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The Prophet of Berkeley Square By Robert Hichens Characters: 28184

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

"If you tremble like that, of course it must look too big!" exclaimed the Prophet to Mr. Sagittarius, a quarter of an hour later. "Draw it in at the back."

Mr. Sagittarius, with shaking hands, drew in the waistcoat of Mr. Ferdinand, which hung in folds around his thin and agitated figure.

"That's better," said the Prophet. "They won't notice anything odd. But you've turned up your-Mr. Ferdinand's trousers!"

"They're too long, sir. You braced them too low for-"

"I braced them low on purpose," cried the Prophet in great excitement, "to cover the spats, since you can't get on Mr. Ferdinand's boots. Kindly turn them down."

"As to the spats, sir, the architects and their wives-"

"Mr. Sagittarius," exclaimed the Prophet, "I think it right to inform you that if you mention the architects and their wives again, I may very probably go mad. I don't say I shall, but I will not answer for myself. Have the goodness to turn them down and follow me."

Mr. Sagittarius obeyed, and followed the Prophet from the room with a waddling gait and a terrible sensation of having nothing on. The coat and trousers which he wore flapped about him as he descended the stairs in the wake of the Prophet, glancing nervously about him and starting at the slightest sound. In the library they found Madame, holding the great Juvenile upside down and looking exceedingly cross.

"Will you be good enough to come upstairs?" said the Prophet to her very politely, though his fingers twitched to strangle her. "I wish to present you to my grandmother, and dinner is just ready."

Madame rose with dignity.

"I am ready too," she said, with a click. "Semper paratis."

And, shaking up the fichu, she ascended the stairs. Outside the drawing-room door the Prophet, who seemed strangely calm, but who was in reality almost bursting with nervous excitement, paused and faced his old and valued friends.

"You will forgive my saying so, I hope," he whispered, "but my grandmother is not well and much conversation tires her. So we don't talk too much in her presence. Only just now and then, you understand."

And with this last injunction-futile, he knew as he gave it-he commended himself to whatever powers there be and opened the door.

Sir Tiglath had not yet arrived, but Lady Julia Postlethwaite was seated on a sofa by Mrs. Merillia, and was conversing with her about the Court, the dreadful amount of money a certain duke-her third cousin-had recently had to pay in Death Duties, the corrupt condition of society, and the absurd pretensions of the lower middle classes. Lady Julia was sensitive and a very grande dame. She wore her hair powdered, and had a slight cough and exquisite manners. Once a lady in waiting, she was now a widow, possessed a set of apartments in Hampton Court Palace, worshipped Queen Alexandra, and had scarcely ever spoken to anybody who moved outside of Court Circles. The Duke of Wellington was said to have embraced her when a child.

Mrs. Merillia and this lady looked up when the door opened, and Lady Julia paused midway in a sentence, of which these were the opening words,-

"The old duke wouldn't make it over, and so poor Loftus has to pay nearly a million to the Chancellor of the Excheq-"

"How d'you do, Lady Julia? Grannie, I have persuaded my friends, Mr. and Madame Sagittarius, to join us at dinner. Sir Tiglath Butt is most anxious to meet Mr. Sagittarius, who is a great astronomer. Let me-Madame Sagittarius, Mrs. Merillia-Mr. Sagittarius-Mrs. Merillia, my grandmother-Lady Julia Postlethwaite."

Mrs. Merillia, although taken completely by surprise, and fully conscious that her grandson had committed an outrage in turning an arranged and intimate quartette without permission into a disorganised sextette, bowed with self-possessed graciousness, and indicated a chair to Madame, who seated herself in it with that sort of defensive and ostentatious majesty which is often supposed by ill-bred people to be a perfect society manner. Mr. Sagittarius remained standing in his enormous suit, turning out his feet, over which Mr. Ferdinand's trousers rippled in broadcloth waves, in the first position. A slight pause ensued, during which the Prophet was uncomfortably affected by the behaviour of Madame, who gazed at the very neat and superior wig worn by Mrs. Merillia, and at that lady's charming silver grey damask gown, in a manner that suggested amazement tempered with indignation, her instant expression of these two sentiments being only held in check by a certain reverence which was doubtless inspired by the pretty room, the thick carpet, the ancestral pictures upon the walls, and the lofty bearing of Lady Julia Postlethwaite, who could scarcely conceal her very natural surprise at the extraordinary appearance of Mr. Sagittarius. As to Mrs. Merillia, although she was, in reality, near fainting with wonder at her grandson's escapade, she preserved an expression of gracious benignity, and did not allow a motion of her eyelids or a flutter of her fan to betray her emotion at finding herself the unprepared hostess of such unusual guests. The Prophet broke the silence by saying, in a voice that cracked with agitation,-

"I trust-I sincerely trust that we shall have a clement spring this year."

Lady Julia, at whom he had looked while uttering this original desire, was about to reply when Madame uttered a stentorian click and interposed.

"In the spring the young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love," she remarked, with the fictitious ease of profound ill-breeding.

No one dared to dispute the portentous statement, and she resumed majestically,-

"The Mouse is delicious in spring."

There was another dead silence, and Madame, turning with patronising and heavy affability towards Lady Julia, added,-

"Your ladyship doubtless loves the Mouse-Mus Pulcherrimo-in spring as I do?"

The Prophet felt as if he were being pricked by thousands of red-hot needles, and the perspiration burst out in beads upon his forehead.

"I am not specially fond of mice in spring, or indeed at any season," replied Lady Julia, with her slight, but very distinct and bell-like, cough.

"I said the Mouse, your ladyship," returned Madame, feeding upon this titled acquaintance with her bulging black eyes, and pushing the kid boots well out from under her brown skirt. "I observed that the Mouse was peculiarly delicious in the season of love."

"No mouse attracts me," said Lady Julia, coughing again and raising her fine eyebrows slightly. "I should much prefer to pass the spring without the companionship of any mouse whatever."

Both Madame and Mr. Sagittarius opened their lips to reply, but before they could eject a single word the door was opened by Mr. Ferdinand, who announced,-

"Sir Tiglath Butt."

Mr. Sagittarius started violently and upset a vase of roses, the astronomer rolled into the room with a very red face, and Mr. Ferdinand added,-

"Dinner is served."

Mrs. Merillia shook hands with Sir Tiglath and glanced despairingly around her. It was sufficiently obvious that she was considering how to arrange the procession to the dining-room.

"Hennessey," she began, "will you take Lady Julia? Sir Tiglath, will you"-she paused, but there was no help for it, she was obliged to continue-"take Mrs. Sagittarius? Let me introduce you, Sir Tiglath Butt-Mrs. Sagittarius. Mr. Sagittarius, will you take-"

"Mr. Sagittarius!" roared Sir Tiglath. "Where is he?"

That gentleman gathered Mr. Ferdinand's trousers up in both hands and prepared for instantaneous flight.

"Where is he?" bellowed Sir Tiglath, wheeling round with amazing rapidity for so fat a man. "Ha!"

He had viewed Mr. Sagittarius, who, grasping Mr. Ferdinand's suit in pleats, ducked his head like one wishing to be beforehand with violence and set the spats towards the door. Sir Tiglath advanced upon him.

"The old astronomer has heard the name of Sagittarius," he vociferated. "He has been informed that-"

"It's not true, sir," cried Mr. Sagittarius, pale with terror. "It is not true. I deny it. I am an Ameri-I mean I am not the American syndicate-you are in error, in absolute error. I swear it. I take the heavens to witness."

At this remarkable and comprehensive statement Mrs. Merillia and Lady Julia looked at each other in elegant amazement.

"What do you mean, sir?" exclaimed Sir Tiglath. "And why do you insult the sacred heavens, you an astronomer!"

"I am not an astronomer," cried Mr. Sagittarius, cringing in the voluminous waistcoat of Mr. Ferdinand. "I am an outside broker. I swear it. My dress, my manner proclaim the fact. Sophronia, tell the gentleman that I am an outside broker and that all Margate has recognised me as such."

"My husband states the fact," said Madame, in response to this impassioned appeal. "My husband brokes outside, and has done for the last twenty years. Collect yourself, Jupiter. Pray do not doff your toga virilibus in the presence of ladies!"

The terror of Mr. Sagittarius was such, however, that it is very doubtful whether he would not have proceeded thus to disrobe had not the Prophet, rendered desperate by the turn of events, abruptly leaped between Sir Tiglath and his old and valued friend and, gathering the outraged Lady Julia under his arm, exclaimed,-

"Pray, pray-we can discuss this matter more comfortably at dinner. Permit me, Lady Julia. Sir Tiglath, if you will kindly give your arm to Madame Sagittarius. Mr. Sagittarius, my grandmother."

So saying, he made a sort of flank movement, so adroitly conceived and carried out that, in the twinkling of an eye, he had driven Sir Tiglath to the side of Madame and hustled Mr. Sagittarius into the immediate neighbourhood of Mrs. Merillia. Nor had more than two minutes elapsed before the whole party found themselves-they scarce knew how-arranged around the dining table and being served with clear soup by Mr. Ferdinand and the astounded Gustavus, whose naturally round eyes began to take an almost oblong form as he attended to the wants of Mrs. Merillia's very unfamiliar guests, whose outlying demeanour and architectural manners evidently filled him with the most poignant dismay.

As to Mrs. Merillia and Lady Julia, the foregoing scene had so reduced them that they were almost betrayed into some hysterical departure from the rules of exquisite good breeding which they had unconsciously observed from the cradle. Indeed, the latter, strong in the belief that the terms outside broker and raving maniac were interchangeable, twice dropped her spoon into her soup-plate before she could succeed in lifting it to her mouth, and was unable to prevent herself from whispering to the Prophet,-

"Pray, Mr. Vivian, tell me the worst-is he absolutely dangerous?"

"No, no," whispered back the Prophet, reassuringly. "It's all his play."

"Play!" murmured Lady Julia, glancing at Mr. Sagittarius, who was holding back the right sleeve of Mr. Ferdinand's coat with his left hand in order to have the free use of his dinner limb.

"Yes," whispered the Prophet. "He's the most harmless, innocent creature. A child might stroke him. I mean he wouldn't hurt a child."

"Yes, but we are not children," said Lady Julia, still in great apprehension.

Meanwhile Sir Tiglath, concerned with his dinner, took no heed of Mr. Sagittarius for the moment, and that gentleman, slightly reassured, endeavoured to make himself agreeable to Mrs. Merillia.

"You are very pleasantly situated here, ma'am," he began.

Mrs. Merillia thought he meant because she was at his elbow, and answered politely,-

"Yes, very pleasantly situated."

"It is indeed a blessing to be within such easy reach of the Stores," added Mr. Sagittarius, finishing his soup, and permitting Mr. Ferdinand's sleeves to flow down once more over his hands.

"The Stores!" said Mrs. Merillia.

"O festum dies beatus illa!" ejaculated Madame, assuming an expression of profound and almost passionate sentiment. "Happy indeed the good lady who dwells in the central districts!"

She permitted a gigantic sigh to leave her bosom and to wander freely among the locks of those at the table. Sir Tiglath, who, on being assaulted by her learning, had shown momentary symptoms of apoplexy, now gave a loud grunt, while the Prophet, perceiving that his grandmother and Lady Julia were quite unequal to the occasion, hastily replied,-

"Yes, Berkeley Square is very convenient in may ways."

"Ah!" said Mr. Sagittarius, keeping a wary eye on Sir Tiglath and re-addressing himself to Mrs. Merillia, "the Berkeley Square. But if you lived in the one behind Kimmins's Mews, it would be quite another pair of boots, would it not, ma'am?"

Lady Julia, who was sitting next to Mr. Sagittarius, shifted her chair nearer to the Prophet, and whispered, "I'm sure he is dangerous, Mr. Vivian!" while Mrs. Merillia, in the greatest perplexity, replied,-

"The one behind Mr. Kimmins's Mews?"

"Ay, over against Brigwell's Buildings, just beyond the Pauper Lunatic Asylum."

Lady Julia turned pale.

"I daresay," answered Mrs. Merillia, bravely. "But I am not acquainted with the neighbourhood you mention."

"You know the Mouse?"

At this abrupt return to the subject of mice Lady Julia became really terrified.

"Be frank with me, Mr. Vivian," she whispered to the Prophet, under cover of boiled salmon; "is he a ratcatcher?"

"Good Heavens, no!" whispered back the Prophet. "He's-he's quite the contrary."


"What mouse?" said Mrs. Merillia, endeavouring to seem pleasantly at ease, though she, too, was beginning to feel a certain amount of alarm at these strange beings' persistent discussion of the inhabitants of the wainscot. "Do you allude to any special mouse?"

"I do, ma'am. I allude to the Mouse that has helped to make Madame and self what we are."

Sir Tiglath began to roll about in his chair preparatory to some deliverance, and Mrs. Merillia, casting a somewhat agitated glance at her grandson, answered,-

"Really. I did not kn

ow that anything so small could have so much influence."

"It may be small, ma'am," said Mr. Sagittarius. "But to a sensitive nature it often seems gigantic."

"You mean at night, I suppose? Does it disturb you very much?"

"We hear it, ma'am, but it lulls us to rest."

"Indeed. That is very fortunate. I fear it might keep me awake."

"So we thought at first. But now we should miss it. Should we not, Sophronia?"

"Doubtless," replied Madame, arranging a napkin carefully over her fichu, and dealing rigorously with some mayonnaise sauce. "It has been our perpetual companion for many years, mus amicus humano generi."

Sir Tiglath swelled, and Mrs. Merillia responded,-

"I see, a pet. Is it white?"

"No, ma'am," returned Mr. Sagittarius, "it is a rich, chocolate brown except on wet days. Then it takes on the hue of a lead pencil."

"Indeed!" said Mrs. Merillia, trying nobly to remain social. "How very curious!"

"We worship it in summer," continued Mr. Sagittarius. "In the sultry season it soothes and calms us."

"Then it is quite tame?"

"At that time of year, but in winter nights it is sometimes almost wild."

"Ah, I daresay. They often are, I know."

"The architects and their wives love it as we do."

"Do they? How very fortunate!"

"We should hate to miss it even for a moment."

"Oh, Mr. Vivian!" whispered Lady Julia, "this is dreadful. I'm almost sure he's brought it with him."

"No, no. It's not alive."

"A dead mouse!"

"It's a river."

"A river! But he said it was a mouse."

"It's both. Mr. Sagittarius," added the Prophet, in a loud and desperate tone of voice, "you'll find this champagne quite dry. You needn't be afraid of it."

"Did you get it from by the rabbit shop, sir?" asked Mr. Sagittarius, lifting his glass. "I ordered a dozen in, only the day before yesterday."

Lady Julia began to tremble.

"I see," she whispered to the Prophet. "His mania is about animals."

Meanwhile the Prophet had made a warning face at Mr. Sagittarius, who suddenly remembered his danger and subsided, glancing uneasily at Sir Tiglath, whose intention of addressing him had been momentarily interfered with by a sweetbread masked in a puree of spinach.

Madame Sagittarius, assisted by food and dry champagne, was now-as the Prophet perceived with horror-beginning to feel quite at her ease. She protruded her elbows, sat more extensively in her chair, rolled her prominent eyes about the room as one accustomed to her state, and said, with condescension, to Lady Julia,-

"Is your ladyship to make one of the party at the Zoological Gardens to-night?"

Lady Julia, who now began to suppose that Mr. Sagittarius's crazy passion for animals was shared by his wife, gasped and answered,-

"Are you going to the Zoological Gardens?"

"Yes, to an assembly. It should be very pleasant. Do you make one?"

"I regret that I am not invited," said Lady Julia, rather stiffly.

Madame bridled, under the impression that she was scoring off a member of the aristocracy.

"Indeed," she remarked, with a click. "Yet I presume that your ladyship is not insensible to the charms of rout and collation?"

"I beg your pardon?" said Lady Julia, beginning to look like an image made of cast iron.

"I imagine that the social whirl finds in your ladyship a willing acolyte?"

"Oh, no. I go out very little."

"Indeed," said Madame, with some contempt. "Then you do not frequent the Palace?"

"The Palace! Do you mean the Crystal Palace?"

"Of Buckingham? You are not an amicas curiae?"

"I fear I don't catch your meaning."

"Does not your ladyship comprehend the Latin tongue?"

"Certainly not," said Lady Julia, who was born in an age when it was considered highly improper for a young female to have any dealings with the ancients. "Certainly not."

"Dear me!" said Madame, with pitying amazement. "You hear her ladyship, Jupiter?"

"I do, my angel. Madame is a lady of deep education, ma'am," said Mr. Sagittarius, turning to Mrs. Merillia, who had been listening to the foregoing cross-examination with perpetually-increasing horror.

"No decent female should understand Greek or Latin," roared Sir Tiglath at this point. "If she does she's sure to read a great deal that she's no business to know anything about."

At this challenge Madame's bulging brow was overcast with a red cloud.

"I beg to disagree, sir," she exclaimed. "In my opinion the Georgics of Horatius, Homer's Idyls and the satires of the great Juvenile-"

"The great what?" bellowed Sir Tiglath.

"The great Juvenile, sir."

"There never was a great juvenile, ma'am. Talent must be mellow before it is worth tasting, whatever the modern whipper-snapper may say. There never was, and there never will be, a great juvenile-there can only be a juvenile preparing to be great."

"Really, sir."

"I affirm it, madam. And as you seem so mighty fond of Latin, remember what Horace says-Qui cupit opatam cursu contingere metam, Multa tulit fecitque puer, sudavit et alsit. Oh-h-h-h!"

And Sir Tiglath flung himself back in his chair, puffing out his enormous cheeks and wagging his gigantic head at Madame who, for once in her life, seemed entirely at a loss, and unable to call to her assistance a single shred of learning from the library of Dr. Carter.

Having at last emerged from his Epicurean silence, the astronomer now proceeded to take the floor. Satisfied that he had laid a presuming female low, he swung round, as if on a pivot, to where Mr. Sagittarius was sitting in the greatest agitation, and roared,-

"And now, sir what is all this about your being an outside broker? I was distinctly informed by this gentleman only a night or two ago that you were a distinguished astronomer."

"I am betrayed!" cried Mr. Sagittarius, dropping the knife and fork which he had just picked up for the dissection of a lobster croquette. "I said this was a trap. I said it was a rat-trap from the first."

"I knew he must be a ratcatcher," whispered Lady Julia to the Prophet, who was about to rise from his seat and endeavour to calm his guest. "I was certain no one but a ratcatcher could talk in such a manner."

"He is not indeed! Mr. Sagittarius, pray sit down! You are alarming my grandmother."

"I can't help that, sir. I am not going to sit here, sir, and be slain."

"Tsh! Tsh! I merely informed Sir Tiglath the other evening that what Miss Minerva had told him about you was true."

"Miss Minerva!" cried Madame, glancing at her husband in a most terrible manner. "Miss Minerva!"

"Lady Enid Thistle, I mean," cried the Prophet, mentally cursing the day when he was born.

"Who's that?" exclaimed Madame, beginning to look almost exactly like Medusa.

"A young female who informed the old astronomer that your husband and an elderly female named Mrs. Bridgeman had for a long while been carrying on astronomical investigations together-"

"Carrying on together!" vociferated Madame. "Jupiter!"

"And that they had come to the conclusion that there was probably oxygen in certain of the holy fixed stars. Oxygen, so the elderly female-"

"Oxygen in an elderly female!" cried Madame, in the greatest excitement. "Jupiter, is this true?"

Mr. Sagittarius was about to bring forward a flat denial when the Prophet, leaning behind the terrified back of Lady Julia, hissed in his ear,-

"Say yes, or he'll find out who you really are!"

"Yes," cried Mr. Sagittarius, in a catapultic manner.

Madame began to show elaborate symptoms of preparation for a large-sized fit of hysterics. She caught her breath five or six times running in a resounding manner, heaved her bosom beneath the green chiffon and coffee-coloured lace, and tore feebly with both hands at a large medallion brooch that was doing sentry duty near her throat.

"Pray, pray, Madame," exclaimed the Prophet, who was now near his wits' end. "Pray-"

"How can I pray at table, sir?" she retorted, suddenly showing fight. "You forget yourself."

"Oh, Hennessey," said poor Mrs. Merillia, "what does all this mean?"

"Nothing, grannie, nothing except that Mr. Sagittarius is a very modest man and does not care to acknowledge the greatness of his talents. Pray sit down, Mr. Sagittarius. Here is the ice pudding. Madame, I am sure you will take some ice. Mr. Ferdinand!"


"The ice to Madame Sagittarius instantly!"

Mr. Ferdinand, who was trembling in every limb at having to assist at such a scene in his dining-room, which had hitherto been the very temple of soft conversation and the most exquisite decorum, advanced towards Madame, clattering the flat silver dish, and causing the frozen delicacy that the cook had elegantly posed upon it to run first this way and then that as if in imitative agitation.

"I cannot," sobbed Madame, beginning once more to catch her breath. "At such a moment food becomes repulsive!"

"I assure you our cook's ice puddings are quite delicious; aren't they, grannie?"

"I have no idea, Hennessey," said Mrs. Merillia, who was so upset by the extraordinary scene at which she was presiding in the character of hostess, that she mechanically clutched the left bandeau of her delightful wig, and set it quite a quarter of an inch awry.

"Try it, Madame," cried the Prophet. "I implore you to try it."

Thus adjured Madame detached a large piece of the agile pudding with some difficulty, and subsided into a morose silence, while her husband sat with his eyes fixed imploringly upon her, totally regardless of his social duties. As both Mrs. Merillia and Lady Julia were by this time thoroughly unnerved, and Sir Tiglath was once more immersed in his food, the whole burden of conversation fell upon the Prophet, who indulged in a feverish monologue that lasted until the end of dinner. What he talked about he could never afterwards certainly remember, but he had a vague idea that he discussed the foreign relations of England with Madagascar, the probable future of Poland, the social habits of the women of Alaska, the prospects of tobacco culture in West Meath, and the effect that imported Mexicans would be likely to produce upon the natural simplicity of such unsophisticated persons as inhabit Lundy Island or the more remote districts of the Shetlands. When the ladies at length rose to leave the dining-room his brain was in a whirl and he had little doubt that his temperature was up to 104. Nevertheless his mind was still active, was indeed preternaturally acute for the moment, and he saw in a flash the impossibility of leaving Madame Sagittarius alone with his grandmother and Lady Julia. As they got up from their seats he therefore took out his watch and said,-

"Dear me! It is later than I had supposed. I am afraid we ought to be starting for Zoological House. Mrs. Bridgeman will be expecting us."

"Certainly, sir, certainly!" said Mr. Sagittarius, with all the alacrity of supreme cowardice, and casting a terror-stricken glance towards Sir Tiglath, who was glowering at him with glassy eyes above a glass of port. "Mrs. Bridgeman will be expecting us!"

"I will assume my cloak," said Madame, fiercely. "Jupiter!"

"My darling!"

"Kindly seek my furs."

"Certainly, my love," replied Mr. Sagittarius, darting eagerly from the apartment to fetch the rabbit-skins.

"Lady Julia, I hope you will forgive us," said the Prophet, with passionate contrition. "If I had had the slightest idea that we should have the pleasure of seeing you to-night, of course I should have given up this engagement. But it is such an old one-settled months ago-and I have promised Mrs. Bridgeman so faithfully that-"

"The old astronomer will go with you," cried Sir Tiglath at this moment, swallowing his glass of port at a gulp, and rolling out of his chair.

The Prophet turned cold, thinking of Miss Minerva, who would be present at Mrs. Bridgeman's living her secret double life. It was imperative to prevent the astronomer from accompanying them.

"I did not think you knew Mrs. Bridgeman, Sir Tiglath," the Prophet began, while Mrs. Merillia and Lady Julia stood blankly near the door, trying to look calm and dignified while everyone was ardently preparing to desert them.

"The old astronomer must know her before the evening is one hour more advanced. He must question her regarding the holy stars. He must examine her and this Sagittarius, who claims to be an outside broker and yet to have discovered oxygen in the fixed inhabitants of the sacred heavens. My cloak!"

The last words were bellowed at Gustavus, who rushed forward with Sir Tiglath's Inverness.

The Prophet lowed his head, and metaphorically, threw up the sponge.

"Lady Julia," said Mrs. Merillia, in a soft voice that slightly trembled, "let us go upstairs."

The two old ladies bowed with tearful dignity, and retired with a sort of gentle majesty that cut the Prophet to the heart.

"One moment, if you please!" he said to his guests.

And he darted out of the room and leaped up the stairs. He found Mrs. Merillia and Lady Julia just about to dispose themselves side by side upon a sofa near the fire. They turned and looked at him with reproachful doves' eyes.

"Grannie-Lady Julia!" he exclaimed, "I implore your forgiveness. Pardon me! Appearances are against me, I know. But some day you may understand how I am placed. My position is-my-my situation-I-you-do not wholly condemn me! Wait-wait a few days, I implore you!"

He rushed out of the room.

The two old ladies seated themselves upon the sofa, and tremblingly spread abroad their damask skirts. They looked at each other in silence, shaking their elegant heads. Then Mrs. Merillia said, in a fluttering voice,-

"Oh, Julia, you were a lady in waiting to Her Majesty, you were kissed by the great Duke-tell me-tell me what it all means!"

"Victoria," replied Lady Julia, "it means that your grandson has fallen into the clutches of a dangerous and determined ratcatcher."

And then the two old ladies mingled their damask skirts and their lace caps and wept.

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