Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 9

I think that Julia Manvers was really the most beautiful creature that ever smiled in this fair world. Such a symmetrically formed shape, such perfect features, such a radiant complexion, such luxuriant auburn hair, and such blue eyes, lit up by a smile of such mind and meaning, have seldom blessed the gaze of admiring man! Vivian Grey, fresh as he was, was not exactly the creature to lose his heart very speedily. He looked upon marriage as a comedy in which, sooner or later, he was, as a well-paid actor, to play his part; and could it have advanced his views one jot he would have married the Princess Caraboo to-morrow. But of all wives in the world, a young and handsome one was that which he most dreaded; and how a statesman who was wedded to a beautiful woman could possibly perform his duties to the public, did most exceedingly puzzle him. Notwithstanding these sentiments, however, Vivian began to think that there really could be no harm in talking to so beautiful a creature as Julia, and a little conversation with her would, he felt, be no unpleasing relief to the difficult duties in which he was involved.

To the astonishment of the Honourable Buckhurst Stanhope, eldest son of Lord Beaconsfield, Mr. Vivian Grey, who had never yet condescended to acknowledge his existence, asked him one morning, with the most fascinating of smiles and with the most conciliating voice, “whether they should ride together.” The young heir-apparent looked stiff and assented. He arrived again at Château Desir in a couple of hours, desperately enamoured of the eldest Miss Courtown. The sacrifice of two mornings to the Honourable Dormer Stanhope and the Honourable Gregory Stanhope sent them home equally captivated by the remaining sisters. Having thus, like a man of honour, provided for the amusement of his former friends, the three Miss Courtowns, Vivian left Mrs. Felix Lorraine to the Colonel, whose moustache, by-the-bye, that lady considerably patronised; and then, having excited an universal feeling of gallantry among the elders, Vivian found his whole day at the service of Julia Manvers.

“Miss Manvers, I think that you and I are the only faithful subjects in this Castle of Indolence. Here am I lounging on an ottoman, my ambition reaching only so far as the possession of a chibouque, whose aromatic and circling wreaths, I candidly confess, I dare not here excite; and you, of course, much too knowing to be doing anything on the first of August save dreaming of races, archery feats, and county balls: the three most delightful things which the country can boast, either for man, woman, or child.”

“Of course, you except sporting for yourself, shooting especially, I suppose.”

“Shooting, oh! ah! there is such a thing. No, I am no shot; not that I have not hi my time cultivated a Manton; but the truth is, having, at an early age, mistaken my intimate friend for a cock pheasant, I sent a whole crowd of fours into his face, and thereby spoilt one of the prettiest countenances in Christendom; so I gave up the field. Besides, as Tom Moore says, I have so much to do in the country, that, for my part, I really have no time for killing birds and jumping over ditches: good work enough for country squires, who must, like all others, have their hours of excitement. Mine are of a different nature, and boast a different locality; and so when I come into the country, ’tis for pleasant air, and beautiful trees, and winding streams; things which, of course, those who live among them all the year round do not suspect to be lovely and adorable creations. Don’t you agree with Tom Moore, Miss Manvers?”

“Oh, of course! but I think it is very improper, that habit, which every one has, of calling a man of such eminence as the author of ‘Lalla Rookh’ Tom Moore.”

“I wish he could but hear you! But, suppose I were to quote Mr. Moore, or Mr. Thomas Moore, would you have the most distant conception whom I meant? Certainly not. By-the-bye, did you ever hear the pretty name they gave him at Paris?”

“No, what was it?”

“One day Moore and Rogers went to call on Denon. Rogers gave their names to the Swiss, Monsieur Rogers et Monsieur Moore. The Swiss dashed open the library door, and, to the great surprise of the illustrious antiquary, announced, Monsieur l’Amour! While Denon was doubting whether the God of Love was really paying him a visit or not, Rogers entered. I should like to have seen Denon’s face!”

“And Monsieur Denon did take a portrait of Mr. Rogers as Cupid, I believe?”

“Come, madam, ‘no scandal about Queen Elizabeth.’ Mr. Rogers is one of the most elegant-minded men in the country.”

“Nay! do not lecture me with such a laughing face, or else your moral will be utterly thrown away.”

“Ah! you have Retsch’s ‘Faust’ there. I did not expect on a drawing-room table at Château Desir to see anything so old, and so excellent, I thought the third edition of Tremaine would be a very fair specimen of your ancient literature, and Major Denham’s hair-breadth escapes of your modern. There was an excellent story about, on the return of Denham and Clapperton. The travellers took different routes, in order to arrive at the same point of destination. In his wanderings the Major came unto an unheard-of Lake, which, with the spirit which they of the Guards surely approved, he christened ‘Lake Waterloo.’ Clapperton arrived a few days after him; and the pool was immediately re-baptized ‘Lake Trafalgar.’ There was a hot quarrel in consequence. Now, if I had been there, I would have arranged matters, by proposing as a title, to meet the views of all parties, ‘The United Service Lake.’”

“That would have been happy.”

“How beautiful Margaret is,” said Vivian, rising from his ottoman, and seating himself on the sofa by the lady. “I always think that this is the only Personification where Art has not rendered Innocence insipid.”

“Do you think so?”

“Why, take Una in the Wilderness, or Goody Two Shoes. These, I believe, were the most innocent persons that ever existed, and I am sure you will agree with me, they always look the most insipid. Nay, perhaps I was wrong in what I said; perhaps it is Insipidity that always looks innocent, not Innocence always insipid.”

“How can you refine so, when the thermometer is at 100°! Pray, tell me some more stories.”

“I cannot, I am in a refining humour: I could almost lecture to-day at the Royal Institution. You would not call these exactly Prosopopeias of Innocence?” said Vivian, turning over a bundle of Stewart Newton’s beauties, languishing, and lithographed. “Newton, I suppose, like Lady Wortley Montague, is of opinion, that the face is not the most beautiful part of woman; at least, if I am to judge from these elaborate ankles. Now, the countenance of this Donna, forsooth, has a drowsy placidity worthy of the easy-chair she is lolling in, and yet her ankle would not disgrace the contorted frame of the most pious faquir.”

“Well! I am an admirer of Newton’s paintings.”

“Oh! so am I. He is certainly a cleverish fellow, but rather too much among the blues; a set, of whom, I would venture to say, Miss Manvers knoweth little about.”

“Oh, not the least! Mamma does not visit that way. What are they?”

“Oh, very powerful people! though ‘Mamma does not visit that way.’ Their words are Ukases as far as Curzon Street, and very Decretals in the general vicinity of May Fair; but you shall have a further description another time. How those rooks bore! I hate staying with ancient families; you are always cawed to death. If ever you write a novel, Miss Manvers, mind you have a rookery in it. Since Tremaine, and Washington Irving, nothing will go down without.”

“By-the-bye, who is the author of Tremaine?”

“It is either Mr. Ryder, or Mr. Spencer Percival, or Mr. Dyson, or Miss Dyson, or Mr. Bowles, or the Duke of Buckingham, or Mr. Ward, or a young officer in the Guards, or an old Clergyman in the North of England, or a middle-aged Barrister on the Midland Circuit.”

“Mr. Grey, I wish you could get me an autograph of Mr. Washington Irving; I want it for a particular friend.”

“Give me a pen and ink; I will write you one immediately.”

“Ridiculous!”

“There! now you have made me blot Faustus.”

At this moment the room-door suddenly opened, and as suddenly shut.

“Who was that?”

“Mephistopheles, or Mrs. Felix Lorraine; one or the other, perhaps both.”

“What!”

“What do you think of Mrs. Felix Lorraine, Miss Manvers?”

“Oh! I think her a very amusing woman, a very clever woman a very — but — ”

“But what?”

“But I cannot exactly make her out.”

“Nor I; she is a dark riddle; and, although I am a very Oedipus, I confess I have not yet unravelled it. Come, there is Washington Irving’s autograph for you; read it; is it not quite in character? Shall I write any more? One of Sir Walter’s, or Mr. Southey’s, or Mr. Milman’s or Mr. Disraeli’s? or shall I sprawl a Byron?”

“I really cannot sanction such unprincipled conduct. You may make me one of Sir Walter’s, however.”

“Poor Washington!” said Vivian, writing. “I knew him well. Be always slept at dinner. One day, as he was dining at: Mr. Hallam’s, they took him, when asleep, to Lady Jersey’s: and, to see the Sieur Geoffrey, they say, when he opened his eyes in the illumined saloons, was really quite admirable! quite an Arabian tale!”

“How delightful! I should have so liked to have seen him! He seems quite forgotten now in England. How came we to talk of him?”

“Forgotten! Oh! he spoilt his elegant talents in writing German and Italian twaddle with all the rawness of a Yankee. He ought never to have left America, at least in literature; there was an uncontested and glorious field for him. He should have been managing director of the Hudson Bay Company, and lived all his life among the beavers.”

“I think there is nothing more pleasant than talking over the season, in the country, in August.”

“Nothing more agreeable. It was dull though, last season, very dull; I think the game cannot be kept going another year. If it were not for the General Election, we really must have a war for variety’s sake. Peace gets quite a bore. Everybody you dine with has a good cook, and gives you a dozen different wines, all perfect. We cannot bear this any longer; all the lights and shadows of life are lost. The only good thing I heard this year was an ancient gentlewoman going up to Gunter and asking him for ‘the receipt for that white stuff,’ pointing to his Roman punch. I, who am a great man for receipts, gave it her immediately: ‘One hod of mortar to one bottle of Noyau.’”

“And did she thank you?”

“Thank me! ay, truly; and pushed a card into my hand, so thick and sharp that it cut through my glove. I wore my arm in a sling for a month afterwards,”

“And what was the card?”

“Oh, you need not look so arch. The old lady was not even a faithless duenna. It was an invitation to an assembly, or something of the kind, at a place, somewhere, as Theodore Hook or Mr. Croker would say, ‘between Mesopotamia and Russell Square.’”

“Pray, Mr. Grey, is it true that all the houses in Russell Square are tenantless?”

“Quite true; the Marquess of Tavistock has given up the county in consequence. A perfect shame, is it not? Let us write it up.”

“An admirable plan! but we will take the houses first, at a pepper-corn rent.”

“What a pity, Miss Manvers, the fashion has gone out of selling oneself to the devil.”

“Good gracious, Mr. Grey!”

“On my honour, I am quite serious. It does appear to me to be a very great pity. What a capital plan for younger brothers! It is a kind of thing I have been trying to do all my life, and never could succeed. I began at school with toasted cheese and a pitchfork; and since then I have invoked, with all the eloquence of Goethe, the evil one in the solitude of the Hartz, but without success. I think I should make an excellent bargain with him: of course I do not mean that ugly vulgar savage with a fiery tail. Oh, no! Satan himself for me, a perfect gentleman! Or Belial: Belial would be the most delightful. He is the fine genius of the Inferno, I imagine, the Beranger of Pandemonium.”

“I really cannot listen to such nonsense one moment longer. What would you have if Belial were here?”

“Let us see. Now, you shall act the spirit, and I, Vivian Grey. I wish we had a short-hand writer here to take down the Incantation Scene. We would send it to Arnold. Commençons: Spirit! I will have a fair castle.”

The lady bowed.

“I will have a palace in town.”

The lady bowed.

“I will have a fair wife. Why, Miss Manvers, you forget to bow!”

“I really beg your pardon!”

“Come, this is a novel way of making an offer, and, I hope, a successful one.”

“Julia, my dear,” cried a voice in the veranda, “Julia, my dear, I want you to walk with me.”

“Say you are engaged with the Marchioness,” whispered Vivian, with a low but distinct — voice; his eyes fixed on the table, and his lips not appearing to move.

“Mamma, I am — ”

“I want you immediately and particularly, Julia,” cried Lady Louisa, in an earnest voice.

“I am coming, I am coming. You see I must go.”

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