The general stampede that ensued on the publication of my wife’s despatch is no fit subject for the pen of a coherent scientific writer. Suffice it to say, that in the space of twenty-four hours London was practically empty, with the exception of the freaks at Barnum’s, the staff of The Undertakers’ Gazette, and Mrs. Elphinstone (for that, pace Wilkie Collins, was the name of the Woman in White), who would listen to no reasoning, but kept calling upon “George,” for that was the name of my cousin’s man, who had been in the service of Lord Garrick, the Chief Justice, who had succumbed to dipsomania in the previous invasion.
Meantime the Wenuses, flushed with their success in Westbourne Grove, had carried their devastating course in a south-easterly direction, looting Marshall and Snelgrove’s, bearing away the entire stock of driving-gloves from Sleep’s and subjecting Redfern’s to the asphyxiating fumes of the Red Weed.
It is calculated that they spent nearly two days in Jay’s, trying on all the costumes in that establishment, and a week in Peter Robinson’s. During these days I never quitted Uxbridge Road Station, for just as I was preparing to leave, my eye caught the title on the bookstall of Grant Allen’s work, The Idea of Evolution! and I could not stir from the platform until I had skimmed it from cover to cover.
Wearily mounting the stairs, I then turned my face westward. At the corner of Royal Crescent, just by the cabstand, I found a man lying in the roadway. His face was stained with the Red Weed, and his language was quite unfit for the columns of Nature.
I applied a limp lettuce to his fevered brow, took his temperature with my theodolite, and pressing a copy of Home Chat into his unresisting hand, passed on with a sigh. I think I should have stayed with him but for the abnormal obtusity of his facial angle.
Turning up Clarendon Road, I heard the faint words of the Wenusberg music by Wagner from a pianoforte in the second story of No. 34. I stepped quickly into a jeweller’s shop across the road, carried off eighteen immature carats from a tray on the counter, and pitched them through the open window at the invisible pianist. The music ceased suddenly.
It was when I began to ascend Notting Hill that I first heard the hooting. It reminded me at first of a Siren, and then of the top note of my maiden aunt, in her day a notorious soprano vocalist. She subsequently emigrated to France, and entered a nunnery under the religious name of Soeur Marie Jeanne. “Tul-ulla-lulla-liety,” wailed the Voice in a sort of superhuman jodel, coming, as it seemed to me, from the region of Westminster Bridge.
The persistent ululation began to get upon my nerves. I found, moreover, that I was again extremely hungry and thirsty. It was already noon. Why was I wandering alone in this derelict city, clad in my wife’s skirt and my cook’s Sunday bonnet?