Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 6

It was an autumnal night; the wind was capricious and changeable as a petted beauty, or an Italian greyhound, or a shot silk. Now the breeze blew so fresh that the white clouds dashed along the sky as if they bore a band of witches too late for their Sabbath meeting, or some other mischief; and now, lulled and soft as the breath of a slumbering infant, you might almost have fancied it Midsummer Eve; and the bright moon, with her starry court, reigned undisturbed in the light blue sky. Vivian Grey was leaning against an old beech-tree in the most secluded part of the park, and was gazing on the moon.

O thou bright moon! thou object of my first love! thou shalt not escape an invocation, although perchance at this very moment some varlet sonnetteer is prating of “the boy Endymion” and “thy silver bow.” Here to thee, Queen of the Night! in whatever name thou most delightest! Or Bendis, as they hailed thee in rugged Thrace; or Bubastis, as they howled to thee in mysterious Egypt; or Dian, as they sacrificed to thee in gorgeous Rome; or Artemis, as they sighed to thee on the bright plains of ever glorious Greece! Why is it that all men gaze on thee? Why is it that all men love thee? Why is it that all men worship thee?

Shine on, shine on, sultana of the soul! the Passions are thy eunuch slaves, Ambition gazes on thee, and his burning brow is cooled, and his fitful pulse is calm. Grief wanders in her moonlit walk and sheds no tear; and when thy crescent smiles the lustre of Joy’s revelling eye is dusked. Quick Anger, in thy light, forgets revenge; and even dove-eyed Hope feeds on no future joys when gazing on the miracle of thy beauty.

Shine on, shine on! although a pure Virgin, thou art the mighty mother of all abstraction! The eye of the weary peasant returning from his daily toil, and the rapt gaze of the inspired poet, are alike fixed on thee; thou stillest the roar of marching armies, and who can doubt thy influence o’er the waves who has witnessed the wide Atlantic sleeping under thy silver beam?

Shine on, shine on! they say thou art Earth’s satellite; yet when I gaze on thee my thoughts are not of thy suzerain. They teach us that thy power is a fable, and that thy divinity is a dream. Oh, thou bright Queen! I will be no traitor to thy sweet authority; and verily, I will not believe that thy influence o’er our hearts is, at this moment, less potent than when we worshipped in thy glittering fane of Ephesus, or trembled at the dark horrors of thine Arician rites. Then, hail to thee, Queen of the Night! Hail to thee, Diana, Triformis; Cynthia, Orthia, Taurica; ever mighty, ever lovely, ever holy! Hail! hail! hail!

Were I a metaphysician, I would tell you why Vivian Grey had been gazing two hours on the moon; for I could then present you with a most logical programme of the march of his ideas, since he whispered his last honied speech in the ear of Mrs. Felix Lorraine, at dinner-time, until this very moment, when he did not even remember that such a being as Mrs. Felix Lorraine breathed. Glory to the metaphysician’s all-perfect theory! When they can tell me why, at a bright banquet, the thought of death has flashed across my mind, who fear not death; when they can tell me why, at the burial of my beloved friend, when my very heart-strings seemed bursting, my sorrow has been mocked by the involuntary remembrance of ludicrous adventures and grotesque tales; when they can tell me why, in a dark mountain pass, I have thought of an absent woman’s eyes; or why, when in the very act of squeezing the third lime into a beaker of Burgundy cup, my memory hath been of lean apothecaries and their vile drugs; why then, I say again, glory to the metaphysician’s all-perfect theory! and fare you well, sweet world, and you, my merry masters, whom, perhaps, I have studied somewhat too cunningly: nosce teipsum shall be my motto. I will doff my travelling cap, and on with the monk’s cowl.

There are mysterious moments in some men’s lives when the faces of human beings are very agony to them, and when the sound of the human voice is jarring as discordant music. These fits are not the consequence of violent or contending passions: they grow not out of sorrow, or joy, or hope, or fear, or hatred, or despair. For in the hour of affliction the tones of our fellow-creatures are ravishing as the most delicate lute; and in the flush moment of joy where is the smiler who loves not a witness to his revelry or a listener to his good fortune? Fear makes us feel our humanity, and then we fly to men, and Hope is the parent of kindness. The misanthrope and the reckless are neither agitated nor agonised. It is in these moments that men find in Nature that congeniality of spirit which they seek for in vain in their own species. It is in these moments that we sit by the side of a waterfall and listen to its music the live-long day. It is in these moments that men gaze upon the moon. It is in these moments that Nature becomes our Egeria; and, refreshed and renovated by this beautiful communion, we return to the world better enabled to fight our parts in the hot war of passions, to perform the great duties for which man appeared to have been created, to love, to hate, to slander, and to slay.

It was past midnight, and Vivian was at a considerable distance from the Château. He proposed entering by a side door, which led into the billiard-room, and from thence, crossing the Long Gallery, he could easily reach his apartment without disturbing any of the household. His way led through the little gate at which he had parted with Mrs. Felix Lorraine on the first day of their meeting.

As he softly opened the door which led into the Long Gallery he found he was not alone: leaning against one of the casements was a female. Her profile was to Vivian as he entered, and the moon, which shone bright through the window, lit up a countenance which he might be excused for not immediately recognising as that of Mrs. Felix Lorraine. She was gazing steadfastly, but her eye did not seem fixed upon any particular object. Her features appeared convulsed, but their contortions were not momentary, and, pale as death, a hideous grin seemed chiselled on her idiot countenance.

Vivian scarcely knew whether to stay or to retire. Desirous not to disturb her, he determined not even to breathe; and, as is generally the case, his very exertions to be silent made him nervous, and to save himself from being stifled he coughed.

Mrs. Lorraine immediately started and stared wildly around her, and when her eye caught Vivian’s there was a sound in her throat something like the death-rattle.

“Who are you?” she eagerly asked.

“A friend, and Vivian Grey.”

“How came you here?” and she rushed forward and wildly seized his hand, and then she muttered to herself, “’tis flesh.”

“I have been playing, I fear, the mooncalf to-night; and find that, though I am a late watcher, I am not a solitary one.”

Mrs. Lorraine stared earnestly at him, and then she endeavoured to assume her usual expression of countenance; but the effort was too much for her. She dropped Vivian’s arm, and buried her face in her own hands. Vivian was retiring, when she again looked up. “Where are you going?” she asked, with a quick voice.

“To sleep, as I would advise all: ’tis much past midnight.”

“You say not the truth. The brightness of your eye belies the sentence of your tongue. You are not for sleep.”

“Pardon me, dear Mrs. Lorraine; I really have been yawning for the last hour,” said Vivian, and he moved on.

“You are speaking to one who takes her answer from the eye, which does not deceive, and from the speaking lineaments of the face, which are Truth’s witnesses. Keep your voice for those who can credit man’s words. You will go, then? What! are you afraid of a woman, because ’tis past midnight,’ and you are in an old gallery?”

“Fear, Mrs. Lorraine, is not a word in my vocabulary.”

“The words in your vocabulary are few, boy! as are the years of your age. He who sent you here this night sent you here not to slumber. Come hither!” and she led Vivian to the window: “what see you?”

“I see Nature at rest, Mrs. Lorraine; and I would fain follow the example of beasts, birds, and fishes.”

“Yet gaze upon this scene one second. See the distant hills, how beautifully their rich covering is tinted with the moonbeam! These nearer fir-trees, how radiantly their black skeleton forms are tipped with silver; and the old and thickly foliaged oaks bathed in light! and the purple lake reflecting in its lustrous bosom another heaven? la it not a fair scene?”

“Beautiful! most beautiful!”

“Yet, Vivian, where is the being for whom all this beauty exists? Where is your mighty creature, Man? The peasant on his rough couch enjoys, perchance, slavery’s only service-money, sweet sleep; or, waking in the night, curses at the same time his lot and his lord. And that lord is restless on some downy couch; his night thoughts, not of this sheeny lake and this bright moon, but of some miserable creation of man’s artifice, some mighty nothing, which Nature knows not of, some offspring of her bastard child, Society. Why, then, is Nature loveliest when man looks not on her? For whom, then, Vivian Grey, is this scene so fair?”

“For poets, lady; for philosophers; for all those superior spirits who require some relaxation from the world’s toils; spirits who only commingle with humanity on the condition that they may sometimes commune with Nature.”

“Superior spirits! say you?” and here they paced the gallery. “When Valerian, first Lord Carabas, raised this fair castle; when, profuse for his posterity, all the genius of Italian art and Italian artists was lavished on this English palace; when the stuffs and statues, the marbles and the mirrors, the tapestry, and the carvings, and the paintings of Genoa, and Florence, and Venice, and Padua, and Vicenza, were obtained by him at miraculous cost, and with still more miraculous toil; what think you would have been his sensations If, while his soul was revelling in the futurity of his descendants keeping their state in this splendid pile, some wizard had foretold to him that, ere three centuries could elapse, the fortunes of his mighty family would be the sport of two individuals; one of them a foreigner, unconnected in blood, or connected only in hatred; and the other a young adventurer alike unconnected with his race, in blood or in love; a being ruling all things by the power of his own genius, and reckless of all consequences save his own prosperity? If the future had been revealed to my great ancestor, the Lord Valerian, think you, Vivian Grey, that you and I should be walking in this Long Gallery?”

“Really, Mrs. Lorraine, I have been so interested in discovering what people think in the nineteenth century, that I have had but little time to speculate on the possible opinions of an old gentleman who flourished in the sixteenth.”

“You may sneer, sir; but I ask you, if there are spirits so superior to that of the slumbering Lord of this castle as those of Vivian Grey and Amelia Lorraine, why may there not be spirits proportionately superior to our own?”

“If you are keeping me from my bed, Mrs. Lorraine, merely to lecture my conceit by proving that there are in this world wiser heads than that of Vivian Grey, on my honour you are giving yourself a great deal of unnecessary trouble.”

“You will misunderstand me, then, you wilful boy!”

“Nay, lady, I will not affect to misunderstand your meaning; but I recognise, you know full well, no intermediate essence between my own good soul and that ineffable and omnipotent spirit in whose existence philosophers and priests alike agree.”

“Omnipotent and ineffable essence! Leave such words to scholars and to school-boys! And think you that such indefinite nothings, such unmeaning abstractions, can influence beings whose veins are full of blood, bubbling like this?” And here she grasped Vivian with a feverish hand. “Omnipotent and ineffable essence! Oh! I have lived in a land where every mountain, and every stream, and every wood, and every ruin, has its legend and its peculiar spirit; a land in whose dark forests the midnight hunter, with his spirit-shout, scares the slumbers of the trembling serf; a land from whose winding rivers the fair-haired Undine welcomes the belated traveller to her fond and fatal embrace; and you talk to me of omnipotent and ineffable essence! Miserable Mocker! It is not true, Vivian Grey; you are but echoing the world’s deceit, and even at this hour of the night you dare not speak as you do think. You worship no omnipotent and ineffable essence; you believe in no omnipotent and ineffable essence. Shrined in this secret chamber of your soul there is an image before which you bow down in adoration, and that image is YOURSELF. And truly, when I do gaze upon your radiant eyes,” and here the lady’s tone became more terrestrial; “and truly, when I do look upon your luxuriant curls,” and here the lady’s small white hand played like lightning through Vivian’s dark hair; “and truly, when I do remember the beauty of your all-perfect form, I cannot deem your self-worship a false idolatry,” and here the lady’s arms were locked round Vivian’s neck, and her head rested on his bosom.

“Oh, Amalia! it would lie far better for you to rest here than to think of that of which the knowledge is vanity.”

“Vanity!” shrieked Mrs. Lorraine, and she violently loosened her embrace, and extricated herself from the arm which, rather in courtesy than in kindness, had been wound round her delicate waist: “Vanity! Oh! if you knew but what I know, oh! if you had but seen what I have seen;” and here her voice failed her, and she stood motionless in the moonshine, with averted head and outstretched arms.

“Amalia! this is madness; for Heaven’s sake calm yourself!”

“Calm myself! Yes, it is madness; very, very madness! ’tis the madness of the fascinated bird; ’tis the madness of the murderer who is voluntarily broken on the wheel; ’tis the madness of the fawn that gazes with adoration on the lurid glare of the anaconda’s eye; ’tis the madness of woman who flies to the arms of her Fate;” and here she sprang like a tigress round Vivian’s neck, her long light hair bursting from its bands, and clustering down her shoulders.

And here was Vivian Grey, at past midnight, in this old gallery, with this wild woman clinging round his neck. The figures in the ancient tapestry looked living in the moon, and immediately opposite him was one compartment of some old mythological tale, in which were represented, grinning, in grim majesty, the Fates.

The wind now rose again, and the clouds which had vanished began to reassemble in the heavens. As the blue sky was gradually covering, the gigantic figures of Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos became as gradually dimmer and dimmer, and the grasp of Vivian’s fearful burden looser and looser. At last the moon was entirely hid, the figures of the Fates vanished, and Mrs. Felix Lorraine sank lifeless into his arms.

Vivian groped his way with difficulty to the nearest window, the very one at which she was leaning when he first entered the gallery. He played with her wild curls; he whispered to her in a voice sweeter than the sweetest serenade; but she only raised her eyes from his breast and stared wildly at him, and then clung round his neck with, if possible, a tighter grasp.

For nearly half an hour did Vivian stand leaning against the window, with his mystic and motionless companion. At length the wind again fell; there was a break in the sky, and a single star appeared in the midst of the clouds, surrounded with a little heaven of azure.

“See there, see there!” the lady cried, and then she unlocked her arms. “What would you give, Vivian Grey, to read that star?”

“Am I more interested in that star, Amalia, than in any other of the bright host?” asked Vivian with a serious tone, for he thought it necessary to humour his companion.

“Are you not? is it not the star of your destiny?”

“Are you learned in all the learning of the Chaldeans, too?”

“Oh, no, no, no!” slowly murmured Mrs. Lorraine, and then she started: but Vivian seized her arms, and prevented her from again clasping his neck.

“I must keep these pretty hands close prisoners,” he said, smiling, “unless you promise to behave with more moderation. Come, my Amalia! you shall be my instructress! Why am I so interested in this brilliant star?” and holding her hands in one of his, he wound his arm round her waist, and whispered her such words as he thought might calm her troubled spirit. The wildness of her eyes gradually gave way; at length she raised them to Vivian with a look of meek tenderness, and her head sank upon his breast.

“It shines, it shines, it shines, Vivian!” she softly whispered; “glory to thee and woe to me! Nay, you need not hold my hands; I will not harm you. I cannot: ’tis no use. O Vivian! when we first met, how little did I know to whom I pledged myself!”

“Amalia, forget these wild fancies; estrange yourself from the wild belief which has exercised so baneful an influence, not only over your mind, but over the very soul of the land from which you come. Recognise in me only your friend, and leave the other world to those who value it more, or more deserve it. Does not this fair earth contain sufficient of interest and enjoyment?”

“O Vivian! you speak with a sweet voice, but with a sceptic’s spirit. You know not what I know.”

“Tell me, then, my Amalia; let me share your secrets, provided they be your sorrows.”

“Almost within this hour, and in this park, there has happened that which — ” and here her voice died, and she looked fear-fully round her.

“Nay, fear not; no one can harm you here, no one shall harm you. Rest upon me, and tell me all thy grief.”

“I dare not, I cannot tell you.”

“Nay, thou shalt.”

“I cannot speak; your eye scares me. Are you mocking me? I cannot speak if you look so at me.”

“I will not look on you; I will gaze on yonder star. Now speak on.”

“O Vivian, there is a custom in my native land: the world calls it an unhallowed one; you, in your proud spirit, will call it a vain one. But you would not deem it vain if you were the woman now resting on your bosom. At certain hours of particular nights, and with peculiar ceremonies, which I need not here mention, we do believe that in a lake or other standing water fate reveals itself to the solitary votary. O Vivian, I have been too long a searcher after this fearful science; and this very night, agitated in spirit, I sought yon water. The wind was in the right direction, and everything concurred in favouring a propitious divination. I knelt down to gaze on the lake. I had always been accustomed to view my own figure performing some future action, or engaged in some future scene of my life. I gazed, but I saw nothing but a brilliant star. I looked up into the heavens, but the star was not there, and the clouds were driving quick across the sky. More than usually agitated by this singular occurrence, I gazed once more; and just at the moment when with breathless and fearful expectation I waited the revelation of my immediate destiny there flitted a figure across the water. It was there only for the breathing of u second, and as it passed it mocked me.” Here Mrs. Lorraine writhed in Vivian’s arms; her features were moulded in the same unnatural expression as when he first entered the gallery, and the hideous grin was again sculptured on her countenance. Her whole frame was in such a state of agitation that she rose up and down in Vivian’s arms, and it was only with the exertions of his whole strength that he could retain her.

“Why, Amalia, this, this was nothing; your own figure.”

“No, not my own; it was yours!”

Uttering a piercing shriek, which echoed through the winding gallery, she swooned.

Vivian gazed on her in a state of momentary stupefaction, for the extraordinary scene had begun to influence his own nerves. And now he heard the tread of distant feet, and a light shone through the key-hole of the nearest door. The fearful shriek had alarmed some of the household. What was to be done? In desperation Vivian caught the lady up in his arms, and dashing out of an opposite door bore her to her chamber.

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