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The Prophet of Berkeley Square By Robert Hichens Characters: 21509

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

"Assure the Lord Chancellor that the last boy has been and gone-gone away, that is, Mr. Ferdinand, and that I pledge my sacred word not to have another telegram to-day."

"Yes, sir. His lordship desired that you should be informed that, according to the law regulating public abominations and intolerable street noises, you was liable to-"

"I know, I know."

"And that, by the Act dealing with gross offences against the public order and scandalous crimes against the peace of metropolitan communities, you was amenable-"

"Exactly. Go to his lordship and swear-"

"I couldn't do that so soon again, sir, really. I swore only as short ago as yesterday, sir, by your express order, but-"

"I mean asseverate to his lordship that the very last boy has knocked for the very last time."

"It wasn't so much the knocking, sir, his lordship complained of, as the boys coming to the door meeting the boys going away from it, and blocking up the pavement, sir, so that no one could get past and-"

"Yes, yes. Go and asseverate at once, Mr. Ferdinand."

"Very well, sir. And Her Grace, the Duchess of Camberwell, who is passing from one fit to another, sir, from fright at the uproar and telegrams going to the wrong house, sir?"

"Implore Her Grace to have courage and to trust me as a gentleman when I promise solemnly that the knocking shall not be renewed."

"Very well, sir."

"Mr. Ferdinand!"


"Have the knockers swathed in cotton-wool at once."

"Yes, sir."

"And-fix a bulletin on the door. Wait! I'll write it."

The Prophet hastened to his writing table and, with a hand that trembled violently, wrote on a card as follows:-

"Owner of this house seriously ill, pray do not knock or death shall certainly ensue."

"There! Poor grannie will have peace now. Nail that up, Mr. Ferdinand, under the cotton-wool."

"Very well, sir. Mrs. Merillia, sir, would be glad to speak to you for a moment. You remember I informed you?"

"I'll go to her at once. But first bring me a glass of brandy, Mr. Ferdinand. I'm feeling extremely unwell."

And the Prophet, who was paler far than ashes, and beaded from top to toe with perspiration, sank down feebly upon a chair and let his head drop on the blotting-pad that lay on his writing-table.

When he had swallowed an inch or two of cognac he got up, pulled himself together with both hands, and walked, like an elderly person afflicted with incipient locomotor ataxy, upstairs into the drawing-room where Mrs. Merillia was lying on a sofa, ministered to by Fancy Quinglet, who, at the moment of his entrance, was busily engaged in stuffing a large wad of cotton-wool into the right ear of her beloved mistress.

"Leave us please, Fancy," said Mrs. Merillia, in a voice that sounded much older than usual. "And as your head is so bad, too, you had better lie down."

"Thank you, ma'am. If I keep upright, ma'am, I feel my head will split asunder. I can't speak different nor feel other."

"Then don't be upright."

"No, ma'am. Them that feels other, let them declare it!" and Mrs. Fancy retired, holding both hands to her temples, and uttering very distinctly sundry stifled moans.

Mrs. Merillia motioned the Prophet to a chair, and, after lying quite still for about five minutes with her eyes tightly shut, said in a weak tone of voice,-

"How many more telegrams do you expect, Hennessey? You have had twenty-seven within the last three hours. Can you give me a rough general idea of the average number you anticipate will probably arrive every hour from now till the offices close?"

"Grannie, grannie, forgive me! I assure you-"

"Don't be afraid to tell me, Hennessey. It is much better to know the worst, and fact it bravely. Will the present average be merely sustained, or do you expect the quantity to increase towards night? because if so-"

"Grannie, there will be no more. I swear to you solemnly that I will not have another telegram to-day. I will not upon my sacred honour. Nothing-not wild horses even-shall induce me."

"Horses! Then were they racing tips, Hennessey? Yes, give me the eau de Cologne and fan me gently. Were they racing tips?"

"Oh, grannie, how could you suppose-"

At this moment Mr. Ferdinand entered softly and went up to Mrs. Merillia.

"Mr. Q. Elisha Hubsbee, ma'am. He is deeply distressed and asks for news . . ."

"The Central American Ambassador's grandfather," said Mrs. Merillia, reading the card which Mr. Ferdinand handed to her.

"Shocked to hear you are so ill that a knock will finish you. Guess you must be far gone. Earnest sympathy. Have you tried patent morphia molasses?

"Q. E. H."

"Ah! how things get about! Tell Mr. Elisha Hubsbee the knocks have nearly killed us all, Mr. Ferdinand, but we are bearing up as well as can be expected. If necessary we will certainly try the molasses."

"Yes, ma'am."

"It is two o'clock now, Hennessey. The Charing Cross office is open till midnight, I believe, so at the present rate you should only have about ninety more telegrams to-day. But if you have reason to expect-"

Mr. Ferdinand re-entered.

"Mrs. Hendrick Marshall has called, ma'am. She desired me to say she was passing the door and was much horrified to find that you are so near the point, ma'am."

"What point, Mr. Ferdinand?"

"Of death, ma'am. She had no idea at all, ma'am."

"Oh, thank Mrs. Hendrick Marshall, Mr. Ferdinand, and say we shall try to keep from the point for the present.

"Yes, ma'am."

"-That the numbers will go up as the afternoon draws on, Hennessey-"

"Grannie, haven't I sworn, and have you ever known me to tell you a-"

Suddenly the Prophet stopped short, thinking how that very night he would be forced by his oath to "Madame and self" to break his promise to his grandmother, how already it would have been broken had not Mr. Ferdinand on the previous night been in possession of the telescope.

"The Chancellor of the Exchequer, ma'am, desires his compliments, and he begs you to last out, if possible, till he has fetched Sir William Broadbent to see you. He is going there on his bike, ma'am, and had no conception you was dying till he knew it this moment, ma'am."

"Thank the Chancellor, Mr. Ferdinand, and say that though we must all go out some day I have no desire for a dissolution at present, and shall do my best to prove myself worthy of my constitution."

"Yes, ma'am."

Mr. Ferdinand retired, brushing away a tear.

"It would not be feasible, I suppose, Hennessey, to station Gustavus permanently at the telegraph office with a small hamper, so that he might collect the wires in it as they arrive and convey them here, once an hour or so, entering by the area door. I thought perhaps that might obviate-"

Mr. Ferdinand once more appeared, looking very puffy about the eyes.

"If you please, ma'am, La-ady Julia Pos-ostlethwaite is below, and asks whe-ether you are truly going ma'am?"

"Going? Where to, Mr. Ferdinand?"

"The other pla-ace, ma'am. Her ladyship is crying something terrible, ma'am, and says, till she no-no-noticed the fact she had no-no-notion you was leaving us so soon, ma'am."

Here Mr. Ferdinand uttered a very strange and heartrending sound that was rather like the bark of a dog with a bad cold in its head.

"It is really very odd so many people finding out so soon!" said Mrs. Merillia in some surprise. "Tell her ladyship, Mr. Ferdinand, that-"

But at this moment there was the sound of feet on the stairs, and Lady Enid Thistle hurried into the room, closely followed by Mr. Robert Green. Lady Enid went up at once to Mrs. Merillia.

"I am so shocked and distressed to see your news, dear Mrs. Merillia," she cried affectionately. "But," she added, with much inquisitiveness, "is it really true that if anyone tapped on the door you would certainly die? How can you be so sure of yourself."

"What do you mean? Ah, Mr. Green, how d'you do? See my news!"

"Yes, written up on the front door. Everyone's shocked."

"Rather!" said Mr. Green, gazing at Mrs. Merillia with confused mournfulness. "One doesn't see death on a front door every day, don't you know, in big round hand too, and then one of those modern words."

"Death on the front door in big round hand!" said Mrs. Merillia in the greatest perplexity.

"I put it there, grannie," said the Prophet, humbly. "I wrote that if another boy knocked, death would certainly ensue."

"Ensue. That's it. I knew it was one of those modern words," said Mr. Green.

"Another boy?" said Lady Enid. "Why should another boy knock?"

"Hennessey receives about nine telegrams an hour," answered Mrs. Merillia.


Lady Enid looked at him with keen interest, while Mrs. Merillia continued,-

"You had better take death off the door now, Mr. Ferdinand. I feel more myself. Please thank her ladyship and tell her so."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Nine telegrams an hour!" repeated Lady Enid. "Mr. Vivian, would you mind just seeing me as far as Hill Street? Bob has to go to Tattersall's."

"Have I, Niddy?" asked Mr. Green, with evident surprise.

"Yes, to pick up a polo pony. Don't you recollect?"

"A polo pony, was it? By Jove!"

"I will come with pleasure," said the poor Prophet, who felt fit only to lie down quietly in his grave. "If you don't mind being left, grannie?"

Mrs. Merillia was looking pleased.

"No, no. Go with Lady Enid, my dear boy. If any telegrams come shall I open-"

"No," cried the Prophet, with sudden fierce energy. "For mercy's sake-I mean, grannie, dear; that none will come. If they should"-his ordinary gentle eyes flamed almost furiously-"Mr. Ferdinand is to burn them unread-yes, to ashes. I will tell him." And he escorted Lady Enid tumultuously downstairs, missing his footing at every second step.

In the square they parted from Mr. Green, who said,-

"Good-bye, Niddy, old girl. What do I want to pick up at Tattersall's?"

"A polo pony, Bob," she answered firmly.

"Oh, a polo pony. Thanks, Chin, chin, Hen. Polo pony is it?"

He strode off, whistling "She wore a wreath of roses" in a puzzled manner, but still preserving the accepted demeanour of a bulwark.

As soon as Mr. Green was out of sight Lady Enid said,-

"We aren't going to Hill Street."

"Aren't we?" replied the Prophet, feebly.

"No. I must see Sir Tiglath Butt to-day. I want you to take me to his door."

"Where is his door?"

"In Kensington Square. Do you mind hailing a four-wheeler. We can talk privately there. No one will hear us."

The Prophet hailed a growler, wondering whether they would be able to hear each other. As they got in Lady Enid, after giving the direction, said to the cabman, who was a short person, with curling

ebon whiskers, a broken-up expression and a broken-down manner:

"Drive slowly, please and I'll give you an extra six-pence."


"Drive slowly, and I'll give you another six-pence."

"How did yer think I was gawing to drive, lydy?"

"I wonder why cabmen are always so interested in one's inmost thoughts," said Lady Enid, as the horse fell down preparatory to starting.

"I wonder."

"I hope he will go slowly."

"He seems to be doing so."

At this point the horse, after knocking on the front of the cab with his hind feet ten or a dozen times, got up, hung his head, and drew a large number of deep and dejected breaths.

"Am I gawing slowly enough, lydy?" asked the cabman, anxiously.

"Yes, but you can let him trot along now."

"Right, lydy, I ain't preventing of him."

As eventually they scrambled slowly forward in the Kensington direction, Lady Enid remarked,-

"Why don't you have them sent to Jellybrand's?"

"Have what?" asked the Prophet.

"Your telegrams. The messages from your double life. I do."

"But I assure you-"

"Mr. Vivian, it's useless really. I find you hidden away in the inner room of Jellybrand's with Mr. Sagittarius, closely guarded by Frederick Smith; fourpenny champagne-"

"Four bob-shilling, I mean."

"Oh, was it?-Upon the table. After I've been poisoned, and we are leaving, Mr. Sagittarius calls after you such expressions as 'Banks of the Mouse-hear from me-marrow-architects and the last day.' You are obviously agitated by these expressions. We reach your house. I find you have been prophesying through a telescope. The name of Malkiel-a well-known prophet-is mentioned. You turn pale and glance at me imploringly, as if to solicit my silence. I am silent. The next day you announce that you are going to have two afternoon parties."

"No, no, not afternoon! I never said afternoon!" interposed the Prophet, frantically, as the horse fell down again in order to earn the extra sixpence.

"Well, two parties in the afternoon. It's the same thing. You say they are odd. You yourself acknowledge it. You tell me you have secrets."

"Did I?"

"Yes. When I said I had guessed your secret you replied, 'Which one?'"

"Oh!" murmured the Prophet, trying not to say "come in!" to the horse, which was again knocking with both feet upon the front of the cab.

"You go home. I call during the afternoon, and find that you are entertaining all your guests in your own little room and that your grandmother knows nothing of it and believes you to be working. As I am leaving I see the backs of two of your guests. One is a pelisse, the other a spotted collar. As I near them they mount into a purple omnibus on which is printed in huge letters, 'To the "Pork Butcher's Rest''-"

"No! No!" ejaculated the Prophet, pale with horror at this revelation.

"Rest, Crampton Vale, N. I lose them in the shadows. The next day I call and find your grandmother is dying from the noise made by boys bringing you private telegrams. And then you tell me, me-Minerva Partridge-that you have no double life! Yes, you can let him get up now, please."

The cabman permitted the horse to do so and they again struggled funereally forward. The Prophet was still very pale.

"I suppose it is useless to-very well," he said. "My life is double."


"But only lately, quite lately."

"Never mind that. Oh! How glad I am that you have had the courage too! You will soon get into it, as I did. But you should have all your telegrams and so forth directed to Jellybrand's."

"It's too late," replied the Prophet, dejectedly. "Too late. I do wish that horse wouldn't fall down so continually! It's most monotonous."

"The poor man naturally wants the extra sixpence. I think I shall give him a shilling. But now who is Mr. Sagittarius?"

"Who is he?"

"Yes. I've seen him several times at Jellybrand's, and when I first met him I though he was an outside broker."

"You! Was it on the pier at Margate?"

"Certainly not! Really, Mr. Vivian! even in my double life I occasionally draw the line."

"I beg your pardon. I-the horse confuses me."

"Well, he's stopped knocking now and will be up in another minute. Who did you say Mr. Sagittarius was?"

"I didn't say he was anybody, but he's a man."

"I'd guessed that."

"And an acquaintance of mine."


"I'm afraid it's going to rain."

"It generally does in Knightsbridge. Yes?"

"Is Sir Tiglath likely to be in?"

"He knows I'm coming. Well, you haven't told me who Mr. Sagittarius is."

"Lady Enid," said the Prophet, desperately, "I know very little of Mr. Sagittarius beyond the fact that he's a man, which I've already informed you of."

"Is he an outside broker?"


"Then he's Malkiel. You can't deny it."

"I can deny anything," said the Prophet, who, already upset by the events of the day, was now goaded almost to desperation. "I can and-and must. There's the horse down again!"

"I shall have to give the man one and sixpence. Are your going to keep your promise to Mrs. Merillia and Sir Tiglath?"

To this question the Prophet determined to give a direct answer, in order to draw Lady Enid away from the more dangerous subjects.

"No," he said, with a spasm of pain.

"I knew you wouldn't be able to."


"Because when one's once been really and truly silly it's impossible not to repeat the act, absolutely impossible. You'll never stop now. You'll go on from one thing to another, as I do."

"I cannot think that prophecy is silly," said the Prophet, with some stiffness.

She looked at him with frank admiration.

"You're worse than I am! It's splendid!"


"Why, yes. You're foolish enough to think your silly acts sensible. I wish I could get to that. Then perhaps I could impose on Sir Tiglath more easily too."

She considered this idea seriously, as they started on again, and gradually got free of the little crowd that had been sitting on the horse's head.

"I must impose upon him," she said. "And you've got to help me."

"I!" cried the Prophet, feeling terribly unequal to everything. "I cannot possibly consent-"

"Yes, dear Mr. Vivian, you can. And if two thoroughly silly people can't impose upon one sensible old man, it will be very strange indeed. And now I'm going to tell you what I hadn't time to tell you yesterday."

She leaned forward and tapped sharply on the rattling glass in front of the cab. The cabman, bending down, twisted his whiskers towards her.

"Don't go too fast."

"I can't get 'im to fall down agyne, lydy. 'E's too tired."

"I daresay. But don't let him walk quite so fast."

She drew back.

"Mr. Vivian," she said-and the Prophet thought she had never looked more sensible than now, as she began this revelation-"Mr. Vivian, among the silly people I have met in my dear double life, who do you think are the very silliest?"

"The anti-vaccinators?"

"No. Besides, they so often have small-pox and become quite sensible."

"The atheists?"

"I used to think so, but not now. And most of those I knew are Roman Catholics at present."

"The women who don't desire to be slaves?"

"There aren't any."

"The tearers of Paderewski's hair?"

"I so seldom meet them, because they all live out in the suburbs."

"The tight-lacers?"

"They get red noses, poor things, and disappear. They're not permanent enough to count as the very silliest."

"I give it up."

"The Spiritualists and the Christian Scientists. That's why I love them best, and spend most of my double life with them. How you would get on with them! How much at ease you would be in their midst!"

"Really! But aren't they in opposite camps?"

"Dear things! They often think so, I believe. But really they aren't. Half the Christian Scientists begin as Spiritualists. And a great many Spiritualists were once Christian Scientists."

"Which are you?"

"Both, of course."

"Dear me!"

"As you will be when you've got thoroughly into your double life. Well, my greatest friend-in my double life, you understand-is a Mrs. Vane Bridgeman, a Christian Scientist and Spiritualist. She is very rich, and magnificently idiotic. She supports all foolish charities. She has almshouses for broken-down mediums on Sunnington Common in Kent. She has endowed a hospital for sick fortune-tellers. She gave five hundred pounds to the home for indigent thought-readers, and nearly as much to the 'Palmists' Seaside Retreat' at Millaby Bay near Dover. I don't know how many Christian Science Temples she hasn't erected, or subscribed liberally to. She turns every table in her house. She won't leave even one alone. Her early breakfasts for star-gazers are famous, and it's impossible to dine with her without sitting next to a horoscope-caster, or being taken in-to dinner, of course-by a crystal diviner or a nose-prophet."

"A nose-prophet! What's that?"

"A person who tells your fortune by the shape of your nose."

"Oh, I see."

"Well, you understand now that there's no sillier person in London than dear Mrs. Bridgeman?"

"Oh, quite."

"She's done a great deal for me, more than I can ever repay."


"Yes, in introducing me to the real inner circles of idiotcy. Well, in return, I've sworn-"

"You too!"

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, nothing. I beg your pardon. Please go on."

She looked at him curiously, and continued.

"I've sworn-that is, pledged my honour, you know-"

"I know! I know!"

"To introduce her to at least one thoroughly sensible person-a man, she prefers."

"And you've chosen-?"

"Sir Tiglath, because he's the only one I know. Once, I confess, I thought of you."

"Of me!"

"Yes, but of course I didn't really know you then."

She looked at him with genuine regard. The Prophet scarcely knew whether to feel delighted or distressed.

"Now, you see, Mr. Vivian, if Sir Tiglath found out for certain that I was Miss Minerva, he might discover my double life, and if he did that, he is so sensible that I am sure he would never speak to me again, and I could not fulfil my vow to dear Mrs. Bridgeman."

"I quite see."

"Nor my other vow to myself."

"Which one?"

"Oh, never mind."

"I won't."

"He only said that about partridges in January, I find, because he happened to see one of my letters in Jellybrand's window. He doesn't associate that letter with me. So it ought to be all right, and I've arranged my campaign."

"But what can I-?"

She smiled at him with some Scottish craft.

"Don't bother. You've got to be my aide-de-camp, that's all. Ah, here we are!"

For at this moment the horse, with a great effort succeeded in falling down, for the last time, before the astronomer's door.

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