaker in the autumn," continued Malkiel, with
conscious pride; "he floated past our very door."
"Did he really?"
"Singing his swan song, no doubt, poor feller, as Madame said after she
read about it in the paper. There were the grocer's twins as well, just
lately. But they will be fresh in your memory."
Before the Prophet had time to state whether this was so or not Malkiel
"Well, sir, as soon as Madame and I had come to the Mouse we resolved
that we could do no better than that. It was salubrious, it was
retired, and it was N."
"You said -- ?"
"But what is en?"
The Prophet had grown very red, but he was seized by the desperation
that occasionally attacks ignorance, and renders it, for a moment,
"I ask you what does en mean? I am, I fear, a very ill-informed person,
and I really don't know."
"Think of an envelope, sir," said Malkiel, with gentle commiseration.
"Well, are you thinking?"
The Prophet grew purple.
"I am -- but it is no use. Besides, why on earth should I think of an
envelope? I beg you to explain."
"North, sir, the northern postal district of the metropolis. Fairly
simple that -- I think, sir."
"N.!" cried the illuminated Prophet. "I see. I was thinking of en all
the time. I beg your pardon. Please go on. N. -- of course!"
Malkiel concealed a smile, just sufficiently to make its existence for
an instant vitally prominent, and continued, --
"By the Mouse we resolved to build a detached residence such as would
influence suitably the minds of the children -- should we have any. For
we had resolved, sir, by that time that with me the
Here Malkiel leaned forward upon the deal table and lowered his voice
to an impressive whisper.
"Yes, sir, it had come to that. We all have our ambitions and that was
"Good Heavens!" said the Prophet. "Malkiel's
Almanac cease! But why?
Such a very useful institution!"
"Useful! More than that, sir, sublime! There's nothing like it."
"Then why let it cease?"
"Because the social status of the prophet, sir, is not agreeable to
myself or Madame. I've had enough of it, sir, already, and I'm barely
turned of fifty. Besides, my father would have wished it, I feel sure,
had he lived in these days. Had he seen Sagittarius Lodge, the
children, and how Madame comports herself, he would have recognised
that the family was destined to rise into a higher sphere than that
occupied by any prophet, however efficient. Besides, I will not deceive
you, I have made money. In another ten years' time, when I have laid by
sufficient, I tell you straight, sir, that I shall go out of prophecy,
right out of it."
"Then your Capricor -- that is your son -- will not carry on the -- "
"Capricornus a prophet, sir!" cried Malkiel. "Not if Madame and I know
it. No, sir, Capricornus is to be an architect."
As Malkiel pronounced the last words he flung his black overcoat wide
open with an ample gesture, thrust one hand into his breast, and
assumed the fixed and far-seeing gaze of a man in a cabinet photograph.
He seemed lost to his surroundings, and rapt by some great vision of
enchanted architects, busy in drawing plans of the magic buildings of
the future ages. The Prophet felt that it would be impious to disturb
him. Malkiel's reverie was long, and indeed the two prophets might well
have been sitting in Jellybrand's parlour now, had not a violent sneeze
called for the pink assistance of the flight of storks, and brought the
sneezer down to the level of ordinary humanity.
"Yes, sir -- I give you my word Capricornus is to be an architect,"
repeated Malkiel. "What do you say to that?"
"Is it -- is it really a better profession than that of prophecy?" asked
the Prophet, rather nervously.
Malkiel smiled mournfully.
"Sir, it may not be more lucrative, but it is more select. Madame will
not mix with prophets, but she has a 'day,' sir, on the banks of the
Mouse, and she has gathered around her a very pleasant and select
"Yes, sir. Architects and their wives. You understand?"
"Quite," rejoined the Prophet, "quite."
Under the mesmeric influence of Malkiel he began to feel as if
architects were some strange race of sacred beings set apart, denizens
of some holy isle or blessed nook of mediaeval legend. Would he ever
meet them? Would he ever encounter one ranging unfettered where flowed
the waters of the River Mouse?
"They do not know who we are, sir," continued Malkiel, furtively. "To
them and to the whole world -- excepting Jellybrand's and you -- we are the
Sagittariuses of Sagittarius Lodge, people at ease, sir, living upon
our competence beside the Mouse. They do not see the telescope, sir, in
the locked studio at the top of the lodge. They do not know why
sometimes, on Madame's 'Wednesdays,' I am pale -- with sitting up on
behalf of the Almanac. For Capricornus's sake and for Corona's all
this is hid from the world. Madame and I are the victims of a double
life. Yes, sir, for the children's sake we have never dared to let it
be known what I really am."
Suddenly he began to grow excited.
"And now," he cried, "after all these years of secrecy, after all these
years of avoiding the central districts -- in which Madame longs to live
-- after all these years of seclusion beyond the beat even of the buses,
do you come here to me, and search yourself and say upon your oath that
a prophet can live and be a prophet in the Berkeley Square, that he can
read the stars with Gunter's just opposite, ay, and bring out an
almanac if he likes within a shilling fare of the Circus? If this is
so" -- he struck the deal table violently with his clenched fist -- "of
what use are the sacrifices of myself and Madame? Of what use is it to
live under a modest name such as Sagittarius, when I might be Malkiel
the Second to the whole world? Of what use to flee from W. and dwell
perpetually in N.? Why, if what you say is true, we might leave the
Mouse to-morrow and Madame could pop in and out of the Stores just like
any lady of pleasure."
At the thought of this so long foregone enchantment Malkiel's emotion
completely overcame him, his voice died away, overborne by a violent
fit of choking, and he sat back in his cane chair trembling in every
limb. The Prophet was deeply moved by his emotion, and longed most
sincerely to assuage it. But his deep and growing conviction of his own
power rendered him useless as a comforter. He could not lie. He could
not deny that he was a prophet. He could only say, in his firmest
"Malkiel the Second, be brave. You must see this thing through."
On hearing these original and noble words Malkiel lifted up his marred
"I know it, sir, I know it," he answered. "One moment. The thought of
Madame -- the Stores -- I -- of all that might perhaps have been -- "
He choked again. The Prophet looked away. A strong man's emotion is
always very scared and very terrible. Three minutes swept by, then the
Prophet heard a calm and hollow voice say, --
"And now, sir, to business."
The Prophet looked up, and perceived that Malkiel's overcoat was
tightly buttoned and that his mouth was tightly set in an expression of
indomitable, though tragic, resolution.
"What business?" asked the Propet.
"Mine," replied Malkiel. "Mine, sir, and yours. You have chosen to
enter my life. You cannot deny that. You cannot deny that I sought to
avoid -- I might even say to dodge you."
With the remembrance of the recent circus performance in the library
still strong upon him the Prophet could not. He bowed his head.
"Very well, sir. You have chosen to enter my life. That act has given
me the right to enter yours. Am I correct?"
"I suppose -- I mean -- yes, you are," answered the Prophet, overwhelmed by
the pitiless logic of his companion, and wondering what was coming
"I have been forced -- I think I may say that -- to reveal myself to you,
sir. Nothing can ever alter that. Nothing can ever take from you the
knowledge -- denied by Madame to the very architects -- of who I really am.
You have told me, sir, that I must see this thing through. I tell you
now, at this table, in this parlour, that I intend to see it through --
As Malkiel said the last words he gazed at the Prophet with eyes that
seemed suddenly to have taken on the peculiar properties of the gimlet.
The Prophet began to feel extremely uneasy. But he said nothing. He
felt that there was more to come. And he was right.
"It is my duty," continued Malkiel, in a louder voice, "my sacred duty
to Madame -- to say nothing of Corona and Capricornus -- to probe you to
the core" -- here the Prophet could not resist a startled movement of
protest -- "and to search you to the quick."
"Oh, really!" cried the Prophet.
"This duty I shall carry out unflinchingly," pursued Malkiel, "at
whatever cost to myself. This will not be our last interview. Do not
"I assure you," inserted the Prophet, endeavouring vainly to seem at
ease, "I do not wish to think it."
"It matters little whether you wish to do so or not," continued
Malkiel, with an increasingly Juggernaut air. "The son of Malkiel the
First is not a man to be trifled with or dodged. Moreover, much more
than the future of myself and family depends upon what you really are.
From this day forth you will be bound up with the
"Merciful Heavens!" ejaculated the Prophet, unable, intrepid as he was,
to avoid recoiling when he found himself thus suddenly confronted with
the fate of an appendix.
"For why should it ever cease?" proceeded Malkiel, with growing
passion. "Why -- if a prophet can live, as you declare, freely and openly
in the Berkeley Square? If this is so, why should I not remove, along
with Madame and family, from the borders of the Mouse and reside
henceforth in a central situation such as I should wish to reside in?
Why should not Capricornus eventually succeed me in the
Almanac as I
succeeded Malkiel the First? Already the boy shows the leanings of a
prophet. Hitherto Madame and I have endeavoured to stifle them, to turn
them in an architectural direction. You understand?"
"I am trying to," stammered the Prophet.
"Hitherto we have corrected the boy's table manners when they have
become too like those of the average prophet -- as they often have -- for
hitherto we have had reason to believe that all prophets -- with the
exception of myself -- were dirty, deceitful and essentially suburban
persons. But if you are a prophet we have been deceived. Trust me, sir,
I shall find speedy means to pierce you to the very marrow."
The Prophet began mechanically to feel for his hat.
"Are you desirous of anything, sir?" said Malkiel, sharply.
"No," said the Prophet, wondering whether the moment had arrived to
throw off all further pretence of bravery and to shout boldly for the
assistance of the young librarian.
"Then why are you feeling about, sir? Why are you feeling about?"
"Was I?" faltered the Prophet.
"You are looking for another glass of wine, perhaps?"
"No, indeed," said the Prophet, desperately. "For anything but that."
But Malkiel, moved by some abruptly formed resolution, called suddenly
in a powerful voice, --
"Here, Mr. Sagittarius!" cried the young librarian, appearing with
suspicious celerity upon the parlour threshold.
"Draw the cork of the second bottle, Frederick Smith," said Malkiel,
impressively. "This gentleman is about to take the pledge" -- on hearing
this ironic paradox the Prophet stood up, very much in the attitude
formerly assumed by Malkiel when about to dodge in the library -- "that I
shall put to him," concluded Malkiel, also standing up, and assuming
the library posture of the Prophet.
Indeed the situation of the library seemed about to be accurately
reversed in the parlour of Jellybrand's.
The young librarian assisted the cork to emerge phlegmatically from the
neck of the second bottle of champagne, mechanically smacking his lips
"Now pour, and leave us, Frederick Smith."
The young librarian helped the fatigued-looking wine into the two
glasses, where it lay as if thoroughly exhausted by the effort of
getting there, and then languidly left the parlour, turning his bulging
head over his shoulder to indulge in a pathetic
oeillade ere he
The Prophet watched him go.
"Close the door, Frederick Smith," cried Malkiel, in a meaning manner.
The Prophet blushed a guilty red, and the young librarian obeyed with a
"And now, sir, I must request you to take a solemn pledge in this
vintage," said Malkiel, placing one of the tumblers in the Prophet's
"Really," said the Prophet, "I am not at all thirsty."
"Why should you be, sir? What has that got to do with it?" retorted
Malkiel. "Lift your glass, sir."
The Prophet obeyed.
"And now take this pledge -- that, till the last day -- "
"The last day, sir, you will reveal to no living person that there is
such an individual as Malkiel, that you have ever met him, who he is,
or who Madame and family are, unless I give the word. You have
surprised my secret. You have forced yourself upon me. You owe me this.
Mechanically the Prophet drank.
Mechanically -- indeed almost like a British working man -- the Prophet
Malkiel drained his tumbler, and drew on the dogskin glove which, in
the agitation of a previous moment, he had thrown aside.
"I have your card, sir, here is mine. I shall now take the train to the
River Mouse, on whose banks I shall confer at once with Madame. Till I
have done this I cannot tell you what form the tests I shall have to
apply to you will take. When I have done it you will hear from me. Your
He bowed majestically, and was turning towards the door when it was
hastily opened and a lady appeared frantically in the aperture.
Malkiel The Second Poisons Miss Minerva
"Miss Minerva!" exclaimed Malkiel the Second.
"Lady Enid!" cried the Prophet, at the same moment.
"You can't go in there, Miss Partridge!" ejaculated the young
librarian, simultaneously, from the further room.
The lady, a tall girl of twenty-two, with grey eyes, dark smooth hair,
and a very agreeable, though slightly Scottish, mouth, began to behave
rather like a stag at bay. She panted, and looked wildly round as if
meditating how, and in what direction, she could best bolt.
"What's the matter?" cried the Prophet, his voice becoming not a little
piercing from surprise and his previous stress of agitation.
"You can't go in there, Miss Minerva," requested the young librarian,
who had now gained the parlour threshold, and who seemed about to take
up a very determined stand thereon.
"I must go in -- I must," said the lady, in a mellow, but again slightly
Scottish, voice. "Don't tell anybody I'm here, or you'll be sorry."
And, with these words, she bounded into the parlour and banged the door
on the young librarian. The Prophet opened his lips preparatory to a
third wild exclamation.
"Hush!" the lady hissed aristocratically.
She shook her head vigourously at him, sank down on one of the cane
chairs, held up her right hand, and leant towards the door. It was
obvious that she was listening for something with strained attention,
and so eloquent was her attitude that the two prophets were infected
with her desire. They turned their eyes mechanically towards the deal
door and listened too. For a moment there was silence. Then a heavy
footstep resounded upon the library floor, accompanied by the sharp tap
of a walking stick. The lady's attitude became more tense and the
pupils of her handsome grey eyes dilated.
"Has a young female just entered this shop?" said a very heavy and
"This ain't a shop, sir," replied the high soprano of the young
"Bandy no words with me, thou infamous malapert!" returned the first
voice. "But answer my question. Have you a young female concealed
within these loathsome precincts?"
Under ordinary circumstances it is very possible that the young
librarian might have betrayed the lady as he had already betrayed
Malkiel the Second. But it happened that there existed upon the earth
one object, and one object only, towards which he felt a sense of
chivalry. This object was Jellybrand's Library. His reply to the voice
was therefore as follows, and was delivered in his highest key and with
extreme volubility and passion: --
"Loathsome precincts yourself! You're a nice one, you are, chasing
respectable ladies about at your age. There ain't no young females in
the library, and if there was I shouldn't trot 'em out for you to clap
your ugly old eyes on. Now then, out yer go. No more words about it.
Out yer go!"
A prolonged sound of hard breathing and of feet scraping violently upon
bare boards followed upon this deliverance, complicated by the sharp
snap of a breaking walking stick, the thump of a falling chair, a bang
as of a heavy body encountering firm resistance from some inflexible
article of furniture -- probably a bookcase -- and finally a tremendous
thundering, as of the hoofs of a squadron of cavalry charging over a
parquet floor, the crash of a door, the grinding of a key swiftly
turning in a lock, and -- silence.
The lady, Malkiel the Second and the Prophet looked at one another, and
the lady opened her mouth.
"D'you think he's killed him?" she whispered with considerable
There came a distant noise of a torrent of knocks upon a door.
"No, he hasn't," added the lady, arranging her dress. "That's a good
The two prophets nodded. The torrent of knocks roared louder, slightly
failed upon the ear, made a crescendo, emulated Niagara, surpassed that
very American effort of nature, wavered, faltered to Lodore, died away
to a feeble tittup like water dropping from a tap to flagstones, rose
again in a final spurt that would have made Southey open his dictionary
for adjectives, and drained away to death.
The lady leaned back. For the first time her composure seemed about to
desert her entirely. That fatal sign in woman, a working throat,
swallowing nothing with extreme rapidity and persistence, became
"A glass of wine, Miss Minerva?" cried Malkiel, gallantly.
He placed a tumbler to her lips. She feebly sipped, than sprang to her
feet with a cry.
"You never spoke a truer word," said the Prophet, solemnly.
"What is it?" continued the lady, frantically. "What has he given me?"
"Champagne at four shillings a bottle brought fresh from next door to a
rabbit shop," answered the Prophet, looking at Malkiel with almost
The lady, who had gone white as chalk, darted to the door and flung it
"A glass of water!" she cried. "Get me a glass of water."
The young librarian came forward with a black eye.
"It's all right, ma'am. The gentleman's gone," he piped.
"What gentleman? Give me a glass of water or I shall die!"
The young librarian, who had already an injured air, proceeded from a
positive to a comparative condition of appearance.
"Well, I never! What gentleman!" he exclaimed. "And me blue and black
all over, to say nothing of the bookcase and the new paint that'll be
wanted for the door!"
"Can you chatter about trifles at such a moment?" cried the Prophet.
"Don't you see the lady's been poisoned?"
"What -- by the old gent?" returned the young librarian. "Then what does
she come to a library for? Why don't she go to a chemist?"
The lady turned her agonised eyes upon the Prophet.
"Take me to one," she whispered through pale lips.
She tottered towards him and leaned upon his arm.
"Trust me, trust me, I will," said the Prophet. "Direct me!" he added
to the young librarian.
"There's one on the other side of the rabbit shop," said that worthy,
who had suddenly become exceedingly glum in manner and morose in
"Thank you. Kindly unlock the door."
The young librarian did so, lethargically, and the lady and the Prophet
began to move slowly into the street. Just as they were gaining it
Malkiel the Second cried out, --
"One moment, sir!"
"Not one," retorted the Prophet, firmly. "Not one till this lady has
had an antidote."
He walked on with determination. Supporting the lady. But ere he got
quite out of earshot he caught these fragments of a shattered speech,
hurtling through the symphony of London noises: --
"Banks of the Mouse -- Madame -- sake of Capricor -- be sure I -- probe -- quick
-- search -- the very core -- hear from me -- architects -- marrow -- almanac -- the
last day -- the Berkeley square -- "
The final ejaculation melted away into the somewhat powerful discord
produced by the impact of a brewer's dray with a runaway omnibus at the
corner of Greek Street, which was eventually resolved by the bursting
of a motor car -- containing two bookmakers and an acting manager -- which
mingled with them at the rate of perhaps forty miles an hour.
"Yes, please, a hansom," said Lady Enid Thistle, some five minutes
later, as she and the Prophet stood together upon the kerb in front of
the rabbit shop. "I feel much better now."
The Prophet hailed a hansom and handed her into it.
"Which way are you going?" he asked.
Lady Enid looked doubtful.
"I ought to be going back to Jellybrand's," she said. "I had an
appointment. But really -- you see Mr. Sagittarius is there, and
altogether -- I don't know."
She was obviously still upset by the "creaming foam," and the other
incidents of the afternoon.
"Come to tea with grannie," said the Prophet.
"She's at home?"
"Yes. She's twisted her ankle."
"Oh, I'm so sorry."
"Let me escort you."
"Thanks. I think I will."
"You won't mind stopping for a moment at Hollings's?" said the Prophet,
in Piccadilly Circus. "I promised to buy some roses. Somebody is coming
in to tea."
"On, no. But who is it?"
"I don't know. Only one person, I think. An old friend, no doubt.
Probably the Central American Ambassador's grandfather."
"Oh, if that's all! I feel a little shaky still."
The Prophet bought the roses and they drove on.
"It's very nice of you not to ask any questions," observed Lady Enid,
The Prophet had been thinking it was, but he only said, --
"Oh, not at all."
"I'm a woman," promised Lady Enid, "and I don't know whether I can be
The Prophet glanced at her and met her curious grey eyes.
"Try -- please," he replied very gently, thinking of the oath which he
had just taken.
Lady Enid was silent for two minutes, then she remarked, --
"I have tried, but I can't succeed. Why on earth were you closeted in
the parlour -- at my time, too -- with Mr. Sagittarius this afternoon?"
"Then you really are Miss Minerva Partridge? And it was really you who
had -- had -- well, 'bespoke' the parlour at half-past three?"
"Certainly. Now we are neither of us nice, but we're both of us human."
"There were some letters for you," said the Prophet.
Lady Enid wrinkled her smooth, young, healthy-looking forehead.
"How stupid of me! I'll fetch them to-morrow. Well?"
She looked at the Prophet with obvious expectation.
"I'm so sorry I can't tell you," he replied with gentle firmness.
"Oh, all right," she rejoined. "But now I'm at a disadvantage. You know
I'm Miss Minerva."
"Yes. But I don't know why you are, or why you go to Jellybrand's, or
why you rushed into the parlour, or who the old gentleman was that -- "
The cab stopped before Mrs. Merillia's house.
In the hall, upon an oaken bench, they perceived a very broad-brimmed
top hat standing on its head. Beside it lay two pieces of a stout and
knobbly walking stick which had been broken in half. Lady Enid started
"Good Heavens!" she cried.
She picked up the walking stick, examined it, and laid it down.
"I don't think I want any tea," she murmured.
"I'm sure you do," said the Prophet, with some pressure.
She stood still for a moment. Then, catching the attentive round eye of
Gustavus, who was waiting by the hall door, she shrugged her shoulders
and walked towards the staircase.
"It's very hard lines," she murmured as she began to ascend: "all the
questions you wanted to ask are being answered. You know I'm Miss
Minerva already. In another minute you'll know who the old gentleman
was that -- "
The Prophet could tell from the expression of her straight, slightly
Scottish, back that she was pouting as she entered the drawing-room
where Mrs. Merillia was having tea with -- somebody.
The Old Astronomer Discourseth Of The Stars
Never before had the Prophet felt so alive with curiosity as he did
when he followed Lady Enid into Mrs. Merillia's presence, for he knew
that he was about to see the venerable victim of the young librarian's
indignant chivalry, the "old gent" who had come to intimate terms with
Jellybrand's bookcase, and who had kicked and knocked at least a pint
of paint off Jellybrand's door. His eyes were large and staring as he
glanced swiftly from his grandmother's sofa to the huge telescope,
under whose very shadow was seated no less a personage than Sir Tiglath
Butt, holding a cup of tea on one hand and a large-sized muffin in the
No wonder the Prophet jumped. No wonder Mrs. Merillia cried out, in her
pretty, clear voice, --
"Take care of Beau, Hennessey! You're treading on him."
The dachshund's pathetic shriek of outrage made the rafters ring. Mrs.
Merillia put her mittens to her ears, and Sir Tiglath dropped his
muffin into a jar of pot-pourri.
"I beg your pardon," said the Prophet, earnestly. "Sir Tiglath -- this is
indeed a sur -- a pleasure."
Lady Enid was being embraced by Mrs. Merillia. The Prophet extended his
hand to the astronomer, who, however, turned his back to the company
and, diving one of his enormous hands into the pot-pourri jar, began to
rummage violently for his vanished meal.
"What is it?" said the Prophet, who had not seen the muffin go. "Can I
Still presenting his huge back and the purple nape of his fat neck to
the assemblage, the astronomer, after trying in vain to extract the
lost dainty in a legitimate manner, turned the jar upside down, and
poured the rose-leaves and the muffin in a heterogeneous libation upon
the Chippendale table. After a close examination of it he turned
around, holding up the food to whose buttered surface several leaves
adhered in a disordered, but determined, manner.
"Only a Persian could devour this muffin now," he said, in his
rumbling, sing-song and strangely theatrical voice, which always
suggested that he was about to deliver a couple of hundred or so
lengths of blank verse. "Omar beneath his tree perchance, or Gurustu
who to Baghdad came with steed a-foam and eyes a-flame. Wherefore do
you trample upon hapless animals that are not dumb, young man, and
cause the poor astronomer to cast his muffin upon the roses, where,
mayhap, the housemaid might find it after many days? Oh-h-h-h!"
He uttered a tremulous bass cry of mingled reproach and despair, that
sounded rather like the wail of some deplorable watchman upon a city
wall, shaking his enormous head at the Prophet the while, and flapping
his red hands slowly in the air.
"How d'you do, Sir Tiglath?" said Lady Enid, coming up to him with
Sir Tiglath bowed.
"Very ill, very ill," he rumbled, looking at her furtively with his
glassy eyes. "One has had an afternoon of tragedy, an afternoon of
brawling and of disturbance, in an avenue that shall henceforth be
He sat down upon his armchair, with his short legs stuck straight out
and resting upon his heels alone, his hands folded across his stomach,
and his purple triple chin sunk in his elaborate, but very dusty,
cravat. Wagging his head to and fro, he added, with the heavy,
concluding tremolo that decorated most of his vocal efforts, "Thrice
Lady Enid, who seemed to have quite recovered her self-possession, sat
down by Mrs. Merillia, while the Prophet, in some confusion, offered to
his grandmother the bunch of roses he had bought at Hollings's."
"They're a little late, grannie, I'm afraid," he said. "But I was
Mrs. Merillia glanced at him sharply.
"Detained, Hennessey! Then you found what you were seeking?"
The Prophet remembered his oath and turned scarlet.
"No, no, grannie," he murmured hastily, and looking like a criminal. "I
met Lady Enid," he added.
"Where did you meet the lady, young man?" said Sir Tiglath. "Was it in
the accursed avenue?"
Lady Enid shot a hasty glance of warning at the Prophet. Mrs. Merillia
intercepted it, and began to form fresh ideas of that young person,
whom she had formerly called sensible, but whom she now began to think
of as crafty.
"Which avenue is that, Sir Tiglath?" asked the Prophet, with a rather
inadequate assumption of innocence.
"The Avenue in which one beholds the perfidy darting into hidden
places, young man, in which the defenders of foolish virgins are
buffeted and browbeaten by counter-jumpers with craniums as big as the
great nebula of Orion. The avenue named after a crumbled
philanthropist, who could walk, sheeted, through the atrocious night
could his sacred dust awake to the abominations that are perpetrated
under the protection of his shadow. Let dragons lay it waste like the
highways of Babylon."
He gathered up a crumpet, and blinked at Lady Enid, who was airily
sipping her tea with a slightly detached air of calm and maidenly
"I think Sir Tiglath must be describing Shaftesbury Avenue," remarked
Mrs. Merillia, rather mischievously.
"Oh, really," stammered the Prophet, "I had no idea that it was such an
"Where is Shaftesbury Avenue?" asked Lady Enid, gently folding a
fragment of thin bread and butter and nibbling it with her pretty
Sir Tiglath elevated his hands and rolled his eyes.
"Where partridges are to be found in January, oh-h-h-h!" was his very
The Prophet started violently, and even Lady Enid looked disconcerted
for a moment.
"What do you mean, Sir Tiglath?" she said, recovering herself.
She turned to Mrs. Merillia.
"I wonder what he means," she said. "He never talks sensibly unless he
is in his observatory, or lecturing to the Royal Society on the
'Regularity of Heavenly Bodies,' or -- "
"The irregularities of earthly ones," interposed Sir Tiglath. "In the
accursed avenue -- oh-h-h!"
"I fear, Sir Tiglath, you must be a member of the Vigilance Society,"
said Mrs. Merillia.
"Yes. He looks at the morals of the stars through his telescope, said
Lady Enid. "By the way -- do you, too?" she added to the Prophet, for the
first time observing the instrument in the bow window.
Mrs. Merillia and Sir Tiglath exchanged a glance. An earnest expression
came into the Prophet's face.
"I confess," he said, with becoming modesty in the presence of the
great master of modern astronomy, "that I do watch the heavens from
"And for what purpose, young man?" rumbled Sir Tiglath, for the first
time dropping his theatrical manner of an old barn-stormer, and
speaking like any ordinary fogey, such as you may see at a meeting on
behalf of the North Pole, or at a dinner of the Odde Volumes.
"For -- for purposes of research, Sir Tiglath," answered the Prophet,
with some diplomacy.
"The young man trieth to put off the old astronomer with fair words,"
bellowed Sir Tiglath. "The thief inserteth his thumb into the tail
pocket of the unobservant archbishop for purposes of research. The
young man playeth merrily forsooth with the old astronomer."
Mrs. Merillia nodded her lace cap at him encouragingly. It was evident
that there was an understanding between them. Lady Enid began to wonder
what was its nature. The Prophet seemed rather disconcerted at the
reception given to his not wholly artless ambiguity.
"Grannie," he said, turning to Mrs. Merillia, "you know how deeply the
stars interest me."
"For their own sake, young man?" said Sir Tiglath. "Or as the accursed
avenue interests the foolish virgins -- for the sake of frivolity, idle
curiosity, or dark doings which could not support the light even of a
star of the sixth magnitude? Can you tell your admirable and revered
This time, underneath his preposterous manner and fantastic speech,
both Lady Enid and the Prophet fancied that they could detect an
element of real gravity, even perhaps a hint of weighty censure which
made them both feel very young -- rising two, or thereabouts.
"I was originally led to study stars, Sir Tiglath, because I had the
honour to meet you and make your acquaintance," said the Prophet,
The astronomer lapsed at once into his first manner.
"In what fair company did the old astronomer converse with the young
man?" he cried. "His memory faileth him. He doteth and cannot recall
the great occasion."
"It was at the Colley Cibber Club, Sir Tiglath," said the Prophet,
firmly. "But we -- we did not converse. You had a -- a slight
"Would you venture to imply -- in the presence of your notable granddam --
that one had looked upon the wine when it was red, young man?"
"You had a glass of port by you certainly, Sir Tiglath. But you also
had a cold which, you gave me to understand -- by signs -- had affected
your throat and prevented you from carrying on conversation.
"Then was it the vision of the old astronomer's personal and starry
beauty that led you, hot foot, to Venus through yonder telescope?
"I did not take observations of Venus first," answered the Prophet,
with a certain proud reserve. "I began by an examination into 'The
Milky Way.' "
Sir Tiglath impounded another crumpet.
"Go on, young man," he cried. "The old astronomer lendeth ear."
The Prophet, who felt very much like a nervous undergraduate undergoing
a viva-voce examination, continued, --
"I became deeply interested, strongly attracted by the -- the heavenly
bodies. They fascinated me. I could think of nothing else."
Lady Enid's Scottish lips tightened almost imperceptibly.
"I could talk of nothing else," proceeded the Prophet. "Could I,
"No, indeed, Hennessey," assented Mrs. Merillia. "All other topics were
banished from discussion."
"All," cried the Prophet, with increasing fervour and lack of self-
consciousness. "I could not tear myself from the telescope. I longed
for a perpetual night and found the day almost intolerably irksome."
Sir Tiglath's brick-red countenance was irradiated with a smile that
did not lack geniality.
"The old astronomer lendeth attentive ear to the young man's epic," he
roared, through the crumpet. "He approveth the young man's admiration
for the heavenly bodies. Go on."
But at the last command the Prophet seemed suddenly to jib. The
reserved expression returned to his face.
"That's all, Sir Tiglath," he said.
The astronomer and Mrs. Merillia again exchanged a glance which was not
unobserved by Lady Enid. Then Sir Tiglath, with an abrupt and
portentous gravity, exclaimed in thunderous tones, --
"Sir, are you a man of science or have you the brain of a charlatan
enclosed in the fleshy envelope of a conjurer and a sinner? Do you
study the noble and beautiful stars for their own sakes to find out
what they are, and what they are doing, what is their nature and what
their place in the great scheme, or do you peek and pry at them through
the keyhole of a contemptible curiosity in order to discover what you
think they can do for you, to set you on high, to puff you out into a
personage and cause you to be noticed of the foolish ones of this
world? Which are you, sir, a young man of parts whose hand I can grasp
fraternally, or an insulter of planets, sir, a Peeping Tom upon the
glorious nudity of Venus, a Paul Pry squinting at the mysteries of
Mercury for an unholy and, what is more, an idiotic purpose? What do
you ask of the stars, sir? Tell the old astronomer that!"
The Prophet was considerably taken aback by this tirade, which caused
the many ornaments in the pretty room to tremble. He gazed at his
grandmother, and found her nodding approval of Sir Tiglath. He glanced
at Lady Enid. She was leaning back in her chair and looking amused,
like a person at an entertainment.
"What do I ask, Sir Tiglath?" he murmured in some confusion.
"Do you ask about your reverent granddam's hallowed ankles, sir? Do you
afflict the stars with inquiries about the state of the ridiculous
weather? Is that it?"
The Prophet understood that Mrs. Merillia had been frank with the
astronomer. He cast upon her a glance of respectful reproach.
"Yes, Hennessey," she answered, "I have. My dear child, I thought it
for the best. This prophetic business would soon have been turning the
house upside down, and at my age I'm really not equal to living at
close quarters with a determined young prophet. To do so would upset
the habits of a lifetime. So Sir Tiglath knows all about it."
There was a moment of silence, which was broken by the agreeable voice
of Lady Enid saying, --
"All about what? Remember, please, that I'm a young woman and that all
young women share one quality. All about what, please?"
Mrs. Merillia looked at the Prophet. The Prophet looked at Sir Tiglath,
who wagged his great head and cried, with rolling pathos and rebuke, --
"Please -- Mr. Vivian!" repeated Lady Enid, with considerable
"Grannie means that I -- that -- well, that I have been enabled by the
stars to foretell certain future events," said the Prophet, glancing
rather furtively at Sir Tiglath while he spoke, to note the effect of
the desperate declaration."
"Oh-h-h-h!" bellowed the distressed astronomer, shaking like a jelly in
"What?" cried Lady Enid, in an almost piercing voice, and with a manner
that had suddenly become most animated. "What -- like Malkiel's
This remark had a very striking effect upon Sir Tiglath, an effect
indeed so striking that it held Mrs. Merillia, Lady Enid and the
Prophet in a condition of paralytic expectation for at least three
minutes by the grandmother's clock in the corner of the drawing-room.
The venerable astronomer was already very stout in person and very
inflamed in appearance. But at this point in the discourse he suddenly
became so very much stouter and so very much more inflamed, that his
audience of three gazed upon him rather as little children gaze upon
dough which has been set by the cook to "rise" and which is fulfilling
its mission with an unexpected, and indeed intemperate, vivacity. Their
eyes grew round, their features rigid, their hands tense, their
attitudes expectant. Leaning forward, they stared upon Sir Tiglath with
an unwinking fixity and preternatural determination that was almost
entirely infantine. And while they did so he continued slowly to expand
in size and to deepen in colour until mortality seemed to drop from
him. He ceased to be a man and became a phenomenon, a purple thing that
journeyed towards some unutterable end, portentous as marching
judgment, tragic as fate, searching as epidemic, and yet heavily
painted and generally touched up by the brush of some humorous demon,
such as lays about him in preparation for Christmas pantomime, sworn to
provide the giants' faces and the ogres' heads for Drury Lane.
"Don't!" at last cried a young voice. "Don't, Sir Tiglath!"
A peal of laughter followed the remark, of that laughter which is loud
and yet entirely without the saving grace of merriment, a mere sudden
demonstration of hysteria.
"Oh, Sir Tiglath -- don't!"
A second laugh joined the first and rang up with it, older, but also
hysterical -- Mrs. Merillia's.
"No, no -- please don't, Sir Tig -- Tig -- "
A third laugh burst into the ring, seeming to complete it fatally -- the
"Sir Tiglath -- for Heaven's sake -- don't!"
The adjuration came from a trio of choked voices, and might have given
pause even to a descending lift or other inflexible and blind machine.
But still the astronomer grew steadily more gigantic in person and more
like the god of wine in hue. The three voices failed, and the terrible,
united laughter was just upon the point of breaking forth again when a
diversion occurred. The door of the drawing-room was softly opened, and
Mrs. Fancy Quinglet appeared upon the threshold, holding in her hands
an ice-wool shawl for the comfort of her mistress. It chanced that as
the phenomenon of the astronomer was based upon a large elbow chair
exactly facing the door she was instantly and fully confronted by it.
She did not drop the shawl, as any ordinary maid would most probably
have done. Mrs. Fancy was not of that kidney. She did not even turn
tail, or give a month's warning or a scream. She was of those women
who, when they meet the inevitable, instinctively seem to recognise
that it demands courage as a manner and truth as a greeting. She,
therefore, stared straight at Sir Tiglath -- much as she stared at Mrs.
Merillia when she was about to arrange that lady's wig for an assembly
-- and remarked in a decisive, though very respectful, tone of voice, --
"The gentleman's about to burst, ma'am. I can't speak different nor
Upon finding their thoughts thus deftly gathered up and woven into a
moderately grammatical sentence, Mrs. Merillia, Lady Enid and the
Prophet experienced a sense of extraordinary relief, and no longer felt
the stern necessity of laughing. But this was not the miracle worked by
Mrs. Fancy. Had she, even then, rested satisfied with her acumen,
maintained silence and awaited the immediate fulfilment of her
prediction, what must have happened can hardly be in doubt. But she was
seized by that excess of bravery which is called foolhardiness, and
driven by it to that peculiar and thoughtless vehemence of action which
sometimes wins V.C.'s for men who, in later days, conceal amazement
under the cherished decoration. She suddenly laid down the ice-wool
shawl upon a neighbouring sociable, walked up to the phenomenon of the
astronomer, and remarked to it with great distinctness, --
"You're about to burst, sir. I know it, sir, and I can't know other."
At this point the miracle happened, for, instead of responding to the
lady's-maid's appeal, and promptly disintegrating into his respective
atoms, Sir Tiglath suddenly became comparatively small and
comparatively pale, sat forward, wagged his head at Mrs. Fancy, and
rumbled out in his ordinary voice, --
"Have you never heard where liars go to, woman? Oh-h-h-h!"
On finding that nothing of supreme horror was about to happen, Mrs.
Fancy's courage -- as is the way of woman's courage -- forsook her, she
broke into tears, and had to be immediately led forth to the servant's
hall by the Prophet, exclaiming persistently with every step they
"I can't help it, Master Hennessey. I say again as I said afore -- the
gentleman's about to burst. Them that knows other let them declare it."
"Yes, yes. It's all right, Fancy, it's all right. We all agree with
you. Now, now, you mustn't cry."
"I can't -- know -- other, Master Hennessey, nor -- mean different. I can't
indeed, Master Hennessey, I can't -- know other -- nor -- "
"No, no. Of course not. There, sit down and compose yourself."
He gave the poor, afflicted liar tenderly into the care of the upper
housemaid, and retraced his steps quickly to the drawing-room. As he
entered it he heard Sir Tiglath saying, --
"The stars in their courses tremble when the accursed name of Malkiel
is mentioned, and the old astronomer is dissolved in wrath at sound of
the pernicious word. Oh-h-h-h!"
"There, Hennessey!" cried Mrs. Merillia, turning swiftly to her
grandson with all her cap ribands fluttering. "You hear what Sir
"If that accursed name belonged to an individual," continued the
astronomer, waving his hands frantically over the last remaining
crumpet, "instead of representing a syndicate of ruffianly underground
criminals, the old astronomer, well stricken in years though he be,
would hunt him out of his hiding-place and slay him with his own feeble
and scientific hands."
So saying, he grasped the crumpet as if it had been an assegai, and
assailed himself with it so violently that it entirely disappeared.
"But Malkiel is an -- " began Mrs. Merillia.
The Prophet stopped her with a glance, whose almost terror-stricken
authority surprised her into silence.
"But I thought Malkiel was a man," cried Lady Enid, looking towards the
"He -- for I will not foul my lips with the accursed name -- is not a man,"
roared Sir Tiglath. "He is a syndicate. He is a company. He meets
together, doubtless, in some low den of the city. He reads reports to
himself of the ill-gotten gains accruing from his repeated insults to
the heavens round some abominable table covered with green cloth. He
quotes the prices of the shares in him, and declares dividends, and
carries balances forward, and some day will wind himself up or cast
himself anew upon the mercy of the market. Part of him is probably Jew,
part South African and part America. The whole of him is thrice
He began to expand once more, but Mrs. Merillia perceived the tendency
and checked it in time.
"Pray, Sir Tiglath," she said almost severely, "don't. With my sprained
ankle I am really not equal to it."
Sir Tiglath had enough chivalry to stop, and Lady Enid once again
"But, really, I'm almost sure Malkiel is a -- "
She caught the Prophet's eye, as Mrs. Merillia had, and paused. He
turned to the astronomer.
"But how can a company make itself into a prophet?" he asked.
"Young man, you talk idly! What are companies formed for if not to make
profits?" retorted Sir Tiglath. "Every one is a company nowadays. Don't
you know that? Murchison, the famous writer of novels, is a company.
Jeremy, the actor-manager, is a company. So is Bynion the quack doctor,
and the Rev. Mr. Kinnimer who supplies tracts to the upper classes, and
Upton the artist, whose pictures make tours like Sarah Bernhardt, and
Watkins, whose philosophy sells more than Tupper's, and Caroline Jingo,
who writes war poems and patriotic odes. If you were to invite these
supposed seven persons to dinner, and all of them came, you would have
to lay covers for at least fifty scoundrels. Oh-h-h-h!"
"Well, but how are you sure that -- ahem -- the
Almanac person is also
plural, Sir Tiglath?" inquired Mrs. Merillia.
"Because I sought him with the firm intention of assault and battery
for five-and-forty years," returned the astronomer. "And only gave up
my Christian quest when I was assured, on excellent authority, that he
was a company, and had originally been formed in the United States for
the making of money and the defiance of the heavenly bodies. May bulls
and bears destroy him!"
"Well, it's very odd," said Lady Enid. "Very odd indeed."
As she spoke she glanced at the Prophet and met his eyes. There are
moments when the mere expression in another person's eyes seems to
shout a request at one. The expression in the Prophet's eyes performed
this feat at this moment, with such abrupt vehemence, that Lady Enid
felt almost deafened. She leaned back in her chair, as if avoiding a
missile, and exclaimed, --
"Of course! And I never guessed it!"
"Guessed what, my dear?" inquired Mrs. Merillia.
"Why, that -- he -- it -- was a company," replied Lady Enid.
The Prophet blessed and thanked her with a piercing and saved look.
"Nor I," he assented, descending into the very mine of subterfuge for
his recent oath's sake, "nor I, or I should never have taken the
useless trouble that I have taken.
He managed to say this with such conviction that his grandmother, who,
in the past, had always found him to be transparently honest and
sincere, was carried away by the deception. She wrinkled her long nose,
as was her habit when sincerely pleased, and cried gaily, --
"Then, Hennessey, now you've heard Sir Tiglath's opinion of the
practice of trying to turn the stars into money-makers, and the planets
into old gipsy women who tell fortunes to silly servant girls, I'm sure
you'll never study them again. Come, promise me!"
The Prophet made no answer.
"Hennessey," cried his grandmother, with tender pertinacity, "promise
me! Sir Tiglath, join your voice to mine!"
Sir Tiglath had become really grave, not theatrically serious.
"Young man," he said, "your revered granddam asks of you a righteous
thing. Who are you to trifle with those shining worlds that make a
beauty of the night and that stir eternity in the soul of man? Who are
you to glue your pinpoint of a human eye to yonder machine and play
with the stupendous Jupiter and Saturn as a child plays with marbles or
with peg-tops? Who are you that thinks those glittering monsters have
nothing to do but to inform your pigmy brain of snowfalls, street
accidents, and love-affairs prematurely, so that you may flaunt about
your pocket-handkerchief of a square pluming your dwarfship that you
are a prophet? Fie, young man, and again fie! Bow the knee, as I do, to
the mysteries of the great universal scheme, instead of bothering them
to turn informers and 'give away' the knowledge which is deliberately
hidden from us. Show me a man that can understand the present and
you'll have shown me a god. And yet you knock at the gates of the
heavens through that telescope and clamour to be told the future! Fie
upon you, young man, fie! Oh-h-h-h!"
Now the Prophet, as has been before observed, possessed a very
sensitive nature. He was also very devoted to his grandmother, and had
an extraordinary reverence for the world-famed attainments of Sir
Tiglath Butt. Therefore, when he heard Mrs. Merillia's pleading, and
the astronomer's weighty denunciation, he was deeply moved.
Nevertheless, so strongly had recent events appealed to his curiosity,
so ardently did he desire to search into the reality of his own
peculiar powers, that it is very doubtful whether he might not have
withstood both the behests of affection and of admiration had it not
been that they took to themselves an ally, whose force is one of the
moving spirits of the world. This ally was fear. Just as the Prophet
was beginning to feel obstinate and to steel himself to resistance, he
remembered the fierce and horrible threats of Malkiel the Second. If he
should cease to concern himself with the stars, if he should cease to
prophesy, not alone should he restore peace to his beloved grandmother,
and pay the tribute of respect to Sir Tiglath, but he should do more.
He should preserve his quick from being searched and his core from
being probed. His marrow, too, would be rescued from the piercing it
had been so devoutly promised. The dread, by which he was now
companioned -- of Malkiel, of that portentous and unseen lady who dwelt
beside the secret waters of the Mouse, of those imagined offshoots of
the prophetic tree, Corona and Capricornus -- this would drop away. He
would be free once more, light-hearted, a happy and mildly intellectual
man of the town, emerged from the thrall of bogies, and from beneath
the yoke which he already felt laid upon his shoulders by those august
creatures who were the centre of the architectural circle.
All these things suddenly presented themselves to the Prophet's mind
with extraordinary vividness and force. His resolve was taken in a
moment, and, turning to his eager grandmother and to the still slightly
inflated astronomer, he exclaimed without further hesitation, --
"Very well. I'll give it up. I promise you."
Mrs. Merillia clapped her mittens together almost like a girl.
"Thank you, Sir Tiglath," she cried. "I knew you would persuade the
The astronomer beamed like the rising sun.
"Let the morning stars -- freed from insult -- sing together!" he roared.
The Prophet glanced towards Lady Enid. She was looking almost narrow
and not at all pleased. She, and all her family, had a habit of
suddenly appearing thinner than usual when they were put out. This
habit had descended to them from a remote Highland ancestor, who had
perished of starvation and been very vexed about it. The Prophet felt
sure that she did not applaud his resolution, but he could not discuss
the matter with her in public, and she now got up -- looking almost like
a skeleton -- and said that she must go. Sir Tiglath immediately rolled
up out of his chair and roared that he would accompany her.
"The old astronomer will protect the injudicious young female," he
exclaimed, "lest she wander forth into accursed places."
"I'm only going to Hill Street," said Lady Enid, rather snappishly.
"Come to see me to-morrow at three," she whispered to the Prophet as
she took his hand. "We must have a talk. Don't tell anybody!"
The Prophet nodded surreptitiously. He felt that she was curious to her
finger-tips as he gently pressed them.
When he and his grandmother were alone together he rang the drawing-
room bell. Mr. Ferdinand appeared.
"Mr. Ferdinand," said the Prophet, "kindly call Gustavus to your aid
and take away the telescope."
"Sir!" said Mr. Ferdinand in great astonishment.
"Take away the telescope."
"Certainly, sir. Where shall we place it, sir?"
"Anywhere," said the Prophet. "In the pantry -- the square -- in Piccadilly
if you like -- it's all the same to me."
And, unable to trust himself to say more, he hurried almost
tumultuously from the room.
"Here's a go, Gustavus," remarked Mr. Ferdinand a moment later as he
entered the servants' hall.
"Where, Mr. Ferdinand?" replied Gustavus, glancing up from a dish of
tea and a couple of Worthing shrimps with which he was solacing an idle
"Here, in this mansion, Gustavus. Me and you've got to take the
telescope out of the drawing-room, and Master Hennessey says if we wish
we can chuck it in Piccadilly."
The round eyes of Gustavus brightened.
"That is my wish, Mr. Ferdinand," he exclaimed. "Here's a lark!"
He sprang up. But Mr. Ferdinand checked his very agreeable vivacity.
"I am your head, Gustavus," he remarked, with severe ambiguity, "and
master having also said that, if we wish, we can set the instrument in
the butler's pantry, I have decided that so it shall moreover be. It
will be very useful to us there."
"Useful, Mr. Ferdinand! However -- ?"
"Never mind, Gustavus, never mind," replied Mr. Ferdinand with some
Being of a dignified nature he did not care to explain to a subordinate
that there was a very pleasant-looking second-cook just arrived at the
house of the Lord Chancellor on the opposite side of the square.