Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 5

This last specimen of Mrs. Felix Lorraine was somewhat too much even for the steeled nerves of Vivian Grey, and he sought his chamber for relief.

“Is it possible? Can I believe my senses? Or has some demon, as we read of in old tales, mocked me in a magic mirror? I can believe anything. Oh! my heart is very sick! I once imagined that I was using this woman for my purpose. Is it possible that aught of good can come to one who is forced to make use of such evil instruments as these? A horrible thought sometimes comes over my spirit. I fancy that in this mysterious foreigner, that in this woman, I have met a kind of double of myself. The same wonderful knowledge of the human mind, the same sweetness of voice, the same miraculous management which has brought us both under the same roof: yet do I find her the most abandoned of all beings; a creature guilty of that which, even in this guilty age, I thought was obsolete. And is it possible that I am like her? that I can resemble her? that even the indefinite shadow of my most unhallowed thought can for a moment be as vile as her righteousness? O God! the system of my existence seems to stop. I cannot breathe.” He flung himself upon his bed, and felt for a moment as if he had quaffed the poisoned draught so lately offered.

“It is not so; it cannot be so; it shall not be so! In seeking the Marquess I was unquestionably impelled by a mere feeling of self-interest; but I have advised him to no course of action in which his welfare is not equally consulted with my own. Indeed, if not principle, interest would make me act faithfully towards him, for my fortunes are bound up in his. But am I entitled, I, who can lose nothing, am I entitled to play with other men’s fortunes? Am I all this time deceiving myself with some wretched sophistry? Am I, then, an intellectual Don Juan, reckless of human minds, as he was of human bodies; a spiritual libertine? But why this wild declamation? Whatever I have done, it is too late to recede; even this very moment delay is destruction, for now it is not a question as to the ultimate prosperity of our worldly prospects, but the immediate safety of our very bodies. Poison! O God! O God! Away with all fear, all repentance, all thought of past, all reckoning of future. If I be the Juan that I fancied myself, then Heaven be praised! I have a confidant in all my troubles; the most faithful of counsellors, the craftiest of valets; a Leporello often tried and never found wanting: my own good mind. And now, thou female fiend! the battle is to the strongest; and I see right well that the struggle between two such spirits will be a long and a fearful one. Woe, I say, to the vanquished! You must be dealt with by arts which even yourself cannot conceive. Your boasted knowledge of human nature shall not again stand you in stead; for, mark me, from henceforward Vivian Grey’s conduct towards you shall have no precedent in human nature.”

As Vivian re-entered the drawing-room he met a servant carrying in the globe of gold and silver fishes.

“What, still in your pelisse, Mrs. Lorraine!” said Vivian. “Nay, I hardly wonder at it, for surely, a prettier pelisse never yet fitted prettier form. You have certainly a most admirable taste in dress; and this the more surprises me, for it is generally your plain personage that is the most recherché in frills and fans and flounces.”

The lady smiled.

“Oh! by-the-bye,” continued her companion, “I have a letter from Cleveland this morning. I wonder how any misunderstanding could possibly have existed between you, for he speaks of you in such terms.”

“What does he say?” was the quick question.

“Oh! what does he say?” drawled out Vivian; and he yawned, and was most provokingly uncommunicative.

“Come, come, Mr. Grey, do tell me.”

“Oh! tell you, certainly. Come, let us walk together in the conservatory:” so saying, he took the lady by the hand, and they left the room.

“And now for the letter, Mr. Grey.”

“Ay, now for the letter;” and Vivian slowly drew an epistle from his pocket, and therefrom read some exceedingly sweet passages, which made Mrs. Felix Lorraine’s very heart-blood tingle. Considering that Vivian Grey had never in his life received a single letter from Mr. Cleveland, this was tolerably well: but he was always an admirable improvisatore! “I am sure that when Cleveland comes to town everything will be explained; I am sure, at least, that it will not be my fault if you are not the best friends. I am heroic in saying all this, Mrs. Lorraine; there was a time when (and here Vivian seemed so agitated that he could scarcely proceed), there was a time when I could have called that man liar who would have prophesied that Vivian Grey could have assisted another in riveting the affections of Mrs. Felix Lorraine. But enough of this. I am a weak, inexperienced boy, and misinterpret, perhaps, that which is merely the compassionate kindness natural to all women into a feeling of a higher nature. But I must learn to contain myself; I really do feel quite ashamed of my behaviour about the tumbler to-day. To act with such, unwarrantable unkindness, merely because I had remembered that you once performed the same kind office for Colonel Delmington, was indeed too bad.”

“Colonel Delmington is a vain, empty-headed fool. Do not think of him, my dear Mr. Grey,” said Mrs. Felix, with a countenance beaming with smiles.

“Well, I will not; and I will try to behave like a man; like a man of the world, I should say. But indeed you must excuse the warm feelings of a youth; and truly, when I call to mind the first days of our acquaintance, and then remember that our moonlit walks are gone for ever, and that our — ”

“Nay, do not believe so, my dear Vivian; believe me, as I ever shall be. your friend, your — ”

“I will, I will, my dear, my own Amalia!”

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