Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 15

Sweet reader! you know what a Toadey is? That agreeable animal which you meet every day in civilised society. But perhaps you have not speculated very curiously upon this interesting race. So much the worse! for you cannot live many lustres without finding it of some service to be a little acquainted with their habits.

The world in general is under a mistake as to the nature of these vermin. They are by no means characterised by that similarity of disposition for which your common observer gives them credit. There are Toadeys of all possible natures.

There is your Common-place Toadey, who merely echoes its feeder’s common-place observations. There is your Playing-up Toadey, who, unconscious to its feeder, is always playing up to its feeder’s weaknesses; and, as the taste of that feeder varies, accordingly provides its cates and confitures. A little bit of scandal for a dashing widow, or a pious little hymn for a sainted one; the secret history of a newly discovered gas for a May Fair feeder, and an interesting anecdote about a Newgate bobcap or a Penitentiary apron for a charitable one. Then there is your Drawing-out Toadey, who omits no opportunity of giving you a chance of being victorious in an argument where there is no contest, and a dispute where there is no difference; and then there is — but we detest essay writing, so we introduce you at once to a party of these vermin. If you wish to enjoy a curious sight, you must watch the Toadeys when they are unembarrassed by the almost perpetual presence of their breeders; when they are animated by “the spirit of freedom;” when, like Curran’s Negro, the chain bursts by the impulse of their swelling veins. The great singularity is the struggle between their natural and their acquired feelings: the eager opportunity which they seize of revenging their voluntary bondage, by their secret taunts, on their adopted task-masters, and the servility which they habitually mix up even with their scandal. Like veritable Grimalkins, they fawn upon their victims previous to the festival; compliment them upon the length of their whiskers and the delicacy of their limbs prior to excoriating them, and dwelling on the flavour of their crashed bones. ’Tis a beautiful scene, and ten thousand times more piquant than the humours of a Servants’ Hall, or the most grotesque and glorious moments of high life below stairs.

“Dear Miss Graves,” said Miss Gusset, “you can’t imagine how terrified I was at that horrible green parrot flying upon my head! I declare it pulled out three locks of hair.”

“Horrible green parrot, my dear madam! Why, it was sent to my Lady by Prince Xtmnprqtosklw, and never shall I forget the agitation we were in about that parrot. I thought it would never have got to the Château, for the Prince could only send his carriage with it as far as Toadcaster. Luckily my Lady’s youngest brother, who was staying at Desir, happened to get drowned at the time; and so Davenport, very clever of him! sent her on in my Lord Dormer’s hearse.”

“In the hearse! Good heavens, Miss Graves! How could you think of green parrots at such an awful moment? I should have been in fits for three days; eh! Dr. Sly?”

“Certainly you would, madame; your nerves are very delicate.”

“Well! I, for my part, never could see much use in giving up to one’s feelings. It is all very well for commoners,” rather rudely exclaimed the Marchioness’ Toadey; “but we did not choose to expose ourselves to the servants when the old General died this year. Everything went on as usual. Her Ladyship attended Almack’s; my Lord took his seat in the House; and I looked in at Lady Doubtful’s where we do not visit, but where the Marchioness wishes to be civil.”

“We do not visit Lady Doubtful either,” replied Miss Gusset: “she had not a card for our fête champêtre. I was so sorry you were not in town. It was so delightful!”

“Do tell me who was there? I quite long to know all about it. I saw some account of it. Everything seemed to go off so well. Do tell me who was there?”

“Oh! there was plenty of Royalty at the head of the list. Really I cannot go Into particulars, but everybody was there who is anybody; eh! Dr. Sly?”

“Certainly, madam. The pines were most admirable. There are few people for whom I entertain a higher esteem, than Mr. Gunter.”

“The Marchioness seems very fond of her parrot, Miss Graves; but she is a sweet woman!”

“Oh, a dear, amiable creature! but I cannot think how she can bear the eternal screaming of that noisy bird.”

“Nor I, indeed. Well, thank goodness, Mrs. Million has no pets; eh! Dr. Sly?”

“Certainly. I am clearly of opinion that it cannot be wholesome to have so many animals about a house. Besides which, I have noticed that the Marchioness always selects the nicest morsels for that little poodle; and I am also clearly of opinion, Miss Graves, that the fit it had the other day arose from repletion.”

“I have no doubt of it in the world. She consumes three pounds of arrowroot weekly and two pounds of the finest loaf sugar, which I have the trouble of grating every Monday morning. Mrs. Million appears to be a most amiable woman, Miss Gusset?”

“Quite perfection; so charitable, so intellectual, such a soul! It is a pity, though, her manner is so abrupt; she really does not appear to advantage sometimes; eh! Dr. Sly?”

The Toadey’s Toadey bowed assent as usual. “Well,” rejoined Miss Graves, “that is rather a fault of the dear Marchioness, a little want of consideration for another’s feelings; but she means nothing.”

“Oh, no! nor Mrs. Million, dear creature! She means nothing; though I dare say, not knowing her so well as we do; eh! Dr. Sly? you were a little surprised at the way in which she spoke to me at dinner.”

“All people have their oddities, Miss Gusset. I am sure the Marchioness is not aware how she tries my patience about that little wretch Julie. I had to rub her with warm flannels for an hour and a half before the fire this morning; that is that Vivian Grey’s doing.”

“Who is this Mr. Grey, Miss Graves?”

“Who, indeed! Some young man the Marquess has picked up, and who comes lecturing here about poodles and parrots, and thinking himself quite Lord Paramount, I can assure you. I am surprised that the Marchioness, who is a most sensible woman, can patronise such conduct a moment; but whenever she begins to see through him the young gentleman has always got a story about a bracelet, or a bandeau, and quite turns her head.”

“Very disagreeable, I am sure.”

“Some people are so easily managed! By-the-bye, Miss Gusset, who could have advised Mrs. Million to wear crimson? So large as she is, it does not at all suit her. I suppose it’s a favourite colour.”

“Dear Miss Graves, you are always so insinuating. What can Miss Graves mean; eh! Dr. Sly?”

A Lord Burleigh shake of the head.

“Cynthia Courtown seems as lively as ever,” said Miss Gusset.

“Yes, lively enough; but I wish her manner was less brusque.”

“Brusque, indeed! you may well say so. She nearly pushed me down in the Hall; and when I looked as if I thought she might have given me a little more room, she tossed her head and said, ‘Beg pardon, never saw you!’”

“I wonder what Lord Alhambra sees in that girl?”

“Oh! those forward misses always take the men.”

“Well,” said Miss Graves, “I have no notion that it will come to anything; I am sure, I, for one, hope not,” added she, with all a Toadey’s venom.

“The Marquess seems to keep a remarkably good table,” said the physician. “There was a haunch to-day, which I really think was the finest haunch I ever met with; but that little move at dinner; it was, to say the least, very ill-timed.”

“Yes, that was Vivian Grey again,” said Miss Graves, very indignantly.

“So you have got the Beaconsfields here, Miss Graves! nice, unaffected, quiet people.”

“Yes, very quiet.”

“As you say, Miss Graves, very quiet, but a little heavy.”

“Yes, heavy enough.”

“If you had but seen the quantity of pineapples that boy Dormer Stanhope devoured at our fête champêtre! but I have the comfort of knowing that they made him very ill; eh! Dr. Sly?”

“Oh! he learnt that from his uncle,” said Miss Graves; “it is quite disgusting to see how that Vivian Grey encourages him.”

“What an elegant, accomplished woman Mrs. Felix Lorraine seems to be, Miss Graves! I suppose the Marchioness is very fond of her?”

“Oh, yes; the Marchioness is so good-natured that I dare say she thinks very well of Mrs. Felix Lorraine. She thinks well of everyone; but I believe Mrs. Felix is rather a greater favourite with the Marquess.”

“O— h!” drawled out Miss Gusset with a very significant tone. “I suppose she is one of your playing-up ladies. I think you told me she was only on a visit here.”

“A pretty long visit, though, for a sister-in-law, if sister-in-law she be. As I was saying to the Marchioness the other day, when Mrs. Felix offended her so violently by trampling on the dear little Julie, if it came into a court of justice I should like to see the proof; that’s all. At any rate, it is pretty evident that Mr. Lorraine has had enough of his bargain.”

“Quite evident, I think; eh! Dr. Sly? Those German women never make good English wives,” continued Miss Gusset, with all a Toadey’s patriotism.

“Talking of wives, did not you think Lady Julia spoke very strangely of Sir Peter after dinner to-day? I hate that Lady Julia, if it be only for petting Vivian Grey so.”

“Yes, indeed, it is quite enough to make one sick; eh! Dr. Sly?”

The doctor shook his head mournfully, remembering the haunch.

“They say Ernest Clay is in sad difficulties, Miss Gusset.”

“Well, I always expected his dash would end in that. Those wild harum-scarum men are monstrous disagreeable. I like a person of some reflection; eh! Dr. Sly?”

Before the doctor could bow his usual assent there entered a pretty little page, very daintily attired in a fancy dress of green and silver. Twirling his richly chased dirk with one tiny white hand, and at the same time playing with a pet curl which was picturesquely flowing over his forehead, he advanced with ambling gait to Miss Gusset, and, in a mincing voice and courtly phrase, summoned her to the imperial presence.

The lady’s features immediately assumed the expression which befitted the approaching interview, and in a moment Miss Graves and the physician were left alone.

“Very amiable young woman Miss Gusset appears to be, Dr. Sly?”

“Oh! the most amiable being in the world; I owe her the greatest obligations.”

“So gentle in her manners.”

“O yes, so gentle.”

“So considerate for everybody.”

“Oh, yes! so considerate,” echoed the Aberdeen M.D.

“I am afraid, though, she must sometimes meet with people who do not exactly understand her character; such extraordinary consideration for others is sometimes liable to misconstruction.”

“Very sensibly remarked, Miss Graves. I am sure Miss Gusset means well; and that kind of thing is all very admirable in its way; but, but — ”

“But what, Dr. Sly?”

“Why, I was merely going to hazard an observation, that according to my feelings, that is, to my own peculiar view of the case, I should prefer some people thinking more about their own business, and, and, but I mean nothing.”

“Oh, no, of course not, Dr. Sly! You know we always except our own immediate friends, at least when we can be sure they are our friends; but, as you were saying, or going to say, those persons who are so very anxious about other people’s affairs are not always the most agreeable persons in the world to live with. It certainly did strike me that that interference of Miss Gusset’s about Julie to-day was, to say the least, very odd.”

“Oh, my dear madam! when you know her as well as I do, you will see she is always ready to put in a word.”

“Well! do you know, Dr. Sly, between ourselves, that was exactly my impression; and she is then very, very, I do not exactly mean to say meddling or inquisitive; but, but you understand me, Dr. Sly?”

“Perfectly; and if I were to speak my mind, which I do not hesitate to do in confidence to you, Miss Graves, I really should say that she is the most jealous, irritable, malicious, meddling, and at the same time fawning, disposition that I ever met with in the whole course of my life, and I speak from experience.”

“Well, do you know, Dr. Sly, from all I have seen, that was exactly my impression; therefore I have been particularly careful not to commit myself to such a person.”

“‘Ah! Miss Graves! if all ladies were like you’ O— h!”

“My dear Dr. Sly!”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:19