Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 4

And now Château Desir was almost deserted. Mrs. Million continued her progress northward. The Courtowns, and the Beaconsfields, and the Scropes quitted immediately after Mr. Cleveland; and when the families that form the material of the visiting corps retire, the nameless nothings that are always lounging about the country mansions of the great, such as artists, tourists, authors, and other live stock, soon disappear. Mr. Vivian Grey agreed to stay another fortnight, at the particular request of the Marquess.

Very few days had passed ere Vivian was exceedingly struck at the decided change which suddenly took place in his Lordship’s general demeanour towards him.

The Marquess grew reserved and uncommunicative, scarcely mentioning “the great business” which had previously been the sole subject of his conversation but to find fault with some arrangement, and exhibiting, whenever his name was mentioned, a marked acrimony against Mr. Cleveland. This rapid change alarmed as much as it astonished Vivian, and he mentioned his feelings and observations to Mrs. Felix Lorraine. That lady agreed with him that something certainly was wrong; but could not, unfortunately, afford him any clue to the mystery. She expressed the liveliest solicitude that any misunderstanding should be put an end to, and offered her services for that purpose.

In spite, however, of her well-expressed anxiety, Vivian had his own ideas on the subject; and, determined to unravel the affair, he had recourse to the Marchioness.

“I hope your Ladyship is well to-day. I had a letter from Count Caumont this morning. He tells me that he has got the prettiest poodle from Paris that you can possibly conceive! waltzes like an angel, and acts proverbs on its hind feet.”

Her Ladyship’s eyes glistened with admiration.

“I have told Caumont to send it me down immediately, and I shall then have the pleasure of presenting it to your Ladyship.”

Her Ladyship’s eyes sparkled with delight.

“I think,” continued Vivian, “I shall take a ride to-day. By-the-bye, how is the Marquess? he seems in low spirits lately.”

“Oh, Mr. Grey! I do not know what you have done to him,” said her Ladyship, settling at least a dozen bracelets; “but, but — ”

“But what?”

“He thinks; he thinks.”

“Thinks what, dear lady?”

“That you have entered into a combination, Mr. Grey.”

“Entered into a combination!”

“Yes, Mr. Grey! a conspiracy, a conspiracy against the Marquess, with Mr. Cleveland. He thinks that you have made him serve your purpose, and now you are going to get rid of him.”

“Well, that is excellent, and what else does he think?”

“He thinks you talk too loud,” said the Marchioness, still working at her bracelets.

“Well! that is shockingly vulgar! Allow me to recommend your Ladyship to alter the order of those bracelets, and place the blue and silver against the maroon. You may depend upon it, that is the true Vienna order. And what else dues the Marquess say?”

“He thinks you are generally too authoritative. Not that I think so, Mr. Grey: I am sure your conduct to me has been most courteous. The blue and silver next to the maroon, did you say? Yes; certainly it does look better. I have no doubt the Marquess is quite wrong, and I dare say you will set things right immediately. You will remember the pretty poodle, Mr. Grey? and you will not tell the Marquess I mentioned anything.”

“Oh! certainly not. I will give orders for them to book an inside place for the poodle, and send him down by the coach immediately, I must be off now. Remember the blue and silver next to the maroon. Good morning to your Ladyship.”

“Mrs. Felix Lorraine, I am your most obedient slave,” said Vivian Grey, as he met that lady on the landing-place. “I can see no reason why I should not drive you this bright day to the Elfin’s Well; we have long had an engagement to go there.”

The lady smiled a gracious assent: the pony phaeton was immediately ordered.

“How pleasant Lady Courtown and I used to discourse about martingales! I think I invented one, did not I? Pray, Mrs. Felix Lorraine, can you tell me what a martingale is? for upon my honour I have forgotten, or never knew.”

“If you found a martingale for the mother, Vivian, it had been well if you had found a curb for the daughter. Poor Cynthia! I had intended once to advise the Marchioness to interfere; but one forgets these things.”

“One does. O, Mrs. Felix!” exclaimed Vivian, “I told your admirable story of the Leyden Professor to Mrs. Cleveland. It is universally agreed to be the best ghost-story extant. I think you said you knew the Professor.”

“Well! I have seen him often, and heard the story from his own lips. And, as I mentioned before, far from being superstitious, he was an esprit fort. Do you know, Mr. Grey, I have such an interesting packet from Germany to-day; from my cousin, Baron Rodenstein. But I must keep all the stories for the evening; come to my boudoir, and I will read them to you. There is one tale which I am sure will make a convert even of you. It happened to Rodenstein himself, and within these three months,” added the lady in a serious tone. “The Rodensteins are a singular family. My mother was a Rodenstein. Do you think this beautiful?” said Mrs. Felix, showing Vivian a small miniature which was attached to a chain round her neck. It was the portrait of a youth habited in the costume of a German student. His rich brown hair was flowing over his shoulders, and his dark blue eyes beamed with such a look of mysterious inspiration, that they might have befitted a young prophet.

“Very, very beautiful!”

“’Tis Max, Max Rodenstein,” said the lady, with a faltering voice. “He was killed at Leipsic, at the head of a band of his friends and fellow-students. O, Mr. Grey! this is a fair work of art, but if you had but seen the prototype you would have gazed on this as on a dim and washed-out drawing. There was one portrait, indeed, which did him more justice; but then that portrait was not the production of mortal pencil.”

Vivian looked at his companion with a somewhat astonished air, but Mrs. Felix Lorraine’s countenance was as little indicative of jesting as that of the young student whose miniature rested on her bosom.

“Did you say not the production of a mortal hand, Mrs. Felix Lorraine?”

“I am afraid I shall weary you with my stories, but the one I am about to tell you is so well evidenced that I think even Mr. Vivian Grey will hear it without a sneer.”

“A sneer! O lady-love, do I ever sneer?”

“Max Rodenstein was the glory of his house. A being so beautiful in body and in soul you cannot imagine, and I will not attempt to describe. This miniature has given you some faint idea of his image, and yet this is only the copy of a copy. The only wish of the Baroness Rodenstein, which never could be accomplished, was the possession of a portrait of her youngest son, for no consideration could induce Max to allow his likeness to be taken. His old nurse had always told him that the moment his portrait was taken he would die. The condition upon which such a beautiful being was allowed to remain in the world was, she always said, that his beauty should not be imitated. About three months before the battle of Leipsic, when Max was absent at the University, which was nearly four hundred miles from Rodenstein Castle, there arrived one morning a large case directed to the Baroness. On opening it it was found to contain a picture, the portrait of her son. The colouring was so vivid, the general execution so miraculous, that for some moments they forgot to wonder at the incident in their admiration of the work of art. In one corner of the picture, in small characters yet fresh, was an inscription, which on examining they found consisted of these words: ‘Painted last night. Now, lady, thou hast thy wish.’ My aunt sank into the Baron’s arms.

“In silence and in trembling the wonderful portrait was suspended over the fireplace of my aunt’s favourite apartment. The next day they received letters from Max. He was quite well, but mentioned nothing of the mysterious painting.

“Three months afterwards, as a lady was sitting alone in the Baroness’s room, and gazing on the portrait of him she loved right dearly, she suddenly started from her seat, and would have shrieked, had not an indefinable sensation prevented her. The eyes of the portrait moved. The lady stood leaning on a chair, pale, and trembling like an aspen, but gazing steadfastly on the animated portrait. It was no illusion of a heated fancy; again the eyelids trembled, there was a melancholy smile, and then they closed. The clock of Rodenstein Castle struck three. Between astonishment and fear the lady was tearless. Three days afterwards came the news of the battle of Leipsic, and at the very moment that the eyes of the portrait closed Max Rodenstein had been pierced by a Polish Lancer.”

“And who was this wonderful lady, the witness of this wonderful incident?” asked Vivian.

“That lady was myself.”

There was something so singular in the tone of Mrs. Felix Lorraine’s voice, and so peculiar in the expression of her countenance, as she uttered these words, that the jest died on Vivian’s tongue; and, for want of something better to do, he lashed the little ponies, which were already scampering at their full speed.

The road to the Elfin’s Well ran through the wildest parts of the park; and after an hour and a half’s drive they reached the fairy spot. It was a beautiful and pellucid spring, that bubbled up in a small wild dell, which, nurtured by the flowing stream, was singularly fresh and green. Above the spring had been erected a Gothic arch of grey stone, round which grew a few fine birch-trees. In short, nature had intended the spot for picnics. There was fine water, and an interesting tradition; and as the parties always bring, or always should bring, a trained punster, champagne, and cold pasties, what more ought Nature to have provided?

“Come, Mrs. Lorraine, I will tie Gypsey to this ash, and then you and I will rest ourselves beneath these birch-trees, just where the fairies dance.”

“Oh, delightful!”

“Now, truly, we should have some book of beautiful poetry to while away an hour. You will blame me for not bringing one. Do not. I would sooner listen to your voice; and, indeed, there is a subject on which I wish to ask your particular advice.”

“Is there?”

“I have been thinking that this is a somewhat rash step of the Marquess; this throwing himself into the arms of his former bitterest enemy, Cleveland.”

“You really think so?”

“Why, Mrs. Lorraine, does it appear to you to be the most prudent course of action which could have been conceived?”

“Certainly not.”

“You agree with me, then, that there is, if not cause for regret at this engagement, at least for reflection on its probable consequences?”

“I quite agree with you.”

“I know you do. I have had some conversation with the Marquess upon this subject this very morning.”

“Have you?” eagerly exclaimed the lady, and she looked pale and breathed short.

“Ay; and he tells me you have made some very sensible observations on the subject. ’Tis pity they were not made before Mr. Cleveland left; the mischief might then have been prevented.”

“I certainly have made some observations.”

“And very kind of you. What a blessing for the Marquess to have such a friend!”

“I spoke to him,” said Mrs. Felix, with a more assured tone, “in much the same spirit as you have been addressing me. It does, indeed, seem a most imprudent act, and I thought it my duty to tell him so.”

“Ay, no doubt; but how came you, lady fair, to imagine that I was also a person to be dreaded by his Lordship; I, Vivian Grey!”

“Did I say you?” asked the lady, pale as death.

“Did you not, Mrs. Felix Lorraine? Have you not, regardless of my interests, in the most unwarrantable and unjustifiable manner; have you not, to gratify some private pique which you entertain against Mr. Cleveland; have you not, I ask you, poisoned the Marquess’ mind against one who never did aught to you but what was kind and honourable?”

“I have been imprudent; I confess it; I have spoken somewhat loosely.”

“Now. listen to me once more,” and Vivian grasped her hand. “What has passed between you and Mr. Cleveland it is not for me to inquire. I give you my word of honour that he never even mentioned your name to me. I can scarcely understand how any man could have incurred the deadly hatred which you appear to entertain for him. I repeat, I can contemplate no situation in which you could be placed together which would justify such behaviour. It could not be justified, even if he had spurned you while — kneeling at his feet.”

Mrs. Felix Lorraine shrieked and fainted. A sprinkling from the fairy stream soon recovered her. “Spare me! spare me!” she faintly cried: “say nothing of what you have seen.”

“Mrs. Lorraine, I have no wish. I have spoken thus explicitly that we may not again misunderstand each other. I have spoken thus explicitly, I say, that I may not be under the necessity of speaking again, for if I speak again it must not be to Mrs. Felix Lorraine. There is my hand; and now let the Elfin’s Well be blotted out of our memories.”

Vivian drove rapidly home, and endeavoured to talk in his usual tone and with his usual spirit; but his companion could not be excited. Once, ay twice, she pressed his hand, and as he assisted her from the phaeton she murmured something like a blessing. She ran upstairs immediately. Vivian had to give some directions about the ponies; Gipsey was ill, or Fanny had a cold, or something of the kind; and so he was detained for about a quarter of an hour before the house, speaking most learnedly to grooms, and consulting on cases with a skilled gravity worthy of Professor Coleman.

When he entered the house he found the luncheon prepared, and Mrs. Felix pressed him earnestly to take some refreshment. He was indeed wearied, and agreed to take a glass of hock and seltzer.

“Let me mix it for you,” said Mrs. Felix; “do you like sugar?”

Tired with his drive, Vivian Grey was leaning on the mantelpiece, with his eyes vacantly gazing on the looking-glass which rested on the marble slab. It was by pure accident that, reflected in the mirror, he distinctly beheld Mrs. Felix Lorraine open a small silver box, and throw some powder into the tumbler which she was preparing for him. She was leaning down, with her back almost turned to the glass, but still Vivian saw it distinctly. A sickness came over him, and ere he could recover himself his Hebe tapped him on the shoulder.

“Here, drink, drink while it is effervescent.”

“I cannot drink,” said Vivian, “I am not thirsty; I am too hot; I am anything — ”

“How foolish you are! It will be quite, spoiled.”

“No, no; the dog shall have it. Here, Fidele, you look thirsty enough; come here — ”

“Mr. Grey, I do not mix tumblers for dogs,” said the lady, rather agitated: “if you will not take it,” and she held it once more before him, “here it goes for ever.” So saying she emptied the tumbler into a large globe of glass, in which some gold and silver fish were swimming their endless rounds.

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