Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 16

Vivian had duly acquainted the Marquess with the successful progress of his negotiations with their intended partisans, and Lord Carabas had himself conversed with them singly on the important subject. It was thought proper, however, in this stage of the proceedings, that the persons interested should meet together; and so the two Lords, and Sir Berdmore, and Vivian were invited to dine with the Marquess alone, and in his library.

There was abundance of dumb waiters and other inventions by which the ease of the guests might be consulted, without risking even their secret looks to the gaze of liveried menials. The Marquess’ gentleman sat in an ante-chamber, in case human aid might be necessary, and everything, as his Lordship averred, was “on the same system as the Cabinet Dinners.”

In the ancient kingdom of England it hath ever been the custom to dine previously to transacting business. This habit is one of those few which are not contingent upon the mutable fancies of fashion, and at this day we see Cabinet Dinners and Vestry Dinners alike proving the correctness of our assertion. Whether the custom really expedites the completion or the general progress of the business which gives rise to it, is a grave question, which we do not feel qualified to decide. Certain it is that very often, after the dinner, an appointment is made for the transaction of the business on the following morning: at the same time it must be remembered that, had it not been for the opportunity which the banquet afforded of developing the convivial qualities of the guests, and drawing out, by the assistance of generous wine, their most kindly sentiments and most engaging feelings, it is very probable that the appointment for the transaction of the business would never have been made at all.

There certainly was every appearance that “the great business,” as the Marquess styled it, would not be very much advanced by the cabinet dinner at Château Desir. For, in the first place, the table was laden “with every delicacy of the season,” and really, when a man is either going to talk sense, fight a duel, or make his will, nothing should be seen at dinner save cutlets and the lightest Bordeaux. And, in the second place, it must be confessed, that when it came to the point of all the parties interested meeting, the Marquess’ courage somewhat misgave him. Not that any particular reason occurred to him which would have induced him to yield one jot of the theory of his sentiments, but the putting them in practice rather made him nervous. In short, he was as convinced as ever that he was an ill-used man, of great influence and abilities; but then he remembered his agreeable sinecure and his dignified office, and he might not succeed. The thought did not please.

But here they were all assembled; receding was impossible; and so the Marquess took a glass of claret, and felt more courageous.

“My Lords and Gentlemen,” he began, “although I have myself taken the opportunity of communicating to you singly my thoughts upon a certain subject, and although, if I am rightly informed, my excellent young friend has communicated to you more fully upon that subject; yet, my Lords and Gentlemen, I beg to remark that this is the first time that we have collectively assembled to consult on the possibility of certain views, upon the propriety of their nature, and the expediency of their adoption.” (Here the claret passed.) “The present state of parties,” the Marquess continued, “has doubtless for a long time engaged your attention. It is very peculiar, and although the result has been gradually arrived at, it is nevertheless, now that it is realised, startling, and not, I apprehend, very satisfactory. There are few distinctions now between the two sides of the House of Commons, very different from the times in which most, I believe all, of us, my Lords and Gentlemen, were members of that assembly. The question then naturally arises, why a certain body of individuals, who now represent no opinions, should arrogate to themselves the entire government and control of the country? A second question would occur, how they contrive to succeed in such an assumption? They succeed clearly because the party who placed them in power, because they represented certain opinions, still continue to them their support. Some of the most influential members of that party, I am bold to say, may be found in this room. I don’t know, if the boroughs of Lord Courtown and Lord Beaconsfield were withdrawn at a critical division, what might be the result. I am quite sure that if the forty country gentlemen who follow, I believe I am justified in saying, our friend Sir Berdmore, and wisely follow him, were to declare their opposition to any particular tax, the present men would be beaten, as they have been beaten before. I was myself a member of the government when so beaten, and I know what Lord Liverpool said the next morning. Lord Liverpool said the next morning. ‘Forty country gentlemen, if they choose, might repeal every tax in the Budget.’ Under these circumstances, my Lords and Gentlemen, it becomes us, in my opinion, to consider our situation. I am far from wishing to witness any general change, or indeed, very wide reconstruction of the present administration. I think the interests of the country require that the general tenor of their system should be supported; but there are members of that administration whose claims to that distinction appear to me more than questionable, while at the same time there are individuals excluded, personages of great influence and recognised talents, who ought no longer, in my opinion, to occupy a position in the background. Mr. Vivian Grey, a gentleman whom I have the honour to call my particular friend, and who, I believe, has had already the pleasure of incidentally conversing with you on the matters to which I have referred, has given great attention to this important subject. He is a younger man than any of us, and certainly has much better lungs than I have. I will take the liberty, therefore, of requesting him to put the case in its completeness before us.”

A great deal of “desultory conversation,” as it is styled, relative to the great topic of debate, now occurred. When the blood of the party was tolerably warmed, Vivian addressed them. The tenor of his oration may be imagined. He developed the new political principles, demonstrated the mistake under the baneful influence of which they had so long suffered, promised them place, and power, and patronage, and personal consideration, if they would only act on the principles which he recommended, in the most flowing language and the most melodious voice in which the glories of ambition were ever yet chaunted. There was a buzz of admiration when the flattering music ceased; the Marquess smiled triumphantly, as if to say, “Didn’t I tell you he was a monstrous clever fellow?” and the whole business seemed settled. Lord Courtown gave in a bumper, “Mr. Vivian Grey, and success to his maiden speech!“ and Vivian replied by proposing “The New Union!“ At last, Sir Berdmore, the coolest of them all, raised his voice: “He quite agreed with Mr. Grey in the principles which he had developed; and, for his own part, he was free to confess that he had perfect confidence in that gentleman’s very brilliant abilities, and augured from their exertion complete and triumphant success. At the same time, he felt it his duty to remark to their Lordships, and also to that gentleman, that the House of Commons was a new scene to him; and he put it, whether they were quite convinced that they were sufficiently strong as regarded talent in that assembly. He could not take it upon himself to offer to become the leader of the party. Mr. Grey might be capable of undertaking that charge, but still, it must be remembered that in that assembly he was as yet untried. He made no apology to Mr. Grey for speaking his mind so freely; he was sure that his motives could not be misinterpreted. If their Lordships, on the whole, were of opinion that this charge should be entrusted to him, he, Sir Berdmore, having the greatest confidence in Mr. Grey’s abilities, would certainly support him to the utmost.”

“He can do anything,” said the Marquess.

“He is a surprising clever man!” said Lord Courtown.

“He is a surprising clever man!” echoed Lord Beaconsfield.

“Stop, my Lords,” said Vivian; “your good opinion deserves my gratitude, but these important matters do indeed require a moment’s consideration. I trust that Sir Berdmore Scrope does not imagine that I am the vain idiot to be offended at his most excellent remarks, even for a moment. Are we not met here for the common good, and to consult for the success of the common cause? Whatever my talents are, they are at your service, and in your service will I venture anything; but surely, my Lords, you will not unnecessarily entrust this great business to a raw hand! I need only aver that I am ready to follow any leader who can play his great part in a becoming manner.”

“Noble!” said the Marquess.

But who was the leader to be? Sir Berdmore frankly confessed that he had none to propose; and the Viscount and the Baron were quite silent.

“Gentlemen!” exclaimed the Marquess, “Gentlemen! there is a man who could do our bidding,” The eyes of every guest were fixed on the haranguing host.

“Gentlemen, fill your glasses, I give you our leader, Mr. Frederick Cleveland!”

“Cleveland”’ every one exclaimed. A glass of claret fell from Lord Courtown’s hand; Lord Beaconsfield stopped as he was about to fill his glass, and stood gaping at the Marquess with the decanter in his hand; and Sir Berdmore stared on the table, as men do when something unexpected and astounding has occurred at dinner which seems past all their management.

“Cleveland!” exclaimed the guests.

“I should as soon have expected you to have given us Lucifer!” said Lord Courtown.

“Or the present Secretary!” said Lord Beaconsfield.

“Or yourself,” said Sir Berdmore.

“And does any one maintain that Frederick Cleveland is not capable of driving out a much stronger Government than he will have to cope with?” demanded the Marquess with a rather fierce air.

“We do not deny Mr. Cleveland’s powers, my Lord; we only humbly beg to suggest that it appears to us that, of all the persons in the world, the man with whom Mr. Cleveland would be least inclined to coalesce would be the Marquess of Carabas.”

The Marquess looked somewhat blank.

“Gentlemen,” said Vivian, “do not despair; it is enough for me to know that there is a man who is capable of doing our work. Be he animate man or incarnate fiend, provided he can be found within this realm, I pledge myself that within ten days he is drinking my noble friend’s health at this very board.”

The Marquess said, “Bravo,” the rest smiled, and rose from the table in some confusion. Little more was said on the “great business.” The guests took refuge in coffee and a glass of liqueur. The pledge was, however, apparently accepted, and Lord Carabas and Vivian were soon left alone. The Marquess seemed agitated by Vivian’s offer and engagement. “This is a grave business,” he said: “you hardly know, my dear Vivian, what you have undertaken; but, if anybody can succeed, you will. We must talk of this to-morrow. There are some obstacles, and I should once have thought, invincible. I cannot conceive what made me mention his name; but it has been often in my mind since you first spoke to me. You and he together, we might carry everything before us. But there are some obstacles; no doubt there are some obstacles. You heard what Courtown said, a man who does not make difficulties, and Beaconsfield, a man who does not say much. Courtown called him Lucifer. He is Lucifer. But, by Jove, you are the man to overcome obstacles. We must talk of it to-morrow. So now, my dear fellow, good night!”

“What have I done?” thought Vivian; “I am sure that Lucifer may know, for I do not. This Cleveland is, I suppose, after all, but a man. I saw the feeble fools were wavering, and, to save all, made a leap in the dark. Well! is my skull cracked? Nous verrons. How hot either this room or my blood is! Come, for some fresh air (he opened the library window). How fresh and soft it is! Just the night for the balcony. Hah! music! I cannot mistake that voice. Singular woman! I will just walk on till I am beneath her window.”

Vivian accordingly proceeded along the balcony, which extended down one whole side of the Château. While he was looking at the moon he stumbled against some one. It was Colonel Delmington. He apologised to the militaire for treading on his toes, and wondered “how the devil he got there!”

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