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   Chapter 6 THE OLD ASTRONOMER DISCOURSETH OF THE STARS

The Prophet of Berkeley Square By Robert Hichens Characters: 30130

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


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 other.

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 help you?"

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 light carelessness.

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 called accursed."

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 accursed. Oh-h-h-h!"

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 unavoidably detained."

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 dignity.

"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 evil neighbourhood."

"Where is Shaftesbury Avenue?" asked Lady Enid, gently folding a fragment of thin bread and butter and nibbling it with her pretty mouth.

Sir Tiglath elevated his hands and rolled his eyes.

"Where partridges are to be found in January, oh-h-h-h!" was his very unexpected reply.

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 that window."

"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 granddam that?"

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, valiantly.

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 indisposition."

"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? Oh-h-h-h!"

"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, grannie?"

"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,-

"Oh-h-h-h!"

"Please-Mr. Vivian!" repeated Lady Enid, with considerable determination.

"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 his wrath.

"What?" cried Lady Enid, in an almost piercing voice, and with a manner that had suddenly become most animated. "What-like Malkiel's Almanac does?"

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 sud

den 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 Prophet's.

"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 mean other."

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 took,-

"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 Tiglath says?"

"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 Prophet.

"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 accursed."

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 chipped in.

"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 dear boy."

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 moment.

"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 acrimony.

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.

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