MoboReader > Others > The Prophet of Berkeley Square

   Chapter 7 THE DOUBLE LIFE OF MISS MINERVA

The Prophet of Berkeley Square By Robert Hichens Characters: 25705

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


On the following day, just as the Prophet was drawing on a new pair of suede gloves preparatory to setting out to Hill Street, Gustavus entered with a silver salver.

"A telegram for you, sir," he said.

The Prophet took the blushing envelope, ripped it gently open, and read as follows:-

"Madame and self must confer with you this afternoon without fail. Shall be with you five sharp; most important.

"JUPITER SAGITTARIUS."

Gustavus nearly dropped at sight of the wrinkles that seamed the Prophet's usually smooth face as he grasped the full meaning of this portentous missive.

"Any answer, sir?"

The wrinkles increased and multiplied.

"Any reply, sir?"

"What-no."

Gustavus glided in a well-trained manner towards the door. When he got there the Prophet cried, rather sharply,-

"Stop a moment!"

Gustavus stopped.

"Sir?"

"The-I-er-I am expecting a-a-couple this afternoon," began the Prophet, speaking with considerable hesitation, and still gazing, in a hypnotised manner, at the telegram.

"A couple, sir?"

"Exactly. A pair."

"A pair, sir? Of horses, sir?"

"Horses! No-of people, that is, persons."

"A pair of persons, sir. Yes, sir."

"They should arrive towards five o'clock."

"Yes, sir."

"If I should not be home by that time you will show them very quietly into my library-not the drawing-room. Mrs. Merillia is not at present equal to receiving ordinary guests."

The Prophet meant extraordinary, but he preferred to put it the other way.

"Yes, sir. What name, sir?"

"Mr. and Mrs.-that is, Madame Sagittarius. That will do."

Gustavus hastened to the servants' hall to discuss the situation, while the Prophet stood re-reading the telegram with an expression of shattered dismay. Not for at least five minutes did he recover himself sufficiently to remember his appointment with Lady Enid, and, when at length he set forth to Hill Street, he was so painfully preoccupied that he walked three times completely round the square before he discovered the outlet into that fashionable thoroughfare.

When he reached the dark green mansion of Lady Enid's worthy father, the Marquis of Glome, and had applied the bronze demon that served as a knocker four separate times to the door, he was still so lost in thought that he started violently on the appearance of the Scotch retainer at the portal, and behaved for a moment as if he were considering which of two courses he should pursue: i.e., whether he should clamber frantically into the seclusion of the area, or take boldly to the open street. Before he could do either M'Allister, the retainer, had magnetised him into the hall, relieved him of his hat-almost with the seductive adroitness of a Drury Lane thief-and drawn him down a tartan passage into a very sensible-looking boudoir, in which Lady Enid was sitting by a wood fire with a very tall and lusty young man.

"Mr. Hennessey Vivian!"

"What, Bob-you here!" said the Prophet to the lusty young man, after shaking hands a little distractedly with Lady Enid.

"Yes, old chap. But I'm just off. I know you two want to have a confab," returned Mr. Robert Green, wringing his old school friend's hand. "Niddy's given me the chuck. And anyhow I'm bound to look in at the Bath Club at four to fence with Chicky Bostock."

Mr. Green spoke in a powerful baritone voice, rolling his r's, and showing his large and square white teeth in a perpetual cheery and even boisterous smile. He was what is called a thorough good fellow, springy in body and essentially gay in soul. That he was of a slightly belated temperament will be readily understood when we say that he was at this time just beginning to whistle, with fair correctness, "Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay," to discuss the character of Becky Sharp, to dwell upon the remarkable promise as a vocalist shown by Madame Adelina Patti, and to wonder at the marvellous results said to be accomplished by the telephone. He had also never heard of Christian Science, and was totally unaware that there exists in the metropolis a modest and retiring building called "The Imperial Institute." Nevertheless, he was repeatedly spoken of by substantial people as a young man of many parts, was a leading spirit in Yeomanry circles, and was greatly regarded by the Prophet as a trusty friend and stalwart upholder of the British Empire. He had rather the appearance of a bulwark, and something of the demeanour of a flourishing young oak tree.

"Yes, Bob, you've got to go," assented Lady Enid, examining the Prophet's slightly distorted countenance with frank, and even eager, curiosity. "Mr. Vivian and I are going to talk of modern things."

"I know, Thackeray and Patti, and three-volume novels, and skirt dancing, and all the rest of it," said Mr. Green, with unaffected reverence. "Well, I'm off. I say, Hen, pop in at the Bath on your way home and have a whiskey and soda. I shall just be out of the hot room and-"

"I'm sorry, Bob," said the Prophet with almost terrible solemnity, "that I can't, that-in fact-I am unable."

"What? Going to the dentist?"

"Exactly-that is, not at all."

"Well, what's up? Some intellectual business, lecture on Walter Scott, or Dickens, or one of the other Johnnies that are so popular just now?"

"No. I have a-a small gathering at home this afternoon.

"All right. Then I'll pop round on you-say five o'clock."

"No, Bob, no, I can't say that. I'm very sorry, but I can't possibly say that."

"Right you are. Too clever for me, I s'pose. Look me up at the Tintack to-night then-any time after ten."

"If I can, Bob, I will," replied the Prophet, with impressive uncertainty, "I say if I can I will do so."

"Done! If you can't, then I'm not to expect you. That it?"

"That is it-precisely."

"Good-bye, Niddy, old girl. Keep your pecker up. By the way, if you want a real good tune for a Charity sing-song, a real rouser, try 'Nancy Lee.'"

He was gone, humming vigorously that new-fangled favourite.

"Sit down, Mr. Vivian," said Lady Enid, looking her right size. "We've got a lot to say to one another."

"I have to be home at five," replied the Prophet, abstractedly.

Lady Enid begin to appear a trifle thin.

"Why? How tiresome! I didn't think you really meant it."

"It is very, very tiresome."

He spoke with marked uneasiness, and remained standing with the air of one in readiness for the punctual call of the hangman.

"What is it?" continued Lady Enid, with her usual inquisitiveness.

"I have, as I said, a-a small gathering at home at that hour," said the Prophet, repeating his formula morosely.

"A gathering-what of?"

"People-persons, that is."

"What-a party?"

"Two parties," replied the Prophet, instinctively giving Mr. Sagittarius and Madame their undoubted due. "Two."

"Two parties at the same time-and in the afternoon! How very odd!"

"They will look very odd, very-in Berkeley Square," responded the Prophet, in a tone of considerable dejection. "I don't know, I'm sure, what Mr. Ferdinand and Gustavus will think. Still I've given strict orders that they are to be let in. What else could I do?"

He gazed at Lady Enid in a demanding manner.

"What else could I possibly do under the circumstances?" he repeated.

"Sit down, dear Mr. Vivian," she answered, with her peculiar Scotch lassie seductiveness, "and tell me, your sincere friend, what the circumstances are."

Unluckily her curiosity had led her to overdo persuasion. That cooing interpolation of "your sincere friend"-too strongly honeyed-suddenly recalled the Prophet to the fact that Lady Enid was not, and could never be, his confidante in the matter that obsessed him. He therefore sat down, but with an abrupt air of indefinite social liveliness, and exclaimed, not unlike Mr. Robert Green,-

"Well, and how are things going with you, dear Lady Enid?"

She jumped under the transition as under a whip.

"Me! But-these parties you were telling me about?"

But the Prophet remembered his oath. He was a strictly honourable little man, and never swore carelessly.

"Parties!" he said. "You and I are too old friends to waste our life in chattering about such London nonsense."

"Then we'll talk of yesterday," said Lady Enid, very firmly.

The Prophet looked rather blank.

"Yes," she repeated. "Yesterday. I've guessed your secret."

"Which one?" he cried, much startled.

"Which?" she said reproachfully. "Oh, Mr. Vivian-and I thought you trusted in me."

The Prophet was silent. The third daughter of the clergyman had often made that remark to him when they were nearly engaged. It recalled bygone memories.

"That's what I thought," she added with pressure.

"I'm sorry," the Prophet murmured, rather obstinately.

"I always think," she continued, with deliberate expansiveness, "that nearly all the miseries of the world come about from people not trusting in-in people."

"Or from people trusting in the wrong people. Which is it?" said the Prophet, not without slyness.

She began to look thin, but checked herself.

"Tell me," she said, "why did you stop me yesterday when I was beginning to say to Sir Tiglath that I was sure Malkiel was a man and not a syndicate?"

"Did I stop you?" said the Prophet, artlessly.

"Yes, with your eyes."

"Because-because I was sure-that is, certain you couldn't be sure."

"How could you be certain?"

"How?"

"Yes."

"Well, how is one certain of anything?" said the Prophet, rather feebly.

"How are you certain that I'm Miss Minerva Partridge?"

"Because you told me so yourself, because I've seen you come into Jellybrand's for your letters, because-"

"Haven't I seen Malkiel come into Jellybrand's for his?"

This unexpected retort threw the Prophet upon his beam ends. But he remembered his oath even in that very awkward position.

"Does he go to Jellybrand's?" he exclaimed, with a wild attempt after astonishment. "But he's a company-Sir Tiglath said so."

"And what did your eyes say yesterday?"

"I had a cold in my eyes yesterday," said the Prophet. "They were very weak. They were-they were aching."

Lady Enid was silent for a moment. During that moment she was conferring with her feminine instinct. What it said to her must be guessed by the manner in which she once more entered into conversation with the Prophet.

"Mr. Vivian," she said, with a complete change of demeanour to girlish geniality and impulsiveness, "I'm going to confide in you. I'm going to thrown myself upon your mercy."

The Prophet blinked with amazement, like a martyr who suddenly finds himself snatched from the rack and laid upon a plush divan with a satin cushion under his head.

"I'm going to trust you," Lady Enid went on, emphasising the two pronouns.

"Many thanks," said the Prophet, unoriginally.

She was sitting on a square piece of furniture which the Marquis of Glome called an "Aberdeen lean-to." She now spread herself out upon it in the easy attitude of one who is about to converse intimately for some centuries, and proceeded.

"I daresay you know, Mr. Vivian, that people always call me a very sensible sort of girl."

The Prophet remembered his grandmother's remark about Lady Enid.

"I know they do," he assented, trying not to think of five o'clock.

"What do they mean by that, Mr. Vivian?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"I say what do they mean by a sensible sort of girl?"

"Why, I suppose-"

"I'm going to tell you," she interrupted him. "They mean a sort of girl who likes fresh air, washes her face with yellow soap, sports dogskin gloves, drives in an open cart in preference to a shut brougham, enjoys a cold tub and Whyte Melville's novels, laughs at ghosts and cries over 'Misunderstood,' considers the Bishop of London a deity and the Albert Memorial a gem of art, would wear a neat Royal fringe in her grave, and a straw hat and shirt on the Judgment Day if she were in the country for it-walks with the guns, sings 'Home, Sweet Home' in the evening after dinner to her bald-headed father, thinks the Daily Mail an intellectual paper, the Royal Academy an uplifting institution, the British officer a demi-god with a heart of gold in a body of steel, and the road from Calais to Paris the way to heaven. That's what they mean by a sensible sort of girl, isn't it?"

"I daresay it is," said the Prophet, endeavouring not to feel as if he were sitting with a dozen or two of very practised stump orators.

"Yes, and that's what they think I am."

"And aren't you?" inquired the Prophet.

Lady Enid drew herself upon the Aberdeen lean-to.

"No," she said decisively, "I'm not. I'm a Miss Minerva Partridge."

"Well, but what is that?" asked the Prophet, with all the air of a man inquiring about some savage race.

"That's the secret-"

"Oh, I beg your pardon!"

"That I'm going to tell you now, because I trust you-"

Again the pronouns were emphasised, and the Prophet thought how difficult it would be to keep his oath.

"And because I know now that you're silly too."

The Prophet jumped, though not for joy.

"I've been Miss Minerva Partridge for-wait a moment, I must look."

She got up, went to a writing table, opened a drawer in it, and took out a large red book and turned its leaves.

"My diary," she explained. "It's foolish to keep one, isn't it?"

Her intonation so obviously called for an affirmative that the Prophet felt constrained to reply,-

"Very foolish indeed."

She smiled with pleasure.

"I'm so glad you think so. Ah-exactly a year and a half."

"You've been Miss Minerva Partridge?"

"Yes."

"So long as that?"

"Yes, indeed. Mr. Vivian, during that time I have been leading a double life."

The Prophet remembered the other double life beside the borders of the River Mouse, and began to wonder if he were acquainted with any human being who led a single one.

"Many people do that," he remarked rather aimlessly.

Lady Enid looked vexed.

"I did not say I had a monopoly of the commodity," she rejoined, evidently wishing that she had.

"Oh, no," said the Prophet, making things worse; "one meets people who live double lives every day, I might almost say every hour."

The clock had just struck four, and he had begun to think of five. Lady Enid's pleasant plumpness began rapidly to disappear.

"I can't say I do," she said sharply, feeling that most of the gilt was being stripped off her sin.

She stopped in such obvious dissatisfaction that the Prophet, vaguely aware that he had made some mistake, said,-

"Please go on. I am so interested. Why have you led a double life for the last week and a half?"

"Year and a half, I said."

"I mean year and a half."

He forced his mobile features to assume a fixed expression of greedy, though rather too constant, curiosity. Lady Enid brightened up.

"Mr. Vivian," she said, "many girls are born sensible-looking without wishing it."

"Are they really? It never occurred to me."

"Such things very seldom do occur to men. Now that places these girls in a very painful position. I was placed in this position as soon as I was born, or at least as soon as I began to look like anything at all. For babies really don't."

"That's very true," assented the Prophet, with more fervour.

"People continually said to me, 'What a nice sensible girl you are'; or-'One always feels your Common sense'; or-'There's nothing foolish about you, Enid, thank Heaven!' The Chieftain relied upon me thoroughly. So did the tenants. So did everybody. You can understand that it became very trying?"

"Of course, of course."

"It's something to do with the shape of my eyebrows, the colour of my hair, the way I smile and that sort of thing."

"No doubt it is."

"Mr. Vivian, I'll tell you now, that I've never felt sensible in all my life."

"Really!" ejaculated the Prophet, still firmly holding all his features together in an unyielding expression of fixed curiosity.

"Never once, however great the provocation. And in my family, with the Chieftain, the provocation you can understand is exceptionally great."

The Marquis of Glome, who was the head of a clan called "The MacArdells," was always named the Chieftain by his relations and friends.

"I felt sure it must be," said the Prophet, decisively.

"Nevertheless it is so extremely difficult, if not impossible, not to try to be what people take you for that I was in a perpetual condition of acting sensibly, against my true nature."

"How very trying!" murmured the Prophet, mechanically.

"It was, Mr. Vivian. It often made me fell quite ill. Nobody but you knows how I have suffered."

"And why do I know?" inquired the Prophet.

"Because I realised yesterday that you must be almost as silly by nature as I am."

"Yesterday-why? When?"

"When you said to Sir Tiglath that you could prophesy."

The Prophet stiffened. She laughed almost affectionately.

"So absurd! But I was vexed when you said you'd give it up. You mustn't do that, or you'll be flying in the face of your own folly."

She drew the Aberdeen lean-to, which ran easily on Edinburgh castors, a little nearer to him, and continued.

"At least I felt obliged to seek an outlet. I could not stifle my real self for ever, and yet I could not be comfortably silly with those who were absolutely convinced of my permanent good sense. I tried to be several times.

"Didn't you succeed?"

"Not once."

"Tch! Tch!"

"So at last I was driven to the double life."

"Then your coachman knows?"

"MacSpillan! No! I took a cab-a four-wheeler-at the corner of the Square, and the name of Minerva Partridge. It's a silly name, isn't it?"

She asked the question with earnest anxiety.

"Quite idiotic," said the Prophet, reassuringly.

"I felt quite sure it was," she cried, obviously comforted. "Because it came to me so inevitably. I was so perfectly natural-and alone-when I invented it. No one helped me."

"I assure you," reiterated the Prophet, "there is no doubt the name is absolutely and entirely idiotic."

"Thank you, dear Mr. Vivian! What a pleasure it is to talk to you! Under this name I have, for a year and a half, led an idiotic life, such a life as really suits me, such a life as is in complete accord with my true nature. Oh, the joy of it! The sense of freedom! If only all other silly girls who look sensible like me had the courage to do what I have done!"

"It is a pity!" said the Prophet, in assent, beginning to be genuinely moved by the obvious sincerity of this human being's bent towards folly. "But what have you done during this year and a half of truth and freedom?"

"More foolish things than many crowd into a lifetime," she cried ecstatically. "It would take me days to tell you of half of them!"

"Oh, then you mustn't," said the Prophet, glancing furtively at the clock. "Had you come out to be silly yesterday afternoon?"

"Yes, I had-to be sillier even than usual. And if it hadn't been for Sir Tiglath catching sight of me in the avenue, and then-Mr. Sagittarius and you being in the parlour-"

She stopped.

"By the way," she said, in her usual tone of breezy common sense, "were you living a double life in the parlour?"

"I!" said the Prophet. "Oh, no, not at all. I never do anything of that kind."

"Sure?"

"Quite certain."

"You're not going to?"

"Certainly not. Nothing would induce me."

She looked at him, as if unconvinced, raising her dark, sensible eyebrows.

"All Jellybrand's clients do," she said. "And I'm certain Mr. Sagittarius-"

"I assure you," said the Prophet, with the heavy earnestness of absolute insincerity, "Mr. Sagittarius is the most single lived man I ever met, the very most. But why did Sir Tiglath, that is, why did you-?"

"Try to avoid him? Well-"

For the first time she hesitated, and began to look slightly confused.

"Well," she repeated, "Sir Tiglath is a very strange, peculiar old man."

The Prophet thought that if the young librarian had been present he would have eliminated the second adjective.

"Peculiar! Yes, he is. His appearance, his manner-"

"Oh, I don't mean that."

"No?"

"No. Lots of elderly men have purple faces, turned legs and roaring voices. You must know that. Sir Tiglath is peculiar in this way-he is quite elderly and yet he's not in the least little bit silly."

"Oh!"

"He's a thoroughly sensible old man, the only one I ever met."

"Your father?"

"The Chieftain can be very foolish at times. That's why he's always relied so on me."

She gave this proof triumphantly. The Prophet felt bound to accept it.

"Sir Tiglath is really, as an old man, what everybody thinks I am, as a young woman. D'you see?"

"You mean?"

"The opposite of me. And in this way too. While I hide my silliness under my eyebrows, and hair, and smile, and manner, he hides his sensibleness under his. When people meet me they always think-what a common-sense young woman! When they meet him they always think-what a preposterous old man!"

"Well, but then," cried the Prophet, struck by a sudden idea, "if that is so, how can you live a double life as Miss Minerva Partridge? You can't change your eyebrows with your name!"

"Ah, you don't know women!" she murmured. "No, but you see I begin at once."

"Begin?"

"Being silly. All the people who know me as Miss Partridge know I'm an absurd person in spite of my looks. I've proved it to them by my actions. I've begun at once before they could have time to judge by my appearance. I've told them instantly that I'm a Christian Scientist, and a believer in the value of tight-lacing and in ghosts, an anti-vaccinator, a Fabian, a member of 'The Masculine Club,' a 'spirit,' a friend of Mahatmas, an intimate of the 'Rational Dress' set-you know, who wear things like half inflated balloons in Piccadilly-a vegetarian, a follower of Mrs. Besant, a drinker of hop bitters and Zozophine, a Jacobite, a hater of false hair and of all collective action to stamp out hydrophobia, a stamp-collector, an engager of lady-helps instead of servants, an amateur reciter and skirt dancer, an owner of a lock of Paderewski's hair-torn fresh from the head personally at a concert-an admirer of George Bernard Shaw as a thinker but a hater of him as a humourist, a rationalist and reader of Punch, an atheist and table-turner, a friend of all who think that women don't desire to be slaves, a homoeopathist and Sandowite, an enemy of babies-as if all women didn't worship them!-a lover of cats-as if all women didn't hate one another!-a-"

"One-one moment!" gasped the Prophet at this juncture. "Many of these views are surely in opposition, in direct opposition to each other."

"I daresay. That doesn't matter in the least to a real silly woman such as I am."

"And then you said that you proved by your actions instantly that-"

"So I did. I caught up a happy dog in the street, cried over its agony, unmuzzled it and allowed it to add its little contribution to the joy of life by mangling a passing archdeacon. I sat on the floor and handled snakes. I wore my hair parted on one side and smoked a cigarette in a chiffon gown. I refused food in a public restaurant because it had been cooked by a Frenchman. I-"

"Enough! Enough!" cried the Prophet. "I understand. You forced Miss Partridge's acquaintances to believe in Miss Partridge's folly. But who were these acquaintances?"

"It would take me hours to tell you. First there was-"

"I really have to go at five."

"Then I'll finish about Sir Tiglath. He's an utterly sensible old man, and so is different from all other old men, for you know human folly increases enormously with age. Isn't that lovely? Now, Mr. Vivian, Sir Tiglath admires me."

"Ah!"

"I know. You think that proves him the contrary of what I've said."

"Not at all!" exclaimed the Prophet, with frenzied courtesy, "not at all!"

"Yes, you do. But you're wrong. He doesn't exactly admire my character, but he likes me because I'm tall, and have pleasant coloured eyes, and thick hair, and walk well, and know that he's really an unusually sensible old man."

"Oh, is that it?"

"Yes. But now, if he could be made to think that I really am what I look like-a thoroughly sensible young woman, he would more than admire me, he would adore me."

"But if you wish him to?" asked the Prophet in blank amazement.

"I do."

"Why?"

"The Miss Minerva part of me desires it."

"Indeed."

"Yes. He's got to do one or two things for Miss Minerva without knowing that I'm Miss Minerva. That is why I bolted into the parlour yesterday. Just as I was stepping into Jellybrand's I happened to see Sir Tiglath and he happened to think he saw me."

"Only to think?"

"Yes. He is not certain. I saw that by the expression of his face. He was wondering whether I was me-or is it I?-or not. I didn't give him time to be certain. I rushed into the parlour."

"You did."

"So it's all right. Frederick Smith would never betray a client."

"Really?"

"Never; so I'm saved. For Sir Tiglath isn't certain even now. I found that out on the way home with him last night. And an old man who's uncertain of the truth can soon be made certain of the lie, by a young woman he admires, however sensible he is. And now I'll tell you part of what I want Sir Tiglath to do for Miss Minerva-"

But at this moment the clock struck five, and the Prophet bounded up with hysterical activity, and hastily took his leave, promising to call again and hear more on the following day.

"And tell more," thought Lady Enid to herself as the door of the sensible-looking boudoir shut behind him.

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares