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V. The Fifth Wheel
|Page 5 of 8||
The taller woman threw back her black veil and loosened her cloak. She was fifty, with a wrinkled and sad face. The other, young and plump, took a chair a little distance away and to the rear as a servant or an attendant might have done.
"You sent for me, Professor Cherubusco," said the elder woman, wearily. "I hope you have something more definite than usual to say. I've about lost the little faith I had in your art. I would not have responded to your call this evening if my sister had not insisted upon it."
"Madam," said the professor, with his princeliest smile, "the true Art cannot fail. To find the true psychic and potential branch sometimes requires time. We have not succeeded, I admint, with the cards, the crystal, the stars, the magic formulae of Zarazin, nor the Oracle of Po. But we have at last discovered the true psychic route. The Chaldean Chiroscope has been successful in our search."
The professor's voice had a ring that seemed to proclaim his belief in his own words. The elderly lady looked at him with a little more interest.
"Why, there was no sense in those words that it wrote with my hands on it," she said. "What do you mean?"
"The words were these," said Professor Cherubusco, rising to his full magnificent height: "By the fifth wheel of the chariot he shall come."
"I haven't seen many chariots," said the lady, "but I never saw one with five wheels."
"Progress," said the professor--"progress in science and mechanics has accomplished it--though, to be exact, we may speak of it only as an extra tire. Progress in occult art has advanced in proportion. Madam, I repeat that the Chaldean Chiroscope has succeeded. I can not only answer the question that you have propounded, but I can produce before your eyes the proof thereof."
And now the lady was disturbed both in her disbelief and in her poise.
"O professor!" she cried anxiously--"When?--where? Has he been found? Do not keep me in suspense."
"I beg you will excuse me for a very few minutes," said Professor Cherubusco, "and I think I can demonstrate to you the efficacy of the true Art."
Thomas was contentedly munching the last crumbs of the bread and fowl when the enchanter appeared suddenly at his side.
"Are you willing to return to your old home if you are assured of a welcome and restoration to favor?" he asked, with his courteous, royal smile.
"Do I look bughouse?" answered Thomas. "Enough of the footback life for me. But will they have me again? The old lady is as fixed in her ways as a nut on a new axle."
"My dear young man," said the other, "she has been searching for you everywhere."
"Great!" said Thomas. "I'm on the job. That team of dropsical domedaries they call horses is a handicap for a first-class coachman like myself; but I'll take the job back, sure, doc. They're good people to be with."
And now a change came o'er the suave countenance of the Caliph of Bagdad. He looked keenly and suspiciously at the ex-coachman. "May I ask what your name is?" he said shortly.
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